Southside Virginia getaway

Continuing to chase badges in the Virginia State Parks Trail Quest program, I booked a motel room in Clarksville and laid out an itinerary to visit three parks (starting with Occoneechee, across the bridge over the Kerr Reservoir) and two Natural Area Preserves. On my way home, I added a stop at Lake Anna State Park, bringing my parks-visited count to 13.

Even accounting for the fact that I was visiting midweek, traffic at the parks was much reduced from the early COVID-19 months.

At the visitor center for Staunton River State Park, there’s a winding path mowed through a meadow that’s better visited in the morning when your eyes and legs are fresh. “Winding” is too weak: “labyrinth” is more like it.

Turkey Run Trail in Lake Anna turned up numerous Blue-fronted Dancers (Argia apicalis), while the railroad trail at Staunton River Battlefield Park yielded a Blue-Tipped Dancer (A. tibialis).

on the road againThe centerpiece of the road trip was Difficult Creek Natural Area Preserve, in Halifax County. Dr. Hardtacks, parked outside the gate, is all ready to help with the visit.

serried 1serried 2The preserve is in the process of being converted from pine farm to the open savannah that was typical in pre-contact days. When the trees are lined up like dominoes, you know you’re looking at a farm.

restored savannahHere’s a view of the restored habitat. I found several plants to puzzle out, including Lobelia spicata, an evening primrose (a nemesis species for me), a skullcap (Scutellaria sp.), and Pasture Rose (Rosa carolina).

But the best observation of the stop was hearing, and then later flushing, Northern Bobwhite (Colinus viginianus). I don’t think I’ve seen bobwhite since the days that I birded with Susan.

The pickins at Chub Sandhill NAP, in Sussex County, were pretty slim, although I did find a species of Venus’s Looking Glass (Triodanis perfoliata) on the roadside. However, the best bit of the visit was stumbling across a restoration area of Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris). I’ve seen this tree in slide shows, but nothing can prepare you for what you see in the field: its spray of needles is magnificent.

I’m always on the lookout for tiger beetles. The only ones I find around here are Six-spotteds (Cicindela sexguttata). Looking at one of my zoomed-in crops, I noticed that it’s quite common to see an extra pair of spots, in the middle of each elytron rather than along the edge. We should have called them eight-spotted tiger beetles.

Some links: 92

  • Ted Williams puts in a good word for—euyurrgh—sea lampreys.

    In their native habitat, marine lampreys are “keystone species” supporting vast aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems….

    Environmental consultant Stephen Gephard, formerly Connecticut’s anadromous-fish chief, calls lampreys “environmental engineers” as important to native ecosystems as beavers.

  • Rhitu Chatterjee reports on a low tech-low cost (less than two bucks) intervention that can dramatically reduce maternal deaths due to postpartum hemorrhage.
  • May Truong’s photos, Sarah Lyall’s words: Striker, the Samoyed who never won Westminster’s best in show. But he still pauses to strike a pose.
  • This is why I leave little notes: T. Rex reckons with the afterlife.
  • One more bit of the hot type era is gone: the New York Times is dispensing with datelines. Hanaa’ Tameez has the writeup.

The School for Lies

David Ives has still got it! His 105 minute reduction of Molière’s Misanthrope (from 2017) is like clarified butter, crackling with wordplay in rhyme. Bonobo is word you usually find in crossword puzzles, not scripts, but it’s in there. I also scribbled down zipless tango. Delicious!

The physical stuff is there, too. Roses to rubbery Dylan Arredondo as Philinte and Jacob Yeh as the preposterous prig Oronte.

The pace was perhaps a skosh too fast for this Sunday matinee audience to follow, but everyone found something to enjoy.

