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Hike, Breakfast, & Birds at Leight Estuary Center

Maybe I shouldn’t even write this post and give the secret away … Local nature centers are gems. On any weekend, you may wonder: What can I do today to get outdoors? And there’ll be a organized program somewhere where you can hike, kayak, do, make, or learn something. An hour at a nature center piques your curiosity and gives you a gentle prod to get started exploring nature. And, as a bonus, programs often give you an opportunity to play or do something in an area or at a time not usually accessible to everyone.

Saturday was a great example.

“Crack of Dawn” Hike

A group of about 15 early-birds (women, men, kids) gathered at 7:30am at the Anita Leight Estuary Center in Abingdon, Maryland.

The leader led us around the trails looking for tracks & critters. We started out at the shoreline and saw these tracks. Raccoon? And beautiful patterns in the sand.


We  spent the next hour or so exploring the trails throughout the estuary center. The leader pointed out different trees, and explained various scientific studies that are conducted there – such as tracking turtles. One student did a study a few years ago & traced the soil to the dinosaur era! We also hiked to one area of the park where we talked about the effects of us humans, how we impact nature — but nature has its way of recovering.

Pics: Frost edging the leaves; gorgeous view of Otter Point Creek


We also stopped by a vernal pool; one that has them puzzled. Though all the conditions seem to be right, it isn’t “productive”, ie. no amphibians/reptiles make it home.

Vernal pools are temporary pools of water, usually formed in the spring (hence the term “vernal”) from winter rains or snow melt. They’re usually devoid of fish, and that’s make then a nice home for frogs, toads, and salamanders in which to breed. But that’s not happening here.


Mmmm, homemade breakfast

The hike was worth waking up early for. But breakfast was also on the agenda. I expected bagels and cream cheese. But it was homemade french toast, fresh scrambled eggs, bacon, fresh fruit, fresh-brewed coffee, juice, toast, and donuts. How can I do this every Saturday?!?!?

View of Otter Point Creek, from Rte 40:



I returned later in the day for “If You Feed Them, They Will Come” – a discussion about the birds you can expect to find at backyard feeders in our local area of Harford County. We also branched out to talking about other local birds – not necessarily ones we’d find at our backyard feeder – such as vultures, osprey, and eagles, and where we’ve seen their nests. It seems we’re always fascinated with eagles.

Lingering at the center, we watched their bird feeder and saw these:

  • red-bellied woodpecker
  • nuthatch
  • song sparrow
  • titmouse
  • chickadee

Being a beautiful day, and enjoying the time outdoors, I capped off the afternoon with another short hike through the woods.

Not Everyday Do You Find a Deer Carcass (Patapsco Valley SP)

I’m a middle-aged / baby-boomer female who has spent most of my career at a desk, in a typical corporate setting.

So it’s unusual and surprising when I find myself on a cold January afternoon, right before the sun sets, at a state park by myself, exploring along the edge of the Patapsco River. And I find a deer carcass; I think that’s really cool!

Actually though, I was at the main parking / picnic area of the Avalon area. Just 20 feet from a picnic table is where I found it. So it wasn’t any wild adventure, anyone could find this:

So many questions – How did it die? What was it doing? How old was it? Male or female? Who/what killed it? Who ate all of it? Where’s the rest of the hide? I didn’t expect tufts of feathers.

View along the Patapsco River:

Re-assuring, in case someone needs to be rescued. I wonder how many times it’s been used …

The Great Backyard Bird Count

Ok, I’m in! I plan to do some bird counting as part of the Great Backyard Bird Count, a joint effort of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audobon. Dates: Feb 17-22. That pretty much represents my current philosophy of observing nature: just outside my door – i.e. my backyard!

So how do you officially bird count:

1. Plan to count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count.

2. Count the greatest number of individuals of each species that you see together at any one time.

3. When you’re finished, enter your results through the event’s web page.

Find more info here. Who will join me?

Early Signs of Spring

At this time of year in the mid-Atlantic, we’re usually entrenched in cold gray dreary days & wet weather. January, unless it snows, is not known for being a pretty month. But if you take some time during your rushed walks to the car, by now you can find some signs that spring truly is on its way.

I caught these shoots at my office in Howard County on Jan 19. But I also saw a field of shoots just like these on Jan 8 – at Patapsco Valley State Park along the river.

In January, trees are bare. Or are they? Take a closer look and you can see the buds starting to form. Wouldn’t it be fun to learn trees so well that you can ID them just from their buds!

Squirrel Appreciation Day – Jan 21

Today, Jan 21, is Squirrel Appreciation Day. As my cousin said, “Who knew?”  :). Squirrel Appreciation Day was created by wildlife rehabilitator Christy Hargrove of Asheville, North Carolina.

In case you missed it today, I’m sure the squirrels will appreciate some attention on any other day of the year, too. To help you celebrate the occasion properly, here are some resources. [Just click on the orange text, it’s a hyperlink.]

