A Walk in the Ecotone Brings Good News and a Sad Reflection

An ecotone is a transition area between two biomes. It is where two communities meet and integrate. It may be narrow or wide, and it may be local (the zone between a field and forest) or regional (the transition between forest and grassland ecosystems). Wikipedia
(Full disclosure: I learned the word “ecotone” while watching reruns of the incredible HBO series, Six Feet Under. I am fascinated with the word.)

April showers bring May flowers.  So on Sunday, in between the showers while waiting for the flowers, my daughter and I decided to take a nature walk in one of our favorite places: the ecotone of a wetland shoreline meeting a much traveled road. It was a bit chilly, but the skies were clear and we both needed to get some exercise. As we drove past a nearby harbor at the outset of our journey, we noticed that it was high tide.  I wondered if that would mean the the wild birds I so love would be active in the wetlands.

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We pulled into our usual spot in the parking lot of a bathing club where there were signs prohibiting parking.  We’ve done it for years off-season; today was no exception.  As I was stepping out of the car, I immediately heard the distinct sound of an osprey very close by.  I looked over toward the marsh across the road from the parking lot, and sure enough….  Just across the road from where we parked, high on a  platform placed atop a telephone pole, was an osprey sitting above its nest, squeeking its high-pitched warnings to us not to get any closer.

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We were the perfect example of humans encroaching upon a natural habitat; a confrontation within an ecotone which has become a common occurrence here on earth. Did you read the recent story about the unfortunate lion in Kenya, Mohawk,who ventured beyond his usual boundaries, only to be shot to death by park rangers who were supposed to be protecting it? Due to human encroachment, lions may soon no longer exist.

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Despite the warning sounds from the nest above, we left the parking lot and stepped onto the path near the nest, eager to see what we could see.  A couple of weeks ago we were on the same walk when we spotted several ospreys circling over the marsh hunting for fish; the platform nests were not yet inhabited. It was great to have them back and I knew it would not be long before the nests were filled with this year’s offspring.  Today we hit the jackpot.

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All three osprey nests along our path were occupied by pairs of ospreys. One osprey (presumably the female) stayed on each nest, while the partners (presumably the males) flew back and forth, hunting and guarding the nests.  There were even other ospreys sitting in the marsh grass like they hadn’t a care in the world and were just enjoying this clear, breezy early Spring day.

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In many years of osprey observing, I have never seen so many at one time, and never have I seen them sit still anywhere for very long.

As we continued our walk along the ecotone pathway, we noticed a vary large egret off in the distance.  

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We stopped to observe it through our binoculars, but as soon as it saw us, the egret lifted its wings, spread them very wide, and flew off across the marsh.  But there were others.  My daughter and I observed one pair in particular, very focused on fishing in the inlets that run through the marsh, striking those gorgeous poses, captured in so many Chinese paintings, that are so particular to egrets.

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Then I spotted it!  While sweeping the far shore of the marsh with the binoculars, I noticed the outline of a Great Blue Heron standing there very quietly and majestically.  If I were not familiar with the shape and size and outline of this bird I might have missed it altogether.  But there it was; my favorite of all the wetland birds. Although I watched it intently for about five minutes, it did not move at all. My bird-watching was now complete.

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We reached the end of the path after about a mile and came upon a gorgeous bunch of forsythia bushes at the edge of someone’s property.  The bushes provided the border for a luscious sweep of grass that went up a steep hill, dotted with miniature yellow daisy-like blossoms. It was so inviting I felt a real urge to trespass and walk up that hill, but didn’t.

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We did an about-face and returned along the same path, seeing more egrets fishing, some bufflehead ducks bobbing in the waves on the LI Sound across from the marsh, and, of course, the osprey parents still hunting, circling overhead and sitting astride their nests squeaking. My three favorite shorebirds in one day: a triple header!

I wondered how much longer this ecotone would last given the rate at which the oceans, and consequently the marshlands and its denizens are being polluted.

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For now, I feel blessed to be able to enjoy its many riches, but I still feel sad about the lion and our future.

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21 thoughts on “A Walk in the Ecotone Brings Good News and a Sad Reflection”

  1. Barbara, my husband and I have visited the marsh area in Oceanside and saw a bird in her nest with young ones similar to the picture you have. The mother was very protective of her young while what I presumed was the male flew back and forth. Since my husband and I don’t much about birds we were fascinated by the goings on. I enjoyed reading your piece since when I return to the site I will be look for marsh animals that might match yours.

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    1. If they were in a platform nest they are definitely ospreys. They are also known as fishhawks since they feed on fish rather than small mammals like most hawks. I love watching them soar…their wingspan is so beautiful and their markings are so striking. They are not beautiful like egrets, but they are majestic. Keep watching…there’s lots to see.
      Sorry I couldn’t join your twitter chat. I am not technologically up to speed and just couldn’t get it together. How did it go?

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      1. Barbara, thank you for giving me information on the ospryes. I will definitely share that with my husband. I can’t wait to go back to the site to see if the birds and the nest are still there. My Twitter Chat went so well.

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  2. Your love of nature and gentleness are felt so strongly throughout this piece. I hadn’t heard the story about the lion. That is so sad. So many people feel like they have more rights to the land than the animals….Have you read The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate? I know we heard the nonfiction picture book last summer, but the novel is spectacular and I think you would love it.

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    1. No, I haven’t read it but will be on the lookout for a copy. Your kids would have had a great time on the walk. Maybe we can do that some time in the mythical future when you don’t have a lot to do…Ha! We also have a nearby pond with a gargantuan pair of snapping turtles that look like direct links to the dinosaurs with their spiked tails and huge claws.

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  3. Thank you for taking me along with you on this lovely walk. You’ve captured the wildlife beautifully with your photographs. I can only imagine your surprise when you spied the nest full of babies. I’m sure it’s enjoyable to watch how things change as the seasons change.

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    1. Thank you for coming along! I think the nature walks are so much more enjoyable on the heels of winter, as life begins to reemerge. I am a sucker for that experience every single year! It renews and recharges me.

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    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the “virtual walk.” I love adding photos…especially when it comes to writing about nature. I am fortunate to live in a place on LI where there is so much natural beauty so I often feel compelled to share it with others.

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    1. That was the feeling I was aiming for…so glad it worked. And don’t you love that new word? For word geeks like myself, the word ecotone has such resonance to it, and is so charged with meaning especially in today’s world where nature is being forced out as we force our way in. I think kids would love it, too. Thanks for joining me on my walk.

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    1. Thank you for taking the walk with us. I, too, was excited to learn this new word, ecotone. Have you used it yet? It has such resonance in the modern world as nature and humans collide more and more.

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    1. I’m so glad you could take a walk with me today. Are you casual about nature because there isn’t much around you, or is it just not one of your primary interests? It’s funny how people are drawn to different things. Are you the person who did the video of our favorite places to write? If so, I really enjoyed it and you did a lovely job.

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  4. I would love to live along the Hudson. How lucky you are! It’s actually the only place on the East Coast I can imagine living, after being around so much water all my life here on LI. Are you aware of how fragile all this beauty is?

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