Neighborhood Walks | 9.26.2015

My daughter and I took a quick walk yesterday around the usual places. Taking walks with her reminds me of my own childhood, though hers is much different than mine. As a kid in the 90’s in an area that was transitioning from rural forest to (now dense) suburbia, I was allowed a lot more free rein to explore than my daughter will be. My friends and I were under the rules of come-home-when-the-streetlights-turn-on, and we wandered for miles without our parents having any idea where we were. I have fond memories of scrambling through culverts to follow creeks upstream, belly-crawling under barbed wire fences to get to the best fields for filling buckets with grasshoppers, and sneaking into neighbors’ overgrown pastures to befriend and attempt to ride their barely trained horses.

Nowadays, I can’t imagine allowing my daughter to be gone all day with no way to know where she is or what she’s doing. With her cautious disposition I imagine it will be years before she even wants to go off on her own any farther than our front step. However, it is very important to me that she grows up having known the natural areas around her home more deeply than just as the places we pass by on our way to somewhere else. For a 7 year old, I think she’s actually got a pretty good handle on it! If she were asked for a tour of her neighborhood she’d surely point out the ant hills and rodent burrows, she could tell you which streams are frequented by muskrats and nutria, and where and when the weasels and rabbits come out. She could name about a dozen native plants, and tell you whether the holes in a tree were made by a woodpecker or a sapsucker. Ask her about her secret trails and hiding spots and you’ll get more than a short list. I suppose my pride is showing… but in this day of hours of homework for elementary students and the allure of Minecraft I feel I have a right to be proud that we make it outdoors often enough for her to know these things.

Outdoorsy 7 year old

Walk: 62°F | Sunny | 4-5:30PM | 3 miles | Bothell, WA

On yesterday’s walk I tasked her with pointing out signs of fall. She’s been anxious for the leaves to change (because she has a head full of craft ideas) but it’s happening too slowly for her. So we spotted other things instead.

There were things that we saw that told us summer is over. Flowers and cattails have gone to seed, grasses are turning yellow and dying back.

Seed Heads

Then, there were the things we didn’t see. The swallows have flown away, and there were no snakes sunning themselves by the paths.

Yet, as I have said before, we always see something new! This week it was a wasp nest, a foot away from the path we have been walking all spring and summer without ever having noticed. The changing water levels and wilting of the patch of forget-me-nots it was nestled in revealed it. We sat for a while, watching the yellow jackets, marveling at this animal home that we never would have spotted if we hadn’t been there at the right time.

Yellow Jacket Nest

We wandered on for a while. We found that our favorite secret path is no longer blocked by fallen trees, but the beaver dam on the other side of it was once again removed by the city. A nutria swam lazily by, not seeming to mind the dam’s absence or our presence. The pond was full of mallards and green-winged teal, and I got to put my shorebird identification to the test on what I eventually figured out were long-billed dowitchers.

On our way back we found another sign that fall has arrived – the tiniest wooly bear caterpillar I have ever seen!

Baby Caterpillar

As the breeze picked up and the sun started to dip below the trees it got quite cold. We’ve been longing for the chill of fall for so long, but now that it’s here we’re getting caught by surprise in our light sweaters! We hurried back to the warmth of home, but checked in on the storm pond on our street first.

Hooded Merganser in Storm Pond

The female hooded merganser I spotted a few weeks ago brought her friends with her! We saw 7 females and 3 males. They’re such a strange looking and pretty duck – we feel lucky to have an easy spot to view them up close.

I’m really glad to have made it outside this weekend. I love that I get to share my fascination with nature with my little one. We’ve got big plans for today too – checking out a nearby fish ladder, and then hopefully getting a good look at the supermoon eclipse tonight! What do you do to get outside on your days off?

Areas visited: My neighborhood trails

Species observed: Mallard, Green-winged Teal, Hooded Merganser, Killdeer, Long-Billed Dowitcher, Black-capped chickadee, Dark-eyed Junco, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Gray Squirrel, Nutria, Yellow Jacket, Wooly Bear Caterpillar.

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