Adirondacks Carefree: Easy Living

Make your heart like a lake, with a calm, still surface, and great depths of kindness.   – Lao Tzu

Mountains are hard, stony, unforgiving. Nothing comes easily on a mountain. Gentle paths are soon strewn with rocks, small boulders must be climbed, and always the trail goes up, up, up. Until it goes down, and usually that’s worse. No question, mountains are hard work.

This summer, my friends and I answered the call of New York’s Adirondack Mountains. Forty-six peaks over 4000’. Lots of hiking and climbing and days filled with vigorous activity beckoned.

But…

This year’s destination came with a bonus – a lake.

Lakes are soft, fluid, soothing. Doing nothing comes very easily on a lake. You want to linger, trail your fingers through the cool water, listen to the cry of the loons, soak up the sunset. The living is easy on a lake.

This was a BIG lake. Our rental house perched on the shores of Upper Saranac Lake. With 37 miles of shoreline, that’s a lot of lake. The heck with peak-bagging! We were looking forward to relaxing by the water. It would be restful. Restorative. Carefree.

Adirondack Park is a long drive from Philadelphia, north through three mountain ranges. Our own Poconos, the Catskills, and finally the Adirondacks. The High Peaks rose around us, cascading long ribbons of waterfalls into narrow lakes, thoroughly distracting the driver.

Concentration returned on the three miles of twisting dirt road that led to our home away from home deep in the woods. Ahhh!

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more.   – John Burroughs

Early mornings on the dock were a joy. With cameras and journal, I settled myself there after breakfast each day, to write and immerse myself in the peace.

One morning dawned draped in mist.

A Common Merganser swam into view. With her were five fluffy ducklings. Two got a ride on mama’s back, dozing sleepily, carefree. The others paddled along in her wake. I watched as the lovely little family passed in front of me and disappeared into the distance. I wondered where they were going? Maybe Mom knew a good diner for breakfast?

The Merganser story took a turn two mornings later, after a nighttime thunderstorm with winds and heavy rains.  Now Mama Merganser returned – with just one duckling in tow.

I told myself that the time had come for the other ducklings to be out on their own, or perhaps this was a different family altogether. But in my heart, I know that’s not so. Not all the young ones of any species survive their youth.

But this young duckling was handsome and strong, and wonderful to watch.

Above the water’s surface, the mayflies danced, carefree.

If there’s water, there must be kayaking… I’d dreamed for months about long solo paddles in the early morning or evening, sneaking up on loons, perhaps even catching a moose as it drank at the edge of the water. One look at the dock crushed that dream. I’ve yet to master the art of dockside kayak launches. Even with three of us, it’s a challenge. Alone? No, that wasn’t going to happen.

However, my friends agreed to try the two kayaks out with me one still morning.

Don first…

And then, reluctantly, Robb. These kayaks were much narrower and longer than the boat he’s used to, and it took quite a while before he got the confidence to paddle more than two strokes at a time.

Once he got the hang of it, though, he was the king of the lake.

We weren’t out long, but it gave me the chance to get that obligatory view-from-the-kayak shot.

Peeking around the point as Don paddles back to our dock.

Bird feeders in the back yard drew lots of feathered friends. Some were birds we don’t get to see often. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Black-capped Chickadees (we get Carolina Chickadees) and lots of Purple Finches. Ruby-throated hummingbirds visited.

Underneath the feeders, though? That was the domain of the red squirrels.

The time was rare when there was no squirrel under the feeders. Not much bigger than a chipmunk, red squirrels are much smaller than our common gray squirrels. These jaunty little fellows have a white ring around their eyes and a black stripe along the side of their bellies.  We never grew tired of watching their antics.

Did someone mention chipmunks? Yes, they visited from time to time, too. Tiny but fierce battles broke out between the two tribes when a chipmunk and a squirrel both wanted the prime real estate. Surprisingly, these war games usually ended with the squirrel fleeing the chipmunk.

Each day ended lakeside on the dock, awaiting the sunset. Occasionally a highly polished classic wooden boat would motor by. A classic Adirondack sight.

