At the park: 133

I am finally getting all the records together for last spring’s breeding season of Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers. My notes for the team:

Well, it’s been a minute since we last checked our boxes. Here’s the final spreadsheet:

The mergansers were much more efficient and effective, hatching and fledging 64 ducklings from 72 eggs laid in 5 clutches. By contrast, the Wood Ducks had a bad year: 12 nests started and 110 eggs laid, but a couple of big nest failures led to only 28 ducklings hatched and fledged.

We had two boxes with evidence of predation by Black Ratsnake. I wonder how the snakes have figured out their way around the predator guards.

There are some minor maintenance notes in the spreadsheet that I will follow up on next season.

Thank you for all your help!

I’m still working on the graph and the grand summary table.

VMN conference 2022

A few snaps and reports from this year’s Virginia Master Naturalist Program Statewide Conference and Volunteer Training, based in Virginia Beach.

I took a walk on my own at First Landing State Park. I found Downy Rattlesnake Plaintain (Goodyera pubescens) in fruit and a local specialty, American Olive (Cartrema americana) (formerly genus Osmanthus), in fruit. Some Spanish Moss. Otherwise, there’s not a lot of variety in this loblolly woods. Target practice at nearby Fort Story was momentarily alarming.

In fact, there are few natural places in Tidewater Virginia that are far from some sort of military installation. I don’t know that I learn to filter out the noise from the fighter jets.

there's onechoppyOn Friday, a group visited Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. I got a clear look at one of our up-and-coming non-native invasives, Murdannia keisak—the flowers are itty-bitty. But the real prize of this trip was found by Margaret C. and others in the group: Waterspider Bog Orchid (Habenaria repens), not well attested in Virginia.

tastyfuzzy and roundWe did some mushrooming at Norfolk Botanical Garden. Small surprise: it began as a WPA project! There is a Japanese Garden that I would like to come back to visit. Saturday’s entomology workshop was cancelled, so we visited Virginia Tech’s Hampton Roads AREC (Agricultural Research and Extension Center). Blackberries and kiwis in the research plots. Mason’s Famous Lobster Rolls for dinner—maybe not an authentic recipe, but very tasty.

Sunday’s birding trip to Magothy Bay NAP was a bit of a bust, with only a couple flights of White Ibis appearing. I was informed that the local (Virginia) pronunciation is ma-GOE-thee, but Marylanders say MAG-uh-thee. I may have to break the news to the rest of the state.

Crooked CA watch: 6

Lest we forget: Carrie Johnson, “Justice Department filing on Mar-a-Lago documents puts Trump’s lawyers in focus:”

Former prosecutors who now defend white-collar criminal cases said it would be aggressive if the Justice Department were to prosecute Trump for lying to his attorneys, but that it’s happened before.

They point to a 2004 case involving the New York company Computer Associates. Executives there misled lawyers conducting an internal investigation into fraud at the business, knowing those statements would be passed along to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department.

Abingdon 2022: 3

On my dilatory way home, I swung south into Ashe County, North Carolina and a visit to Bluff Mountain Preserve. Bluff Mountain is but one of the ridgelines protected by the Nature Conservancy in this area. According to my guide Susan, the mountain offers a rare high-elevation mafic bedrock, with an endemic reindeer lichen species on the outcrops. In addition, ten acres of wetland comprise a fen; there’s an Eastern Hemlock woods; and a rather nice meadow. The New River provides drainage, so I had crossed back from the Tennessee River basin to the Ohio.

maficWe spent just a quarter of an hour or so at the fen, but I zeroed in on something unusual that turned out to be Sticky False Asphodel (Triantha glutinosa), a species of conservation concern. Nearby, Susan pointed out Canada Burnet (Sanguisorba canadensis) and Smooth Yellow False Foxglove (Aureolaria flava). We found lots of interesting mushrooms popping up along the trail (it had rained recently), but with only three hours up on top of the mountain, we didn’t have much time to dawdle.

