Great Birds, Wonderful People and Beautiful Weather at the 2017 Canaan Valley Birding Festival

DAY ONE:  Jan and I led an all-day birding trip along the 11 mile Stuart Memorial Drive (a.k.a. Bickle Knob/Bear Heaven) in the Monongehela National Forest.  We began along the Shavers Fork River (elevation 2240 ft.) and continued upward through mature deciduous forests, younger forests with shrubby undergrowth and meadows/farm fields with many wood edges.  At the top (Bickle Knob…elevation 4003 ft.) we were surprised to find six different singing male Mourning Warblers.  We all had a great view of one of the birds.

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Birding along the Stuart Memorial Drive  (all photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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Happy birders on the Bickle Knob Fire Tower Observation Platform  (photo (c) Bill Beatty)

We even got photos of a few of the beautiful birds we were fortunate enough to see.

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Left to right:  Eastern Towhee, Indigo Bunting and Rose-breasted Grosbeak  (first two photos (c) Jan Runyan, right photo (c) Bill Beatty)

We continued our journey occasionally encountering coniferous habitats, stopping often trying to spot singing birds.  All along the route we heard male Scarlet Tanagers singing their territorial songs.

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Scanning the trees for birds…male Scarlet Tanager  (both photos (c) Jan Runyan)

DAY TWO:  Another all day tour, this time to the Olsen Fire Tower area and Fernow Experimental Forest.  Our first stop was near Olsen Fire Tower.  It was difficult to see the singing Canada Warbler, American Redstart and Veery.  And although we didn’t see the Veery, it began singing its ethereal song loudly from a nearby hidden location.  Click the following link to hear this beautiful song:

 

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Left to right:  listening to the Veery…one of our group climbed just high enough to get a fantastic 360 degree view from Olsen Fire Tower…chasing birds at Mill Race Park in Parsons  (all photos (c) Jan Runyan)

After a lunch stop with lots of birds at Mill Race Park in Parsons, we birded the road on the way to Fernow Experimental Forest.  We didn’t have time to explore all the different habitats at Fernow, but we were treated to a wonderful look at a singing Mourning Warbler at eye-height, just a few yards away.

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Left to right:  Listening to a Hooded Warbler and American Redstart and hoping to get a good look at one of these bird…one of our group at the “Rose-breasted Grosbeak site” at the top of the Fernow Forest Road…the group looking at a Mourning Warbler  (all photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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The singing Mourning Warbler in Fernow (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

That evening I presented the keynote program, telling personal stories from my book, Rainbows, Bluebirds and Buffleheads.

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I ended the program with two stories about Pileated Woodpeckers  (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

DAY THREE: Jan and I led a 1/2 day tour in Canaan Valley called “From Floor to Ceiling” beginning along  Freeland Road at 3220 ft. and ending at the top of Forest Service Road 80 near the Dolly Sods Wilderness at 4000+ ft.

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The Freeland Boardwalk in the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge  (both photos (c) Jan Runyan)

I have been on this boardwalk dozens of times, but this morning was special.  Willow and Alder Flycatchers were singing constantly from all directions as we slowly made our way along the trail.  What a treat — their singing made it possible to tell what each of these look-alike birds was.

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Left, Willow Flycatcher…right, Alder Flycatcher  (both photos (c) Jan Runyan)

We also watched a Swamp Sparrow singing from a nearby shrub for a very long time.

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Swamp Sparrow  (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

See and listen to the following video of the Swamp Sparrow we saw and heard, with a Willow Flycatcher singing in the background, at the Freeland Road boardwalk.  (video (c) Jan Runyan)

 

 

This Yellow Warbler posed on a Balsam Fir tree for everyone to see and photograph.

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Yellow Warbler  (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

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We were surprised and delighted to find these Pink Lady Slippers still blooming in the valley  (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

The video below ( copyright Jan Runyan) shows how this wetland is a great example of “perched water”:  groundwater supported by a zone of material of low permeability located above an underlying main body of groundwater with which it is not hydrostatically connected.

