Category Archives: In the Field

Potomac River

Cathy Stragar and Stephanie Mason led a walk Sunday down the C&O Canal towpath from Point of Rocks to Monocacy, rescheduled from a rainy February day, and it was worth the delay: enough sun, not too cool, calm winds. And surprisingly birdy: I had 29 species on my list, and I think that the group detected a couple more. Top birds were a resting Barred Owl (Strix varia), spotted while we went off trail to measure the circumference of a 90-year-old Silver Maple; swarms of clean white-and-black Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis) drifting over farm fields; and skeins of migrating Tundra Swans (Cygnus columbianus), extremely high in the sky, identifiable only by voice. We nearly ran the table on mid-Atlantic woodpeckers, missing only (as you might expect) the Red-headed.

TIL the broken and peeled twigs of Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) smell (to me) like stale bittersweet chocolate.

getting startedUp and down the trail, the flowers of Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) were just starting to peep out from their shielding foliage.

first oneCathy pointed out winter stoneflies that were starting to emerge, and she found the single Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) that had opened up.

hulk down by the bankAt river’s edge, a venerable Silver Maple was holding on. We covered the six miles in about 6:45, which is fast for this bunch of naturalists.

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At the park: 93

Monitoring of nest boxes for Wood Duck and Hooded Merganser has commenced at Huntley Meadows. We had planned to get started on 25 February, but we were rained out. From my first report:

As I expected, we already have nests started in the boxes. What I didn’t expect was that we have FIVE nests started, 4 Hooded Merganser and 1 Wood Duck. First out of the gate was the merg hen in box #67, already with 10 eggs.

Paul reported that box #13 may need some additional (unspecified) maintenance….

Interesting birds of the day included a Northern Harrier and one of our new regulars, Red-headed Woodpecker.

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Cheverly parks

Sunday afternoon, I crossed over to the east side of the city to walk, bird, and botanize with Matt Salo in two parks in Cheverly, Md.: the Nature Park and the wilder bits of Cheverly-Euclid Neighborhood Park. The Nature Park, located at the highest point in Cheverly, is notable for populations of Chestnut Oak (Quercus montana) and Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia). This location might be home to the nearest patches of Mountain Laurel to the District line.

starletThere wasn’t too much happening with the birds, but we did turn up some earthstars (likely Geastrium triplex) near a patch of moss.

Cheverly’s bedrock is the Potomac Group from the lower Cretaceous, sand-gravel and silt-clay units. Nevertheless, I am surprised by the sometimes steep topography of this area. It doesn’t feel like we’re on the Coastal Plain at all.

The Euclid park doesn’t have organized trails, just deer trails and social trails. Matt and a group of volunteers are managing a clearing for native grasses and Liatris pilosa. We glimpsed a Bald Eagle in the air, and heard at last one Barred Owl.

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Great Backyard Bird Count 2018

melting fastOn the Sunday after our brief snows, I made a very fast trip to the Glade. Only 15 species in 0:45, and a couple of expected species that didn’t show. But I got my RSHA.

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Patuxent River

catching raysStephanie Mason and Cathy Stragar led a walk to two locations along the Prince George’s side of Jug Bay. Snow flurries as I arrived at the park; up in the woods, out of the wind, temperatures were tolerable. We focused on plants and animals that manage to make a living, a little photosynthesis, under cold winter conditions. We enjoyed lightly scratching the bark of thin-barked trees like American Beech and Carpinus caroliniana to see the green evidence of chlorophyll just underneath. We stopped for drifts of evergreen lycopodium nearly covering the forest floor, not shaded out now that the leaves are down. The fuzzy underside of the dead but moist leaf of a Mockernut Hickory is quite pleasantly velour-y.

restingWe drive to Selby’s Landing, and then walked down to the bridge over Mattaponi Creek. A new birder in our group got a look at a small museum of Cedar Waxwings, feeding on Winterberry.

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My year in hikes and field trips, 2017

Enh, I need to get out more.

And several trips to my home park, Huntley Meadows Park.

2016’s list. 2015’s list. 2014’s list. 2013’s list. 2012’s list. 2011’s list. 2010’s list. 2009’s list. 2008’s list.

