>> Wednesday, April 14, 2010
On Easter there was a big fire out at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, which my husband and I had spotted from near our house with some sense of alarm. There was a terrific column of black smoke billowing into the sky, and ash from the fire allegedly drifted down in Skaneateles, which is more than fifteen miles from the Refuge.
Reports from Montezuma in the days after the fire were pretty positive, though, and I was curious about how scorched the place looked. It's also migration season, and there are always lots of great birds to be spotted there this time of year. So, we drove to Montezuma on Sunday.
One of the first critters we spotted was an osprey sitting in its huge nest on top of the power lines right by the side of the road.
She's got a wicked hook on the end of that beak, no? I wouldn't want to cross her.
Next we decided to drive the loop that goes through the Refuge. Near the start of the loop are some bird houses, and I captured this little series involving a pair of tree swallows. I so love the iridescent blue-green on their backs, and the perfect fan of wing in the third photo.
Sadly, not too many of the rest of my bird pictures turned out all that well. I need a more powerful zoom to get the birds from such distances, along with a good tripod that mounts on the window of the car (visitors are not supposed to get out of their cars for most of the loop).
We did spot a few species of ducks that we see there every year, some of which we only ever spot at Montezuma in the spring. My personal favorites are the northern shovelers, because I so love their silly flat spoon bills. This shot, sadly, doesn't do the bill justice. Notice how well camoflaged this flamboyant fellow's lady is, on the top right.
We also spotted buffleheads:
And we saw pintails, ring necked ducks with their delicate rings around their bills, redheads with copper heads glistening in the sun, and a whole host of other lovely ducks who stayed too far away to be photographed.
Of course, there were plenty of great blue herons, with all their silly wispy feathers blowing in the breeze:
Dozens of red-winged blackbirds were staked out along the loop, showing off their bright epaulets and being all territorial:
Unsurprisingly, there were lots of Canada geese hanging around, and they were remarkably tolerant of me and my camera.
The area of Montezuma NWF that burned covers something like 660 to 700 acres (reports vary), and is mostly just wetland reeds and cattails. The peat that underlies the marsh did not catch on fire, which I understand the fire fighters were concerned about and which would have been a much bigger problem.
Last I heard, they still weren't sure what sparked the fire, and suspicion lay with a cigarette tossed from a vehicle, or even sparks from a dragging chain on the Thruway.
Personally, I like big firefighting equipment, and found this thing rather cool:
I understand it's known as a "Marsh Master", and can carry water to a fire or pump water from the swamp for fire fighting.
Officials from Montezuma said that, despite the fire, the wildlife was fine (although I'm sure more than a few insects got toasted). There were reports that the nesting bald eagles were sitting in their nests as usual while the fire was happening, looking as stoic as ever while bits of ash accumulated on top of their heads.
All in all, it will probably be good for the health of Montezuma to have had a little part of it burn. They do occasional controlled burns there anyway, to encourage the growth of beneficial plants and discourage invasive species.
After all, in nature there would be fires on occasion, sparked by lightning. It's only during relatively recent human history that wildfires are suppressed, usually out of a concern for human property. Not allowing things to burn as they naturally would is an artificial interruption of the natural cycle of things, and of course increases the likelihood of all that accumulated dry material causing a massive raging fire. Here's hoping that Easter fire does what it should, and makes the marsh healthier.
What a treasure it is to have Montezuma only a twenty minute drive from my house. I take it too much for granted.