By far my favorite headline of the year just ended was: "Ah, the wilds of Fallston," written tongue-in-cheek, no doubt, by my colleague Jim Kennedy for our story about Aumar Village developer Mike Euler's plan to put an RV park on one side of the shopping center being built at Routes 1 and 152 in Fallston.
Without getting into the whys, wherefores or merits of Euler's proposal, I think we can all agree that the intersection where the shopping center is located is definitely one of the busiest in Harford County, as are both highways that come together there.
Still, I think Jim had a point with the headline, and so may Euler with his plan, as nutty as it sounds. Fallston may not be a wild place to live – some of you might no doubt disagree on that, as well – but it certainly maintains a flourishing wildlife population, be it mammal, bird, reptile or fish.
I've lived in the heart of Old Fallston for 40 years, right on the edge, so to speak, where the village meets what's left of the country and very close to the Laurel Brook Area of Gunpowder Falls State Park, still one of the least developed parks in the state - as well as the largest in terms of acreage.
In addition, I walk a lot these days, including from my home to my office in Bel Air, mostly via the Ma & Pa Trail from Annie's Playground straight into town. I've spent so much time walking within the state park, along the roads in my neighborhood and the trail that I'm kind of becoming a regular among the deer, foxes, geese, herons, raccoons and occasional minks, opossums and skunks I encounter in my travels.
It's actually somewhat amazing to me how well these critters are doing in what I think we all have to agree is basically a suburban environment, our nearby parks and remaining farm and woodlands notwithstanding. Over the past two years, I've photographed quite a few of them using my smartphone - nothing great, mind you - and I've posted a few of them in a gallery accompanying this story online.
I suspect everyone who lives between Fallston and Bel Air believes we have far too many deer and could do without them and all the geese, resident and non-resident, that fly in and out of the local ponds. But, there's a lot more wildlife thriving than just them.
From what I can tell, there's not a body of water in the area that doesn't attract a great blue heron, even some of the smaller streams running into the falls and into Winters Run. The fox population also appears to be thriving, judging by the number of litters I saw last summer and the younger kits I meet up with regularly.
The same can be said for raccoons. They're everywhere and seem to growing in numbers, as are the groundhogs.
No doubt many of you who frequent the Fallston area have seen our somewhat menacing looking flock of black vultures. I first saw them on a gray, windy afternoon perched in a large tree across Fallston Road from the library, and they appear to stay within a few mile radius of the high school, as obviously there's plenty for them to scavenge. Last week, the vultures were sitting in one of our cedar trees eyeing the remains of an unfortunate deer who didn't make it across the road one night earlier in the month.
It makes me particularly happy to see so many bluebirds at all times of the year and to hear and occasionally see so many owls. The other night, I heard an owl hooting who must have been at least a mile away, maybe more, but the night was clear and it was late and he was the only sound to be heard.
If you spend any time walking or sitting along Winters Run or the Falls, you're also likely to see bald eagles and a wide assortment of hawks, as well as a golden eagle or two. Sharp-shinned, Cooper's, red-shouldered and red-tailed hawks seem to be everywhere you turn and active much of the year. There's a couple of red-tails that frequently put on soaring shows over Annie's Playground, and at my home we typically have at least two breeding pairs of Cooper's nesting in the high pines along our property line each spring.
I also think the town of Bel Air has become home to a thriving hawk population, and you don't have to look hard to see them in trees or on telephone poles in the downtown area, and no doubt you've certainly heard the Cooper's Hawks crying out from the trees along Kelly Fields and Plumtree Park.
Three creatures I don't see too much any more are skunks, bobwhite quail and pheasants. There were plenty of skunks in our back woods 30 years ago, and the adjoining fields were home to plenty of pheasants and quail. Some years ago, when he still writing his environmental column for us, Bob Chance told me that development and farming had taken away much of the habitat for all three. In the case of skunks, it also seems to me that the deer, which were not in great numbers when I moved to Fallston, have since eaten down all the ground cover in the woods behind my house where the skunks once lived.
I'm no real wildlife expert, but I definitely like to see all these non-human members of the community that we truly can call, the Wilds of Fallston. Happy New Year!