Susan Cerulean: I Have Been Assigned the Single Bird

91

After the tide swallows the sand bar off of Bald Point, we walk over to the oyster reefs. A few foraging birds poke the sprinkling of oysters still above water; we end up counting seven oystercatchers. Susan Cerulean notices that a couple of them are grown chicks. “It’s got a dusky bill,” she says as I train my camera on one. “That’s how I can tell.”

During our interview, least terns are squeaking over our heads. Nearby, a marbled godwit plunges its long bill into the wet sand, extracting a worm. It’s mid-July, and the godwit is at the leading edge of the winter migration. It’s not a bad morning of birding: two state-threatened species, evidence of successful breeding, and an early migrant. Bald Point State Park’s salt marshes, oyster reefs, and sand flats give these birds the space they need to eat and raise young. But this kind of habitat is becoming increasingly rare, and shorebirds across North America are feeling it.

“You can’t see the losses out here right now.” Susan says. “It looks pretty pristine. It’s like, wow, yay! Seven oystercatchers! The least terns are feeding, and we saw a black skimmer. There’s two godwits, and that’s great. But these birds, these shorebirds, since 1970, have lost seventy percent of their numbers.”

Loss is at the center of Susan’s new book, I Have Been Assigned the Single Bird: A Daughter’s Memoir. The loss of shorebirds and coastal ecosystems, but also loss within her family.

You’re also invited to participate in a special online discussion about the human relationship to nature. Learn more by clicking on the image below.

Photo of the Apalachicola River from the bluffs above it. Covered by graphic saying The Age of Nature online discussion takes place on October 20th at 7pm ET. Website to learn more is wfsu.org/ecologyblog.