At the park: 114

Sunday’s report on the ducks and mergs:

Three more nests have started, clutches are building in two, and two nests are incubating.

We checked the new box #3, and as Dave predicted, the hinge placement of the door is problematic. Kat and Chris have some scrap screen material; we will try to modify the box so that the nest stays in place when the door is opened.

Visitation is definitely up: when we left at 10:15, cars were parked along the entrance road nearly back to Lockheed Blvd.

Until next week!

At the park: 113

From the report for Sunday:

We see nesting activity in four of our boxes, and a Wood Duck pair was spotted in the vicinity of box #1. A Hooded Merganser has moved into box #68, adding eggs to what was probably a clutch from last year. Beavers might have ideas about building a dam next to this box.

Box #3 is on Dave’s punchlist to replace.

Aloft, we saw an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) and two Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), an immature and a somewhat scruffy adult.

We’ll work the remaining two weeks in March, then start skipping weeks. So our first day in April will be 11 April, and we will check on folks’ availability for the rest of the month.

At the park: 112

We have resumed nest box monitoring at Huntley Meadows Park (following precautions and adhering to protocol, of course). From today’s report:

And so the season begins.

Kat reported new nests for 2021, both Hooded Merganser, including incubation in box #7. We cleaned out boxes that hadn’t been cleaned since 22 April 2020. It’s possible that we have had hatches in 6 boxes since that April visit.

We will bring some oil for the carabiner on box #62.

Box #3 in the new pool by the observation tower needs replacement: it is missing its top and its bottom. #3 is the one a little farther from the tower….

We spotted a Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) perched up on a snag along Barnyard Run.

Great Backyard Bird Count 2021

Waiting out the ice storm until Monday, I got some time to walk the Glade today, just before the rain came back. Sixteen species, a couple of bad photographs, but a distant look at a Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) pair on drawn-down Lake Audubon. But I missed my usual Red-shouldered Hawk.

Unfortunately, there is much more Leatherleaf Mahonia (Berberis bealei) than meets the eye in the growing season.

Walker Nature Center

Staying close to home, I walked over to Reston’s Walker Nature Center, past the high school and the mini-mall with the Domino’s and 7-Eleven. A crossing over Snakeden Run was not passable after yesterday’s rain—too muddy/slippery across the new weir.

The center’s trails are not well-marked, but the place is small enough that you can’t get lost. Not too many folks out in the woods on this unseasonably pleasant day. Pretty much our usual winter birds in the suburbs. Spotted a likely Hermit Thrush, a couple Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis), a teed-up Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus). Coming the back way to the high school (RA’s maps really need an update in this patch), I heard a Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) vocalization I’d not heard before, and got a quick photo of a Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), just to boost my iNaturalist species count.

My year in hikes and field trips, 2020

Oh, dear. I managed to visit one new state park (with my spiffy new annual parking pass). But a minor injury in August piled on to other restrictions leads to a puny list this year:

A few early work trips to my home park, Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Va.

The Mason and Bailey Club did not meet this year.

Lost Mountain loop

Another trip to Sky Meadows State Park, but this time to east side of U.S. 17, the Lost Mountain side. I set out from the Turner Pond parking area—I was one car too late to park in the nearer parking area.

The Rolling Meadows Trail is just what it says: some gentle ups and downs around grasslands. One field was being grazed. Once you clear the first ridge, traffic noise from the highway is somewhat muffled. And indeed I was listening more than looking today.

Best bird of the walk was a Brown Creeper (Certhia americana). If he was talking, I didn’t hear those top notes. I did see and hear a Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis).

I saw as many mounted travelers as walkers. Equally friendly.

aren't we a pair?There is an unnamed tributary of Gap Run that you have to ford going and coming on the Rolling Meadows Trail. The Washington’s Ridge Trail is scored ◆ Difficult by the park’s trail guide, but it’s barely a ■ Moderate.

About 3 miles, 40 meters elevation change, 2:30, via Corporal Morgan, Rolling Meadows, and Washington’s Ridge Trails.

I found a smidgen of Ebony Spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron). And I made the acquaintance of Coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus), which was running all over the place. The Flora of Virginia gives it a *?.

Shenandoah River State Park

viewpointFollowing my very casual plan to visit more state parks, I rolled out to the Ridge and Valley Province for a pleasant visit to Shenandoah River State Park. It’s a relatively new park (1999), and indeed there is a dramatic overlook of the South Fork.

