I honed my birding skills over the summer by taking daily walks in the Pleasure House Point marshes of Virginia Beach, Virginia. Starting in May I must have walked the mile down and mile back a hundred times, becoming familiar with the egrets, herons, gulls, and fellow marsh explorers. The tides provided my background rhythm, the avian calls my melodies as I scanned the trees and the reeds for new species. The trail begins in patches of short conifers growing in sandy soils, eventually stretching out into the sawgrass and mudflats of the Lynnhaven Inlet. In the summer I looked for Eastern kingbirds and blue-gray gnatcatchers amongst the pine needles, and the yellow-crowned night heron and even, if I was really lucky, the white ibis fishing in shallow water. I followed the colors of the marsh into the fall, when the few deciduous trees turned red and the marsh grass green faded into a golden yellow.
My last trip to the marshes was in early November, before I left the south for the holidays and then returned to Durham for another busy semester in January. Though the Pleasure House Point marshes were no longer part of my daily landscape, I thought about my walks often, even submitting a short piece about them in the latest issue of the Ocean Policy Working Group’s “Upwelling” publication.
Last weekend I finally had the chance to return to my marshes, if just for an hour. It was a beautiful day, but definitely winter. There was little green anywhere near the path except for the deep color of the conifers, and the calm waters of Pleasure House Creek were covered with waterfowl. Gone were the egrets and herons, replaced by shore-hugging willets and diving buffleheads, down from their arctic breeding grounds. The hawks remained, and I watched a group of shorebirds scatter as the small, dark form of a merlin glided over in search of its next meal. I still heard the cries of gulls and other ducks, but also missing were the red-winged blackbirds and other songbirds that used to sing from the tops of the dwarfed pines.
It is a special thing for me to see a place for all four seasons. I have moved multiple times in the past couple of years for college, a new job, and now graduate school, and there are few landscapes in which I have had the opportunity to really watch the seasons change and fade into one another. My brief walk allowed me to do just that in my marshes, and now I have vivid mental snapshots of summer, fall, and winter. As spring rolls towards us I will have to check my calendar so I can return, if only for one day, to see for myself the colors change from gold and brown back to green once more. Until then, I will continue to discover the seasons here in Durham, North Carolina. I have to say, I think I’m done with winter – bring on the spring!