Backyard Wildlife

April 30, 2012 by  

Backyard Wildlife

By Nick Simonson

So much of my formative years were spent in the backyard at the old brown-trimmed house along the oak-lined street near the college in my hometown of Valley City.  Nestled between the mesotrophic curve of the slow-flowing Sheyenne which forms three of the boundaries of the nearby city park and the steep rise which creates the south edge of the river valley which gave the city its name, my parents’ lot squeezed a two story residence, a garden, a compost pile and a backyard big enough for two boys to learn about those things that lived outside.
Backyard WildlifeThere were cottontails and gray squirrels that snuck under the slats of the brown fence which ringed the main part of the yard.  There were doves in the summer which cooed in the warm weather, and long-tweeting chickadees that shattered the still of chilly winter mornings.  In spring the robins and blackbirds would appear without warning, harbingers of the approaching end of school and the beginning of three months of freedom.  In the fall, honking geese and quacking ducks streamed southward and occasionally my dad would bring a few home from a weekend hunt. I’d add those feathers to the collection in my room of things I found outside, which included notable items such as the cocoon of an unidentified caterpillar, the cerulean blue egg shell of a just-hatched robin chick and a handful of acorns from the large oak tree in the front yard.
Even after we made the big move to the other side of town and I was a bit older, the backyard was still a place of wonder and growth.  I’ll never forget the first morning in November when I woke to a doe and her fawns pawing the ground beneath our two apple trees.  Rooster pheasants crowed along the train tracks and large snapping turtles made their nests in the empty lot behind our house each spring.  Large leopard frogs sprang from the grass after a heavy summer rain and garter snakes sunned themselves on the rock retaining wall in the middle of the backyard.  And still that river wound through my new neighborhood just a block away, where bullheads and the occasional smallmouth or northern pike connected with the offering under my red-and-white bobber.
This morning, after the cold weekend rain had passed, I went outside in my new backyard – some two decades and two hundred plus miles removed from either of the backyards I knew growing up, and I was met by the same world of wonder I found each spring when I was just a kid.  A bright red bird pecked at the dirt in my recently-planted garden and flitted up to his mate holding on a fencepost.  It was the cardinal I had seen just a few weeks before.  The two exchanged a glance and took off together.  Three smaller birds hopped in the grass nearby – black and white sparrow-sized avians with bright yellow mohawks and wing highlights – and I could not identify them, but snapped a picture with my camera for some follow up later this week.
With an alarming chatter-like call, two wood ducks took flight out of a broken side trunk on the neighbor’s old elm tree.  The male’s vibrant red eye was clearly visible in his black and white head feathers until the pair banked and turned toward the nearby river.  Their appearance, and the fact they lived so close to my backyard, which my lab Gunnar has well patrolled for squirrels, cottontails and other intruders, surprised me.  But the fact that I was surprised wasn’t surprising, considering where I was and what my backyard has shown me throughout my life.

Throughout the years I’ve spent in the outdoors– hunting, hiking, fishing, canoeing – few moments have impacted me more than when I’ve just been in the backyard, seeing the natural world around me and that remains true today.  Weather it’s the wing beats of a wood duck, the inquisitive and playful foraging of a rabbit watched from the kitchen window or the artful dodging of the gray squirrels that tightrope the fence and jump from the lower branches of the trees, just out of Gunnar’s reach, I see something new almost every time in I’m out in the place that’s always been closest to me discovering backyard wildlife…in our outdoors.


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