Monday, May 25, 2009

Hiking the West Dike Trail

As noted in my last post, the west dike trail has never been open before in all of my visits to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. So I got up early Sunday to hike it, arriving at the refuge parking lot minutes after 6AM. The sun had only recently come up:

I reached the start of the west dike trail about 0.7 miles from the parking lot, and started down the path:
Along the way were pretty views of marshes and impoundments, some with egrets, great blue herons, and other water birds.

Beside one of the dikes was this pretty flower, with Team in Training colors of purple and green:

Although I was seeing some wildlife, the dominant animals were once again mosquitos and deer flies. I endured a little suffering from them along the way, but didn't let it spoil the experience of hiking a new trail. The most common non-insect was the cheery red-winged black bird with its distinctive call:
I found this lonely dead tree along the edge of the marsh rather striking:

Other pretty views of wetlands were common along my hike, which ended up being about 3 miles in and 3 miles back.

At the spot where I had originally decided to turn around, an inviting track led towards some woods, so I followed it:

It went through a thick pine forest with a live oak understory - very park like. It is amazing what a tiny difference in elevation can mean in an ecosystem - something to keep in mind with all of the discussions of rising sea waters.

During this part of the hike, the deer flies and mosquitos were going crazy! "Hey, girls - fresh food is here! Let's go get some blood!" I finally applied insect repellent after being bitten numerous times. After about a quarter mile on this track, it became a path with tall grass. Having already picked up one tick along the hike, and not eager for more, I decided to turn around at this point, even though it was tempting to see how far the track went.

I reversed my steps on the way back, and the biting insects lessened quite a bit upon leaving the forest. Other than several rabbits, I didn't see any major wildlife on the return until I left the west dike trail. There, along the edge of an impoundment, I came upon this large common snapping turtle. My guess is that she had come up to lay eggs. I snapped her photo, then left her to her duty to her species. It was a nice end to a fun hike in a slightly different area.

The (Un)Observant Hiker

So I am at the beach for the weekend, and went out about 7AM Saturday to hike in Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It was a nice start to a beautiful day. Unlike the last time I was here, there were no tundra swans - they have flown north to the arctic for nesting. But I did see some wildlife during the hike, including decent numbers of mosquitos and deer flies. The latter sound like some type of deranged light saber from Star Wars as they buzz around looking for a spot to punch a hole in your skin. My trusty Tilly Hat was good protection for my head, but the flies found other opportunities to attempt to dine. A few of them paid for this privilege with their lives.

I knew that I didn't want to hike all the way to False Cape, but planned to hiking a few miles down the dike trail to an impoundment where I often see wildlife. The dike trails had been closed from November through March, so this was my first opportunity to hike on them since the fall. I barely noticed an official car heading down a dike trail that is always closed, figuring that they were on official business and could go anywhere they want to. I passed nice views of the marsh where they had burned back invasive vegetation:When I reached the start of the east dike trail, it was closed! Why have they closed the trails this time of year?
I watched a great blue heron in the distance for a while, and looked at the noses of turtles sticking out of the impoundment like periscopes. Then I hiked back towards the visitor center, noticing several rabbits and a deer.I walked along the short trail through the marsh to an overlook of Back Bay, watching for wildlife along the way. A pretty spider web on the Hodge Memorial was back-lit by the sun:On the hike back to the parking lot, I happened upon this little fellow and right after seeing the toad, spied a pretty morning glory:

As I left the refuge, I asked the ranger why the dike trail was closed. He said "The west dike trail is open right now. The east dike trail is closed until June." I had noticed the car driving down the west dike trail, but had never even noted that there was a sign saying it was open. I had noticed all kinds of wildlife but not this single human sign telling me that I could have gone that way! How observant! I resolved to come back tomorrow and hike the west dike trail, having never been on it before. In all my times hiking in Back Bay, this was the first time that this trail was open.

On the drive out, I came upon this very old and battered box turtle, and moved her off the road. I have never seen a box turtle in BBNWR before.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Oh, Oh, Oh to be Hiking!

A friend from Maine recently emailed me and asked "is that rain you blogged about keeping you from hiking and making posts in your hiking blog? It has been weeks!"

Oh, if only it were that simple. There have been two major factors that have kept me from hiking lately. The first was wrapping up training for the Country Music Half Marathon. This was the first time I have done a half marathon, and even though it was not as tough as the three full marathons I have done, the training is still plenty rigorous. Most weeks I averaged running 4-6 miles before work 3 days a week, another day of cross training, and from 8 - 13 miles on each Saturday morning. It takes a toll. You get sleep deprived. There is no way I can fall asleep so as to get 7 or 8 hours of sleep if I have to be out at 4:30AM before work. On Saturdays, I usually was up by 5:15 or 5:30 and never past 6 o'clock. Tiredness was a constant companion most days.

Being a working person, my only window to hike is Saturday and Sunday. After running 10 or 13 miles Saturday morning, hikes are not going to happen most Saturdays. And Sundays always seemed like a good day to relax and catch up things missed by doing so much race training. Or spend some time with one's spouse.

The other reason I missed doing much other than race training was our sick cat. She got desperately ill the beginning of March and until about two weeks ago, I believed that each weekend was her last. I felt like it was more important to be around her, as she desperately wanted to cuddle and needed companionship. Now she suddenly seems fine., for which I am grateful I have personally done my part to stimulate the economy the past two months just from paying veterinarian bills! Don't ask me to do more!

So I have missed some prime spring hiking weather, and will continue to do so. Family is in town starting Friday for the next three weekends, and that will take priority. I hope I can partake in a short hike or two during that time, but that will be about it. And another family visit will rule out hiking the first weekend in June! By the time I get up to the Shenandoah mountains again, it will be about past mountain laurel bloom! It is amazing how time flies.

Maybe in the meantime, I will blog about some older hikes, take a little trip down memory lane. But for now, my dominant sentiment is oh, to be hiking!