Neighborhood Walks – March 2017

I’ve been getting out a bit more regularly, now that my knee has been feeling almost better. My main motivation to do so is a volunteer program I signed up for called Watch the Wild.  The idea is that you pick a place you visit frequently, such as your neighborhood or even your backyard, and you make regular observations about the weather, plants and animals that you see there. This helps scientists study patterns of climate change and ecological health that they would not be able to watch as often as someone who visits that spot all the time. It’s pretty easy to do, and even a great way to get children involved in being aware of their local environment, so I definitely recommend it if it sounds at all interesting!

The easy choice for me is my neighborhood, which is a mile wide wetland valley. I can thoroughly explore the whole area in depth in under an hour, but the variety of wildlife a lush wetland in the middle of a busy suburb can attract keeps me interested in heading out a few times a week to see what I can find!

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March is one of my favorite months to get outside in my neighborhood. Right now the wetland is mostly brown and completely flooded in the middle. It is often cold and raining, and at first glance it seems there is little stirring out there. But by paying close attention (and by getting out early enough) there is plenty I can spot.

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A few coyotes have a den in a blackberry thicket, and can be seen and heard in the early morning hours. Birds of prey are always out this time of year – we often see an eagle pair and their baby in the nest, a red-tailed hawk that comes back every year, and occasionally a sharp-shinned hawk, Cooper’s hawk or a northern harrier. The Pacific chorus frogs are all out calling for mates right now, and though you’ll rarely see a salamander you can find their eggs in the rushing creeks. The soggy, matted reeds make it easier to spot the waterbirds, and there are plenty of those – mallards, green-winged teal and buffleheads are common, and this week I’ve spotted an American coot, a few blue herons, a large flock of American wigeon, a Virginia rail, a hooded merganser and some ruddy ducks.

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However, even though it feels like winter now, by the end of the month everything will be different. Already the leaf buds are opening on the alder and Indian plum, and the buttercup and forget-me-not leaves are carpeting the edges of the waterways. A few shoots are coming up in a patch of yellow flag iris, which means the cattails won’t be far behind. And I even saw a small flock of violet-green swallows hunting in the air – they’ve arrived about 3 weeks earlier than last year. The amount of change that happens in such a short time is incredible, and before I know it I won’t be able to see over the tops of the green grass and reeds at all, and they’ll be buzzing with honeybees and songbirds.

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It certainly is easier to keep slogging along through these grey days when you’re aware of the little signs of change coming your way. Spring might not really feel like it’s here for another month or two, but the impending signs are everywhere, if you pay attention.

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