Tag Archives: Winter Landscape

A Walk On A Winter Day At Riverbend Park

Winter leaves

Recently the high temperature at Riverbend Park was 20 degrees. The frigid air and breeze as I walk along the banks of the Potomac remind me that we are still in the grip of winter, and a look around at the dead leaves and barren trees seems to confirm this. All looks withered and frozen and life appears to be on hold. But a closer inspection reveals that much is still going on in the natural world. A winter wren tosses dead leaves under the roots of an old sycamore tree leaning out over the water. A flock of tiny golden-crowned kinglets flits through the branches over my head, seemingly oblivious to my presence as they search for food to sustain their active metabolisms. A brown creeper scours the bark of the sycamore, his feathers ruffled against the cold.

Canada geese on the Potomac RiverOn the river the ever present Canada geese, apparently impervious to the cold water, duck their heads under the surface to scoop up underwater plants, their white rumps providing some relief from the monochromatic winter landscape. The honks and cackles of the geese constantly remind me that I am not the only one braving the cold today. The ring-necked ducks, and coots are grouped together on the far side of the river, and the brilliant white and black male buffleheads whizz by on the current before taking wing and flying back to the flock. A lone black duck paddles towards a small island and two mallards are swept along on the fast moving water. The river is alive with waterfowl and three common mergansers skid to a halt on the water to take their places in the flock, the female’s red head contrasting with the brilliant green of the males.

And what of the plants? A casual glance reveals only dead or frozen vegetation, but look closer and there are the chickweed seedlings, the garlic mustard leaves, and the tiny yellow flower buds of the spicebush, primed to burst forth as soon as spring arrives. The tiny furnaces that are the spikes of the skunk cabbage make their own heat and will even break through the snow to be one of our earliest flowering plants. Underground the spring ephemerals are primed to emerge as soon as the weather turns warmer; the corms of the spring beauty and the trout lily are packed with food to feed the growing leaves and flowers.

Potomac RiverOver this wintry scene the white skeletal shapes of the sycamores form a stunning backdrop to the fast flowing river, most beautiful when viewed at sunset. The branches hanging low over the water are adorned with little bundles of ice, like transparent stalactites. Under the seemingly lifeless branches the gray squirrel hops and digs, constantly searching for those nuts it buried in the fall, and the sentry call of the carolina wren breaks the silence as I make my way towards the visitor center in search of warmth. Finally, an eastern bluebird flits by in search of food. Hopefully he will choose one of our nest boxes in the spring.

Written by Marijke Gate, naturalist, Riverbend Park

Riverbend Park: Truly A Winter Wonderland

The view from the deck at Riverbend Park is always beautiful, especially in winter.

The view from the deck at Riverbend Park is always beautiful, particularly in winter.

As much as I detest the snow, I must admit it’s truly beautiful. In the two winters I have worked at Riverbend, I haven’t yet had the privilege of seeing it snow-covered. Today changed that.

Riverbend is a natural beauty all its own that shines like a diamond in the rough. However, when the added element of snow is mixed into the equation, it’s truly breathtaking. The sun shimmers off the rippling surface of the gently-flowing river and makes the ground sparkle. I can see the snow reflecting light from the far bank and I feel as though it’s added a depth to a wall of trees. 

The birds are enjoying the weather as well. They’re frolicking in the snow below the bird feeders while munching away on the provided seed. Backyard birds love bird feeders and will come to one all seasons of the year if it’s kept filled. Try setting up one of your own to see what you can spot. Here are a few pictures of this morning’s visitors.

A Northern Cardinal perches near the bird feeders at Riverbend Park.

A Northern Cardinal perches near the bird feeders.

A Tufted Titmouse is joined by two Carolina Chickadees at the feeders.

A Tufted Titmouse is joined by two Carolina Chickadees at the feeders.

A Black-Eyed Junco takes a break on the snow-covered bench outside the visitor’s center.

A Black-Eyed Junco takes a break on the snow-covered bench outside the visitor’s center.

A Red-Bellied Woodpecker clings to the smallest feeder, scaring the smaller birds away.

A Red-Bellied Woodpecker clings to the smallest feeder, scaring the smaller birds away.

Riverbend truly has a view to remember. Brave the snow and come visit your own backyard winter wonderland.

Written by Michelle Brannon, naturalist, Riverbend Park