Category Archives: In the Field

At the park: 88

We bounced back from the dismal 2015.

Wood Duck and Hooded Merganser trend chart

From my final report to the team:

It seems like every year I get this final report put together later and later. At any rate, this was a much more successful nesting year for our Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers.

Of our 16 boxes that we monitored, we had 16 nests started. That is, one box had a double brood and only one box this year was not used. Of the 16 nests, 13 were (predominantly) Wood Duck, and three Hooded Merganser. (We often have some eggs from the other species in the nest, which messes up the recordkeeping that I submit to the Cornell Lab.) And of the 16, 13 fledged at least some young, one failed, and two I’m just not sure about. The two questionable boxes are #1 and #3, near the tower. When we checked on 8 May, the evidence indicated predation, but when we visited on 22 May, I saw evidence of membranes, indicating that some eggs had hatched.

So, not counting the two questionable boxes, we have a fledge-to-eggs rate of 70% (114/163) for the Woodies and 91% (31/34) for the Hoodies….

Thanks again, everyone, for the hard work, and we’ll see you in February/March! When it should be colder.

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Along The Glade

first tripPractice shooting with a new camera. I’m usually down this stretch in winter. It’s much greener today.

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Blue Mountain summer walk

outstanding in her fieldStephanie Mason led members of her posse on a summer walk in the Blue Mountain area of G. Richard Thompson WMA. This patch is well-known in spring for its ephemerals, trilliums, and orchids, but there’s plenty to see once the trees have leafed out, too. The weather was cool for July, generally overcast, with a bit of a shower towards the end of the day. Not much happening on the butterfly charts.

jewelnot so odoratusSummer wildflowers go for broke in the color department. Pale Jewelweed (Impatiens pallida) on the left and Purple-flowering Raspberry (Rubus odoratus) on the right.

flower and fruitextravagantThimbleweed (Anemone virginiana) on the left, in flower and fruit. And the extravagantly-colored Canada Lily (Lilium canadense) on the right.

The bird checklist for the trip was short, but we had some goodies. Heard and seen Common Raven (Corvus corax), Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus), and Acadian Flycatcher (Empidonax virescens). And brief glimpses of Kentucky Warbler (Oporornis formusus) and Cerulean Warbler (Dendroica cerulea).

only to genuslargerBut the theme of this walk turned out to be beetles. Perhaps the cool temps slowed these crawlies down so that we could get good looks. At left, trying to convince you he’s a Milkweed Bug or firefly is a net-winged beetle (Calopteron sp.). We have three species here in the mid-Atlantic. Distinguishing them calls for looking at features like antennomere colors—beyond the quality scope of my image. At right, creeping over my knuckles and trying to stay out of focus, a Larger Elm Leaf Beetle (Moncesta coryli); according to Evans, this is the largest leaf beetle species in North America.

first stopAnd, at the start of the walk, a patch of dogbane with numerous Dogbane Beetles (Chrysochus auratus)—even flashier than Japanese Beetles.

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Riverbend Park ferns

stop and talkKit Sheffield led a ferns workshop last Sunday (yes, it’s been a busy week). We looked at a lot of ferns, some plants that don’t look like ferns but are, and of course some plants that aren’t ferns. We started at the Visitor Center, followed the river trail as far as Gladys Island and Carper’s Pond, then looped back via the Nature Center.


fragilebeechySome new ferns for me were Lowland Fragile Fern (Cystopteris protrusa) (left) and Broad Beech Fern (Phegopteris hexagonopera) (very handsome).


A few fern ID tips:

  • The first thing to look for is growth pattern: does this fern grow in a clump, or singly?
  • Look at the bottom pair of leaflets, for instance to distinguish Lady Fern from Hay-scented Fern. This is also useful for applying my “opposite Onoclea” rule.
  • Look for hairs in the axils (armpits) of Cinnamon Fern.

scourSomething that didn’t look like a fern for centuries, but is now considered to be one, based on fossil evidence: Scouringrush (Equisetum hyemale). Unfortunately for the quality of the image, the growth tips of this specimen have been deer-browsed.


rockyOne more fern, Rock Polypody (Polypodium virginianum). Cute name, cute fern!


rampscallionsAnd a not-a-fern: Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are in flower.