 

We made several stops on our way to the top of the mountain and compared the difference in the kinds of birds we encountered based on habitat and elevation.

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This stop was to compare the wood edges and open meadows with the wetlands we had just left  (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

At the top of the mountain we found Magnolia Warblers, Dark-eyed Juncos, Hermit Thrushes and a Brown Creeper.

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Dark-eyed Junco (Northern race of the sub-species, Slate-colored Junco)… soon after this photo was taken we watched this bird feeding one of its young recently out of the nest  (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

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Listening to the Hermit Thrush…scanning the trees for a Magnolia Warbler that was singing its alternate song  (both photos (c) Jan Runyan)

The Hermit Thrush song is my favorite and all of us took the time to be still and listen to the beautiful music.  Click on the following link to hear the song:

 

Two of the birders opened the back of their car to offer us a spread of blueberries, red raspberries and blackberries and as we were standing there eating, a Brown Creeper sang its lovely song several times.  It was the only time this bird was encountered on any trip during this year’s Canaan Valley Birding Festival.  Click the link below to hear the beautiful airy song of the Brown Creeper.  https://download.ams.birds.cornell.edu/api/v1/asset/508341?__hstc=226533890.0540c3cdd0d4d15ded888b41495ced28.1496720896681.1496720896681.1496720896681.1&__hssc=226533890.1.1496720896681&__hsfp=4162655610

It was a beautifully fitting end to a great weekend of terrific birding with wonderful people in the West Virginia mountains.

Mountain Nature Camp June 18-24, 2017

At this year’s Mountain Nature Camp (Nature studies for adults) in Terra Alta, WV, I will be the botanist.  I will be identifying the wildflowers at the camp and on most of the field trips.   I’ll also discuss edibility, medicinal uses and other natural history information.  I will also be leading a hike in the Dolly Sods Wilderness area.

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Top left clockwise… Scarlet Tanager, Velvet-foot Mushroom, Wild Columbine and Forest Log Millipede… all photos (c) Bill Beatty

This is a nature study camp for adults.  Mountain Nature Camp is located on an 18 acre peninsula of rural Terra Alta Lake in Preston County, West Virginia. Classes are on or near the grounds. Field trips include some of the most scenic and diverse locations in the West Virginia mountains.

** Designed for a variety of interests and all levels of experience/ability.

** Field trips focus on many aspects of Nature Study in destinations with a

variety of habitats and elevations.

** Hiking options available.

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Rohrbaugh Plains Overlook in the Dolly Sods Wilderness… photo (c) Bill Beatty

Facilities: Surrounded by woods with trails, meadows and the lake, Koehnline Lodge has a meeting room, dining room and professional kitchen. Our showerhouse has flush toilets and private showers.

Lodging: Sleep in your own tent in the woods or meadow (cots available) or make your own arrangements at nearby Alpine Lake Resort.

Meals: Home-cooked meals use many fresh, local ingredients. For full-day field trips, lunch is brought with us. Most special dietary needs can be accommodated.

Staff: Experts in their fields, recognized naturalists and professional interpreters are distinguished for their knowledge and their ability to teach both beginners and experts in Botany, Ornithology, Ecology, Natural History and other topics.

For more information: Call: 304-242-8562

Additional information and registration: http://www.brooksbirdclub.org/mountain-nature-camp.html

Canaan Valley Birding Festival – June 1-4, 2017

The West Virginia mountains in June are the perfect place for bird lovers and Nature lovers.  The  diverse high elevation boreal habitats, grasslands and boggy wetlands in and around Canaan Valley, WV, are the breeding ground for a wide variety of neo-tropical and other birds.   The Festival features all-day and half-day field trips as well as evening keynote speakers (I will speak on Saturday) and evening sounds walks.

