Too long away from the park, I set aside today for an easy 5-mile loop using the AT, Sugarloaf Trail, Pole Bridge Link Trail, and Keyser Run Fire Road.
Top bird sighting for the walk was a couple of female American Redstarts (Setophaga ruticilla).
The Sugarloaf Trail has a big swath of Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) just coming into bloom. Less easy to ID to species were several patches of pinxter azalea—given the conflicting keys in the Flora of Virginia and Newcomb, I’m going to call this just Rhododendron sp.
I had more success keying out a saxifrage that was having a great time in the stream of Keyser Run, and this Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa), a plant that I’ve seen before, but perhaps never before in (tiny, tiny) flower.
Along the multiple streams of Piney River, I found one of my favorites, Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea)—a little past its prime.
This guy? I gave him his space.
Making the climb up Hogback Mountain, I found a very hungry Microtus vole, who hung around long enough for some views, but no good photographs.
I covered the 5-mile loop in a very leisurely 4:35. According to my notes, I made this same hike in February 2008 in 2:30. There’s less to see and hear in February; I took a long time waiting for those butterflies; and I carried a few more cookies up Hogback Mountain than I did nine years ago.
Best invertebrate of the walk was Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), found in a small group on the AT near the parking lot. This individual, albeit a bit banged up, gave me a reasonable look.