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At the park: 87

One more report from the nest box monitoring team for the season:

box 61, 2016This year is turning out to be quite successful. Two more Wood Duck boxes have hatched out (box #61 at left), bringing the total to 8 successful WODU nests and 3 HOME nests. This is not counting boxes #1 and #3, which may have been predated, even though a second look turned up some egg membranes. We did see 3 young mergansers in the vicinity of these boxes.

We have at least two boxes still incubating (#6 and #77). #6 will be a second clutch for that box. #68, down at the end in the cattails, has 6 eggs, but it is perhaps a drop nest — we have not been checking it regularly.

We’re done with all-hands work days for the season. Kat and Chris, if you could check #6 and #77 in a couple of weeks, that would be good; I will spot-check #68 probably in two weeks on 19 June, or I will check it a week after that.

Paul, was is Wood Duck eggs that you saw in #68?

A Wild Turkey crossed the entrance drive as I arrived this morning. Paul spotted a Red-headed Woodpecker, down along the reach of Barnyard Run that they are partial to. Many tiny toadlets were crossing the trail as we walked out to the wetland.

Thank you all! I will post a wrap-up message, probably some time in July.

3 kindsOur boxes support life of all kinds. This the the top of box #67, showing examples of three lichen growth forms: crustose (clinging to the substrate), foliose (peeling up like a leaf), and fruticose (bushy, like Reindeer Lichen).

compositerosetteThere is a little patch of one of our hawkweeds, Rattlesnake Weed (Hieracium venosum) centered on a tree along the Cedar Trail, right before it divides to make a loop. I’ve keyed this flower out before, but this time around I was able to get some passable images. The purple-veined leaves of the basal rosette are the ID clincher.

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IWLA Bethesda-Chevy Chase herps

Our final field trip with Rachel Gauza’s class took us to the Bethesda-Chevy Chase chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America, 600-odd acres near Poolesville and McKee-Beshers WMA. Out host was Larry Anderson. Our targets were snakes, but we didn’t score well with that taxon. However, we found plenty to look at off the West Woods trail. Please don’t mind the nearby gun range.

structureAs you might imagine, deer management is an advanced art here, so it’s not uncommon to see nicely developed understory vegetation. Although we did see patches of the usual non-native invasives, we also saw some good natives—lots of Pawpaw (Asmina triloba), some Smilacina, a chance encounter with a bellwort, not yet in flower, Chestnut Oak (Quercus montana) on the ridgetops; Cathy spotted Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense).

today's mystery: 1today's mystery: 2I tried to puzzle out some ferns, unsuccessfully. This possible myxomycete also caught my attention.

chubby tailAnd we did see some herps! Pickerel Frog (Lithobates palustris), too hoppy for my camera, and multiple Marbled Salamanders (Ambystoma opacum). Rachel says that this is the first time that she’s seen Marbleds on the property.

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At the park: 86

The latest from our nest box monitoring:

A quiet, drizzly Sunday morning, but a sufficiency of activity to report. Upstream, Kat and Chris report hatches in boxes #4 and #7; and at the other end, box #67 hatched as well. We have a second clutch going in box #6, by the big pool, as well as clutches going in boxes #77, #5, and #61. When I opened #61, the Wood Duck flushed and executed a fine broken-wing distraction display.

Of our 16 boxes, we have had nesting activity in 14 of them….

Let’s do this again in two weeks on 5 June and check all boxes, and then one more time on 19 June to spot-check the stragglers.

hello: 1hello: 2Just a few days ago, I remarked to my herps instructor that we had never stepped on a Snapping Turtle in the wetland. And then yesterday, I came dang near close to doing just that…

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At the park: 85

From our most recent nest box monitoring report, with some photo annotations:

this morning's wetlandA quite pleasant morning on the wetland.

Win some, lose some: Box #84 is hatched out, and Kat and Chris found WODU ducklings in box #2. It’s possible that a Wood Duck is starting a second clutch in box #6, with 2 eggs laid there recently. So for the season, that’s 13 of the 16 boxes with nests, and 6 nests that have fledged so far.

