Southside Virginia getaway

Continuing to chase badges in the Virginia State Parks Trail Quest program, I booked a motel room in Clarksville and laid out an itinerary to visit three parks (starting with Occoneechee, across the bridge over the Kerr Reservoir) and two Natural Area Preserves. On my way home, I added a stop at Lake Anna State Park, bringing my parks-visited count to 13.

Even accounting for the fact that I was visiting midweek, traffic at the parks was much reduced from the early COVID-19 months.

At the visitor center for Staunton River State Park, there’s a winding path mowed through a meadow that’s better visited in the morning when your eyes and legs are fresh. “Winding” is too weak: “labyrinth” is more like it.

Turkey Run Trail in Lake Anna turned up numerous Blue-fronted Dancers (Argia apicalis), while the railroad trail at Staunton River Battlefield Park yielded a Blue-Tipped Dancer (A. tibialis).

on the road againThe centerpiece of the road trip was Difficult Creek Natural Area Preserve, in Halifax County. Dr. Hardtacks, parked outside the gate, is all ready to help with the visit.

serried 1serried 2The preserve is in the process of being converted from pine farm to the open savannah that was typical in pre-contact days. When the trees are lined up like dominoes, you know you’re looking at a farm.

restored savannahHere’s a view of the restored habitat. I found several plants to puzzle out, including Lobelia spicata, an evening primrose (a nemesis species for me), a skullcap (Scutellaria sp.), and Pasture Rose (Rosa carolina).

But the best observation of the stop was hearing, and then later flushing, Northern Bobwhite (Colinus viginianus). I don’t think I’ve seen bobwhite since the days that I birded with Susan.

The pickins at Chub Sandhill NAP, in Sussex County, were pretty slim, although I did find a species of Venus’s Looking Glass (Triodanis perfoliata) on the roadside. However, the best bit of the visit was stumbling across a restoration area of Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris). I’ve seen this tree in slide shows, but nothing can prepare you for what you see in the field: its spray of needles is magnificent.

I’m always on the lookout for tiger beetles. The only ones I find around here are Six-spotteds (Cicindela sexguttata). Looking at one of my zoomed-in crops, I noticed that it’s quite common to see an extra pair of spots, in the middle of each elytron rather than along the edge. We should have called them eight-spotted tiger beetles.

Box Turtle research at Clifton Institute

Andrew Eberly of the Clifton Institute led a show-and-tell-and-do workshop on the organization’s research into Eastern Box Turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina). The research focuses on what habitats the turtles are using, and what habitats nearby that they give a pass to. Like the kestrel research, one of the goals is to inform landowners about management choices (i.e., when and how to mow). The Institute has numbered more than 100 turtles (there are lots on the 900ac property) with small, harmless notches on the edge of the carapace.

tale of the tapeweigh-inOne aspect of the research is simple mark-recapture, with the collection of various vitals. Andrew is weighing and measuring a turtle that hadn’t been observed on the property before—so it’s a new entry in the database.

found 'ergot my ears onCertain of the turtles carry radio transmitters (attached with marine glue to the carapace). These turtles are surveyed more regularly. They are relocated with a receiver and antenna (not unlike the gear that I saw in use in North Carolina tracking Piping Plovers). Each turtle is transmitting on a distinct frequency, and the transmitters are good for about 400 days.

To sample nearby habitat that a turtle isn’t using requires finding a randomly selected point within a 100m radius of where it was found. Bushwhacking required.

At the park: 142

The season is winding down:

Box 67 - 7 May 2023The Magnificent Seven did a quick run through the boxes, as we had competing obligations later in the day. Four boxes completed hatching, including Box #67, bringing us up to 7 successful clutches this season. The three ducklings that I found in the box two weeks ago had departed the box (whew!). B made some repairs to Box #3, but reported that the hardware cloth needed immediate repair; C said that he would fix it that afternoon. The other interesting thing about #3 is that the Wood Duck hen is incubating only 3 eggs. (Box #67 at left.)

Box 60 - 7 May 2023Box 60 - 7 May 2023We’ll do one more check-em-all pass on Sunday, 21 May, with the expectation that we will have hatches in Boxes #10 and #3. It would be possible but unusual for a new clutch to be started between now and then. I will experiment with sealing gaps around the predator guards for a few of the boxes…. (Box #60 at left and right.)


Kestrel research at Clifton Institute

Sam, beforeSam, afterYesterday’s trip to Warrenton provided a recap of current research results from studying American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) behavior in the field, a bit of hands-on experience preparing ink traps (to detect the presence of prey items) and walking transects (ditto), and the opportunity to observe (at a safe remove) a female kestrel being fitted with a GPS-based transmitter. At right, the bird (nicknamed Sam [her mate is Frodo]) after getting her backpack.

A few Eastern Forktails (schnura verticalis) (and) and dragonflies were flying at the Institute.

Hawksbill Mountain loop

Saturday was a volunteer work day at Shenandoah National Park, cut short by thunderstorms that rolled through mid-day. There was an hour of schmoozing before we actually got working: I got to meet the superintendent of the park and some other good folks. I’ve never seen so many green uniforms in one place before. In the end, we put paid to several patches of Garlic Mustard.

