It has been a rough day or two for those of us affected by the blast of frigid air ushered in by the “polar vortex.” These are also tough times for wildlife, often determining who survives into springtime. Today someone excitedly called my attention to a flock of American Robins. A dozen or so birds had gathered near some windows; they were alternately picking fruit from neighboring Hawthorne trees and sheltering themselves from the brutal wind along the building’s wall. A thaw is coming in a couple of days. I hope the birds can tough it out ’til then.
This morning I had a little extra time so I paid an early visit to the Strongsville (Ohio) Wildlife Area of Cleveland Metroparks. The air was unmoving and chilly but the morning light was warm. On the lake floated ducks and wading along the far shore was the resident Great Egret. I’d seen the big white bird there before and was hoping to spy it once again. I shot a good many images of the bird as it waded along the shallows, striking into the water now and again, feeding on small aquatic creatures. A hawk landed high in a neighboring tree and, after sitting there for a bit, took off. I don’t know if it was the raptor’s activity or if the egret spotted me but it sprang into flight. I squeezed off a few shots as the bird slowly flew farther along the shoreline; shown here is the best of the bunch. A little farther down the road I encountered a young buck Whitetail Deer who was apparently waiting to cross. I stopped to allow it to make up its mind. On the seat beside me was my trusty camera so, as the deer started moving, I fired off a few shots; unlike the other kind of shots, the youngster has been preserved by mine. It was a happy morning.
UPDATE: One week after I made the photo of the deer, I noted Cleveland Metroparks had closed the section of parkway where the encounter took place. The road block signs didn’t say it but it looked like the area was closed for wildlife “management.” Too bad the only way they seem to be able to manage wildlife involves rifles.
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.
While I generally don’t relish dragging myself out of bed early only to head off to work, some mornings are better than others. Recent changes in the weather made for beautiful scenes along my commuting routes yesterday and today. Golden sunlight filled dew-drenched grasses and weeds with diamonds. Ground fog lent a sense of soft mystery to this dawning day. And deer arrived with the morning.