The constant roar of traffic blended with birdsong as I walked along the even gravel path. Looking up and to my left, I watched cars speed past on Interstate 95. Turning to my right, a wetland stretched out before me — murky water, lily pads, skeletal dead trees and cattails.
Less than 0.5 mile from the Bangor Mall, the wetland is one of the many habitats that can be visited on the Essex Woods trail network, and for wildlife photographers and bird watchers, it’s a treasure.
As I walked farther along the path, I saw movement up ahead, and it took me a few seconds to process that a parade of mallard ducks appeared to be charging me. They were looking for a handout, I guess.
As they neared me, they slowed to a stop, though some were bold enough to walk almost close enough for me to reach out and pet their shiny feathers. At such proximity, I could see they were young mallards, yet to obtain their adult plumage. The males were just starting to show a tinge of green on their heads, and their chests were patchy shades of brown (whereas an adult males have solid emerald heads and chests of solid rusty brown).
Continuing on my way, I spied a turtle sunning on a log, and in the distance stood a great egret, the largest bird in the wetland. Its solid white body drew my eye to where it stood on a tiny isle of dead wood near the center of the wetland, bending its long neck to prune its feathers.
A few minutes later, I spotted a sandpiper — a tiny wading bird with skinny, long legs — fishing beside two ducks, likely mallards (which were just about everywhere).
Rounding the western end of the wetland, I came across a woman with binoculars, probably a birder, and she pointed out a group of four green-winged teals, ducks that look similar to mallards but are smaller and have a bright green patch on each wing. Compared to the mallards of the area, these smaller ducks acted shy, skirting away from me and weaving between the grasses.
As the sun climbed higher in the sky, I could feel the temperature rise into 80s. As I retreated to my car, prepared to wade through a hoard of mallards, I spied a bird I’d been hoping to see all along — a green heron.
Leading with it’s long, sharp beak, the heron crept slowly through the shallows. Busy fishing, it didn’t pay me much notice as I crouched on the path to take its photo.
Green herons, though fairly large, are tough to spot. The pattern of their feathers tend to make the bird blend in with the background, plus, when they aren’t through the water, they stand stock still, waiting for dragonflies and other insects to come within reach.
Because of the stripes of brown and white on its chest and patches of brown and green on its head, I believe I was watching at a juvenile. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, adults have less white on their chests and also have more obviously dark green feathers. Nevertheless, the young bird was quite striking, with a bright yellow beak, eyes and legs.
All of the birds I spotted within an hour of walking. In addition, it was late morning — not exactly the best time to go birding. If you visit in the early morning or early evening, depending on the time of year, you could see even more variety. A few days ago, I saw cedar waxwings, belted kingfishers, a downy woodpecker and eastern phoebes — so don’t forget to look in the trees as well as the water.
The wetlands is open for the public to enjoy by trail. You can park at the main entrance of Essex Woods at end of Watchmaker Street (of Essex Street) and follow the trails to the wetlands; or you can on the side of the road at the end of Garden Way (off Stillwater Avenue), from which its a shorter walk by trail to the wetlands. Just remember to stay on trail and do your best not to disturb the wildlife.