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Blockhouse Point Conservation Park

dying backOn a drizzly Sunday morning, Carole Bergmann led a walk through Blockhouse Point Conservation Park. Fall colors were quite good, the Pawpaws getting ready to drop their leaves. This Sensitive Fern is packing it in for the season.

cespitosebeardyFellow walker Tom was our fungi maven. At left, he ID’d this cespitose cluster of stipes as Pholiota squarrosoides. And for a second non-polypore fruiting from the trunk of a tree, he also called Hericium erinaceus, at right.

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VNPS 2017: Ferns with Carl and Jerry Taylor

Carl and Jerry Taylor did a fern-intensive walk, bushwhacking up ravines from the C&O Canal towpath near Snyder’s Landing.

lacier than Marginaland reverseWe sorted out our Dryopteris species, among them Intermediate Woodfern (D. intermedia) (left, and with sori, right)

not quite leatheryand Marginal Woodfern (D. marginalis).

love the spleenwortsIt was a good day for spleenworts, four species in all, including this lovely Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes).

twoferAt a quick stop on the way back to our meeting point, Carl pointed out some cliff-preferring species, like this pair of Wall Rue (A. ruta-muraria) (above) and Blunt-lobed Cliff Fern (Woodsia obtusa).

But the WOW moment was the look at, with hand lens assist, a few gametophytes (prothallus) of Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostochoides). The trick to seeing gametophytes is to find a nurse log or other suitable substrate, then look for tiny sporophytes just getting started (a few millimeters tall). At the base of the sporophyte, you might find the remnants of the gametophyte.

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VNPS 2017: Ice Mountain Preserve

quiet nowKevin Dodge, Shirley Gay, and Steve Kite led a walk though Ice Mountain Preserve. The northwest face of the ridge is an immense talus slope, as the North River gradually eats away at the base of the mountain.

it's cool insideThe pores between the boulders are a magnet for cold air. The air vents out at the bottom of the slope. In winter and spring, these vents are covered with ice.

at least oneThe trapped and released cold air provides growing conditions that are closer to boreal than mid-Atlantic. Most of the veg we saw was mostly gone by, but one Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) was still holding on.

Closer to the trailhead, we found a few examples of Cut-leaved Grape Fern (Botrychium dissectum).

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Turkey Run Ridge

For Labor Day, a 5-mile loop in 3:50 through Prince William Forest Park. More or less tracking the hike in PATC’s Hikes in the Washington Region, Part B. My edition is from 1993, so some crossings have been rerouted since then.

The only butterflies about were some Red-spotted Purples in the parking lot. Big patches of running cedar; the trails still somewhat wet after Saturday’s rains. Definitely folks on the trail, but not what you could call crowded: one large group of hikers, but mostly couple and trios. Lots of (generally leashed, well-behaved) dogs.

The High Meadows Trail (simply trail T-10 in the PATC guide) is a misnomer, as it traverses very beechy-hickory woods. Laurel hells along the South Fork of Quantico Creek. A muggy day, if not that warm: wind in the treetops, but rarely for me.

Many of the streams with heavily scoured banks, evidence of the hard use this land had been put to.

coralSome interesting mushrooms, again many of them popped from recent rains. The best match in my field guide for this is Ramaria aurea.

not yet ripeI stopped for lunch at a small stream crossing. As I munched, I found a single Indian Cucumber Root (Medeola virginiana) in fruit, if not yet ripe. I’d never seen the red creeping into the base of the upper leaves before.

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New York Botanical Garden

what's the buzztiny whitesA few snaps from my trip to the New York Botanical Garden on a very warm, generally sunny day. The place is huge! I budgeted a good chunk of time in the Native Plant Garden, site of the memorial to Elizabeth Gertrude Knight Britton. A couple of less common plants in flower were a mountain mint, Pycnathemum curvipes (left) (hmm, USDA PLANTS says that this not native to New York, but only to North Carolina and south) and Flowering Spurge (Euphorbia corollata) (right). Newcomb points out that the delicate white flower parts on the spurge are actually bracts, not petals.

cascadeIn the nearby Rock Garden, this engineered cascade is quite lovely.

citizen scienceIn the less-tended bits of the grounds is the Thain Family Forest. An interpretive sign calls out the importance of citizen science, and just a few steps down the trail is a Picture Post.

cycad selfieAfter lunch break, I spent most of my time in the conservatory. I do love me some cycads.

