This Sunday afternoon was chilly but the sun shown brightly, so I ventured out on a photo walk. I was seeking Sand Hill Cranes that had been sighted at the wetland restoration area of Buckeye Woods Park, Medina County, Ohio. I saw no cranes but did enjoy a flyover by a beautiful Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), a loud concert by Western Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris triseriata), and the sight of a tree full of migrating Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor). A nice way to spend an April afternoon.
UPDATE: The original version of this post mis-identified the location of the Tree Swallow photograph. While there was much activity at Sandy Ridge Reservation, the nest box bird portrait was actually made at the Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Research Reserve, Huron, Ohio.
On Monday we ventured to Lorain Metro Parks’ Sandy Ridge Reservation for a walk and to see how wildlife activity was going. In short, the protected wetland is becoming busier all the time. We saw Canada Geese sitting on their mounded nests, some just a step off the trail, and we spotted the first goslings of the season … all ready! A flock of Coots floated in one area, and four widely-separated Great Egrets waded, looking for prey. Tree swallows zoomed over the waters, between hollows in trees. We even spied a water snake catching some rays, that unusually warm afternoon!
We also visited the Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Research Reserve in Huron, Ohio. Tree Swallow activity was very high there, and finding a bird that would stay perched for more than a minute was pretty rare. One swallow, however, stayed put — perched on a nest box — for several minutes, providing a great photo op! Among the numerous shots I made of the little bird was the one shown here: my best ever of a Tree Swallow, showing off its beautiful iridescent head and back. Although I have other good shots, the one of a little bird looking into the sky is my pick of the day!
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.
Sunday morning we set off to visit the Old Woman Creek State Nature Preserve, just east of Huron, Ohio. This beautiful place, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Web site,” is protected as a State Nature Preserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve because it is one of Ohio’s best remaining examples of a natural estuary.” The visitor center was recently remodeled and offers fun and interesting educational exhibits in a clean and comfortable, “green” indoor environment. What’s outdoors is what really counts, however, so we spent most of our time under open sky. Marked hiking trails conduct walkers (no dogs allowed, by the way) through quiet woodland settings and to views of the open wetlands of the estuary.
Attracting much attention from visitors was activity in an open prairie field across from the visitor center, site of many nesting boxes for Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor). The boxes and the skies above them were busy with the aerial maneuverings and activities of resident swallows. The birds were living their lives there before us: mating (no “bird porn” here), catching insects, setting up housekeeping, all at incredible speed. Bird watchers of every ilk stopped by to enjoy the show and take in the brilliant iridescent blue plumage of the small birds.
The birds, the water, the animals of the forest were all wonderful to see. It doesn’t hurt, however, to look up towards trees, sky, and sun… you never know what beauty may await.