I never used to think so but, birds are amazing! Recently I have paid more attention to our feathered friends and learning to identify them is harder than you would think. Taking the time to search for them and having the patience to try and capture a photograph has opened my eyes to their uniqueness, strength and beauty. What a community they have! Walking along a trail and simply searching for birds is as eye opening as searching for spiders or fungus in the amount of knowledge than can be gained from stepping into the world of nature. Each of the birds below were found on a local trail or in my backyard. I have subconciously known that birds were there but they have been somewhat of a background noise…no longer! I must thank the Central Carolinas Master Naturalist program for expanding my knowledge and appreciation for these wonderful creatures. It has been through this Master Naturalist program that I have learned the basics and found the way to discover this dimension of our natural world. You can also take a beginner class or find a guide from your local Audubon branch. Enjoy your Outdoor Experience today and learn to fly!
Do you remember your first time in the woods? What about the first time you conquered a fear? I have been privileged to spend some first Outdoor Experiences with young people this summer. We have gone on hikes, held insects, found snakes, learned to identify plants and birds, and all the while we talked about the wonder of the outdoors. Addressing fears…fears of snakes, bears, alligators, insects…head on is the first step to discovering how to be safe in a place you may never have been before. Simply walking on a trail through the forest, where you can’t see the road or a building may be a first for some young and old explorers. If you can find your inquisitive mind, search for something new and ask questions like “What is it?” or “Why is this here?”, you can overcome fears and enjoy your first Outdoor Experience. Young people have their inquisitive minds at the ready. They want to be the first to hold the magnifying glass or to lead their friends on a new path or to study the field guide and identify the bird. You can have an inquisitive mind too, just follow the lead of our youth!
It is hard to say why I am attracted to spiders given the many common fears people have of them. I am amazed by the skill of such a silent creature to capture and consume as many insects (or small vertebrates – like a lizard) that it can eat, or in turn go for months of not eatting. Eatting or not, most spiders spin wonderous webs that are often suspended between trees or upright supports that, at the scale of you and I, would be miles apart! Web gets torn down today? No worries, the spider will just spin one up for tomorrow. Such amazing feats for creatures so small!
You might be someone that is scared of spiders, as so many people are. It is curious to me that people are scared of such a small creature … to the extreme that they will run screaming (which I propose is more dangerous than the spider ever was to them). The fact that spiders are carnivores with jaws and fangs for killing and eatting its prey is the number one reason a screaming child or adult will give for being scared…despite the fact that very few spiders bite people and their venom of most is harmless. Spiders are arachnids that have 8 legs, in contrast to insects which have 6 legs. Yes, having legs that are long and skinny or bent and hairy may be disconcerning to some, the fact that the legs can move independantly from each other is likely what most are fearful of…the unpredictability of the legs I suppose. Maybe for you it is the web that is the most spooky, harkening visions of haunted houses or a dark tunnel from the movies. If you are one that is scared of spiders, take a minute to really watch one in action and appreciate the amazing things they can do! These small creatures are more scared of you than you are of them, trust me! Enjoy seeking out your favorite spiders during your next Outdoor Experience!
I’ve always loved insects. I was just 12 years old when I took my first course to study insects, “The World of Insects” was my guide and I learned to capture and identify these amazing creatures. I still have this book with my notes and my Dad’s notes (Dad was nice enough to help me get through the course and learn how to study). Each time I venture on an Outdoor Experience, the first thing that enters my mind is “what insects will I see today?” So let’s see…when it is warm and the sun is shining you can be sure to find an insect or two. The flowers need pollinating, the forest floor needs cleaning and the foliage is soft and juicy just ready to be eatten. You might find a creature scurring along a path, trying to hide under a log, munching on a leaf or buzzing around your head. If you take a magnifying lens (or a great photo), you might discover that not only are these creature useful and necessary for our environment but they are also beautiful! Enjoy!
