Saturday, October 27, 2012
The ducks’ hen-scratch tinkled into the dish as my eye just caught a wing tip swing by in the sky. A vulture? No, whoa! My head snapped skyward; I had seen before that wing turned down, ever so slightly, at the wrist! It was an osprey, a very unlikely sight over our lake. He lazily circled the lake, and then dove, half-heartedly, at a fish. He pulled up with empty talons dangling behind him, and lighting ever so carefully in a pine he settled in for the night. He must have been a migrant pushing south. Probably full from hunting in other lakes or rivers, dinner seemed not to be on his mind. He was now more interested in finding a perch for the night which would offer a vantage to spy breakfast in the morning.
His wing tip reminded me of another osprey wing tip I spied once descending a curvy road to Saltville, Virginia. A narrow wrist caught my eye as the owner ascended on the thermals over the wellfields. I was stunned to see an osprey so far from the sea or a large lake. He seemed so out of place to me, but to him, he was right at home. Saltville, aptly named, nestled in the ridge and valley area of Virginia is the site of a brine spring that flows through a few ponds or as they called, the wellfields. The wellfields are one of the few inland salt marshes in North America. The wellfields range from very salty to barely salty like most salt marshes. Ducks and other birds brought seeds from the seashore in on their feathers and halophytic plants colonized this saltwater refugia. The most gorgeous swamp mallows and deposits of reddish salt-like rock ring the wellfields. And the snails! There are the most beautiful, stripped, large, land snails to be found all around the water. I love the snails; they are jewels amongst the mallows.
The salt has attracted critters from Pleistocene mega fauna to present day critters. People, probably attracted to animals first and salt second, showed up about 14,000 years ago. The Spanish came through the area followed later by English colonists. The salt works provided the Confederacy with two thirds of its salt. Salt was so important the North attacked and destroyed the salt works.
The salt marsh has been damaged and reduced by human exploitation of salt and grazing, but a remnant marsh remains. If you are ever in the toe of Virginia, do visit this extremely rare salty refugia.
Pam Croom © 2012