We looked for the Milky Way one evening. We didn’t see it. Perhaps it was not yet dark enough. Still, there were an amazing number of stars. I can only imagine the sky in the middle of the night, when we were lost in our dreams, in our lakeside reverie.

Oh! For the lazy lakeside living! We could have happily passed the days by the water’s edge, relaxed and carefree.

But…

The mountains are calling and I must go.   – John Muir

The Tinicum Tattler

Hello, my darlings! C’est moi, Madame Catbird, gossip maven extraordinaire! I’ve got all the latest celebrity dish from John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge for you, right here on KRTR 99.9 FM, Critter Radio.

It’s the season for love, and all that results from love, and don’t I have the juiciest tidbits for you today!

Everyone, simply everyone, is talking about the handsome young Prothonotary Warbler laying it all out for romance in the impoundment. He’s doing everything right, dearies! He’s found the most-coveted property in town, and decorated with the best moss.

Look at him singing his blessed little heart out.

It’s not all about home decor and show tunes, though, and he isn’t afraid to show his masculine side! He’s carried on a relentless aerial battle with the local tree swallow families in the vain hope of having the tony neighborhood of Horseshoe Cove to himself.

The paparazzi have been camped on the doorstep of our golden boy for weeks. Who will be first to get that money shot of the lucky Mrs. Prothonotary? Only time will tell… but time is running out if Mr. P. hopes to hear the patter of tiny feet in his waterfront mansion this summer!

Guess who else was caught on film this week, my lovelies? Yes, those reclusive songsters, the Marsh Wrens.  We are frequently graced with their operatic voices, but not their feathered fabulousness. They much prefer the quiet life at home in their posh upscale development, The Reeds.

Not so now. The Wrens are busy, busy, busy, plucking bugs from the spatterdock and carrying them off to The Reeds. Why, could it be? Do they have a bun in the oven – or chicks in the nest? Madame Catbird thinks so!

Surprising to hear that the Least Bitterns have been out and about in public recently. They are notoriously camera-shy, don’t you know, dearies.

They’ve taken the art of dodging the flashbulbs to new lengths.

“You can’t see me,” says our plumed contortionist.

“You can’t see me!”

“Can you?”

Let’s leave them their little illusions, shall we?

Rumor has it the Least Bitterns are also raising a family in the oh-so-exclusive conclave of The Reeds.

Madame hears that a few very lucky fans have caught glimpses of the bouncing baby Bitterns!

There’s a new star in town, my darlings, and he’s got the Missus and the little ones in tow. It’s been many a year since the Common Gallinules saw fit to raise a family in our neck of the woods. Why, back then they were known as the Common Moorhens, mere hoi polloi.

Yet, here they are now, with a distinguished new name, mingling with the beautiful people. Perhaps there’s a little scandal lurking in the Gallinules’ family tree, no?

Clearly Mr. Gallinule now has exacting standards, and this elite community has met them. He’s made sure to show off his lovely mate and their four fabulous offspring frequently, parading them past the persistent paparazzi at every opportunity.

Ah, a little escargot for the little cherub. Parents may crave the spotlight, but the little ones are little ones, after all, and their needs must be met.

Mother and father alike see to it that the youngsters experience only the finest haute cuisine. Aren’t they just adorably ungainly at this age?

Madame Catbird has many, many more delicious morsels to dish about. You say you must have more celebrity goodies? Now, now! Patience, darlings! Moderation in all things, don’t you know?

Do tune in next time to find out just who has all the bees abuzz, won’t you? Madame Catbird awaits! Until we meet again, on KRTR 99.9 FM, Critter Radio.

Au revoir!

A Watery Cave

161029_pa-penns-cave_2373acsWe like caves.

My friends and I have been trying to get to Penn’s Cave for three years now. We’ve been to Crystal Cave and Lost River Caverns in Pennsylvania, Seneca Caverns in West Virginia, and Luray Cavern in Virginia. We’ve learned about stalactites and stalagmites, cave bacon, frozen waterfalls, cave draperies and fried eggs. We’ve seen columns and straws and flowstone. We’ve learned how dark it gets in a cave when the lights go out, and we’ve endured just about every bad joke a cave tour guide could come up with.