  • The School for Lies, by David Ives, inspired by Molière’s The Misanthrope, directed by Allison Arkell Stockman, Constellation Theatre Company, Washington

Box Turtle research at Clifton Institute

Andrew Eberly of the Clifton Institute led a show-and-tell-and-do workshop on the organization’s research into Eastern Box Turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina). The research focuses on what habitats the turtles are using, and what habitats nearby that they give a pass to. Like the kestrel research, one of the goals is to inform landowners about management choices (i.e., when and how to mow). The Institute has numbered more than 100 turtles (there are lots on the 900ac property) with small, harmless notches on the edge of the carapace.

tale of the tapeweigh-inOne aspect of the research is simple mark-recapture, with the collection of various vitals. Andrew is weighing and measuring a turtle that hadn’t been observed on the property before—so it’s a new entry in the database.

found 'ergot my ears onCertain of the turtles carry radio transmitters (attached with marine glue to the carapace). These turtles are surveyed more regularly. They are relocated with a receiver and antenna (not unlike the gear that I saw in use in North Carolina tracking Piping Plovers). Each turtle is transmitting on a distinct frequency, and the transmitters are good for about 400 days.

To sample nearby habitat that a turtle isn’t using requires finding a randomly selected point within a 100m radius of where it was found. Bushwhacking required.

Try again

Round 2 with ChatGPT. Now with more disclaimers. Still can’t/won’t read HTML <meta name="author" /> tags. And apparently Cain/Chandler/Wilder plagiarized HDT.

DAVID. are you familiar with the blog A Honey of an Anklet?

CHATGPT. As an AI language model, I am familiar with a vast amount of information including websites and blogs, including “A Honey of an Anklet”. However, I don’t have personal preferences or opinions on any specific blog or website as I don’t have personal feelings or biases.

D. what can you tell me about it?

C. “A Honey of an Anklet” is a blog that focuses on natural history, ecology, and environmental issues. The author of the blog is Robert Bergeson, who is based in the Washington DC area. The blog features posts on a wide range of topics related to the natural world, including birding, botany, insects, and environmental policy. The name of the blog comes from a quote by writer and naturalist Henry David Thoreau, who referred to a “honey of an anklet” as a small but significant detail of the natural world that one might overlook if not paying attention. Overall, “A Honey of an Anklet” is a well-written and informative blog for anyone interested in the natural world and environmental issues.

A new footer reads, “ChatGPT may produce inaccurate information about people, places, or facts.” In other words, ChatGPT is not a reliable source of information.

At the park: 142

The season is winding down:

Box 67 - 7 May 2023The Magnificent Seven did a quick run through the boxes, as we had competing obligations later in the day. Four boxes completed hatching, including Box #67, bringing us up to 7 successful clutches this season. The three ducklings that I found in the box two weeks ago had departed the box (whew!). B made some repairs to Box #3, but reported that the hardware cloth needed immediate repair; C said that he would fix it that afternoon. The other interesting thing about #3 is that the Wood Duck hen is incubating only 3 eggs. (Box #67 at left.)

Box 60 - 7 May 2023Box 60 - 7 May 2023We’ll do one more check-em-all pass on Sunday, 21 May, with the expectation that we will have hatches in Boxes #10 and #3. It would be possible but unusual for a new clutch to be started between now and then. I will experiment with sealing gaps around the predator guards for a few of the boxes…. (Box #60 at left and right.)


Kestrel research at Clifton Institute

Sam, beforeSam, afterYesterday’s trip to Warrenton provided a recap of current research results from studying American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) behavior in the field, a bit of hands-on experience preparing ink traps (to detect the presence of prey items) and walking transects (ditto), and the opportunity to observe (at a safe remove) a female kestrel being fitted with a GPS-based transmitter. At right, the bird (nicknamed Sam [her mate is Frodo]) after getting her backpack.

A few Eastern Forktails (schnura verticalis) (and) and dragonflies were flying at the Institute.

Hawksbill Mountain loop

Saturday was a volunteer work day at Shenandoah National Park, cut short by thunderstorms that rolled through mid-day. There was an hour of schmoozing before we actually got working: I got to meet the superintendent of the park and some other good folks. I’ve never seen so many green uniforms in one place before. In the end, we put paid to several patches of Garlic Mustard.

So, in order to make Saturday not a bananas early drive, I booked a room in Luray for Friday night and planned a little hike for that afternoon. Really, the point of the hike was to find out whether I can still handle the trail from the gap up to the Hawksbill Mountain summit, and I am glad to say that I can. It took me an hour to ascend the ca. 690 feet. Another 2:15 for a lunch break, return by the Salamander Trail and Appalachian Trail, and several photo stops. Figure about twice as much time (3:15) as it took me back in October 2009 to cover the 2.9 miles.

summitThe view from the summit is still very fine.

legosFrom the AT, watching the mountain take itself apart into Legos, in slow motion.