On the downside, it appears that boxes #1 and #3 were predated by snakes: the boxes are not messy inside, just empty, and there is mud streaking in box #1’s pole that could be snake-caused. These are the 2 new boxes bear the observation tower, the ones that don’t have predator cones.
Let’s meet again on 22 May and check all the boxes. Based on what we find then, we’ll make a plan for at least one day in June, perhaps two.

in the handcloser lookWe got some looks at the Barred Owl adult and owlets; newly-observed birds for the season were Acadian Flycatcher and Northern Rough-winged Swallow; migrant Pectoral Sandpiper and other shorebirds. Chris turned up a wee American Toad near the vistors’ center.

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At the park: 84

From my most recent report on nesting activity:

12 of 16 boxes with nests, and one more with adults seen in the vicinity! As of 1 May, boxes #10 (Hooded Merganser), #6, #13, and #62 (Wood Duck) have hatched out, more or less in the usual proportions.

Birds noted on 10 April: Glossy Ibis, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Kingbird. Birds noted on 24 April: Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Towhee, Red-eyed Vireo, Lesser Yellowlegs, Chimney Swift, Barn Swallow, Green Heron. On 24 April, Houstonia sp. was in bloom near the end of the berm. There is a Tree Swallow nest in the broken top of a maple, down along Barnyard Run, near the “helper log” that lies across the channel near box #61.

We’ll meet again this Sunday, 8 May. Let’s skip checking box #7.

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Jug Bay herps

Our first field trip for Rachel Gauza’s herps class took us to Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary in Anne Arundel County. Our host guides were Mel Fegler and Mike Quinlan. This is a popular natural place on the Coastal Plain, and rightly so. I heard my first Wood Thrushes of the year in the parking lot.

first one for meBut the focus today is amphibians and reptiles! In the morning, we worked several spots near the McCann Wetlands Center. Mike found an Eastern Wormsnake (Carphopis amoenus) under a coverboard in the meadow adjacent to the center.

woodydry nowMoving into the deciduous woods along the Middle and Forest Trails, we saw a nice selection of herp diversity: Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina), Wood Frog (Lithobates sylvaticus), American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus), Fowler’s Toad (A. fowleri), Marbled Salamander (Ambystoma opacum)—and one toad of doubtful status that I want to follow up with Rachel on.

in the cupnot JeremiahWe dropped down from the right of way of the railroad that once ran from Seat Pleasant to Chesapeake Beach into the floodplain of Two Run Branch to visit several seasonal (now dried) and persistent pools. Opportunities to see Marbled Salamander larvae, Eastern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans), and a choice-sized American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus). Marbleds breed in the fall and the eggs overwinter, giving them a head start in develop come spring, so (as you can see), they’re already well along the way to becoming adults.

At lunch break, back at the center, I heard a Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra), and I think this is the first time that I’ve heard the call that Dick Walton’s tapes taught me so long ago as “piki-tucki-tuck.”

seasonalin the netIn the afternoon, Mel took us to a seasonal pool on the the Glendening Nature Preserve section of the sanctuary, the pool known locally as Barn Pool. We did some sweep netting through this pool, in a very rough approximation of the sampling protocol that Mel follows when she’s monitoring. The water levels were quite reduced, but there were many Marbled Salamander larvae to be netted.

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At the park: 83

Nest box team report for this morning:

WODU-HOME egg comparisonWe are up to 8 active nests, a couple of them with 1 or 2 Hooded Merganser eggs mixed in with Wood Duck eggs. I pulled together a couple of the images that Kat and Melina had provided last year for comparison of the eggs.

It looks like these boxes are complete clutches, now being incubated, so we can skip checking them next week: boxes #10, #6, #84, #13, #62. Actually, we never did get a good count for #6 (that’s the one where the male Wood Duck has been stationed on top of the box), as the hen there does not flush.

There was a bluebird box near duck boxes #2 and #4 that fell apart.

First Tree Swallows seen by the team were spotted over the wetland. There was a (migrant, supposedly) Ovenbird foraging at the edge of the parking lot at 8:30.

