08 September 2013

Seen and Heard at Heron Haven

By W. Bruce Warr, vice-president of the Friends of Heron Haven; the hike occurred on August 8, 2013.

I had no idea how eventful an evening we were in for as Verla Shaner and I went for our nightly visit to see if the Butterfly Garden gates were closed and to lock the parking lot gate. Since the weather was fine and there was still some daylight left, we decided to walk out to the boardwalk by way of Mulhall's grounds southeast of the garden.

Verla immediately noticed a White-tailed Doe and her half-grown fawn that was still exhibiting spots, grazing in the distance by the dam. The animals raised their heads in unison and with their ears focused on us, watched us intently before ambling off into nearby cover.

As we passed approached the Wetland Trail, I noticed a Fox Squirrel that had become ensnared in one of the aluminum frames used by Mulhalls to form plastic-covered Quonset huts. The critter must have struggled but only succeeded in wedging himself tighter into a fatal trap. His remains are now attracting flies and could eventually provide us with a skeleton for the natural history collection in the Nature Center.

As we approached the bench located beside the oxbow, my sharp-eyed companion noticed a Muskrat feeding vigorously at the base of a cattail. She says she sees this fellow quite regularly in almost the same place in the oxbow. On our way back that evening, there was also a deep-voiced Bullfrog calling from that same general area.

Moving on to the boardwalk, we surprised a Great Blue Heron that took off right in front of us and, flying south, landed in the water close to West Maple Road. Verla noticed that the heron was struggling to get control of a large Bullfrog, which it had impaled but had not yet succeeded, in sliding off its bill and into its gullet. (Sticky, those frogs!) Through my 10X binoculars, I guessed that the Bullfrog was a good foot long as it dangled by one leg from the big bird’s beak. In a flash, the Great Blue swung the frog up into the air, caught it in its open beak, gulped it down, and continued hunting in its usual stealthy manner. Seeing that big bird feasting on a bullfrog made us question whether the absence of fish in our pond, resulting from the dredging of 2012, was an impediment to heron culture, after all.

I was glad to see a clear reduction in the amount of floating green algae, which earlier in the season had been so abundant and atypical for the shallows near the boardwalk. I wondered what was eating the algae or impeding its growth. Also, close to the boardwalk, I was struck by the sudden abundance of several kinds of water plants, including arrowhead, smartweed (topped with bright pink shafts of blossoms) and cattails.

As we walked further out onto the boardwalk, we caused a mother Wood Duck and her nearly grown ducklings to scramble out from their shelter under the weathered decking. They simply flew across the pond where they resumed their leisurely cruise among the cattails on the south side.

Curiously, I spotted the anterior half of a Crayfish that must have measured 5 inches long when whole, on the decking at the bend in the boardwalk and wondered if it might be the handiwork of a Kingfisher, whose call we could hear clearly. That part of the boardwalk has always been the Kingfisher’s favorite place to perch and immobilize its catch by whacking it on the railing before swallowing it whole. Nothing worse than a squirming lunch!)

As we watched from the end of the boardwalk, a pair of Muskrats took turns swimming out from the shrubbery along the shoreline to our left to bite off arrowhead leaves at the stem and head back to their burrow carrying their harvest out of the side of their mouths and, despite the drag, swimming with amazing speed showing only the tops of their heads.

And, I almost forgot, the Butterfly Garden is still bustin' out all over! Take one look and the Hibiscus will be on your Wish List! Hey, it rhymes doesn't it?