Appropriate that this Mother’s Day weekend, I found myself taking in an Annapolis nature safari with mom, the person responsible for instilling an appreciation of the outdoors since I was a very small child.
While the Annapolis area has numerous parks with woodland and wetland habitats, time limited us to the nearby Quiet Waters Parkand surrounding waterways. Run by Anne Arundel County, this park encompasses 340 acres with not only the traditional recreational park amenities but also heavenly hardwood forests and wetlands.
The park includes over 6 miles of asphalt paving for easy walking and bike riding, but give yourself a treat and veer off to the unbeaten path – a myriad of footpaths that afford a deeper view of the woods and vistas nestled between the South River and Harness Creek.
Before striking out on these trails, we stopped by the canoe and kayak launch where rentals are available (note to self: take advantage of this on the next visit). We chatted with the fellow manning the office who pointed out the spot where a large black snake would slither up the low shrubs to sun bathe most afternoons.
No luck on the snake, but a brief walk along the dock turned up a lovely little creature sunning itself in the spring light and later identified as a Broad-headed Skink (Eumeces laticeps), my first skink ever!
Bird song joined us on the entire walk and I longed for a better understanding of all those trills and chirps, particularly since the birds were high, high up in the trees and out of sight. In spite of this, we were able to pull out a few songs like those of a Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia), Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus), along with the high-pitched calls of nearby nesting Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) which were particularly active as they prepared nests on man-made platforms and buoys. Near the water, Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) buzzed around our heads as they collected mud to build nests.
Blooms were giving way to bright green foliage as trees leafed out, but we spotted flowers of the Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) and had a special treat of Jack-in-the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) wildflowers. Raised growths (galls) on leaves are common on a woodland walk, but we were shocked to see a huge gall on an oak leaf.
Insects were equally cooperative including Swamp Darner dragonflies (Epiaeschna heros) and the spectacular Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexgutata). As we walked along the remote path up a steep hill, mom spoke of coyotes that have been spotted in the area, but the only mammalian life we happened upon was a charming family of Eastern Cottontail Rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus) enjoying spring greens in a nearby backyard.
Although I would have enjoyed seeing more birds, there was no doubt that this was a particularly productive nature walk with vistas, fauna, and flora. Yet, I could not get one thing out of my mind – that snake by the boat launch.
As we rounded out of the woods back to the pavement and headed towards the car, dreaming of cold water and lunch, Bill -- my mom’s husband who is still a woodland Kentucky boy at heart – stopped cold. At his feet laid a 3-foot long snake that was just as startled. It lay perfectly still for several minutes with its body kinked in a near zigzag pattern. Without even a flick of the tongue, I was able to lie down and get within a couple feet for some quick photos. The snake’s stillness was concerning so we were relieved when it simply “woke up” from its trance and scooted back into the woods. I’ve now identified it as the Black Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta), a non-venomous constrictor that can reach up to 8 feet long. That trance along with the body stance is a defense mechanism.
Black Rat Snake
Birds, plants, snakes, beetles, and dragonflies -- brings back childhood memories of those early walks with mom, making for a special day!