At Lorain County MetroParks’ Schoepfle Garden last Sunday, I spied two snakes sunning themselves on the bank of a pond. The snakes became aware of me but unpanicked, moved into the water and away at a leisurely pace. As they submerged and wriggle-swam, the pair changed from dark and dusty — nearly black — to their true shades of brown, revealing beautifully-patterned skins. As the larger of the two reptiles turned to meet its (apparent) mate which had gone in the opposite direction, it passed by a large bullfrog. Wary of the possible danger the frog, though too large to be swallowed, held perfectly still as the water snake passed.
Spring is really just taking hold around here so at Hinckley Lake, in the Cleveland Metroparks, things were fairly quiet on this warm day. I did a walk around the lake shore as more to get out in the fresh air and sunshine as anything. Along the way I enjoyed views of fresh greenery popping up from the leaf litter in the woods, the calls of many birds, and regular encounters with the many people who were also out to enjoy the day. Puffy clouds floated across the sky, casting spotlights upon trees flushed with colorful buds and new leaves, and highlighting them against shadowed wooded backgrounds.
The natural surroundings may have been quiet but if examined close enough, there were things other than plants to catch one’s eye. I stopped for a while and watched the single Great Blue Heron on Hinckley Lake as it fished; from the distance I saw it catch a couple, too! I watched a Common Water Snake swimming in a wetland adjacent to the lake.
I spied a Spiny Softshell Turtle (Apalone spinifera), my first in the wild, when it made a little move in shallow water. I shot a couple of photos of the turtle as it watched me, only its head above water. The softshells grow to be among the largest turtles in North America though this one looked to be more medium-sized.
On the walk back to the parking lot a beautiful little blue bird flitted from branch to branch in the trees and shrubs lining the path. I’d seen this bird (or another of its kind) in the general area before but hadn’t gotten a photo of it. Today I was a little quicker or the bird was a little slower, anyway I captured a few images of the little guy, one of which was good. Looks to be a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea). Delighted to have met! Back at the parking lot a man, just arriving, stopped and asked me if I got any good photos, saw any birds? I mentioned the heron but forgot the delightful gnatcatcher. Then again, it might have sounded a little too “birdwatcher-y.”
Yes, a fine day to get out and hike with a 20-pound camera pack on your back! It was really about the walk. Really!
We spent Sunday afternoon on a lovely nature walk in the Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve outside Huron, Ohio. Public access is along a paved drive flanked by woodland paths that heads straight out into Sandusky Bay. It’s a prime birdwatching spot in the spring and autumn: birds use it for rest and refueling for the hop across Lake Erie between the US and Canada. The wetlands also provide habitat for longer-term residents making the preserve an excellent place for nature-loving hikers all year ’round.
Along the way we discovered and usually photographed many scenes, both still-life and wildlife, including ducks, a Baltimore Oriole, squirrels, chipmunks, turtles, snakes, and a Great Egret (Ardea alba). The egret was hunting in the shallows of the preserve’s beach area, along a wooded shore. The big bird knew where to find fish and I watched as, in rapid succession, it caught and quickly swallowed two. At some point it decided to move closer to shore and that’s when I got a few images of the egret in flight.
Redwinged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) have marked my springs and, especially, summers for as long as I can remember. Their jet-black plumage accented with large red shoulder spots, their aggressive nature and raucous calls, make for an interesting bird to watch and listen to. There were many redwings in the preserve, darting in and out of the wetlands’ tall reeds — presumably nesting there. Occasionally there were territorial disputes, raucous and aggressive as would be expected. I spotted one bird picking at seed dropped by a visitor on the walkway. As I drew closer, the bird popped up into a neighboring tree. The redwing warily watched as I came a bit closer and shot a few photos of it perched on a branch. I stayed a bit too long so Mr. Redwing flitted into the woods.
I had been looking around mostly at birds and (wet)landscapes and hadn’t really noticed but we were, it seems, surrounded by snakes! An enthusiast, accompanied by his family, was spotting snakes sunning themselves among the rocks of a breakwall. He would hop on to the stones and deftly grab resting snakes! At first I worried he might do the reptiles some harm but he seemed mostly out to admire them, maybe prove his courage and skill, and then safely release. Once cued in, we began seeing the snakes. We spotted and photographed a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon) apparently ready to molt and, later, a Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) along the breakwall.
We had a fine, relaxed time enjoying nature, a lovely day, and a walk at the marsh.