Located right behind the museum, the Marsh Walk invites you to stroll over the salt marsh flats where you can see raccoon and opossum footprints, water snakes sliding through the shallows, and fiddler crabs scurrying into their dens. Great Blue Heron, red-winged blackbirds, and ducks are frequent visitors. Learn how the marsh works as nature’s filter, cleaning the water with each tidal change, and serves as the nursery for young critters.
What you will see in this exhibit:
This outdoor exhibit is a living study of the plant and animal communities that inhabit saltwater, freshwater, and upland marshes. As you exit the Estuarium, the salt marsh is immediately in view. Follow the boardwalk through this area. Signs along the railing will help you identify the various plants and animals that live in the marsh. At the end of the boardwalk, a path leads you through a small wooded area that represents our upland marsh. The small change in elevation makes a big difference in what occupies this marsh. Look here for woody plants and a variety of mammals from rabbits to squirrels to muskrats. As you leave the trail you come to the fresh water marsh area. Look for cattails, turtles, and nesting land birds. Check the butterfly garden for native wildflowers and an assortment of pollinating insects.
Activity in the marsh is guided by the tides and seasons and thus this exhibit is constantly changing. Winter is the quietest season. Many of the marsh inhabitants are not evident. Fiddler crabs and marsh periwinkles are hidden in mud homes or gathered in the browning marsh grass. But watch the wax myrtle bushes for Yellow-rumped Warblers feasting on the berries. Scan the water for winter waterbirds. Grebes, swans, and ducks often visit the 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 these cold months.
The marsh turns green in the spring. The salt-marsh cordgrass (spartina) begins to grow and the underwater grasses appear. Small fish become noticeable there. The Ospreys return to the area and the weather begins to warm. Through April and May a variety of birds migrate through the area. Sightings can include Gray Catbird, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, and many others.
As spring moves towards summer the warmth brings out the fiddler crabs and marsh periwinkles. Flowers bloom and insects such as bees, dragonflies, and butterflies appear. Jellyfish and comb jellies float in the water and small blue crabs and water snakes appear. Birds like the Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Great Egret, and Belted Kingfisher work the water finding fish.
Fall is a season of change. As the weather cools the periwinkle and fiddler crab activity slows. Plant growth slows and the fall flowers blossom. As the season progresses the leaves begin to turn color and the birds move through on their migration south. Watching for crabs, fish, and muskrats, smelling the sweet perfume of the flowers or the salty tang of the marsh mud, and hearing the sounds of the marsh birds, help visitors appreciate the importance and distinctive beauty of our wetlands.