Category Archives: In the Field

Mason Neck

Jim McGlone and Rita Urbanski led walks on Mason Neck for Fairfax Master Naturalists. Rita focused on wetland adaptations, while Jim workshopped basic tree ID with the class. He mentioned the economic value of Quercus alba in cooperage, particularly with respect to aging wines and whiskeys. Planks made from red oaks can’t be made watertight, unlike white oak lumber.

probably verticillataHe pointed out a winterberry in fruit, Ilex verticillata (we’re out of range for I. laevigata),

still learning: onestill learning: twoas well as a jinx plant that I cannot form a good search image for, serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.). I’ll keep trying.

Jim also noted a native Euonymus that had already burst.

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A mystery: 15

hiding in the woodTovi Lehmann led a fungus walk centered on the nature center in Rock Creek Park on a very windy Sunday morning. We found some interesting stuff: Mycena sheltered in a well-decayed log and stump.

bear itLentinellus ursinis, with its serrate gills.

almost missed itAlso long-persisting, Picipes badius.

We talked about the associations among Cerrena unicolor (Mossy Maze Polypore), a wood-boring wasp (Tremex columba), and an ichneumonid parasite of the wasp (Megarhyssa spp.). Now, we found Cerrena growing on a log with two species of Stereum, including S. ostrea. But only the Cerrena was covered with algae, a common sight. Tovi didn’t have an answer to my question about why the algae preferentially used Cerrena as a substrate.

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Ellanor C. Lawrence Park botany and ichthyology

new to meCharles Smith led the botany basics workshop at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park for Fairfax Master Naturalists. (I studied the eastern section of this park for a class in 2014.) We met a lot of old friends from the plant world. Charles pointed out a non-native invasive that I had not seen before, Small Carpetgrass (apt name, that) (Arthraxon hispidus).

In the meadow, Charles pointed out Beaked Panicgrass (Panicum anceps). I need to look at this plant a few more times before I can grok it. A tip for learning sumacs: fruits hang down from Winged Sumac.

"what good looks like"On the west side of Walney Road, we did a very short ascent of the Ridge Trail to a patch of woods that has been left alone by White-tailed Deer. Charles describes this view a “what a good forest looks like.”

the worksIn the afternoon, Chris Ruck and his team electrofished a short reach of Big Rocky Run. Again, this was not a complete, protocol-compliant survey, but rather some cherry-picking so that we could see what species could be found in the stream. Forgive me for geeking out on the equipment, but it’s pretty cool.

working downstreamnet 'imA circuit is established between the anode, the pole in Danielle’s right hand, and the cathode, the cable in her right hand. Fish in the water are stunned, and can be scooped up in a net for study, as Chris is doing in the image at right. Voltage and other electrical characteristics can be adjusted for water conditions. You want rubberized waders for this job; if you’re wearing breathable waders, you will probably feel an unpleasant tingle, or worse.

waiting to be keyed outSome of the catch, ready for identification.

pretty darterlook on the sunny sideWe turned up 13 of a possible 20 species or so, according to Chris’s accounts. We spent a lot of time with the keys and the minnow representatives (family Cyprinidae). A little easier to ID were these Fantail Darters (Etheostoma flabellare) at left, and these four sunfish species (at right).

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Huntley Meadows herps and birds

mystery partly solvedI got a leg up on understanding the mystery yellow flower that I’ve seen blooming in the marsh. According to the trip co-leader, Alonso Abugattas, it’s an aggressive non-native water-primrose. I would like to come back and check it more closely, but if he’s correct that it’s the non-native, that would make it Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala.

surprise 1asurprise 1bThe surprise plant was Common Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana). I’ve looked out from the tower many a time but never at a time when I could see these trees in fruit.

cute newtWe were trying to focus on herps, but the plants and insects caught our attention, too. Alonso found a few Eastern Red-backed Salamanders (Plethodon cinereus).

Co-leader Mary Benger showed us the birds to be found. A couple of shorebirds passing through, a handful of Great Egrets. Red-headed Woodpecker made an appearance.

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Wolf Trap mushrooms

red tiniesside viewWilliam Needham led a walk focused on fungi. He delivered our destination species, the diminutive fall-fruiting Red Chanterelle (Cantharellus cinnabarinus) in a corner of the park that most concertgoers never visit.

look for the donut holeOn the way back to the cars, another participant (whose name I have forgotten, alas) pointed out Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) and its doughnut-hole field mark on the upper forewing.

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Cricket Crawl 2018

Home football game, nice weather, and the last weekend before school starts, so the listening wasn’t that great for Team Reston for this year’s Cricket Crawl.

Heard during my 1-minute sample: Common True Katydid (Pterophylla camellifolia) and Lesser Anglewing (Microcentrum retinerve).

