Our property in Columbia, Missouri, is of modest size but has enough variety of foliage and landscape to attract an interesting diversity of creatures. Raccoons, opossums, cottontails, squirrels, field mice, shrews, moles and occasional white-tailed deer are among the mammalian residents and visitors. Amphibians and reptiles include American toads, garter snakes and blue-tailed skinks and, of course, we host the usual mix of resident and migrant birds. Then there are the various insects, spiders and crustaceans that, in the end, are of most interest to young children.
Indeed, having grandchildren sets the stage for regular backyard safaris. While the excursions are not always successful when it comes to finding reptiles and mammals, these mini-adventures are sure to turn up a variety of interesting creatures. Our oldest grandson has become an amateur birder (spurred on by the gift of a field guide) while his younger brother is most fascinated with ladybugs, daddy-long-legs and rollie-pollies; but the chance of finding a snake or lizard is usually the initial motivation.
Such explorations, rarely lasting more than 30 minutes, are enjoyable for the leader and the kids alike. In truth, I often discover something new myself (especially in the plant kingdom) and know that these safaris will have lasting effects on the boys. Like most things in life, an interest in nature is best instilled during childhood.