July 2020: Enjoying the Outdoors

In these strange times, there has been an amazing increase in foot traffic in wild places – people aching to be active, get out and about and DO SOMETHING. As a naturalist, I wholeheartedly love this: people turning to nature in a time of uncertainty.

Now would be an excellent time to spruce up on your ID skills! Take a course with Cornell Lab of Ornithology and learn to pick out a bird by its song. Pick up some books on identifying ferns, fungi, flowers, shrubs, and trees. Take binoculars with you and get an excellent look at what’s going on in that tree over there, or what’s moving on the other side of that pond.

During lockdown, I took my toddler on daily walks – even when it rained (not a torrential downpour, but a light rain) – and I taught her the difference between a chipmunk and a squirrel, the sounds the green frog makes versus the grey tree frog, and what a robin looks like, as compared to a sparrow, or a cardinal. She’s only two, so we’re at the basics here. We’ve also seen great blue herons, hawks, owls, falcons, turtles, raccoons, and opossums. I teach her “red clover,” and “dandelion,” and “yarrow,” among other flowers that we often see by the roadside or along trails. She’s held boxelder beetles, woodlice, caterpillars, American toads, and wood frogs. We’ve watched bees, butterflies, and wasps pollinate the blooms of our gardens. I teach her not to to touch mushrooms, and to always ask mom or dad before eating berries from a bush (we have wild blueberry and raspberry on our property).

Now that I’m back at work part time, we still take our walks about four or five times per week. The plant life has changed, we see some birds more consistently and others not as often. We hear green frogs and bullfrogs on morning walks, and grey tree frogs on our afternoon walks. We mimic their calls and when we get home, I can show her pictures of the frogs we heard on our walk, if we didn’t get to see them.

I also teach her about ways to be respectful: if you roll over a log or a rock, put it back how you found it. Stay on the trail. Don’t throw rocks or sticks into ponds. Keep over six feet from other walkers. Keep trash in your pockets. Don’t let dogs run around unleashed. If a place doesn’t allow dogs, respect what that place is trying to do, and go elsewhere to walk a dog. (Some of this is beyond her – dogs are awesome no matter what, and trash goes in the trash bin and it’s weird that woodsy places don’t have them and we have to wait until we get home.) But I’ve been looking at this opportunity to expand on my knowledge of the natural world, and hers, and it has been incredibly gratifying. I hope most of you have been able to say the same.

Some photos of our wanderings:

Painted turtles on a log in a freshwater marsh.

Eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillar.

Swamp where we saw hawks, heard frogs, and got a closer look at swamp rose, buttonbush, and sweet pepperbush.