Jan and I will be leading the following field trips:

Left – Deciduous woodland… Center – Kentucky Warbler… Right – Louisiana Waterthrush building nest  All photos (c) Bill Beatty

Friday: 6:00am–3:30pm… Stuart Memorial
Participants will carpool. Driving time to Stuart Memorial is approximately 45 minutes each way. This is a West Virginia high elevation specialties trip. Traditionally one of the most popular trips of the festival, it’s a wonderful 10-mile drive through mixed hardwood and Red Spruce forests with elevations ranging between 2,500 – 4,000 feet. Typically, 15-18 species of warbler are seen/heard which includes the possibility of Golden-winged Warbler and Mourning Warbler. Species which we should also see/hear at the highest elevations include Brown Creeper, Winter Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Other species include Least Flycatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, Red-breasted Nuthatch and Purple Finch. We will lunch near/on the observation deck at Bickle Knob which offers a stunning 360 degree panorama of the West Virginia mountains.
Leaders: Bill Beatty and Jan Runyan (Difficulty: 2-3)

Left – Beaver dam at Olsen Bog and Right – Ovenbird feeding young  Both photos (c) Bill Beatty

Saturday: 5:45am-3:30pm… Olsen Fire Tower + Big Run Bog then Fernow Forest (above photos) Participants will carpool.  Driving miles: 80 miles Round Trip.  Our first stop will be at the Olsen Fire Tower area where we usually find numerous Canada Warblers singing on territory.  The Olsen/Big Run area is home to many nesting warbler, thrush and vireo species as well as many other kinds of birds. The area where Big Run Bog empties into Big Run is often home to nesting Northern Waterthrushes.  Just before arriving at Fernow Experimental Forest we will be in an area which often has Blue-winged, Kentucky and Hooded Warblers as well as American Redstarts and more. Most of our day will be spent in the Fernow Forest where we will hear and see lowland forest birds as well as higher elevation birds.  The managed forest plots create a wide variety of forest habitats.  Along Elklick Run in Fernow there are Louisiana Waterthrushes.  Other warbler species we could encounter there are: Northern Parula, Black-throated Green, Black-and-white, Black-throated Blue, Magnolia, Yellow-rumped, Canada, Chestnut-sided, Blackburnian, American Redstart, Worm-eating, Hooded, Mourning, Common Yellowthroat and Ovenbird.  Scarlet Tanagers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks as well as many other non-warbler species are common.   Public restrooms will be available at a stop between Big Run and Fernow.  (Difficulty rating: 1-2:  Most of the time we will be along dirt/gravel roadways near the cars.  People who want to chase a particular bird might get into more difficult terrain)  Leaders: Bill Beatty and Jan Runyan.

Saturday: 6:30pm I will be presenting the keynote,  “I See Your Hooded and Raise You a Wilson’s”  I have spent much of my life outdoors surrounded by multitudes of birds and other wild creatures. I have hiked every ridge and valley I could find, taken many thousands of photos for some of the world’s most prestigious magazines, handled tens of thousands of birds, been surrounded by lightning and drenched from head to toe in torrential downpours and loved every minute of it. Although I became known among photo editors for my work with insects, spiders and other invertebrates, birds were always my favorite. Through all of this, things happened…often with birds. From my book, “Rainbows, Bluebirds and Buffleheads” I will share some of my favorite stories from a lifetime of pursuing birds.

Sunday: 6:30am–11:30amBeall Tract – Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge
Participants will carpool to the Beall Tract, approximately 20 minutes from the lodge. The Beall trails pass through forest, field, shrub, swamp and bog habitats, with spur trails leading to the Blackwater River. The forested areas should produce a variety of warblers, thrushes and vireos. Kingfishers and flycatchers are often seen along the trails near the river. The grassland areas have produced over half a dozen sparrow species along the route. With such variety of habitat, the possibilities are certainly broad ranging.
Leaders: Bill Beatty and Jan Runyan (Difficulty: 2)

Additional information and registration: http://www.canaanresort.com/events/canaan-valley-birding-festival/ or https://169307c90649224df2b8-b894092ec8bd6bd97300c832b761e87a.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com/general-uploads/CVR-Birding-Festival-2017-Event-Flyer.pdf

Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines Class for the Master Naturalist Program – May 21, 2017, 1-5 PM

Pre-registration is required for this class.  The class will meet at the Good Zoo in Oglebay Park, Wheeling, WV.

