A good hike today, the Appalachian Trail from I-70 to Maryland 77, led by Cliff Fairweather of Audubon Naturalist Society. We spent a lot of time looking at living things, so we covered the 8.5 miles (or 9.5 miles, no one is quite sure) in 7:45. Not quite a “naturalist’s shuffle,” but leisurely. The path lies between 1300 and 1800 feet on the elevation chart: I measured at most a change of 600 feet. The climbing is not too hard, rising through a long tract of mountain laurel, and most of the walking is fairly easy, but there is a stretch of rocks along the ridgetop of South Mountain that’s good for some knee-twisters (as my left one can attest) and ankle-breakers.
We paused for a look at sawfly larvae on the leaves of an American Chestnut. Only one of the chestnuts we saw was head-height; most were about 3 or 4 feet high. Participant Joe was working on his mycology, so we stopped several times to see many, many fine examples of fungus. We smelled the faint sweetness of Hay-Scented Fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula). Cliff pointed out a saddleback caterpillar that my point-and-shoot was not able to image. Towards the end of the hike, we saw some very dark brown examples of Squawroot (Conopholis americana). Squawroot is a parasitic plant of the Broomrape family, which also includes Beech Drops.
We took side trips to Annapolis Rocks to the west and an unnamed viewpoint to the east. Table Mountain Pine (Pinus pungens) at Annapolis Rocks and a fun little rock scramble to reach the eastern view. Not much in the way of bird life: woodpeckers, a few chickadee friends, Blue Jays imitating hawks, a couple of mystery vocalizations, maybe a tanager? Participation on these hikes is pretty broad, all the way from hikers who don’t stop for much of anything to shoe-gazing botanists. My carpool mate Susan and I were the most experienced birders.
By far the big sighting of the trip was this lovely butter-yellow Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) that sauntered across the track. A first sighting for a lot of us; as for myself, it’s been several years since I’ve seen one of these guys.