Rock Creek project: 2

Today’s walk went off pretty darn well. Pulling into the parking lot, I feared that there would not be sufficient spaces for my guests, but the second lot at the Nature Center was quite open.

As people were arriving, I was watching a House Finch in a treetop when Tracie called out, “hey, isn’t that a turkey?” Later, I happened to mention our Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) sighting to the interpreter in the Nature Center, and she was impressed. She said that she hadn’t seen one in the park in her 2+ years there.

Several of the wildflowers that I had scouted along the stream bank had gone by. We had one little remnant patch of Solomon’s Plume (Maianthemum racemosum). But on the whole, a success. I got to introduce the group to a couple of my favorites, and the Bearcorn (Conopholis americana) patch along Ross Drive was well received (it was vigorously flowering two weeks ago).

My time management was good; we got around in 2:00. We were paced by Cosmo the dog. Alas, I did miss the turnout for Fort De Russy on the way back.

bridge stopNear the Fort De Russy site is a patch of what I’m pretty sure is Umbrella Magnolia (Magnolia tripetala). (Both it and M. macrophylla are on the park’s species checklist.)

New York getaway 2019

Snaps from a long weekend in New York.

serriedIt turns out that my hotel is in the flower district of Chelsea. A nicer streetscape look, when compared to most of the residential streets, which were covered in dead Christmas trees.

no parkingHopes dashed! The Park is only a restaurant.

openThis Second Avenue subway is apparently really a thing now.

red hatThe reflections from the shop window and the strange color cast—I claim artistic license. Who knew that Stetson makes a red hat?

simpleSometimes all you need is to hang out your shingle.

Chapman State Park

beefyyugeI joined the group making a solstice celebration walk at Maryland’s Chapman State Park—more of a bushwhack, truth be told, with Rod Simmons at the head of the line. Although I can’t recommend him as a trip leader based on this experience, he did point out some huge individuals of familiar tree species in this old-growth woods. For instance, Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) at left, with a trunk as wide as my hand, and an oak-sized Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) at right.


destinationCherrybark Oak (Quercus pagoda) was a target species, and Rod delivered.

Mason Neck

Jim McGlone and Rita Urbanski led walks on Mason Neck for Fairfax Master Naturalists. Rita focused on wetland adaptations, while Jim workshopped basic tree ID with the class. He mentioned the economic value of Quercus alba in cooperage, particularly with respect to aging wines and whiskeys. Planks made from red oaks can’t be made watertight, unlike white oak lumber.

probably verticillataHe pointed out a winterberry in fruit, Ilex verticillata (we’re out of range for I. laevigata),

still learning: onestill learning: twoas well as a jinx plant that I cannot form a good search image for, serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.). I’ll keep trying.

Jim also noted a native Euonymus that had already burst.

A mystery: 15

hiding in the woodTovi Lehmann led a fungus walk centered on the nature center in Rock Creek Park on a very windy Sunday morning. We found some interesting stuff: Mycena sheltered in a well-decayed log and stump.

bear itLentinellus ursinis, with its serrate gills.

almost missed itAlso long-persisting, Picipes badius.

We talked about the associations among Cerrena unicolor (Mossy Maze Polypore), a wood-boring wasp (Tremex columba), and an ichneumonid parasite of the wasp (Megarhyssa spp.). Now, we found Cerrena growing on a log with two species of Stereum, including S. ostrea. But only the Cerrena was covered with algae, a common sight. Tovi didn’t have an answer to my question about why the algae preferentially used Cerrena as a substrate.

Ellanor C. Lawrence Park botany and ichthyology

new to meCharles Smith led the botany basics workshop at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park for Fairfax Master Naturalists. (I studied the eastern section of this park for a class in 2014.) We met a lot of old friends from the plant world. Charles pointed out a non-native invasive that I had not seen before, Small Carpetgrass (apt name, that) (Arthraxon hispidus).

In the meadow, Charles pointed out Beaked Panicgrass (Panicum anceps). I need to look at this plant a few more times before I can grok it. A tip for learning sumacs: fruits hang down from Winged Sumac.

"what good looks like"On the west side of Walney Road, we did a very short ascent of the Ridge Trail to a patch of woods that has been left alone by White-tailed Deer. Charles describes this view a “what a good forest looks like.”

the worksIn the afternoon, Chris Ruck and his team electrofished a short reach of Big Rocky Run. Again, this was not a complete, protocol-compliant survey, but rather some cherry-picking so that we could see what species could be found in the stream. Forgive me for geeking out on the equipment, but it’s pretty cool.

working downstreamnet 'imA circuit is established between the anode, the pole in Danielle’s right hand, and the cathode, the cable in her right hand. Fish in the water are stunned, and can be scooped up in a net for study, as Chris is doing in the image at right. Voltage and other electrical characteristics can be adjusted for water conditions. You want rubberized waders for this job; if you’re wearing breathable waders, you will probably feel an unpleasant tingle, or worse.

waiting to be keyed outSome of the catch, ready for identification.

pretty darterlook on the sunny sideWe turned up 13 of a possible 20 species or so, according to Chris’s accounts. We spent a lot of time with the keys and the minnow representatives (family Cyprinidae). A little easier to ID were these Fantail Darters (Etheostoma flabellare) at left, and these four sunfish species (at right).