Luray Cavern pretty much spoiled me for any other cave experience. But Penn’s Cave, in the center of Pennsylvania, looked unique – an all-water journey through the cave in a boat. I mentioned it in my post about Crystal Cave three years ago; we’ve been talking about going to see it for a long time. At the end of October, we finally made it.

161029_pa-penns-cave_2287acsDown a long flight of stairs to the cave we went. A fleet of flat-bottomed boats awaited. These proved to be really tippy as the cave tourists came on board.

Our boat was also packed pretty tight. Turning to take photos was a challenge, and although the boat ceased to rock when it got underway, it was a far from motionless shooting platform. As if shooting in a dark cave wasn’t hard enough!

161029_pa-penns-cave_2294acsThere were fish in the water. Trout, of some sort. I know next to nothing about fish, unfortunately. I do know that’s a fish swimming there in the foreground of this photo.

The waterway flowing through Penn’s Cave is Penns Creek. Named for William Penn’s brother John, one of its sources is a spring in the cave.

161029_pa-penns-cave_2472acsCave curtains, one type of formation typically found in caverns.

All caverns are caves, but not all caves are caverns. Wait, what?

Any cavity in the ground large enough that some portion does not receive sunlight is a cave. A cavern is a specific type of cave formed in soluble rock and decorated with speleothems.

With what?!?

A speleothem is a cave formation. You don’t remember learning all this from the Wild Edge three years ago? Read it again here, there will be a quiz later.

161029_pa-penns-cave_2334acsThe ceiling of Penns Cave. The scale is lost in this photo, but this room was huge, and the ceiling far away.

Like every cavern I’ve toured, the formations have names. Fittingly, there’s the Nittany Lion. The Statue of Liberty. The Straits of Gibraltar was a narrow passage with rock angling in on both sides. We had to duck.

161029_pa-penns-cave_2520acsThe light at the end of the tunnel. Penns Creek exits the cavern into a small man-made lake called Lake Nitanee.

161029_pa-penns-cave_2538acsLooking over Don’s shoulder as we approach Lake Nitanee. After a short cruise, we turned around and returned through the cavern to the entrance.

Quiz-time! (Didn’t believe me, did you?)

How do speleothems form?

161029_pa-penns-cave_2702acsBack on top of the earth. The surrounding area is mountainous and agricultural. Penn’s Cave offers a Farm, Nature & Wildlife Tour. The park’s 1600 acres are home to longhorn cattle, bison, bighorn sheep, black bears, mountain lions, bobcats and wolves.

161029_pa-penns-cave_3046acsSome live in roomy fenced enclosures, like this handsome wolf.

161029_pa-penns-cave_3072acsThere are five wolves in the Penn’s Cave pack.

Like all wolf packs, there’s a pecking order, with an alpha male and an alpha female.

These wolves were hand-raised from pups, so they are accustomed to humans.

161029_pa-penns-cave_3310acsYou’re in Lion Country now, son. Penn State’s mascot, the Nittany Lion, is a mountain lion like this. She was housed in a zoo-like enclosure behind glass. When she heard my camera’s shutter, she turned and looked right at me for a long moment.

161029_pa-penns-cave_3377acsOur last wildlife of the day, a red squirrel. Not behind an enclosure, but free and strolling across the replica mining sluice. These critters make a call most unlike our familiar gray squirrels.

Got your quiz answer ready?

How do speleothems form?

That’s right, speleothems form when rainwater and calcium carbonate form an acid that eats through soluble rock like limestone. As it drips, it leaves behind calcite deposits.

Give yourself an A!

My friends and I gave Penn’s Cave an A, too. Three years we waited, and it was well worth it.

