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!

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.

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!

At the park: 145

This week’s report:

Ten active nests, and four are due to hatch by the time of our next work day, Sunday, 28 April. Many observers have reported Hooded Mergansers with young on the wetland, so we can only conclude that they have found suitable natural cavities this year, as only one box has been (temporarily) home to a merganser as of now.

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were audibly in attendance.

At the park: 144

From this week’s report:

A surprisingly slow start for the season: we have two Wood Duck nests started, and no Hooded Merganser clutches. Lots of depressions in the chips, so perhaps we will see more eggs next Sunday.

For box #7, we will try to trim the U-bolts with a hacksaw so that they don’t protrude into the box interior. Box #5 needs some heavy clippers or light loppers to cut back the willow–we don’t want to give the snakes easy access. At the last box, #68, there’s a beaver dam in the vicinity, so I recommend walking a little farther downstream to skirt the dam (find your way through the smilax). We continue to jury-rig box #3 with a bit of tape on the roof.

Bonus birds heard and seen: Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)….

Thank you!

Back home, I’m sewing a new button onto my long-suffering field jacket and shoe goo-ing the seams of my chest waders.

Mid-winter trip reports

I assisted at Elklick Woodlands Natural Area Preserve for a couple of work days. (More days to come? subject to scheduling.) Park Authority staff are actively managing woody vegetation within several deer exclosures in order to re-establish and extend a rare forest community, known as northern hardpan basic oak-hickory forest. Thousands of trees were planted about five years ago, and those that have survived are about knee height now.

to be trimmedThe management is fairly aggressive: both native and non-native trees, all of them faster growing than the oaks and hickories, are cut back to the ground, for instance these Virginia Pines (Pinus virginiana) which would soon shade out the white oak at the right of the photo.

oak saplingMany of the trees that we’re nurturing are still very small, and have dropped all their leaves at this time of the year. So flags make it a lot easier to find them.


I’m also back at The Nature Conservancy’s Fraser Preserve, now equipped with a new tool: an Extractigator Junior, generically known as a weed wrench. For non-native invasive shrubs like Rosa multiflora and Berberis thunbergii, we need to remove as much of the root as possible. A garden fork and some steady pulling will accomplish this, but a weed wrench gives you some mechanical advantage and is easier on the muscles. The genius of these gizmos is that no springs are involved, so it’s unlikely that you’re going to mash a digit.

A composite of a couple of roses that I pulled: Dropping the tool into position.into position

Closing the jaws around the stems and beginning to pull back on the handle.jaws closed

The extracted crown of the plant.extracted

I’m still finding my touch with the tool. With smaller plants, I have a tendency to snap off the stem rather than pull it out with the roots. The Junior weighs just under ten pounds, so it’s luggable from Fraser’s parking area to our work sites.

My year in hikes and field trips, 2023

I got that 20-park badge!

To do for next year: get pix of phyllaries!

Another middling successful season of monitoring nest boxes at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Va. I have also joined the Monday morning bird walks (with plant detours with Nancy) from time to time.

Christmas Bird Count 2023: Seneca and Central Loudoun

Third time around leading Seneca’s sector 14 (9 counters), and second time up leading “Old Ashburn” in Central Loudoun’s sector 11. At the sector 11 tally rally way out in Waterford, I looked at the map of the entire count circle: 15 miles of diameter covers a lot of ground.

On 17 December, mist in the morning portended rains in the afternoon, which didn’t arrive until about 15:30. So our counts were generally down: only 4 Yellow-rumped Warblers (Setophaga coronata ), for instance. My new counter for the Colvin Run/Difficult Run corridor turned up quite a number of birds, including our single Common Raven (Corvus corax). My stakeout of the Rock Pigeon (Columba livia) flock on the power pylon behind my old apartment building paid off: first time for the sector since at least 2017. At Lake Fairfax Park, we found a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) working the ground around an oak.

Last Sunday in Central Loudoun was much warmer than 2022. My team of two beginners and one experienced birder picked up another Common Raven. We had multiple Red-shouldered Hawks (Buteo lineatus) with good looks in the scope at one bird at the wetland enclosed by the teardrop of Claiborne and Gloucester Parkways. At the Graves Lane ponds, which are turning out to be good for a quick stop, a Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola) pair just in scope/long lens range.

Widewater to Great Falls

A solstice walk, one of Stephanie Mason’s last walks as Senior Naturalist for Nature Forward. We were also joined by new Senior Naturalist Genevieve Wall. We pushed from the Old Angler’s Inn parking up to Olmsted Island and back: 4 miles round trip, and even though the walking is nearly flat, I was dragging a bit at the end. At Great Falls, the water was up and pumping: I felt a bit uneasy on the first footbridge, so close to the torrent.

low waterA couple of small takeaways: Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) leaves resemble Corydalis, but you often find it growing on rocks; someone (Edwin Way Teale?) once described the twists of bare persimmon branches as “like mad snakes.” Widewater, incorporated into the C&O Canal, is an abandoned branch of the Potomac.

Sighted: one very chill juvenile RSHA.

Ohio 2023: 2

My field trips in Miami County focused on county parks where I might donate a bench in Mom’s memory. There was much dodging of drizzle and driving through rain.

from Maple Ridge endfrom the middleThe twin parks of Stillwater Prairie Preserve and Maple Ridge are linked by a swingy suspension bridge for foot traffic…

true to its name… over the Stillwater River. I didn’t get much time in either park, but the former has some extensive grasslands that look to be quite delightful in season. I did spot some Bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia) fruit in the woods edging the prairie and stream.

Charleston Falls, in the southern end of the county, is also rather nice, but the falls on this October day were just a trickle.


In nearby Champaign County, Cedar Bog (actually a fen, and there is lots of interpretive material explaining differences) Nature Preserve offered lots of Northern Whitecedar (Thuja occidentalis), well-demarcated Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix), and a mystery forb.


More or less on my way home was the E. Lucy Braun Lynx Prairie Preserve in Adams County. Braun described the xeric limestone prairie openings as distinctive, and worked for their preservation. A signature species, Great Plains Ladies’ Tresses (Spiranthes magnicamporum) showed itself within 20 meters of the parking area. I also found a gentian-like wildflower, quite plentiful in spots, Agueweed (Gentianella quinquefolia); Cobb, Farnsworth, and Lowe helped me identify a really cool fern sharing space with Ebony Spleenwort on a huge limestone outcrop, Common Smooth Cliffbrake (Pellaea glabella ssp. glabella).