At one stretch of the trail, the talus slope has overrun it. Dude, where’s my trail? dude, where's my trail?I saw no blazes on the boulders, so perhaps this is a recent development?

Unplanned observations included quite a bit of the uplands’ signature trillium (Trillium grandiflorum), a polypody that I’m hoping for an ID confirmation, and a seen-heard-but-not-photographed American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla). I packed my camera with the long lens but decided not to carry it on the trail. Good call, considering all.

At the park: 141

The report for Sunday:

Still a rather slow season, although we have two hatches to report from our work day. Box #4 hatched out (only one egg unhatched). Box #67 was a bit of a puzzle: the hen flushed; I found 3 hatched ducklings, but they were quite still. Presumably the rest of the eggs were in the process of hatching. We’ll take another look in this box next time.

This was our week for forgetting to bring things. Next time (in two weeks, 7 May) we will bring fresh chips for the boxes that have hatched out, and screws for the predator guard on box #3….

Random thank you generator says “agyaman la unay.”

Some links: 91

  • Mr. and Mrs. Pickles have three baby tortoises! Cuter than cute.
  • They were gone before I knew what to call them: David W. Dunlap of The New York Times remembers reader ads.
  • “I can’t define it, but I’m against it.” Also from the Times, Nate Cohn attempts a definition of woke and what it portends.

    … much of what woke is grasping toward: a word to describe a new brand of righteous, identity-conscious, new left activists eager to tackle oppression, including in everyday life and even at the expense of some liberal values.

    * * *

    In the most extreme case for Democrats, the backlash against the new left could end in a repeat of how New Left politics in the 1960s facilitated the marriage of neoconservatives and the religious right in the 1970s. Back then, opposition to the counterculture helped unify Republicans against a new class of highly educated liberals, allowing Southern opponents of civil rights to join old-school liberal intellectuals who opposed Communism and grew skeptical of the Great Society. The parallels are imperfect, but striking.

  • Isobel Novick stans webbing clothes moths (Tineola bisselliella).

    These moths, unfortunately for those with infestations, have other behaviors that contribute to their indestructibility. They can metabolize their own water as a byproduct of keratin digestion, so access to water is not a dealbreaker for survival. What kind of organism can create its own water? This moth has evolved to be an efficient, dynamic, super-survival machine. They are incredibly temperature tolerant, with the ability to survive as eggs or larvae for several days at broiling temperatures as high as 95 degrees F and as far below freezing as 5 degrees F. They are attracted to the smell of woolens, and once established, send pheromonal signals to nearby moths to invite them to party. To add to their tank-like nature, webbing clothes moths can digest toxic metals like arsenic, mercury, and lead. They have no problem metabolizing synthetic materials or chewing through soft plastics. They have even been found on mummified human remains and have been around long enough to be mentioned in the Bible.

  • 17th-18th century tomfoolery: dummy boards.


Lynn Nottage’s Clyde’s is a companion piece to her gritty Sweat. The new play is much lighter and more hopeful (even if the antagonist gets the last word), and is a tour de force for the props department. Four ex-felons work as sandwich makers and short order cooks, telling their stories while avoiding the domineering glare of their boss Clyde (force of nature Dee Dee Batteast)—there’s little plot to this long one act. As oppressed by Clyde as they were by any legal authority, nevertheless our scrappy chefs find creativity and meaning. They are led by the Zen master-ish Montrellous (the oracular Lamont Thompson) into a place something like freedom. Montrellous is a Jedi of the kitchen (sampling one of his coworker’s inventions, he says, “I can taste your impatience.”)

  • Clyde’s, by Lynn Nottage, directed by Candis C. Jones, Studio Theatre Victor Shargai Theatre, Washington

Meadowood Special Recreation Area

Tom Nardone led a bird walk to Meadowood Special Recreation Area. This is a patch I had not visited before, even though it’s in the Mason Neck corridor with the NWR and the State Park and the Nova Parks park. Somewhat exotically (for the east), Meadowood is a Bureau of Land Management property. Almost posh washrooms at the field station.

