For wildlife, springtime is usually when family life begins. The hard winter is nearly gone, spring’s warmth is moving in, and the hope of a summer plentiful with food is ahead; so it is with the Great Blue Herons. Large numbers of herons annually nest together at their rookery in Cuyahoga Falls, at the edge of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The big wading birds build nests of twigs and some surprisingly large branches, pair off, and raise their young. On Sunday, the herons were mostly quiet, little mating, nest building, or flying, and no vocalization at all. The sky was milky white with cirrus — not the best conditions for bird photography. Still, a silhouette can tell a story of the ancient rite of spring,
I spent some quiet time along the Ohio & Erie Canal in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park late Sunday morning watching the herons. I was surprised at how many Green Herons I spotted — at least four — and how close I was able to approach two of them. The first of the greens was perched on the trunk of a tree that had long ago fallen into the canal. From the wooden perch the smallish bird watched for prey, preened, and even messed with a twig it picked off the trunk! A little farther down the canal I watched a Great Blue Heron as it struck a typically statuesque pose studying the water for signs of fish. After a while the blue struck and caught a small, wriggling fish. I shot a good number of photos whilst standing or sitting and watching the green and blue herons but the best part was just quietly being there.
I paid a visit to the Station Road area of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park this morning. Photography was a mixture of nature, textures, and structures. There are two rather photogenic bridges at the location: the Station Road Bridge, and the massive Chippewa Road Bridge. Station Road Bridge is the oldest remaining metal truss bridge in the Cuyahoga Valley, according to an informational sign. It was built in 1881 and kept in transportation service for almost 100 years. It was also noted that, in 1992, the bridge was disassembled and shipped to Elmira, New York for restoration; then it was reassembled at its current location serving the lighter traffic of cyclists, hikers, and horses. The old bridge has beauty in its elegance: slender lines of steel linked to cradle a roadway crossing flowing waters. High above the valley, the big concrete and steel Chippewa Road Bridge spans the Cuyahoga River and the remains of the Ohio & Erie Canal. I enjoy viewing the graceful arches and strong columns of the great structure as it rises from the wooded floor of the Cuyahoga River Valley, holding State Route 82 high overhead. This picture shows a bit of both bridges: the great and the humble.
Today was a day off due to the Memorial Day holiday observance. Our little town had a solemn ceremony at a local cemetery that is home to a war memorial. We spent the morning revisiting the Bath Road heron rookery and neighboring Ira Road/Beaver Marsh nature areas in and near the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP). The rookery continued to be noisy with the chatter of the many birds occupying nests high in the trees. Once in a while a bird would leave seeking food or arrive bearing it for the burgeoning young. It’s hard to spot the birds amongst the trees but those nests that are visible harbor several large birds these days. I did manage to capture one bird feeding another — a tangle of necks and feathers — though that was even harder to see! Human families, too, dropped by to see how their avian counterparts were doing. I think in many cases the parents were more interested than their children in what the birds were up to but I was heartened to see so many people out appreciating the show.
The Towpath Trail, key to much of the popularity of the park, was seemingly busy as a freeway with families out riding their bicycles. Though a cyclist myself, I nearly forgot where I was and almost stepped into the path of an oncoming cyclist! Among the many visitors to these particular areas, however, were many birdwatchers. A small group of them, along with us, was surprised when a young Great Blue Heron alighted on a tree branch only about 20 feet overhead. After a quick preening, the bird glided down and landed in the shallow waters of the Ohio & Erie Canal, just south of the Ira Road Trailhead. She Who Must Be Obeyed and I quickly and quietly hiked down the trail to see what we might see. We were treated to close-up views of an apparent juvenile bird as it slowly waded in the shadows, seeking a meal. Though we were close, the heron seemed either not to care or was unaware of our presence as we took turns shooting photos from the bank of the canal. Plants and twigs blocked much of our view so when we felt we got as good photos as we could, we left the heron to its work and headed north on the trail.
We enjoyed the short walk along the canal and up to Beaver Marsh where nature-lovers were watching Tree Swallows, Wood Ducks (and ducklings), turtles, and fish. Nature watchers happily pointed out their discoveries to each other helping us, by the way, to see a Baltimore Oriole and her nest. The day was hot and humid so we sought shade and lunch around midday. It was, however, a fine day out once again and way too soon to be thinking about work!
Vacation Day #5? Not really. I spent Friday doing things other than photography. The photo above was from my visit to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s Ira Road Trailhead/Beaver Marsh area. I watched as a pair of Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) made frequent commuter flights between nearby ground and areas of the surrounding wetland. I couldn’t be certain whether they were feeding young or working on their nest within the trunk of a dead tree. This was one occasion, however, when I wished I’d carried a tripod — the birds are fast and I’d have liked to catch them arriving at the nest hole or together but the narrow view of the telephoto allowed little lead time. Still, I’m very happy with this picture: the female diving from the nest hole beginning yet another flight.
The Cuyahoga Valley National Park was developed around the Ohio & Erie Canal which shadows the Cuyahoga River within its great valley. There remain relics of the great canal project of the first half of the 1800s. The one relic still in daily use is the towpath — where mules provided the “horsepower” tugging canal boats loaded with cargo and passengers north and south between the Ohio River and Lake Erie. Today the towpath is a popular trail used by runners, hikers, and cyclists for recreation. The canal, for the most part, has become a series of longitudinal ponds or slow-moving creeks dug by men but claimed now by nature.
When I first arrived at the Ira Road Trailhead and walked the short path from parking lot to towpath, I looked to the side and at the still water in the canal. Near the bank was something… a submerged stick? a frog’s head? a turtle’s head? No. Oh, but yes! That thick stump was the head of a snapping turtle, doubtless waiting for some careless animal to stray within reach! I shot a couple of photos before the monster >>blup<< pulled its head beneath the surface and dove for the bottom.
A little farther on I heard a rustling in the reeds, looked and spotted a young (by size) muskrat energetically swimming around in the canal finding and nibbling on, well, something or other. The rodent seemed unafraid of my presence though I don’t think it had learned to look up much. It swam this way and that, stopping for a nibble, then out and around again, and, like the turtle, <<blup<< underwater.
Of course, no naturalized pond would be complete without frogs and turtles and there were plenty to be seen and heard… one could hear the frogs, anyway.
North from the trailhead is the Beaver Marsh area. The canalway apparently either skirted or opened into that wet area. The expanse is now densely packed with aquatic plants and tall reeds and home to all manner of life. The reeds teem with Redwinged Blackbirds, Great Blue Herons (if they brave attacks from the Redwings) come there to fish, and swallows fill the air apparently scooping multitudes of insects to feed themselves and their young families.
Long ago “canal life” probably best referred to the lives and livelihoods affected by the big canal system project. That transportation system carried freight traffic from 1827 to 1861 when the railroads made it obsolete. Now, more than 150 years later, canal life means something more like life supported by the canal — the plants and animals that depend upon that construction for their lives. I can’t think of a better end for such a thing.