Enjoying natural wonders of backyards

Published 12:51pm Saturday, August 20, 2011

With every day that passes I find more and more things that make me appreciate the outdoor world around us. If you take the time to stop, and as the old saying goes “smell the roses,” you will find that nature can put on a very fascinating show.

When we visit our cabin in the north woods, it seems that a person takes more time to sit and watch the wildlife. Wildlife doesn’t always have to be seen in rural areas, and you can watch your share of critter activity right in your own backyard.

We live on the south side of town where just sitting on our deck in the backyard can be interesting. The other day my wife, Jean, spotted a woodchuck on the edge of our yard and called me but it had disappeared by the time I came to look. Although I had some reservations about the sighting I was sure that she knew what a woodchuck looked like. A little later that evening I was sitting on the deck when the critter reappeared, stopped and looked at me as if it was sizing me up and then casually wandered away toward the neighbor’s backyard.

This year we seem to have more than our share of rabbits in the yard and of course the gray squirrel population hasn’t seemed to dwindle. Just the other day I spotted a chipmunk in the front yard hanging out under the steps.

In my quest to establish a wildlife sanctuary right here at home, I had decided to put up a suet block in the backyard in hopes of attracting some of our feathered friends. That block disappeared in a couple of days without my noticing any birds. After the next block was in place I started keeping a watchful eye and soon the trees in the backyard were full of birds. I don’t believe anyone intentionally sets out to feed blackbirds but they must have thought I was their new best friend as they managed to clean that suet block out in about a day. So much for my attempt to attract finches, song birds and various others. Maybe I’ll try something different next year but for now I will be content to watch the ground critters in my backyard.

When we are up at the cabin there are finches, grosbeaks, juncos and three types of woodpeckers. There is an occasional visit by the resident chipmunks and a red squirrel will sometimes come into the picture. I never thought I’d see the day that I’d be excited about birds visiting our feeders but I realize that I am indeed witnessing one of the wonders of nature.

It’s fun to watch the chipmunks because there are two of them that come from different areas and each time they are there together they fight until one runs off. The loser will eventually come back if it sees the other one is not around. One of them has found a way to actually get inside of the old wooden feeder and you can go up to it and tap on the glass and it will just keep filling its cheeks until it has had enough.

The other day my brother-in-law, Ron, had a white hummingbird at the feeder up at his cabin near Longville. My niece Jenna sent some pictures of it to a TV station in the Twin Cities and also to a wildlife research center in Georgia. They emailed her back and said it would be great if they could tag the bird. Now I don’t know a lot about birds but those little rascals seem mighty quick to me. This is just another example of nature keeping us on our toes with new and exciting developments. It sure is a lot better to see a white hummingbird than a two-headed toad or a toxic frog with three hind legs.

Nature can be an interesting world and if you take a little time to explore it you may be surprised at what you will find. Visiting a state park or any of our local parks can be a rewarding experience. Just spending and hour or so relaxing in the outdoors and observing the wildlife around you is a great way to spend family time and teach our youth to appreciate the outdoors. We have to remember that today’s youth are the ones who will be taking care of our outdoor heritage in the future and sitting at home in front of a computer or playing video games will do nothing to teach them an appreciation for the outdoors.

Until next time, do a little fishing, take a little time to relax and get out and explore our great Minnesota outdoors.

Please remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers during the coming year.

Dick Herfindahl’s column appears each Sunday in the Tribune.