Master Naturalists of West Virginia

The mission of the West Virginia Master Naturalist Program is to train interested people in the fundamentals of natural history, nature interpretation and teaching, and to instill in them an appreciation of the importance of responsible environmental stewardship. The program will also provide a corps of highly qualified volunteers to assist government agencies, schools, and non-government organizations with research, outdoor recreation development, and environmental education and protection.

Website: http://mnofwv.org/home

Canaan Valley for Fall Color and More – October 2020

Jan and I got a new trailer in January. We didn’t get rid of our old one, but when we took our 2006 18-foot Micro-light to have the roof re-caulked, we decided to look at even smaller trailers on the lot. There happened to be a 2015 15-foot Whitewater Retro on consignment. It is light enough to be pulled by our mini-van. We got a great bargain, and all-of-a-sudden we had two trailers! We usually travel a lot each year, especially from mid-April until the end of June, leading workshops, guiding hikes and teaching. We plan to use the smaller trailer for short stays away from home. The “big” one is more like a cabin for longer stays.

But Covid happened and everything was cancelled, so our maiden voyage with the new trailer didn’t happen until 10 months later in October. We had to attend a meeting at Canaan Valley State Park. We could have gotten up really early that day and made a very long day of it, but decided instead to take the “little one” on her maiden voyage, arriving the day before, and staying for some hiking.

The new trailer (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

What turned out to be the best part of a great trip was that our wonderful friend Cindy was camped about 20 yards away for the first 2 days. There was even a trail between our two camp sites! The first thing Cindy asked was, “Can we go to see the Fringed Gentian?” Soon we were on our way.

Cindy and Jan looking at the Fringed Gentian. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

There is only one known site for the Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis crinita) in West Virginia, and it is a spectacular wildflower. When we have seen them before, it was about 1 week earlier in the season and they were already in full bloom. Luckily, this year the season was later and we were fortunate to see the Fringed Gentian in various stages of flowering — from flower bud to full flower.

Photos (c) Jan Runyan
Photos (c) Jan Runyan
Photo (c) Bill Beatty

At this same location we found some beautiful Nodding Ladies’ Tresses Orchids (Spiranthes cernua).

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Cindy wanted to make supper for us. Absolutely! We had a lovely supper of delicious Chicken Romano and a table full of side dishes.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Later we sat around a campfire and had fun reminiscing.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Cindy had to leave the next day, but we enjoyed a bit more time together before our meeting started. Due to renovations happening at the Blackwater State Park Lodge next spring, the West Virginia Wildflower Pilgrimage will be held at nearby Canaan Valley State Park in 2021. Since I am in charge of the birding aspect of the Pilgrimage and Jan is one of my bird leaders, we decided after our meeting to hike areas near the Canaan Lodge to see where the early morning bird walks would go. The fall colors were beautiful.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty
Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) tree (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) trees (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

On our walk we discovered a hole where a turtle had laid her eggs. Unfortunately, a predator had found the nest and destroyed it, eating the eggs.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Deer were easy to see and approach — they are used to people in the park.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Near Canaan Valley State Park Lodge (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

From Canaan Valley we could look up to the ridge that is the western edge of the Dolly Sods Wilderness area where we had been just a few days before. (See our posts: https://wvbirder.wordpress.com/2020/10/03/a-different-dolly-sods-adventure-2020-style/ AND https://wvbirder.wordpress.com/2020/10/14/just-us-hiking-on-dolly-sods/ )

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

On our last full day at Canaan we began with a leisurely, hearty breakfast.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Jan and I decided to hike the 6-mile Promised Land Trail loop. Since we often stop, explore and take photos…

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

…we knew there wouldn’t be enough time to do the whole loop. Fortunately, there are several trails that intersect and they made it possible to get back to where we parked well before dinner time.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

I appreciate BIG trees. To put things into perspective, a BIG Sassafras tree isn’t nearly as big as a BIG Tuliptree. I determine a BIG tree as being big compared to others of the same kind/species. What impressed me most about the Promised Land Trail was that, early on, we went through a woods with some BIG Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) trees.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

Jan saw some unusual patterns to photograph, like these holes made by a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker…

Left photo (c) Bill Beatty; Right photo (c) Jan Runyan

…and other interesting shapes and designs.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Turkey Tail Mushroom (Trametes versicolor) (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Evidence of weathering (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

At one point, the trail skirted the woods with views of large, open wetlands on our right. Soon we noticed a beaver dam on Club Run.

Beaver pond with the dam at the right (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

We decided to explore. I went down and stood on the beaver dam while Jan walked to the other end of the pond where Club Run flows in.

Bill standing on the beaver dam (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Photo (c) Bill Beatty
Video (c) Jan Runyan

After exploring areas surrounding the beaver dam we continued on Promised Land Trail and discovered more interesting things.

A tangle of dead trees and branches —

(Giant pick-up-sticks!) (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Beech Drops (Epifagus virginiana), an obligate parasitic plant which grows and subsists on the roots of American Beech trees —

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Fall-colored Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum) leaf with brilliant color —

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

American Witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) in bloom —

A truly late-bloomer! (Top photo (c) Jan Runyan; Bottom photo (c) Bill Beatty)

American Basswood (Tilia americana) tree cluster —

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Fall-colored Red Maple (Acer rubrum) leaves everywhere —

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

A tiny Lion’s Mane Mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) —

(Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Thanks to Cindy, we had lots of delicious leftovers to add to our planned supper on the last evening: clam chowder with extra clams and rice, vege slices with dip, Greek olives and homemade applesauce.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

After dinner we enjoyed a campfire and made some new friends (also West Virginians) from the campsite next to ours.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Although Jan did come home with a couple dozen things to get or to do to the new trailer, we were pleased with how things worked on our first trip.

Even after we left Canaan Valley, we continued to enjoy the fall color that helps make West Virginia… Almost Heaven.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis crinita) flowers (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Just Us – Hiking on Dolly Sods

Many of my hikes on Dolly Sods are leading groups and teaching about the Nature of the Sods. Other times I hike with one or two friends to special, rarely-visited habitats. And sometimes I am alone exploring new areas or looking for rare plants and birds. However, this year Jan and I found ourselves with an unusual circumstance — we were alone for a day — just us. Jan said, “I haven’t been to the Rohrbaugh Plains overlook for a long time. I’d like to go there again.” That’s all I needed to hear.

We packed our backpacks and headed for the Rohrbaugh Plains trailhead.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

The first part of the trail is a moderately rocky, uphill hike through a deciduous forest consisting primarily of American Beech trees.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

We soon noticed a familiar Red Spruce tree with a dead branch that had set the stage for a photo I took of our granddaughter, Haley. In 2011 we spent 8 days on Dolly Sods with her for her eighth birthday. She was a great photographer’s model. I decided to see what that was like.

Left photo (c) Bill Beatty; Right photo (c) Jan Runyan

At the top of the hill, the habitat changes dramatically, from a deciduous American Beech woods to a verdant evergreen woods consisting mainly of Red Spruce trees with an under-story of Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel.

Left and center photos (c) Jan Runyan; Right photo (c) Bill Beatty

One of Jan’s favorite photo subjects is root and branch tangles.

Left photo (c) Jan Runyan; Right photo (c) Bill Beatty

All along the trail we found interesting mushrooms.

False Turkey-tail Mushroom (Stereum ostrea) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Red Brittlegill Mushroom (Russula sp.) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Red-gilled Polypore Mushroom (Gloeophyllum sepiarium) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Beside the trail the trees and shrubs were so thick in some places that it was difficult to explore, but easy to hide.

“I see you!” (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Because we are often exploring in nature, teaching about the things we observe and showing the wonders of creation, Jan and I sometimes discover secret things — like this recently-used thrush’s nest.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

At first I thought it was a Hermit Thrush nest, but when I looked more closely and saw how much moss was incorporated in it, I decided it was probably the nest of a Swainson’s Thrush. That was an exciting find!

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

The Hermit Thrush is a common nesting bird in the Dolly Sods Wilderness, however, Swainson’s Thrushes are uncommon. While leading spring hikes on Rohrbaugh Plains Trail I have heard many Hermits singing their beautiful song — my favorite. But I have only heard the Swainson’s twice along this trail. Birdsong in the spring is one indicator that the males are staking out territories for nesting. So hearing a Swainson’s at that time of year, when most of those thrushes are much farther north, is a good sign that some stayed to nest on the mountaintop.

Hermit Thrush song —

Swainson’s Thrush song —

The familiar leaf wheels of the Whorled Wood Aster (Oclemena acuminata) were growing in many locations.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

There weren’t many plants flowering along the trail, but there were a few like this Crooked-stem Aster (Symphyotrichum prenanthoides).

Crooked-stem Aster (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Most people who look at an aster in flower don’t notice that there are, in reality, very many tiny flowers which together look like one flower. Look closely at the aster photo below, and you can see that there are many little flowers growing in the central disk, each flower producing just one seed. Each “disk flower” has 5 tiny petals fused together, plus 5 stamens fused around a pistil with antennae-like stigmas.

Crooked-stem Aster (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Identifying an aster to species is difficult for most people, since they psyche themselves out because there are so many similar species. However, if one looks at the color of the rays of the flowers, the size and shape of the leaves and the way the leaves attach to the stem, then the identification is not so difficult. In the two photos below notice the leaf tapering gradually at the end to a point and, on the stem side, abruptly narrowing as the leaf clasps the stem. These leaf characteristics and the violet rays of the flowers together make the Crooked-stem Aster identification easy.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Photo (c) Jan Runyan

The trail crossed several small streams and the only sounds we could hear were made by the water meandering through the rocks.

Video (c) Jan Runyan

We decided to photograph each other at this happy spot.

Top photo (c) Bill Beatty; Bottom photo (c) Jan Runyan

Clubmosses seemed to be everywhere.

Running Clubmoss (Lycopodium clavatum) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Shining Clubmoss (Huperzia lucidula) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Tree Clubmoss (Dendrolycopodium dendroideum) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Ground Pine Clubmoss (Diphasiastrum digitatum) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Jan noticed the berry clusters of Canada Mayflowers (Maianthemum canadense). During the spring when I lead hikes on the Rohrbaugh Plains Trail, these plants are in full flower.

