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Nature’s elusive surprises

Photo by Jeff Tome Great Horned Owls are often heard but rarely seen, making a sighting extra exciting.

Nature is elusive. It holds back its secrets or special moments until you least expect them. It’s common knowledge among nature lovers that if you go out with the intent to see or experience one specific thing, whether that’s seeing a certain animal or looking for a specific phenomenon, it probably won’t happen. Eventually nature will bend and give you that experience, but it will happen when you least expect it.

I have seen a Great Horned Owl twice in my life. It wasn’t on any of the owl prowls I’ve taken part in, or any of the night hikes I’ve led. The first Great Horned Owl I saw was sitting on top of my childhood neighbor’s house, in the middle of the day. I was young, but I remember my parents excitedly pointing it out. The second time was more recently, this past thanksgiving. My family was taking our post-dinner dusk walk when an owl silently glided out of the trees and soared over us. Both owl encounters were unexpected and exciting.

Years ago, I was adventuring with a friend through some dense woods. It was fall, the leaves were almost all down, and most of our surroundings were varying shades of brown. Our goal for the adventure was to find a neat looking swampy area that we could see on satellite images. I was hoping it would be a beaver pond, or if we were lucky enough, a mossy bog. We made it to the site and while it had a special beauty with the changing fall colors, it was nothing more than a marshy swamp, not one beaver chew in sight.

We turned around and started making our way back, picking our way through the underbrush. It was tough going, with thorny branches reaching out to grab us and slow us down. Eventually we found a large, downed tree, a natural highway that took us out of the thorny bushes we had been slogging through. As we walked down the trunk, we saw a motion ahead of us in the forest. A Bobcat was almost perfectly camouflaged in the brown leaves. All three of us stood motionless for a few minutes, no one daring to move. Eventually the Bobcat slowly turned and moseyed away.

When we decided to go on this adventure to explore the area, I never expected nature to provide such a unique experience. This was the first, and only, time I have seen a wild Bobcat, and it took me entirely by surprise. While I had ventured out to find one thing, nature decided to give me something entirely different, yet just as rewarding.

Photo by Jeff Tome Nature is full of surprises. You never know what you will find on a hike outside.

When I go for walks or hikes, I admit that I sometimes find myself wearing blinders. I am so focused on what I think I will see, that I miss something right in front of me. Last summer, I was with a group of campers in the backwoods of Audubon. We had been looking for a good spot to build a fort, a favorite activity of our campers.

We had just found a spot and put down our bags when a camper asked, “What’s that?”. Hanging over my head, only a couple inches above me, was a beautiful nest. It was suspended from the branches, and using a mirror, we saw three little eggs inside. Later, back at the building, we decided it was a Red-eyed Vireo nest. Without that camper, I don’t think I would have seen that nest, even though it was right in front of me.

I am sure I have missed seeing many cool and unexpected things while out exploring nature, simply because I wasn’t paying enough attention. I would love to say that moving forward, I will have open eyes and see all these surprises nature throws my way, but I know that is not the case. I will still miss things right in front of me, or things I simply don’t expect to see. But is that a bad thing? I don’t really think so. We can’t expect ourselves to notice everything, and by not noticing everything, that makes the surprises we do see even more special.

Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk and birds of prey can be viewed anytime the trails are open. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.

Photo by Emma Roth Day campers at Summer Camp found this vireo nest, which their counselor helped them see by putting a mirror above it to make the inside visible.

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