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Nine-year old Megan Horrell, front, and Dr. Gary Tieben look through their binoculars at approaching birds during a hike on which Tieben discussed “Marsh Babies” on Saturday.

Birds plentiful at Eagle Marsh hike

Dr. Gary Tieben reaches down to pick up a juvenile garter snake in the grass during the retired biology professor’s “Marsh Babies” hike and discussion at Eagle Marsh.
Photos by Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
A Canada goose honks at another goose while wading near the shore of one of the ponds Saturday at Eagle Marsh.

It was supposed to be an opportunity to see “marsh babies,” the little creatures that are born in the spring at Eagle Marsh on Engle Road.

Unfortunately, nature wasn’t cooperating. After one of the coldest Marches in recent memory, the frogs and other critters, as Gary Tieban, a retired biology professor from the University of Saint Francis, calls them, had delayed reproducing.

Even the salamander traps, put in place as part of a study by a graduate student at IPFW, were empty.

But there was still plenty to see at the 716-acre preserves. More than 210 varieties of birds live or stop off at Eagle Marsh, making it good place for aspiring bird watchers to get started.

A mute swan sat on its nest, wood ducks flew by like little jet fighters, and herons flew overhead, their long legs trailing behind them.

In the distance a red-tailed hawk chased away a harrier hawk. Harriers, Tieban noted, eat mice, while the red-tailed hawks eat bigger prey.

Tieban pointed out the red-winged blackbirds and explained that each male takes on up to five wives. He then spends his time chasing other males away from them.

Somewhere hiding in the water were muskrats and beavers. Deer and coyotes lurked in the woods and tall grass, and unseen frogs put out their calls.

And there were snakes. As Tieban tried to scoop a cup of algae out of a canal that runs through the marsh, there was a flurry of activity behind him. Someone had stumbled across a snake.

It was just a garter snake, and a little one at that, about a year old, Tieban said. They eat fish and worms.

The dozen or so nature walkers took turns holding the snake, which periodically flicked out its red, forked tongue.

It was a good thing it was cold outside, Tieban said. On a warm day the snake would have squirmed out of your hands a disappeared in the grass. In the brisk air the snake was sluggish and easy to handle.

The Marsh, part of the Little River Wetlands Project, is open from down until dusk.