Burton on the Bay:
No Orioles in Baltimore
Bit by bit, we're squeezing the life out of Chesapeake Country

Yet each man kills the thing he loves,

By each let this be heard.

   - The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde

Sadly, those words from one of my most favorite poems are evident wherever we look these days. Men, women, children, all in their desire to mingle intimately with what they most love, destroy what they most love.

It's our way of life. We love the Chesapeake so we build on its shores, and we know what that means. Degradation of the Bay.

We love the woodlands and their bird and animal life, so we cut the trees so we can live in the woodlands. We're selfish, we rationalize. What little bit we're doing won't hurt that much.

Meanwhile, our neighbors, also those of not so near and distant locales, are doing likewise. A little bit here, a little bit there, and it all adds up. Each kills a little bit, by each let this be heard. Just look around, as I do as I write on the side porch of the Burton household.


Lost at Home

My locale is Riviera Beach on the shores of Stoney Creek in North County, just a long cast from the creek's confluence with the Patapsco River. It's early morning this springtime, and from the trees that cling tenaciously to the cliff that drops to the narrow sandy beach there is silence. Has been for the past several springs.

This stillness screams at me, distresses me. There was a time when it was broken with the melodic call of the bobwhite quail. On spring mornings such as this, the silence was interrupted by the gentle mating and regrouping calls of these majestic birds. But no more. The woodlands are silent other than the occasional coos of a dove or two.

No longer do the quail live among scrub brush on the steep slope. No longer do I occasionally glimpse a covey emerge silently afoot from the tree line, cross the narrow grassy strip that borders it then one by one pop through the fence, headed for seeds scattered on the east lawn by songbirds and squirrels from the feeders above.

The scrub brush is gone, the thickets are barren, all done in by boys and mountain bikes and teen-agers partying in the woods on the shores of Stoney Creek. The thick cover so badly needed by quail is gone. No longer is there protective habitat to shield them from the owls, hawks, free-running dogs, raccoons and other predators.

Weeds no longer flourish on the woodland floor. They have been trampled by the treads of mountain bike tires or the soles of expensive Nikes worn by the revelers. Without the seeds from the weed growth, there is little to eat for the quail. They are birds of the wild, the thicket, not ones to subsist on the droppings from bird feeders.

The final blow came a couple summers ago when a few neighbors a couple hundred yards north of us stole down the slope selfishly and illegally to cut the brush and young trees so they could better see the waters of the creek.

After all, that's why they moved here - waterfront view, to hell with the trees whose roots hold the slope together and whose understory filters the runoff. And to hell with the quail whose presence and songs makes this little niche hereabouts what outdoors is supposed to be.

The bureaucracy won't help, the community association won't help. It's been done: no witnesses, no follow-up, no enforcement of bans for mountain bikes, no gumption to get involved. And, of course, no quail and fewer cardinals and other songbirds.

Only a better view of Stoney Creek and the housing development on the opposite and once wooded shore that reminds us that developers and their bulldozers and carpenter's rules - while making us curious what the bureaucrats of county and state government do to protect the fragile shoreline of the Chesapeake complex.

If ever there was the typical pass-the-buck routine, it's here on the shoreline at the mouth of Stoney Creek where in the springtime an eagle can be seen perched high on the limbs of a towering old tree, which would probably also have fallen victim to a dastardly chain saw were it alive and carrying leaves to block the view of boats and jet skis speeding on the water to create wakes that erode the shoreline to further degrade our creek.


Another Way

I lament all of this as I sit here thinking and writing, mostly thinking, and fresh back from five days on the Battenkill, a wide and winding stone-bottomed stream in my homeplace of Arlington, Vt. There shoreline residents are more appreciative of the trees that provide shade to cool waters for trout and provide habitat for songbirds and other creatures.

Among those with me was Dr. Stan Minken, a Johns Hopkins surgeon and longtime resident of Baltimore County, an outdoorsman who had never before glimpsed a Baltimore Oriole other than in Camden Yards. Our first morning out, he saw several flitting among the trees that lined the Battenkill. He's the kind of guy who appreciated that sight more than he would have catching the biggest trout of the river.

Only twice have I caught a fleeting glimpse of an oriole at Stoney Creek; it has become too people busy. I'd rather see just one real oriole now 'n' then than see all the Orioles all the times they play in the ball park several miles up the Patapsco. Obviously I am the misfit.

Another morning on the Battenkill when steam rose from its waters as the air warmed following a sunrise in the low 20s, another companion, Calvert Bregel, was awed by the sight of a couple bluebirds among the bushes on the property of Charlie Fisher, long associated with the Hagerstown Almanac.

That sighting renewed Charlie's vows to put up the bluebird houses he has long intended to install. The day after Calvert returned to his Baltimore County home, he was heartened to discover bluebird chicks in one of the houses he had recently installed.

Dr. Bob Etter, a veterinarian who operates Pasadena Animal Hospital and who has among his patients my white cat Frieda - who watches birds with me from our screened-in porch - stopped to chat with me on the banks of the Battenkill, and we watched a bright yellow mountain thrush in a bush that shaded the edge of a pool.

All this makes one think. Maybe Stoney Creek can't be like the Battenkill, but we could have some of it. Just a tad would help. But each man kills the thing he loves, by all let this be heard. But no one is listening. Enough said.

| Issue 20 |

Volume VII Number 20
May 20-26, 1999
New Bay Times

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