It’s a subtle environment for the most part in the Savannah River Preserve. Oh, it has some obvious residents in the water fowl and the alligators that navigate the waters of the small lakes and the vultures that circle overhead. But, as a friend and I last week walked the levees that separate the lake from the marshes and allow access for visitors, we found that we had to tread quietly and slow way down inside to appreciate the less obvious species.
Standing still and letting the movement in the corner of our eyes get our attention yielded the most fascinating aspects of the landscape. We would see a small flock of tiny birds barely 3” long with white bellies and black wings and black upper bodies fly overhead, but they darted so fast here and there that you couldn’t decide if you really saw a swallow-shaped tail or just imagined it. Or with a tiny bird in a tree, as it hopped so fast from limb to limb, we were hard put to see its color. the shape and color of its beak or how it held its tail. These are all signs that distinguish, say, a warbler from a wren, both small birds. Later we read that the darting probably has to do with catching insects, but those fast-changing trajectories made it hard for us to distinguish one species from another.
We were teased by these small birds flying overhead or hopping from branch to branch in a tree, not spending more than a half a second anywhere. Some of the small birds were definitely LLB—the ubiquitous and indistinguishable Little Brown Birds, but we did decide with great excitement that one cute little guy with an upturned tail was a Winter Wren. We saw larger birds, too: a mockingbird, all shades of grey, a small flock of red-winged blackbirds, and a Northern Harrier, a cousin of the hawk, who swooped out of the marsh and flew overhead. A medium-sized raptor, his underbody was all white except for the black tipped wings, while his upper body and wings were grey. He was visible for about a minute.
We saw water birds who were somewhat easier to identify: a few coots, dark grey with only a bit of white on the under-tail feathers, and moorhens with dark grey breasts and rich dark brown upper bodies. There is a little white along the edge of the wings and in the tail. The moorhens’ orange bill extends up the face like a shield.
We saw stark white egrets, both a Great Egret and a smaller one. The most surprising bird we saw was a Summer Tanager who flew out of the base of a tree right in front of us and across the marsh. There was no doubt about naming that bird—it is all red and sleek without the crest of a cardinal.
The two butterflies on that levee were so colorful, pumpkin orange and electric lime green. We saw insects, too: two kinds of grasshoppers, a short brown one about 1 ½” long and a bright green one about 3” long, and two dragonflies mating.
Most of this wildlife we noticed as we walked only about a mile on the levee. We had to stop and stand and wait again and again until the preserve offered up its riches. We had to be still inside. We had to be present to what was there and to pay attention.
God created all these creatures and millions more. They represent God’s continuing creation always reminding us of the Divine ongoing presence in our lives. The breadth of the wildlife there was astounding from the vicious alligator to the raptors to the songbirds to the butterflies and grasshoppers, a whole range of animals that feed happily in the lakes and marshes. Everything they need is provided; they are dependent on one another and interdependent with all. Their world is a microcosm of the wider world we live in where again everything we need is provided, where we are dependent on other creatures and other living things for food, shelter, clothing, etc. and interdependent upon all.
How aware are we of the gift of nature and of life itself? Of how much God loves us and how richly we are blessed? The more we are still inside, pay attention and witness God’s providence, the more aware we are of what a gift our lives are.