So, in order to make Saturday not a bananas early drive, I booked a room in Luray for Friday night and planned a little hike for that afternoon. Really, the point of the hike was to find out whether I can still handle the trail from the gap up to the Hawksbill Mountain summit, and I am glad to say that I can. It took me an hour to ascend the ca. 690 feet. Another 2:15 for a lunch break, return by the Salamander Trail and Appalachian Trail, and several photo stops. Figure about twice as much time (3:15) as it took me back in October 2009 to cover the 2.9 miles.

summitThe view from the summit is still very fine.

legosFrom the AT, watching the mountain take itself apart into Legos, in slow motion.

At one stretch of the trail, the talus slope has overrun it. Dude, where’s my trail? dude, where's my trail?I saw no blazes on the boulders, so perhaps this is a recent development?

Unplanned observations included quite a bit of the uplands’ signature trillium (Trillium grandiflorum), a polypody that I’m hoping for an ID confirmation, and a seen-heard-but-not-photographed American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla). I packed my camera with the long lens but decided not to carry it on the trail. Good call, considering all.

At the park: 140

Our schedules are jumping around, so we checked boxes again today:

Box 5 - 9 April 2023

One box has hatched (early nesting Hooded Merganser in Box #5), the other box is very due. Two more nests started, making eight active nests, but it still seems like activity is a bit slow this year.

We repaired Box #4; B will bring washers and screws to work on Box #3.

We’ll meet again on 23 April, and then on 7 May.

City Nature Challenge is 28 April through 1 May….

TY is in Danish today: tak skal du have!

Mason and Bailey: 7

A splendid time was had by Mason & Bailey Club Auxiliary participants in a joint field trip/going away get-together for yours truly, meeting on 18 March. We walked a loop from Peirce Mill to Pulpit Rock and paused for a snap by A.

In addition to the spring ephemerals that I had scouted earlier in the day, K found a sessile trillium about to bloom (either Trillium sessile or S. cuneatum—I’m in dialogue with some iNatters).

Conway Robinson State Forest

Nancy Vehrs led a walk at Conway Robinson State Forest, a new site for me. The 440 acres of woods are near Manassas National Battlefield Park, but not contiguous to it, and they will soon be boxed in by development on all four sides.

cropping outOnce you walk north and cross through the zone where bedrock crops out, the flora really pops as you descend the slope to Little Bull Run. Round-leaved Hepatica (Hepatica americana) and Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) were easy to find. At the run, Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) were going to town.

The walk back up the hill was a bit of a puff, especially at the end of the day.

Bonus herp for the trip was a Dekay’s Brownsnake (Storeria dekayi).

At the park: 137

This week’s update:

Box 62 - 12 March 2023

Steady as she goes: Box #62 has a full or nearly full clutch, but is not being incubated yet. The hen on Box #4 did not flush, so we can figure that she’s incubating. Box #67 now has 6 eggs. We did some maintenance work on Boxes #7, #84, and #3.

Piedmont geology foray

We visited two Triassic Basin sites in Fauquier County, on a trip led by Clifton Institute staffers Andrew Eberly and Bridget Bradshaw. No pix of living things to post to iNat, so the pix are Flick embeds today!

At the Institute, Andrew gave a quick geology refresher. I have trouble remembering that felsic rocks are low in iron (that “fe” is for feldspar) and it’s the mafic rocks that are high in iron and magnesium.

cropping outFirst road stop was an outcrop of Newark Supergroup siltstone on the shore of Germantown Lake in C. M. Crockett Park. Andrew demonstrated that the dip of the outcrop is about 15°.

two piecesbreaks easilyThe siltstone fractures easily, but not cleanly.

at the fordWe then moved farther south, to Kelly’s Ford on the Rappahannock River. This site is part of the C. F. Phelps WMA.

broken into blocks, but how?darkerThe siltstone here has been metamorphosed into something much harder to break, and the stone is much darker.

beddingBedding is clearer in this photo.

We didn’t stop for pix of the blooming Early Saxifrage and Cut-leaf Toothworth, but you are likely to see these in my iNaturalist feed soon.

Patuxent lichens foray

And a second field trip with Natalie Howe, with Tom McCoy riding shotgun. We entered Patuxent Research Refuge’s North Tract (that sign for Bald Eagle Road is easy to miss), signed in (apparently the complicated waivers about unexploded ordnance are a thing of the past), and covered a good 100m, maybe 150m, on the Forest Trail—followed by a short drive to the Hopkins Cemetery enclave on the refuge.

We found a little something that I so wanted to turn into a myxomycete, but iNat’s AI suggests a fungus, Phleogena faginea.

It takes a little gumption to accept that your field ID of most lichens is only going to get you to genus. We looked at a Lecanora, many different Cladonias (and), a Pyxine (get the UV flashlight!), and a Canoparmelia. We were pretty confident that we had a bit of Graphis scripta, as well as Lepraria finkii and Flavoparmelia baltimorensis (most of these IDs are still pending confirmation on iNat).

lichens and stonesThe Hopkins Cemetery offers a big drift of Cladonia reindeer lichen in relatively undisturbed turf.

field work 1field work 2Lichenologists in action, checking out the Cladonia.

At the park: 136

The report from last Sunday:

Box 5 - 5 March 2023

We have a clutch of eggs already incubating in box #5! As well, we have new Wood Duck eggs in two boxes, and evidence of roosting in three more boxes.

We added spring hook-and-eye closures (says safety gate hook & eye on the package) to three boxes. B. and crew will bring materials and tools for some upgrades to the boxes on the main wetland next Sunday. In particular, we lost the wingnut closing box #7, so we will rig up an alternate closure….

Danke schön! Remember that DST kicks in Sunday morning.