At the park: 148

We’re almost done with nest boxes for the year, but not quite.

We checked 4 boxes with open activity. Box #61 hatched, 7 out of 10 eggs fledged. Box #6 does indeed have a second clutch, which we expect to hatch in early July. Box #5, the snake-predated box, showed no egg or shell remnants, which is what we expected.

I will check box #6 solo in early July: it’s a quick hop off the boardwalk….

Thanks for a good season! I’ll send summary reports once we have all the data.

Limberlost Trail loop

Ken Rosenthal of Reston’s Walker Nature Center led a birding walk on the Limberlost Trail loop in Shenandoah National Park. Most of the birds remained high-high in the canopy, so most of our observations were heard not seen. We did hear Blue-headed Vireo (Vireo solitarius) often, and got got some fleeting looks from below. American Redstarts (Setophaga ruticilla) were also common.

On the botany front, we found a few mountain-Piedmont specialties: American False-hellebore (Veratrum viride), Fly-poison (Amianthium muscitoxicum), and (probably-maybe) Dolls’-eyes (Actaea pachypoda). Ken also pointed out a Panorpa scorpionfly and a Half-wing Moth (Phigalia titea) caterpillar. We’re pretty sure that we turned up an Appalachian Azure (Celastrina neglectamajor).

This trip counts for Master Naturalist continuing ed hours, so there’s that bonus.

At the park: 147

My report from Sunday:

Well, things got a little weird. We had four successful clutches hatch (three Wood Duck, one Hooded Merganser), plus we cleaned out box #2 from the hatching on 18 April.

We have what may turn out to be a second WODU clutch in box #6. We found one Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) egg in box #60; we didn’t dig around much to see what became of the WODU nest in that box. And box #5 turned into the gentle reminder to look inside the box before putting your mitts inside: I found a Ratsnake (iNat consensus is that it’s in the Eastern/Gray complex). As in the case of box #60, I was not able to determine the disposition of the WODU nest.

So, we have four boxes that I want to check on 2 June: boxes #6, #1, #5, and #61 (#61 is due to hatch by then). We don’t need a full crew, but any that can join are welcome…. Please let me know whether you can do a quick day on the 2nd.

Then, depending on what we find, I think that we will have two or three boxes to check in July. Details forthcoming….

Merci beaucoup!

Some links: 101

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

American Shakespeare Center presents Will’s popular romantic mixup comedy in “Renaissance Style:” a limited rehearsal period, a charismatic repertory cast of only ten, no traditional director, and (per the program note) “a unique mashup of tradition and ‘DIY’ aesthetic.” The reduced size cast means that the lovers double as mechanicals and fairies, to very good effect. There are (the now de rigueur) acknowledgements that some of the rhymes no longer work, and some other modern schtick. More fun are the ad libs with the onstage audience, as well as a very funny bit in which an imaginary bolt kills a train whistle hoot owl that would otherwise disturb Titania’s nap.

Joe Mucciolo’s Puck is quite corporeal, receiving pantomime kicks and blows from Ronan Melomo’s Oberon every time he messes up. The three-way fight among Puck, Demetrius, and Lysander makes good use of the Blackfriars’ upstage doors. Annabelle Rollison’s “Bottom’s dream” monologue is a marvel.

The test of a good Dream is a rollicking Pyramus and Thisby (Shakespeare’s 11:00 number), and the team delivers with fresh bits, from an enormous pair of falsies for Sarah Fallon’s Flute’s would-be ethereal Thisby, to a live dog for Moonshine, to Natasia Lucia Reinhardt’s approach to Wall. Rather than the conventional peace sign chink, she leaves another opening for P and T to converse—let’s just say that Wall enjoys the kiss more than either Pyramus or Thisby.

  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare, American Shakespeare Center, Blackfriars Playhouse, Staunton, Va.

Blackfriars has made some accommodations to audience comfort since my last visit, with permanent seat backs and cushions.

West Virginia road trip

Yesterday, S. and I made a pilgrimage to Dolly Sods Wilderness in order to give a proper, final goodbye to Ann (thunderstorm whisperer) and Leta (her mom’s biggest fan).

We overnighted at The Greenbrier, not really close to the wilderness area but at least in the same state. A short climb on a bit of the Raven Rock Trail (once I got out of the golf course) did turn up two wildflowers new to me, Eastern Gray Beardtongue (Penstemon canescens) growing on the exposed rock of a road cut, and Tall Blue Wild Indigo (Baptisia australis).

