VNPS 2023 plus

The following weekend, I transitioned from the skinny western end of the commonwealth to the bulgy eastern end for the Virginia Native Plant Society 2023 annual meeting. And I picked up four more state parks: my 20-park pin is in the mail.

looking for that kingfisherBeginning with Belle Isle SP in Lancaster County, on the Mud Creek Trail, I found that recent rains have plumped up the above-ground fungal activity. The prettiest mushroom I found was ID’d as Peach-Colored Fly Agaric (Amanita persicina).

From the parking area, the first part of this trail traverses the edge of a working corn field, as I found to my slight dismay when a very large piece of equipment ran through to process the standing brown stalks. But the edge was good for lots of Verbesina, which meant some nice pollinators, like this late Horace’s Duskywing (Erynnis horatius). The trail winds down to Mulberry Creek, which empties into the Rappahannock.

Friday and it was on to York River SP and the Taskinas Creek Trail. I found a rather birdy spot and got identifiable photos of Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) and four warbler species (only three of which I considered iNat-worthy), perhaps most interesting among them a juvenile Northern Parula (Setophaga americana)—I never would have figured this one out without photos.

I came within steps of disturbing the first Eastern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) that I’ve ever seen in life. (I am mildly amused that five different iNatters have confirmed the ID. I can hear them now at the keyboard: “Are you sure you saw a copperhead?”) Even the binomial of this snake sounds dangerous. I was so fixated on keeping my distance from this fellow that it never occurred to me to be wary of possibly more individuals in the area. This one looks like an oldish juvenile. It is written, “Unlike other viperids, [copperheads] often “freeze” instead of slithering away, due to [their] habit of relying on excellent camouflage, rather than fleeing.” That’s exactly what this bad boy did.

Crossing the James on the Jamestown-Scotland ferry (20-minute ride, lunch break waiting for the boat), I hit Chippokes SP in the afternoon. More farmed fields mixed in with natural areas. On these two weekend trips, I’ve turned up a few day-flying moths, like this Chickweed Geometer Moth (Haematopis grataria). My brain is too full to learn any of them properly.

A fluffy pine that looks like Longleaf Pine to me, but iNatter jimbean ID’s it as Sonderegger Pine (Pinus × sondereggeri). I’d like another opinion.

One more state park on Saturday: Machicomoco SP, on the eastern shore of the York. Sporadic drizzle and showers. Soybeans in the middle of the loop road, and just a short braided trail down to Timberneck Creek, but some common seaside species, a confusing composite that turned out to be Spanish Needles (Bidens bipinnata), and a moth (moths again!) masquerading as a beetle: Yellow-collared Scape Moth (Cisseps fulvicollis).

The rain cleared off for the afternoon with Gary Fleming at Grafton Ponds Natural Area Preserve. This bit of the Coastal Plain has some similarities with the karst landscapes of Lee County, in that there are pools that dry up seasonally, but whereas the soft, soluble stone in Lee County is just under the thin soil layer, at Grafton there’s up to 40 feet of sediment overlaying the Miocene shell-marl. Gary showed the group a Verbesina that isn’t yellow, Frostweed (Verbesina virginica); the two remaining Pondspice shrubs in the preserve; Pityopsis graminifolia var. latifolia; and what he believes is a first York County record of Flax-leaved Aster, or Stiff-leaved Aster (Ionactis linariifolia).

Last stop, and conveniently on the way home: a walk in the Dragon Run preserve in King and Queen County, held by a private non-profit, the hike led by Maeve Coker and Kevin Howe. We didn’t get down into the swamp (small disappointment), but there were some nice things to see. More mushrooms, including the gangly Beech Rooter (Oudemansiella furfuracea) making a connect-the-dots to its host tree. And another first county record? Oval Ladies’ Tresses (Spiranthes ovalis).

My takeaways: I’m still hoping for a better-performing point-and-shoot camera for closeups, and I should check every patch of goldenrod and Verbesina for pollinators. Even if I’m impatient about ID’ing the goldenrod.