Early Spring on the Greenway

I walked the Four Mile Creek Greenway from Elm Lane to the large cattail marsh last week. It was the first time in a few months I had walked that route. The greenway habitats are ever-changing, so I never know what the conditions will be whenever I visit.

Several floods over the winter have scoured the woodland floor of much loose debris and green vegetation. Those same floods deposited loads of silt in the marshes, so it will be interesting to see how much standing water will persist into the spring and summer. Floods can aid in the spread of invasive plants too. I was surprised to see how much the invasive lesser celandine (Ficaria verna) had increased over the last couple of years. Large swaths of the floodplain were covered with the green clumps with yellow flowers. It's a pretty plant but it is non-native and invasive.  

Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna)
Stock photo

I doubt it will have an obvious effect on the frog, toad, and snake population, and the bird numbers and diversity seemed to be normal. It was a cold morning so any early singing was absent or muted. Yellow-rumped warblers murmured a few soft phrases, getting tuned up for more vigorous singing in just a couple of weeks. A lone pine warbler did the same. He will increase in volume as soon as the temperatures climb back to near 70F. Some mallard pairs dipped in the lingering puddles, and a nice flock of five blue-winged teal paddled around in the larger pond across the creek. That pond will be harder to see as the leaves pop out.

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Photo by Jo O'Keefe

At the cattail marsh swamp sparrows foraged on the exposed mud among the brown cattail stalks. Swamp sparrows are more secretive than some other sparrows along the greenway so it was nice to get leisurely views that day.

Swamp Sparrow
Photo by Jeff Lewis

A large commotion well off trail drew my attention to a wild turkey that had flushed off the ground into a tree. I suspect a dog or a coyote had caused it to seek escape off the ground. That was the first wild turkey I had ever seen along the greenway illustrating how instrumental Mecklenburg County’s greenway system is to the refuge and movement of wildlife along its corridors. I was really surprised to see a turkey there.

A red-shouldered hawk called a few times but even this normally loud raptor was giving it a half-hearted effort that day. Carolina chickadees and tufted titmice seemed a little more into it, one of my favorite early spring sounds is the peter peter of the titmouse in the wakening woods.

I will be arriving back in Charlotte on April first after a week of birding in south Texas. I expect there to have already been a few sightings of returning ruby-throated hummingbirds by then. Blue-gray gnatcatchers will be increasing in numbers, and a few white-eyed vireos and Northern parulas will have returned too. It has been a chilly time since the end of January, but the Spring thing is really going to happen.