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Fall at the Refuge by Laura McMahon

On a recent crisp and sunny afternoon, my husband and I loaded up the bikes and trekked on down to BBNWR. Fall’s cooler temperatures had us eager to hit the open trail!
Right away, we noticed a few subtle shifts at the refuge – summer’s vibrant hues had begun the transition to autumn’s calm and muted tones. There were still a few “pops” of color, however.

Punctuating the edges of the trail, cheerful yellow Goldenrod waved a friendly “Hello!” to us as we pedaled by, its slender stalks swaying lazily in the wind. I used to think Goldenrod was “just a weed”, but did you know? Goldenrod plants provide nectar for migrating butterflies and bees, encouraging them to remain in the area and pollinate crops. You just might want to consider planting some near your garden. Goldenrod has all sorts of beneficial properties

Goldenrod

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Further along the trail, we witnessed first-hand one of the benefits of the landscape’s subdued colors.
A majestic blue heron regally emerged from behind a veil of tall reeds, seemingly appearing out of nowhere. His designer had suited him quite smartly in a gray-blue “outfit”, providing clever cover for this wading bird. He delicately picked his way through the water in search of his next meal.
What would be on the menu today? Fish, insect, or mammal? They’re not picky eaters at all. Learn 11 facts about herons here.

This marsh man seemed to develop stage-fright once he spotted me. He reminded me of a skilled magician ”Now you see me; now you don’t!” He gracefully slipped behind the living curtain into complete concealment, and poof! He was gone!

 

Next, we came to a lookout, pulled the bikes off the path, and ascended the steps. As we surveyed the marsh around us, we spotted something swimming across the water. Due to the fading sunlight, we couldn’t quite make it out. Eventually, the neurons connected- it was a raccoon! I had never before witnessed this “masked bandit” doing the doggie paddle! Come to find out, raccoons are actually pretty strong swimmers, but they don’t swim farther than they need to because their fur isn’t waterproof and being wet weighs them down.
Raccoons typically emerge at dusk to hunt for frogs and crustaceans, all the while keeping a lookout for predators like coyotes and foxes. Before we knew it, our friend had made it to the other side; and without fanfare, he, too, quietly slipped out of view.

And so it went. New discoveries awaited us around every bend. Egrets, turtles, and juvenile cottonmouths comprised just a few of the cast and crew for the day’s performance. The one thing I didn’t get to experience was hearing the haunting howlings of the refuge’s coyotes -my husband had been regaling me with such stories lately- oh well, maybe next time!

A coyote at BBNWR poaches my husband’s freshly caught bass in 2019


As we continued on our journey, I reflected upon the way fall had gently and gradually eased into our region. The refuge and all its activity mirrored the same relaxed tempo. Not one thing was in a rush.
This I love: Nature gracefully takes her time, and yet everything still manages to get “done” in its own beautiful way. Maybe there’s a lesson here…

As fall gives way to winter, and winter to spring, I’ll keep venturing out to our area’s beautiful parks, forests, beaches, and waterways. I’ll be thankful for seasonal changes, new discoveries, and familiar sights. But most of all, I’ll enjoy the priceless gift of just being in nature and slowing down.

Sunset at “Back Bay”

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