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Waterfowl break winter silence at VA wildlife refuge

Laid bare of its sound-absorbing foliage, the forest of lanky hardwoods becomes a cacophony of sound. On this cool morning, the leaves crunch underfoot and rustle nearby as a squirrel digs for hidden treasure. 

The din of a waterfowl gathering in the Great Marsh, though still a hundred yards away, swells quickly as we walk toward the Potomac River through the woody peninsula. From a sturdy overlook, the geese, swans and ducks come into view. Their quacking, honking and flapping are all we can hear. 

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Catch the spring action at a vernal pool near you

The fields and forests of Gifford Pinchot State Park in southcentral Pennsylvania are still in winter dormancy, but not for long. You will actually hear the change. 

When the days are cold and short but the spring thaw draws near, the shrill call of spring peepers will announce that winter is over. The familiar sound, which signals spring for humans, is the peepers’ call for survival.

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Kayaking course helps paddlers get their feet wet

Have you ever wanted to kayak on the Chesapeake Bay, but didn’t know how or where to start? Here’s your chance. On March 10, the Chesapeake Paddlers Association is offering a one-day introduction to sea kayaking at a retreat center on the West River south of Annapolis. 

To the uninitiated, that term “sea kayaking” may sound daunting, evoking images of plowing through ocean swells, far from land. Nothing so daring, at least to start, said Rick Leader, the course’s organizer. Rather, this course is designed for beginners and occasional recreational paddlers who are interested in “taking a step up.”

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The past is alive in former mill town of Waterford, VA

On the outskirts of the sprawling suburbs to the nation’s capital, there’s a time machine of sorts that can transport you back a century or two. It’s a quaint village called Waterford.

You’ll find it preserved like a dragonfly in amber amid the cookie-cutter housing developments that are gradually consuming the rural remnants of Loudoun County, VA, one of the nation’s fastest-growing communities.

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Cove Mountain forests offer refuge for animals, people

From a distance, Cove Mountain looks like it floats on the Susquehanna River. Closer up, it’s a typical Pennsylvania red oak-dominated forest, with scattered lichen and moss-covered boulders, clear mountain streams and clearings well-stocked with wildflowers.

This unspoiled wilderness is also one of the largest plots of undeveloped mountain land just outside of Harrisburg and, as such, has been eyed by developers for years.

Construction of a 500-home development, a bedroom community to Harrisburg, has begun on one side of Cove Mountain; the other side is now a preserve owned by The Nature Conservancy.

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Cumberland Marsh beckons birds and birders alike

Fall migration is an excellent time to spot a wide variety of birds, and identifying a few birding hotspots can help fledgling birders — as well as experienced ones — know where to go. During fall and well into winter, bird watching groups in the Chesapeake region often flock to Cumberland Marsh Natural Area, about 35 minutes east of Richmond by car.

The 1,100-acre preserve, one of 45 in Virginia, overlooks some of the most pristine tidal fresh wetlands along the Pamunkey River and often yields unexpected sightings.

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Imagine a flight from slavery on Woodlawn Manor trail

Dr. William Palmer married his second wife, Cleorah Duvall, shortly after moving to Woodlawn Manor in Sandy Spring, MD, in the mid-1820s. The marriage came with a dowry gift that would change his plantation’s future: its first slave.

Woodlawn Manor, now a Montgomery County park, would eventually depend on the labor of more than a dozen enslaved people.

The choice to become a slave owner brought personal consequences, too. Palmer was a Quaker, and Quakers were opposed to slavery.

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Lower Chickahominy’s fish, wildlife lure visitors

The broad marshes along the wooded banks of the Chickahominy River in Virginia still evoke the landscape that English explorer Capt. John Smith first saw when he visited this area in 1607.

And it is the same mix of forest, river and marsh that made my paddle down Morris Creek — a tributary of the Chickahominy — so compelling on an early spring morning.

I launched my kayak with Jack Snell, a member of the River Rat volunteers who keep watch on area waterways for the James River Association. A thin mist rose from the creek as we slipped silently onto the dark water just after sunrise.

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Catoctin adventures invoke the (inner) child in visitors

In the 1980s and 1990s, my family and I lived at the very edge of the Atlantic Coastal Plain, a mere five miles from the northern reaches of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

In Walkersville, MD, just outside Frederick, we were close enough to a portion of the Blue Ridge — Catoctin Mountain — that we could see it in gaps between the neighbors’ houses across the street. And from the roof of our house, where the occasional whiffle ball or Frisbee would get stuck, I’d get an even better view of that long forested wall to the west, stretching north toward Pennsylvania.

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