Clifton Institute bioblitz June 2024 (Rappahannock bis)

The Clifton Institute held a second June bioblitz on private property in Rappahannock County, this time on a smaller site (about 50 acres). Still, there was a good mix of upland, meadow, and a bit of wetland habitat. And it was hot: by the end of the afternoon, I was knackered and I skipped the after-dark UV lights.

in the meadowHere’s the group starting off in the meadow. This is as tight a clump as we formed all day.

As our homeowner’s site has only been partly managed for natives, and (friendly) neighboring properties perhaps not at all, there were opportunities to meet new non-native invasive plants, like Everlasting Pea (Lathyrus latifolius): dig the superwide wings on the stem. The householder was disappointed when I told her that the Persian Silk Tree (Albizia julibrissin) was one of the less-desirables.

On the native plant side of the ledger, I found a huge (1.5 meters tall) sedge, most likely Carex gynandra or C. crinita, and another monster, Soft Bulrush (also a sedge, but with a soft round culm) (Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani).

Organizer Bert Harris went fishing in Beaverdam Creek (tributary of the Thornton River) and netted a Mountain Redbelly Dace (Chrosomus oreas), not showing off a red tummy, alas.

New crawlies for me! A Cherry Dagger caterpillar (Acronicta hasta); a sharpshooter (Graphocephala sp.); a False Milkweed Bug (Lygaeus turcicus) [I’ve been focusing on the red-and-black species this summer]; and the gloriously named Twice-stabbed Stink Bug (Cosmopepla lintneriana).

And—after three seasons of chasing after Larry Meade and Bert, who are always spotting Prince Baskettails (Epitheca princeps) patrolling a pond, I finally found one for myself. Dusk was approaching and I was ready to go home, but I took a little walk down to the swimming pond on my way to the car. I found my guy doing what he should be doing, and with five minutes’ patience I squeezed off a few smudgy photos, sufficient for one of iNat’s experts to confirm the ID.

Road trip 2024: Pennsylvania

the bird's eye viewwindow detailTurning toward home, I paused for two days in the Laurel Highlands of western Pennsylvania to take in four houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright: the bucket-list Fallingwater, two homes in Polymath Park, and Kentuck Knob.

outsideThe super surprise of the Kentuck Knob visit was the suite of sculptures and land art on the grounds, headlined by Andy Goldsworthy’s Room (date?).

openingThe openings are a bit of a squeeze.

insideway outKentuck Knob is currently inhabited; the residents are Brits (cozy with Margaret Thatcher [hmm]), and so much of the art is by British artists.

Road trip 2024: Michigan

The primary objective of this road trip was two visits to nesting grounds of Kirtland’s Warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii), on tours led by Brant Georgia for the Michigan state bird alliance, to see this lifer bird. Success!

young jacksmaturing jacksBrant explained that, as ground nesters, KIWAs are not dependent on youngish Jack Pines (Pinus banksiana) for food, but rather for the thicket of branches at the base of the stem, providing cover from predators. Blueberries also like to join the thicket party, and these fruits do provide warbler food. At left, you can see planted jacks (along with Red Pines for the loggers) that are about the right size for the birds (heard briefly here); at right, an older stand that reforested itself after an unintentional fire. We spotted our quarry at this location.

With some cropping, I also concocted a nice observation of Nashville Warbler (Leiothlypis ruficapilla)

The bracken fern in this part of Michigan reminds me of Maine; the sandy soil (we’re on a glacial outwash) suggests the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

quick stopI had an unscheduled afternoon, so I scooted over to Traverse City to visit The Dennos Museum Center, with its wonderful collection of Inuit art (three cheers for motel literature racks!), a delightful piece of cherry-raspberry pie at Grand Traverse Pie Company, and a quick stop at Grand Traverse Light.

Road trip 2024: Ohio

Continuing chronologically, next up was a trip to the northern end of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, about which more presently. I did an overnight in Port Clinton, Ohio, followed by a walk at Magee Marsh Wildlife area, after all the crowds of birds and people had passed through.

i got some decent images of a friendly Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia). June is apparently the month for huge hatches of Hexagenia mayflies in this part of Ohio, up on Lake Erie. Utter carnage in the motel parking lot. A Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) snacked on the critters at Magee Marsh.

no, I can't fix your cameraGotta stop for the lighthouses.

West Virginia road trip

Yesterday, S. and I made a pilgrimage to Dolly Sods Wilderness in order to give a proper, final goodbye to Ann (thunderstorm whisperer) and Leta (her mom’s biggest fan).