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Shenandoah National Park getaway 2018

home, for a bitI took a two-night trip to Shenandoah National Park, staying in this adorable cabin on the Skyland property, one of the oldest cabins in the park. Black-and-White Warbler (Mniotila varia) seen from the porch.


five not fourThe first day, I did a four-hour loop out of the Big Meadows area, following the Rapidan Road, Mill Prong Trail, and AT. The meadows along the Rapidan Road were quite good for our common butterflies. Once the road entered the woods, I found a lingering patch of Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis). My initial attempts to ID were rather hopeless (I’ve never seen this plant before), in part because the blooms nearer the trail were on the way to gone by, and showed only four parts, not five. Field ID job #1: always check more than one individual.

free flowingThe Mill Prong was flowing generously. A thundershower kicked in as I climbed back to Milam Gap, and I had to break out my ratty emergency poncho with a hole and most of the snaps broken. Near the end of my loop, I found a flock of about 18 Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo); I think that this is the first time that I’ve seen them in fairly thick woods, rather than by the roadside. 4.2 miles, elevation change 205m.

slopeThe next day, I drove to the South District to take a loop around Blackrock. Blackrock is not so much a mountain as it is a messy talus slope. This is the view to the north. Not even a Mountain Ash has made inroads here. I deviated from my trail guide and took a short stretch on the AT. Let’s call it 2.5 miles and an elevation change of 110m, around in 2:05. On the AT, I surprised a pair of Black Bear cubs, on one side of the trail, and an adult on the other side. I backed off and clapped my hands and improvised a silly song about walking in the woods (the sort of thing that Pooh and Piglet would sing) until I was sure that the fuzzies had moved on.

I found that I was laboring in my climbs—there are a couple of reasons why that might be. So, for my afternoon walk, I cut down the loop I was planning into a circuit starting from Browns Gap, following the AT, Big Run Loop Rail, and Madison Run Road. As I approached the parking area for the trailhead, I was hailed by two noisy hikers on the roadside. I thought that they had run out of water, but it turned out they were just hoping to cadge a beer. Ah, well, trail magic takes many forms.

Climbing on the AT, I decided that this was my therapy: hot yoga forest bathing. Pause. Listen. Breathe.

patience rewardedcommon, but very niceMadison Run Road (I’ve been at the other end of this road) was good for a couple butterflies, Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) at left and Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) at right. Alas, I did not key out the fleabane. 105m elevation change, 2.2 miles, 1:35.

not a sunflowerAlong Skyline Drive, I saw lots of variations on yellow August-blooming composites. But once I stopped and got my Newcomb’s out, I found only two species. First, some patches of Tall Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata), including a few flowers on Madison Run Road.

one inflorescenceleaf detailAnd then, overwhelmingly, the roadside flowers in bloom at this time of the year turn out to be Pale-leaved Sunflower (Helianthus strumosus). These photos are all from one overlook parking area, the plants are everywhere Skyline Drive. The flowers show variability in color (yellow to orange) and they change as the flower matures: the disc becomes darker, more prominent (like a coneflower) as the ray flowers begin to drop off.

I stopped for a quick run up to Betty’s Rock before I headed back to the cabin and dinner. But the trail is closed for revegetation. Just a reminder that it’s possible to love something too much, so much that you hurt it.

a driftCounting the trailside and roadside bears that I saw, I found six. That’s more bears than I’ve ever seen before in my life.

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At the park: 96

My final report for the ducks and mergs team this season:

Well, our box score for the season shows a lot of at-bats but not too many runs across the plate. The mergansers started 10 clutches but only hatched 4; the Wood Ducks started 5 but only completed 1. We had evidence of predation in only 1 box (raccoon, #60). A possible hypothesis to explain the high rate of nest abandonment by the mergansers is simply that there were too many birds chasing scarce resources.

The egg and hatchling counts are similarly depressed: 139 eggs laid by the Hooded Mergansers, with 52 hatched (37%); 34 eggs laid by the Wood Ducks, with 7 hatched (21%). Summary worksheet from our monitoring.

A recap of the boxes: I applied some insulating foam to patch gaps in boxes #1 and #3. Boxes #4 and #7 should be replaced. A map of nest box locations.

box 5, duringbox 5, afterTiny little box #5 was put to good use this year! It was the site of our single successful Wood Duck nest. During (10 June) at left and after (24 June) at right.

Monitors, thank you for all your help!

Wood Duck and Hooded Merganser trend chart

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Maine birding recap

I put together a cumulative list for my two Maine birding festivals this year, and it’s not bad: 89 species. A surprising number of flycatcher species (six) and a respectable count of wood warblers (fourteen).

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Acadia Birding Festival 2018

on itJeepers, a great number of guides for ABF events to thank: Don Lima, David Ladd, Doug Suitor, Fyn Kynd, Fred Yost, Michael Retter, Bill Sheehan, Margaret Viens, Ed Hawkes, George Armistead, and the crew and staff of the Friendship V—as well as all the other guides aboard the boat.

target islandOur target birds for the pelagic trip out of Bar Harbor were pretty much the same as those for the trip out of Cutler the week before, and the alcids duly made their appearances. Guides also spotted a lone Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) at Petit Manan Island (lifer), and Marsall Iliff found a Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster) on the way there (tropical mega-lifer).

bonus bonus lightbonus lightOn the return, we scooted past Mount Desert Rock (its light, at left) and Great Duck Island (its light, at right).

one more lightWith a little time before lunch, to continue the theme, I drove my car down to Bass Harbor Head to photograph its light.

larderNear to Otter Cliffs, we picked up a couple of female Red Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra). I am gratified to report that I first saw (but did not identify) the birds fly into these White Spruces (Picea glauca), which look a little raggedy at the top with cones but no green branches. Apparently that was exactly the sort of tree the hungry birds were looking for.

getting the search imageI saw a lot of Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum) and eventually got the jizz of this rather common plant, with its single bare stem rising two and a half feet before sending out any leaves.

tricky focusMore bogs and bog specialty plants! This sketchy image of Cottongrass (Eriophorum sp.), a sedge, is from Orono Bog.