On the move, up and over the ridges of West Virginia, then on to Jordan Run Road, and finally climbing the 7 miles of potholes and washboard of Forest Service Road 19. (S. was a great sport about all the various driving conditions on this trip. And she doesn’t mind I-81.) We reached our destination, the Dolly Sods Picnic Area and had a snack. Winds were surprisingly light, and the immediate area was more or less sheltered. I read from Graham Swift’s Last Orders and S. from Emily Dickinson. A Dreamy Duskywing (Erynnis icelus) nectared in the drifts of bluets; Black-throated Green Warblers and Wood Thrushes and Red-eyed Vireos and American Goldfinches sang. I took a very short walk on the Rohrbaugh Plains Trail.

a place to come back toAs the trail entered a forest of spruce with rhododendron understory, I returned a smidge of Leta’s and Ann’s remains to the ecosystem.

I found more new plants in bloom: Wood Anemone (Anemone quinquefolia), Wild Bleeding Heart (Dicentra eximia), and Canada Mayflower (Mainanthemum canadense).

And the birds continued their songs.

Mason and Bailey: 8

A modestly successful meeting of the Mason & Bailey Club, again at Huntley Meadows Park but this time with more moderate temperatures. We have added theater buddy L and husband J to the crew. We found a bit of Eastern Yellow Stargrass at my reliable Hieracium venosum spot, and a wee snail tentatively ID’d as genus Mesodon.

It was a good herp day: mucho Snapping Turtles, a Black Ratsnake coiled up at the tower, Northern Watersnakes, Ribbonsnakes, unidentifiable larvae in the water, a likely Red-eared Slider. On these outings, I find that I’m too busy overexplaining to take many pictures or reasonable field notes.


Linda Holmes nails it in her response to Apple’s crass iPad advertisement.

But these are not practical items to begin with. Nobody owns a piano because it’s practical; it’s about the least practical thing you can own. It can wreck your floor. It goes out of tune. And if you happen to get a new place, you don’t just need movers for it; you may need special movers. You don’t own a piano to get from point A to point B in the most direct way you can. You own a piano for the reason we had one in my house: a person plays it. Someone sits down, as my mother did, and plays the “Maple Leaf Rag,” and you can hear the pedals lightly squeak, and you can watch hands skitter across keys, and of course you are listening to music — but also, those are your mother’s hands.

In my case, the piano’s owner was Leta and the player was Grandmother Madeline.

And in my case, the piano was in the Northern Michigan University dormitory lounge and the player was Audrey from Rockford, Ill., and the song was indeed “Maple Leaf Rag.”


A very personal piece of metatheater, Amm(i)gone is an extended Moth-style confessional monologue about Adil’s efforts to reconnect with his devout Muslim mother (his ammi) by unconventional means: an (uncompleted) joint project to translate Sophocles’ Antigone into Urdu. Hence, the equally unconventionally punctuated title. The piece takes off from this season’s earlier My Mama and the Full-Scale Invasion (with its coda of a video call with the playwright’s mother) and runs with the notion: an extended passage is built from recorded conversations between ammi and Adil. A bit less moving than it wants to be, for this reviewer the strongest material was a video segment of Ivo van Hove’s Antigone. But at least the fifth-grader’s pun in Urdu is redeemed at the end of the piece.

  • Amm(i)gone, created and performed by Adil Mansoor, co-directed by Lyam B. Gabel, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in association with Kelly Strayhorn Theater, Washington

At the park: 146

Sunday’s report:

Ducklings on the ponds and traffic jams in the parking lot: it’s mid-spring!

On Sunday, we saw three boxes hatched out, as well as box #2 in the process of hatching. Photographers reported 21 fledglings leaving box #6 on 21? 22? April. [We cleaned out 7 dead eggs from this box—this was our dump nest box for the season.] And we have one new clutch started and incubating in box #61.

Box 2 - 28 April 2024
Box #2 with pips visible in three eggs.

Box 10 - 28 April 2024In box #10, we saw sticks and veg indicating that a songbird might be interested in using the box.

So we have seven active clutches to check on our next work day. Since 12 May is Mother’s Day, we will next meet in three weeks, on 19 May. We will check all the boxes at this time, and after that we will only do spot checks for any boxes that continue to have activity….

Thank you for listening to my dumb jokes!