We overnighted at The Greenbrier, not really close to the wilderness area but at least in the same state. A short climb on a bit of the Raven Rock Trail (once I got out of the golf course) did turn up two wildflowers new to me, Eastern Gray Beardtongue (Penstemon canescens) growing on the exposed rock of a road cut, and Tall Blue Wild Indigo (Baptisia australis).

On the move, up and over the ridges of West Virginia, then on to Jordan Run Road, and finally climbing the 7 miles of potholes and washboard of Forest Service Road 19. (S. was a great sport about all the various driving conditions on this trip. And she doesn’t mind I-81.) We reached our destination, the Dolly Sods Picnic Area and had a snack. Winds were surprisingly light, and the immediate area was more or less sheltered. I read from Graham Swift’s Last Orders and S. from Emily Dickinson. A Dreamy Duskywing (Erynnis icelus) nectared in the drifts of bluets; Black-throated Green Warblers and Wood Thrushes and Red-eyed Vireos and American Goldfinches sang. I took a very short walk on the Rohrbaugh Plains Trail.

a place to come back toAs the trail entered a forest of spruce with rhododendron understory, I returned a smidge of Leta’s and Ann’s remains to the ecosystem.

I found more new plants in bloom: Wood Anemone (Anemone quinquefolia), Wild Bleeding Heart (Dicentra eximia), and Canada Mayflower (Mainanthemum canadense).

And the birds continued their songs.

Mason and Bailey: 8

A modestly successful meeting of the Mason & Bailey Club, again at Huntley Meadows Park but this time with more moderate temperatures. We have added theater buddy L and husband J to the crew. We found a bit of Eastern Yellow Stargrass at my reliable Hieracium venosum spot, and a wee snail tentatively ID’d as genus Mesodon.

It was a good herp day: mucho Snapping Turtles, a Black Ratsnake coiled up at the tower, Northern Watersnakes, Ribbonsnakes, unidentifiable larvae in the water, a likely Red-eared Slider. On these outings, I find that I’m too busy overexplaining to take many pictures or reasonable field notes.

At the park: 146

Sunday’s report:

Ducklings on the ponds and traffic jams in the parking lot: it’s mid-spring!

On Sunday, we saw three boxes hatched out, as well as box #2 in the process of hatching. Photographers reported 21 fledglings leaving box #6 on 21? 22? April. [We cleaned out 7 dead eggs from this box—this was our dump nest box for the season.] And we have one new clutch started and incubating in box #61.

Box 2 - 28 April 2024
Box #2 with pips visible in three eggs.

Box 10 - 28 April 2024In box #10, we saw sticks and veg indicating that a songbird might be interested in using the box.

So we have seven active clutches to check on our next work day. Since 12 May is Mother’s Day, we will next meet in three weeks, on 19 May. We will check all the boxes at this time, and after that we will only do spot checks for any boxes that continue to have activity….

Thank you for listening to my dumb jokes!

New York 2024

(Cleaning up my to-do list.)

Back in January, I took my first trip to New York since pre-COVID-19 days. I’ve already posted my theater reviews; I checked off two new (to me) jazz venues and made my pilgrimage to the Met’s Astor Court. This post is mostly about trains.

The trip stated off with a mess: a Northeast Regional train was out of commission ahead of our Acela, somewhere in the neighborhood of Aberdeen, Maryland. Our train picked up all the passengers and it was standing room only (and not much of that) all the way into Penn Station, an hour-plus late. I was very grateful for the comped snacks in the mini fridge in my hotel—they got me through the dinner hour—and even more grateful for the lone food truck that was open, in the rain, at Hudson Yards, after Here We Are let out.

at the terminalturnaroundThe next day, I checked off a new rail system: I rode the Staten Island Railway from St. George about halfway out the island, then turned around and rolled back. There are no fare gates at the interior stations: you scan your OMNY card in or out at St. George.

Much drama finding some place that would sell me an OMNY card; much thanks to the Bronx express bus driver who asked me, “just where are you heading?”

I made what will not be my only trip to Zabar’s on the Upper West Side. I brought back babka for the Dance Nation teams and a scrumptious fruit-filled confection labelled “Russian coffee cake” for me.

relicThere are still fire escapes to be found on Coenties Slip.

mostly in the frameAnother highlight of the trip: Sol LeWitt’s Whirls and Twirls (MTA) at Columbus Circle. LeWitt’s wall drawing style, accomplished in much more durable tile.

On the way back home, the Amtrak conductor was a little tongue-tied approaching Philadelphia, and it sounded like he was announcing “William H. Macy Station.” Now that would be something.

Dance Nation: an update: 5

We closed the show on Sunday, with a bit more drama. Sunday was a clean run for cues, except that at the end of the show we were high-fiving each other and I forgot the cue to bring the house lights up (the last of 80 light cues, which is a new personal maximum).

