Highlights today turned out to be the birds. We saw no eagles, no ospreys, which was a little disappointing (we did see one red-tailed hawk). But, as we descended into the main creek valley where the Orange Trail crosses the marsh of Thomas Branch on the Eagle Walk Bridge, we heard woodpeckers hammering for bugs. Eventually we spotted a mature red-headed woodpecker, and once we correlated that bird to its call (a metallic trill reminiscent of an old-school modem), we were able to track more and more, and watched them investigating nesting holes on dead trees. I’d never noticed red-heads here before, but they were the most common thing around today. There were at least a dozen individuals near Thomas Branch.
Crossing the ridge into the more well-known valley along Grays Creek, we noted the contrast between the creeks. At Thomas Branch, the waterway is mostly marsh with lots of vegetation and a little water. The marsh is full of dying hardwoods, saturated by the water backed up by beaver dams, and one by one falling over, clearing the valley. Twenty years ago, Grays Creek looked like this, but now, the trees are all but gone, and Grays Creek is a lake. It’s a totally different, totally new wetland habitat for numerous animals, and it was entirely constructed by beavers. They’ve had a tremendous impact on their environment, and they’re still at it. Fresh beaver chew marks are evident on several trees, and numerous small dams are in good repair.
Out at the beach, we ran into some birders with nice binoculars and telephoto lenses, and they were kind enough to let us use them to see the bufflehead ducks and a couple loons diving out on the Chesapeake Bay. The foghorn had stopped, but it was just hazy enough that the horizon on the bay didn’t exist – sky blended into water, and a northbound container ship appeared to hover. The water was too cold to do much fossil hunting, so we headed back up the Red Trail on the boardwalks along Grays Creek.
Again, birds were plentiful – A couple juvenile red-headed woodpeckers (more! who knew?), mallard ducks, and Canada geese. We saw two beaver lodges about 0.4 miles upstream from the primary dam, but got distracted there by eastern towhees scratching around in the underbrush.