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).
The 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.
The 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.
Here’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.