Flying Colors is a sponsored column on the hobby of backyard bird feeding written by Michael Zuiker, owner of the Wild Birds Unlimited store at the Lee Harrison Shopping Center. Visit the store at 2437 N. Harrison Street or call 703-241-3988.
Last week, my son and I traveled to a different world. It was still on the planet Earth. It was still in the United States. It was actually in Wisconsin. But it was a different world.
For you see, my son and I travelled to the Northwoods of Wisconsin. Where you can stand on a bridge or hill and have a 360 degree view of beauty. Beauty in the form of tall Spruce, Norwegian Pine, Cedar, Oak and Maple trees rising up to the sky. Clean, strong, perfect in their shape and form; not pulled down or suffocated by invasive walls of vines and killing weeds. A sky that is at once crystal clear cerulean blue, and slate grey and robin’s egg blue. A sky that changes in a blink of the eye from bunny rabbit soft pillow clouds to massive Cumulus Nimbus “Big Momma” thunderstorms that dare you to get in their way.
And a landscape that offers you wide open vistas that are not decimated into 4,000 irregular pieces by telephone lines, power poles, billboards, buildings or cellular towers which allows you to watch these majestic storms roll over the corn and wheat fields, laying down their torrential rains from 45 miles away.
A world where animals and birds live and die as the natural order set it in place. Where loons make daily recordings of their spooky and siren call. Where geese fly low over water with their natural call as they settle in for the night.
Ducks swim mightily up the Wisconsin River as if going to the gym to build up strength for the coming seasons. Great Blue Herons stand straight and erect on shallow ground waiting for the unsuspecting fish to come into striking range. Where squadrons of Cedar Waxwings put on nightly aerial shows that rival Cirque de Soleil as they feed on flying insects and ripe berries from the shrubs. Warblers, sparrows and Kingbirds all feast on the flying insects; which there are no shortage of.
If you see one mosquito, you see 10,173 in every 10 square feet of space. In other words, the size of one adult male, six feet tall. But mosquitos drift and they like water. And when they fly over a watery surface and hungry carnivores lie waiting underneath, the show is about to begin.
Panfish species of fish, aptly named for fitting in a frying panning heated with butter, explode out of the water with mouth wide open to gorge themselves before nightfall. When the water is stone cold grey and still like a sheet of ice, the fish bug show is mesmerizing. Nature though has one more surprise in store before the day ends.
With a clear view of the horizon and with a water canvas for the foreground, the sunsets can create colorful masterpieces for up to two hours. The bright yellow setting orb begins to pull in colors of orange and tan and sienna and red into its sphere. With charity in its heart, the sun then explodes out these colors it has gathered and paints the sky. Minute after minute the sky changes. And just when you think the sun is done, lost below the horizon, it paints with more colors a masterpiece.
More often than not, this area of Wisconsin is called the cool Northwoods. With high temperatures in the upper 50s and lower sixties on some summer days, this name is appropriate. But even with high temperatures in the lower 80s, the nights cool off. That is what happens with large areas of undeveloped green space.
Trees, grasses, prairies, wildflowers all gather heat during the day. For their growth. They do not retain it. So, days and nights are regulated naturally. The minimal footprint of asphalt and concrete keeps the balance as it should be. That balance allows wildflowers to explode in the fields and the prairies. Dragonflies, bees, hummingbirds all dance around the bouquet helping to pollinate and grow the flowers.
When I was 10 years old and growing up on the south side of Chicago, we had natural wildflower prairies of an acre or more everywhere. We did nothing to make them grow. It was all natural. No tilling, no fertilizing, no pesticides, and no poison weed killer. What clearly stands out in those memories was that the field was exploding with millions of insects. Insects that were not destructive or intimidating. My brothers and I explored these prairies daily because it was exciting and because it was fun. It could have been educational but I was having too much fun!
I’ve since learned that you can have both. Enjoying the incredible natural world around you is both an opportunity for fun and for learning. Our store boasts many waterproof pamphlets that are perfect for a hike or camping trip. You can easily identify the species you’re seeing, while simultaneously learning about their typical habitat, size, and mating patterns. More comprehensive books that we have in store even go so far as to tell you how to coax a bird into feeding out of your out of the palm of your hand!
The thing to remember is that Different Worlds are everywhere. You do not have to go to Wisconsin to see them. Great Falls National Park, Lake Fairfax, Potomac Overlook Regional Park and the Blue Ridge Mountains are different worlds waiting to be discovered within a short drive, and the opportunity to observe and learn never ends. So, grab your camera, strap on your binoculars, stuff your bird book, flower book, and reptile book in your back pack and pack a water bottle and explore. You’ll uncover a wonderful new world in your world!