No matter how you look at it, having grandchildren is wonderful. But having a grandchild who enjoys doing the things that you like to do cranks the whole "wonderful" feeling up a half a million notches. I am blessed to have my granddaughter Allegra (Allie), a little girl who, like her nana, loves to be outside enjoying nature.
Allie and her family live in the Washington, D.C. area, and they come to visit me at Chautauqua Lake. When they are here, Allie and I go out on the dock and watch the birds. She knows the squawking seagulls from the quacking mallards and likes the honking Canada geese as much as I do. Sometimes we are lucky and spot a soaring bald eagle in the distance or watch an osprey dive for his lunch. Over the last few years, we've also observed a couple of little green herons hanging around the neighborhood.
The belted kingfishers make us laugh with their chittering and erratic flight patterns. We stare wide-eyed as they dip, dart, chitter and then seemingly stand still in mid-air as they hover and then make a nose-dive to catch a fish. Great blue herons make us smile when we hear their prehistoric sounding "qawk" as they fly away.
On a stump in the woods behind her house, Allie looks through her bird book for a picture of a turkey.
Photo by Susan M. Songster-Weaver
Last summer, I had numerous barn swallows swooping about, catching insects and looking for nesting spots. I nullified their squatting rights when I found them trying to build in the rafters on my front porch, but they were persistent. A pair managed to build a nest on the stanchion under the end of my dock. When you walked out there, the swallows would fly from underneath and proceed to dive-bomb you until you left. The birds were successful in raising a couple of chicks. Allie wasn't here to see them, but she got excited when I took her in the kayak, and we paddled underneath the dock so she could see their nest.
When I go to visit Allie in Virginia, we make sure we take walks so she can see the "birdies." She lives in an area where, surprisingly enough, there are lots of woods. We often see "red birds" and black-capped chickadees. Many people have feeders and ornamental trees in their yards that are loaded with berries. Lots of little brown birds flit about, and sometimes noisy blue jays barge in to take over.
Last Christmas, I bought Allie a little wooden bird house, which her dad helped her paint. They hung it on a tree in her back yard. Her parents also hung a bird feeder near the dining room window so she could watch for birds.
When I headed to Florida in October, I asked Allie what she wanted me to bring her back. To my amazement, she asked for a bird book. I looked around and had a hard time finding one for preschoolers. The one I settled on had stickers. You are supposed to put the sticker on the page by the correct bird when you see it. She was delighted with it.
When I visited at Thanksgiving, we spent time outside looking through the book and talking about the birds we've seen at the lake, at her house and when she visited me at my "sunny house" in Florida. Since it was Thanksgiving and she had learned about turkeys at school, she liked finding the page with the picture of the wild turkey on it.
Allie and I enjoy our special time together outdoors. Sharing my love of nature with her makes both of us happy. So, take the time to take a child outside. Show them the trees and the flowers. Teach them the names of the birds and share your love for our natural world with them you won't be sorry you did.
Susan M. Songster-Weaver is retired teacher, nature lover and longtime CWC volunteer and supporter. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local nonprofit organization that is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, visit chautauquawatershed.org or call 664-2166.