International Rock-Flipping Day 2008: 3

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International Rock-Flipping Day 2008: 1

It’s IRFD today!

earthworm and cricketI warmed up with a quick look in my back yard. Under the cinder block that holds the back gate closed (long-deferred project) I found an earthworm (order Haplotaxida) and what I take to be a ground cricket (order Orthoptera). I didn’t even see the cricket until I downloaded the photo: I was watching something smaller in the field that doesn’t come out in the image.

The Glade after HannaI then moved down to the patch where I usually census for the Great Backyard Bird Count, a stretch of The Glade upstream from Twin Branches Road. The vegetation along the stream bank was still flattened by the runoff from storm Hanna, which passed through yesterday.

land slugI found fewer flippable rocks in this area than I expected, so I fudged a little and looked under some logs as well. Hence this nice example of a slug. Land slugs that breathe air get their own order, Pulmonata.

termitesOn the way back to the car, my last flip turned up some tiny pale worker termites, order Isoptera. If we count the pillbugs that I didn’t photograph, then my tally for the day is five orders.

Little Devils Stairs

Last holiday weekend of the summer and it’s time for the mountains! For yesterday’s hike I picked something that required a bit of a push: the Little Devils Stairs loop hike (PATC Circuit Hikes in Shenandoah National Park 15/e #4), measured at 7.5 miles and 1800 feet of elevation change. Reckoning by my notes, the only other time I’ve climbed Little Devils Stairs was in 1992, that time starting the loop from the parking lot at the end of Virginia SR 614.

butterfly funThis time I started from Skyline Drive, descending along the Keyser Run Fire Road. I’ve explored territory nearby recently when I did the Sugarloaf Trail. The fire road descent is fairly predictable as far as the footing goes. The surprise of this stretch was the unexpected abundance of butterflies—nothing too unusual, Cabbage Whites, swallowtails, Pearl Crescents (in the photo), Silver-spotted Skippers, glimpses of anglewings, perhaps a fritillary—attracted, perhaps, by the moisture seeps from the rainfall two days ago. Midafternoon late-summer birdlife was expectedly slow: some ravens crawking, woodpeckers, flycatchers, a couple of chickadee-based mixed flocks. I heard no vireos.

restingDown the mountain, near where the fire road turns at its junction with the Hull School Trail is the Bolen family cemetery. The charismatic large vertebrate of the trip was a Black Bear cub who ambled across the trail just inside the park boundary at the gate that ends SR 614. It didn’t stick around for a photo, and I explained to it in a fairly loud voice that I had no intention of getting between it and its mother. I paused to let that sink in before continuing down the trail. I think that’s the first bear I’ve seen in the park.

watch your stepcliffs and Keyser RunI made a food stop at a little tributary of Keyser Run before taking on the climb. About 900 feet of the 1650-foot (by my altimeter) climb back to Skyline Drive is up the canyon of Keyser Run, and in the canyon the footing is rock, rock, rocks crossing the run. Generally manageable, nicely shaded from the sun, but there is one shallow chimney that requires a bit of a puff. And at a couple of points the cliffs are exposed on one side or the other, which is good for a whiff of claustrophobia. I paused to take a couple of murky snaps of some Appalachian Browns (Satyrodes appalachia).

3:50 for the circuit. Not bad.

At the park: 20

Earlier this month we made our last field trip to monitor nest boxes. The raspberries were ripening, the Typha was eyeball-height, the dodder was showing its bright orange, and Indigo Buntings were singing in the mapletops.

It was a good year for the ducks, with an especially impressive increase in activity from the Wood Ducks. We fledged 97 woodies, a 14-year high. The hoodies did well, too, with 4 successful nests. The area along Lower Barnyard Run was the most intensively used (as it has been for several years), with double clutches in three of the boxes.

A few years ago I started recording our data with Cornell, in what is now the NestWatch program. This year they’ve opened up outside access to the data, at least a little bit. So here’s a map with our summary data.

We also discussed plans for maintenance and box relocation with Park staffer Dave Lawlor. Since construction for the wetland restoration project is now planned for summer, 2009, we’re not going to be doing much work before then—just replacement of a couple of worn-out boxes.

At the park: 19

Still one box unhatched as of this morning’s checks. Unfortunately, we’re writing up box #61 as a failed attempt: no eggs, but no shells, so most likely predated. Brief visits from unwanted deer flies as we walked out; I was wet over the tops of my boots as we walked through waist-high lizardtail (Saururus cernuus). Paul found an Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius) in a bare tree in the middle of the Run.

