Shirley Heinze Snapshot: The Great Marsh, March 20, 2023

By Dale K. Nichols (Board Member)

Welcome to the Shirley Heinze Beverly Shores/Great Marsh preserve!  This is the first in what will be a series of “snapshots” featuring the preserve over the course of 2023.

The Great Marsh properties of Shirley Heinze Land Trust comprise about 70 of its 87 acres of landholdings in the Town of Beverly Shores, and are located on the north side of Beverly Drive.  They stretch from the “Old North Church” (now a private home) on the west, past Lake Shore County Road on the east.  Our Great Marsh properties complement the much larger Great Marsh lands of the Indiana Dunes National Park, which are located largely on the south side of Beverly Drive.

Today is the first day of Spring.  It is a beautiful, sunny day with light winds and a high of 49 degrees.  As I stand on Wells Street near the intersection of Beverly Drive and look over my shoulders to the east and west, I see mostly matted brown remnants of last year’s plant life.  Other than a few remaining red Swamp Rose berries, there is nothing particularly eye-catching yet.  That will change quickly over the next month or so.  We’ve had greater-than-normal rainfall of late, resulting in visible patches of standing water over much of the landmass.

If Stewardship staff were to walk the terrain today, they would need knee-high rubber boots and would have to tread carefully.

Over the whistling of the wind, I can hear a chorus of spring peepers, the first I’ve noticed this year.  About a block west of me, on the south side of Beverly Drive, there is large sedge of Sandhill Cranes—I would estimate somewhere between 75 and 100 birds.  It’s difficult to get a more precise count because the birds blend in so well to their surroundings.  A small number of cranes wintered here, and their extended family members arrived en masse a few weeks ago.  They will soon disperse as they form nesting pairs, scattered around the marsh and its environs.  We had at least two nesting pairs on our Great Marsh property last year.  About 100 yards west of “Craneville,” on open water, I spy a pair of brilliant white Mute Swans and, near them, some Canada Geese.  The Geese and Sandhill Cranes seem to compete for vocal supremacy, and are particularly active at dawn and dusk.

In addition to the usual cadre of deer, raccoons, opossums, turkeys, etc., we have a family of coyotes nesting in the area.  They can often be heard in the early evening with their eerie yelps at dinner time (theirs, that is).  There are several beaver dams on National Park property west of Broadway, and among less commonly seen area mammals, we have had a number of recent bobcat sightings as well as photos posted on Facebook of a North American River Otter that has been seen frolicking in the marsh.

Watch this space for future snapshots, which will focus on marsh restoration efforts by our Stewardship Staff, native seed collection and sowing, marsh trails and other topics.

In the meantime, please make a point of visiting this wonderful Shirley Heinze preserve!