I have had the opportunity this semester to explore Shelby Bottoms, a scenic Metro Park along the Cumberland River. I, along with my classmate Rachel Grimm, have spent the past few months as an intern in the park’s nature center. From this position I have been able to expand my knowledge of the natural world thanks to the expertise of the naturalists in the nature center. They have taught me to recognize crayfish chimneys in the muddy lowland, which materialize almost overnight. I’ve learned to distinguish species of frogs in the park based on their calls and to spy their inconspicuous little forms by patiently watching for inflating vocal sacs.
I have spent most of my time trying to learn the diverse species of birds within the park. The landscape, comprised of wetlands, wooded sections, and open fields, lends itself to being an ideal habitat for a variety of bird species, and learning to recognize as many as I can has been a gratifying challenge. Most days at the nature center Rachel and I wander the park with binoculars, identification guides, and cameras to log the species that we encounter. This helps the naturalists keep track of which birds are thriving in the park and to discern when migrant birds are beginning to return to the area after wintering further south. Our sightings include observing tiny song sparrows splash around in puddles, seeing a flock of crows swarm a menacing, solitary hawk a few hundred feet in the air, and watching mallards paddle around the beaver pond. We even got to witness a rehabilitated red-tailed hawk be released back into the wild only to be confronted by a horde of blue jays raising alarm to warn others of the new threat.
However, our sightings are not limited to birds. We’ve seen deer, voles, pond sliders (turtles), and a snapping turtle as big around as beach ball. Our adventures at Shelby Bottoms have been a thrilling and informative experience. The more I learn about nature, the more fervently I wish to protect it and to convey its magnificence to others.