Left to right – Deciduous forest, Highbush Cranberry and Dutchman’s Pipe Vine  All photos (c) Bill Beatty

In this class students will learn some of the more common woody plants, what makes woody plants different, and become familiar with how to identify trees by leaf characteristics.  Also discussed will be the importance of woody plants to humans and wildlife and how to approach further study, including helpful references.

Ralph Bell Birding (and wildflower) Extravaganza May 20, 2017

This event is free and open to the public.

Ralph at the AFMO bird banding station on Dolly Sods  (c) Bill Beatty

Begins at 9 am at the Bell Family Farm in Greene County, PA.  Jan and I will be leaders at this event.  It is a wonderful day of outstanding birding and looking at wildflowers as we walk 2.2  miles (round trip) along the road from Ralph’s farm to the bridge across Ten Mile Creek.  After the walk we will gather for a picnic under a spreading Tuliptree in the yard.  Bring your lunch and lawn chairs.  This is the 3rd annual tribute to Ralph who passed away in May, 2014.

All photos (c) Bill Beatty

There will be excellent birders, wildflower experts and professional naturalists on this walk willing to share their expertise.

Location of the Bell Farm on goggle maps: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Pollock+Mill+Rd,+Jefferson,+PA+15344/@39.9465194,-80.0624328,14.75z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x88350bc94580d841:0x923b026c79c214f7!8m2!3d39.9436983!4d-80.0550257

West Virginia Wildflower Pilgrimage May 4-7, 2017 at Blackwater Falls State Park

Right – Rainbow over Pendleton Point… Left – View from Lindy Point  Both photos (c) Bill Beatty

Jan and I will be leading early morning bird walks on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings.

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Jan teaching her class (c) Bill Beatty

Thursday late afternoon, Jan will be teaching a Beginning Birder workshop at the Blackwater Falls State Park Lodge.

Thursday evening I will be the keynote speaker presenting the program “Wildflower Pilgrimage Mysteries and Magic.”  I will be telling stories from my book, “Rainbows, Bluebirds and Buffleheads,” as they relate to the West Virginia Wildflower Pilgrimage.

Left – American Larch… Center – Trailing Arbutus… Right – Gay Wings and Goldthread  All photos (c) Bill Beatty

Friday (above photos), 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 only seen in more northern climates.  Eastern hemlock, red spruce and American larch are some of the few 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.

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Left – Fisher Spring Run Bog… Far Right – Alder Run Bog  All photos (c) Bill Beatty

Friday (above photos), I will be leading a Dolly Sods Wilderness hike on the Alder Run Bog…Fisher Spring Run Bog Loop Trail.  This trail traverses a wide variety of habitats highlighting the scenic beauty of the Dolly Sods Wilderness. The hike begins with 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. Heading south through an open meadow we follow deer trails and old railroad grades to the southwestern edge of the Fisher Spring Run Bog. After crossing the bog we continue through mixed forest, meadow and red spruce habitats. After crossing the east end of the High Mountain Meadow Trail (near the road), we again follow deer trails through red spruce woods and meadows eventually entering and crossing the south side of Alder Run Bog. We connect again with the last quarter of the Beatty Labyrinth to return to the Red Creek Campground. HIKING boots, long pants and rain gear are REQUIRED! There will be restroom facilities available at the Red Creek Campground at the beginning and end of the hike.

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Left – Bill teaching at entrance to Old Growth Trail… Center – Lunch at red pine woods along High Mountain Meadow Trail… Right – View at Allegheny Front Vista Trail  All photos (c) Bill Beatty

Saturday (above photos), Jan and I together will lead several shorter hikes, “Special Hikes to Favorite Places on Dolly Sods.”  The first hike is a 1.2 mile (round trip) on the Old Growth Trail through a red spruce woods with mountain laurel/rhododendron borders ending in an old growth deciduous woods with a variety of high mountain spring wildflowers, interesting birds and giant oak trees.  Then we drive a short distance to our second hike: the 2.2 mile (round trip) High Mountain Meadow Trail.  This trail leads through a variety of habitats, briefly crosses Alder Run Bog, and continues through a large red pine forest with an extensive undergrowth of ferns,  The trail ends at an area of high mountain meadows which we may explore.  The last hike, time permitting, is along the Allegheny Front Vista Trail.  Hiking 1/4 – 1 mile (round trip) we will enjoy some of the best scenic overlooks in West Virginia.  HIKING boots and rain gear are REQUIRED!

