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Early Spring Field Trip – Harford Glen Nature in Winter

A field trip, intended for bird-watching, became more of a winter nature-study hike; a great way to celebrate March. Especially since our group had access to a park that is normally closed to the public in winter.

The weather was blustery, alternating between overcast and mostly cloudy. The birds hid. We did have a large group, ~12, and that didn’t encourage them to come out of their shelter either.

But that was ok, as I perfectly happy to spend a few hours walking around Harford Glen. The Glen is several hundred acres of undeveloped land encircled by suburban developments in central Harford County. Winter’s Run streams through the property. The Glen has a fascinating history: In the 1800s the land was a privately owned farm, later acquired by the U.S. government during World War II. At that time, the government was concerned about the safety of key water supplies. Winter’s Run supplied water to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds army base, home to chemical defense and other warfare operations.

The Army constructed Atkisson Dam, creating a 75 acre lake to ensure an adequate water supply. The entire farm was vacated and the area was guarded by soldiers 24 hours a day.

In 1948 the property was declared surplus government property and given to the Harford County Board of Education. Now the land is used as an Environmental Education Center for students. The park is open to the public only on week-ends when school is not in session.

The dam and lake still remain, but much of the land has silted in, leaving a habitat of marsh/wetlands and early succession forest, bordered by woodland uphill of what was the reservoir.

view1  view2

Besides the great opportunity for this rare visit to Harford Glen in the winter, the field trip was enhanced by our hike leader who had over 30 years experience in science and naturalist work.

When it became apparent we weren’t going to be seeing many birds, he kept us interested with pointing out and explaining signs of early spring:

  • we stopped at a vernal pool and looked for frog egg sacs
  • found a wood frog camouflaged in the mud
  • turned over logs looking for salamanders (didn’t find any)
  • took a deep whiff of skunk cabbage:

skunk cabbage

  • found snowdrops blooming
  • patiently waited for a resident raccoon to peer from his home in a tree
  • learned about lesser celandine, an invasive plant that spreads from its tuberous roots:

lesser celandine

  • inspected an owl pellet and found some tiny claws within (signs that the owl munched on a bird)

We did see some birds though! The featured bird was a green-winged teal, of which we saw several. A “life” bird for me was a killdeer poking around on a mudflat. And we saw several great horned owls, including this one (picture taken through a scope).

great horned owl

This year seems to be the year for me of bald eagles; one of the hike leaders took me to this view – lucky for us, one of the eagles were in the nest:


A good trip to shake me out of my hibernation!

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Wonderful! And how funny – I was taking photos of skunk cabbage in flower yesterday too. A passing hiker observed that I must be really desperate for signs of spring.

    March 4, 2013
    • It seemed long a long winter. More to come I guess, with this forecasted snowstorm.

      March 5, 2013

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