one trip EVERY month: mason neck in northern virginia

Saturday, February 22:  Today, with my MapMyWalk app in hand, I take three short hikes through the Mason Neck area of northern Virginia.  Even though this natural area is only a 40 minute drive from my house, I’ve never been here before.  It’s fun to explore, prodded by Marianne’s monthly challenge: one trip EVERY month.

pond along Bay View Trail
pond along Bay View Trail

The Mason Neck peninsula is less than an hour’s drive south our nation’s capital.  As a haven for bald eagles, it’s a draw for birdwatchers. We’ve had one of the worst winters on record here on the East Coast, so with the sun shining and temps hitting 60 degrees, it’s a perfect day for a walk.

Belmont Bay
Belmont Bay
Duck blind on Belmont Bay
Duck blind on Belmont Bay

Our first walk is a 1.6 mile loop starting and ending at the Visitor’s Center at Mason Neck State Park on the Bay View Trail.  We walk along Belmont Bay, off the Potomac River, and then over a boardwalk through wetlands.  A stroll through the woods leads us to another lookout point where we see fuzzy cattails and a beaver lodge in a marshy pond.  Surprisingly, this area, southeast of where I live, must have gotten a lot less snow than we got, because here there’s hardly any snow left on the ground.  Near my house, we still have dirty mountains of snow everywhere.

Click on any of the pictures below for a full-sized slide show.

I’m fascinated by the parchment-like leaves dangling like wind chimes from the American beeches. I find it strange that these deciduous trees retain their leaves through a harsh winter, while most deciduous trees shed theirs.  Apparently these trees benefit from two leaf falls; first they benefit from recycled nutrients from the leaves shed by other trees in autumn.  Then they benefit again when they shed their own leaves in spring.  According to Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, marcescence is the term used to describe leaf retention. It is most common with many of the oak species, American beech, witch hazel, hornbeam (musclewood), and hophornbeam (ironwood). (Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences: Winter Leaves that Hang On)

American beech leaves
American beech leaves
American beech
American beech

The second walk we take is a short half mile round-trip walk on the Marsh View Trail.  At the end of this trail, we find a view of a peaceful pond.

the pond at the end of Marsh View Trail
the pond at the end of Marsh View Trail
Marsh View
Marsh View

Finally, our last walk brings us to a lovely surprise.  We go to the Elizabeth Hartwell National Wildlife Refuge, and wander 2 miles out and back along the Woodmarsh Trail.  We walk through some muddy spots and over a couple of boardwalks through the wood marsh.

Before we reach the marshland, we hear a noise that sounds like a bunch of native Americans doing a war dance, whooping and hollering in preparation for battle.  What we find when we arrive at the end of the peninsula is a sprawling wetland filled with hundreds of Tundra Swans.

Tundra Swans at Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge
Tundra Swans at Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge

According to Explore Virginia Outdoors: Come See the Swans at Mason Neck State Park!: “Tundra Swans are large snow-white birds with black bills and black legs. In contrast to the well-known Mute swan, the neck is not gracefully bent forward like a question mark, but it is as straight as a goose’s neck, only longer. Another difference is that these swans are not mute, they have high-pitched and yet gentle soprano voices.”  To read more about the Tundra Swans, click on the link above.

Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans

It’s impossible to get close to the swans and sadly I don’t have a great telephoto lens.  I suppose we could have waded out into the marsh or taken a canoe, but I think we would have frightened the swans away.  It’s a lovely surprise to watch them and listen to their lively songs and squawks. Every once in a while, there are periods of silence as they tuck their heads under their wings for a nap.  It is so peaceful here, I think I could take a nap myself. 🙂  Especially as MapMyWalk clocks me in at 4.28 miles.  A perfect day for fresh air and exercise. 🙂

one trip EVERY month
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32 thoughts on “one trip EVERY month: mason neck in northern virginia

  1. I can hardly believe you live so close yet haven’t visited before, Cathy! I guess you’ve been too busy Nomading further afield 🙂 Lovely beech leaves, as well as the boardwalk shots that I love.

    1. Thanks, Jo. I can’t believe I’ve never been here before either. Now that I know what it’s like, I’ll venture here more often. I’m glad Marianne is prodding us to do a new trip every month. I was getting desperate in February because of our bad weather. I figured this was the perfect weekend for a mini-adventure. 🙂

  2. I’m glad you took advantage of such a perfect day in the midst of your awful winter. I LOVE your photos, Cathy – a real credit to you 🙂

    I’m glad you are embracing this new challenge – it’s proving to be a good prompt 🙂

    1. Thanks so much, Marianne. It was good I had your challenge to get me going toward the end of this month. I hope I’ll come up with something a little further afield for March. It is definitely a good prompt. 🙂

  3. What a gorgeous place. I hadn’t even heard of it. And I love the idea of this challenge, one trip a month. How fun. And I didn’t even realize your name was Cathy. Where have a I been? LOL

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

    1. Funny, Kathy, I’ve heard of it but never any details and I didn’t have any idea how nice it was. You should join the one trip a month challenge.

      I’m glad you know now that we share the Cathy/Kathy name. While yours in Kathryn though, mine is simply Cathy. My mom didn’t want to give such a big name (Catherine) to such a little baby!!! haha… Hugs to you in Ecuador!! xxx

  4. I’m glad you finally got to go out and enjoy some sunshine. I saw on the news just yesterday that more snow and bad weather was forecast for some US states. I hope you don’t get too badly hit this time. Here, our summer just goes on and on, and I’m loving it.

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