For additional information and registration: http://wvgardenclub.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Wildflower-Pilgrimage-Reservation-Form-2017.pdf

Wildflowers and Weeds Class for the Master Naturalist Program – April 22, 2017, 1-5 PM

Pre-registration is required for this class.  The class will meet at the Good Zoo in Oglebay Park, Wheeling, WV.

Left to right – Sharplobe Hepatica, Blue-eyed Mary and Bloodroot  All photos (c) Bill Beatty

Learn the major groups and important families of flowering plants. Discover basic terms for describing flowering plants. Identifying flowering plants using field guides and keys and approaches to further study, including helpful references will also be covered. This class will meet at the zoo, then go to the woods surrounding West Liberty University. Participants must provide their own transportation to West Liberty.

Additional information and registration: http://www.oglebay-resort.com/PDF/Naturalist_Schedule_Form.pdf

Why Native Plants Matter… Tuesday, March 14 at 6:30 pm for the Master Gardeners

I will be presenting this program for the Master Gardeners of Ohio County.  The program is not open to the public… it is for Master Gardeners members only.  Join and you can attend.  Additional information about the Master Gardener’s program can be found here: http://ohio.ext.wvu.edu/master_gardeners

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Left to right… American Yew… Sugar Maple… Deciduous Forest…  all photos (c) Bill Beatty

Preserving native plant communities is essential to conserving a healthy earth for all creatures including people.  Native, naturalized, introduced and invasive plants will be discussed. This program will identify issues and problems.  Ideas and resources will show people how to become part of the solution.  Many local native plant and animal photos will highlight the topic.

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Left to right… Red Admiral Butterfly on Purple Coneflower… Andrened Bee on Wingstem… Honeybee on New England Aster…  all photos (c) Bill Beatty

Owls In the Family…Great Horned Owls

My first full-time job was as the Interpretive Naturalist at the Brooks Nature Center in Oglebay Park, Wheeling, West Virginia.  Many nature-related duties were required of me, but one job I took on that wasn’t required was raptor rehabilitation.  When someone brought in a hawk or owl that was ill or injured, I couldn’t help myself–I had to see what I could do to make the bird whole again.  I often had birds at work and at home in cages being rehabilitated from dehydration, gunshots, car encounters or other mishaps.

Great Horned Owls became my favorites perhaps because of their demeanor… always aggressive.   At the top of their food chain, they are the very powerful kings of the bird world.   I always had a great appreciation for their value in controlling rabies by preying on skunks.  I had an overwhelming desire to help these injured birds, but little knowledge and few tools to accomplish my goal–but I did my best.  Over time I learned much from visits to local veterinarians who often volunteered their expertise and time to help one of ‘my’ birds and to teach me some ways I could be a better rehabilitator.

One day I was working with a Great Horned Owl that had been shot through the foot by a hunter.  (Side bar: even though I occasionally received a bird apparently shot by an uncaring hunter, those same birds were always brought in by some other caring hunter who wanted to help it.)  As I worked, several men came into the nature center’s exhibit hall which also served as my rehabilitation facility.  One of the men noticed the owl and came right over.  Soon he was explaining and showing me things I could do to help the bird.  Right away I could tell he knew what he was talking about and I was very appreciative.  He introduced himself as Ron Austing.   I realized then how fortunate I was, knowing that he was one of the world’s best-known nature photographers, specializing in pictures of owls and falcons hunting their prey.  Soon I was asking all kinds of questions about owls and photography (this was about 20 years before I became a professional nature photographer).  Mr. Austing was very gracious and we talked for a very long time.