On the whole, the weather was very cooperative for both trips. I didn’t see rain until a layover in Boston on my return drive. Now that I look back at my trails map of Acadia National Park, I realize that I saw a lot of Mount Desert Island, but there’s still so much more to explore. I added nine birds to my ABA Area life list, running my total up to 423. Missed the Spruce Grouse, and I was disappointed not to find a Black-legged Kittiwake.

one for Callanand another for CallanOoh, and some Friday Fold candidates for Callan Bentley. These boulders were on the shore of Western Bay in the Indian Point Blagden Preserve.

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Enroute: 16

always stop for cable-stayedI should bumper-sticker Della with the warning, “I brake for cable-stayed bridges.” This is the Penobscot Narrows Bridge: I’m standing on the approach on the Verona Island side; Prospect is at the other end. You can just make out the windows of the observation deck at the top of the far tower.

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Enroute: 15

unexpectedBetween festivals, I stopped by Thuya Garden and Asticou Azalea Garden in Northeast Harbor — two lovely spots. The framing of the views in Asticou is exquisite. I figured out that Moosewood is the Down East name for our Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum). This was the first one that I’d seen in flower.

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Down East Spring Birding Festival 2018

winkLots of sights and sounds and smells at the festival. A Maine-sized thank you to trip leaders Fred Galenski, Amy Zipperer, Woody Gillies, Maury Mills, Amy Meehan, Bill Kolodnicki, Susan Cline, and Capt. Andy Patterson of the Barbara Frost, who took us on a safe but thrilling ride to Machias Seal Island for the first lifers of my trip.

best shoton the wingMy big target for this trip was Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica), but upon further inspection, I find the thin white lines on a Razorbill (Alca torda) more appealing.

hanging outI’ve seen Common Murres (Uria aalge) before, but only in the Pacific, so the bridled form (peculiar to the Atlantic) was new to me.

looking for flycatchersBack on land, Alder Flycatcher (Empidonax alnorum) was new to my ABA Area list (#419), a pleasant surprise when I compiled my notes from a visit to the Edmunds Unit of Moosehorn NWR. Guides pointed out the bird along this alder-lined stream. In the Barings Unit of the refuge, we heard Whip-Poor-Will (Caprimulgus vociferus) responding to recordings (no tick for me, since I don’t count heard-only birds).

unseenon the beachI was prepared to see craggy shores and tumultuous headlands, as at West Quoddy Head

foreground for scaleand Campobello Island, but

yumdrinkI wasn’t expecting an abundance of bogs and bog-specialty plants: Baked-apple Berry (Rubus chamaemorus) and Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea). Nor was I expecting to see bluets blooming like weeds in people’s yards.

target speciesthere you areI was looking specifically for Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) and found it in several places. Guides also pointed out Starflower (Trientalis borealis), as well as

little guysa clump of Alder Leaf Beetles (Agelastica alni). A rather larger animal, a Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum), crossed the road in front of me on my way to the dock at Cutler. In the category of even-larger mammals, we saw Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina) and one or two Gray Seals (Halichoerus grypus) on the way back from Machias Seal Island.

strongly interruptedInterrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana) is common here (as at home): I’ve never seen such strong color difference between the spore-bearing part of the plant and the rest of it.

Mystery lichen of the trip was a bright orange species, particularly fond of calcium-rich stone, like those used in the Lubec town cemetery.

Bonus francophone music for the road provided by ICI Musique.

Still working on a cumulative bird species tally for the trip.

nice tealyipes stripesAnd I do like my lighthouses: Little River Light at left, West Quoddy Head Light at right.

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At the park: 95

From my most recent report:

The not-so-good news is that five of our boxes showed no evidence of incubation, with eggs that had been laid four weeks prior — so we cleaned out those boxes. The much-better news is that we have new nests started in box #6 and our studio apartment, box #5. Box #6 would be a second brood, if it comes to term — it’s only one egg at present. We also have two, possibly three, nests still incubating.

* * *

A recent BirdNote featured Frank Bellrose and one of our favorite ducks: https://www.birdnote.org/show/frank-bellrose-and-wood-ducks

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National Arboretum

onerfairwayAfter my trip to the Dogwood Collection earlier this month to get a snap of the plaque honoring Louisa King, I returned to get a look at the trees in bloom. Protip: The garden was peopleless at 8:00 of a Saturday morning, right after the gates opened.

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