The Turtle 200

Critter Radio Logo v3Welcome back, race fans, to the annual Turtle 200! It’s been a year since the armored beasts took to the track. We have a good lineup of reptilian racers for you today, all tuned up and ready to roar down the track at a breakneck quarter-mile an hour. You can hear all the action right here on KRTR 99.9 FM, Critter Radio. Tension is mounting!

160526_PA HNWR Morning Turtles_8388acaThere’s quite a crowd watching the action from the turtle bleachers. They crane their necks for a better view as the competitors plod past.

160526_PA HNWR Morning Turtles_8379Every stadium has that one guy, right? Big, pushy, late to the party, he has to climb over everybody to get to his seat. Today it’s a Red-bellied Turtle throwing his weight around amongst the smaller patrons.

The Red-bellied Turtle, sometimes called a Red-bellied Cooter, likes deep water with a sandy or muddy bottom and lots of aquatic vegetation. They sometimes hang out in the sun with Painted Turtles and Red-eared Sliders, but they are much larger. They are distinguished by their reddish plastron, the lower shell. Red-bellied Turtles are listed as a threatened species in Pennsylvania. Loss of habitat is taking its toll, as is nest predation, road mortality when females come on land to lay eggs, and competition with the exotic Red-eared Slider.

140926_Forsythe NWR_3589acsHere we go, fans! Coming into the first turn is an Eastern Box Turtle. Surprising to see him in the lead. Box Turtles are known to be particularly slow, which is saying something when you’re talking about turtles. Look at the domed carapace (upper shell) on this guy!

140926_Forsythe NWR_3606acsLooks like he’s made the turn safely. He was really pulling those Gs though!

140926_Forsythe NWR_3618acsThe look on his face says it all.

160531_PA HNWR Evening_9169acsThis Painted Turtle shows some uniquely beautiful markings as he strains his neck going around the curve.

FUN FACT: A few species of turtles have an eye stripe like this. A fellow photographer pointed out that, no matter what angle the head and neck are, that eye line is always parallel with the horizon.

Wait! The Caution flag is up!

160526_PA HNWR Morning Turtles_8341acsSeems we’ve got a three turtle pileup of Red-eared Sliders on the track.

Red-eared Sliders look quite similar to Painted Turtles, and the two species frequently sun together. The red stripe on the side of the Slider’s head gives it away. They don’t belong here; they are native to the Mississippi River Basin. But they are popular pets, and frequently released into the wild, so that they have become established throughout the country. They often out-compete other turtles, the hallmark of an invasive species.

HNWR Snapper_6644 ASNow we’ve got a green flag, we’re back to racing. A snapping turtle has lumbered into the lead.

This is one BIG turtle! They can reach 60 pounds. Everything about them, from their heads to their claws, is huge. You don’t want to get near their powerful jaws.

HNWR Snapper_6657 aThe Snapper meanders on down the track, dragging his very impressive tail behind him.

06222016_DE Bombay Hook Terrapin_2130acsThe White flag is up – it’s the final lap. A Diamondback Terrapin moseys toward the finish line.

She’s almost there…

06222016_DE Bombay Hook Terrapin_1481acs…AND she’s pulling over for a pit stop. In an actual pit, which she’s digging herself to lay her eggs. Right in the road. Track managers frown on this type of behavior; it makes a mess for the grounds crew to clean up. In the meantime, this beautiful female has cost herself the trophy.

Diamondback Terrapins are turtles of brackish estuaries, tidal creeks and marshes. They are the only turtles in the country that live in water with a salt content between that of fresh and salty seawater. Population numbers are dropping due to habitat loss, and predation. Females crossing roads to lay eggs are killed by cars, they are collected illegally for the pet trade, and frequently drown in commercial crab traps. Numerous conservation programs are trying to help these beautiful turtles.

160526_PA HNWR Morning Turtles_8110acsNow another Snapper is gliding toward the finish line…

Oh, the drama! The Snapper had the finish line in his sights, only to be passed by a Painted Turtle in the last few yards as the checkered flag waves.

140926_Forsythe NWR_3555acsThere’s your winner, folks: the Painted Turtle has taken the coveted Turtle 200 Cup!

