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Egrets, Herons, & Hawks – Oh my! The Marsh at Sunrise

Sunday, June 17

Two white egrets, 4-6 green herons, and 2 great blue herons were spectacular sights to reward me for dashing out of bed at 5:15am on a Sunday to catch the early morning life at the “Home Depot marsh”.

On my way, I saw two white shapes in marsh area 2 but I was on the other side of the highway getting there. I was hoping they weren’t just trash! The nice thing about observing the same landscape often is that you notice when there’s something obviously new.

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Glimpses of Nature This Week

oops, I tried a different method of posting and the pics came out way too big …

Work commitments kept me indoors most of the week so nature observations were short and where I could find them:

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A Round-up of Nature Observations, week of June 3

Sunday, 6/3  – Robert E. Lee Park

Walking along the boardwalk to the parking lot, I heard people whooping and shouting. I stopped to see what they were watching: a red-shouldered hawk was below us eating his prey, and a group of crows were harassing him. Neat sight to see! (no pictures though)

This morning’s sunrise, creating a shadow on the wall:

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“Hey, Come Look At This!” – Our First ParkQuest, at Sandy Point State Park

“Hey, come look at this!” was shouted at least 50 times to draw attention to a tiny red berry in the grass, a rock sprinkled with glitter, the biggest dragonfly I’ve ever seen, and many more “discoveries”.  And the fish. “Where the forest ends and the bay begins” started with a large puddle along the marsh edge – home to a frog and dozens of little fish. That puddle kept the girls entertained for about a half hour, trying to catch one of the fish in a water bottle; testing the softness of the ground with sticks; chasing butterflies and moths; and sneaking up on dragonflies.

The ParkQuest itself was secondary, just a structure to give us some direction to explore nature in a new setting. I almost had to bribe the girls to leave the puddle so we could follow the next clue and collect our last stamp.

That just opened up an entirely new world. Read more

Marshy Morning & New Discoveries!

I saw a green heron for the first time and finally ID’d tree swallows, during a short trip to explore the local marshes in the early morning. The green heron is gorgeous: blue/green wings; rust-colored belly; and bright orange legs/talons. It’s smaller than other herons and more compact, and its legs are much shorter.

Here’s a pic from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology “All About Birds” website:

It must’ve been nesting in shrubbery along the shoulder of the road and I disturbed it. When I pulled over & got out of my car, it flew out to the center of the marsh. Lucky for me, it perched on a tree long enough to collect its characteristics. Naturalist Steve from the Irvine Nature Center confirmed the ID for me.

Also in the marsh, I’ve seen little birds flitting around, they are striking. They are small with white bellies. Today one perched within binocular distance for me and I was able to ID it (also confirmed by Naturalist Steve) as a tree swallow. Such a common name for such a pretty bird! Its head and top of wings is a beautiful shade of blue – almost iridescent. Here’s a pic, also from the Cornell website:

I was super-excited about the finds. Particularly as this is a new location for nature viewing. The marsh that I stop at along Rt. 40, across from Home Depot, is dissected by the ramp to Rt. 24. This second section of the marsh doesn’t have an easy viewing spot; there’s minimal shoulder on the road. With light traffic on an early Saturday morning, I found a relatively safe spot to pull over and was happily rewarded with these finds. Here are two views of this section of marsh:

At my regular marsh-viewing spot the mute swan returned. Apparently tundra swans are common here. But as far as I can tell with my binoculars this one has an orange bill, making it a mute swan. It looked rather dirty. It was way on the far side of the marsh, hunkered down grooming itself, so it was hard to see.

A great blue heron was there as well. I got busy watching the red-winged blackbirds thru my binoculars though, and the heron flew off. I missed his flight.

Besides blackbirds, tree swallows, and robins, I sighted another small black/gray bird. That will be my next mission to ID that one.

Here are two views of this section of marsh. Just amazing how much activity is going on, yet unnoticeable to casual viewing.

 

My early-morning marsh trip included a stop at the Rt. 40 pull-off park, prior to the Leight Estuary Center. I saw a fisherman returning along a little trail leading to the water’s edge. I wanted to get a photo of the fog in the cove and asked him about the view. He cautioned me about following the trail – “There are animals back there!” he said. Being by myself, I was a little apprehensive about what kinds of animals were back in those woods … He said beavers. Ok, beavers I can deal with. (Maybe they are otters, being that we were at Otter Point Creek.)

I’m glad he mentioned it. As I was enjoying the view and the quiet along the cove, all of a sudden there was loud splashing near my feet that lasted for a few seconds. I jumped. If I hadn’t been forewarned of the beavers, I probably would’ve went running down the trail back to my car. :).

The cove at early morning:

 

Next, I drove around the corner to the Leight Estuary Center. The gates were open so I took a short walk down to the water’s edge hoping for more pics of the fog over the water. I saw a heron in flight there, and two osprey hunting for breakfast. The water level is very high, following the severe storms of the night before.

 

The woods are lush and thick and were dark and damp this morning:

To close, here’s a pic of Saturday’s sunrise from my back deck:

I hope you enjoy the trip to the marshes of Edgewood!

Sights & Sounds of an Overnighter at Patapsco SP; Tracking Change in a Piece of the Forest

written during the course of Thursday evening and Friday morning

The New York Times has a blog tracking the season in a patch of Staten Island forest. I’m intrigued by the concept, enjoy reading the updates, and love seeing the seasonal changes through photography.

