Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.
As we approached the viewing area, large rectangular hay bales perched beneath the tree line partially hidden from view from overhead. We walked as quietly as we could while bundled in all manner of winter wear. Our family of four picked a hay bale for our seating and settled in to wait…
As novice birdwatchers, we had already had a successful day. Once we arrived at the Great Salt Plains State Park after our 3-hour drive north, we found a picnic table near the spillway and ate our daily salad, though it was cold enough that we certainly wished we had packed thermoses with warm soup instead. A short walk away we could see Ring-billed gulls flying over the spillway so we walked over to check out the view. Just over the edge of the spillway wall, we saw at least a hundred pelicans. We were mesmerized as we watched them moving as a group in swift motions herding a group of fish, then in unison jutting their heads into the frigid waters while their tail feathers fluttered in the breeze. Then they were upright again and off to chase down more fish.
From the state park we drove to the wildlife refuge headquarters building to meet up with the group then headed to the viewing area.
It wasn’t long before the stars of the show began to fly in to their evening roosting area. They came slowly, one at a time generally from the southwest and landing on branches in the trees to our north. Juvenile and adult bald eagles and golden eagles flew to rest for the night after a day spent searching for food. The numbers were staggering, with roughly 35 of the magnificent birds flying in for the night.
We heard other animal sounds, mainly coming from the thousands of Sandhill Cranes that make Oklahoma’s Great Salt Lake their winter home, but a Great Horned Owl remained elusive from sight. The Sandhill Cranes flew in in droves for the evening calling out to each other across the night sky with their massive wings rushing through the sky.
Sitting there on that hay bale as dark crept upon us, I was reminded of another night several miles west of where we sat during a much warmer time of year. That night we sat in lawn chairs outside of a secluded cave opening west of Alabaster Caverns State Park, worrying not about how numb our fingers were becoming, but about how many mosquito bites we were acquiring despite our attempts at chemical warfare using bug repellent. However, just like this night, once the honored guests arrived we were no longer concerned with any physical discomfort.
That July night we sat mesmerized as thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats embarked on their nightly feeding flights. They streamed from the cave opening in small and large flocks, zooming directly over our heads. While two families of coyotes called to each other across the valley a Great Horned Owl watched the display from atop a nearby ridge, but we never saw it attempt to catch one of the bats. The bats were near enough to us that we could hear the rush of their tiny wings as they darted through the night sky.
I rank both of these experiences in my top 6 nature experiences of all time and in my top 4 experiences with animals in nature. Overall, the beauty of such experiences, of sharing nature with our family and friends is unmatched in connecting us to each other and to the natural world.
Nature, when truly appreciated, fills us with awe and leaves us grateful and longing for more.
What more could we ask of a place that is “home”?
Do you want to seek out experiences such as this to enjoy with your family and friends? Check with your local state parks, national parks, wildlife refuges, and more for opportunities.
Here are a few great guidebooks to get you started learning about National Parks and State Parks near you…
You can also search National Park Service events online here
Get out there in our “home” and connect with your friends and family, with creation, and most importantly with our Creator.
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