Great Horned Owl (c) Bill Beatty

A Great Horned Owl was the only animal that hurt me to the point that I had to go to the hospital – this story and many others are in my book, “Rainbows, Bluebirds and Buffleheads” (  https://wvbirder.wordpress.com/2016/08/06/rainbows-bluebirds-and-buffleheads/   )

I often used rehab or live-animal exhibit birds in my teaching at the Nature Center or at other venues.  One day I received a call from a teacher in Steubenville, OH.  She wanted me to visit her classroom to do a program about owls, including, if possible, bringing a live owl.  The Good Zoo at Oglebay Park had a Great Horned Owl being rehabilitated so I made plans to borrow it.  The day before my owl program, I put a cage and my owl gloves in the back of my car and drove to the Zoo.  The owl was alert and showed no signs of its previous injuries.  It was a very healthy specimen and seemed to have even more of an “attitude” than most Great Horned Owls.  I put on the gloves, grabbed the owl’s legs and transferred it into my cage.

The young lady helping me wondered where I got my owl gloves.  I told her they were specially made.  I bought them locally, had them reinforced with heavier leather and added the arm extensions myself.  They were designed to work specifically with Great Horned Owls.

“Do you think I could borrow them?” she asked.  “They would make my job so much easier with some of the animals we have to deal with today.”

“You can use them, but I have to have them back before the end of the day.  I have to work with this owl at a school tomorrow morning,” I answered.

She was very appreciative and promised to return them at day’s end.  At four o’clock when the Zoo closed, I began wondering about the gloves, but thought she still might deliver them before we closed at five o’clock.  At four thirty I phoned the Zoo but there was no answer.  I even drove over, only to find the doors locked and no one there.

Before I had created those owl gloves, I had used shorter, heavy-duty leather work gloves and still had several pairs, so I wasn’t too worried about not getting the owl gloves back.

At home I showed my kids the owl in its cage.  They gawked and watched the owl huffing and puffing, while bobbing and slowly moving from side-to-side.  My son, Josh, reached to touch the cage and the owl lunged toward him grabbing the thick screening on front with its talons.  All three kids fell backwards and stared at the owl with wide eyes.

“Don’t get too close,” I said, “Great Horned Owls are very powerful birds.”  After my children went back to playing I thought, “This owl could be a handful tomorrow morning at the school.  I better make sure I can adequately handle it with the shorter gloves.”  I was thinking about several years before when a Great Horned Owl I was working with held onto my hand so tightly that I couldn’t get if off.  After a while the bird on my hand seemed to get heavier and heavier and my arm had dropped lower and lower.  As my arm sank, the owl had slowly walked onto my wrist, up my arm and onto my shoulder.  Since that owl was used to being held and the trail of puncture wounds up my arm had been shallow, I hadn’t panicked.  I had been at the Nature Center at the time, so I had finally been able to get help removing the owl.  If the same thing were to happen  in front of a group of school children, it wouldn’t be good at all.

I put on the leather work gloves.  They looked so scanty compared to the gloves I had become accustomed to using.  I was reminded of information that I taught in my programs–owls have 200 to 300 pounds per square inch of crushing power in their talons.  An average adult human male has about 60 pounds per square inch in his hands.

When I opened the top of the cage to reach in, the owl was in a typical defensive position:  on its back with legs and sharply-taloned toes reaching for me.  It was prepared to defend itself.  If the owl grabbed a glove, it would take a while to unwrap those talons after I was holding its legs.  Wanting to avoid this, I just reached quickly for the legs as I had done before.  Something went terribly wrong–this time I was too slow.  And worse yet, the gloves were not thick enough.   One of the talons went through the glove and deep into my hand.  Even without being able to see my hand, I could tell the damage was substantial because of the intense pain.  Trying to keep the owl still only disturbed it more and it squeezed tighter sending even more pain through my hand.

“Now what?” I thought. “There is no easy way out of this!”

I managed to get the owl out of the cage and lying against the ground.  Right then, around the corner of the house, came Richard, a photographer friend.

“Richard!” I called, “I need help!  I have a talon in my hand!”

Richard smiled and answered, “Okay, but let me take a few pictures first!”

And he did take pictures…many pictures!

