Wildlife Research, Monitoring & Mentoring

Observing Nature When Life Gets Busy

WEEK 4 & 5

As life gets busy in the summer, it’s hard to fit all one’s activities in, especially during the confines of a weekend. I always try my best not to be too rigid about things. Imagine watching reeds in a high wind: they bend but they do not break. Now imagine trees standing in that same wind: they are rigid, perhaps even in denial of the busy world around them. Just take a walk through the woods and count the number of fallen trees you find. You will quickly grasp the dangers of remaining rigid. Bending is a much less stressful way to navigate through a busy life.

Bending to the demands of my busy life did not allow me to write about my week four and five visits to my study plot, and since then I have been away on vacation, which is a whole other form of being busy. As a result, I have yet to visit my plot during the entire month of August! Nevertheless, as of week five, the plants were growing well, seed heads had formed on the grasses, and in the case of the velvet grass, had already blown away in the wind. The common milkweed seed pods were growing bigger and I found that the milkweed was attracting the greatest number of insects.

My last observation was on the final Saturday in July. My plot was lush, with the common milkweed towering above all the vegetation, turning them into beacons for ravenous insects as I noticed more than a few of their leaves were half-eaten by the various insects they play host to. Common milkweed is one of the most recognizable of our native plants, and is known far and wide as the host plant for our iconic monarch butterfly, a species that is struggling to keep itself from disappearing from our lives.

Common milkweed towering over my plot

In my notes, I use a shorthand that not everybody will understand. Using four-letter codes that some birders and all bird-banders would know, I kept track of the bird species I heard while standing at the plot. Nature observation is a feast for all the senses, and in my opinion the most precious sense is hearing. So I like to write down what hear. I also wrote down what I saw and everything I smelled as well, with the scent of flowering sweet pepperbush sitting heavily in the air.

All of these things may not have been in my plot. But they are what I experienced while I was at my plot, and in the end, I decided that I want to capture the entirety of the experience this plot brings to me. As I stated in my first post, the purpose of the plot was to bond with my backyard, and it exists as a tool that I am using to achieve that purpose with one major benefit. A funny thing happens when you add an activity like this to a busy schedule. You may think and feel like you are adding another thing that steals time away from your day. But the second you start your observation, time stops. Once immersed in the rhythm of nature, you forget about being busy. And if this activity works the way it is supposed to, and you find a measure of peace in your own busy life.

My notes from my last visit

So, with nothing going on in my plot, I searched nearby and found an eastern forktail damselfly soaking up the sun on a milkweed leaf. Then I spied a tiny gem on a milkweed leaf, a long-legged fly, most likely in the subfamily Sciapodinae (as deduced by iNaturalist), and a two-striped planthopper on the same milkweed’s stem, trying its best to imitate a leaf. I am now immensely curious to see how much (or how little…) my plot has changed in the month I have been away. Maybe the milkweed has gone to seed…maybe the grasses will have grown taller than everything else…maybe my roommate’s tractor mower will have ended the whole experiment entirely! Either way, I will be sure to let you know.

Sciapodinae sp.

To keep up with my latest activities, join our Facebook Group, the Natural Neighbors Network. And if you are looking for a more consistent nature-based activity close to home,  why don’t you give iNaturalist a try? You can use the iNaturalist app on your phone to document and keep track of your own nature sightings. iNat’s artificial intelligence and online naturalist community can be immensely helpful to budding naturalist and can inspire contributions to scientific study at the same time.

You can download iNaturalist here:https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/mobile_apps_nz

<a href="https://biodiversityworksmv.org/author/rcouse/" target="_self">Rich Couse</a>

Rich Couse


Rich is a Conservation Biologist and the director of the Natural Neighbors program. He grew up in Fall River, Massachusetts and lives in West Tisbury. Rich has a B.A. from UMASS in English with a minor in Education, a M.C. in Publishing from Emerson College, and an M.S. in Environmental Sciences, Conservation Biology from Antioch University. Profile photo credit: Ray Ewing, MV Magazine

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