While our National Parks, the crown jewels of federal lands, often receive the lion’s share of our attention, the wonderful creature sanctuaries known as National Wildlife Refuges provide an immeasurable benefit to wildlife in these days of ever-expanding development. This human expansion inevitably results in ever shrinking habitat and more and more pressure on the wild creatures who rely upon that habitat.
A time-tested piece of travel advice is to check the status of things at your destination before you depart. The last thing you want to encounter is a key location in your once-in-a-lifetime trip that is CLOSED. That’s happening now, as various national parks and points of interest are in varying stages of reopening during a pandemic. But a virus isn’t the only thing that can impact availability. Today you’ll find roads, campgrounds and entire sites that are closed or open only for limited hours almost anywhere you want to travel. It pays to know before you go.
The notes of the rail came loudly to my ear, and on moving toward the spot whence they proceeded, I observed the bird exhibiting the full ardor of his passion. Each time it passed before her, it would pause for a moment…and bow to her with all the grace of a well-bred suitor of our own species.—John James Audubon, 1840
What Audubon witnessed is something most folks will never see as this secretive marsh bird is heard more than it is seen. In 1926, ornithologist Arthur Cleveland Bent wrote this about how to see a Virginia rail: “Take up one’s station near a pond or marsh frequented by them and watch patiently, silently, and immobile….” Wow, patience. What a concept.
Virginia rail at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland.