Suitland Bog

Lynn Rust’s Microbial Ecology class field-tripped to Suitland Bog (a magnolia bog that’s actually a fen). The property was once mined for sand and gravel before M-NCPPC picked up some of the land, while allowing development on another parcel. (In the inexorable logic of new streets being named for what they replaced, Rock Quarry Terrace passes through one of the nearby townhouse subdivisions.)

pine sandy 2pine sandy 1In the successional upland accessed by ample parking at the community center, we found the rocky, sandy soil of the Coastal Plain. Virginia Pine (Pinus virginia) is waiting to be overtaken by the beeches and oaks, while Blackjack Oak (Quercus marilandica) hunkers in the understory. Thundering helicopters from nearby Joint Base Andrews are just something you have to deal with.

In the bog itself, we easily found Purple Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea). According to Lynn and the park ranger, this introduced species is outcompeting the sundews, and is subject to some culls. Yellowing leaves of Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) were recognizable.

Bisected by a power line cut, the place definitely shows the marks of human influence, and could use some major trash pickup love. I don’t remember, but I reckon that my visit in 2013 was from the other entrance, from the south.

Mason Neck State Park 2021

clutchingHoliday weekend, and a chance to earn my next badge in the state parks Trail Quest challenge. Somewhat unintentionally, I followed the same trails that I walked last year in late spring. Much quieter this time of year, cloudy-cool and a bit drizzly—glad I brought my hoodie.

minimastThe understory of the woods (holly-oak-beech) is very open; I suspect deer browse pressure. The oaks have dropped an abundance of acorns.

I found a little patch of Strawberry Bush (Euonymus americanus) (a/k/a Hearts-a-burstin’), still in fruit, on a hummock in a very wet spot. And an orbweaver making short work of an unfortunate Eastern Pondhawk.

The thing to remember about the Meadow View Trail, pleasant enough as it is, is that it is a trail to a view of a meadow. You won’t see any meadow along the trail itself.

3:00 for the circuit again, with a lunch break.

Neabsco Boardwalk

Barbara Saffir led a workshop at Neabsco Boardwalk on using iNaturalist and ISO axanthic Green Treefrogs (Hyla cinarea). And we found some!

new boardwalkThe boardwalk trail is rather new—nicely accessible and wide, open to multiple use (jogging, dogs, scooters). While the upland path to the boardwalk could serve for a nonnative invasives workshop, the wetland itself is pretty clean, a major exception being a population of Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica).

Clifton Institute wildflowers

pond at HQthru the upland meadowA lovely morning walk through the upland meadows of the Clifton Institute for fall wildflowers, led by Bert Harris and staff. I got good photos of Field Thistle (Cirsium discolor) and found Hog Peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata) in flower. The group met Slender Bush Clover (Lespedeza virginica), Trailing Lespedeza (L. procumbens), and Green Milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora)(called Green Antelopehorns by iNaturalist). Bert explained how to distinguish New York Ironweed from Upland Ironweed—this is the first time I really got it, with an example of the yellowish pappus of Upland in hand.

Crescent Rock and Limberlost Trails

crossroadsLabor Day means a hike in Shenandoah National Park. I made a keyhole loop with the Crescent Rock Trail and the Limberlost Trail. I was going at Grandpa pace today—mostly my intention was to scout Limberlost for a future project. Common Katydids (Pterophylla camellifolia) were calling at mid-day in the Crescent Rock parking lot.

There are a few of the Limberlost’s famous hemlocks hanging on. There’s a big patch of what appears to be Sweet Birch (Betula lenta), perhaps replacing the hemlocks?

I did find a bit of Tall Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata). And iNaturalist suggested IDs of Silvery Glade Fern (Deparia acrostichoides) (I couldn’t find fertile fronds, dang it) and an ichneumonid wasp, Limonethe maurator.

3.4 miles in 3:30, 120m elevation change.

Virginia getaway 2021

My road trip took me to several spots in the Roanoke vicinity.

either wayFirst off was Poor Mountain Natural Area Preserve, known for its population of the hemiparasitic Piratebush (Buckleya distichophylla). I set off down aptly-named loop trail. Some determined peering under foliage turned up two female plants beginning to come into fruit. I also became reacquainted with Galax (Galax urceolata); met a ferny-looking plant that turned out to be Canadian Wood Betony (Pedicularis canadensis); and stumbled across an American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) maybe 10 feet tall.

Buffalo Mountain Natural Area Preserve in Floyd County was recommended by Chris Ludwig as one of the best NAPs to visit in August—he steered me right. I arrived early on a Friday morning, before the tiny parking lot filled up. Oh, so quiet. I heard Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla) (and got a visual) and Scarlet Tanager’s (Piranga olivacea) chick-burr. Not looking for anything in particular, I found a couple specialties of the house: hot pink Allegheny Onion (Allium allegheniense) and Roan Mountain Rattlesnakeroot (Nabalus roanensis) just coming into flower.

barrensstay on the trailBarrens at the top (about 160 m climb from trailhead) revealed Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana) and an oak that I’m not so sure about.

For fun, I’m trying the state parks trail challenge, so I added two parks to the road trip. Fairy Stone State Park in Patrick County delivered some interesting looks on the Whiskey Run loop: a huge clone of Fan Clubmoss (Diphasiastrum digitatum), Common Elephant’s Foot (Elephantopus tomentosus), and the iNaturalist community pinned down the first robber fly that I’ve found for myself: Red-footed Cannibal Fly (Promachus rufipes).

