In honor of May being the month of Mother’s Day, I would like to introduce each of the mothers that I have seemingly angered during my time working at the Constitution Marsh Audubon Center and Sanctuary.
I am not referring to human mothers, but rather the wild creatures who mother their young here at the marsh. Ever since spring began to sprout and warmer weather entered the Hudson Valley, moms of all shapes and sizes have started to build homes and produce offspring.
The first mama bird I came across this season was an Eastern Phoebe. I did not disturb her intentionally, I was just curious to see what she was doing. Behind the office building at Constitution Marsh there are rows of canoes. The first time I saw a bird go under one, I thought nothing of it. The second time it went into the canoe with a mouthful of twigs, and I became curious. Upon inspecting the first canoe on the top shelf, I discovered a nest. It had no eggs in it and it was still in the process of being built.
Then I heard an angry squeaking call coming from outside the canoe. I ducked my head under and there was an Eastern Phoebe yelling at me to get away from her home. I did back away quickly and kindly apologized for being in her space.
Happening upon new nests and making nature’s mothers annoyed is a common occurance among environmental workers!
Another unique privilege is living on-site, which grants me access to the trails after hours. One evening I went out for a walk and there was a full moon, a warm breeze, and lights from West Point twinkling in the water. As I quitely crossed the boardwalk, I turned off my headlamp and was able to see by the bright light of the shining moon. The wildlife around me felt so secure in, or maybe unaware of, my peaceful presence, that a baby beaver felt safe enough to swim up beside me on the boardwalk. I tiptoed slowly across the wooden planks to try to get a better look.
Unfortunately, it heard me and dove under the water, popping up a few feet away making panicked sounds.
“Meep! Meep! Meep!” the baby cried.
Then came angry splashing out from the nearby beaver lodge. It was heavy, loud, and irate splashing that I interpreted as “GET AWAY FROM MY BABY! I’M WARNING YOU!”
So I did, to respect the space of the beavers and because I was slightly terrified of the mother beaver.
Over Easter weekend, I opened the visitor’s center to the public. People were so happy that we were open and since I was the only one on-site, I lived vicariously through the hikers' bird sightings on the trails, which included reports of a rather loud Canada Goose.
I am familiar with this particular goose. Tiffany, the other educator and naturalist here at Constitution Marsh, told me that there is a goose nest in the marsh. Though the nest is in the center of the marsh, the parents of this new nest have been seen protecting their territory and their young throughout the area surrounding the Constitution Marsh Audubon Center and Sanctuary, including near the boardwalk.
A few days before Easter, I took a hike at around sunset down to the boardwalk and I was not even halfway down the hill from the overlook when I heard the geese start to alarm.
The father goose started honking, then in the distance the mother echoed.
I continued with my walk because my distance from the nest was safe. The father goose was at least 200 feet away from the boardwalk and the mother was even farther away. I noticed how easily alerted these parents were to my presence.
When a beaver swam even remotely close to the father goose, the father goose would start to honk and then the mother goose would as well. It seemed as if the parents needed to keep watch on everything and everyone in the marsh in order to feel they were protecting their young.
The mothers and parents around the Constitution Marsh Audubon Center and Sanctuary invest so much in their young. They are protective, fearless, and smart. Imagine challenging a predator that is a hundred times bigger than you, that is what the Eastern Phoebe did to protect her home and future kin. She risked her own life for her potential offspring. The beaver mother made a warning splash that made her sound dangerous and seem bigger than she actually is and the mother goose had the father scout the area for protection. Their choice to build their home and nests here shows the value of Constitution Marsh as vital habitat and a safe space for wildlife.
By Jessica Andreone, Student Conservation Association, AmeriCorps member