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Wildlife in the Rain - Midday at Murfee Spring

Updated: Mar 18, 2023

I was the second car at the Discovery Center at Murfee Spring, and it wasn't even early. I unloaded my gear and sauntered around the boardwalks, scanning the strange, bubbly green for bullfrog eyes and turtle shells. I paid special attention to logs and edges. I was on the hunt for a yellow-crowned night heron, a stalky bird in the beloved heron family that, despite its common presence, I've only ever seen online.

The yellow-crowned night heron is an active hunter at all hours of the day. The bird, just like the larger grey heron, will stand very still in one place before crouching, stalking, and sniping its prey (glossy crustaceans) in one quick, fluid movement. It bears resemblance to the green heron in size but lacks the rich color tones; instead, the yellow-crowned night heron is mostly grey.

The sleepy, resident raccoon I first saw in February outstretched his paw as I passed his tree, and I watched a massive snapping turtle slip under the water's surface. I hadn't even completed half the boardwalk loop when the heavy grey clouds dumped their rain. I took cover under a canopy of nearby trees, but the water was beginning to soak my camera backpack, so I ran back to the car. A grandmother and her two small, barefoot children were parked next to me, putting on raincoats and telling each other the rain wasn't going to stop them.

And me neither! After a few minutes drying off, I took my umbrella and re-entered the boardwalk. The rain stopped. I closed my umbrella and looked ahead: there in the distance, a brown, mammalian mass...AN OTTER! Not just one, but FOUR. I think I stopped breathing in the seconds it took me to spot their very slinky underwater path and pull out my camera. They were way too fast and disappeared in the middle of the wetlands after one of them sniped a fish. The rain picked up again as I tried to spot them from the opposite side of the boardwalk, but they were gone, hidden in a tangled, weeded sanctuary of beaver dams. SO COOL.

On my way to the other side of the wetlands, I crept in slippery green to stalk a grey heron, and then walked across the overgrown lily pad pond to find frogs. Still no frogs. But when I looked up...

A YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT HERON, through the trees! I belly flopped on a concrete mass in a smelly pool of rainwater to observe the heron. This bird's behavior was MUCH more interesting than the very stoic grey heron; it groomed, did yoga, and comically dropped its head with a single wing outstretched. And of course it hunted. I, starving, watched the heron feast on beady eyed crustaceans twice. I left my perch when the heron left its, re-routing because of a spider that had strung its web. A foot away, scrambling to the bush, was a black and yellow snake that moved as quickly as the otters and the heron's beak.

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