Huntley Meadows herps and birds

mystery partly solvedI got a leg up on understanding the mystery yellow flower that I’ve seen blooming in the marsh. According to the trip co-leader, Alonso Abugattas, it’s an aggressive non-native water-primrose. I would like to come back and check it more closely, but if he’s correct that it’s the non-native, that would make it Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala.

surprise 1asurprise 1bThe surprise plant was Common Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana). I’ve looked out from the tower many a time but never at a time when I could see these trees in fruit.

cute newtWe were trying to focus on herps, but the plants and insects caught our attention, too. Alonso found a few Eastern Red-backed Salamanders (Plethodon cinereus).

Co-leader Mary Benger showed us the birds to be found. A couple of shorebirds passing through, a handful of Great Egrets. Red-headed Woodpecker made an appearance.

Saint Louis art & tech crawl

I attended the Strange Loop conference in St. Louis this past week. I got a little time to have a look at the city, which I haven’t seen since I visited my departed friend Jim Wilson in University City many years ago. Ted Drewes is still there, although you can buy a concrete from a vending machine in the airport now.

faded oneI found another fallout shelter sign, this one exposed to the weather and badly faded.

texture and shinelined upRichard Serra’s quadrilateral Twain is not in great condition, and the landscaping around it is a bit lumpy and wild (perhaps by design?), but this iridescence caught my eye. And the framing of the courts building across the street is too perfect to have happened by chance.

fancy topcotta cottaI was sitting in the hotel, eating my breakfast, idly looking out the window, and I spotted a rather fancy looking building a few blocks away. “Let’s take a closer look,” I thought. “That looks interesting.” Oh, yeah. It’s the Wainwright Building.

car 4007I spent a little time birding for the Saint Louis specialty, unsuccessfully, alas. But I did add a light rail system to my list.

double archI found the arch, too! This pair of barrel-vaulted tunnels had been abandoned, but were repurposed by MetroLink. This is the south end of the 8th and Pine station.

Wolf Trap mushrooms

red tiniesside viewWilliam Needham led a walk focused on fungi. He delivered our destination species, the diminutive fall-fruiting Red Chanterelle (Cantharellus cinnabarinus) in a corner of the park that most concertgoers never visit.

look for the donut holeOn the way back to the cars, another participant (whose name I have forgotten, alas) pointed out Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) and its doughnut-hole field mark on the upper forewing.

Shenandoah National Park getaway 2018

home, for a bitI took a two-night trip to Shenandoah National Park, staying in this adorable cabin on the Skyland property, one of the oldest cabins in the park. Black-and-White Warbler (Mniotila varia) seen from the porch.


five not fourThe first day, I did a four-hour loop out of the Big Meadows area, following the Rapidan Road, Mill Prong Trail, and AT. The meadows along the Rapidan Road were quite good for our common butterflies. Once the road entered the woods, I found a lingering patch of Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis). My initial attempts to ID were rather hopeless (I’ve never seen this plant before), in part because the blooms nearer the trail were on the way to gone by, and showed only four parts, not five. Field ID job #1: always check more than one individual.

free flowingThe Mill Prong was flowing generously. A thundershower kicked in as I climbed back to Milam Gap, and I had to break out my ratty emergency poncho with a hole and most of the snaps broken. Near the end of my loop, I found a flock of about 18 Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo); I think that this is the first time that I’ve seen them in fairly thick woods, rather than by the roadside. 4.2 miles, elevation change 205m.

slopeThe next day, I drove to the South District to take a loop around Blackrock. Blackrock is not so much a mountain as it is a messy talus slope. This is the view to the north. Not even a Mountain Ash has made inroads here. I deviated from my trail guide and took a short stretch on the AT. Let’s call it 2.5 miles and an elevation change of 110m, around in 2:05. On the AT, I surprised a pair of Black Bear cubs, on one side of the trail, and an adult on the other side. I backed off and clapped my hands and improvised a silly song about walking in the woods (the sort of thing that Pooh and Piglet would sing) until I was sure that the fuzzies had moved on.

