National Geographic : 1970 May
eat it, I watched a white-breasted nuthatch carry off an acorn.... First he took the nut to a neighboring tree and, climbing about five feet, stuck it in a crevice formed by the bark. Giving it a few taps to lodge it firmly, he removed part of the shell. Then came the feast; hanging first head down and then up, he enjoyed his meal. Once it fell to the ground but he patiently replaced it and finished at his leisure, hanging head down." Until I left home, I spent more and more time in the woods, ob serving, but then I went to college and to work-as a lumberjack in Maine, as a 65-hour-a-week operator in a southern cotton mill, as a cotton broker in New York, and then, in the big manufacturing cor poration. There was no more time for birds, except on an occasional day off, and then I couldn't really relax because I always knew how soon I would be back under pressure again. But it's somewhat like having learned to ride a bicycle-you may not have done it in years, but you can still get on one and ride. My early field experience, the sense of pleasure in observing patiently, came back to me-just like that. Everglades Visit Stirs Memories of a Youthful Crusade The setting of the Everglades also brought back strong emotions of my boyhood. I had been appalled at the slaughter of egrets there. During courtship and nesting, they sport magnificent back feathers, long and snowy-white (page 637), and this was their misfortune. Men came to club and shoot them, and then literally tore them to pieces, the dead and the wounded alike-to take their plumage, which brought high prices as decoration for ladies' hats. Young egrets were left helpless, to starve or be eaten by predators. I wrote an essay about that when I was 13, and it won a Junior Audubon prize and was published in my hometown weekly. Titled "A Tragedy of the Twentieth Century," it was a passionate plea to the ladies to stop wearing white plumes before all the egrets were wiped out. The situation really was as dismal as I painted it, but my description of the Everglades-the Spanish moss, the slimy mud, the lurking crocodile-sprang mainly from my reading and my imagi nation. I had never been there. Now, so many years later, I found the reality unimaginably more compelling. Egrets were thriving-thanks to a change in ladies' fashions; to state and federal laws enforced by diligent wardens provided by the Audubon Society; and to the prohibition of hunting in what had become the Everglades National Park. The crocodile had become a rarity, but there were still quite a few alligators (pages 670-71). They helped to hold down the numbers of raccoons and other predators that might otherwise decimate the egret nests. All around me I could sense what a challenge it would be to Unzipping a lake, a black skimmer fishes. Lower bill slices the water of Coot Bay Pond in the Everglades as the bird plows a furrow - as long as a hundred yards-to attract minnows to the surface. On a second pass, it snaps them up; the bill closes almost automatically on contact. To portray the speeding skimmer, only bird to feed in this manner, Mr. Truslow prefocused on a leaf along the line of flight. 640 Rynchops nigra,length 16-20 inches KODACHROME© N.G.5.