I missed Thursday through Saturday because I was chasing off a COVID-19 infection (first time for everything!). Swiss Army knife/ASM/understudy Trenor called the show, and do it well, by all reports. We spent four hours Thursday morning with me coaching him through my book and explaining (as best I could without the license key dongle) how to use the EOS virtual light board.

my deskYou can see the app running on my laptop here, along with my book, the god mic, a walkie-talkie, flashlight, scribble pads, water bottle, and Godzilla guarding it all.

step upclimbing wallHere’s that dummy electrical box and the climbing wall setup.

Wet towels to pick up the candy glass residue just made the deck sticky. Sweep, sweep, sweep.

Mid-winter trip reports

I assisted at Elklick Woodlands Natural Area Preserve for a couple of work days. (More days to come? subject to scheduling.) Park Authority staff are actively managing woody vegetation within several deer exclosures in order to re-establish and extend a rare forest community, known as northern hardpan basic oak-hickory forest. Thousands of trees were planted about five years ago, and those that have survived are about knee height now.

to be trimmedThe management is fairly aggressive: both native and non-native trees, all of them faster growing than the oaks and hickories, are cut back to the ground, for instance these Virginia Pines (Pinus virginiana) which would soon shade out the white oak at the right of the photo.

oak saplingMany of the trees that we’re nurturing are still very small, and have dropped all their leaves at this time of the year. So flags make it a lot easier to find them.


I’m also back at The Nature Conservancy’s Fraser Preserve, now equipped with a new tool: an Extractigator Junior, generically known as a weed wrench. For non-native invasive shrubs like Rosa multiflora and Berberis thunbergii, we need to remove as much of the root as possible. A garden fork and some steady pulling will accomplish this, but a weed wrench gives you some mechanical advantage and is easier on the muscles. The genius of these gizmos is that no springs are involved, so it’s unlikely that you’re going to mash a digit.

A composite of a couple of roses that I pulled: Dropping the tool into position.into position

Closing the jaws around the stems and beginning to pull back on the handle.jaws closed

The extracted crown of the plant.extracted

I’m still finding my touch with the tool. With smaller plants, I have a tendency to snap off the stem rather than pull it out with the roots. The Junior weighs just under ten pounds, so it’s luggable from Fraser’s parking area to our work sites.

Widewater to Great Falls

A solstice walk, one of Stephanie Mason’s last walks as Senior Naturalist for Nature Forward. We were also joined by new Senior Naturalist Genevieve Wall. We pushed from the Old Angler’s Inn parking up to Olmsted Island and back: 4 miles round trip, and even though the walking is nearly flat, I was dragging a bit at the end. At Great Falls, the water was up and pumping: I felt a bit uneasy on the first footbridge, so close to the torrent.

low waterA couple of small takeaways: Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) leaves resemble Corydalis, but you often find it growing on rocks; someone (Edwin Way Teale?) once described the twists of bare persimmon branches as “like mad snakes.” Widewater, incorporated into the C&O Canal, is an abandoned branch of the Potomac.

Sighted: one very chill juvenile RSHA.

Ohio 2023: 2

My field trips in Miami County focused on county parks where I might donate a bench in Mom’s memory. There was much dodging of drizzle and driving through rain.

from Maple Ridge endfrom the middleThe twin parks of Stillwater Prairie Preserve and Maple Ridge are linked by a swingy suspension bridge for foot traffic…

true to its name… over the Stillwater River. I didn’t get much time in either park, but the former has some extensive grasslands that look to be quite delightful in season. I did spot some Bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia) fruit in the woods edging the prairie and stream.

Charleston Falls, in the southern end of the county, is also rather nice, but the falls on this October day were just a trickle.


In nearby Champaign County, Cedar Bog (actually a fen, and there is lots of interpretive material explaining differences) Nature Preserve offered lots of Northern Whitecedar (Thuja occidentalis), well-demarcated Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix), and a mystery forb.


More or less on my way home was the E. Lucy Braun Lynx Prairie Preserve in Adams County. Braun described the xeric limestone prairie openings as distinctive, and worked for their preservation. A signature species, Great Plains Ladies’ Tresses (Spiranthes magnicamporum) showed itself within 20 meters of the parking area. I also found a gentian-like wildflower, quite plentiful in spots, Agueweed (Gentianella quinquefolia); Cobb, Farnsworth, and Lowe helped me identify a really cool fern sharing space with Ebony Spleenwort on a huge limestone outcrop, Common Smooth Cliffbrake (Pellaea glabella ssp. glabella).