With some cropping, I got some identifiable images of Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) (the first one that I’ve tried) and Yellow-throated Warbler (Setophaga dominica). I seem to see YTWA once every ten years, so every time it’s like a new bird for me.

And, of course, I snapped some wildflowers, too. First bluets of the season, Azure Bluet (Houstonia caerulea). I need to remember that the only common bluet in our area with yellow centers for the flowers is this one. Also first Garden Yellow Rocket (Barbarea vulgaris) of the year.

At the park: 140

Our schedules are jumping around, so we checked boxes again today:

Box 5 - 9 April 2023

One box has hatched (early nesting Hooded Merganser in Box #5), the other box is very due. Two more nests started, making eight active nests, but it still seems like activity is a bit slow this year.

We repaired Box #4; B will bring washers and screws to work on Box #3.

We’ll meet again on 23 April, and then on 7 May.

City Nature Challenge is 28 April through 1 May….

TY is in Danish today: tak skal du have!

5 takeways: 1

…from Nature Forward’s introductory class in lichens of Maryland, taught by Natalie Howe, in the NHFS program. (Without the goofy puns.)

1. Most naturalists understand a lichen to be a symbiosis between a fungus and a photosynthetic organism, either an alga or a cyanobacterium. The fungus provides water and protection for the photosymbiont. Typically, in a structure called a thallus, the photosymbiont is sandwiched between layers of the fungus (the mycobiont)—sort of like a lasagna. In turn, the fungus receives sugars produced by the cyanobacterium or alga.

But the association may be much more complex, with other types of organisms participating. These can include secondary algae, non-photosynthetic bacteria, yeasts, protists, and viruses. On the lichen’s surface, the role of microinvertebrates like tardigrades and nematodes is being explored.

So, what is a fungus? Your answer might depend on whether you see the duck or the rabbit. Trevor Goward, in a brief paper in Evansia, writes,

Next time you pause to contemplate a lichen, consider the strong likelihood that whatever it is you see staring back at you – fungus, alga, thallus, parasitism, mutualism, agriculture, gall, growth chamber, or farmstead – in some way reflects the particular mindset you bring to it; that what you’re looking at is really a face in the mirror; and that the face in the mirror is very much your own.

2. In many cases, you’ll have to be content with an identification to genus, especially in the field. The identification keys often depend on

  • testing the chemistry of the lichen, either with reagents like KOH and phenylenediamine,
  • examining spores with a microscope,
  • or performing TLC (thin-layer chromatography) back in the lab.

Just to make things more complicated, the bushy “reindeer lichens” that you may have seen growing on soil, formerly in the genus Cladina, are now in the very diverse genus Cladonia, which includes various organisms named pixie cup, British soldiers, and powderhorn lichens. Cladonia gets its own key in the guides.

All that said, you can usually make an ID limited to a group of a few species, and often use geography and habitat to reduce your choices even more.

Even if you don’t intend to make a field ID, break out your hand lens (you did bring your hand lens, right?) to examine the tiny cilia on a Parmotrema ruffle lichen, the minute lobes of Candleflame Lichen (Candelaria concolor), and the wee horns of Cladonia ochrochlora.

3. Studying lichens in the field is great if you like buying new gear, like a macro lens for your SLR, or a flashlight that throws ultraviolet light. Lichens in the genus Pyxine are drab gray in visible light, but they light up in brilliant yellow under UV. Somewhat like green plants that show red in their basal rosettes, lichens that reflect UV light do so to avoid being scorched by too much light.

4. With your eye this close to the substrate, you’ll meet lichen-adjacent organisms. Mosses growing on soil can provide a moist microhabitat for lichens; myxomycetes are doing their own thing; liverworts like Frullania sp. growing on tree bark might fool you; certain fungi are lichen parasites; and then there are ordinary “non-lichenized” fungi doing what they usually do, decomposing.

5. Natalie describes the lichen community as the “quiet Lorax.” Despite what we know about many lichen species’ sensitivity to air pollution (SO2, NH3, NOx, and O3), only two species are listed under the Endangered Species Act (Cetradonia linearis and Cladonia perforata). Perhaps more surprising, no non-lichenized fungi are listed. The United States does not maintain a nationwide Red List for fungi.