That’s another fine race in the history books. Don’t miss next year’s competition, brought to you by KRTR 99.9 FM, Critter Radio. It’s sure to be another nail-biter!

We leave you now, as always, with the words of the incomparable Ogden Nash:

The turtle lives ‘twixt plated decks

Which practically conceal its sex.

I think it clever of the turtle

In such a fix to be so fertile.

My Big Day

160531_PA HNWR Evening_9311acsA “Big Day” in bird-watching parlance is a day when a group of birders try to see as many different species of birds as they can. Recently, I had a different kind of Big Day.

My life list on May 13 consisted of 211 different bird species. On May 14, it was up to 217. That’s a big jump. How?

I saw six new birds in ONE day, that’s how. My BIG DAY.

But do I have photographic evidence? No!

Murphy’s Law of Bird Photography: Go out, camera in hand, in search of stunning photographs of the brightly colored migratory warblers that appear like magic every May, and either:

a) there are no birds, or

b) there are plenty of birds, but they are moving so rapidly deep in the dark treetops that all of your images are rubbish.

160526_PA HNWR Morning Birds_8263acsLike this Common Yellowthroat, so buried in the foliage that its light underparts look green from the reflection of the leaves.

Common Yellowthroats, as their name implies, are pretty common. One hopped across my porch while I was reading one evening. I enjoy seeing them each year, but this was not a new species, a “life bird”, for me.

160428_PA HNWR Warblers_6824acsHere’s a bird in the open, an American Redstart. Great bird, horribly distracting background, too bright. Another common warbler I’ve seen before this year.

John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge is a hotspot for migrating warblers, flycatchers, vireos and other birds in the spring. Many of the local birders said this was the best spring migration we’d had in some years.

Murphy’s Law of Bird Photography, Corollary #1: Go birding WITHOUT the camera, and the birds will sit in the open in beautiful light, singing their hearts out.

See the above incident on the porch. Great bird, really close, no camera.

160515_PA HNWR Warblers_7779acsHere’s the one life bird I saw this spring I managed to capture, a Cape May Warbler. I first saw it the day before at eye level, in the sun, singing away. But, alas, no camera. I found it again the next day with camera in hand; this time it was hidden in the trees. I finally caught it in a blur of motion. This nicely illustrates one of the habits that make warblers so difficult to photograph: they never stay still!

Murphy’s Law of Bird Photography, Corollary #2: Have a Big Day, in which you see SIX new species of warblers, and your only passable images will be of the ubiquitous Yellow Warblers. All thanks to Murphy’s Law of Bird Photography or Corollary #1.

160428_PA HNWR Warblers_6688acsHere’s that ubiquitous Yellow Warbler. Notice how all of my images are of the birds’ tummies? Another warbler habit: Most species like to hang out high in the trees. To see many of them you need to tilt your head way, way back. There’s a reason warbler fans complain of “Warbler Neck.” Most of my images are of birds that hang out a little lower in the canopy.

For those curious to know, my new birds this May were the Blue-winged, Cape May, Wilson’s, Blackpoll, Chestnut-sided and Canada Warblers and the Northern Parula. All but the Blue-winged seen in one day.

Murphy’s Law of Bird Photography, Corollary #3: Have a bird pose in the open for you to photograph, and that’s the bird that might have been a lifer, but you’ll never know for sure what it was.

160515_PA HNWR Warblers_7861acsI was with one of the Refuge’s finest birders, and she wasn’t willing to say definitively which flycatcher this was without hearing it sing. Despite posing for a long time in the open, it never opened its mouth.

It was a real treat to bird with Edie, though. Birding with friends was the only reason I was able to add so many new life birds to my list. I wouldn’t have found some of them if other pairs of eyes hadn’t been searching too. I wouldn’t have been able to identify some of them if others hadn’t helped me out.

There are other birds at the Refuge that are easier to see and photograph.

160516_PA HNWR Oriole_7952acsBaltimore Orioles are stunning at this time of year.

160428_PA HNWR Swallow_6499acsBarn Swallows are everywhere. Trying to capture them in flight is nearly impossible. But they’re not shy when they’re sitting on the boardwalk railing.

