Heron Watching

Heron May 21

A few weekends ago, I had another chance to photograph the Yellow-crowned Night Herons that are nesting in my friend’s yard. It was a rainy, gray day. Perfect weather for foraging herons.

Heron May 21

Heron May 21

Heron May 21

Heron May 21

Fortunately, the herons aren’t shy.

Heron May 21

Well, most of them aren’t shy.

Heron May 21

The rainy day suited other foragers, too.

Heron and Egret May 21

Raccoon May 21

I’m hoping to visit again soon. In the meantime, yesterday morning I met two friends at Pleasure House Point, where we enjoyed a walk that started in fog and ended in sunshine.

Landscape June 2

Osprey June 2

Night Heron June 2

Mallard June 2

This was my first visit to Pleasure House Point, but it won’t be my last. As the fog lifted, I fell more and more in love with the mixed terrain.

Landscape June 2

Landscape June 2

And with the wildlife. Here again, Yellow-crowned Night-Herons were the stars of the show.

Night Heron and Juvenile June 2

Night Heron June 2

Night Heron June 2

Night Heron June 2

There were plenty of other attractions, all equally beautiful.

Snails June 2

Molluscs June 2

Mushroom June 2

Bones June 2

Butterfly June 2

Blueberries June 2

Bee June 2

We even caught a glimpse of a Clapper Rail, a new bird for me. (I sent one of the photos to our local wildlife columnist for identification, because I couldn’t convince myself that it really was a Clapper Rail.)

Rail June 2

I’m eager to return to Pleasure House Point, and to see my friend’s heron nest again. But first on my list are unfinished projects in the house and yard. Then I have a couple of short stories to write. And poems to submit. And manuscripts to revise.

Rail June 2

The list goes on, as lists tend to do.

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (and a Publication Note)

Heron May 7

I visited with friends last Saturday, sampling dishes of couscous and sweet potato frittata and chia seed pudding. After eating, we took a stroll around my friend’s yard, which slopes down to a watery area. A watery area with a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron!

Heron May 7

My friend has seen these birds in her yard several times in the past, so we weren’t caught completely by surprise. Even so, I was very excited. (And very grateful that she had suggested I bring my camera.)

Heron May 7

We watched for a while as the heron hunted in the shallows.

Heron May 7

Then we wandered on, exploring more of the yard.

Snails May 7

Flowers May 7

Flowers May 7

When I was leaving, as we all stopped on the driveway to say our goodbyes, the heron flew into a pine tree in front of the house. To our amazement, it crept out onto a branch and settled into its nest! Right in the front yard!

Heron May 7

I’ve already packed my tripod in the car, so I won’t forget it next time I visit. The nest is too high for steady video, without a tripod…


Publication Note: My poem “Roads” posted at one of my favorite poetry sites, Poetry Breakfast, on May 9. Many thanks to editor Ann Kestner!

Ice at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Back Bay Jan 26

During a lull between snowstorms, we took a walk at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Back Bay Jan 26

Back Bay Jan 26

The beach was clear, but large sections of the bay were frozen, as were all of the ponds. Winter normally brings a few frosty nights to our area, but prolonged bouts of sub-freezing temperatures are rare.

Back Bay Jan 26

Back Bay Jan 26

Back Bay Jan 26

Back Bay Jan 26

Most of the over-wintering birds had deserted the refuge, and the few that remained seemed confused.

Ducks Jan 26

Mallards were out, walking on the ice. Something about the way they moved — one careful step at a time, watching their feet, pausing here and there to probe the ice — reminded me of television detectives inspecting a crime scene.

Other flocks had given up and opted to sleep until the ice thawed.

Ducks Jan 26

With the refuge so quiet and still, every sound and movement drew my attention. On a normal day I would have missed the mockingbird on the parking lot fence and the small heron huddled near the road.

Mockingbird Jan 26

Heron Jan 26

I doubt I would have missed the deer, though. Three of them edged nervously out of cover near the Visitor’s Station, crossed an open patch of lawn, and disappeared down one of the trails.

