The Preserves Among Us

This year has been different, to say the least. For all of us. One of the things that has proved helpful to me is exploring nature preserves – especially scoping out ones I’ve never visited or, in some cases, have never heard of. It’s like having little mini vacations. I explored a couple preserves near Lake Erie just a few weeks ago.

DuPont Marsh State Nature Preserve (SNP) is part of the Erie Metroparks in Ohio. The short loop trail (with it’s soft footing of pine needles) connects to a longer Metroparks trail that offers views of the marsh.

It’s a quiet place where nature thrives and encourages those wandering to slow the pace and absorb the peaceful surroundings. Ducks and other water fowl abound. Great egrets slowly move through the water, putting all their effort into fishing; their concentration and patience is quite admirable and readily pays off.

Wood ducks are notoriously camera shy. They generally fly at the slightest hint of human presence – a voice or even the slightest movement. So when I happened upon a large group of them I was extremely surprised to get a few quick photos through the tree branches. This photo shows probably just a third of the number of wood ducks enjoying this marsh cove on this day. One can imagine this is a favorite destination for many types of water fowl.

We also explored Old Woman Creek State Nature Preserve which is a National Estuarine Research Reserve. An estuary is typically defined as a place where salt water meets and mixes with fresh water. But in this case Old Woman creek mixes with water from Lake Erie and combines to create a chemically different water from either the creek or lake. It offers researchers a field laboratory to learn about estuarine ecology in a natural setting with habitats of marshland, forests, barrier sand beach, open water and swamp forest.

Boardwalk trails provide solid footing through potentially wet areas, while well-managed trails lead one through heavily wooded areas with magnificent views.

And in the midst of the woodland close to the estuary is a swamp forest. It’s an upland forest in an area that is poorly drained for a portion of the year. Soil here is too wet for most woodland trees, but it still provides habitat for some trees, shrubs, and wildflowers. It’s prime habitat for wood ducks, warblers, woodpeckers, belted kingfishers and even eagles.

I’ve never been particularly appreciative of scrubland – that is new growth areas with small scrubby trees and shrubs – although I have a new appreciation for it after visiting Old Woman Creek.

Scrub uplands never really caught my attention as particularly attractive but when I learned their value and their place in natural forest ecology, I now have a different mindset.

These scrubby areas provide habitat for bird nesting as well as provide a good food source. They protect birds during storms and can help as floodwater retention when located in lowlands. Because of their scrubby nature, it also protects animals from predators. Scrub lands are simply a natural progression through habitat changes over time. I guess I never really thought about it in this aspect before. Visiting Old Woman SNP expanded my view.

If you get the opportunity, take some time to visit Old Woman SNP and Estuary or any of the nature preserves near you. There is so much to explore and appreciate within the preserves. Nature abounds and awaits you.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.