We take a sneak peek on the neighboring TNC preserve to check out the swamp pink that grows there and sure enough we find it, just about ready to begin blooming. We talk about coming back in a week or so to see it in full bloom.
We cross the border onto Refuge land. Could we find swamp pink on the Braddock Tract? Why not?? The terrain, vegetation, habitat etc. is essentially the same. We search for awhile but without success. Joe has theories. I do not. It just seems odd to me that it would only grow on the north side of the swamp (TNC) and not the south (FWS).
For awhile there is a nice little path into the tract, but soon it disappears in a jumble of blow-down pines and catbrier. It's dry though, and we pick our way in the general direction of the marsh. Joe is sure we can walk all the way to the marsh. he has looked at GPS maps, and a new kind of topo map called "lidar," which shows subtle differences in elevation. His GPS maps show a maze of old trails and roads throughout the property, probably remnants of old logging and hunting paths. But it's slow going these days.
There are no birds in the woods today. In a week or so maybe Prothontary Warblers, or Wood Thrush and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. We pick up a shadow of a remnant of a path, which leads us improbably back to civilization, someone's back yard (probably a house on Goshen Rd.) We check the GPS and change directions a bit and are soon ass deep in a vernal pond. Well, not quite ass deep. Joe assures me that the water will not rise above our hip boots. I always believe him and he's right. The water is black and still. I cannot see my feet. Is it quite thrilling to be here. Spring peepers are everywhere. Fresh deer tracks in teh soft ground, and a few old (and one new) deer stands in the trees.
Out of the spung, onto a dry path again, we stop to check out a little low-growing flowering plant. It has pink and white tubular flowers and flat, shiny oval-shaped leaves. I take a few pictures. (Back home I decide that it's Trailing Arbutus, a native wildflower that I've seen before in the Pine Barrens. I should have gotten down and smelled it, as Arbutus is quite fragrant. Maybe we can find it again next week if we come back to see the pinks.
Finally we reach the edge of the open marsh. Beautiful! A Red-tailed hawk soars across the creek, which is a tributary of Bidwell's Creek. This must be Tick Neck, which I've seen on maps but never in person from this vantage point. Up from the south we see a large, dark bird soaring up the creek. It is an immature bald eagle. He passes close enough to us that we can see the patches of white on his dark wings. A small flock of cedar waxwings flits across the creek and lands in the woods further down. A large house sits alone at the edge of the marsh on the other side, at the end of an unseen road, a house in the middle of nowhere. I wonder when was the last time the occupants may have seen anyone looking at them from here?
We try walking along the edge of the marsh and it's OK, not too soft, but be careful of little traps of mud and hidden ditches along the way. Is that a muskrat trail? Or a river otter?
We round a bend and find an old hunting blind next to the sweetest little duck hole! The blind was nothing more than a couple of wooden skids nailed together with a crude bench behind, long-neglected but probably still usable with a little new camouflage and string of decoys. I think Joe is filing this place away in his mind for the future. but it's NOT an easy place to get to... or find, for that matter. We are far from any road. Maybe some folks who live on Bucks Ave. know how to get here, but it's not certain how long it's been since anyone was here.
We head back to the cars but again the trails close up and we are picking our way. We make one last trip into the swamp looking for pinks. What I find almost as cool are the
white cedars. One big one is so badly twisted at the base that the bark had separated from the trunk. This is not a recent injury, Joe decides,because the bark had already re-formed under the wound. These are awesome trees.
Three hours after we start, we are back at the road. Ready for a return visit soon.