I’ve lived in Arizona my whole life, so naturally I’ve gained an appreciation for the wildlife, wild places, and yes, even the weather we have here. I’m not ashamed to admit I actually like the heat! When I was growing up, my dad took every opportunity to drag me up to Big Lake and the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, Roosevelt Lake, Saguaro Lake, and our own designated “Billy” Camp, named after my dad’s first hunting dog.
I was hiking in the desert or wandering around a rocky lakeshore almost every weekend from ages 6-13, and I both loved and hated it. Like so many children today, I loved being outside, but also longed to sleep in, stay home, and watch my tv shows or play on the computer — though back then, my computer was a huge, hulking machine that I shared with my family. Naturally, as I grew older, when my dad would ask me to go camping, hunting, fishing, or hiking with him, I chose to stay home. What could I have possibly been missing?
I drew away from the wilds of Arizona and it’s one of my biggest regrets in life.
Despite that loss, I somehow managed to pursue Biology in college. All around me were students who were hiking, rock climbing, and knew a million facts about Arizona wildlife and the state of water conservation. I felt like I knew nothing.
Four years later, I signed up for a bird identification class without the slightest idea of how it would change the trajectory of my life.
The first birding trip I went on was in Tempe, Arizona. One would assume that trip would be pretty dull. What could I have possibly seen other than a pigeon, dove, or European Starling? This is the first list of birds I found and identified on that trip in Tempe:
It’s so easy to forget how diverse wildlife in Arizona is, and it’s especially easy to forget that when living in a paved, developed, vehicle-filled landscape. Seeing all of those birds, learning their names, and hearing their different calls spoke to me. The city is not dead — it’s alive and filled with so many different species that we share Arizona with.
Green Heron seen in Kiwanis Park, Tempe.
When I started birding in less urban landscapes that were less than an hour away, like the Glendale Recharge Ponds, my list of birds grew:
It’s my greatest belief now that you can, and should, appreciate nature wherever you are coming from. Even if you live in the city, there’s always an animal or plant you can identify. When you explore wilder areas, your knowledge will only grow, and in my opinion, make you appreciate what lives in the city even more. The fact that those city wildlife manage to survive and even thrive makes them all the more wonderful.
The more aware you are of the wonderful wildlife around you, the greater your appreciation for nature, life, and Arizona’s beauty will be.
This Saturday is National Public Lands Day, a day dedicated to the enjoyment and celebration of our public lands, where so much wildlife lives. How will you appreciate nature on the 24th?