Spring has arrived and with it you may find some unique looking forest creatures. Mushrooms, in their colorful and interesting shapes, are reappearing to clean up the forest and help our trees grow. Mushrooms are the fruiting body of a fungus, so like other fruiting bodies you might think of (say apples), mushrooms are a small part of a larger and often underground organism. Did you know that the largest organism by area on earth is a fungus that is over 2.4 miles large in the Oregon mountains? Fungus are important to our trees and forest plants as they develop a symbiotic relationship to exchange essential nutrients as well as speed up decomposition of dead materials.
Remember, some mushrooms are poisonous so don’t eat them (unless you buy them from someone who knows they are edible) and wash your hands if you touch them! Enjoy the mushrooms popping up as you hike a trail and be thankful for the important services they provide that allow for our beautiful trees!
McAlpine Creek Park’s 5K Cross Country course is a great place to run or hide. Home to the NAIA Cross Country Championship for the past 22 years, this course is a gem for Charlotte’s running community. As the thousands of annual visitors visit this park, I wonder if they have found the wonders I found hiding along the trail.
McAlpine Creek Park has it all…open fields, McAlpine Creek, swampy forests, ponds, upland forest and an adjacent greenway. If you chose to walk instead of run the course, you might come across a Barred Owl or Bullfrog hiding and watching.
I wonder how many runners they have watched…maybe they are just waiting for the next race? Or maybe they are simply enjoying their Outdoor Experience!
Looking up to find the next turn in the trail I pause…wow. I am at peace but so curious and wanting to explore. A trail is good for your mind as, even though you might need to watch for a tree root or rock, you can search and investigate while you walk. The trail allows you to follow a bird call or discover a new plant. I can go fast or slow but always see something new.
It is more than just a feeling. Every week it seems a new article is published with results of a study that finds health benefits of spending time in nature. Walking or hiking a trail is, of course, physical excercise but forest bathing also helps boost your immune system and relieve stress. So yes, getting outdoors is good for children but it is also good for adults!
A narrow trail might hug you in and a wide trail may open it’s arms, encouraging you on. If you are wary of the forest, a trail is safety. Trails are just as good for building relationships as they are to find solitude. Trails are guides for your adventure, so let them lead you and simply enjoy the ride on your Outdoor Experience!
The balance of resources and needs for every living creature:
- food and water from a healthy environment,
- the means for preserved places and homes,
- the caring for one another in families and groups
…this is sustainability.
If we take the time to ask how our actions or things are sustainable and act accordingly we will give our children the best future. Enjoy an Outdoor Experience today, Happy Mother’s Day!
Don’t be ashamed of only looking at the pretty things…flowers are some of my favorites, especially when they are native plants. Flowers in the sun are cheerful and, just like the butterflies, we are drawn to them as wonders of nature. How can something so exposed to the elements be so beautiful? Flowers may drive you to paint or draw or they may cause you to enter a dream like state as you stare in awe of their fragile yet bold presence.
(Rhododendron, Geranium, Carolina Allspice, Jewelweed)
Flowers in the rain are defiant and powerful and sometimes even elegant. If the rain makes you sad, a flower is there to cheer you up. If the rain makes you wet, the flower is there to distract you as it demonstates how easily it shrugs off each droplet.
Enjoy the flowers during your Outdoor Experience, rain or shine!
Step out your back or front door, that is all that is required! I have new Outdoor Experiences each day, of course having a Certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat helps…check out this blog for more on Certified Backyard Wildlife Habitats. Last night I attempted a moth experiment, you might remember doing these as a kid or with your own kids…well it’s not too late, you can do it again! I exchanged the outdoor lamp with a black-light lamp, turned it on at dusk and waited for them to come. Some neat characters appeared…these moths are in our backyards all the time, we just don’t see them…think about that!
I also find these caterpillars during the day, some of which will turn into these moths:
Don’t wait, enjoy your own Outdoor Experience tonight!