The park is oriented to recreational activities: there’s a canoe launch; all of the hiking trails are open to bikes; picnic shelters and parking spaces are numerous. But, fortunately for this loner, attendance was relatively sparse on this overcast November day.

markerI picked the moderate-rated Allen’s Mountain Trail for a walk. Trails and junctions are clearly marked, once you find the trailhead. Walking is easy, with switchbacks around some steep ravines, rather than up-and-downs.

left behindtwo-stemmedI was looking for overwintering plants, but found only a scattering of Chimaphila maculata. In the understory, evergreen Kalmia latifolia was in evidence. Overstory trees were a typical mix of oaks, pines, a little hickory and beech. The land certainly shows the marks of human occupation; this White Oak was cut, then resprouted two stems.

115 meters of elevation change, 3+ miles of distance, 2:30 for the round trip.

And my mystery berry-ish observation turned out to be Teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens), a plant that I’ve seen before but totally stumped me in the field today. It’s just ones and twos in the park, nothing like the profusion that Mark Garland showed us in the Pine Barrens.

At the park: 111

First time back in Huntley Meadows Park since mid-March. The parking lot was already hopping by 07:30. The big Red Maple by the “phoebe bridge” came down. I chatted with P.J., who was working an improvised contact station at the boardwalk entrance. No nest box work today, just birds and botany. Not much happening out on the water, but I still listed 25 bird species. Sweet Cicely (Osmorhiza sp.) has already gone to fruit. The summer bloomers are popping open: Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris) and Purple Milkweed (Ascleapias purpurascens) with its non-exserted horns. I keyed out Enchanter’s Nightshade (Circaea canadensis) and Fringed Loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata).

Mason Neck State Park

I had a quite pleasant out-and-back walk in Mason Neck State Park along the Dogue and Meadow View Trails: about 3 miles in 3:00. A little muggy, but ample shade in woods of beech and holly. I (mostly heard) detected 25 of our usual species, with visuals on Acadian Flycatcher (Empidonax virescens) and Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla) (seen but not heard?!). At the observation mini-tower at the (more or less recently) restored wet meadow, I heard (just once!) a King Rail (Rallus elegans).

I pulled a recording of what must be amphibian activity, but I can’t pin it down.

It’s always nice to stop for some cloud ears. The Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) in this woods is very white, showing not much pink at all. This is the first time I slowed down to look at the flowers of American Holly (Ilex opaca).

Sky Meadows State Park

Virginia state parks are still open for day use! A staffer directed me to a spot in the overflow parking area at 10:30 on a pleasant, gusty Saturday morning.

I made a loop with the North and South Ridge Trails, about 3 miles in 3:15. That 700-foot (or so) climb just gets harder every year, but I can still do it, a few minutes at a time. Not too busy on the trails, mostly couples and small groups.

Among the butterflies, Eastern Tailed-blues were out, along with a few Zebra Swallowtails. A quick glimpse of an anglewing. Trees had not leafed out, so there were some spring ephemerals: Spring Beauty on the warmer, lower slopes; Bloodroot at higher elevations; a bit of Early Saxifrage; Cut-leaved Toothwort was fairly common; Rue Anemone always confuses me the first time I see it for the year.

Field Sparrows and Eastern Meadowlarks singing in the pastures.

I may have missed it the last time I was in the park: the American Chestnut Foundation has a baby orchard planted along the Boston Mill Road.

At the park (not): 109

This week’s message to my team:

I believe that all the team has received word from Halley that volunteer activities at the Park remain suspended. Quite disappointing, but necessary.

I hope, but don’t expect, that the siege will be lifted and that we can get at least one work day in at the end of the season, maybe mid-May or later.

’til then, as a thin compensation, I’ll offer a couple of YouTubes: Wood Ducks hanging out and 23 (!) ducklings exiting a box.

Stay safe, thanks for your patience, and wash your hands!

At the park: 108

From this week’s report:

No new nests started this week. We’re watching box #5, which has a full clutch of eggs but no evidence of incubation. Chris rescued my stick, which went for an extended swim in the new pool by the observation tower.

We plan to work again next week, 22 March. We will keep an ear out for guidance from the Park.