Deer Jan 26

I wondered if the lingering snow had forced the deer to change their grazing pattern. Or maybe they wander through every day? Maybe snow, even rare twice-in-a-month snow, doesn’t affect deer the way it affects me. Maybe they don’t spend hours admiring the fresh fall, then more hours fretting over the slippery deck, half-frozen pipes, and cancelled appointments. Maybe they simply carry on, day after day, searching for nothing more complicated than grasses to eat, water to drink, and a warm, dry place to sleep.

Little Brown Skinks

Skink Jan 13

Earlier this week I took a long walk on the Osmanthus Trail at First Landing State Park. The day was eerily warm, and I was not the only one enjoying the bright sunshine. I saw dozens of Little Brown Skinks (which are also called Ground Skinks.)

Skink Jan 13

All along the trail glittering flashes of brown slipped into cover as I approached. If I stopped and stood very still, they emerged again.

Skink Jan 13

Sometimes they emerged in pairs and scuffles broke out. Or resumed.

Skink Jan 13

Skink Jan 13

Skink Jan 13

I wondered if these were mating displays or true battles for territory.

Skink Jan 13

The skinks were so entertaining that I kept my camera focused on the ground for much of my walk. Even so, I caught a single frame of a curious Hermit Thrush.

Hermit Thrush January 13

And I never pass up an opportunity to photograph Hooded Mergansers.

Hooded Merganser Jan 13

I missed photos of woodpeckers and chickadees and an unfamiliar warbler, but I don’t regret the day’s lizard fixation. I’m delighted to add Little Brown Skinks to the archive, because there is always room for life. My archive will never be full, and I will never tire of trying to fill it.

Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuge

Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuge is located off the southern tip of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The island is closed to visitors during the summer, but guided tours are offered on Saturday mornings during the winter months.

Walking 13

I have passed over Fisherman Island many times, by way of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, but never found time to schedule a tour. Until last Saturday. Which turned out to be a very foggy Saturday.

Walking 12

I have to confess, I still didn’t schedule the tour. One of my dear friends made an appointment for our writing group to visit the island. Add in three tour guides, and the eight of us made enough noise to send most of the wildlife into cover.

Walking 1

But wildlife isn’t all the island has to offer. Its landscape is wind sculpted and salt stressed, trapped between the ever-restless currents of the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay.

Walking 6

Walking 10

For me, the Prickly Ash trees (also known as toothache trees or Hercules’ clubs) captured much of the island’s strange, raw beauty.

Toothache Tree

Toothache Tree

The Bay-side beach is one of the anchor points for the Bridge-Tunnel. It’s a wide, windy expanse of sand, littered with shells and other offerings from the waves. The tide line is marked by driftwood and heaps of debris.

Beach

Shells

Shells

Shells

Shells

Shells

Jellyfish

Beach

Shells

Crab

A short distance from the beach, the tour guides keep a collection of the island’s rarer finds. Our group added a sea turtle rib to the collection.

Shells

Shells

Bones

Bones

The island hasn’t always been a Wildlife Refuge. For that matter, the island hasn’t always been. According to a handout we received before beginning our tour, the island was first mentioned on navigation charts in 1815. It was only a sandbar at the time. By 1852 it had grown to 25 acres.

In 1886 a quarantine station was built on the island, consisting of seven buildings. During World War I the island became a military installation, and again during World War II. There hasn’t been a military presence on the island since 1969, but evidence of its past importance remains. The whale and sea turtle bones shown above rest on a concrete road. Dunes and rises morph into bunker entrances. Remnants of towers watch over cordgrass marshes, and greenbrier twines through rusty girders.

Abandoned

Abandoned

Abandoned

Abandoned

Our guides told us that Fisherman Island is continuing to grow. What started in 1852 as 25 acres now measures 1850 acres, though they are acres on the move. The entire island is shifting westward. Its drift is slow by my clock, but barrier islands keep a different clock.

Beach

Which might explain why our few hours on the island felt so wonderfully suspended from the world’s usual pace.