Logistics for this tour were a little unsettled until the day, and there was more climbing from the parking lot than we had planned on, but it was a good hike. Next time I’ll wave my “I’m a donor” flag more loudly; we crossed paths with a donors’ tour on our way up the mountain.

Abingdon 2022: 2

a bit rockySoutheast from my base of operations in Abingdon, two walks in Grayson Highlands State Park.

first peaksecond peakFrom the visitor center, the Twin Pinnacles Trail is maybe only 55 meters of elevation change, but there’s a fair amount of up and down. The scramble down from Big Pinnacle was a bit tricky.

quick stopthanks, Meghan!I liked the shelter/rest stations along the way, at least two of them marked as scout projects. Thank you, scouts!

spruce flaggingSpruces at the skyline show some flagging.

a little easier going down
The walk was a little easier going down, 2:20 for the loop.

I found patches of Appalachian White Snakeroot (Ageratina roanensis or A. altissima var. roanensis, depending on your authority), a mystery goldenrod at the Little Pinnacle summit, a mystery whorled composite, and a mystery bryophyte.

Maine this wayA younger me would have tried the walk from Big Pinnacle to Massie Gap, but the prudent present me drove back to Massie Gap for an afternoon loop that used about 3/4 mile of the Appalachian Trail along Wilburn RIdge. I walked the Maine-bound direction; I wasn’t overtaken by any spry through-hikers, but there were some folks to say hello to going the other direction. The AT here is fairly level, a rhododendron thicket with random unmarked side trails and more spruce.

Some fairly large vaccinium shrubs. About 85 meters of elevation change, 2:20 for the loop.

Abingdon 2022: 1

My base of operations for this year’s birthday romp was Abingdon, Virginia.

new parklazy riverFirst up was Clinch River State Park, newly elevated to state park status and therefore a little lean on amenities. The lazy river doesn’t mind.


Best critter for the entire trip was a Lace-winged Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes aesculapius) just a bit outside its range in the guidebooks, nectaring on Bear’s Foot (Smallanthus uvedalia).

number 2trestleRain mid-day curtailed plans to hit another state park, but later in the afternoon I walked a bit of the Virginia Creeper Trail, one of the first rails-to-trails conversions. This trail crosses numerous stream gorges via wooden trestles—quite dramatic. The watershed here is the Holston.

look out belowThis view down into Berry Creek is from trestle #3. From trestle #4 in Watauga you’re eye level with the top of a substantial American Sycamore.

Clifton Institute bioblitz August 2022

no, over hereboth sides nowI took part in a Clifton Institute bioblitz on the property of an institute sponsor. I didn’t know quite what to expect, or what to focus on, so I walked along with the group, recording observations of what looked interesting to me, some of which I had to key out at home.

The woods have been logged over recently, and show evidence of disturbance: a fair amount of non-native invasives, as well as Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata), about which the Flora of Virginia says, “In a wide variety of mesic to dry forests and woodlands, depression wetlands, flood-scoured shores and bars, clearings, fields, roadsides, and other disturbed habitats.”

There seemed to be some disagreement among the group about this Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor). I’m not sure why. Seems obvious to me.

Flipping rocks, the group found three Eastern Wormsnakes (Carphophis amoenus amoenus). White and White write, “This snake does not bite when handled but will try to escape by probing its head and tail into the captor’s hand searching for a way out,” which is just what this li’l fellow is doing in Ben’s hand.

At the lights, most of the group focused on moths and caddisflies. I’m just getting started with moths—I’ve never before seen moth eyeshine—so I spent more time getting to know some beetles on the groundcloth, like this handsome darkling beetle, Alobates sp.

Rea was giddy when she found this late-instar Regal Moth (Citheronia regalis). The larvae have the common name Hickory Horned Devil.

I took the opportunity to practice using my audio recorder. Need to work on setting levels and generally using it more before I splurge on field headphones and a shotgun mic.

Observations are still coming in.