This article was written by Jessica Johnsrud, education coordinator. Attached photo of Lake Michigan taken by Jessica Johnsrud
I recently moved to a new neighborhood and it has been a pleasure getting acquainted with the area. Almost every morning and each evening, I bundle up and take my dog for a walk. We meander on the sidewalks and grassy paths, greeting other folks who are out walking their four-legged friends. I’ve also met many other residents of the area that I may have overlooked, had I not taken the time to notice them.
The first neighbors I encountered proved to be a regal duo, perched high above in an old Cottonwood Tree. They stood very still as they looked out over Lake Michigan. Their bodies were dark brown, their head and tail feathers were white and their beaks and feet bright yellow. I’ve seen this Bald Eagle pair regularly and they tend to draw attention. More than once I’ve watched folks photograph the couple or pull to the side of road to watch them. Many times just one of the eagles is perched on the tree, perhaps waiting for the other to return with lunch.
When the eagles are elsewhere, I’ve noticed a small flock of European Starlings will gather in the tree. They are a loud bunch, singing a hodgepodge of songs including buzzy and squeaky sounds and something reminiscent of a red-tailed hawk’s call. Starlings are known for imitating other birds and even human-made sounds, so they are entertaining to observe.
While walking next to the large maple trees that line the road, I’m often greeted by White-breasted Nuthatches. I enjoy watching them creep along the trunks and branches, stopping to look around. They constantly chatter as they look for insects and good hiding spots to jam seeds into bark crevices.
I’ve also met some of the more shy residents in the area. Early one evening, I spied a young opossum waddling across the street. For many, this is an undesirable neighbor, but this unusual looking mammal helps keep the neighborhood clean by eating road kill, garden pests and even ticks. On a few occasions, I’ve scared up a Cottontail Rabbit that was nibbling on plants in the yard. The rabbit instinctively froze in my presence, hoping I didn’t notice.
Everyday I make it a point to say hello (and many times good night) to the most noticeable neighbor – Lake Michigan. I find her to be the most interesting, likely because of her many moods. Some days she’s chatty and full of life with rafts of ducks and geese floating on her rolling, sparkling blue-green waves. Other days she’s almost silent and her water eerily still and gray. Once in a while she seems upset and her waves topple over and crash into the shore. Regardless of her mood, I greatly enjoy our daily visits.
Next time you walk your neighborhood, take the time to slow down, observe the natural world and get to know your non-human neighbors.