This afternoon the Susquehanna is the lowest its been since I arrived in Athens two short weeks ago; little more than a trickle along the western side of Paines Island. Even with eyes closed I can tell when I'm nearing the banks of the river because the harsh clucks of dozens of common grackles fills the air. Very few would come here seeking grackles since they are so common and abundant. In fact, I've even heard them called "junk birds," but to label them as such is to do a disservice to the grackle.
Some of the characteristics that make the grackle so well adapted to this riverine environment deserve respect, appreciation, and even admiration. While each individual picks for bugs and seeds among river cobbles next to slow-moving waters with strong, slender, slightly curved bills perfectly designed for the task, all eyes are vigilant to keep watch for danger. If one sounds the alarm, all retreat in unison, and sleek bodies with beautiful long tails ride the wind with strong direct flight. Some grackles seem to want to keep their toes dry and are very good at hopping from rock to rock maintaining just an eighth of an inch or so between scaled feet and flowing water. Others wade straight into the water up to the belly without a care. With today's temp hovering around 90 degrees F, that sounds more like it.
Sunlight reveals the common grackle's true colors. Due to their structure the bird's dark feathers reveal iridescent tones of metallic purple and green beneath the beams of the Summer sun.
Many people spend countless hours seeking out rare and illusive wildlife, and I am no exception. But perhaps there's something to be said about welcoming a renewed appreciation for some of our most abundant native species.
Grackles are to the river's edge as silver maples are to it's banks. Their prolific status and well-adapted natures make them representative of the places they call home; of the wild spaces we so enjoy.