160526_PA HNWR Morning Birds_8554acsRed-winged Blackbirds are another common bird that I keep hoping to capture in flight. Sitting among the cattails will have to do.

Speaking of common birds in flight at the Refuge, that’s a Great Blue Heron at the top of this post.

160531_PA HNWR Evening_9265acsI’ve been trying to photograph male Wood Ducks in their elaborate breeding plumage for a long time, not particularly successfully. I’ll take the ducklings any day of the week, though. They’re hot on Mama’s tail as she paddles for the safety of the spatterdock.

Every day’s a Big Day for Mama Wood Duck.

Every day that I am outside observing and enjoying Nature is a Big Day for me.

My Happy Place

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3199acsEveryone needs a place of retreat, a place to restore one’s soul. Through the long winter I pictured it only in my dreams. Serene. Meditative. Calming. My happy place.

Y’all close your eyes now. Let’s go there in our minds…

Ah, that’s better. Wave goodbye to the dark, dreary, landlocked days of winter. Shed the layers of thermals and fleece. Wade through the shallows, and settle into the kayak. Turn your face to the warming rays of the sun.

Now, dip the paddle blade into the water, and smoothly, gently, pull. Feel the boat glide effortlessly forward.

Ahhh. That’s better.

After six long months on land, I am once again a creature of the water. Blessed with a warm sunny day in the middle of April, I pack up my kayak and head for the Pine Barrens. Lake Oswego awaits, glittering indigo under a clear blue sky. No longer a dream, my happy place is now reality.

The water of the lake flows dripping off my paddle, and runs chuckling down the length of the kayak’s hull.

Ssssshlooooop -drip-drip-drip – drip – d r i p – d r i p – gurglegurgle

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3190acsThe first strokes are awkward, and I find myself paddling not across open water, but through a mass of lily pads and dark green pondweeds. Oops! Better watch where I am going.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3429acsHmmm. That looks interesting on the other side of the bridge. I wonder if I can fit under there?

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3415acsEasily spooked, turtles dive at the mere hint of my presence. I stow my paddle and drift, and soon a turtle forgets me and begins to nibble at a nice wet salad.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3193acsMy happy place. Around the upper curve of the lake and down the far shore, past the dam and the portage beach. Blue sky, green trees, dark blue water. Ahhh.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3373acsAt the southeastern end of the lake, I find this fantastical sculpture, the twisted remains of a long-deceased tree.

Lakes don’t occur naturally in the Pine Barrens. Something had to die for the pond to be born.

Gone, but not forgotten.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3295acsMy happy place is… a cemetery. The ghosts of drowned cedar trees haunt the shallow places, a reminder of the forest that once was.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3357acsYet life abounds among the tree spirits. A fallen phantom attracts a turtle, very much alive. Several of his shelled buddies are also soaking up the sun nearby.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3285acsBleached cedar tree trunks are the totem poles of the Pine Barrens lake, the resting places of arboreal souls. I drift among them like the clouds wisp across the sky, soaking up the twitter of tree swallows.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3264acsA spectral white trunk leans on another for support. Like the wrinkles of an old woman’s face, its weathered skin whispers of all that it has seen. Wait – what is perched on the right end of the log? Photobombed by a dragonfly!

There’s that sound again. QUONK! Like a metallic thunk. I heard a few of them near the launch, but at this end of the lake the sounds are much more numerous. No bird I know makes that sound. It has to be a frog. But what one? No matter how close I get to each QUONK, it’s not close enough. I see no frogs.

One of my missions is to find where the Oswego River comes into Oswego Lake. I follow a pair of honking geese into a cove. At the far end is a narrow passage into another cove. Beyond that a thin little stream squeezes between trees and disappears.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3322acsCould this be the Oswego River?

But there’s another cove, with another stream beyond it disappearing into the trees. This one looks wider, more like a real stream. Hmmm. Mission postponed. Best to leave some mystery for another day.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3393acsLeft also for another day is this inviting little pathway.

