Sunday, March 26, 2017

MD Tuckahoe State Park

My sister Laura and I met at Tuckahoe State Park located mid-way up Maryland's Eastern Shore for a new-to-us loop hike of eight miles along a classic black-water creek. We live several hours apart so our hiking opportunities are not as frequent as we'd like but this was a great spot to meet half way between the Lower Shore and the Lower Susquehanna Valley. I was curious what we'd find on this very early spring day. Only the peepers and leopard frogs are calling in my neck of the woods north of Tuckahoe, so it was a preview (for me) of what will come next week to South-Central Pennsylvania.  

Blue blazes on the east side of the creek, orange blazes on the west side following Pee Wee Trail.

Tuckahoe is unique in that you can hike along hilly terrain for a good workout while enjoying wooded-over Pleistocene sand dunes. The glaciers were north by about a hundred or more miles and never reached this far south, but a cold wind would have been constant, pushing dunes inland with ice-generated weather systems. These dune relics are covered over by loblolly pine, holly, maple, oak, tulip poplar, and hickory. I like to imagine this landscape as Cape Henlopen looks today with its marching dune suffocating the forests along the ocean, but in this case the forest won out, stabilizing the dune system during the interglacial period. Though the Tuckahoe region was never ocean front, it did experience a long period of intergalacial back-flooding when sea levels rose and drowned the Choptank River and all its tributaries including Tuckahoe Creek. 

Quaternary deposits below the dune layer.

All along our hike there were frequent bridge, log, and board crossings over smaller streams. These are incised streams that, like Tuckahoe Creek, are actively down-cutting into the dune formations. At one minor stream crossing we were able to take a peak at an older formation underneath the sand. I'm more familiar with Tertiary formations from my fossil collecting forays on Maryland's Western Shore, so I was surprised to see a familiar face on this side of the Bay!

Cut-leaf toothwort - I usually don't see this blooming until mid-April in my neck of the woods.


Tuckahoe Creek.

We walked through the Adkins Arboretum trails connected to the blue-blazed Tuckahoe Valley Trail to the east of the main creek and enjoyed stopping to examine the earliest spring tree blossoms including witch hazel and early red maple in the damp woods. The Adkins meadow clearing goat crew was relaxing in the bright and very warm sun. Goats are used to help maintain a system of sand-meadows that trees would otherwise overwhelm. We saw signs of past meadow burns and lots of goat munch as we threaded our way through the Arboretum property. It's a lot of work to keep the trees at bay! Long ago, Native Americans would have maintained the sand meadows with managed burns - just like we do today. But the reason for maintaining the meadows were different then. A healthy meadow produces an abundance of meat, berries, and herbs.  Wild herds of elk and deer would have done the job of goats today, while berries attracted not only people but bears, turkey, and other important animals species. Today we maintain meadows for native plant sanctuaries, pollinators, and bird habitat.

Meadow maintenance goat enjoying the warm sun.

The onset of spring always fascinates me, especially as I continue to investigate how we perceive of time's passing. Humans create structures around our perceptions of time like "four seasons" or phases of the moon. But if we can get out of our own (very limited) way, we can think about time passing differently. The creeks cutting their way down through the ages. The ebb and flow of forests over meadow clearings. These are vast processes that surpass the human-sized parade of seasons and that leave me in awe of Big Time as not just as just a linear trajectory, but as a complex interaction of thousands of small changes in the land. On the way down to meet Laura for today's hike,  I listened to Krista Tippet interview physicist Carlo Rovelli about his new book Seven Brief Lessons on Physics. I actually pulled over to write this quote in the journal I carry in my backpack -

 Physics opens windows through which we see far into the distance. What we see does not cease to astound us. We realize that we are full of prejudices and that our intuitive image of the world is partial, parochial, inadequate.

Spotted turtle, Clemmys guttata

Rovelli and Tippet discussed how we think about time as being "used or wasted" and how utterly helpless we are to understand that "wasted" time in one person's eyes can be critically important creative space for another. A basking painted turtle, tiny and elegant on his sunny log in the woods, may not be thinking about how to solve the world's problems, but this unproductive time (to us) is super-critical to his survival even though he doesn't appear to be doing anything. Consider that for 220 million years turtles have basked in the early season's warming rays, light and heat powering up their metabolism. There are processes invisible to us that have ensured that turtles have been around a long time. 

Tree swallow defending a preferred nest site below his perch.