Canada Mayflower berries (Photo (c) Jan Runyan), Canada Mayflower with flowers (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

We had quite a journey to our destination, the Rohrbaugh Plains Overlook. It was time to relax, eat lunch and enjoy the incredible views.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty
Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Photo (c) Jan Runyan

In 2005 I led a group from Oglebay Institute’s Mountain Nature Camp (a nature studies camp for adults) to the overlook and took a photo in the same area. Jan was in that group.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

After food, rest and wonderful photo ops at the Rohrbaugh Plains overlook, we returned on the same trail we had traveled earlier. It was interesting to see some of the same things from a different angle as we retraced our steps.

And speaking of steps, as usual on this trail, we hadn’t really noticed how dramatically the trail descends from the Red Spruce hilltop. We had heard someone call this section of trail the “Rohrbaugh Staircase”. The return trip was more challenging through the “Staircase”, but it still took us less time than our outward journey — I think we did less exploring as we were homeward bound.

Jan and I had a great time hiking together, taking photos, identifying plants and making nature discoveries. But, what I think was most special to both of us was being alone in the Dolly Sods Wilderness — the solitude of just us.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

A Different Dolly Sods Adventure — 2020-style

Each year Jan and I usually spend 2 weeks in September volunteering at the Allegheny Front Migration Observatory (AFMO) on the eastern edge of the Allegheny Plateau in the mountains of West Virginia. We go to bed with the sunset — usually about 8 pm, and rise each morning at 5 am to open the mist nets in the dark for morning bird banding. This year was different due to COVID. AFMO didn’t open. But we decided we would still go to the Dolly Sods Wilderness in September. This year, instead of “early to bed and early to rise”, we sat around the campfire until 10 pm and got up the next morning whenever we wanted to. We had no schedule. Best of all, close friends were camped at sites on either side of us.

For extended visits to the Dolly Sods Wilderness area, we camp at the Red Creek Campground, a primitive campground in the Monongahela National Forest.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

I started the first morning by taking some photos.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

My first photo was of a White Flat-topped Aster (Doellingeria umbellata). It is, by far, the most common aster in the Dolly Sods Wilderness.

White Flat-topped Aster (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Just across the road was a goldenrod. Some of the goldenrods are hard to know by sight and I had to key this one. It keyed out to be Elm-leaved Goldenrod (Solidago ulmifolia).

Elm-leaved Goldenrod (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Several butterflies caught my attention. Just across the camp road was a Flowering Dogwood, the only dogwood I saw during our time on Dolly Sods. And drying out on the fall-colored leaves was a Monarch Butterfly.

Monarch Butterfly (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

A Question Mark Butterfly couldn’t resist enjoying a nearby partially-eaten pear.

Question Mark Butterfly (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

We noticed Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies on several occasions.

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

After more than an hour of shooting photos, Jan and I sat down to a nice picnic lunch, and, a short time later, our last homegrown watermelon.

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

I hiked every day. Sometimes Jan hiked with me and sometimes she followed her own trail. One day, after talking with two campers also staying in the campground, I invited them to join Jan, Lee and me to hike on the Allegheny Front Vista Trail.

Jan, Lee, Dunn and Jeff on “The Rock”. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Cottongrass/Cottonsedge (Eriophorum angustifolium) in the Alder Run Bog. (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)
Lunch at the Red Pine Plantation at the end of the High Mountain Meadow Trail. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

It was fun to share with new friends some new sights they had never seen on Dolly Sods.

Checking out the 1953 Mercury (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

For several evenings Jan and I set out a mist net and audio lure to attract locally-breeding Northern Saw-whet Owls as part of Project Owl-Net. On most evenings, while the audio lure beeped out the sound of a Northern Saw-whet Owl, we sat around the campfire sharing stories with various friends.

One night we did catch a NSWO. She was a young, local bird, very well-behaved in spite of her razor-sharp talons.

NSWO and the campfire (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

NSWOs are aged by using a UV light to check the porphyrins present on the underside of the wing feathers. New feathers have lots of the chemical, which shows up as bright pink under the ultra-violet light. Since all her feathers show the pink, they are all newly grown this year. That only happens the year a bird is born.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

To determine that this bird was a female we had to take 2 measurements. After measuring her longest flight feather in the wing (wing chord) and weighing her, we took those measurements to the chart developed by past NSWO banders. Based on their experience, a bird with her measurements would be a female.

Video (c) Jan Runyan

It is always fun to see what a NSWO will do when it is released. Some fly away immediately and are silently out of sight in seconds. Others don’t mind hanging around for a while.

Video by Jan Runyan

One morning Jan and I explored an open area near the campground. We found some interesting things. Golden Ragwort is a distinctive-looking plant, but at this time of year, only the leaves were present after having bloomed earlier in the spring.

Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Initially we were unsure of this leaf rosette. Then we noticed the same basal leaves on a plant that was blooming profusely nearby.

Black Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

A large female Garden Spider was in her orb web as if she were guardian of the meadow we were exploring.

Garden Spider (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Rock Polypody Ferns (Polypodium virginianum) covered many rocks in shaded areas.

Rock Polypody Ferns (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Lots of Many-flowered Gentians (Gentianella quinquefolia) were in full bloom and could be found in several open areas near Forest Service Road 75, but we didn’t see any in the backcountry.

Many-flowered Gentian (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Shrubby St. John’s-wort (Hypericum prolificum) with their seed capsules appeared to be almost everywhere we went.

Shrubby St. John’s-wort (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Indian Cucumber-root (Medeola virginiana), which had already flowered, was easy to notice due to its whorled leaves. Most often the plants have one or two levels of whorled leaves, but this one had four!

Indian Cucumber-root (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

On Dolly Sods our camping meals vary from very simple with no cooking, to gourmet, expertly cooked by friends Jeff and Shelia.

One-pan suppers make for the easiest clean-up, which I appreciate since that’s my job. One night Jan cooked salmon steaks with fried potatoes and onions. W.V. peaches Jan had frozen days before completed the feast.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Supper at Jeff and Shelia’s campsite started with fried manchego cheese wrapped in fresh sage leaves (from Jan’s herb garden) as an appetizer.

Sage-wrapped cheese ready to cook (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The main course was sliced rib-eye steak and varieties of Hericium mushrooms, expertly prepared.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

And for dessert we had a special treat: fresh-picked apples and cranberries, both from Dolly Sods, in an apple/cranberry galette. Everything was ABSOLUTELY delicious!

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

We were happy, well-fed Dolly Sods campers!

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Captain Morgan, a.k.a. Lee Miller, is my frequent hiking companion on Dolly Sods.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Our hikes are often shorter in miles than we plan, and longer in time than we expect, because we are always stopping to investigate, like here where we are examining a fungus on a dead, fallen Red Spruce.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Lee and I found quite a few interesting fungi, including a highly prized, medicinal Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) mushroom growing on a Yellow Birch Tree.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Among the many kinds of fungus we discovered were the deadly Destroying Angel Mushroom (Amanita bisporigera) and

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

the Gelatinous Stalked-puffball (Calostoma cinnabarinum).

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Each September, when Jan and I are on Dolly Sods working at the AFMO, I invite a small group to accompany me on a 5-mile hike on a trail that does not appear on any Dolly Sods trail maps. This year there were 8 of us, including Dahle, the dog.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

In many Dolly Sods rock fields, berry-loaded American Mountainash Trees (Sorbus americana) were obvious.

Mountainash Tree (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The “bent” tree is a trail indicator we sometimes use to lead us to our lunch site and is a good place to search for snakes.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Lunch time was at the edge of at the Red Pine Plantation and the High Mountain Meadow.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Although we didn’t see any Black Bears on Dolly Sods this year, we did find several fresh bear scats – always full of Wild Black Cherry seeds.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

The midway point of the Bog to Bog Loop Trail is at Fisher Spring Run Bog, probably Dolly Sods’ largest wetland.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty
Video by Jan Runyan

Bog Goldenrod (Solidago uliginosa) is probably the most common goldenrod on Dolly Sods. It is often the only goldenrod found in bogs and other wetlands, but is also common in dry habitats.

Bog Goldenrod (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Crossing Fisher Spring Run Bog can provide some difficult hiking depending on how wet it is. This fall the bog was drier than usual and crossing was less difficult. Still, it took quite a while due to how large it is.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Is Lee: 1) praying we find our way out of the vast wilderness, 2) looking for a contact lens, 3) trying to suck water from moss, or 4) trying to identify some animal by tasting its scat?

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

And the answer is…

Video by Jan Runyan

The next day was cold (27 degrees) in the morning, but warmed rapidly. Jan found a warm, comfortable spot to sit and repair her hiking pants.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

I decided to go hiking.

Photo (c) Lee Miller

On a hike with Lee, I discovered that what I had been previously identifying as “Winterberry” (Ilex verticillata) was actually “Mountain Holly” a.k.a. “Mountain Winterberry” (Ilex montana) … those @^#*! common names can get confusing! Just so I could keep these two deciduous hollies straight in my mind, I collected berries from both, squeezed out the nutlets and photographed them. The “Mountain Holly”/”Mountain Winterberry” has ridges on the nutlets while the “Winterberry” nutlets are smooth.

Mountain Holly/Mountain Winterberry (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
Winterberry (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

On clear nights the Milky Way was incredible. Dolly Sods is one of the darkest places east of the Mississippi River. One camper we met explained that it is the standard of darkness for the eastern U.S. — the goal for the rest of the areas to attain. We were lucky to be there while the moon was “new” and the sky was at its most dark.

For more information about dark skies and the best star gazing places in West Virginia visit: https://wvexplorer.com/2018/01/21/pre-industrial-nights-sky-over-wv/

It was amazing how many friends we encountered during our stay. The wild, mountainous plateau is like a magnet for others who also appreciate its beauty and nature.

How time flies on Dolly Sods. Our 10 days were over much too soon. On our way home we stopped in Davis, WV, to get a Sirianni’s pizza.

While I ordered the pizza, Jan shopped at “Wild Ginger and Spice”. I wandered around Davis for a short time while waiting for the food.

Roofs of houses on one of the back streets in Davis, WV. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Leaving Dolly Sods is always bittersweet for Jan and me. It is sad to say goodby to close friends and the beautiful mountain plateau we’ve grown to love and respect. But we are also glad to get home to our own special “Almost Heaven” place in West Virginia.