The trail I intended to take at Smith Mountain Lake State Park was closed, so I followed a trail closer to the lake. The area is very… recreational. But some Blue-fronted Dancers (Argia apicalis) showed up.

Bonus butterfly for the trip, and it proved to be a lifer: On my way home, I pulled up at the Nelson County Wayside south of Charlottesville to stretch my legs and fiddle with the CD player. I chatted with a guy who had stopped to do much the same. But I caught a glint of yellow flickering along the gravel. After the fellow left, I pulled out my camera and snapped away. When I got home, I keyed out my first Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)!

At the park: 120

After my annual scuffling with the Google chart API, I can post the summary graph of nesting activity for 2021. There’s a gray vertical bar for 2020’s missing data.

Wood Duck and Hooded Merganser trend chart

The true Wood Duck numbers (blue track) are higher, because I did not include two boxes of uncertain disposition: one for which we never got a good egg count, and one dump nest of 25 eggs that didn’t show sufficient evidence that 24 of the eggs had hatched. I found one dead duckling and not much else.

Clifton Institute dragonfly/damselfly count 2021

I made the acquaintance of several new odonates during Saturday’s inaugural count organized by The Clifton Institute, as well as a warmup walk with executive director Bert Harris a couple of weeks prior.

I walked with Larry Meade, Kurt Gaskill, and others at Leopold’s Preserve (near Thoroughfare Gap) and Silver Lake Park.

Top photo observations include a nice up close Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis ), an Elegant Spreadwing (Lestes inaequalis) that we mis-ID’d at first, and an Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera) that I got to sit down for me. Slaty Skimmers (Libellula incesta) were common; making an early appearance were a few Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum). I might have to start keeping a list.

At the park: 119

A wrap-up message to the team:

We had a good year. 12 clutches, with hatches in all but 1 — a late clutch of only 2 eggs. A conservative estimate is 47 Wood Duck fledglings and 63 Hooded Merganser fledglings.

That estimate does not include the nest in box #13: we did not get a good estimate of the number of eggs.

And it does not count box #3: I counted 25 Wood Duck eggs on 11 April, and when I checked on 23 May, I found 1 unfledged duckling but not enough evidence that 24 eggs had hatched. I also didn’t see evidence of predation, so I’m not sure what went on in that box….

Monitors and box installers, thank you for all your help!

More recordkeeping and summarizing to do.

Field trip roundup

Blandy Experimental Farm/State Arboretum of Virginia, Clarke County

On the native plant trail, too late for spring ephemerals and too early for summer meadow flowers. I did see some Penstemon sp., and Oxeye Daisy was fairly common. Not very birdy—I saw some Chimney Swifts by one of the buildings. A mystery pink-flowered sedum-like something.

I got some reasonably good observations of Magicicada cassinii and M. septendecim. Cassin’s sounds like a recycling lawn sprinkler.

new growthwell drilledIn the conifer collection, I was taken by the bright green new growth of Nordmann’s Fir (Abies nordmanniana).

Red Rock Wilderness Overlook Regional Park, Loudoun County

Mostly families on the poorly marked trails. The drop down to the riverside is steep and slippy. Pass.

Fraser Preserve, Fairfax County

Six-spotted Tiger Beetles (Cicindela sexguttata) were tolerably common; a Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans) defending turf at the entrance gate. At Nichols Run, a mystery hollow-stemmed, maculate shrubby something and a handsome Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon). Much lovely dappled shade on the trail/gravel road.

At the park: 118

Last full work day of the season:

Three more boxes hatched out! This leaves one more clutch in box #2 to go, plus two eggs in adjacent box #4 that we’re monitoring. Box #4 probably will not be incubated.

Rather than a scheduled work day, K and C will check those boxes in the next week or so as is convenient.

I patched my patch on box #67, and I retacked the screening on box #3 that C and I improvised. That box was super-full of eggs (25), but it seems that all but 1 fledged. I didn’t count that many membranes, however, so the box remains a but of a mystery.

For next year, boxes #7 and #84 have cracked bottoms and are candidates for replacement.

I’ll prepare a full summary report after I collect the last data on our two outstanding boxes.

Rattlesnakeweed is blooming.

Thanks all!

At the park: 117

Sunday’s report:

Five boxes hatched out — it’s looking to be a good season for us.

I don’t have a full count of eggs for box #13. K, if you happen to have any other notes, please pass them along.

We patched a knot hole in the roof of box #67. I will come back and make a more permanent fix.

Remaining boxes with eggs: #2 and #4 on the inflow, #6 and #84 on the main pond, and #3 in the new pool by the tower.

Our next work day, the 23rd, may be our last for the season. We just have five boxes to spot check, plus the repair box. That said, box #4 had new eggs on Sunday, so this may be a late clutch that will run into June.

support systemI follow this log when I need to cross Barnyard Run. The water is about thigh-deep on me in the center of the stream, so the log gives me some support.

At the park: 115

A report for last Sunday:

As the spring continues to warm, I am tardier with getting reports out.

We had our first hatch, box #7, as park visitors enjoyed the mini mergansers on the wetland. We have seen nesting activity in 11 of our 16 boxes so far. We should be seeing more hatches on the 25th.

We made a quick and dirty mod to new box #3 (the one with the upside down door), but the screening that we tacked in place could be made more secure. Not a moment too soon, because we have 25 eggs incubating in that box. Box #1, also in the new pool, also has an excessive number of eggs.

Robin is scheduled to be joining us next Sunday. The plan was for her to cover an absence, but there will now be five of us, so perhaps we can cover the boxes more quickly. 10-day weather forecast suggests rain, so I will watch the forecasts as Sunday approaches.

Thank you all!

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.