Sunday, May 28, 2017

Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia

Shhh. Walk slowly. Listen. Look on both sides of the trail. Look up. If you have something to say, whisper. You’re in a wildlife sanctuary.

My sister, who comes often to Huntley Meadows, showed me how to get the most fascination from our visit. First, understand this realm of nature is someone else’s home, and you’re only a guest. The parking lot was the last human domain we would see for a few hours. From there, we padded into a forest on a soft, black path of tiny stones or cinders, I’m not sure. High above us filtering sunlight were leafy green treetops; all around us were lacy, lush ferns. My sister pointed to a wavy indentation in the path’s pebbles and whispered, “Made by a snake?” Other than the rat-a-tat-tat of a woodpecker, all was silence.

When the cinder trail led us to a wetland boardwalk, we slowed down even more to watch the water. Bubbles were clues that we might see fish, tadpoles, or frogs. Ripples usually meant a turtle swimming. Sometimes what seemed at first glance to be a small rock protruding from the water’s surface was actually a turtle’s nose. Our ambling pace enabled us to spot a tiny neon-green frog camouflaged against a reed of the same color. Remembering to look up rewarded us with views of green herons and majestic great blue herons in flight, a cute brown muskrat nibbling a reed, and green and yellow turtles sunning on logs. The only sounds were the tweeeeee of red-winged blackbirds swaying on cattails and the occasional bhwooosssh of a goose’s splash landing.

We did not see beavers but we did see their dams and a drawing of how these dens are designed. Beavers modify their environment to protect themselves from predators and provide food—nothing short of genius. They build the structures with underwater access. One eager beaver built its den right up over the boardwalk and part of a bench! My sister also noticed the telltale work of beavers in the pointed ends of logs in the water.

As we neared a lookout tower, a sweet fragrance wafted everywhere.  Honeysuckle was in bloom.

Photographers stationed themselves here and there on the boardwalk. Most had serious telephoto lenses wrapped in mottled green camouflage cloth. We asked one photographer what he hoped to photograph. He said, “I’m waiting for a warbler.”

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