Monday, May 5, 2008

A Morning on the Mudflats

Cottonwood snow floats on the breeze, catching in spiderwebs and gathering at the feet of trees. Honeysuckle vines slither among branches and around fence posts, their yellow and white blooms filling the air with sweet aroma. Blackberry brambles compete for space, the promise of luscious berries in the prolific white flowers.

The path, still damp with morning dew, curves and follows the levee around the perimeter of the mud flats. Turtles of all sizes sun themselves on exposed logs, sliding into the water with a plop when startled.

A beaver's lodge rises above one of the stream beds. Its inhabitants are nowhere to be seen, but their presence is evident in the sharply pointed stumps of once hopeful saplings.

A Canadian goose warns of approaching danger and her three fuzzy goslings race to her side. Her mate, hyper-vigilant, watches the sky with one eye and the path with the other. The two communicate with small clucks and clicks. Dad decides all is safe and the babies wander out from beneath their mother. They pluck at the grass as they make their way to the edge of the water. The family wades in and swims away, Mom in the lead, Dad bringing up the rear, the babies single-file between them.

A hawk cries out from the trees beyond the flats. The geese circle their babies, urging them to land where Mom shields them from sight beneath her wide, safe wings. The hawk appears - a sharp-shin hawk, the white bars across his tail bright in the morning light. He circles the flats - once, twice - then he catches an upward draft and soars high until he is a mere speck in the blue.

Great blue herons roost in the tops of two tall pine trees. Several large nests inhabit the sky high rookery. One heron stands in watch over the nests, a giant already, but even more so at the top of the tree. The other herons fish in the shallow, brackish water below.

The herons fish alone, moving stealthily through the water, head cocked to catch the movement of their prey. Lightning fast, a heron's head darts into the water, rising with its prize of a silvery sliver of writhing fish. The heron tosses his head, his neck flexing as the fish slides into his gullet.

A tiny kingbird perches on a stump that rises just above the surface of the water. Her grey feathers blend so well into the background she is hard to spot except for the song - "zeer, ti-t-t-t-ti-zeer" - she sings as she waits for an unsuspecting insect to fly by. Dragonflies, damsel flies and a variety of butterflies dart among the reeds along with flies and moths and other flying things. The kingbird doesn't wait long before flying straight up, landing again with a red moth firmly pinned in her beak.

The path has circled back to its starting point with its abundance of honeysuckle and blackberries hanging heavy with flowers. Large bumblebees bumble from bloom to bloom, while smaller bees rush to gather their pollen. The bees buzzing joins the orchestra of trilling finches and warblers and the songs of the frogs. The sun warms the earth, a new day well under way.

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