Finally Richard asked what he could do to help me.  I directed him to put on leather work gloves and take tight hold of the owl’s legs.  I took the glove off my good hand so I could feel my way through what I was about to do.  With my thumb and pointer finger I grabbed the talon and took a deep breath.  The talon was almost two inches long and curved, making it very difficult to pull straight out.  As I pulled as hard as I could on the talon, it scrapped the inside of my hand its entire length, but, finally, it was out.   I took the glove off.  The talon had gone all the way through my hand.  It had entered my hand between my middle and ring finger and had come out between the knuckles.

“Richard, I can’t believe you showed up when you did!” I said.  “I wouldn’t have known what to do.”

Richard responded, “It was perfect timing. I think I got some great photos!”

Even though the wound went all the way through my hand, there was little bleeding.  I washed my hand and put a band aid on each side.

When I awoke the next morning my wound didn’t look bad and there was hardly any pain so I went to the school with the owl.  This time I didn’t want to take any chances so I wore two pairs of thick leather gloves.  The program was a huge success even though the owl was quite rambunctious,  bobbing its head and looking from kid to kid as he refocused his eyes.  The kids were amazed.  That afternoon I delivered the owl back to the Zoo and retrieved my gloves.  The young lady who had borrowed the gloves had forgotten to deliver them to me and was very apologetic.  I didn’t tell her what had happened.

Back at the Nature Center I told my secretary, Dot, about my bad owl experience.

She asked, “Did you go to the doctor?”

“No,” I replied, “I’m fine now.”

When I was growing up, my grandmother was always the one who took care of all kinds of medical conditions that, for some folks, might have required a doctor, including delivering an occasional baby.  The only time I ever went to a doctor was for broken bones and for a nail through my foot.  My present injury seemed fine now so I hadn’t even considered medical help.  When Dot went to Oglebay Institute’s Administrative Offices to get the mail that afternoon she talked to others about my run-in with the owl.  Shortly after she returned I received a call from the head of the Institute.

“I want you to go to the hospital…now!” he said, “If you don’t go today and there are any future complications, they will not be covered under workman’s comp.”   So I agreed to go.

At the emergency room I told the nurse about the owl putting a talon through my hand.  She furrowed her brow and asked, “An owl?  You did say an owl, didn’t you?”

She was even more shocked when she asked about my insurance carrier and I answered, “It’s covered under workman’s comp.”

“You’re serious aren’t you?” she remarked.

“Yes I am.”

Soon a doctor pushed aside the curtain of my examining area, looked at my chart, glanced at me and then went back out.  I could hear him say, “You aren’t going to believe this!  I got a guy in here who says he has a puncture wound all the way through his hand from an owl!”

This seemed to cause a bit of a stir.

I thought, “It’s not as if I were in gun battle on the street or had crowbar through my skull.  It’s a little hole through my hand and hardly noticeable.”

Then I heard the doctor say, “And he also says it’s covered under workman’s comp!” which caused an even bigger commotion.

Someone said, “You know, we should call that guy at the Nature Center to see if an owl could even do that.”

I raised my voice and called out, “I AM that guy!

Without further discussion they treated me and sent me on my way.

 

North Bend State Park’s Winter Wonder Weekend… January 20-22, 2017

ALL ABOARD the NORTH BEND RAILWAY WINTER WONDER EXPRESS!

North Bend State Park’s Winter Wonder Weekend is a wonder-ful tradition and a great way to have fun.  There are loads of activities for all ages to choose from, both indoors and outdoors.  The staff at North Bend always shows amazing creativity with decorations and activities related to their theme–I’m sure this year will be just as wonder-ful.

I will present the Friday evening program, “Trains and Nature.”

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Cass Scenic Railroad (c) Ryan K.