I found that I was laboring in my climbs—there are a couple of reasons why that might be. So, for my afternoon walk, I cut down the loop I was planning into a circuit starting from Browns Gap, following the AT, Big Run Loop Rail, and Madison Run Road. As I approached the parking area for the trailhead, I was hailed by two noisy hikers on the roadside. I thought that they had run out of water, but it turned out they were just hoping to cadge a beer. Ah, well, trail magic takes many forms.

Climbing on the AT, I decided that this was my therapy: hot yoga forest bathing. Pause. Listen. Breathe.

patience rewardedcommon, but very niceMadison Run Road (I’ve been at the other end of this road) was good for a couple butterflies, Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) at left and Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) at right. Alas, I did not key out the fleabane. 105m elevation change, 2.2 miles, 1:35.

not a sunflowerAlong Skyline Drive, I saw lots of variations on yellow August-blooming composites. But once I stopped and got my Newcomb’s out, I found only two species. First, some patches of Tall Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata), including a few flowers on Madison Run Road.

one inflorescenceleaf detailAnd then, overwhelmingly, the roadside flowers in bloom at this time of the year turn out to be Pale-leaved Sunflower (Helianthus strumosus). These photos are all from one overlook parking area, the plants are everywhere Skyline Drive. The flowers show variability in color (yellow to orange) and they change as the flower matures: the disc becomes darker, more prominent (like a coneflower) as the ray flowers begin to drop off.

I stopped for a quick run up to Betty’s Rock before I headed back to the cabin and dinner. But the trail is closed for revegetation. Just a reminder that it’s possible to love something too much, so much that you hurt it.

a driftCounting the trailside and roadside bears that I saw, I found six. That’s more bears than I’ve ever seen before in my life.

At the park: 96

My final report for the ducks and mergs team this season:

Well, our box score for the season shows a lot of at-bats but not too many runs across the plate. The mergansers started 10 clutches but only hatched 4; the Wood Ducks started 5 but only completed 1. We had evidence of predation in only 1 box (raccoon, #60). A possible hypothesis to explain the high rate of nest abandonment by the mergansers is simply that there were too many birds chasing scarce resources.

The egg and hatchling counts are similarly depressed: 139 eggs laid by the Hooded Mergansers, with 52 hatched (37%); 34 eggs laid by the Wood Ducks, with 7 hatched (21%). Summary worksheet from our monitoring.

A recap of the boxes: I applied some insulating foam to patch gaps in boxes #1 and #3. Boxes #4 and #7 should be replaced. A map of nest box locations.

box 5, duringbox 5, afterTiny little box #5 was put to good use this year! It was the site of our single successful Wood Duck nest. During (10 June) at left and after (24 June) at right.

Monitors, thank you for all your help!

Wood Duck and Hooded Merganser trend chart

Acadia Birding Festival 2018

on itJeepers, a great number of guides for ABF events to thank: Don Lima, David Ladd, Doug Suitor, Fyn Kynd, Fred Yost, Michael Retter, Bill Sheehan, Margaret Viens, Ed Hawkes, George Armistead, and the crew and staff of the Friendship V—as well as all the other guides aboard the boat.

target islandOur target birds for the pelagic trip out of Bar Harbor were pretty much the same as those for the trip out of Cutler the week before, and the alcids duly made their appearances. Guides also spotted a lone Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) at Petit Manan Island (lifer), and Marsall Iliff found a Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster) on the way there (tropical mega-lifer).

bonus bonus lightbonus lightOn the return, we scooted past Mount Desert Rock (its light, at left) and Great Duck Island (its light, at right).

one more lightWith a little time before lunch, to continue the theme, I drove my car down to Bass Harbor Head to photograph its light.

larderNear to Otter Cliffs, we picked up a couple of female Red Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra). I am gratified to report that I first saw (but did not identify) the birds fly into these White Spruces (Picea glauca), which look a little raggedy at the top with cones but no green branches. Apparently that was exactly the sort of tree the hungry birds were looking for.

getting the search imageI saw a lot of Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum) and eventually got the jizz of this rather common plant, with its single bare stem rising two and a half feet before sending out any leaves.

tricky focusMore bogs and bog specialty plants! This sketchy image of Cottongrass (Eriophorum sp.), a sedge, is from Orono Bog.

On the whole, the weather was very cooperative for both trips. I didn’t see rain until a layover in Boston on my return drive. Now that I look back at my trails map of Acadia National Park, I realize that I saw a lot of Mount Desert Island, but there’s still so much more to explore. I added nine birds to my ABA Area life list, running my total up to 423. Missed the Spruce Grouse, and I was disappointed not to find a Black-legged Kittiwake.

one for Callanand another for CallanOoh, and some Friday Fold candidates for Callan Bentley. These boulders were on the shore of Western Bay in the Indian Point Blagden Preserve.