On Saturday, a sunny pleasant spring day, we ventured down the road a short way to the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve that runs beside the Potomac River for about a mile. The trail is fine gravel and dirt, a level walk that ends at a short boardwalk overlooking the Potomac. There are some picturesque views of boats at anchor but usually not much wildlife beyond the Red-winged Blackbird habitat at the far end of the trail.
However, on recent trips there we have seen gaggles of photographers with the birders’ favorite tool – the tripod mounted very long lens mounted on a full-frame camera body. These cost many thousands of dollars but the serious birders at Huntley Meadows and elsewhere must have them.
The long-lens folks were out in force on this visit to Dyke Marsh because the owls were there. Perched high in the trees on the short road leading to the river, they are very hard to see even when you know what you’re looking for. But, as my wife says, once you see one, you can’t unsee it.
We joined the gaggle and finally got a few shots on my low-range Nikon, the cropped results of which are set out below. This is the Barred Owl:
We knew from a prior trip that about a third of the way down the Dyke Marsh trail, there was a cluster of trees beside the river in which an owl mother and baby had been resident but invisible to us on a prior trip. We walked there next and, sure enough, another gaggle of birders with long lenses was already staked out. As usual, birders are very helpful and friendly, so they immediately set about helping us spot the owls so perfectly camouflaged by the dense leaves in the upper branches. Those shots are below. This is the Great Horned Owl:
After a good time in awe of these magnificent birds, we started back down the trail to the car. But what to our wondering eyes appears but a lone photographer with his long tripod-mounted lens, pointed up to the non-river side of the trail into a tall tree in which was lodged a cluster of dark sticks. An eagle’s nest, we are told, with two or three large eaglets almost ready to fledge.
We are transfixed by this as I try to take some shots that I hope can be cropped and brightened into something worth having.
Then, without warning, it happens: mom appears out of nowhere with food for the eaglets. Here is the nest and the arrival of mom, the time between her appearance in our view and arrival on the nest being only a few seconds.
Apologies for the quality problems but my camera lens is just not up for this kind of photography.
We finished the walk in something of a daze. The owls were great. The eagles almost too much.
Sunday dawned cool and overcast but in the afternoon we ventured out to a familiar spot: the National Wildlife Refuge at Mason Neck State Park, on Belmont Bay of the Occoquan River. We walked the Bay View Trail, a relatively flat mile-long walk through the woods bounded by bogs with many frogs clicking and singing their mating calls. Eventually the trail opens to the Bay and passes along it.
As with Dyke Marsh, we usually don’t see much wildlife on this trail, but this turned out to be a two-snake day that made all the difference. Photos follow:
The moral, if there is one, is I suppose that one should not prejudged the day but just go and see whatever turns up. Some days, not much, just a walk in the woods, and others a bonanza of amazing sights that lift the spirits and nourish the soul.