Northern Saw-whet Owl (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

An Unexpected Nature Surprise

Jan and I found ourselves with a lot of time to spend at home this late spring. All of our spring programs had been cancelled. You know we aren’t the type to sit around. We always have a list of things we want to do to improve our property, especially ways to make it more attractive for wildlife, but we don’t always have the time. Since we like to do things ourselves and the time was available this year, we were able to accomplish several big projects. Jan’s recent post ( https://wvbirder.wordpress.com/2020/07/24/bills-spruce-adventure-by-jan-runyan/ ) relates the story of how we removed a large, dying blue spruce in the back yard. This project left dozens of large branches to cut up for firewood.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

I didn’t consider the project finished until I had cut and stacked the spruce logs for fall/winter campfires. And that part of the project led to a real surprise.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Most days I walk our trails. Much of what I see and hear is the same from day to day, but sometimes there are surprises — something totally unexpected. Recently I was brought to a halt by some faint, but slightly noticeable, somewhat familiar sounds. Standing still, I turned my head in the direction of the sounds. When I saw where they were coming from I knew right away what was causing them. I had experienced these same sounds years before from the same kind of creature. Smiling, I went to the house and said what Jan hears on a regular basis, “Get your shoes on! There’s something I want to show you!”

We stopped near the stacked spruce logs and I said, “Listen. Do you hear that?” “Yeah, what is it?” Jan asked. We went closer and the sounds became louder, more obvious.

Video (c) Jan Runyan

It was like a squeaky crunching or the snipping sound of scissors or clippers. It wasn’t a loud sound, but loud enough to hear when standing nearby. The piles of fresh tiny wood pieces were a clue, too.

Sometime after I had stacked the spruce firewood, Pine Sawyer Beetles had visited and laid their eggs in the dead wood.

Pine Sawyer Beetle (Monochamus galloprovincialis) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The eggs hatched and the resulting larvae began burrowing into the logs. Young larvae feed on the inner bark, cambium, and outer sapwood, forming shallow excavations. As they grow older and larger with each larval molt, they start to bore back toward the surface, thus forming a U-shaped tunnel.

Pine Sawyer Beetle larva (Monochamus galloprovincialis) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The clumps of sawdust and, of course, the constant munching sounds, which can be heard for several week, were clues to the presence of Pine Sawyer Beetles.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Now, three weeks later, the chomping is still coming from the woodpile and more firewood is changing to sawdust. This is one of the ways Nature takes care of cleaning her house and changing the solid wood into nutrients for current and future living things.

Pine Sawyer Beetle (Monochamus galloprovincialis) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Saga of the Green Herons

— by Jan Runyan

We have wonderful neighbors.  They watch out for us in many ways.  Just a couple of weeks ago, Joanie called to let us know that her daughter, Nicole, who lives nearby, had discovered some big birds building a nest in a tree at the back of her yard.  They weren’t sure, but had an idea what kind of birds they were.  If we were interested we could go see them any time.  So we grabbed binoculars, a scope and our cameras.   

The Photographer (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Standing in the hot sun on Nicole’s deck, we watched one bird bring in sticks from time to time and give them to the bird who stayed by the developing nest.  The “home-body” added the sticks to what looked, to us, like just a loose pile on a tree branch. 

Green Herons building a nest (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Our friends’ search in bird books was accurate…here, high in a tree, on some of the highest land in Brooke County, not near any water or wetlands, were Green Herons making a place to raise a family.

We guessed that it was the female who stayed at the nest while the male flew off and then returned with a stick. 

photo (c) Jan Runyan

He would land nearby in the tree and walk the branches to the nest.  There he gave the stick to the female.  She would place the stick in a specific location and then fuss with it while her mate watched. 

photo (c) Jan Runyan

When they both seemed satisfied, he would walk away and then fly off in search of another stick. 

While the male was gone, the female rested by the growing nest or fussed with some of the nest sticks, improving the construction.

photo (c) Jan Runyan

This continued the whole time we were there. 

photo (c) Jan Runyan

By the time we left, the nest still looked to us like just a random pile of twigs, but the birds appeared to be satisfied with what they were doing. 

photo (c) Jan Runyan

Days later, we got a report that a bird was sitting on the nest.  Later we were told that Nicole had seen five heads peeking out of the nest.  One of the heads seemed to be much younger than the others. 

Then, after a windy storm, we got a report that the nest had fallen to a much lower place in some large bushes, but the five babies were still in the disheveled, broken nest.   

We went to Nicole’s to see the broken nest with nestlings.  From the deck, we looked about eye level at the top of a bush in the back of the yard.  A small pile of sticks was all that was left of the nest. 

Remains of fallen nest in the top of a bush (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

After many minutes of watching with binoculars, we decided that there were no nestlings in it.  We searched the bush and the ground around it for signs of movement.  Nothing.  We were discouraged, but kept looking.  Finally, we saw movement high in the branches of the trees, much higher than the broken nest.   Looking carefully, we finally identified the movement as the fuzzy butts of Green Heron nestlings. 

Yellow legs of Green Herons among tree branches (photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Downy rear-ends and partially grown feathers on the wings (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

On their wings, a few adult feathers were starting to show, but they still had a lot of down. 

Green Heron newly off the nest (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Luckily, Bill discovered that we could get a better view from down below in the yard – wonderfully shaded from the heat of the sun.  I set up the tripod for my camera.   

photo (c) Jan Runyan

The young herons were well camouflaged, but occasional movement helped us see where they were. 

photo (c) Jan Runyan
photo (c) Jan Runyan

Soon we saw two adult Green Herons fly in, but they stayed on the far side of the tree, nowhere near the two fuzzy butts we were watching.  After a few minutes they left without coming anywhere near our two babies.  It was puzzling that “our” babies hadn’t been fed.  Nicole had said that the adults were feeding the nestlings about every 45 minutes, so we were determined to wait and see them again.   

We watched the young birds as they stretched, preened and mostly rested. 

video (c) Jan Runyan

From time to time they would move to a slightly different place and I would have to move the camera to keep them in sight. 

video (c) Jan Runyan

Usually they were close to each other, but sometimes they moved apart.   

video (c) Jan Runyan

It was funny to watch their long yellow toes which support them so well in the muddy water’s edge now wrapped almost all the way around a branch and flexing to help them keep their balance.  

photo (c) Jan Runyan

It seemed that, on those smaller branches, babies that size would slip and fall hopelessly to the ground where some predator would find them. 

video (c) Jan Runyan

Amazingly, they were able to perch on and traverse the branches, although clumsily, without too much difficulty. 

video (c) Jan Runyan

Occasionally the pair would touch each other’s bill, almost as if they were trying to get food as they would from an adult.  

video (c) Jan Runyan

When they preened, sometimes I could see small pieces of feather sheath falling as a bird bit the sheath to free the newly forming feathers. 

video (c) Jan Runyan

45 minutes…  From time to time I would get a new angle and more photos or some videos, but no adult Green Herons with food for the young.

photo (c) Jan Runyan

1 hour…  Bill and I began occasional stretching (birders yoga) similar to the birds we were watching. 

video (c) Jan Runyan

1 ½ hours…  We met a neighbor who also likes to watch birds. 

photo (c) Jan Runyan

When another neighbor came by with a loud lawnmower, the birds paid attention for a while, but then one yawned. As he yawned, I learned more about how adult birds can give their babies the food they’re carrying. (Watch carefully at the 17 second mark.)

video (c) Jan Runyan

Finally, when we had been watching for about 2 hours since the adults had last come in, Bill spotted an adult Green Heron fly in – and then another.

Adult Green Heron (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

 The demeanor of the young ones changed dramatically.  They started almost running up and down the branches, flapping their wings and opening their mouths. 

video (c) Jan Runyan

We couldn’t hear much, but it was clear that they were actively begging for food.   

video (c) Jan Runyan

Twice we saw a rusty-colored adult come to our side of the tree and feed the young we had been watching.  The feeding was rapid and somewhat violent. It almost looked as if the adult and young were fighting.

video (c) Jan Runyan
video (c) Jan Runyan

Even after the adults left, the young herons were agitated and begged for a while.  Then they calmed down and went back to resting. 

video (c) Jan Runyan

After things calmed down, we decided not to wait for the next feeding session – standing for three hours of heron watching was enough in one day for us.  It was then that we glimpsed two more Green Heron young way in the back of the tree.   One of those was noticeably smaller than the other.  We figured that those 2 (or maybe 3 were back there since there had originally been 5 nestlings) had been fed earlier, the first time the adults had come in on the far side of the tree.  That was why we had not seen any adults near “our” two birds then. 

photo (c) Jan Runyan

It was great to verify that at least 4 herons, including the youngest baby, had survived the fall from the original branch and were growing stronger as they exercised, rested and were fed.  

photo (c) Jan Runyan

We are so grateful to have neighbors who made the effort to share with us the wonders of new bird life!  

photo (c) Jan Runyan

What a Great Nature Workshop Weekend!

Jan and I were invited by Paulita, Naturalist at Blackwater Falls State Park, to lead the West Virginia Natural History of Plants and Birds Weekend. To me it seemed like a mini West Virginia Wildflower Pilgrimage. We had a smaller group of very interested participants and the best part of it all, to me, was getting to know everyone so well.

Jan presented her The Making of Dolly Sods program Friday afternoon. That evening, I presented my West Virginia Plants that Changed the World program. These were in preparation for our all-day Dolly Sods area field trip on Saturday.

In the Dolly Sods area we drove from Laneville to Bear Rocks, approximately 11 miles, stopping and looking at wildflowers and listening for birds. The first stop was the Dolly Sods Picnic Area to visit the spring and see Golden Saxifrage (Chrysosplenium americanum).

The Dolly Sods Picnic Area spring . (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Golden Saxifrage has a tiny flower which you need a magnifier to see. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Golden Saxifrage is an excellent indicator of very clean water. Both public springs on Dolly Sods have it growing there.

