Friday, November 16, 2012

A Walk on the Wild Side

If you've read my blog at all, you probably know that I spend a considerable amount of time in my car driving to and from work.  I pretty much whine and harp on it every chance I get.  But it's not all bad.

Most of my drive time is spent at one or the other, and sometimes both, twilight times every week day.  Pretty much year around the morning drive is conducted at least part way in the grey of early morning. During the late fall to late winter time frame I get darkness and/or twilight both coming and going.  My Dad and my husband have admonished me countless times on the dangers of driving on Nebraska highways during these times because of the opportunities to encounter our native wildlife.

Mule deer in Rocky Mountain National Park
What they're getting at is my chances of hitting a deer while traveling at highway speeds is somewhat enhanced during the time of day when visibility is limited.  Of course they're right.  But there is a compelling reason to be out and about especially at those particular times.

Every single day, without fail, I see one or more natural wonders on my drive.  In the mornings, I am most likely to see deer as they leave their beds and begin for forage for food.  Just this morning I watched a lone deer standing in a light fog on what used to be a corn field delighting in what the harvester left behind on the ground.  There must have been a PILE of corn there judging from the way it was chomping and glancing around nervously then chomping again.  I almost ran myself off the road watching it enjoy the corn.

Photo Credit:
Henry Zeman/NWTF
It is also not uncommon for me to see wild turkeys.  I've spent this summer watching a particular group raise their poults to fledglings and beyond.  Usually, I see them grazing quite close to the edge of the highway shoulder just outside the tall grass in the ditch.  I say grazing because I see them snooping around in the grass and eating something.  Insects?  Tasty green shoots?  I don't know what wild turkeys eat.  A couple of weeks ago, I saw a flock that was at least 50 strong.  It was a stunning sight.

I have seen rabbits, raccoons, opossums, domestic cats and the occasional badger or coyote.  I also see birds of prey like red-tailed hawks, Swainson's hawks, American kestrels and once I got up close and personal with a huge owl that flew about 10 feet in front of my car as I drove home late one Saturday night after a dance party.  I didn't stop to ask him about his heritage so I couldn't tell you what kind he was...or that he could have been a she.  How should I know?

When a llama puts its ears down, it's warning you to back off.
Living in this part of the world, I almost have to see animals everywhere I go.  Cattle and horses are kept on nearly every farm.  Just about five blocks from my house is a small farm where they keep llamas.  I look for ducks every time I pass by.  I can't help it.

But without a doubt, my favorite time of year for wildlife watching is the early spring.  Every year, at least once, I pass over the crest of a hill on the highway somewhere and I am rewarded with a fabulous view of an enormous flock of migrating fowl either flapping along overhead or pausing to rest and forage for snacks on a dormant corn field.  Snow geese really do look like drifts of snow from far away.  Really, really. It's pretty cool.  Other than the geese, the best part of spring is the crane migration.

The Central Flyway of the US goes right over top of central Nebraska.  My little town is on the eastern edge of that flyway.  We see a lot of birds here.  But, as you travel west along Interstate 80, the number of cranes, like the sandhill crane, goes up almost exponentially.

Sometimes my friends from other parts of the world will ask me what it is that keeps me here.  There are no major metropolitan areas nearby.  There are no popular professional sports teams to speak of.  There are no celebrity hang-outs even close.  Maybe those are some of my reasons.

I know what makes me happy.
I love the land.  I love the animals both wild and domestic.  Nothing makes me happier than to see a herd of cattle grazing in contentment on a field of corn stubble or to watch the youngsters kicking up their heels in the midst of a herd of cows.  Well, nothing except maybe a flock of chickens on the green, spring grass...especially a flock of white Silkies.  But that's another blog post.

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