I’ve wanted to do the same but couldn’t decide on what piece of forest inspires me to track on a regular basis. Today I’m camping at Patapso Valley State Park,  in the same spot as two weeks ago: I’ll claim this. Of course, there’ll be a big difference in the writing results: I’m a beginning naturalist; the New York Times blogger is a professional botanist and urban ecologist. But I hope to have some fun with it. Here’s my slice of forest I’ll watch:

The orange-blazed Charcoal Trail circles the campground. Two weeks ago, I saw a fox running along the trail in the early morning. It paused & stared at me for a few seconds, I did the same to him. And then he trotted off.

Today’s visitor is a squirrel. Here’s he’s gnawing on an old acorn. It’s so quiet here this weekday evening that I can hear him gnawing. I’ve never heard that before.

My campsite faces west – into the setting sun. Sunlight is glinting off of a cobweb. As soon as kids arrive for the weekend, they’ll run between those trees and the web will be gone.

Specks of insects are seen flitting in the sun rays. Flies are biting at my ankles. I haven’t been bitten by any mosquitos yet, and I haven’t seen any stink bugs. There are a lot of moths. I was able to catch up with one to get a pic.

There’s a handful of different bird songs.

Exploring, I find this “exploded” fungi (?):

Here’s what it looked like a month ago:

A solitary May-apple:

Paw paw:

And I think this is an invasive:

Curiously, there’s several rocks that obviously have been shifted:

      

I heard crashing through the vegetation, along the trail. Caught a glimpse of movement – larger than a squirrel. The fox? Or a deer? Or a mountain biker? Walking around the campground, there’s a fawn in one of the sites. She stares and watches me. I do the same to her. I give up before she does.

7:44pm and I hear a barred owl. Nothing signifies forest to me like the “woo hoo hoo hoo” of a barred owl. I heard one in March here in PVSP, as I was walking along the Grist Mill trail, a week after the time change. I haven’t heard one since; it’s good to hear it.

I think there may actually be two owls – calling to each other. But the sounds are far off. It’s kinda like one of those industrial hearing tests, where you sit in a small closet and the sounds get fainter and fainter and you have to use the clicker & say which ear you hear the sound in.

7:49 and the mosquitos have arrived. I douse myself with a natural bug repellant purchased at a craft fair: distilled water & citronella essential oil. It works.

I sit and watch. Cause you don’t actually see anything when you first look. You have to be still. And wait. To see.

A squirrel just walked along the bench of my picnic table. I could actually hear his paw steps. He and a friend or two are keeping me company this evening. Along with a variety of bird chatter. There’s only two other campsites occupied; and the campers are off somewhere for the evening. It’s very quiet here.

One nite last year I camped here after it had rained a lot – for several weeks. It was so quiet I could hear the rushing water off in the distance. I imagined it was the Patapsco River, but maybe it was just a very full Sawmill Branch creek, which is much closer to the campground.

Being out in nature is said to improve your eyesight because you’re looking farther off in the distance. (Except when you’re writing at the picnic table and looking at your computer monitor …) I think being out in nature improves your hearing too. Your ears focus on sounds, trying to understand what it could be. And nature introduces such a variety of sounds that you don’t hear at the office.

A robin comes scampering across the forest floor. He pauses when I reach for my binoculars, then flies off to a tree & tweeps. Even though it’s getting dark, I can see him with my binoculars. His whole body shakes as he tweeps, as if it’s taking the utmost energy to get that sound out.

As darkness descends, I’m amazed by the variety of bird song I still hear.

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I’m woken in the middle of the night with the waxing moon shining brightly like a flashlight into my tent. The sky is clear. I’m too drowsy to get out to look for stars though. They’re often hard to see this time of year at PVSP anyway – bright moon, thick overhead canopy of foliage, and light pollution from the Baltimore metropolitan area.

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I wake to bird chatter, a very cloudy sunrise, and a faint sprinkle of rain. When camping, I’m much more attuned to the weather changes. The sky was clear just a few hours ago, now it may rain anytime. I probably wouldn’t even have noticed at home.

There’s time after dismantling my tent and packing up gear for an early morning hike. I take sections of Charcoal trail around the campground to end up at my favorite spot in this area of PVSP – along the Sawmill Branch where the white-blazed Santee Branch trail intersects with the red-blazed Sawmill Branch trail trail:

I think it’s a pretty spot and I love the gurgling of the stream. It’s very peaceful. There’s still debris indicating how high the creek became during last fall’s tropical storms:

 

On the other hand, I amuse myself here … As an ex-mountain bike racer, I enjoy watching the riders descend the Santee Branch trail before encountering the stream crossing. It’s an easy line across the creek, but a sharp right turn off the trail to start the crossing. If you don’t hit the rocks on the stream bank correctly, you don’t make it. Most don’t. And if you go back to try again, you don’t have the momentum of the Santee Branch trail downhill to assist you. About 1 in 10 get it right.

Heading back to my campsite, I find a patch of wildflowers along the electrical line swath.  I’ll keep them at thumbnails as my photography skills apparently were weak this morning.

        

Here are more wildflowers, multiflora rose, and some pretty grass found during my visit 2 weeks ago:

Before 8:30am, I’m in my car heading to the day’s responsibilities.