Between the spring and the road is a beautiful stand of Bee Balm (Monarda didyma). We discussed West Virginia’s four different Monarda species and how to tell them apart.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Bee Balm (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

A short distance away was the trailhead of Rohrbaugh Plains Trail. This is a great example of how, in a short distance and elevation change, the plant life changes. On the way up one of our class members discovered something quite interesting: a Cordyceps militaris fungus, also known as the Zombie Mushroom because it is a parasite on a variety of insects, especially sphinx moth pupea.

Zombie Mushroom (Cordyceps militaris)

This video tells why it is referred to as the Zombie Mushroom.

To watch the entire video follow this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfymmH2rD-s

Our next stop on Dolly Sods was a meadow full of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). The Monarch Butterflies were actively laying eggs and we saw some tiny, tiny monarch caterpillars feeding on the plant.

Common Milkweed (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Monarch Butterfly egg (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

One of the most fascinating finds was on the underside of a milkweed leaf. A group of ants was tending to the “ant cows” a.k.a. aphids. Aphid excrement is referred to as honeydew and the ants collect it for food.

Black Ants tending the “ant cows”. (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

This meadow also had many Pipevine Swallowtail Butterflies. We knew there had to be Dutchman’s Pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla), the host plant of the larva, somewhere on Dolly Sods to have so many of the butterflies there. We looked for it, but we were in sunny locations near the road most of the time and those plants prefer shady areas, so we didn’t see it.

Dutchman’s Pipevine and Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

We saw many other wildflowers.

A few of the Wild Bleeding Heart (Dicentra eximia) were still in bloom (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Indian Pipes (Monotropa uniflora) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Oceanorus (Oceanorus leimanthoides) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Turk’s-cap Lily (Lilium superbum) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Next we walked Northland Loop Trail, looking for and finding many kinds of plants.

Hiking Northland Loop toward the Alder Run Bog boardwalk. (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Looking at the wetland plants along the boardwalk. (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Most fascinating were the insectivorous plants — the sundews.

Spatulate-leaved Sundew (Drosera intermedia), an introduced species (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Native Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) and Cranefly trapped on sticky sundew pad (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Just after we explored the Alder Run Bog Boardwalk, one of the predicted rain showers came by, for which we were very glad. The prediction of rain kept home some of the many people who are discovering Dolly Sods this year, so we were able to find parking places in the locations we wanted to explore.

Our next stop was the West Virginia Nature Conservancy’s Bear Rocks Nature Preserve, arguably the most scenic place on Dolly Sods.

The crew of the West Virginia Natural History of Plants and Birds Weekend. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Bear Rocks is very scenic with many outstanding views of the mountain ridges to the east and many wonderful rock formations to explore.

Bear Rocks Escarpment (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Exploring a rock formation (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Pancake Rock (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The last wildflowers we looked at were Wood Lilies (Lilium philadelphicum) growing in the meadows near Bear Rocks.

Wood Lily (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

After a restroom stop at the Dolly Sods Campground, most of us walked a short distance to the location (mid-August to October) of the Allegheny Front Bird Observatory along the Allegheny Front. We managed to get occasional glimpses of the ridge and valley area of West Virginia to the east through the rain clouds we had worked around all day.

Ridges and Valleys east of the Allegheny Front (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

On Saturday evening The Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia presented a most excellent and informative program. (http://www.accawv.org/ )

Two of the birds they brought were red and gray morphs of the Eastern Screech-owl.

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

Before breakfast on Sunday, Jan and I walked behind the Blackwater Lodge listening to birds, looking at plants and taking in the breathtaking views of the Blackwater Canyon.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

After breakfast the group drove to Idleman’s Run Trail in the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

The meadows were full of Shrubby St. John’s Wort (Hypericum prolificum).

Shrubby St. John’s Wort (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

In the meadow and along the trail we also found interesting insects.

Dogbane Leaf Beetle (Chrysochus auratus) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Ebony Jewelwing Damselflies (Calopteryx maculata) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Paulita, Jan and I were the leaders this weekend, but as with many field trips where I am teaching, there are participants who add a great deal to the information we share about identification and natural history. Emily explained this about one of the plants we found.

Video (c) Jan Runyan

Two years ago when Jan and I had been exploring the trail, we had found several small, often overlooked, Daisy-leaf Moonwort (Botrychium matricariifolium) ferns. We found them again last year. This year they were gone from the original location where we had seen them before. However, when we stopped to look at a mushroom, a Daisy-leaf Moonwort was discovered. It was in a different location, but still along Idleman’s Run.

Daisy-leaf Moonwort (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

At Dolly Sods and Idleman’s Run, Jan occasionally showed interesting geological sights, often talking about weathering and erosion. Here she showed us a “rippled rock”. The sediment was laid down in ripples when it was deposited several hundred million years ago and the ripples were retained as the sediments turned into rock.

Video (c) Jan Runyan

Interesting fungi were all along the trail.

Fading Scarlet Waxy Cap mushrooms (Hygrocybe punicea) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Colorful caps of Brittlegill mushrooms (Russula spp.) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Golden Chanterelle mushrooms (Cantharellus cibarius) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Pinwheel Marasmius mushrooms (Marasmius rotula) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Blue Stain Fungus (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

There were large patches of Wood Nettle (Laportea canadensis). Many say that the stinging qualities of Wood Nettle are more severe than those of Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica). So, some would ask, “Why would someone ever eat it raw?”

Video (c) Jan Runyan

For the full video of me eating Wood Nettle raw — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pt610xH2fXk

On Saturday at the top of Rohrbaugh Plains Trail and on Sunday all along Idleman’s Run Trail we saw many different kinds of mosses, like this moss — possibly evergreen Rose Moss (Rhodobryum ontariense) — but I’m not sure. The photo shows the splash cups. The function of the splash cup is to use the momentum of rain drops to disperse the sperm contained within the antheridia (male sex organs).

Moss splash cups (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Walking the Idleman’s Run Trail (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The last wildflower we identified was a bit challenging since it wasn’t in my 1000+ page field guide, “The Flora of West Virginia”. However, it was in the “Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide”.

Video (c) Jan Runyan

The weekend was officially over, but Jan and I wanted to stop at the nearby, newly refurbished Freeland Boardwalk Trail. We invited everyone to join us and most did. We enjoyed seeing some new plants and birds, including a young Green Heron and some Mallard ducklings.

Mallard ducklings (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Most birds are quiet this time of year, so we didn’t encounter many species.

Freeland Boardwalk Trail (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Six of us stayed so long we decided to continue our conversation over a late lunch/early supper — pizza from Sirianna’s Cafe taken to the Pendleton Point Picnic area in Blackwater Falls State Park.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Picnic at Blackwater Falls State Park (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

As usual, I was tired. Continual teaching, leading trail walks, and talking much of the time is tiring. However, Jan and I had a really wonderful time — maybe the best weekend we’ll have all year. Everything was great, especially the people. At some events where we are leaders, there are hundreds of people. This group had just 14 of us and we got to know each other in ways not possible with a large group. Amazing places, incredible Nature, wonderful people! That’s special!

Turk’s-cap Lily (Lilium superbum) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Bill’s Spruce Adventure — by Jan Runyan

We loved the Blue Spruce by the pool yard. It sheltered a picnic table and a bench swing. For years it sheltered the grill. It was a stopping spot for birds going to the backyard feeders. It was the closest shade on the back of the house. 60-70 feet tall, it was the gateway to the net-yard and the back meadow.

But in recent years it had started looking worse and worse. More branches fell during storms. The branches that were left had fewer and fewer needles as the patio and pool had more and more. The color of the tree seemed paler and less green. Finally we noticed that it was developing a definite lean — toward the house, the pool and the new pool fence Bill had just put in. We had to admit that it was time to think about what to do.

Late June brought the perfect weather — cool mornings and no winds. And, of course, this year we were home with plenty of time to work on things.

Bill dug through his boxes and found the tree climbing equipment he had used decades ago when one of his side jobs had been as a high-tree man for a tree company. The harnesses and climbers looked as good as they had when he had put them away all those years ago. That meant we could at least attempt the job ourselves.

My 14-year-old electric chainsaw had seen a lot of use as old trees on our property had fallen in storms. Decades ago, Bill had always used gas-powered chainsaws, but recently he had learned to appreciate the toughness and ease of use of my little electric. So with the electric in hand, he climbed the extension ladder to cut out all the branches he could reach.

photo (c) Bill Beatty

One of my jobs was as a safety spotter, wearing a hard-hat, with cell phone handy in my pocket.

photo (c) Bill Beatty

Another job was to pull downed limbs away from the base of the tree when Bill told me it was safe to do so.

photo (c) Bill Beatty

Bill says he thought he was giving me an easy job, until he saw the divots left in the ground by the weight of the falling limbs and looked at the size of the branches.

photo (c) Bill Beatty

After the first day on the ladder, Bill spent the early afternoon cutting up all of the branches and transporting the pieces to wherever we needed them around the property: a deer fence behind the owl net area, brush piles for small animals and birds, and LOTS of firewood.

On the second day, things got serious! Out came the climbing equipment, each piece being checked and rechecked for usability and safety.

Tree climbing spikes (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Then, with harnesses and straps and spikes for climbing, and with a chainsaw hanging from his belt, Bill discovered that he did remember how to climb a tree!

video (c) Jan Runyan

Up he went. Down came the branches. And when he rested, I pulled more and more limbs away.

photo (c) Jan Runyan

When the branches were easy for Bill to reach, lots of them piled up quickly below the tree. The branches were like huge “pick-up-sticks” and I had to decide which one to pull out next. But I knew I had to do it since Bill couldn’t get down if the limbs were piled around the trunk.

And then it happened! The trusty old electric saw finally broke in a way that made it impossible to tighten the chain. It was done! After much discussion and online research, the next morning I drove to Steubenville and bought a new 14″ electric chainsaw. We were back in business.

Bill has a close encounter with a hummingbird as he climbs. (video (c) Jan Runyan)

Down came more branches. As Bill got higher and the trunk got smaller, the strap that held him close to the tree was too long to work well, so he had to switch to a shorter strap. On his way down, he had to reverse that process.

