The sweet smell of clover and other blooming plants; frogs croaking in the ponds; the songs of dozens of bird species; and the cool of the dark woods: I experienced this sensory feast during an early summer walk along just one-third of the Pheasant Run Trail at Gallant Woods Preserve -- a walk of less than half a mile.
I've written before that Gallant Woods, located just northwest of the city of Delaware, is one of my favorite places to visit, and my recent walk there underlined the reasons why. This time of year, the park is teeming with life, and if visitors are willing to slow down from the busy day they are liable to see quite a bit of it.
I started out on the northern leg of the Pheasant Run Trail, which starts next to the parking lot and skirts the edge of a prairie area. Prairies, with their variety of grasses and flowering plants, provide important habitat for a wide variety of living things, which is why Preservation Parks is busy replacing old farm fields with prairies where we can.
The prairie blooming season is generally June through September, with a few plants blossoming earlier or later. During my walk, I saw partridge pea, a diminutive yellow flower that is one of the earliest prairie plants to bloom. Watch for this one along the trail edge, low to the ground. As I walked farther, I saw that black-eyed Susans had raised their golden and black heads, adding splashes of color to the green and tan sea of grasses.
A few morning glory vines, with pale white flowers, attracted passing butterflies. Even though I saw only the common yellow clouded sulphur butterflies that day, I knew that if it had been a bit cooler outdoors I would not have seen even those. Butterflies are cold-blooded and need warm sunny days to bring their body temperatures to an ideal 85 degrees; an outdoor temperature of 82 to 100 degrees is perfect, and if the temperature dips below 55, butterflies are unable to fly and cannot escape predators.
While watching the butterflies, I was startled by a weasel that ran across the trail just ahead of me. It moved so quickly that I couldn't see the opening in the grasses into which it ran. But I did see the red-tail hawk circling above, no doubt hoping to swoop down and clutch a vole or meadow mouse -- or a weasel that was moving just a bit too slow.
Relatively new to this section of Gallant Woods Preserve are a couple of wetlands, restored after drain tiles left from previous farming days were removed. The sight of a dragonfly -- a blue dasher, by its size and coloration -- told me I had arrived at the wetlands. So did the sound of the frogs, as several jumped quickly into the water, alarmed by my approach.
Unlike during my last visit to these wetlands in spring, I didn't see any migrating ducks or other waterfowl. Instead, a summer tableau was before me: turtles sunning on logs; water bugs skating across the surface; and the glump-glump of the pond frogs.
Moving on, I entered a small woods and was struck by a difference in habitat that was unmistakable. Gone was the heat of the sun, the sweet smell of prairie flowers and feel of the breeze against my face. Now, the cool dampness of the woods enveloped me, as my eyes took in the green woodland plants, growing around leftover logs from some fallen trees and interspersed with mushrooms and moss. The quiet was evident, too; it was if my entry into the woods activated some switch that silenced the frogs and red-winged blackbirds.
There was something about the quiet of the woods that made me breathe deep and savor these few moments of peace before rushing back into the busyness of the day. I wished I had more time to spend there, in the quiet.
Gallant Woods Preserve and the other parks in the Preservation Parks system truly are a feast for the senses, as a simple little walk showed me that fine afternoon.
Sue Hagan is marketing and communications manager for Preservation Parks of Delaware County.