We enjoy watching the return of migratory birds to our area each spring. The osprey have returned as have the tree swallows. We watched several pair of blue iridescent tree swallows attempt to claim and guard nesting boxes in the meadow. The migration of birds has been going on a very long time and we are privileged to see it happening, marking spring and fall in our human minds. Scott Weidensaul, however, asks us to consider migration  not as distinct events that occur only during these two seasons, but as a continuous process through the year and that have spanned millennia. Tree swallows are pouring north from Central America and Mexico. No border fence or wall can stop them. Their flights are paused briefly by mating and rearing young. When all are able to fly, they gorge on late summer's insects, fattening up for the swing south again.

Muskrat digging up tasty new roots.

We visited the visitor center at Adkins Arboretum and watched a muskrat digging up deliciously tender new growth from the marshy pond out front of the building. Smaller than a beaver, the muskrat is considered a delicacy meat on the Eastern Shore and there are local festivals to eat it, though neither Laura or I would ever want to eat one. Their slender tails are more like vertical rudders compared to the flat, horizontal paddle of the beaver's tail. When a muskrat swims, its tail fans it along, side to side, gliding in arcs.

An outdoor classroom built over the muskrat's marsh makes a nice viewing platform - can you see him?

All along our hike we listened to frogs. Leopard frogs growled while spring peepers lit up the forest ponds in a boisterous announcement of spring's arrival. We spotted a wood frog, a young green frog, and later heard the deep bass call of bullfrogs as we crossed Tuckahoe Creek to return along the orange blazed Pee Wee Trail.
Young green frog.

There's an equestrian center on the Pee Wee Trail side of the creek, so we encountered horses and their riders a few times. We also met up with two fat-tire bike riders and a trail bike rider. Everyone was courteous on this section of multi-use trail. The west side of the creek is hillier than the east and it is not flat with abundant tree roots and steep climbs in and out of side creeks. I was looking recently at a friend's hiking blog where she hiked this loop with her wheelie-carted German shepherd and though we took a lot of the same pictures (!!) on our two different hikes, but the pictures of her dog negotiating this rugged section of the loop was sweet, if not ambitious! See Notes below for link to her picture-filled blog.

Over Tuckahoe Creek on the footbridge at the halfway point.

The trail undulates up and down near and above the main creek and as we went we saw more signs of previous land use. An old hedge row with a few sections of wire fencing. Some crockery pieces. A foundation with a well hole inside. The land that is now the park was once farmland. Tractor parts, a 1940s era pick-up truck wreck, and an old bike littered the woods.  People can change landscapes by simply changing ownership. Landscapes can change, too, according to natural land managers...

An ambitious beaver project with the lodge just meters away.
These beavers have plans.

Over time the area farms became conservation land and recreational space. Agricultural ground was once coastal plain forest where tree cutters and logging operations thrived. Cleared land could be stumped out and cultivated for crops. Much of that rich soil, however, has ended up in the creek over the last century. Tuckahoe Creek once ran very deep and clear. Now it is shallow and silted in and its flood plains are managed by beavers - nature's greatest engineers. We spotted a lodge but no dams. Maybe they'll come later. When they dam creeks, the back pond becomes a safe predator-free space for a lodge. When the dam breaks and the beaver are gone, a beautiful beaver meadow grows in its place. Trees will eventually fill the meadow. Beavers may return, as they have here. What comes around goes around.

An old bike.

The Pee Wee Trail comes out at a paved road that has the orange blazes along the shoulders. A quick mile took us past the equestrian center then on to the dam and the parking areas. I think next time we'll explore the lakeside trail above where we parked. We were pretty hungry and wanted to get to late lunch before rain started falling. It was very humid as we got back to our cars and rain clouds were building in the west. We drove into beautiful Denton on the Choptank River and listed our sightings for the day as we munched on salad and pizza!

Yellow warbler
Tree Swallow
Bald Eagle
Turkey Vultrure
Downy Woodpecker
Mourning Dove
White-breasted Nuthatch
Great Blue Heron
Spring Peepers
Leopard Frog
Green Frog
Wood Frog
Beaver (sign)

Sisters on a hike!


Here's the transcript of Krista Tippet's interview with Carlo Rovelli that I listened to on the way down to Tuckahoe State Park. From the On Being website:

Gone Hikin' Blog post about Tuckahoe State Park hiking with an old pup in a wheelie cart.

One of my favorite books, Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds, by Scott Weidensaul (1999).