This has been a good spring for seeing birds in our local park. In addition to the pair of Yellow-crowned Night Herons that returns each year, we have two and possibly three pairs of Mallards nesting along the stream. During my morning walks with the sprout, I’ve seen the usual suspects (Northern Flickers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Eastern Phoebes, Northern Cardinals, Northern Mockingbirds, Catbirds, Blue Jays, American Crows, Grackles, Carolina Wrens, Song Sparrows, House Sparrows, Starlings, American Robins, Carolina Chickadees, Downy/Hairy Woodpeckers, Mourning Doves, and American Goldfinches) as well as some fun surprises. We’ve come across Brown Thrashers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Common Yellowthroat, and Wood Thrushes foraging in the brush along the stream banks. There was a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks hanging around for long enough that we thought they might be nesting, but we haven’t seen or heard much of them lately. One day we walked along behind a Pileated Woodpecker going from tree to tree; now that the woods north of town have been demolished, I doubt it will be able to find suitable habitat nearby.
While I’m always happy to see birds, I’ve been thrilled to find frogs in the stream! So far I’ve only been able to spot bullfrogs, but I have high hopes for more diversity in years to come. We’ve also startled several bunnies (making the sprout cackle with glee) and seen one or two groundhogs in our travels. No luck yet with our nocturnal friends, although I’m pretty sure something (possum? raccoon? fox? skunk?) is visiting the side yard to chow down on the mulberries.
Now that summer is kicking into gear, I need to think about incorporating a bird bath into my plans for the garden. It’s getting hot out there and the little fluffballs of sparrow, cardinal, blue jay, and robin that we’re starting to see are going to need a place to cool off.
It’s been a long time since I’ve hiked around Patuxent NWR, and I took advantage of yesterday’s beautiful clear afternoon to suggest a trip up there. The full Cash Lake trail was open, not yet closed for the season to protect the waterfowl that winter at the park. In addition to getting some fresh air after days of being stuck inside avoiding first humidity and then thunderstorms, we were also testing out my partner’s new hiking boots in advance of our trip up to Acadia National Park next month.
The hike itself was really more of a nature stroll than a hike that anyone who owns those pants that zip off into shorts would recognize as such. Patuxent is usually good for birds, but we saw hardly any: some goldfinches in by the Redington Lake bridge, a red-tailed hawk being chased by some crows above the beaver dam, some chickadees and nuthatches in the woods, a noisy red-bellied woodpecker, and a lone male kingfisher flying up the shore of Cash Lake. The highlight of the walk was definitely the amphibians: the previous two days of rain had created the ideal summer environment for frogs. We saw green frogs in the learning garden pond by the visitors’ center, a veritable mob of leopard frogs in a puddle at the base of the trail, and a lone cricket frog doing exactly what the guidebook said it would, which was attempting to evade us by a series of erratic hops. (I still caught it, but only to examine the teeniest frog I’d ever seen for identification purposes and then move it to the grass from the path of the trolley.) We also saw a skink, climbing a tree near where we’d stopped to locate the woodpecker; it was only the second time I’d seen one, so that was exciting.
In addition to frogs, the meadows were alive with butterflies. We saw Monarchs, Eastern and Black Swallowtails, Red-spotted Purples, a Great Spangled Fritillary, and a Common Buckeye. It’s possible that I also saw Spicebush and/or Pipevine Swallowtails, a Common Wood Nymph, and Least or Delaware Skippers (I didn’t have the book with me, so all identifications were from made at home from memory). We also saw a couple of something that looked like a cross between a cicada and a hummingbird, that we named Mini Mothra. There were dozens of dragonflies, including several distinct types I’d never seen before, but I didn’t have that book with me, either. All the dragonflies and frogs, in combination with a nice breeze off the lakes, meant that we weren’t bothered by mosquitoes at all.