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Sky Meadows double loop

On my way out to visit Charlie, I took a fairly easy double-loop hike in Sky Meadows State Park. I didn’t push very hard on the climb, taking the shortcut across on the Gap Run Trail, which proved to be very good for singing Wood Thrush. Acadian Flycatchers, a pair of Scarlet Tanagers, and several Indigo Buntings also were heard and seen.

The mostly sunny, sweaty summer day was also pretty good for butterflies, in particular a Zebra Swallowtail or two hanging out around its larval host plant, Common Pawpaw.

not quite sureI followed the Snowden loop (I think this trail is new to me): some gentle climbing as the loop reaches the southern edge of the park property. This trail was much less busy than the ridge trails. At the second stream crossing (not much more than a trickle), I pulled out my camera to photograph an interesting orange and black guy (he didn’t stick around), but I did get a snap of what I’m pretty sure is a Tawny Emperor (Asterocampa clyton).

Best bird of the day was a Brown Thrasher checking out a ripening patch of (alas, abundant) Wineberry.

All told, about 3 miles in 3:00.

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At the park: 92

Wood Duck and Hooded Merganser trend chart

From my summary report to the team:

As for predation by the snakes, I wouldn’t move any of the boxes just on the evidence of this season. Last year it was boxes #1 and #3 where we had a problem; this year it was #7 and #62.

no TyphaLocal conditions around box #69 have changed. Past years, it was overrun with Typha sp. by mid-May. This year, it remained clear of veg.

As for nest structures for Mallard and American Black Duck, let us know where you’ve placed them and we will try to work them into our monitoring routine. My references show that the nesting season for these birds extends later into the summer, so we would have the opportunity to extend our work season.

A pattern that I’ve noticed over the years is that the fledge-to-eggs ratio for Hooded Merganser is usually higher than that for Wood Duck. A couple of hypotheses:

(1) Since the mergs start laying eggs a little earlier than the woodies, perhaps they out-compete them and occupy the more favorable boxes for that year. (We don’t see that one species is particularly faithful to a box, and indeed since we see a few mixed clutches, a box may be considered favorable by both species.)

(2) We are more likely to see “dump” and “drop” nests for the woodies: boxes with 20+ eggs. And with these jumbo clutch sizes, it’s more difficult to incubate all the eggs sufficiently.

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Sugarloaf loop

Too long away from the park, I set aside today for an easy 5-mile loop using the AT, Sugarloaf Trail, Pole Bridge Link Trail, and Keyser Run Fire Road.

Top bird sighting for the walk was a couple of female American Redstarts (Setophaga ruticilla).

pinkThe Sugarloaf Trail has a big swath of Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) just coming into bloom. Less easy to ID to species were several patches of pinxter azalea—given the conflicting keys in the Flora of Virginia and Newcomb, I’m going to call this just Rhododendron sp.

tiny, tiny flowersI had more success keying out a saxifrage that was having a great time in the stream of Keyser Run, and this Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa), a plant that I’ve seen before, but perhaps never before in (tiny, tiny) flower.

crossinghanging onAlong the multiple streams of Piney River, I found one of my favorites, Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea)—a little past its prime.

as close as I cared to beThis guy? I gave him his space.

Making the climb up Hogback Mountain, I found a very hungry Microtus vole, who hung around long enough for some views, but no good photographs.

I covered the 5-mile loop in a very leisurely 4:35. According to my notes, I made this same hike in February 2008 in 2:30. There’s less to see and hear in February; I took a long time waiting for those butterflies; and I carried a few more cookies up Hogback Mountain than I did nine years ago.

slightly wornBest invertebrate of the walk was Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), found in a small group on the AT near the parking lot. This individual, albeit a bit banged up, gave me a reasonable look.

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At the park: 91

A report from the 14th:

Greetings, duck boxers! The 14th saw hatching evidence in 5 more boxes, bringing the season total to 7 boxes with hatched eggs. Unfortunately, it appears that box #62 was predated, at least in part; Paul evicted a Black Rat Snake from the box.

In box #10, eggs were in the process of hatching; the female Wood Duck attempted to entice us away from the box with a broken wing distraction display.

the view from box #13With the holiday and such, the 4th of June makes more sense for our next work day. We will need to check only 6 remaining boxes, so the morning should go quickly. Among these are #10 and #13, which might possibly have a second clutch started.

Bird of the day was Acadian Flycatcher, heard quite distinctly in the woods on the way to the boardwalk.

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