Changing tree belts (photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Changing tree belts (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

The tree started looking more and more like a lollipop tree in a child’s drawing.

photo (c) Jan Runyan

Bill tried to stay up in the tree as long as he could since climbing up and down was hard, especially from the pressure of the climbing spikes on his legs. Bill discovered that he liked the new electric chainsaw even more than the old one — and that’s saying a lot!

photo (c) Jan Runyan

On the last day, Bill finally made it to the place where the trunk split into 2 trunks — about 3/4 of the way up. That made it impossible for him to climb higher safely. Knowing what was coming, before climbing up that day he had positioned the truck in the meadow on the side of the tree opposite the pool yard. When he climbed that day, he took with him one end of a long, heavy caving rope. He cut off the last of the branches he could reach. Now came the trickiest part!

Bill tied off the rope as high as he could reach on the top of the tree. Then I took up the slack and tied the other end to the hitch of the truck.

photo (c) Jan Runyan

He wanted me to be ready to move forward and “pull” when he said to. That’s when I discovered that it’s impossible to watch or hear what’s happening up in the tree when I’m in the truck with the motor on, facing downhill in the opposite direction. The best I could do was to hop quickly in and out of the truck.

Bill had me put a little tension on the rope and he began to cut out a notch facing 90 degrees away from the pool yard and about 45 degrees away from the truck’s location. He cut a big notch which landed with a resounding “thud”!

Cutting the notch (photo (c) Jan Runyan)
The notch is done (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Now the part that most worries tree men. The notch was just right. There was tension on the top. He knew just where to cut opposite the notch. Still, the unexpected can happen with big trees.

Bill told me to put a little more tension on the rope. I shifted the truck into gear, but it wouldn’t move! No, the brake wasn’t on. Park … back to Drive. I could hear the gears were working, but it wouldn’t move! Bill was yelling for more tension. Then I had an idea. The truck had gotten pretty close to the compost bins, so I had turned the steering wheel. Looking at the wheels, I could tell that they were turned too severely to be able to move. Quickly I straightened the wheels a bit, started moving slightly, and then turned them back a bit so I wouldn’t hit the compost bins as I crept forward a foot more . Whew! Now all was ready.

View from standing by the driver’s door of the truck (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Bill began cutting opposite the notch as I watched. Soon he yelled, “PULL!” I hopped back into the truck and crept forward as I heard the unmistakable sound of big wood breaking and the “WHOOMP!” of a heavy landing. Jumping out of the truck, I found the tree-top lying just where Bill had hoped to put it and my tree guy strapped to the top of a tall, empty snag, grinning from ear to ear.

photo (c) Jan Runyan

With the branches gone, the trunk would not be prone to being pushed over by the wind, so we had already decided to leave the 40-foot snag for the various woodpeckers, nuthatches and other birds who might enjoy it. Bill climbed down from the tree for the last time.

Coming down the last time (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

A few days later we saw a White-breasted Nuthatch coming down the trunk, too. He even came down head-first, with no climbing equipment … he made it look so easy!

photo (c) Bill Beatty
photo (c) Jan Runyan

Adding Pawpaw Trees to Our Arboretum

Last spring I came inside after walking the trails in the back meadow and announced to Jan, “I have a new hobby!” She looked at me incredulously. We both laughed because I have so many interests that keep me as busy as I want to be. Then she asked, “What’s your new hobby?” “I want to start an arboretum,” I answered. Our property is already a mecca for all kinds of wild creatures including a variety of trees, so adding a few more from time-to-time just seemed like a lot of fun for both of us.

Last year I planted two Franklinia trees I had purchased (check out https://bartramsgarden.org/explore-bartrams/franklinia-tree/), and a Sugar Maple tree I had dug from a nearby woodland. And I transplanted 14 Flowering Dogwood trees, seeded by other dogwoods on the property, into rows near the roadway in front of the house and along the entryway to our arboretum in back.

40 years ago, near where I worked, I transplanted young Pawpaw saplings to start a pawpaw patch . Last fall I collected a few pawpaws from that grove. (See our article: https://wvbirder.wordpress.com/2019/10/22/pickin-up-pawpaws-put-em-in-my-pocket-by-jan-runyan/ for information about pawpaws.)

Jan saved all the seeds from last fall’s pawpaws. She took 9 seeds to try to sprout them indoors. Three seeds she planted right away in a planter. Three more she put in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks and then planted them in the planter after putting a nick in the extremely hard seed coat. The last 3 stayed in the freezer for several weeks and then also got nicks in the seed coats before they were planted in the same container. I planted all of the remaining big seeds outside in the back meadow.

Pawpaw seeds (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

All winter long Jan kept the planter of 9 pawpaw seeds slightly moist in the sunporch along with the rest of our winter indoor garden. She tells me that, after a few months of no results, she had really given up since everyone says that pawpaws are almost impossible to grow from seed. But she just kept them moist anyway.

Finally in the spring we had an unexpected, exciting surprise! A couple of her seeds had germinated and we had very tiny Pawpaw Trees. Over the next few weeks we had more and more little stems trying to lift those huge heavy seeds. We didn’t want to help them for fear of hurting the baby leaves. Sometimes it took 2-3 weeks until the leaves finally grew large enough to shove off the hard seed coat.

Pawpaw Tree recently germinated from a seed. (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

After a while we had 6 trees ready to transplant into taller individual containers. Pawpaw Trees have a well-deserved reputation for having substantial tap roots. The tap roots were actually longer than the above-ground stem and leaves of the little trees.

Large taproot on small Pawpaw Tree. (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

The 6 Pawpaw seedlings flourished in their new individual homes. They drank a lot of water and reached for the plant lights. We were pleased to have gotten that many seeds to sprout. The different treatments (cold, freezing, nicked seed-coats) didn’t seem to matter for sprouting. All three ways gave us trees.

We thought that getting 6 trees was a great outcome from 9 seeds, but Jan kept watering the planter with the 3 unsprouted seeds. Eventually she was rewarded with 2 more baby pawpaws!

This week we transplanted the first 6 Pawpaw Trees into the arboretum.

Pawpaw Trees ready for planting. (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

I chose a spot that is similar to areas where I usually see Pawpaw Trees in the wild. I got out the lawn mower and tiller to prepare the ground.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

The area I chose for the pawpaw grove was covered with Japanese Stilt Grass so I mowed it as close to the ground as possible. And, knowing that mowing won’t kill stilt grass, I tilled the whole area about 3 inches deep to destroy their root structure. Luckily stilt grass has a shallow root system.

Japanese Stilt Grass in lower right and mowed/tilled area above. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Then I fenced the area to keep out certain wildlife, especially raccoons and skunks. From experience I have discovered that after people transplant things, raccoons often dig up the transplants that same night. They don’t eat the transplants, they just dig them up. Just curious, I guess.

Fenced-in area (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Next I collected 5 gallons of our rich compost and a bucket of water.

The Compost King collecting compost he has made (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

I made sure the holes were deep enough to give the long taproots plenty of space.

Digging 6 holes (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Compost, Pawpaw seedlings and tools (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Each Pawpaw Seedling was gently surrounded by lots of rich compost made from plants on our property.

Planting a Pawpaw Tree and adding plenty of compost. (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Planting the last Pawpaw seedling. (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

I used rainwater from our rain barrels to get the seedlings off to a good, natural start.

Watering a Pawpaw seedling. (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Jan with her Pawpaw seedlings (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Of all the seeds that I had planted directly into our arboretum last fall, I have yet to see a seedling. So far, 8 of the 9 seeds Jan sowed in a container indoors have sprouted. (Yes, she is still watering the planter just in case that last seed still wants to sprout.)

The 2 last pawpaw seedlings are getting bigger in the planter, waiting to be transferred into individual, taller containers to allow their taproots to develop. Then they will join the 6 already planted outdoors.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

We hope that we may live long enough to enjoy some fruits of our labor. But, as with planting any seeds, it’s all about believing and leaving something for the future. Maybe those people who say that you can’t get Pawpaws to sprout from seeds just didn’t wait long enough.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_9239-1.jpg
Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Natural History of Plants and Birds Weekend – July 31-August 2, 2020 at Blackwater Falls State Park

Come to the WV Mountains to enjoy a summer weekend learning about plants, birds and other natural treasures of the Blackwater Falls, Canaan Valley and Dolly Sods Wilderness area!

Friday, July 31

  • 1:30 p.m. Registration and welcome at Blackwater Falls Lodge Lobby
  • 3 p.m.  The Making of Dolly Sods. Presentation by Jan Runyan.
  • 7 p.m. “West Virginia Plants that Changed the World.”  Bill Beatty. We will learn about five common but amazing plants that shaped the history of the world.  Three are native to West Virginia and two are introductions from Europe, but have been in West Virginia for hundreds of years.  You have seen them all, but never knew….

Saturday, August 1

Allegheny Front Migration Observatory overlook (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
Common Milkweed (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
  • 8 a.m. Dolly Sods Trip. This trip will include numerous stops to experience the plants, birds, and beauty of the Dolly Sods Wilderness and Scenic areas.  Scheduled stops include:  Rohrbaugh Plains Trail/Dolly Sods Picnic Area, Northland Loop Trail, Allegheny Front Migration Observatory overlook, Bear Rocks Nature Preserve and serendipitous stops to examine specific wildflowers, trees, and non-flowering plants and fungi.  Enjoy unusual Canada-type nature on the highest plateau east of the Mississippi River.
Top – Round-leaved Sundew; Bottom – Spatulate-leaved Sundew along Northland Loop trail (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
  • 7 p.m. Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia. The Avian Conservation Center for Appalachia’s mission is to conserve our region’s wild birds through research, education, and rehabilitation. This interactive presentation, featuring several live, non-releasable birds, will discuss the important role birds play in healthy ecosystems as well as the natural histories of the educational birds. Bring your cameras and questions! Program is at Blackwater Falls Lodge. Open to the public. Please wear a face mask when attending indoor programs.

Sunday, August 2

9 a.m. Idleman’s Run Trail. We will explore this beautiful 4/10 mile trail located in the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.  The emphasis of this walk will be the natural history of all that we find – birds, wildflowers and non-flowering plants.  Even though this trail is short it is quite beautiful with an interesting variety of wild treasures.