Good advice

Guest blogger Ann Hall advises the hiker on how to deal with t-storms in the field:

The chances for being caught in a thunderstorm at Dolly Sods are good. Avoid these storms if possible. If, however, you are caught in one of these storms make yourself as unattractive to lightning as possible, stay as dry as possible, then enjoy what you see and hear (since you’re already there).

Lewis Falls-Blackrock circuit

First hot day of the summer, so what better time for the ceremonial first seasonal exposure of my lower limbs to sunlight? I pointed my car west on I-66, heard the whine of the pavement as I headed for Prince William County and higher elevations beyond.

I hiked the easy-rated Lewis Falls-Blackrock circuit (#19 in the current PATC guide), 4-plus miles with side trips. My notes say that the last time I took this loop was July, 1998. I didn’t record a time then, but this time I went around in 2:15. I measured 900-foot elevation change, so I got my workout.

iridescenceIt’s a fairly popular hike for a summer holiday weekend. Like many of the hikes in the park, it’s deceptive in that you’re walking downhill to get to the attraction (in this case, the little gem of Lewis Falls with its tiny rainbow in the spray). You may be facing a tough climb to get back to your car, as one middle-aged urbanite whom I met on her way back had discovered, to her pain.

At the park: 18

not quite ready to leaveThe brood of Tufted Titmouse has not left the nest in box #5 yet. The boxes along lower Barnyard Run continue to be the most popular: we have second clutches (all Wood Duck) started in three of the boxes, and all seven of them have been occupied at least once this year.

two weeks laterWe had reports of Virginia Rail (Rallus limicola) at a certain spot along the boardwalk where the vegeation opens up and the birds have to break cover, so we stopped to check. About fifteen minutes of waiting and listening was rewarded with good looks at one of two birds. The speculation is that nesting is in progress.

At the park: 17

Two more clutches of Wood Duck have started since last week, so we’ll be checking boxes well into June.

New arrivals of the season seen or heard on Sunday: Green Heron (Butorides virescens), Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) (spotted by Paul), Acadian Flycatcher (Empidonax virescens) (heard by me), Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea), and Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea) (found by Myra).

At the park: 16

Sometimes our boxes are visited by members of families other than Anatidae. A Tufted Titmouse has taken over box #5, located down lower Barnyard Run. At least five nestlings are visible in the photo at left; you can also see the considerable amount of unused box space surrounding the tiny nest.

Box #8 on the main wetland also has a songbird nest in it—probably Carolina Wren.

As for our intended guests, two Hooded Merganser nests have hatched out, as well as two Wood Duck clutches. We’re still expecting hatches of two hoodie families, three woodie families, and perhaps one more.

Also heard, seen, or both: American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus), Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla), Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus), Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus), Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapillus), and Prothonotary Warbler (Pronotaria citrea)(vocalizing!).

At the park: 15

greening upOn Sunday’s trip, we saw the results of hatching in three boxes. Myra and Chris were rewarded with views of chicks in two of them! The foliage has really greened up in the past couple of weeks, after what feels like ten days of rain. The patch and glue job on my right boot did not hold up, but fortunately I have another right (from my previous pair, which is lacking a left). New birds spotted or heard in the park: Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes), Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria), Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica), Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina), White-eyed Vireo (Vireo griseus), Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia), and lifer #358 for me, Northern Waterthrush (Seiurus noveboracensis). Good ears, Paul!

At the park: 14

Eight nests active, but no hatch activity yet. A couple of the boxes are due. Along with my pollen allergy, swallows have arrived in the area: we saw all three common species. Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) were audible, Paul ID’d a Pine Warbler (Dendroica pinus), and Myra saw a lifer Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes).

under the surfaceThis Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) popped an eye out of the water to check me out while I was pulling out my point-and-shoot, then dropped back down below the surface when he’d decided that I wasn’t worth bothering with. The shell is about 10 inches across the long dimension.

At the park: 13

There still isn’t very much green in the park, but the birds are getting busy. We have two nests of Hooded Merganser active, and three of Wood Duck. As we were getting our gear ready in the parking lot, a scruffy-looking Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) scarpered down the blacktop path in the direction of Lockheed Boulevard.

Since the visitors’ center doesn’t open on Sunday mornings until later in the season, we were glad to see the return of the portable outhouse to the grounds.

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) is beginning to scratch its way through the leaf litter. New birds spotted include Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe), Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon), and Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps).