Sunday, April 4, 2021

Disappointment and Delight at Ballston Creek

I met a number of very disappointed birders at Ballston Creek Preserve today.  They had come to observe the nesting Great Blue Herons this preserve had grown famous for.  For quite a number of years, the standing snags in the Ballston Creek Swamp had held the nests of many Great Blue Herons, including two heron nests commandeered by mated pairs of Ospreys and Great Horned Owls. Dependably, this swamp was a most amazing site for observing the behavior of all three species of giant birds.  Here's my photo of what a few of those snags looked like just a few years ago (and this is just a small section of the heronry):

Sadly, here's what that same section of swamp looked like today. Not a heron, nor any shred of a nest could be seen, not to mention any sign of ospreys or owls:

Over the years, windstorms have toppled many snags, or torn the supportive branches from those that remained upright, or blown the large stick-composed nests completely or partially away.  But why haven't the herons returned to rebuild?  Have they found better fishing in some other swamp? Those are questions I can't answer.

I shared the visiting birders' disappointment, for I too had enjoyed observing these birds in their home habitat, and for several years.  But I was here today instead to see if any of the wildflowers that thrive in this preserve's woods had made an appearance yet.  I have rarely found any other site so thoroughly carpeted with Carolina Spring Beauty (Claytonia caroliniana), a very early bloomer in the spring woods.  Would I find any sign of it today?  Eventually, I certainly did:  many, many bud-bearing sprouts were made visible among the leaf litter by their tapering green leaves. Admittedly, it took some searching to find them.

After finding only leaves and buds after all that diligent searching, it was quite a treat to find just one single Spring Beauty plant that was actually in bloom.  These dainty pink-striped, pink-anthered flowers are such a delightful find, so early in spring, when so few other wildflowers are blooming. And I'll find them here by the thousands in just a couple of weeks.

My next quest was to see if any of the Round-lobed Hepaticas (Hepatica americana) that grew here down by the creek had put forth any flowers yet.  It was easy to find their rather bedraggled but beautifully rosy wintered-over leaves among the leaf litter.  Were any flowers hiding down there at the center of the leaves?

Searching among the many plants, again and again I found only the flower buds, none even close to blooming.  But what amazingly furry buds!  Like tiny bunnies!  Most appropriate for this Easter Sunday.

Then, just as I had given up my search, this pretty little purple flower caught my eye. One more delightful surprise!

Pleased that my wildflower search had been successful, I sat on the bench overlooking the swamp and observed the scene. As I sat there quietly, I soon became aware of an odd, putt-putting growl from across the water.  Pickerel Frogs! Sending their come-hither calls to one another.  Love was in the air!

Searching the water's surface for any sign of the frogs, my eyes lit on this hummock, the vegetation oddly flattened as if some critter had sat on it frequently.  And then I noticed the fish scales. Aha! A critter HAS sat on this hummock quite often, for this was an otter's latrine.

I don't know too many other folks who would be delighted to find an otter's poo.  But lucky for me, I know a few.  And I'm happy to share this find and this photo with them.


Sara Rall said...

25 years ago there was a small heron rookery just a block from my house. Then they built a housing development there.

Yesterday I came across a shell midden in a bit of a depression just back from the bank of a river. Never occurred to me it could be otters!

I've been watching for hepatica here in NJ, but no success. It amuses me that you who are further north have "Carolina" spring beauties while farther south we have "Virginia".

Momo said...

I am saddened to know of the end of the local heron rookery. It was a peaceful gift to sit on the bench there and observe the birds. I am glad to have memories of seeing the osprey and owls there as well.

The Northeast Naturalist said...

I can relate to the loss of the heronry. Many years ago, there was one in a swamp down the road from us. A wind storm with a freak 70 mph gust took out the nests and some of the dead trees. I never understood why they didn't rebuild, but I guess they thought the location became "dangerous" (or something to that effect) and moved elsewhere.

The Furry Gnome said...

I'm recording a talk on the spring wildflowers found here inthe Beaver Valley. Even though I can't get out there anymore I can still share the knowledge.

Mary said...

I paddled to the old heron rookery on the Anthony Kill yesterday. Used to love sitting in my canoe and watch them, listening to their croaking calls. My late husband took some great photos of the herons at Ballston Creek back when Pat and Sven were there. I wonder why both of those rookeries were abandoned, and where the herons nest now.

Woody Meristem said...

Great blue herons frequently nest quite far from the areas in which they feed, nesting colonies are often found high on hilltops. From your photos it looks like the snags no longer have enough limbs to support nests so the herons have moved to another site.

threecollie said...

Sorry to read about the rookery. What a shame.