Daisy Leaf Moonwort (Botrychium matricariifolium) along Idelman’s Run Trail (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

For additional information and registration: https://wvstateparks.com/event/mountain-state-birding-festival-2/

Don Pattison – A Soft-spoken Gentle Friend

Ralph Bell, founder of the Allegheny Front Migration Observatory (AFMO), and I were best friends. When I needed to find two new bird leaders for the West Virginia Wildflower Pilgrimage, I asked Ralph if he could recommend anyone. He said, “How about my daughter Joanie and her husband Don?” Don and Joanie were eager to be leaders, especially since Ralph was also a leader, and I added two excellent, knowledgeable birders to our group.

Soon after that I began to volunteer at the AFMO. Not only did I get to see and handle hundreds of migrating warblers and other kinds of birds, I met some wonderful people. Joanie, Don and I immediately became good friends.

What a wonderful time in my life — sharing a cabin at Blackwater Falls State Park with Joanie, Don and Ralph for several days in early May and then, in September, spending two weeks on Dolly Sods with them each year. When Joanie and Don retired to Florida and eventually stopped coming back to West Virginia, I thought about them often when I was on Dolly Sods at the AFMO.

Yesterday, when I got news that Don had passed away, my memory flood-gates opened and I was back in the mountains walking the Dolly Sods road with him.

Don always had a smile and he laughed a lot. He was special. Many days after the morning bird banding and afternoon hawk watching, Don and I would walk Forest Service Rd. 75 and look at wildflowers. We talked about, well… just about everything. Don was a good listener and had wonderful and valuable advice. There were some times I really needed it, and appreciated and followed it.

Don was a loving, caring person. You could just feel it when you were near him. He made everyone feel welcome. His smile warmed the room (or campsite) like the glow from a campfire. His memory still warms my heart.

Goodbye my friend! Until we meet and walk together again.

Oriole Fallout — in Rhyme (by Jan Runyan)

Normally at this time of year we would be traveling much of the time, both teaching and chasing birds.  In May our time at home is short and usually includes doing laundry, mowing, repacking and doing as much garden work as we can squeeze in.  This year, because we kept our “social distance” at home, we got to experience an amazing avian event.

Last winter was warm, but spring was late and, not long after it started, we had a several-day cold snap with nighttime temperatures in the mid-20s.  A flight of Baltimore Orioles had migrated north to the Upper Ohio River Valley before the Arctic blast brought this unusual cold and caused the birds’ insect food to be extremely limited.  They found the hummingbird feeders which I had recently put out, but as more orioles arrived we knew we needed to help these warm-weather friends more. 

They immediately found a dish of jam I put out … and very soon it was empty.   I searched our unused bird feeders in the garage for ideas to help me make more feeders and I added 5 new, unusual ones out back and out the bird window along with more nectar feeders.  They finished 3 big jars of jelly and jam. A few birds even made use of the bark butter and suet feeders.

As the weather warmed a bit, we opened our bird banding nets.  We had seen as many as 10 orioles at one time, but banded 16 birds, so we probably had between 20 and 30 birds making use of our feeders. Although there are still a few Baltimore Orioles around now, most of them have moved on since the weather has warmed. We had a wonderfully fun week with lots of time to watch and photograph these usually rare visitors to Goldfinch Ridge.

 This blog is heavy on videos because we wanted to share the bustle and antics of the orioles.  The videos may take a little while to load the first time, but then they should go smoothly.  The white pieces flying by are not Spring cherry blossom petals, but snowflakes. 

If you watch carefully, you may catch an occasional glimpse of our Eastern Bluebirds going in and out of their box on the Black Locust tree and even eating from the bark butter log.  Other kinds of birds join the feast or fly through, too.  And you might even hear the clicking of the shutter of Bill’s camera, too, as we shared space at our bird window.

Why poetry?  It just seemed right!

*********

Oriole Fallout — in Rhyme May, 2020

Baltimore Or-i-oles
Freezing their toes-i-oles.

Baltimore Oriole on a snowy stump (photo (c) Bill Beatty)


Returning from the climes
Of palm trees and limes.

(photo (c) Jan Runyan)


Knew they had a date
To come north and mate.

(photos (c) Bill Beatty)


The Orioles were bold
But then it turned COLD

Baltimore Orioles in snow with frozen birdbath (video (c) Jan Runyan) 


They followed their leaders
to the hummingbird feeders.

(photo (c) Jan Runyan)


One nectar feeder wasn’t enough,
They needed more stuff.

(video (c) Jan Runyan) 


We put out jams and jellies
To fill up their bellies.

(photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Tray with jelly — full, but soon empty (photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Jam seed in the bill (photo (c) Jan Runyan)


Feeders of every kind

(photo (c) Jan Runyan)
(photo (c) Bill Beatty)
(video (c) Jan Runyan)

The Orioles were quick to find. 

(photo (c) Bill Beatty )
(photo (c) Bill Beatty)
(video (c) Jan Runyan) 


The temperatures were chilling
But the people were willing.

(photo (c) Jan Runyan)
(photo (c) Bill Beatty)


No feeder ran low –
The birds put on a show.

(video (c) Jan Runyan)
(video (c) Jan Runyan)


All the week long
We helped them along. 

(video (c) Jan Runyan)
(video (c) Jan Runyan)


It was quite a sight!
Dreams of Orioles tonight!

(photo (c) Jan Runyan)
(photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Goldenseal a.k.a. Yellowroot

For me, my earliest memories of Goldenseal, Hydrastis canadensis, seem to be related to memories of my grandmother’s ways of natural healing.

Goldenseal (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

My grandmother always seemed to have a myriad of remedies for illnesses and injuries. Sore throats were most often treated with a mixture of onion and sugar. For coughs and sore throats, she made an extract of fresh Red Clover flowers by suspending a strainer full of flowers in the steam of boiling water. Water condensed on the flowers and dripped back into the the pan along with the nectar and other chemistry from the flowers. After she boiled off half the water in the pan and cooled the clover water, it would be mixed with honey and administered in teaspoonful doses.

I also remember several times when I was given a small piece of wood to chew on. It had an unpleasant taste, but I never knew what it was.

As a young adult I began to study the identification of, well, just about everything in nature. Along with identification, I learned a great deal of the natural history of plants. The first time I tried a taste of what I knew to be Goldenseal, I immediately remembered the unpleasant taste from my childhood. To me, the tastes were the same.

I have a strong desire to be independent and self sufficient. Jan and I grow much of our own food and, on our property, I have planted a variety of wild edible and medicinal plants, including Goldenseal.

Most of the medicinal chemistry of Goldenseal is in the root. The root is a beautiful bright yellow, hence the other name, Yellowroot.

Goldenseal root, a.k.a. Yellowroot (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

When my son Josh was a young boy there were times when he wanted to make some money. Growing up in a rural town, there were not many opportunities for making money, but I wasn’t the kind of parent to just dole out money any time my kids wanted some. My kids cut our grass, washed our dishes, weeded the garden, helped with canning and did other helpful chores for the family. In return, they received food, clothes, a home, a nice two-week vacation every year, and, eventually, college educations. For extra money, spending money, they had to work outside the home.

Josh picked black raspberries. He could sell all he could pick, but, of course, that was very seasonal.

Black Raspberries (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

He also collected aluminum cans at $.40 a pound, and some people around town even saved them for him.

And, with my supervision, he also dug roots of medicinal plants from the nearby woods and sold them.

Most I my adult life I worked as a freelance nature photographer. I was outside in wild areas all the time, usually at least 8-10 hours a day. I photographed medicinal plants and knew where to find them, so sometimes I took Josh with me. I would take him to areas loaded with Goldenseal and, while I roamed the woodlands taking photos, Josh collected Goldenseal.

In Brooke County, WV, Goldenseal first appears above the forest leaf litter in the early spring, around mid-April. Goldenseal grows wild throughout the eastern United States in shady, wooded areas with loose, rich, moist soil. Hillsides provide the drainage the plants prefer. At that time of year, the root is already large, but the tiny plants are far from their reproductive cycle and not ready to harvest responsibly.

A just-emerged Goldenseal plant (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

A few weeks later the white and yellowish flowers appear.

Goldenseal’s unusual flower (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Josh would usually dig Goldenseal in mid- to late-July when the fruits were present and had ripened.

Goldenseal with fruits (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The first thing Josh would do was to collect the ripe, red fruits. Then he would dig the rest of each plant. At that time, in the mid-1990s, he sold the roots for $32/lb. and the tops for $8/lb. of dried weight.

Josh digging Goldenseal (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Josh examining a Goldenseal root (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

After he was finish digging the plants, he would separate the fruits into their individual seeds. Then he planted the seeds right back where he had dug the plants.

Today, the patches he dug and replanted are loaded with healthy Goldenseal plants. As a matter of fact, the Goldenseal we have on our property now were started from plants and seeds I collected from one of those patches Josh dug over 20 years ago.

Historically, Goldenseal has been used for a wide variety of ailments, including common colds, respiratory problems and many other physical problems. As always, before you consider using a wild plant as a remedy, make sure to do your research about the safety of using wild remedies, and be sure of your own ability to identify plants in the wild.

Goldenseal plants (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Common Chickweed — My Favorite Spring Wild Edible Green

Jan has an indoor winter garden that supplies us with salad greens all through the cold weather months. We have fresh salads on a regular basis.

Jan’s winter garden. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

We also add freshly dug carrots (overwintered in the ground), last year’s onions or kohlrabi, and sometimes frozen peas and pickled beets from last year’s harvest. Some store bought vegetables are occasionally added.

Jan digging carrots that we let “winter over”. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Some wild plants that we harvest from our property also find their way into our salads.

Common Chickweed (Stellaria media) is the most abundant “weed” in some of our gardens. And it is wonderfully edible and highly nutritious with a good compliment of Vitamin C. In the days of the tall sailing ships, sailors foraged for chickweeds whenever they made landfall. They had learned that somehow these plants helped prevent scurvy (a very debilitating disease caused by a lack of Vitamin C) and they knew that chickweeds can be found on most continents in most ecosystems.

Common Chickweed (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

On our property Common Chickweed can be collected by the handsful. The entire plant is edible and that is how we add it to our salads — flowers, leaves and stems. Even the roots can be eaten, but we usually pull them off.

A handful of Common Chickweed. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Common Chickweed added to a salad. (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

This year from January through March, the garden bed destined for this summer’s potatoes was loaded with Common Chickweed and we made good use of it, harvesting it on a regular basis.