10 Amazing Things About Squirrels from National Wildlife Federation

7 Ways to Celebrate National Squirrel Appreciation Day from National Wildlife Federation

A helpful form to guide you in observing squirrels from Ranger Rick magazine

More tips on celebrating the day, from National Wildlife Federation

eHow offers suggestions on learning about squirrels, feeding them, and celebrating them!

An article from the Washington Post

On the other hand, if maybe you’re not full of squirrel appreciation as I was this afternoon because one tried endlessly to get into my birdfeeders … Tips to outwit squirrels, also from National Wildlife Federation.

Enjoy the happy occasion!

Icy Shapes of January

Yahoo! It finally snowed! Only two inches, but still …. it’s snow! And to cap it off, we had a morning of sleet / freezing rain which coated the snow with a wondrous sheen. (And the best — it’s a Saturday, so I could stay home & enjoy it.)

Some views caught in my garden:

Less Lighting on Maryland Highways?

I’ve noticed this winter that many lights on the highways I travel are not on. Particularly sections of Interstate 95 as well as the local 195 leading to the BWI airport.

I think this is a great idea for several reasons: uses less energy; reduces nightime “light pollution”, and reduces the impact of night lights on the nocturnal habits of many species.

I did some research and found that the Maryland State Highway Administration conducted a test along Rt 100 last winter. I could not find any updated info, but it’s definitely apparent they’ve extended the practice.

Wikipedia has a very informative page on light pollution & its impact.

Field Trip to Robinson Nature Center

A two-story “tree” depicting the seasons of the year and what you’ll find in nature during that time. Follow the boardwalk around & down and you’ll hear audio of critters and birds & play with interactive media. At the bottom is a forest-understory diorama and a beaver home display. Continue and walk through a nocturnal exhibit.

Those are a few of the spectacular exhibits at the Robinson Nature Center in Howard County. Others include a display about the Chesapeake Bay with suggestions on how you can protect it – ranging from why it’s important to pick up your pet poop to explaining why “steamed crabs” are so expensive.

The "tree" seasonal exhibit at Robinson Nature Center

Beaver home

Wall Painting

There’s also a “discovery” / play room for children with tall windows overlooking the forest. (Can I move my office there?)

I didn’t get to see the NatureSphere auditorium area where programs will be held.

Outdoors will be spectacular when nature crawls out of hibernation. Right outside the front door is a seating area which actually is the roof of the auditorium – it’s planted as a “green roof”. Other gardens have been planted; and a butterfly garden and greenhouse are planned. There’s also a Nature Trail taking you through the woods and along the Middle Patuxent River – I’ve visited portions several times.

Eagles Nest & Highway Good Samaritans

Edited on March 06, 2012: At a seminar on birding, a local bird expert said it was likely this was an osprey nest. Today, I was tweeting with Friends of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge; sent them a picture; and they confirmed it is an osprey nest.

I found an eagle’s nest and yes, I was in search of one.

I’m pretty sure there’s an eagle or two that lazily drifts in the afternoon sky near my home. For 2 or 3 years, I saw an eagles’ nest on the electrical poles adjacent to the Amtrak train line nearby. It’s been gone for awhile. But I keep my eyes open hoping to find one again.

This weekend, driving down Rt 40, I saw this one! It’s adjacent to the CSX train tracks, just south/west of the Riverside office area.

Now, I thought nothing of pulling over and walking along the shoulder of the highway to try to get an awesome picture. A woman driving by, thinking my car broke down and I was getting out to walk somewhere for help, offered assistance. I explained what I was doing, walked back to my car, and pulled down a few feet. Another driver, seeing that, thought I was out of gas, and offered assistance. Again I explained my nature fascination. When a police car pulled over, that’s when I thought I should end my photo session. It was unexpected, but I definitely appreciated all the good samaritans!

Nature Art – A Driftwood Mobile at Estuary Center

Scavenging for natural materials along the high tide line on the “beach” at the Anita Leight Estuary Center and then making a driftwood mobile – a very fun activity for kids and the young-at-heart  ;). My mobile includes driftwood, various shells, a feather, & tumbled glass.

One of the highlights of participating in a nature center program is that you get access to areas and activities you normally would not!

An estuary is a body of water where freshwater from land (in this case Winters Run flowing through Harford County) meets up with sea water. At this point it becomes a tidal marsh and is re-named Otter Point Creek. This property is one of the few remaining marshes accessible to the public. (Most of the waterfront land in Harford County is part of the Aberdeen Proving Grounds army base and not open to the public.)

The original property was owned by the Leight family for generations, then donated to Harford County. NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), wanting to study estuarine ecosystems, invested money here and the Center was built.

It’s a beautiful piece of waterfront, forested land. While you’re there, it’s hard to believe that you’re only a few hundred yards from busy Route 40.

The beach at the Estuary Center, adjacent to Rt. 40

View of the setting sun & Otter Point Creek, from the Leight Estuary Center


The afternoon capped off with this sunset view at home.