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Fighting Extinction

I lamented on an Instagram post some time ago how devoid of life some of my favourite birding locations have gotten, with widespread evidence of human interference suffocating the life that was previously so prevalent at these spots. It can get tremendously exhausting preaching to a brick wall with nothing in return – no change, no compensation. But all is never lost.

Back at home, in the heart of suburbia, we are trying our best to create a safe space for life to flourish.

Very often, I am asked by fellow concerned citizens of this planet – But what can I do to make a difference? I’m just one person!

Well, let me share my story with you.

A few years ago, I moved back to my original home, the place I grew up and spent literally all my childhood. I returned with a wider understanding of nature, and having already been actively birding for a few years, I was now a little more in tune with the natural landscape than before. Don’t get me wrong, I spent considerable time outside as a child – but now I know that the distant whistle I used to hear as a child was a Striped Cuckoo – a sound that is completely non-existent here in my adulthood.

Green, endless hills were replaced by concrete, steel and glass. Fortunately, most folks kept at least one tree – so there is still some green around. Upon closer inspection, however, many of these trees aren’t indigenous to T&T, a fact that unfortunately renders them effectively useless to the ecosystem – save for some shade. Small plants and shrubs are even more likely to be imports. Sure, that desert rose looks beautiful – but it’s not from here, and it is solely for human enjoyment.

In years past, there was no express need for houseplants to serve a purpose in the local ecosystem, but this is the Anthropocene, the unsustainable. As such, within our little yard we have let wild plants have their way, slowly enveloping areas formerly covered in useless lawn. Within a few short years, we are beginning to witness changes in soil colour, different species of animals have been showing up and for once, change is in a positive direction.

Here I’m sharing some images of fauna I photographed in our yard. It is never too late to start, and no amount is too little to make a difference.

As a rule of thumb, I deliberately leave plants that are growing at the fenceline – the logic being that it was placed there most likely via the excrement of some bird – which could only mean that the plant will eventually produce something that can be eaten by a host of different creatures. One of these such plants has grown to almost 20′ high, and is consistently filled with ants, bees and butterflies. This young Green Iguana showed up to munch on selected fresh buds when they were being produced.

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Once wild plants are established, the insect population should expand, both in number and in variety. Try as much as possible to avoid spraying harmful chemicals and pesticides – these exterminate and don’t discriminate, eventually leading to an imbalanced and ultimately doomed ecosystem.

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Tiny insects live in a world that is far too often overlooked by us. I sat in our yard and took everything in, and enjoyed it. A steel blue fly cleaned its wings that caught the last rays of golden light, a completely bizarre insect blew my mind right next to our porch. It looked like it had killed an ant and was wearing its body as a disguise.

Dead leaves and fallen fruit are the building blocks of a whole other habitat that feeds the soil, small invertebrates that feed on the decaying fruit and leaves as well as spiders, lizards, frogs and birds that feed on them.

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A couple days ago I was elated to see (for only the second time in my entire life) a Dirce Beauty – this cryptic butterfly loves to perch on vertical tree trunks with its head facing downwards. No different here.

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From the moment one begins to observe life at this scale, the fact that nature is infinitely large and small should become apparent. Late one evening, I enjoyed watching this wasp (below) feed on various flowers from a powder puff plant in our front yard. I have no clue what’s the correct name for the plant, but I believe it’s in the mimosa family.

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After wrestling with multiple flowers, the wasp settled on a leaf and cleaned itself. Truly wonderful to be able to take a peep at their lives!

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Flowering plants aren’t only good for diurnal creatures, various species of moths and bats also feed on nectar and are equally dependent on the same plant species as many of the more regularly seen pollinators. I saw this mostly orange moth for the first time in my life last week, I gently escorted it back outside before the sun came up for the day. If I had found it long after daybreak I would’ve elected to leave it in place, and let it be on its way the following night.

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I’ve been promising myself to do more macro photography, and within the last week I finally got to it, most of the images here were created on just a couple evenings poking around while accompanying my cat on his supervised outside time. There’s no way to predict what will make itself visible, I couldn’t believe what I was looking at when I photographed this little insect (probably a hopper, but I’m outstandingly poor with insect ID).

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Birds are far more apparent to me, and when a couple Silver-beaked Tanagers passed through last year I was thoroughly excited – although I knew a likely reason for that sighting was that they may have lost their home.

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Even the almost monochromatic Palm Tanagers are beautiful – don’t wait until they’re no longer around to appreciate them.

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Remember, my friends:

Rethink your concept of weeds. Naturally growing plants are the only key to the long term survival of Nature. 

Blue-grey Tanager on lantana

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