Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Marsh March in April

The Swampwalkers minus one
Redwing on Cattail
On a gorgeous April Sunday, members of the nature writing group explored Altona Marsh in the West Virginia Panhandle, in appreciation of David Carroll's Swampwalker's Journal.  We sighted many of the creatures and features that Carroll mentioned in his book as the essence of wetland habitats. The marsh is a biodiverse Nature Conservancy property, accessible via a bisecting railroad track, that helpfully raises the nature observer a few feet above the surface of the marsh. The area is a marl marsh with open swamps and
Lesser Yellowlegs
thickets.  Geology is dominated by limestones and dolomites. The wetland is spring-fed, the subsoils consist of calcareous substance marl.

Bullfrog Tadpole
 Species we saw include tree swallow, barn swallow, wild turkey, brown thrasher, song sparrow, common yellowthroat, red-bellied woodpecker, flicker, mourning dove, red-tailed hawk with unusual field marks hovering above us, the

Nesting Canada Goose

ubiquitous black vultures, Canada Geese--one nesting with a huge snapping turtle semi-submerged within 3 feet, greater yellowlegs, sandpiper, killdeer, goldfinch, red wing blackbird, grackle, bullfrog tadpoles (huge!),

Painted Turtle

painted turtle, tiger swallowtail, yellow sulphur, and cabbage white butterflies, a swimming muskrat--and muskrat tracks in the mud.

Muskrat Tracks
Surveys have found 15 rare plant species that grow at only 5 other locations in West Virginia. The marsh certainly merits a visit later in the season to botanize.  We identified sycamore, box elder, horsetails, cattails, mullein, teasel, with sunny yellow marsh marigold growing in profusion throughout the marsh. The black willows were dripping with catkins, ripe with pollen.