A week or two ago, as I was on the phone with a friend, I began narrating the battle between starling, sparrow, and woodpecker for control over the suet feeder. It lasted only a minute before a Blue Jay came in to claim their prize, sending the others scattering. As I finished up this tale, I was asked the question, “So, do you like birds now?” I was taken aback for a moment, but in all honesty, this is a fair question. I have never been what some outdoorspeople consider “a serious birder.” Usually when the idea of going birding is brought up, I bow out knowing I will lose interest long before others. This makes it seem like I have no interest in birds at all, but that’s not entirely true. I still enjoy watching them and seeing different species come and go as the seasons change; I’m just a little less devout than some of my friends.
This is not meant to intimidate anyone into thinking they are not a “real” birder. You don’t need the best binoculars or the fanciest camera, to spend hours searching for that one bird, or be working through a life list. You don’t really need anything to be a birder but an outdoor space, whether that is a state park or your backyard. If you find birds interesting, go on and be a bird nerd in whatever way works for you. However, I would like to say that although birds tend to get a lot of attention in the outdoor world, birds are not the only things moving and changing throughout the seasons. There are so many ways to be a nature nerd.
Anyone who has hiked with me in the greener months knows that I, like many others, am simply looking in a different direction than at the birds. I’m looking down, and when I see those first signs of spring, it is time to look for those pops of color saying the wildflowers are finally here.
Wildflowers have always captured my attention but by no means can I identify them all. As with everything in nature, there is always more to learn and more to see. Anyone who has turned around in the middle of a hike to see they have somehow left me behind and crouched on the side of the trail looking intently at the ground can attest to that.
At first, I liked them on a superficial level, but as I learned more, I began to notice their cycles and connections to other plants and animals. Flowers require change and enough follow through of their own to persist through whatever weather comes along after they begin to bloom. First, slightly warmer temperature and just enough sun tell our early crocuses and violets to bloom. Other flowers do not come along until later in the summer. They each have their season, and as spring moves into summer and summer eventually fades to fall, some die back to let others take the stage. As someone who loves a change in scene, the changing backdrop of flowers piqued my interest.
Wildflowers are more than just a pretty picture though. They are resilient things. They can grow deep in the forest or find purchase in the cracks of sidewalks. However, with increased human development, especially on former prairies and meadows, and some people’s preoccupation with the perfectly mowed lawn, some wildflowers are struggling.
They provide a vital food source for many pollinators in the form of nectar, so when humans make it harder for a diverse population of flowers to bloom, this affects the rest of the ecosystem. Some native species of wildflowers are in danger of disappearing. Invasive species and an increased deer population are also affecting wildflower populations, even in less developed areas. Many people don’t often think about flowers and other plants. They become a backdrop to the more “interesting” things like mammals and birds. However, just like bird songs, we notice them more when they are not there.
Now I can continue to wax lyrical about flowers and their importance to my friends and luckily some of them will engage with it because they know that this is a two-way street. Later I’ll listen to them tell me every detail about this one really amazing insect they found that day or the snake they observed. That is one of the best things about the outdoors. Being a generalist with a broad scope is more than okay and I encourage everyone to expand their wonder by learning a little more about those parts of nature you have otherwise ignored. But it also provides ample opportunity to dig deep into something you find fascinating. It makes you want to put in the time to study, embrace and reflect on the ways that things change, the cycles throughout the seasons, or the patience you gather in your chosen pursuit.
So this is an ode to the bug nerds, the fungi seekers, the frog finders, and the flower pursuers. The people who can look at tree bark and somehow tell you exactly what tree you are looking at. The fish people who are as much a mystery to me as what lies at the bottom of the ocean. And yes, this an ode to the birders. To anyone who has found their thing, those who have not yet had the opportunity, and even to those whose thing is napping in the grass. Nature has a bit of something for anyone and everyone. It can hold a multitude of interests and we need all of you to help protect our wild spaces and make them a safe space for everyone. No matter what you like, there should always be room for another nature nerd out there.
Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are still open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. Though the Nature Center is currently closed, including restrooms, due to COVID-19 restrictions, drive-thru sales are available from the Blue Heron Gift Shop. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.