Scratching An Itch
It is 0645. Sunrise.
Not a hint of a breeze.
The grass path is wet from last night’s rain. Or morning dew. Both.
In the distance, Limpkins call from opposite ends of the wetlands.
Overhead, a pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks whisper about their breakfast plans.
Sandhill Cranes trumpet loudly from an adjacent pasture where they spent the night.
Morning has begun in the marsh as it does every day. The difference today is – I am privileged to be a witness.
Itchepackesassa Creek Wetlands was engineered a few years ago as a method to prevent annual flooding of Itchepackesassa and Blackwater Creeks. The project included digging the wetlands to varying depths to mitigate flooding and potential erosion. A planned side benefit is to offer diverse habitat for waterfowl and other life forms by having sections of deeper, mid-level and shallow water. Care was taken to include plants with filtering properties to help cleanse water as it flows through the wetlands.
A raised berm around the marsh allows for easy walking. The area is bordered on the south and east by stands of hardwood trees which attract a great variety of migrating passerines as well as resident nesting birds.
From an entirely selfish standpoint, one of the best features of the site is on almost any weekday, I can spend a morning here and seldom encounter another human. Especially when it’s 78 F (26 C) with 90% humidity at dawn. Within an hour, it will be 85 F (29 C) and by the time the car is in sight, 94 F (34 C). One must be either crazy or a birder to be out for a two-mile stroll in such conditions! Ahhh, the Sunshine State at its best!
A thin mist clung near the surface of the marsh as I began my slow trek around the berm. Common Gallinules cackled their displeasure as I interrupted their morning routine. Pugnacious Common Green Darners stopped patrolling long enough to challenge my presence, hovering in front of my face, daring me to take one more step. Egrets, herons, ibises – flying singly and in groups, slowly gathered around the marsh to go about the daily business of survival. Beautiful flowers abound in the wetlands, which, in turn, attract pollinators of all types. River otters live here as well as Bobcats. Bald Eagles and Osprey nest nearby and today I saw an American Kestrel family. Very encouraging to see the falcons breeding here! In the woods, I searched in vain for the Yellow-billed Cuckoo I saw last year. My consolation prize was finding two adult and two immature Black-crowned Night Herons perched along the creek.
It’s hot now. Back to the car and a drink of cool water.
Called Gini to see if she needs anything. Home is only ten miles from here. “Cream for my coffee.” Happily. Lox and bagel brunch awaits.
(Header image: A Great Blue Heron wings her way across the wetlands against a backdrop of large oak trees draped in Spanish moss.)
Steamy wetlands at sunrise.
A Great Egret greets the day atop a Wood Duck nesting box.
On patrol, a Common Green Darner (Anax junius) stops long enough to confront me.
Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks have become quite common over the last couple of decades. These large tree ducks have a high, thin whistle which is unmistakable.
The marsh is home to a variety of blooming plants which don’t mind wet feet at all.
One of the small grass skippers, a Whirlabout (Polites vibex) clings to a dew-covered leaf.
A Great Egret spotted a flock of White Ibises feeding and performed an abrupt aerial maneuver to descend quickly and join them.
I counted 12 Long-tailed Skippers (Urbanus proteus) in this one area. The nectar must be sweeter here for some reason.
The uniquely-shaped bill of the White Ibis is designed for probing deep into soft mud and those blue eyes don’t miss much, including a suspicious character on the edge of his marsh.
There are not that many all-dark dragonflies in our area and the unusually thin abdomen where it joins the thorax helps identify this individual as a male Pin-tailed Pondhawk (Erythemis plebja).
The Black-crowned Night Heron family of four was a nice find. Three of them flew away as soon as I rounded a corner, but one youngster remained to gawk at me gawking at her.
Discovering a new species makes a day special! Today, I found my first Hyacinth Glider (Miathyria marcella)!
Salad for breakfast is okay, if you’re a Common Gallinule.
The bluish wash of color on the wings indicates this is a female Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus). The male has a more greenish tint.
Hot – yes. Humid – yes. Beautiful – undeniable! Beginning the day exploring the marsh was extremely pleasant and rewarding. Do you have such an area near where you live?
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!