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At the park: 82

From the report of the nest box team this week:

box and guardguard detailWe are up to 6 active nests, 2 Hooded Merganser and 4 Wood Duck (with the odd extraspecies egg in some of the boxes). The new predator guards look really good — thanks! [As you can see, attaching the guards to our poles requires a little in-the-field engineering.]

The two new boxes in the new pool near the tower don’t have predator cones yet. Are there any more available? Also, box #3, although it has 3 eggs in it, also has a wonky door that doesn’t close very tightly. It might be possible to tighten up/relocate the hardware so that the door is a snugger fit.

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At the park: 81

First work day of the season maintaining and checking nest boxes! We already have nests started in two, maybe three boxes (I suspect one of the nests is from last year, abandoned), and this is all before we fluffed up the boxes with fresh chips inside. We also have an open to-do item to install predator guards on the poles. We introduced new recruit Kathy to the dubious pleasures of squoodging through the soft mud of the wetland. And we got a little training in the new protocol for cleaning our gear, in hopes of controlling the spread of ranavirus.

the lodgernew damOur resident beavers have rebuilt the lodge that wants to overtake the bench at the start of the boardwalk. And, at that same spot, they have built a new dam off to the left of the boardwalk.

We heard female Wood Ducks hoo-eeking numerous times; lots of Mallards hanging out, too.

two colorsDown by box #13, on the dry land before the observation tower, I found something that’s fairly common but I’d never noticed it before, probably because I wasn’t looking for it: the hunkered-down, overwintering, two-colored leaves of Cranefly Orchid (Tipularia discolor).

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Mosses in Fred Crabtree Park

crossingGaylan Meyer led a two-hour workshop in introductory identification of mosses in Fred Crabtree Park, just south of Reston on Fox Mill Road. Fred Crabtree Park (renamed from Fox Mill Park since the last time I visited) is a pleasant patch, protecting part of the Little Difficult Run watershed. Gaylan has identified at least ten, maybe 12 moss species in the park.


yellow yarnWe keyed out one species, using the recent McKnight et al., Common Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians (2013). The first swell surprise about moss ID is that there’s not a lot you can do in the field with mosses. You can classify plants into growth form, acrocarp or pleurocarp, and if you’ve got tweezers and a hand lens you might be able to look at leaf shape and the presence of a midrib. Gaylan identifies this as Yellow Yarn Moss (Anomodon rostratus). For the remaining mosses we looked at on the trip, we relied on Gaylan’s scouting of this location and his patient work at home with his microscope.

oil spillfeather combOil Spill Moss (Platygyrium repens), at left, and Feather Comb Moss (Ctenidium molluscum), at right, are pleurocarps, frequently branching and usually trailing along the substrate.


starburstpincushionThe more conspicuous mosses are acrocarps, with upright stems packed together like tufts of carpet. At left is Wavy Starburst Moss (Atrichum altecristatum) and at right is Pincushion Moss (Leucobryum glaucum). For the starbust moss, the sporangia, ending in the brown tubular capsules (empty, with lid off), are fairly well imaged.


haircapGaylan’s call on this plant is Polytrichum commune, but after checking the Digital Atlas of the Virginia Flora, I think that Juniper Haircap Moss (P. juniperium) is much more likely. By the way, the otherwise invaluable USDA PLANTS database is pretty hopeless for range maps for mid-Atlantic bryophytes.

shiningWe also looked at a few plants that are not mosses. Here’s a lovely patch of Shining Clubmoss (Huperzia lucidula), a/k/a Shining Firmoss. The clubmosses, firmosses, running cedars, and such are in a bit of a classification jumble. But they are nevertheless vascular plants that only happen to resemble true mosses.


woodfern 2woodfern 1And a fern-savvy member of the group ID’d this as Spinulose Woodfern (Dryopteris carthusiana). I didn’t get an image of the entire frond, but at least this time I remembered to look at the sori.

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Great Backyard Bird Count 2016

Clear, but just as darn cold as last year (15°). A nice 20-species total for my patch along the Glade stream valley. Conspicuous by its absence was White-breasted Nuthatch. Got a quick look and listen for the reliable Red-shouldered Hawk. Surprise species for the trip was a trio of female Red-winged Blackbirds.

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