Common Chickweed in what will become our potato garden. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

I usually do my first planting of potatoes in early April. This year my gas-powered tiller wasn’t working and I haven’t been able to have it fixed due to the COVID 19 pandemic. So I decided to go “back to my roots” and use my 40+ year old, person-powered cultivator to turn the the weeds back into the soil.

Cultivating the garden bed. (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

The cultivator still worked beautifully and I appreciated the good physical workout. The abundance of great nutrition found in Common Chickweed is now decomposing underground where it will be easily available for the potatoes. Our volunteer Common Chickweed garden has transformed into our 2020 potato garden with 100 hills of potatoes planted already. Another 40 hills will be planted in mid-April, about the time those first potato plants begin to emerge.

Our 2020 potato garden has five of seven rows already planted. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Our gardens serve a dual purpose – we plant them with our favorite domestic “grocery store” vegetables and then the nutritious volunteer weeds that invade after harvest find their way into our mid-winter/spring salads. It’s a win, win situation.

But don’t worry that we might get scurvy because all the chickweed is now gone from the potato patch! There is plenty more of it all around the property! Jan just has to ask and I can easily find and harvest a big handful for our dinnertime salad….like I did just last night!

Common Chickweed (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Project Boys

My newest book, Project Boys, is now available.

What a marvelous, incredible childhood I had with a multitude of friends! Because of where we lived, there were lots of us who were the same age and lots of different places to explore which sparked our ingenuity and creativity. We were creative, but not always safe. Oh, what adventures we had!

My neighborhood consisted of what some people called the “Projects”.  Others referred to them as “defense homes”.  They were rows of buildings, each building made up of 2-9 attached white houses.  They were built for the Westinghouse factory workers during World War II.  After the war, a cooperative was formed and they were open to anyone who wanted to live there. My parents moved us there in 1949, probably to be close to other family members who lived in nearby buildings.

That’s me in the center!

Today, in old family photos of the 1950s Projects, the neighborhood looks dirty, rundown and dreary to me.  However, as a young boy growing up there, my memories are nothing short of wonderful.  I had many best friends.  We rode bikes, played a wide variety of games, did some dangerous things and explored.  We eventually knew every nook and cranny of the row houses and became familiar with all the woodlands that surrounded much of the Projects.  Living in such close quarters, Project kids knew each other better than most kids in other kinds of neighborhoods.  We walked to school together, were in the same classes, and walked home together.  And after school, on weekends and throughout the summers we spent most of our time together. We weren’t wild, but definitely were creative and adventuresome.

I invite you to join me for an entertaining excursion back as I celebrate the exuberance of youth in the 1950s and 1960s with my friends and me in…

The Project Boys“!

Autographed copies are available for $14.95 (includes shipping and tax). Not available outside the continental United States. Mail check or money order to: Bill Beatty, 540 Genteel Ridge Road, Wellsburg, WV 26070. Please make sure to include your shipping address.

The First Day of Spring – For Me

Sometimes the personal doesn’t jive with the “official”.

The first day of spring for 2020 is officially March 19. It is always March 19, 20, or 21 every year. Spring Equinox is the official term for the day. An equinox is the exact instant when the Sun is directly overhead at the Equator and the Earth’s rotational axis is tilted neither towards nor away from the Sun. In technical terms, this means that at the instant of the equinox, the Earth’s celestial equator (our equator’s imaginary projection straight out into space) intersects with the center of the Sun. This happens twice a year — on the first day of spring and the first day of fall.

My personal first day of spring varies from year-to-year. This year it was February 18. One year it was January 21.

Since the mid-1970s, I have determined the first day of spring in a very specific and special way. It is the day when I first hear the drumming of a woodpecker and the laughing call of a White-breasted Nuthatch on the same day. It can’t be just a woodpecker tapping, nor can it be the nuthatch’s ordinary call. Those can be heard all year long. But the drumming and the laughing call seem to happen when the birds sense that the season is beginning to change a little.

Pileated Woodpecker (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Woodpecker drumming
White-breasted Nuthatch (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Laughing song of the White-breasted Nuthatch

For me, the first day of spring is a challenge. I can’t notice it if I am inside, so this challenge gets me outside — in nature. The cool air is refreshing. Being in nature clears my head. Sometimes I just saunter and listen. Other times the exercise is heart thumping, but either way, I know I am much healthier for being in nature. Always, I say to myself, “This has been a wonderful day! Remember this when it’s rainy, windy or oppressively hot.” I hope to accept this challenge again and again. I embrace the challenge. I embrace all the wonders of Creation and the renewal which is Spring.

The West Virginia Wildflower Pilgrimage – May 7-10, 2020

Lindy Point at Blackwater Falls State Park (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

This event is a tradition for people who love the wildflowers and birds of West Virginia.

Come discover why so many “pilgrims” return year after year!

Each day starts with a bird walk.  On both Friday and Saturday participants have a choice of a dozen or more day-long field trips to a wide variety of habitats and elevations.  Thursday and Friday end with interesting programs.

Jan and I, along with other Brooks Bird Club leaders, will be leading early morning bird walks on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings.

I am giving an introduction for the Friday morning bird walk. (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

On Thursday afternoon, Jan will be teaching the Essentials of Birding for Everyone workshop at the Blackwater Falls State Park Lodge.

Jan teaching her Essentials of Birding for Everyone class. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

On Friday, Jan will lead a tour to the Cranesville Swamp, a National Natural Landmark.   It is one of the few remaining boreal bogs in the southern United States, unusual because it harbors many plants and animals that are normally seen only in more northern climates.  Eastern hemlock, red spruce and American larch are some of the trees in this acidic boreal bog.  The northern relict wetland complex also supports a wide variety of smaller plants such as goldthread, trailing arbutus, gay wings, several species of sundews, cranberry and a variety of ferns and mosses.  Nineteen diverse wetland communities are home to such birds as Blackburnian, magnolia and chestnut-sided warblers, alder flycatcher, golden-crowned kinglet, indigo bunting and northern saw-whet owl.

Left to right – American Larch; Trailing Arbutus; and Gaywings and Goldthread (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

On Friday, I will lead a Dolly Sods Wilderness Hike on the Edge of the World Trail. From the Red Creek Campground on Dolly Sods, the hike begins by following the last quarter of the Beatty Labyrinth, continues along the edge of Alder Run Bog, through a thick Red Spruce forest, and then into an 85+ year old Red Pine forest to the High Mountain Meadow Trail (HMMT).  We follow the HMMT from end to end, cross Forest Service Road 75 and continue on the Edge of the World Trail through expanses of heath meadows, Mt. Laurel/Rhododendron thickets, rock fields, deciduous forest, and Red Spruce stands.  The hike finishes along the Allegheny Front where some of the best scenic overlooks in WV can be found. There will be three major rock fields to traverse.  The second half of this hike is over very rugged terrain.  Hiking boots, long pants and rain gear are required! 

Hiking the Edge of the World Trail (Photos (c) Lee Miller)

On Saturday Jan and I together will be leading two hikes in the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge: the Beall North Trail and then the Idleman’s Run Trail. The Beall Trails’ parking lot is off Cortland Road in Canaan Valley. The Beall North and South Trails form somewhat of a figure eight, traversing a mix of open meadows and deciduous woodlands which allow for a large variety of plants. Parts of the trail borders the Blackwater River. This is not a rugged trail — it is mostly level with moderate or shorter steep elevation changes and few rocks on the trail. The entire hike will be scenic in varying ways. The birding should be excellent with the beautiful songs of Hermit Thrushes possible in many places. A nice variety of warblers are expected. Then we will travel to the nearby Idleman’s Run Trail off Forest Service Road 80 for a more botanical/wildflower walk. Idleman’s Run Trail is 4/10 mile, gently sloping uphill the entire way, and is notable for all the interesting plants we can encounter. Hiking boots/shoes and rain gear are recommended. Facilitrees are the only restrooms available.

The Beall North Trail (Top photo (c) Jan Runyan; bottom photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Hermit Thrush

Listen to the beautiful song of the Hermit Thrush.

Dr. Conley McMullen showing several violet species to pilgrims along the Idleman’s Run Trail and the Confederate Violet form of the Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia). (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Additional information and registration for the WV Wildflower Pilgrimage can be found at: https://wvstateparks.com/event/59th-annual-wildflower-pilgrimage/

Bill’s Bark Butter Recipe

I call it a “Bird Magnet”, especially for some birds that aren’t too interested in the sunflower and thistle seeds we put in most of our dozen bird feeders. Bark butter is a great addition to the regular birdfeed seeds and it didn’t take long for some of our more unusual birds to find it. Now they even seem to prefer it to the store-bought suet cakes we also offer.

Over the course of the last 15 years, I have developed a recipe for my “Bird Magnet” bark butter. About 15 years ago, when Jan and I were at a Wild Birds Unlimited store near Columbus, we purchased a small container of what was labeled “Bark Butter”. The birds loved it! It didn’t last long. But since it was a bit pricey at $12 for a small amount, I didn’t want to buy more on a regular basis. On the day I used up the very last “Bark Butter”, I decided to figure out what was in it. I examined the mixture very carefully and, of course, tasted it. From that, I created my own bark butter recipe and have been refining it ever since. The results have been fantastic!

These are the ingredients: 2.5 – 3 lb beef suet; 2 lb 8 oz (large jar) peanut butter (creamy or crunchy); and about 10 C cornmeal. To find suet nowadays, if your local grocery store doesn’t stock it, talk with a real butcher at an independent butcher shop or other such outlet. Jan buys it from the farmer who sells us our pasture-raised beef. The peanut butter and cornmeal can be any brand, but I try to avoid unnecessary ingredients in the peanut butter.

Left to right – beef suet, peanut butter and cornmeal (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Here’s what I do. First, render (melt) the suet in a large pot, covered with a lid, over LOW heat. The rendering can take 2-3 hours or more. Don’t be in a hurry! If the heat is too high, the suet will begin to burn and your kitchen will soon be full of smoke and the smell of burnt suet. Opening the windows will eventually get rid of the smoke and, after about a week, the smell will dissipate. To Jan’s chagrin, I have made that mistake. I usually make my bark butter while she is shopping (so the kitchen is free for a long time) and one day she came home to quite a surprise.

