Located on Back Creek, the Marsh Walk invites you to stroll over the flats of our own scenic, natural saltmarsh. Here you will find trace evidence of raccoon, opossum and muskrat spied in the form of footprints and easily viewed from the low boardwalk. Water snakes slither through the shallows and fiddler crabs temporarily retreat into their burrows at your approach. Great blue herons, red-winged blackbirds and belted kingfishers are frequent visitors. Learn how marshes work as nature’s filter by cleansing the water with each tidal change, and as nurseries for the young of so many tasty bay inhabitants.
What you can expect to see:
This outdoor experience is a living classroom exhibiting the plant and animal communities that inhabit brackish water, freshwater, and upland marshes characteristic of the Chesapeake Bay. As you exit the Aquariums area, the saltmarsh is immediately in view. Let the boardwalk be your guide. Signs along the way will help in identifying the various plants and animals that live in this habitat. At the boardwalk's end, a trail winds on through a small wooded area representative of native upland marsh. A small change in elevation makes a big difference in what plants dominate. Look for woody shrubs and a variety of mammals from rabbits to squirrels to muskrats. The trail brings you full circle, terminating at the freshwater marsh to the right and our own rain garden to the left. Look for cattails, bald cypress, painted turtles, and nesting birds. The rain garden, doubling as a butterfly garden, is planted with native wildflowers to attract an assortment of pollinating insects. This exhibit is made possible only through the dedicated labors of the museum's volunteer Garden Guild.
Activity in saltmarshes is guided by the ever-changing tides and seasons, thus the exhibit is forever in flux. Winter is quietest and most marsh inhabitants are not evident. Fiddler crabs, turtles and periwinkles seek shelter in mud homes, or gathered below the waterline. Watching the wax myrtle bushes may yield sightings of yellow-rumped warblers feasting on berries. Scan the water for winter waterbirds. Grebes, mergansers and an occasional loon will visit the boat basin during this season. Recently, a single great blue heron has taken up a winter residence in the basin and can be seen almost daily during the colder months. Ever wonder what it is eating?
The marsh turns green in the spring. Cordgrass (spartina) begins to grow and the water begins to cloud with algae and increased sediment stirred by spring showers. Small fish become noticeable, returning from deeper channels. Osprey return after wintering in South America as the temperature begins to warm. Through April and May a variety of birds migrate through our region. Sightings include gray catbird, common yellowthroat, American redstart, and many others.
Summer warmth ushers fiddler crabs and marsh periwinkles from dormancy. Flowers blossom as bees, dragonflies, and butterflies appear. Jellyfish and comb jellies hover in the water, carried on the tides, and blue crabs and water snakes creep about. Birds like the green heron, great egret, and great cormorant work the water finding fish. Turtles bask in the sun, a peculiar habit that reduces external microbial growth and provides for vitamin synthesis.
Autumn approaches and temperatures cool, the periwinkle and fiddler crab activity slows. Plant growth halts but fall flowers give accent to the already-rich splendor of the leaf change. As the season progresses and the leaves brown, many birds take flight or move through on their annual migration south along the Atlantic Flyway. As you watch for crabs, fish, and muskrats, and smell the sweet perfume of the flowers or the salty tang of exposed mud flats, and listen for the sounds of the marsh birds, remember to appreciate the importance of wetlands and the distinctive beauty that is the Chesapeake Bay.