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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