Rendering suet (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

There will be parts of the suet that will not completely melt and they should be removed as soon as possible after the fat around them is melted off. If you wait too long, they will begin to burn and yep — smoke and burnt suet smell (not quite as much as rendering on a high heat). Again, I know because I’ve made that mistake, too.

Suet pieces that need to be removed before they begin to burn. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The next two steps are pretty straight-forward. Turn the heat off and move the pot of rendered suet from the hot burner. Add large spoonfuls of peanut butter, stirring after each several spoonfuls, until all the peanut butter and liquid suet are mixed together. Next add the cornmeal, a cupful at a time, stirring after each cupful, until about 10 cups have been added. As you might guess, the recipe is somewhat flexible depending on what you have available and the texture you want in your final product. Don’t be surprised to see the cornmeal settling to the bottom.

Next I pour the slightly-cooled mixture into the two containers pictured below, being sure the settling cornmeal is appropriately divided between the two. The larger container is a gallon milk jug with part of the top area cut out, leaving the handle.

The suet, peanut butter and cornmeal mixture containers in ice water (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

I set the containers in a sink containing a couple inches of cold water and ice. This will help the bark butter solidify more quickly. Check the bark butter every 5 minutes or so and stir as needed to spread the cornmeal. The ingredients will separate if you don’t stir the mix periodically, but once the bark butter is almost solidified it won’t have to be stirred. (Be sure to remove the spoon between stirrings when it’s almost cool!)

Bark butter solidified in the containers. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

I use the Bill’s Bird Magnet bark butter in two ways. Most of it is used simply as a bird feeder food to attract birds for Jan’s and my enjoyment (and Project Feederwatch counting). The feeder is a log with holes drilled 3/4 to 1 inch into it to hold the bark butter.

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

A number of birds visit our bark butter feeder.

Male Northern Flicker (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Left to right — Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee and White-breasted Nuthatch (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
Left to right — Downy Woodpecker and Eastern Bluebird; Carolina Wren; and American Goldfinch and Eastern Bluebird (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

There are not many easy ways to attract Eastern Bluebirds, but during extreme winter weather they regularly visit our bark butter feeder. Once they discover how much they like it, they begin visiting more often, especially later in the winter when their natural food sources are dwindling. (Note on feeding mealworms to Eastern Bluebirds: knowledgeable sources now say that offering mealworms continuously will skew the nutrition of bluebirds, so limiting the amount of mealworms offered each day will encourage the bluebirds to consume a good variety of nutrients.)

Male Eastern Bluebird visiting our bark butter feeder (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The other way I use my bark butter is on two large tree snags I have buried upright in the ground specifically for my bird photography. The following photos show how I set up the snags.

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

The snags are large branches that fell from a big Black Locust Tree in our back meadow.

Photos (c) Jan Runyan
Photos (c) Jan Runyan

In the winter, on cold, snowy days, I spread bark butter into selected places in the bark of the snags. Then I set my camera on a tripod in the house and shoot through our large bird picture windows.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Photo (c) Jan Runyan

The photos below are a few that I have set up with the bark butter. The bark butter doesn’t really show, but the birds are perfectly positioned for the camera.

Female and male Downy Woodpeckers (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
Female and male Red-bellied Woodpeckers (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
Male Northern Flicker (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

My bark butter stays well all winter long in our barely-heated sun porch. When the days get warmer in the spring and I stop feeding birds so much, I put any leftover bark butter in the refrigerator to wait for the cold, late fall weather when birds will again need the extra nutrition and calories of bark butter and we will enjoy watching them.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Finally — A Winter Hike

When Jan saw me getting dressed on this surprisingly snowy morning she smiled and said, “Most people are wondering — do I have enough toilet paper, bread and milk. And some are in Kroger’s right now stocking up. You are getting ready to go hiking!” She knows me! I love to hike in extreme weather — not that today was that extreme, but it was the first day we had “real” snow, about 4 inches. And I wanted to take advantage of it. So I went hiking.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Right away I noticed how the snow had beautifully coated the Critterfence that surrounds our 40’x40′ garden. I went back to the house for a camera.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Every where I looked, everything was snow-covered or, occasionally, ice-covered.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

The woodlands were beautiful!

Photo (c) Bill Beatty
Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Years ago when I was researching Eastern Screech-owls I had been out during the winter from midnight to dawn on many days. During the 1970s the winters were extreme — cold, wind and lots of snow. I had been apprehensive at first about being out alone in those conditions, but soon I embraced the opportunities to be out in the cold. I was out and everyone else was inside. The silence was astounding and I loved it! Ever since then I take opportunities anytime I can to be away from people and surrounded only by nature.

The few sounds I heard on this snowy day were snowflakes hitting my hood, water in the many small streams and some birds singing and calling — exactly what I had been hoping for.

Carolina Chickadee and Tufted Titmouse (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Most of my hiking was bushwhacking, but there were some open trails from timbering in past years.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

The main stream wound in ox-bow-fashion along most of my hike route.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

These photos below show some rare straight stream sections.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

Knowing how to identify trees by their winter buds, leaf scars and bark made me feel like I was hiking among friends.

Left – American Elm; right – Slippery Elm (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
Left – Ash-leaved Maple/Box Elder; right – Bitternut Hickory (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
Left – American Sycamore; right – Tuliptree/ Tulip Poplar (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
Left – Black Gum; right – Northern Hackberry (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

I hiked as far as what I refer to as “the waterfall”.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

On my return there were more birds singing than when I had started, including a Pileated Woodpecker.

Pileated Woodpecker (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Life is good!

Hiking Adventures in the West Virginia Highlands – In Celebration of Cindy

A small group of friends met recently to celebrate the 50th birthday of our friend Cindy. She chose Blackwater Falls State Park in Davis, WV. We reserved a large cabin like those groups of us had stayed in many times at that park. Since it was January, we had planned for winter activities, especially snowshoeing at the Whitegrass Ski Touring Center and sledding at the Blackwater Falls Sled Park. That was not to be due to the record-setting warm temperatures, so it became a hiking weekend, which we really didn’t mind at all.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Besides celebrating Cindy, another common thread of the weekend was food! We had great food and lots of it.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty and Jan Runyan

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CINDY!

Video (c) Jan Runyan

We stayed up later than usual reminiscing, but we had a loose schedule and didn’t have to get up extra-early as we do so often when we are leading early morning bird walks for state-sponsored events.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Of course, Lee decided to further alienate himself from me with blatant references to the words that shall not be spoken — specifically the “R” and “C” words. An example is in the photo below — a gift he gave to Cindy.

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Photo (c) Jan Runyan

On Saturday, our first morning, breakfast began with steak and eggs with a variety of fruits, cookies and blueberry muffins. Then we packed our lunches as we prepared for a full day of hiking.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

Saturday’s hike was the Beall Trail North, Blackwater View Trail and beyond into the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Last minute preparations at the Beall Trail parking lot. (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
Photos (c) Bill Beatty and Jan Runyan
Grasses (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
We hiked them all… and more (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

We found cranberries in several places, and we tried them, but ended up spitting them out — too soft and no taste unlike the delicious fresh cranberries we are used to finding.

Cranberries (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

While some looked around, Cindy showed us how excited she was to have some of her friends there to celebrate HER!

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

There were not many active birds, but we did see or hear several kinds on a regular basis.

Top to bottom – Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse and White-breasted Nuthatch (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

We paused at the bridge to view the Blackwater River.

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

We found several wood-rotting fungi.

Clockwise from top left – Crowded Parchment Fungus, Veiled Polypore and Turkey-tail Fungus (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Lunch time.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

And we continued hiking and having loads of fun.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty
Eastern Hemlock Tree (Photos (c) Bill Beatty
Photo (c) Bill Beatty

We always seem to be checking out available maps in hopes of discovering new trails to hike and explore.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

They wanted to keep looking at the scenic view of the Blackwater River. Hey, turn around so I can see your faces!

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

We were surprised at how many green ferns we saw. We thought they would be matted down from the weight of the earlier snowfalls and browned along all the margins from the cold. All the ferns we saw were Intermediate and Spinulose Shield Ferns.

Spinulose Shield Fern (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

We had hoped to hike all the way into the northern end of the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, but looking at so many plants and animals and fungi along the way meant that we didn’t have time.

Northern wetlands of the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

On Sunday we decided to hike from Canaan Loop Road, along the top of Canaan Mountain.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

We found wonder and beauty all along the trail.

Top to bottom – Lichen mixture, Trumpet Lichen, British Soldiers Lichen, and lichen mixture (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

The bark of the trees were covered in lichens – a sign of good air quality.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty
Pin Cushion Moss (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The Red Spruce were doing well everywhere we went — in the valley and on the mountain top.

Red Spruce (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Jan took the photo below as a close-up from the tree pictured above. The Birch Polypore is used as a medicinal plant in treating cancers.

Birch Polypore (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Scenic beauty surrounded us everywhere we went and Cindy found a friend.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty
Photo (c) Jan Runyan

One of our hikers was so enthralled at the various water sounds and scenic water courses that Jan decided to record the images and sounds for her.

Video (c) Jan Runyan
Photos (c) Jan Runyan
Photo (c) Bill Beatty

The patterns of nature were all along all the trails.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

One of our group was quite excited to find this Hemlock Varnish Fungus.

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

So much to see and discover and so little time! We didn’t hike the miles we thought we would because of all the wonders we discovered — and that’s a good thing. Well, actually, that’s a great thing!

Top to bottom – Partridgeberry, American Wintergreen/Eastern Teaberry and Creeping Snowberry

Afterwards we all met back at the cabin and had another great supper.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

After supper we settled in for a night of games. Cindy had brought a game that I would not recommend to ANYONE! None of us, nor Cindy, knew how — for lack of a better description — this game would test our ethics, virtue, morality and all that’s good about us. We blushed and then laughed until we cried — at least some of us did.

I felt like the Dark Lord of Star Wars fame and we had all gone over to the Dark Side.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

One last photo of Cindy and her birthday sign.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

On Monday a few of us stayed around for one last, short hike out to Lindy Point, now unofficially, CINDY POINT.

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

Before leaving Davis, West Virginia, Cindy, Jan and I had lunch at Sirianni’s Cafe.

Happy tummies!