Week Ending June 29, 2014

This week was a tough week for photography with me. After arriving home from my 16-day trip to the midwest, and after shooting about 1500 photographs, I didn't have any motivation to get out with my camera during the week after work. By Saturday though I was ready to give it a shot again and my buddy Chris & his fiance Shawnna came down to go hiking with me & to go to the beach with Ruth. We got down to Sandbridge around 9 AM and dropped off the ladies at the beach, then hit Back Bay NWR for a morning hike. In the 3 weeks I was gone from the area, it sure heated up, and we'd had 80s & 90s all week long. Back Bay is notorious for being a difficult place to hike during the summertime just due to not having much shade in the park, and on calm days it can get excruciatingly hot & humid. For the first time this year, the West Dike Trail was now closed off and the East Dike Trail had opened up sometime while I was out of the area. I had hoped the West Dike would still be open since I'd gotten a good idea of where I could find certain species of birds along it after having hiked it quite a few times in the spring. Since this was my first trip down the East Dike, I really didn't know what to expect. One key difference between the two dikes is that there is a lot more surface water visible on the West Dike, with the waters of Back Bay visible to the west and the freshwater impoundments of the park visible on the east.

A Variegated Fritillary seen at Back Bay NWR among some Dandelions.

From the East Dike, there are a series of ditches to the east, but the western side is dominated by overgrown marshy areas which hide most of the wildlife with ease. The marsh grasses are fully grown this time of year and are probably 8 to 10 feet tall. Even a Wild Horse could hide comfortably within the marshes from view. On the way to the East Dike down the Loop Road we got a good look at a Yellow-bellied Slider crossing the road, then hiding in it's shell as we approached. Most of the bird activity along the East Dike was that of large flocks of European Starlings, most of which looked like young birds. Also, a fair number of Purple Martins were present, most of which were perched up the power lines that run along the trail through the marsh that eventually feed power to False Cape State Park's facilities. I missed out on seeing Orchard Orioles for the first time in the park since about early April, but I did see a couple Indigo Buntings, so birds of color are still present along the trails. Also, one Snowy Egret, one Great Egret, and one Great Blue Heron were tallied, much less populous than a couple months ago, especially for the Snowies of which there was tons of them in April here. Along the walk, Brown Pelicans could be seen cruising just over the duneline near the beach to the east of the trail. Flocks of them continued north to south throughout the day. We walked as far south as the False Cape State Park entrance sign & then turned and headed back northward. Just before turning though I caught a glimpse of a long-tailed bird with reddish accents on the side, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. This wasn't my first of the year in the park, but since this is a bird I had only seen one time until this year, its nice to keep seeing them at different parks. The breeze kept the heat at bay on the way back north to the parking area, until we walked the Bay Trail. The Bay Trail, surrounded by tall vegetation on both sides was protected from the breeze and therefore hotter than the other paths.

The extremely small & fast Six-lined Racerunner!

Also, because of the lack of wind, hundreds of dragonflies were present and feeding on whatever aerial insects that could find. Everywhere you walked you could actually feel them all around you, its definitely summer when this starts to happen. Thanks to the scores of dragonflies though, there wasn't a single biting fly anywhere to be found. I kept watch for snakes & treefrogs along the trail but never did find any, and even the Bayside Trail's boardwalks didn't provide any wildlife, so it must all just have been very well concealed. I think on days that are hot like this, the coldblooded animals don't necessarily have to be out in the open to maintain their temperatures, so they have the ability to hide from view much easier. After we took off from the park we went up to Little Island Park and got in the water to cool down. The waves were really rolling in with the northeast winds buffeting the shoreline so it was near impossible to do any swimming before a lifeguard would whistle you back to shore. As always, the Brown Pelicans and Boat-tailed Grackles were the numerous species along the beach, but I did see a pair of birds that could have been Great Shearwaters, like one that had been spotted up near Dam Neck's beach earlier in the week & posted about by Karen Beatty. By the time I could have gotten my camera out of my pack though they were gone so I may have to investigate these further next week. 

One of the thousands of Dragonflies that have taken over Back Bay NWR with the warmer weather moving in to the region.