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.

NABA Butterfly Count 2022

mitigationBack to the area around the Clifton Institute for my first NABA Butterfly Count. We visited an extensive pollinator garden on private property (thanks to Shane’s Signs), a gravelled patch of Thoroughfare Road adjacent to a wetland mitigation project (photo), and a private horse farm. In the pollinator garden I made my first acquaintance of one of our hummingbird moth species (Hemaris thysbe) who were going gangbusters—not on our checklist, but still. I found the first of a few Sleepy Oranges (Abaeis nicippe) and Juniper Hairstreaks (Callophrys gryneus) that we tallied, and was finally able to twitch Peck’s Skipper (Polites peckius). Stephanie Mason pointed out this critter to me ages ago (“Peck’s have checks”) but that was before I started listing butterflies. But dang, skippers burn me out fast. We saw so many Sachems (Atalopedes campestris) in all their variability that the mental key began, “Is this skipper not a Sachem?”

No lie, it was hot. We started at 08:00 and I began to flag at 11:00. I am finding that a few hours of heat tends to make my feet swell in the waterproof light hikers that I usually wear. I was grateful for the jug of lemonade at the tally rally back at Clifton.

The other inflation solution

Greatest Generation Dept.: Meaghan Kacmarcik reminds us “What Was It Like to Ration in DC during World War II?” Feeding a family of three meant eating lots of fish, renting time on a pressure cooker, and pretending Ritz crackers could make an apple pie.

Because it is the beginning of the month, you still have nearly all your ration points left, except for the three blue produce stamps you spent on the bag of potatoes. In the last few months, you have rarely seen these starchy balls of goodness anywhere in DC. So, when you spotted a sign in the window of a store advertising potatoes in stock, you quickly ran home to grab your ration books before others bought them all up.

Can’t find my favorite frozen pizza at Safeway this week? I got nothing.

Not one of our better moments

Paul Shore’s sharp criticisms of a recent Throughline episode are a bit sniffy, but on target: “Language is not script and script is not language, part 2.” The unfortunate episode constitutes a précis of a recent book by Jing Tsu, and presents her thoughts uncritically, leading to muddy thinking uncharacteristic of NPR.

In fairness, it’d be excessive to expect the Throughline production team to have learned about the science of linguistics and created a respectable linguistics-oriented podcast/broadcast in the relatively short time they presumably had available;… [if] the team wanted to do an episode on this general subject they’d want to devote an unusually large amount of preproduction, production, and postproduction time to it, in order to get things right within what for most people is a pretty obscure field.

When notices about Jing Tsu’s book came out earlier this year, I thought, “Wait — what? Simplifying its writing system had something to do with modernizing the natural language? How does that work? When did that happen?” The episode left me none the more enlightened.

Clifton Institute dragonfly/damselfly count 2022

Dragonfy watchers at Leopold's Preserve by Marie Pinto (White House Farm Foundation)As usual, that’s me in the back, the last one to get on whatever we’re looking at. (Thanks to photographer Marie!) But well equipped.

No luck getting good images of the two common saddlebags species, but I did snap some reasonable images of Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella) and what turned out to be Citrine Forktail (Ischnura hastata). Dang, those pond damsels are tricky. The best spot in our sector for pond damsels was again the pond behind The Farm Brewery at Broad Run. You know, the place with the axe-throwing barn.

Last Sunday was plenty hot, and we pooped out by 15:00 except for leader Larry. His pro tip for finding Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens) is to check the parking lot: the critter has a tendency to mistake a car roof for a puddle.

A mystery: 26

In “The Contest”, in the first act of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Sweeney matches skills and egos with Pirelli, with Beadle Bamford looking on, at barbering—and then (in the original Broadway production in 1979) in a second section, at dentistry (tooth pulling, no more no less). The tooth pulling section doesn’t appear in later productions. Why did Sondheim delete it? It serves to underscore what a louse Pirelli is, because he has to conscript a healthy Toby in order to have a patient to work on, and hence we have no sympathy for Pirelli when Sweeney offs him. It has one of my favorite Sondheim rhymes: saliva and drive-a you mad. And it’s not like Pirelli gets all that much stage time.

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At the park: 132

Report for last week (29 May):

We closed our regular work days on a less than positive note. We found a Black Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) in box #77, so the second clutch of 2+ eggs that was started there was predated. We finally got access to wonky box #84: a Wood Duck flushed, but we found only 4 non-viable eggs, and we cleaned them out. As for box #61, we did get a hatch, but only evidence of that 1 duckling fledged; I am writing this one up as partially predated.

However, the books are not completely closed for the season. Box #1 (the one leaning over in the new pool by the tower) has a second Wood Duck clutch of 10 eggs going. Estimating that incubation began on 21 May, then hatch is expected about 19 June. Kat will check that one as a one-off on a time-available basis.

With so many boxes in use, and one clear dump nest, it’s not surprising that we had more than our usual number of abandoned/failed nests. What is a little surprising is the level of predation by Black Ratsnakes: visual observations at 2 boxes, and indirect evidence at a third. I suspect that one or more snakes have found a way to slip past the predator cones, perhaps exploiting the gaps where the cone is attached. We may want to explore a means of sealing those gaps.

So that’s it for scheduled work days — thanks for all your help, and we’ll see you next year. I’ll prepare final reports after all the numbers come in.