Thursday, May 9, 2013

Early May

This is such a wonderful time of year. It is so hard to decide where to go and what to look for. Everything happens fast, and changes occur before our eyes. Early May is perfect for walks in the woods before the leaves are fully out and blocking scenic views.

A great place to hike now is Avalonia’s Henne Preserve on Babcock Road in North Stonington. It is an area of varied habitats, but the gem, the most special center piece, is the large fresh water wetland created by beaver damming activities. The wildlife is easy to view, but it is best with binoculars.
Entrance to the Henne Preserve. Photo by Rick Newton.
The first glimpses of the pond and marsh are from high on a rocky esker. Looking through the trees, you can see a large portion of the marsh, emerald green with new grasses and sedges, meandering watery channels. Stark snags, trees long drowned by the rising waters behind the beaver dams, punctuate the area and rise high over the water. Scan the tops and trunks of these trees and you will see that many are riddled with perfectly round holes. Over many years Downy Woodpeckers created nest holes, probably while the trees were still alive and part of a forest. Now these holes are occupied by Tree Swallows. At this time of year there is great competition over nest sites. Males and females soar and swoop and frequently squabble a bit over prime real estate. In the late afternoon the air is filled with chatter and chirps of the Swallows, and the deep dark backs of the adult males go iridescent purple and blue in the sunlight.

An Osprey on its nest. Photo by Rick Newton.
Great Blue Heron nest inside the red circle.
 Photo by Beth Sullivan
From your vantage point on the esker, you will note a large dead, tree trunk in the center of the marsh. It is still strong and solid, and atop the trunk is a wonderful, huge Osprey nest. Most of us are used to seeing the man-made nesting poles along the shoreline. It is quite unusual to find a natural one like this. The Osprey are actively nesting now; often one is sitting still, most likely on eggs now, and the mate is perched nearby. There is a lot of calling and whistling between them. Scan with binoculars to the left of the Osprey nest and you will see a Y shaped snag tree. Look carefully inside the red circle. On top is a very different nest; all airy and light with twigs. If you are lucky and observe closely, you may see the Great Blue Heron fly in and settle down on her nest there. We get used to seeing these long legged waders in the water or along shorelines. It is quite a treat to see them land in a tree and, somewhat gracefully, nestle down.

If you choose to follow the path around the pond and down to an overlook, you will be able to notice signs of the beavers working on trees along the path. All sizes of trees show the tell-tale marks of beaver lumbering. Each stump, large or small, shows the cone shaped top of beaver work. Down on the overlook, the dam itself is visible, and the lodge is a large structure out in the deeper water behind the dam. They are pretty secretive creatures, but by sitting still and quiet at dawn or dusk, you maybe rewarded with a glimpse.
Timber! Beavers at work.  Photo by Rick Newton.
Beaver lodge. Photo by Beth Sullivan.

On a sunny May day you can hear frogs, see turtles basking, and watch Canada Geese and Mallards. Wood ducks are present there as well. Several species of warblers make the marsh area home. Listen for the Barred Owl hooting from the swamp edges. Enjoy the show put on by the swallows, and witness the Osprey and Great Blue Herons nesting. So much to see and hear, so much reward for a short trip on a beautiful Preserve. Explore during all seasons and observe the changes. It is beautiful not just in May.

There are trail maps and photos on the Avalonia website.
Follow nest webcams for Osprey and Great Blue Heron at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Written by Beth Sullivan.

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