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.

On deck: 21

Bookshelf August 2021With a little determination (and self-control in the bookstore), I am back to having only one shelf’s worth of books to read.

And yes, I have become the person with two cast recordings of Anyone Can Whistle, two electric hedge trimmers, and two translations of Du côté de chez Swann.

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)!

Back to a hatchback

first road tripSay hello to Dr. Hardtacks on his first road trip, already a little dusty from the drive. We’re at the trailheads for Buffalo Mountain in Floyd County, early enough to pick our own space before the parking lot fills up (and it did, on a Friday morning).

With multiple new safety features and an automatic backy-uppy parking trick, the doctor is definitely smarter than me. His surname comes from the name of a turtle that Aaron Posner likes to work into his scripts.

For the first 1000 miles, we’re doing 66.5 mpg.

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: 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.

ID corner

I was on a discussion thread at iNaturalist for an observation of Aralia species in Catonsville, Md. The non-native Japanese Angelica Tree (A. elata) has been escaping from cultivation and is reported in several Maryland counties.

How to distinguish A. elata from the native Devil’s Walkingstick (A. spinosa) in winter? David Sibley’s guide says that A. elata is “less spiny,” but that doesn’t help very much.

markerFortunately, Maraea Harris of Meadowlark Botanical Gardens pointed out for me (we were on an invasives removal work day) a cultivated example of A. elata, specifically the variety “Silver Umbrella” with variegated leaves (in the growing season, of course).

somewhat spiny young stemolder stemYou can see that the younger stems (at left) are lightly armored, but the older trunks show only vestiges of their spines. This observation squares with a horticultural blog post from Milan Havlis.

Also of note: cultivars are grafted, and can revert to the wild type. I wonder how many of our escapes are from cultivars.

On deck: 20

Bookshelf December 2020 1/2Bookshelf December 2020 2/2Diminished by a year of no book exchanges, no visits to the ARC shelf at work, no used book sales, and judicious avoidance of booksellers; augmented by a couple of thoughtful holiday gifts from friends—I’ve reduced the three boxes plus shelf to one box plus shelf.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I’m not reading that much more these days. I have set aside what was my morning commute time for reading. But evening commute time has evaporated into reading the news and wondering what to stream for the evening. Reading at home, as opposed to reading on the train, is more conducive to material like Chris Ware and books that require flipping back to a reference book. I have picked up a collection of French short stories with English parallel texts that had languished for a while.

Lost Mountain loop

Another trip to Sky Meadows State Park, but this time to east side of U.S. 17, the Lost Mountain side. I set out from the Turner Pond parking area—I was one car too late to park in the nearer parking area.

The Rolling Meadows Trail is just what it says: some gentle ups and downs around grasslands. One field was being grazed. Once you clear the first ridge, traffic noise from the highway is somewhat muffled. And indeed I was listening more than looking today.

Best bird of the walk was a Brown Creeper (Certhia americana). If he was talking, I didn’t hear those top notes. I did see and hear a Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis).

I saw as many mounted travelers as walkers. Equally friendly.

aren't we a pair?There is an unnamed tributary of Gap Run that you have to ford going and coming on the Rolling Meadows Trail. The Washington’s Ridge Trail is scored ◆ Difficult by the park’s trail guide, but it’s barely a ■ Moderate.

About 3 miles, 40 meters elevation change, 2:30, via Corporal Morgan, Rolling Meadows, and Washington’s Ridge Trails.

I found a smidgen of Ebony Spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron). And I made the acquaintance of Coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus), which was running all over the place. The Flora of Virginia gives it a *?.

Shenandoah River State Park

viewpointFollowing my very casual plan to visit more state parks, I rolled out to the Ridge and Valley Province for a pleasant visit to Shenandoah River State Park. It’s a relatively new park (1999), and indeed there is a dramatic overlook of the South Fork.

The park is oriented to recreational activities: there’s a canoe launch; all of the hiking trails are open to bikes; picnic shelters and parking spaces are numerous. But, fortunately for this loner, attendance was relatively sparse on this overcast November day.

markerI picked the moderate-rated Allen’s Mountain Trail for a walk. Trails and junctions are clearly marked, once you find the trailhead. Walking is easy, with switchbacks around some steep ravines, rather than up-and-downs.

left behindtwo-stemmedI was looking for overwintering plants, but found only a scattering of Chimaphila maculata. In the understory, evergreen Kalmia latifolia was in evidence. Overstory trees were a typical mix of oaks, pines, a little hickory and beech. The land certainly shows the marks of human occupation; this White Oak was cut, then resprouted two stems.

115 meters of elevation change, 3+ miles of distance, 2:30 for the round trip.

And my mystery berry-ish observation turned out to be Teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens), a plant that I’ve seen before but totally stumped me in the field today. It’s just ones and twos in the park, nothing like the profusion that Mark Garland showed us in the Pine Barrens.

Insurrection Resurrection Service Circus

five minutes, pleaseThe Vermont collective brings a touring version of its low-tech didactic theater to the Washington Monument grounds. It’s a collection of satiric sketches (with some utterly corny gags), provocations, and tableaux—with, shall we say, some stately transitions between—perfectly matched to the outdoor scene of kids running around, cyclists and scooters passing in front of the stage on the paved walkway, and the occasional bark of critique from a dog over my right shoulder. The vibe is a little Woodstock ’69, a little Medieval mystery play. Equally strong and effective are a lament in song for the victims of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide and an enormous five-person puppet that suggests the world tree Yggdrasil, the branches of its crown brushing the proscenium arch. The loose structure of the work admits of breaking-news topicality: a brief memorial dance for Ruth Bader Ginsburg and a silly re-enactment of the recently observed collision of two black holes. If the puppeteer-actors paint with an overly broad brush, at least their earnestness is restorative.