Backyard Voyagers — Use Our Senses

Landscape / Sunday, January 14th, 2018

The more we use our senses, all of them, in our natural environments, the more we’ll discover and enjoy our experiences. The sights, sounds and smells in our yard are both reminders of plant and wildlife life cycles and indicators of seasons coming and going.

The visual impact of a sunrise or sunset, whether subtle or striking, has a seasonal feel and color palette. The plants in our yard that provide wildlife food and shelter offer a continuous show of flowers, berries and leaf colors throughout the year.

Sounds and smells can be equally enjoyable and instructive. In late March, I hear a bird call that I look forward to every year. The welcoming chirps and trills of the Red-winged Blackbird have always been a sign the warmer weather is not far away.

A Spring Peeper on a Hydrangea leaf.
A small, but loud, Spring Peeper blends in with a Hydrangea leaf.

Another sound of spring is the initial chorus of Spring Peepers. Thousands of these tiny creatures calling in unison echoes through the woods like an outdoor symphony.  Other sounds that we regularly here — squawking Great Blue Herons, singing House Wrens, incessantly chirping Chipmunks, the overhead screeching of Red Shouldered Hawks and the high pitched calls of a Wood Duck — are all reminders of the wildlife that share this yard.

FACT: The Wood Duck is one of the few duck species equipped with strong claws that can grip bark and perch on branches. They are the only North American duck that regularly produces two broods in one year.

We often hear alarm signals our birds and furry friends use to communicate impending danger. A pair of Catbirds alerts me to a Short-tailed Weasel passing through the yard ten feet away. And calling Crows let me know that a Red-Tailed or Cooper’s Hawk has landed in a nearby tree.

Smells, pleasant or not, are part of our backyard experience, as well. Perennials, blooming at different times, give off a wide variety of fragrances, some much more pronounced than others. A blooming Lilac is a strong, unrelenting scent. The Lilac, which is planted in the front yard, spreads its fragrance well into the backyard. We enjoy tearing leaves from the mints, verbenas and other herbs every so often while working in or wandering about the yard. Is there anything more citrusy than Lemon Verbena or more delicious than the scent of fresh Basil?

Wonderful colors
There are wonderful displays of colors to be seen all year long.

Of course, not all smells are necessarily pleasant. Decaying carrion from a kill is certainly an unappealing odor. I discovered a raccoon carcass by the pungent scent coming from the woods. The same goes for a partially eaten young rabbit, probably a meal for a bobcat or a fox. It’s a reminder of the life and death struggles these creatures face on a daily basis.

The sights, sounds and smells of our environments are a constant reminder of the ever-changing life surrounding us. Let’s use our senses — they can always tell us something.

OBSERVATION: Blue Jays, Catbirds and Crows make so many different types of sounds, from clucking to chirping and squawking, that I usually have to look before I know exactly which one of them is making a particular call.