On Tuesday afternoon, I drove out to Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve to see what this place is like in the very earliest stages of spring. This was only my third time visiting this preserve since moving to Ohio in August, but I feel like I'm getting a pretty good feel for the place across the changing seasons. As with my previous visits (in the fall and winter, respectively), there were lots of things to see!
I'll just dive in with what I consider the most exciting sight of the trip. Turtles! Yes, it really must be spring if there are turtles out and about. And even cooler, these are Blanding's Turtles (I saw two individuals; the second is just outside of the next picture), a species listed as threatened in Ohio and considered endangered by the IUCN because of their declining populations. I've never encountered this creature before, and I love that bright yellow chin:
These turtles were quite large, maybe around a foot long including their heads. Apparently Blanding's Turtles are super long-lived (70 years and up in the wild) and they don't reach maturity until 12-20 years old, which probably isn't helping their population problems. (The much more common Painted Turtles, by contrast, are ready to reproduce after 2-16 years.) I've also read that predation of eggs and hatchlings is a big problem for these guys. Perhaps the two turtles I saw will make some eggs, and maybe those eggs won't get eaten.... I don't want these sun-chinned creatures to go away!
Waterfowl migration is in full swing, and there were plenty of birds swimming around in the ice-free marsh. A variety of ducks were dabbling in the back of the marsh, but I was pretty well entranced by a small group of American Coot -- relatives of rails -- foraging near the path:
Coot! So cute, with that little tail and head:
These birds mainly eat aquatic vegetation, and they must've been finding some good meals in this shallow water. Mmm, greenery:
Coots have so many weird features, like that red knob on the top of their beak that looks so much like a third eye to me in the above picture. And their feet are these big lobed things, all the better for paddling in water and walking on mud:
The lobes fold up (again, weird), but the foot remains large:
These really are quite handsome birds, and I'm glad I got to hang out with them for a bit:
A pair of Wood Ducks foraged close to the path as well, giving me just the briefest of glimpses of their amazing costumes through the reeds. It's kind of interesting to see just parts of these ducks at a time, little details picked out from the whole. Like the male's fantastic green-purple-pink ponytail:
And his fancy painted beak and speckled chestnut breast:
I'm astonished by the colors peeking through on the female's wings:
And an entire pool of the same swirling iridescence -- what incredible color! -- on top of the male:
Yes, these are some pretty amazing birds, in part and in whole!
I was glad to see a pair of Killdeer patrolling the marsh, making me think of the Connecticut shore (where I would be just starting to monitor for Piping Plovers and other shorebirds if I lived there now; sigh):
Several pairs of Canada Geese made a dramatic (and loud) presence. I hope the Muskrats don't mind that one of their many mounds seems to be under consideration as a potential nest site:
The Muskrats seem to be thriving in this marsh. I didn't see any signs of the American Mink I spotted here on my last visit, but there were definitely Muskrats splashing in and out of the water (trailing their weird snake-like tails behind them):
This male Red-winged Blackbird chirped at me from within the reeds next to the path, his shoulder patches demurely covered:
A Red-tailed Hawk landed on a pole and surveyed the marsh, totally confident and comfortable even with people walking by right below:
After a few minutes it took off again:
And headed down the path right toward me (passing over my head close enough that I could hear the small sounds it made with every wingbeat):
Ah, so many cool creatures in this place!
Speaking of close encounters, I'm sure that people hand-feed the squirrels in this preserve (I had a couple more Fox Squirrels walk right up to me) and I suspect that they feed the birds as well. This Black-capped Chickadee flew over and nearly landed on me when I stopped at its patch of the marsh, and then it perched nearby to look me over. Well, if this creature's going to offer me an adorable chickadee photo op, I'm certainly not going to pass it up!
This Eastern Chipmunk also seemed ridiculously confident, peeking out of its hole right on the edge of the path:
Do you have something in your cheek pouches, little chipmunk, or are they always that pudgy?
Another chipmunk across the way must have been working on a nest, with all those leaves in her mouth; she dove into a nearby hole right after I took this picture:
Wow, I really did see a lot of things! And all while getting to be out in the bright sunlight, which did a good deal to make the cold day feel warmer, and made for a lovely misty marsh: