Nature photographer Lisa Rau invites you to explore the wilds of Renville County

Mar. 22---- No one has probably ever had a better guide to the wilds of Renville County.

But Lisa Rau, of Olivia has to admit it took moving away and returning home after some years away to really appreciate the natural world found right in her home county.

Now, she could very well become the guide who leads her neighbors and others to discover what they are missing. Her photographs of the birds, wildlife and surprising scenery she captures in her home county are certain to entice others to discover what waits in their backyards.

Lisa Rau's guide was her father, Tom Rau,

He had been a conservation officer with the

for 27 years.

Tom Rau and his wife, Elizabeth, raised two daughters and a son on a rural homestead about eight miles south of Olivia. A creek ran on the edge of the property, and he introduced Lisa and her siblings to fishing in its waters.

"We were always outdoors," Rau said of her childhood.

She explained that her father always enjoyed taking his family on a variety of outdoor adventures. Most were close to home, which is where she spends much of her free times these days, camera in hand.

For the last several years now, her passion has been exploring the county's wild places and capturing images of its avian residents and visitors, along with its other wildlife and surprising scenery.

She loves other places too, of course. She joined a group of women on a birding trip earlier this season to the Sax-Zim bog in northern Minnesota.

She loves to visit national parks. She realized during a trip to Glacier National Park that she could have spent a full month there, if only she had the time.

But there is no place like home.

"I have an appreciation for it," Rau said of the county's outdoor places. "I realize not everyone does. You have to entice people to realize what they have around here."

She can say that because she knows that many of the county's wild spaces are overlooked. More often that she would ever expect, she has these places to herself, she said. Except, that is, for the surprising diversity of birds and other wildlife on which she focuses her camera.

Her love for outdoor photography and hiking leads her to the county's parks along the Minnesota River, Vicksburg and Beaver Falls among her favorites, as well as a variety of Wildlife Management Areas scattered throughout the river valley and on the prairie lands.

Like her father, she has a passion for birds. The spring migration now starting makes this one of the most exciting times of the year for her.

A nurse by profession, she times her outdoor excursions around her work schedule. To her good fortune, it often allows her to get out at daybreak, when everything is starting to happen.

A little ironic too, because her passion for photography owes to a fascination with the beauty of the nighttime sky. She purchased her first camera purposely to capture images of the Milky Way and other celestial objects after enjoying the images that others were sharing on social media, she explained.

Always "outdoorsy" thanks to her upbringing, her focus turned to avian subjects and outdoor locations. She is now on her third camera, another Nikon.

She would like to develop a better "intel" network of people who can tip her off to the arrival of different birds during the spring and fall migrations. But she does all right by that accord. A tip not too long ago led her to a location north of Hector, where she was fortunate enough to capture images of a snowy owl. "A big, white puffball," she said.

Rau said she managed to quietly get up fairly close to capture the owl's image, which speaks to another reason why she enjoys her outdoor photography. The challenge of both finding and then getting close to her subjects without disturbing them is part of the fun.

Most of all, it is the sheer pleasure of being outdoors and enjoying the quiet and beauty only the natural world can offer. It's the perfect antidote to the demands of nursing, where "it's just this constant going, going, going," she said.

And after all, the outdoors of Renville County are home.

"I think a little bit of my dad is with me when I'm out there," she said.