Thursday, January 19, 2006

Afternoon Delight

Thursday, January 19, 2006
Let's check in with the Bill of the Birds Weather SkyCam®:
"Nothin' but blue skies, from now on!"

What a gift today's weather is. It's sunny, unseasonably warm, and mostly still. Sort of one of those days that's creepy because you KNOW it's trying to lure you outside in your cut-offs, flip-flops, and doo-rag to throw frisbee and crank the Allman Brothers out the window.

Sadly, I am inside today, held there by the production deadline for the next issue of our magazine. But there is hope in Birdville. Beautiful day + lunch hour + binocs = 60 minute birding adventure.

After securing a sandwich and soup at a local purveyor of foodlike products, I went to The Kroger Wetland, just down Acme Street from BWD. This wetland is a remnant patch of Ohio River bottomland swamp nestled between I-77, several chain motels, and (you guessed it) a Kroger supermarket. This local Kroger donated the land to the City of Marietta and local volunteers, city workers, and various clubs have worked together to clean up the trash and make the wetlands accessible to visitors. Trails have been cut and wood-chips laid down. Footbridges have been built over perpetually wet spots, and most recently, an observation deck and well-placed benches have been added along the trail.
Boy scouts and local volunteers have built footbridges and benches around the wetland's paths.

This little patch of nature is very attractive to waterfowl, waders, and shorebirds year-round, but spring and fall migrations are the prime birding times. I did not expect much today at the wetlands. I really just wanted to get out for an hour to enjoy the air, sun, and the pleasing feeling that spring may actually return soon.

Even in the middle of the Kroger Wetland you do not escape the fact that you are surrounded by civilization. The whine of traffic on the interstate, the smell of grease from the fast-food joints, and the other visual and aural signs of humanity are omnipresent. Still, it's a thrill to hear the first spring peeper from the bogs, as I did today. And you never know what birds will be present.
Vernal pools like this one surround the Kroger Wetland, and are the home of the now-awakening spring peepers.

I feel a special kinship with this place, not only because it's the nearest decent birding spot to my office at BWD, but because the land along one edge of the Kroger Wetland once belonged to my great-grandfather. When I-77 came through on the edge of Marietta in 1964, it barreled right through the living room of the farm house where my dad's side of the family had lived and farmed for many years. There was no choice in the matter. While some of our city's leaders felt that the interstate "put Marietta on the map" from today's perspective it seems to have mostly made Marietta a good place to get gas, a Big Mac, and get right back on the interstate. But I digress....

I found a sunny spot and one of the new benches along the west side of the wetland and settled down for lunch and some quiet reflection time. With all the ways we humans stay in touch with each other these days, I find it restorative and utterly refreshing to go somewhere for a few minutes or a few hours, where nobody can reach me. Sometimes I'll even find myself smiling when I realize that no one know where I am right now! I keep this within reason, of course....
The mallards are already pairing off, further proof that spring is in the air.

Some of today's highlights at the Kroger Wetlands included several gaggles of mallards, perhaps nearly 20 birds in all. A rattling belted kingfisher flying from snag to snag. He kept this up so long that I began to suspect that he was laughing at me. And a lone spring peeper gave a few peeps from one of the vernal pools along the wetland's jagged, messy edge.
The view of the wetlands from a knoll, looking eastward.

It won't be long before the red-shouldered hawk is kee-yah-ing overhead. He nests here every summer. The wheeeeep-wheeep of wood ducks is just a few weeks away, too. And the liquid music of the tree swallows will once again fill our ears as soon as the midges and danceflies are hatching in late-March.Beaver sign is everywhere in the Kroger Wetlands. Wally sign, not so much.

It was a delightful way to break up my day. And as I squished up the path to the parking lot, I was thankful to have a little bit of green space so handy and accessible.

I hope you're getting outside today, too. Winter is not defeated yet and she's sure to return with great, frigid fury to remind us that spring's first day is still two months distant.
My shadow followed me to the wetlands and waved to me as I departed.