I’m out here — where did everything go?

I’m out here — where did everything go?
John C. Lorson

The American robin is one of our more prolific backyard birds. And while much of our area’s wildlife tends to disappear into the heavy cover of summer to wait out long, hot days, the robin, who earns a great living in the close-mown lawns of suburbia, remains omnipresent. This robin chick, recently fledged, is likely to be tended by its father while mother incubates a second round of eggs. In a great year a third brood may follow.


Possibly inspired by my daily tales of egg-laying turtles, squirrel-savaging mink and chick-snatching weasels, a pair of my colleagues have taken to the trail on recent mornings as part of their trip to the office. One on foot and one in the saddle (bike saddle that is), they’ve been covering the very same stretch of trail where I’d recently witnessed all of the above-mentioned phenomenon. Aside from one misty morning when one of them spotted a pair of nest-digging turtles, they've pretty much come up empty on seeing cool stuff.

“So is it me?” one of them asked. “Am I missing that ‘special something’ that causes birds to flutter along at my shoulder and critters to pad out from the tall grass to greet me?”

“Yes,” I said, “as are we all, save for Disney’s Snow White.”

We had a good laugh about it, but the truth is that spotting things on the fly as you’re traveling down the trail requires the special alignment of a number of factors.

First, it helps to be out at the right time of day. Sunrise, along with the predawn glow in the hour before, is a time of high activity. The day birds are just getting started. The night birds are making their way to their daytime roosts, and frogs, toads, box turtles and the like are all winding down their nightly wanderings to doze in the shade through the heat of the day. Many mammals are doing the same — finding a cool spot with generous shade and thick cover to safely wait out the heat.

This “sunrise period” gets started very early at this time of year. With the sun peaking over the horizon by 6 a.m., you’d better be in woods when the birds begin singing — usually robins in my neck of the woods — at around 4:30 a.m., if you want a front-row seat.

Another factor in spotting fun stuff in the outdoors is the time of year itself. In springtime wildlife of every sort is consumed with courting, mating, nest-building and, finally, for many species, keeping a step ahead of a growing family by tirelessly retrieving food. During many of these activities, the guard is down; there’s important business to take care of, and being overtly stealthy isn’t necessarily at the top of momma weasel’s list.

Another huge advantage the springtime holds for the wildlife watcher is that the foliage on the trees is thin, grasses haven’t yet grown and the thickest of the shrubby vegetation where much of Ohio’s wildlife chooses to hide has yet to fill in.

By the time the kittens, pups, cubs and chicks are leaving the den or nest, the woods have thickened to their impenetrable summertime maximum. The babies are out there, but you’re not terribly likely to see them with all that can get in your way.

A final factor worth mentioning is frequency. The more moments you spend out on the trail, quietly stepping through the woods or even sitting out on your backyard deck with that first cup of morning coffee, the more likely it is that you’ll encounter wildlife. You’ve got to be out there in it as often as possible, wide-eyed and ready to see when something interesting or extraordinary happens along.

Don’t despair if you come up empty at this time of year. Things will turn around before you know it. There are more critters in the woods and fields right now than at any other stretch on the calendar. As the season moves along, they’ll become more accustomed to their surroundings and venture further from the den. And while the underbrush seems a hopeless tangle at the moment, the scorch of July will begin the slow burn-down to fall.

Only days after the cicadas begin their summer song, the birds will begin a slow run-up to migration, flocking each evening to travel in a miles-long strand to the roost, only to disperse in the morning in order to do it all over again. It’s endurance training for marathon months from now. Soon enough they’ll be gone, and we’ll be slogging through long nights, shuffling through short days and wishing every moment for just another July morning. Enjoy your summertime, Ohio. Heaven knows we’ve earned it.

If you have comments on this column or questions about the natural world, write The Rail Trail Naturalist, P.O. Box 170, Fredericksburg, OH 44627, or email jlorson@alonovus.com.

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