A long period of hot dry weather has hastened the fullness of summer in the marsh. Where you and I might see a smelly mess, many creatures are seeing a fertile, fecund, bountiful bouquet of life.
The dropping water levels have exposed squishy mudflats – great dining areas for pipers including the Killdeer.
Turtles both Painted and Snapper can frequently be seen floating near the surface with just their heads sticking up.
Flies, mosquitos, water boatmen, and many other insects are flying just over the water or propelling themselves across the surface. They help feed hungry frogs, birds, fish, turtles – and larger insects such as dragonflies.
On a hot summer evening, the dragonflies are also busy laying their eggs just below the surface.
When a dragonfly pauses its rapid zig-zag flights an emerging water lily also makes a good perch.
The White Water Lily is one of the showiest plants in the marsh. But in full sun its white is so blinding that you may choose to see this flower through dark glasses.
Another beautiful flowering plant, alas, contributes little but colour to the marsh. The Bitter Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), introduced from Eurasia more than 150 years ago, is poisonous to almost every local animal. With nothing to keep it in check it has spread widely throughout the Great Lakes area, and has become the dominant vegetation in sizable sections of Bowmanville Marsh.
For the time being, though, there is enough other tasty foliage to feed a thriving population of muskrats.
On a warm evening this beaver couldn’t be bothered to take supper home to the lodge.
One of the Great Blue Herons, perched at the edge of the reeds, caught sight of a Mudcat in striking distance.
Early in the spring I had two sightings of the gaudily spectacular male Wood Duck – but then concluded that this bird had just carried on in its migration. To my surprise, though, I spotted this Wood Duck hen and duckling swimming to cover in the reeds just before sunset earlier this week.
There is more to know in the marsh than can be learned in a few years, or even in a few human lifetimes. After six summers here there are still birds I’ve rarely or never glimpsed. The Virginia Rail has a reputation for being heard much more than seen, as it moves slowly and carefully through the shadows where the reeds meet the water. With patience and luck you may get your first sighting – and with extra luck I hope to get a second sighting some day soon.
There are few marsh dwellers as beautiful as this Green Frog1 – especially as frogs are known as Marsh Canaries, who are so sensitive to pollutants that they provide a warning system of unhealthy conditions. Frogs have been scarce in this marsh, but in recent years they seem to have made a bit of a comeback. May the bright yellow flash and the deep twangy call of the Green Frog be seen and heard through the coming days and eons.
Photo at top of page: Close-Up, Five O’clock Frog (click here for full-screen view)
1This helpful name distinguishes true Green Frogs from mere green frogs. The website naturewatch.ca explains that a Green Frog may also be bronze or brown, with a white belly, and the males have a bright yellow throat.