Among the parade of rolling strollers, excited kindergarteners and working farm staff, a patron visiting Frying Pan Farm Park could find themselves bombarded by truly “wild” animals. The culprits are acrobatic Aves, known far and wide as gymnasts of the air.
As a budding naturalist, I chased jobs and toured across the country. I naturalized in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Tennessee and now Virginia. It can be challenging to leave a lovely place and adjust to the next; however I never acquaint myself to new surroundings alone. When acclimating to unfamiliar areas, I simply look for old friends: northern cardinal, blue jay, or Carolina wren. At Frying Pan, I find familiarity in a new land. Each morning, before the bevies of elementary schoolchildren disembark from their buses, I take to the woods for a period of calm discovery amid the park’s wild inhabitants.
The wild side of Frying Pan is quite diverse for a relatively small natural area. Out in the grassy field, I often observe both tree and barn swallows carving the sky. It is fantastic to watch the way they veer swiftly and precisely. These daring creatures rely on their well-adapted wing and tail shapes to snatch unsuspecting insects out of the air. The field also offers opportunities to watch incoming turkey vultures glide on air pockets while they sniff out their next meal.
Past the fields lies a wide strip of forest dominated by hickory and oak. As I walk, I find trees of varying height and girth indicating a healthy and maturing second growth forest. The area includes larger grandfather trees, short saplings, and standing dead trees or snags. When left standing, the snags provide inviting opportunities for a variety of woodpeckers. As the trees decompose, insects begin to devour the nutrients in the wood. Woodpeckers drill their heads, bill first, into trees creating cavities to slurp out insects with their long, barbed tongues. Several types of warblers, flycatchers and thrushes also reside in the woods.
Most recently, I explored the wetlands to the east of the park. In an effort to compile a well-rounded list of birds, I knew I’d need to find some type of waterfowl. With hopeful anticipation, I headed out in search of some kind of duck. Instead, I was delighted to find a large great blue heron standing stiff-legged and motionless in the middle of the first pond. It is amazing how still and patient they can be while on the hunt. I think I can learn something from this great blue bird. In addition, I found a pair of green herons displaying similar behavior and throngs of red-winged blackbirds.
I encourage, even challenge, you to take a step away from the predictable bustling of farm enthusiasts and drift into the untamed. Search for your neighbors, too: the sparrow, the mockingbirds. See what you can discover. There is so much to see.
Author Patrick McNamara is a staff interpreter at Frying Pan Farm Park.