Backyard Adventures

by: Doug Alderson, Outdoor & Nature Expert

Sometimes, I don't have the time or inclination to venture out to a trail somewhere for a hiking, biking or kayaking adventure. That's when I can find adventure is right in my backyard! Granted, I live in a forested area south of Tallahassee that is wilder than most downtown neighborhoods, but I hear stories of encounters with foxes, coyotes, snakes and other wildlife in downtown areas that tells me that these adventures are widespread.

Amorous broad-headed skinks by Doug AldersonOne of my favorite incidents occurred on my front porch. There, two broad-headed skinks were in a mating mood, with the male's head enlarged and red. The male had a front leg around the female in what seemed to be a love gesture and I took a nice photo from my front steps. In the months that followed, my wife and I enjoyed watching young skinks cavort around the porch, and we've had some every year since.

We've had our share of snakes. I'm not one who has an unreasonable fear, but I have been known to do a "snake leap" when encountering one unexpectedly, especially at night. Most are harmless black racers and oak snakes that keep the rodent population in check. On rare occasions, a large oak snake will climb a nearby tree and grab a squirrel. The ensuing struggle will bring both crashing to the ground, whereupon the snake begins the slow process of swallowing the squirrel whole.

Less pleasant are encounters with coral snakes. They have never stood their ground, but I generally stalk them to flip in a bucket with a shovel for relocation. They are certainly beautiful creatures, and generally non-aggressive. Snakes certainly have their place in the environment. I just become nervous when the venomous ones frequent the house area, especially since our dog is lame and the cat is deaf.

Roosting Zebra Longwing

Butterflies are magical creatures, and one year we had the honor of witnessing several dozen zebra longwings roost on a dead branch every evening. When they folded up for the night, they resembled shriveled brown leaves. The transformation was amazing.

Bird life is always fun to watch, and the serenade of songbirds from treetops is ever present. There is a large sinkhole next door and if sitting quietly, you can watch songbirds cautiously approach the water's edge and take baths. A few years ago, my neighbors put up an owl box on a tree beside the sink, and sure enough, a pair of barred owls nested there. It was a real treat to watch the white, fluffy fledgling owls venture out from the box and learn to fly. Ever since, barred owls are frequently seen around the sink, their raucous cries echoing across the nightscape.

By day, we often see red-shouldered hawks and they've nested in our yard on occasion. One afternoon, I spotted a hawk perched on a tree branch with a half eaten black racer in its talons. It was agreeable to a photograph.

Overhead, we've seen soaring bald eagles and swallow-tailed kites in certain seasons, and large pileated woodpeckers often take care of the carpenter bees in the shed by hammering out their tunnels in the boards.

Deer are frequent visitors, and fox and wild turkey live down the road. A young bear ambled through one time, a nuisance bear with ear tags that was later captured.

So, the adventures continue, and they're right in our backyard! Keep on the lookout. You never know who might visit.        


Doug Alderson. Outdoor & Nature Expert from Tallahassee, FL Author:

Doug Alderson

Outdoor & Nature Expert


Doug Alderson is the author of several books, including Waters Less Traveled: Exploring Florida's Big Bend Coast (University Press of Florida 2005), The Vision Keepers: Walking for Native Americans and the Earth (Quest Books 2007), New Dawn for the Kissimmee River: Orlando to Okeechobee by Kayak (University Press of Florida, 2009), Encounters with Florida's Endangered Wildlife (University Press of Florida, 2010), and his newest book, Wild Florida Waters: Exploring the Sunshine State by Kayak and Canoe (Earthways Press, 2011). Additionally, his articles and photographs have been featured in magazines such as Sea Kayaker, Coast and Kayak, Wildlife Conservation, American Forests, Sierra, Mother Earth News and Shaman's Drum. He has won several state and national awards for his books and magazine features. Doug also works as the paddling trails coordinator for the Florida Office of Greenways and Trails.

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