Yesterday, Linda Sieh and I explored the many trails of Horsepen Run Preserve at Countryside in Sterling and it was amazing.
Our objective for the exploration was to check out the many vernal pool and swamp areas that run through the preserve and in spite of low water levels, we were not disappointed.
We found lots of Spotted Salamander eggs, American toad tadpoles, Wood Frog tadpoles, Green Frogs and Green Frog tadpoles, Jefferson Salamander eggs (99% sure but tough to tell at this stage of development), Gray Tree Frogs (heard), and Pickerel frogs.
In addition, the Spring Beauty was blooming all along the forest floor, Jack-in-the-Pulpit was up, and Trout Lily were just starting to show their yellow faces along with blue violets.
Butterflies were out too and we were treated to great views of the Falcate Orangetip butterfly, a species that only comes out in the spring for a short period (sorry, no pictures of this but I’ll try again before their flight period is over.)
An encounter that left both Linda and me speechless was a flock of 75-100 Rusty Blackbirds. Here is Linda’s account of our sighting:
We came around the corner of the trail and could see through the trees to a black, boggy area covered in last Fall’s leaves. And we could see birds. Lots and lots of birds. A few of them were Robins. A few of them were Red-Winged Blackbirds. But most of them … we estimated 75-100 … were Rusty Blackbirds. Yes, I did Say 75-100 Rusty Blackbirds.
It was surreal. We listened to a recording of their call and looked at a picture to confirm, and there was no doubt. They clearly were a mixed flock of males and females, and they kindly hung around for a long time scratching through and turning over both wet and dry leaves in search of some tasty morsels. Some of them also sat in trees where we could see them from a different angle than on the ground. Yep, still Rusty Blackbirds.
After we decided to move on and after another 45 minutes or so, we came upon the flock again. They were in a different spot, but still scratching through and turning over leaves. They again hung around for a while, allowing us to once again get a really good look at them.
It’s great to see birds in their natural habitat, doing what they’ve done for generations. I’m still learning about this linkage between Rusty Blackbirds and seasonal pools, but I wonder if their migration and flocking has anything to do with the timing of these pools and the incredible amount of food (aquatic insects) that they offer. The web of life that we live in sure has some wonderful connections.
Photos from our exploration can be seen here in our Facebook album.