Journey’s end.

Ahhh, that’s better. My spirit has been soothed. Winter is past; its cold and confinement have faded. A season of warm days and blue water unfolds before me like a map. A map that leads to…

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3448acsMy happy place.

Early Green

160322_PA HNWR Early Spring_3075aI’m not fond of the color brown. In fact, I don’t even think it’s a color. It’s more like a background, and one I’m tired of. For most of my life I lived in a beige house, which is brown in a wishy-washy mood. With apologies to my U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service friends in their brown and tan uniforms, the only good brown thing is chocolate.

As mild as this past winter was, I really have no cause to complain. But since the trees and shrubs lost their leaves in November, life outdoors has been a sea of brown bare trees and beige dried foliage. Now, I admire the structural bones of a single bare tree as much as the next person, but this is too much of a good thing. Momentary escapes to the Pine Barrens and Jersey Shore offered only momentary relief from the monotony. After five months, I am ready for change.

Nothing says “change” like green. Pale yellow-green. Bright kelly green. Deep forest green. The green of Nature. The green of Spring.  The green of New Life.

160322_PA HNWR Early Spring_3126acsWhat a relief to see green in all its variations on a recent evening walk at John Heinz NWR, and soak in the sights and sounds of the new arrivals early Spring brought with it. Like the willows dancing in the breeze while a jet contrail slices the clear blue sky.

160322_PA HNWR Early Spring_2573acsSpring greens are subtle. Pussy willow along the water’s edge.

160322_PA HNWR Early Spring_2492acsSometimes the green is the canvas on which other colors are painted. Just the carpet of green leaves would be welcome sight. The golden flowers add that touch of flair.

160322_PA HNWR Early Spring_2779acsSometimes spring greens are red! At this time of year, many of the trees are bright crimson, as the red maples burst into bud…

160322_PA HNWR Early Spring_2699acs…And flower.

160322_PA HNWR Early Spring_2716acsSometimes the green is not so welcome, like new shoots of Phragmites, an invasive plant found throughout the Refuge that a friend and I are trying to eradicate from a small plot. We knew it would come back. The fight is renewed for another growing season.

160322_PA HNWR Early Spring_3198acsThe greening of the land brings with it new arrivals freshly returned from their wintering grounds. Red-winged Blackbirds have been back for a few weeks. Their CONK-ER-REE calls are anything but musical, but nonetheless music to my winter-weary ears.

The air is filled with the songs of birds. Song Sparrows, Carolina Wrens and Cardinals join the blackbird chorus. There’s an amphibian choir singing as well, as frogs have come out of the mud where they spent the winter to look for mates. The aptly named Spring Peepers make a surprisingly loud, high-pitched PEEP continuously. These are tiny frogs, no bigger than a fingernail. In all my searching, I have never seen one, though I have been nearly deafened by their noise. Singing tenor to the peepers’ soprano are the Wood Frogs, who sound more like ducks, with their ragged QUACK call.

160322_PA HNWR Early Spring_3106acsSnapping turtles have also come out of the mud, and cruise along at the water’s surface.

160322_PA HNWR Early Spring_3230acsTree Swallows came back recently. Now the sky over the impoundment is filled with the little blue jewels hawking insects. Which means, of course, that the insects are back too. The marshy environment of Heinz Refuge would be miserable with mosquitos were it not for our swallow friends. Which is why we have nest boxes for them.

160322_PA HNWR Early Spring_3263acsFrequent squabbles break out over those nest boxes. This is prime real estate.

160322_PA HNWR Early Spring_2560acsGreat Egrets arrived last week. This one was enjoying an hors d’oeuvre, hoping for a more filling main course.

160322_PA HNWR Early Spring_3031acsHere’s the greenest photo of all. Yes, I know – there’s no green, just the dreaded brown. This is one of our Bald Eagle pair sitting on its nest. Inside that nest are one or more eggs. Any day now (it might already have happened) a tiny, fluffy eaglet will break its way out of the shell and start its new life.

New life. It just doesn’t get any greener than that.