A world of new wonders to be seen on daily walks

Column by Ron Hellbusch
Posted 5/20/20

Are you one who likes to walk, to inhale the fresh air of the outdoors? See a walk as an adventure? Visually scan the sky, searching out birds in flight? Maybe it’s the pandemic, but the trails and …

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A world of new wonders to be seen on daily walks


Are you one who likes to walk, to inhale the fresh air of the outdoors? See a walk as an adventure? Visually scan the sky, searching out birds in flight?

Maybe it’s the pandemic, but the trails and open space lands seem to be drawing more people this spring. The outdoors is therapeutic! Like many, my preference is the openness, endless view of the horizons over a treadmill in the four walls of my basement.

Since March this year, the walk has changed. More of us are committing part of our day to walking. Today we are reminded to don a face mask (too many walkers do not) move off trail to maintain the social distancing when approaching other walkers, avoid the urge to talk, offer a welcomed wave of your hand, a smile behind the mask or a nod of the head.

To add to the sense of exploring and adventure consider a trail system that includes water and/or open space. All of our suburban communities have developed excellent trail systems, plus some exciting and natural designated open space environments. There is sense of peace, calmness, relaxation when peacefully walking adjacent to water and open space away from the sound of vehicles or people. Your mind can wander and drift, the symphonic sounds of birds ring more clear, small animal movements are more likely to be noticed and you truly see more and hear more of our natural world.

I walk. And I am fortunate to have a defined trail system plus two water bodies a reasonable distance from my home. The lakes are short drives, which I make often; the trail system a convenient half mile walk. I spend time on both the trails and never fail to make the drive to the lake at least twice a week.The variety and numbers of bird and animal species is significant when water resources are part of the outdoors mix.

Let me offer a friendly suggestion to enhance your walk by more focused observation to seek out birds and animals and enjoy the sound of the outdoors. We have experienced the transition from winter to spring in our walks, but this is a different year, offering a different experience. Many of us have slowed our walk, sharpened our eyes to the sounds and environment around us and actually discovered a lot more of the outdoors.

During the pre-coronavirus month of February I watched the population of Canada geese thin out as the spring migration instinct set in with this popular waterfowl group. The geese along with countless other smaller, unnoticed birds started their annual migration flights north. I started to see mating pairs frequent the lakes as they prepared for the spring nesting ritual. Somewhere in the midst of the lake’s shoreline fresh new green cattail growth and other disposing weed cover, the goose was busy constructing an unseen nest for her set of 6-12 eggs. During my walks, my eyes became more sensitive to the gander feeding on wild plants and grass while the goose warmed her eggs and periodically joined her mate near the nest during the day. The mallard ducks were also preparing for nesting as they were in constant flight seeking out equally protective sites for the hen’s nest. In both cases the patience of the goose and the drake was evident. They would take up resting space in shallow ponds, near the nests in support of the hen’s 28-30 days of incubation. Someday walks would be shared with the patient males, other days neither would be in view causing me to be concerned about their safety and well-being.

As the days moved into early march I became more patient, more inquisitive and searched for new arrivals, new species of wildlife. Not sure what the lake waters might offer, but confident there would be new wildlife to observe. Red winged black birds were the first to show up in growing numbers. I was again impressed how these colorful males and hens would construct nests attached to the long, tall green growing cat tail plants. And I listened intently for their crisp sounds as they echoed across the quiet lake water. Growing numbers of mourning doves were close behind, calmly piercing the air with their popular “cooing” sounds as they search the shoreline lake trees for the perfect set of branches for their spring nests.

Warm spring Colorado temperatures welcomed some uncommon wildlife as well. The first week in May I had to stop and ponder the presence of two small Pond or Slinder turtles. The turtles would have recently moved out of hibernation in the pond mud. They were intently perched on a dead snag tree branch hanging over quiet back water.  I was pleasantly surprised to see a pointed-beak Black Cormorant standing tall in the shallow water waiting for a small minnow to swim by. It was interesting to see the cormorant, given that shorebird was not present earlier at the lake. Occasionally, one or more teal ducks would be seen on the pond, but none made their stay permanent. The Canada goose pairs and mallard ducks settled in, hopefully, for the long haul to hatching. Time will tell.

Spring is the most active season for wildlife, due to the migration instinct and  nature’s propagation. This spring is slowing our pace, while we stay close to home. It is encouraging us to be more observant, opening our eyes to what has always been in our view, but we were too hurried to notice. This year is one for history yet one that can encourage us to get outdoors and walk with a new view of nature amongst the awareness of the serious and critical impact the COVID-19 is having on people and communities.

Outdoorsman and Westminster resident Ron Hellbusch can be reached at Ron-Hellbusch Comcast.net


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