Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

The tiny bird was barely visible in the leaf litter.

Only the fluttering of its wings gave away its position. Since it had been a slow morning for wildlife viewing at Sahara Woods State Fish and Wildlife Area, I was intrigued.

My eyes remained locked on the bird as it flew into the lower branches of a pine tree. After sliding the car into park, I found the bird in my binoculars. The brown feathers and red cap of a chipping sparrow contrasted nicely with the pine needles and dark background.

Putting the binoculars down momentarily, I looked at the bird with my naked eye. It looked so small, so insignificant.

That though compelled me to take one more look at the sparrow. At that point I felt a smug smile form on my face.

“That bird has no idea I’m looking at him,” I thought to myself. “It has no idea I’m watching every move.”

That is precisely the problem with nearly every human interaction with nature. We see just one side of the coin.

Moments after that thought crossed my mind, another chilling thought entered.

“How many critters are eyeing me?” I thought.

“Is there an owl in that tree?”

“That brush pile over there? Raccoons have their eye on me?”

“Squirrels? Squirrels? I know you’re out there. You do understand that I’m joking when I say all those horrible things about you? Right? We’re good?”

Although those thoughts smack of paranoia, that doesn’t mean those critters weren’t out there. Half the animals I see are by accident, tipped off by a blurry movement in my peripheral vision.

It was an unsettling notion.

Fortunately, my ADD kicked in a few minutes later.

About a mile down the road, dozens of open milkweed pods were clearly visible from the road, a few cottony seeds still clinging stubbornly to the rough husks. Once again, I felt a smile form, but this time for another reason.

Inching down the road, more milkweed pods appeared, and then still more at the end of the field. The proliferation of the milkweed spells good news for monarch butterflies. Unfortunately, there were no butterflies to be seen.

One thought led to another, and it dawned on me that perhaps the Illinois Department of Natural Resources should cut back on its approach to manicuring state parks.

Granted, state parks and fish and wildlife areas are managed differently. But, it might be a notion worth pursuing. Does the state really need to mow all open spaces? Obviously, there is a need for picnic and play areas at state parks, but we could create more wildlife habitat without additional expense.

Actually, the state could even save a few bucks on gasoline and divert some manpower hours by mowing less.

LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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