This hike, at the Prendergast Creek Wetland Preserve, was difficult but very rewarding. I parked at the marina on Snug Harbor Road to the west of Chautauqua Lake. Just a little beyond the marina is a dock for boats. I walked just to the right of the dock which was the northern edge of the preserve. In the mud were footprints with five toes and nails. Was it a muskrat? No, these feet were rounder and squattier. My guess is that they belonged to a raccoon. I could just picture it dining on crayfish.
This is one of the small properties (6.2 acres) that the Chautauqua Watershed Conversancy has bought. I started with the hardest part first, although I didn't know it at the time. First I walked to a point beyond the dock. It is very, VERY wet. Streams crisscross the flat narrow strip of land. I tried walking on the land between the streams. Wrong idea. The soil on either side of the streams was too wet. A good idea is to hike with a walking stick from the woods. Especially in this preserve, it can be used to see how deep mud is.
I did see neat plants here. I understand that there's a teacher at SUNY Fredonia who is very knowledgeable in sedges and reeds. I have been collecting specimens of them since early summer. Maybe I can convince her to give me a lesson identifying them. I did see the sedge, bur-reed. I need to study them more in the spring. I'll report to you later on this topic.
Other plants included mosses, moneywort, goldenrod, skunk cabbage, asters, ferns and multiflora rose (Ugh!).
Shrubs in this marshy area included lots of red osier, winter berry and speckled alder. This last shrub is in the birch family. It can easily be identified by the white, short, elongated lines, or speckles, on its bark. Winter berry is in the holly family. I have often cut some of its branches with bright red berries for use in Christmas wreaths.
I saw evidence of beavers. One stump had pretty fresh chips below it. Maybe they had even been working there the night before I got on the scene.
After avoiding deep mud, I was grateful for a drier, woodsy area without much undergrowth. I did not see any signs of deer. I was just grateful for dry land. Red maple trees were the dominant species. However, ash and willow trees also were abundant. Notables for me were the red oaks, bitternut and shagbark hickory, and American hornbeam or muscle wood.
Of the birds, I saw six cedar waxwings, a white-breasted nuthatch and a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers. The latter were a treat.
There were lots of dead trees with the vertically long holes produced by pileated woodpeckers. Tall vegetation (well, about my height, so not so tall) was near the point at the northern side of the preserve. It allowed me to have a good view of the waterfowl without spooking them. Besides many Canada geese and ring-billed gulls, there were two types of mergansers - hooded and common. I love the male hooded mergansers with the white fan-shaped head surrounded by a narrow black line. I was one of many lucky people that day who saw the tundra swans fly over. There were about 75.
I have to give a lot of credit to John Eastman, author of ''The Book of Swamp and Bog.'' I love his very readable writing style and always learn something from him. He has also penned a set of bird books arranged by habitat.
I had a wonderful time and highly recommend visiting this preserve. Just stay out of the deep mud. Thanks, Chautauqua Watershed Preserve!