As usual, I returned to the Susquehanna Wetlands in Salem Township, Luzerne County last Saturday. There were no minks or otters in the wetlands, but a pair of muskrats put on a show for me this week. I arrived at the wetlands around 8:30 and once again had to walk in since the access road was closed for the Winter. It was mostly sunny and a seasonably cold 35 degrees when I began my 5 mile hike.
Evidence of a heavy frost could be seen on the fallen sycamore leaves,
and the still green Japanese honeysuckle leaves.
I was surprised there were no bird activity in the thick shrubs growing along the access road. They may have been waiting for the sun to warm it up,
At the parking lot I always walk down to the banks of the Susquehanna River hoping to see an eagle, and osprey or some water fowl. I seldom do, and didn’t see any Saturday. The waters of the river were still high from the recent rains. Some years there is already ice forming on the river but not in this mild December.
I walked into the wetlands which were completely snow free this year.
A thin layer of ice did form on the ponds and old canals in the wetlands.
I knew this would keep the wood ducks and herons off of these ponds but I did see hear, and see a few wood ducks on the ice free waters near the reeds on the far end of the ponds. Most of the ducks have migrated south but a few will remain here until all the waters are frozen.
I walked toward the Water Fowl pond and saw a few white throated
and song sparrows in the shrubs and dense vegetation. They usually are here in this area of the wetlands all Winter.
I have been seeing a muskrat on one of the nearby ponds. It has approached me the past few weeks when I walk by the pond, almost in an aggressive manner. It would swim toward me and seem to glare at me. I realized why this week. It is a mother muskrat, it was with it’s offspring this week. The muskrats were feeding on roots across the pond.
The muskrat is a rodent related to mice, voles, rats and beavers. They are native to Pennsylvania. The mother muskrat left the little on and swam closer to me. Again seeming to tell me to leave her and the little one alone.
It actually approached the shore and started feeding not to far from me,
then it swam back across the pond to feed with the young one.
The constant swimming of the muskrats created an ice free channel in the otherwise ice covered pond.
They continued to feed on aquatic roots and plants and seemed not to mind me watching them. I enjoyed watching them for about 15 minutes before continuing my hike to the Water Fowl Pond.
There were no water fowl on the ice covered Water Fowl Pond,
and I was able to walk there since the waters that flooded the path had receded.
I continued my walk to the river lands. On the way I heard the shrill cries of a red-tailed hawk but didn’t see it. I did see this red-bellied woodpecker searching for insects on a dead tree trunk.
These birds are common in the wetlands in the Winter.
A white-breasted nuthatch was also searching for insects on another tree trunk and appeared to have found one.
I also say a small flock of eastern bluebirds fluttering in some shrubs across a canal.
I always enjoy seeing these colorful birds.
Nearby were a another small flock of colorful birds, but not in the Winter, the American goldfinch lose their bright yellow feathers when the cold weather arrives.
I also saw and heard this Winter wren chattering on a tree branch.
I continued my hike in the leafless and drab wetlands,
the only color were some still green intermediate wood ferns,
some Christmas ferns
and a lot of garlic mustard. I harvested some of this edible invasive plant. It is bitter but delicious.
There were also some red colors in the wetlands, the shriveled night shade berries,
and many bright red winterberries. I didn’t see the large flocks of cedar wax wings that have been feeding on these berries the past few weeks.
I left the wetlands and walked in the river lands section of the small nature preserve,
where I was delighted to see a pair of pileated woodpeckers. It is always great to see the largest of the 7 species of woodpeckers that live in Pennsylvania.
I walked along Lake Took-A-While enjoying the mid December sunshine.
The deep blue skies reflected off of the waters of the lake.
I walked to the far end of the lake. There was some ice on the lake and I didn’t see any Canada geese or mallard ducks this week. I did hear a belted kingfisher on the other side of the lake.
I began my hike back to the wetlands.
As I approached the wetlands I heard, then saw, a couple Carolina wrens,
I love the cheerful song of these year long residents.
There was also a small flock of dark eyed junco scampering on the ground,
and there a few American tree sparrows along the trail.
It was quiet in the wetlands now, I was hoping to see the large flock of cedar waxwings that have been feeding on the winterberries the past few weeks.
I left the wetland, and
near the end of my hike, along the access road I saw a pair or northern cardinals this is the brightly colored male,
and this the female. Here is a link to a gallery on my blog website with some more photos of the birds I saw on my five mile hike. Susquehanna Wetlands birds December 16 2023.
I finished my five mile hike around noon. The mid-day sun was week but it still felt good. Soon it will be heading back north and getting stronger. There will be snow and cold weather still, but we Spring and warmer days are coming. I enjoyed my hike in the naked woods of mid-December but I will enjoy a hike with sounds of the Spring peepers and song echoing in the wetlands even more. Here is a link to a gallery on my blog website with some more photos of the muskrats and from my five mile hike in the wetlands and river lands. . Susquehanna Wetlands December 16 2023.
Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience.” Ralph Waldo Emerson