National Wildlife Week: A walk on the wild side

I don’t know about you, but I was born and raised in a city. I spent 21 years in New Orleans and then almost 20 years living in the never-ending urban/suburban environment of South Florida. I had not been camping until I was in college. While some childhood vacations included visits to national parks and natural wonders, we always stayed in motels. My one memorable encounter with wildlife was at age 12. We were visiting Yellowstone National Park. My brother (and a group of other looky-loos) had emerged from the car to take a photo of a bear watching her cub in a tree. The excitement happened when the observers got too close for momma’s comfort and she chased everyone back to their respective vehicles!

When we moved to South Florida, our wildlife encounters were mostly ocean-based. As scuba divers, we reveled in our viewing of reef fish and mourned the gradual degradation of the reefs due to human pollution. We occasionally saw alligators and egrets in our passage across the southern part of the state, but rarely thought a great deal about how our dwellings impacted them.

Almost 18 years ago, we relocated to central Florida. We moved to what was at the time a semi-rural community onto five acres of land on a small lake. All the other properties on this lake are at least the same size, and when we moved here only about half had homes on them. Sadly, the area has now become mostly suburban.

Moving here awakened me to the wildlife around us. Within our first year, we started seeing bald eagles regularly. We watched for the large alligator resident of our lake. Red foxes, rabbits, gopher tortoises, sandhill cranes. . .all were regular visitors to our abode. While our property used to be orange grove and had been scraped clean of all trees, we have gradually planted hedges and shrubs, trees and flowers, vegetables and fruit. 

Several years ago I attended a training sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) to produce habitat stewards, residents who are willing to care for their own property in a way that will protect and provide habitat for wildlife and encourage others to do the same. I had long been a gardener, but had not realized the impact that our gardening methods and plant choices have on wildlife. I began to choose native plants as I had been instructed. Rather than placing branches and large yard debris in plastic bags to send to the incinerator or landfill, I started to allow some piles to remain as nesting sites for critters. I made sure there were water and food sources for the birds and mammals who share our property.

For the past three years we have watched a succession of birds, both ordinary and uncommon, come to the feeders off our dining room or the oak and pine trees that surround the house. Cardinals, sparrows, Eastern bluebirds, towhees, mockingbirds, brown thrashers, woodpeckers, Northern harriers, red shouldered hawks and ospreys all pay us regular visits. It is major daily entertainment to welcome our painted bunting family IMG_1451
and to feel good that we are providing a place for this threatened bird for four or five months of the year. It was with great excitement six weeks ago that we watched  a Florida scrub jay hop into the feeder environment, pick up a shiny stone from a pile, and fly off to the hedge…repeatedly. This endangered bird is endemic to central Florida and has lost so much of its habitat that sighting in a backyard is cause for much excitement. Hearing the raucous call of the local flock of sandhill cranes as they fly into our yard and take their time digging grubs out of our grass is a regular pleasure. [The painted buntings were photographed by Seth; the jay and crane were shot by our friend and wonderful nature photographer, Reinhard.]

When I got an email from Eliza Russell, the Director of Education Programs at the NWF, I was not sure what I could do to encourage people in my life to slow down a bit and look around them at the wild creatures in their immediate environment. Her email stated the following:

NWF has been celebrating National Wildlife Week since 1938 – it is one our longest running programs.  Each year during the third week of March – National Wildlife Week highlights opportunities for students and adults to explore wildlife or issues about wildlife.  NWW started as an educator engagement to have teachers talk with their students about wildlife or wildlife issues.  Over the last 10 years we have expanded to include parents and added youth service as key component.

NWF’s mission is to inspire Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future.

Then I thought of you! Who better with whom to share this challenge?

Some time before this week ends, stop for a little while, walk or sit outside, look and listen around you. It’s spring! Even in a city, you will hear the sounds of birds. Who lives near you? If you are as lucky as I am and get to live in wonderful natural setting, what wildlife do you see or hear? Once you have taken a few moments to nurture yourself with a bit of nature, take another moment to share your own favorite wildlife story with us!

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One thought on “National Wildlife Week: A walk on the wild side

  • Growing up in the Adirondack Mountains, we saw and experienced a lot of wildlife, whether we wanted to or not! We were educated on the different species native to this area and I always loved learning about nature and the wildlife that roamed freely around our town. I have great memories of driving with our Dad on state land, to spot deer and any other wildlife that might happen by! On a rare occasion, you might even catch the moose getting a drink of water from the lake that we all lived around. And the loons, oh how I miss the loons and the their eerie yodel! My father was a conservationist for sure and taught us quite a lot. During the harsh winters, we would join him to drop hay and corn throughout the woods, at feeding stations in order to help the deer population make it through the winter. Many didn’t survive. We had horses and I loved riding the trails in the fall, taking in the beautiful leaves and enjoying the last bit of warm weather. Pheasants and partridges often made for a interesting ride as they would swoop out behind you and startle the horse! Before there were appointed transfer stations for refuse, we had a small dump located on the outskirts of town. During the summers, it was a tradition to stop and get ice cream then go to the dump to watch the bears! Such a simple life! Now I live in Central Florida, in a subdivision and miss what was so common to me from when I lived in the mountains. Over the past 8 years, we have added different trees, shrubs and other foliage and flowers. We have added feeders in order to attract and provide food for the birds in our area. We have seen many Cardinals, Blue Jays and other varieties of birds- most of which I need to quickly look up in order to identify! This ongoing landscaping project was mostly to provide visual appeal and some privacy, but I for one was so happy to see the birds arrive to our feeder. Our subdivision is small and peaceful and we love to sit on the back porch and watch the birds come and go, eying all that is around them, ever watchful of the one neighborhood cat who lives across the street! This is their habitat, too, and we want only to offer some refuge, food and a place to rest for a minute, in between the scurry of nesting and gathering! Thanks for sharing the photo, Kathy!

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