The presentation will be followed by an ice cream social by the fireplace and a performance by Stepping Stone Band…music to sing along with or even dance to.  The final Friday night activity will be a winter walk led by Jan and me.  We may even try to call in some owls.
pho_ice_cream_sundae
Saturday activities will include hikes (Jan and I will be on the 4-5 mile hike), crafts, bingo, and door prizes along with more entertaining speakers and refreshments. Courtesy of Cal and Sharon Malcom, the weekend will include a display of “Railways in Ritchie County”, a miniature circus with operating model trains, including trains representing the narrow gauge trains that operated in Ritchie County.
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Potomac Eagle (c) Steve Shaluta Jr.

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American Bald Eagle (c) Adam Jones

Whether you long for bygone days of hearing that lonesome whistle blow or are passionate about trains and their history, make North Bend State Park your whistle-stop and you will find Winter Wonder Weekend loaded with a variety of entertaining and informative experiences for all ages!
Registration form and additional information: http://www.wvdnr.gov/Winter_Wonder.pdf

“Rainbows, Bluebirds and Buffleheads” at the Ohio County Public Library, Wheeling WV

This program is free and open to the public.   December 6, 12 – 1 pm

For years people have told me they often come to my programs just to hear my stories.  Many said, “You should write down your stories!  You should write a book!”   So, I did!

This  book is a collection of my favorite bird-related stories and describes my progression from a young boy fascinated by the rainbows in starling and pigeon feathers, to becoming an expert in bird identification, natural history, having a Master Personal Federal Bird Banding Permit for over 40 years and studying eastern screech-owls for 28 years.  Most of the stories describe experiences which took place in West Virginia…many of those in Ohio County.

At Ohio County Public Library’s “Lunch With Books”, I will be speaking about my new book and telling stories from it.

Rainbows, Bluebirds and Buffleheads will be available for purchase at the program.

Ohio County Library: Lunch With Books http://www.ohiocountylibrary.org/calendar/lunch-with-books-discovering-life-through-birds-with-bill-beatty/1303

Discovering Life Through Birds… December 1… for the Wissahickon Nature Club

My program will be at the Fern Hollow Nature Center, 246 Glen Mitchell Rd, Sewickley, PA.   https://www.mapquest.com/us/pennsylvania/business-sewickley/fern-hollow-nature-center-1910370   The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m… program begins at 8.  Arrive at 7 for coffee, tea and potluck dessert.  Bring a mug.

The program is free and open to the public.

When I teach, I tell stories about birds I’ve met.  I also am asked how I could manage to learn so much about birds.  This night I will share some of my early birding history and tell some stories from my new book, “Rainbows, Bluebirds and Buffleheads”.

 

Allegheny Front Migration Observatory (AFMO) on Dolly Sods – 2016

I have been visiting this bird banding station since 1972 and volunteering since 2004.  Jan has volunteered since 2007, the year she retired.  We are both federally licensed bird banders, but volunteer as net tenders removing birds from the 30 mist nets used for trapping migratory birds.  The AFMO is located along the Allegheny Front near the Red Creek Campground on Dolly Sods.  Most of Dolly Sods is federally designated wilderness comprising 32,000 acres.  The banding station is in the Dolly Sods Scenic Area.

In late September this year, we spent two weeks on Dolly Sods working at the AFMO.  At the banding station our days begin  at 6 am when it is still dark.  Being on the Allegheny Front, looking east toward the ridge-and-valley and the piedmont, the views from the AFMO are spectacular.  Each sunrise (or sometimes just sky-lightening) is different.  Click on photos to enlarge… use back button to return to blog.

Dolly Sods sunrises (c) Bill Beatty and Jan Runyan

Views from along the Allegheny Front at the AFMO. (c) Jan Runyan

Right away we are busy removing birds from the nets.  The earliest birds are mostly thrushes:  Swainson’s, Gray-cheeked, Hermit, Wood and Veerys.  It is usually still dark and head lamps are necessary.  Some of the other net tenders are also back-up banders.  If the day gets busy, they start banding, too, so that the birds are on their way as soon as possible. As the morning progresses we are mesmerized by the birds as well as the sunrise and other scenery.

Busy removing birds from the mist nets (c) Jan Runyan and Bill Beatty

Each bird is put into a separate brown paper lunch-sized bag.  Those small bags are collected in grocery store bags with handles.  Then they are taken to the banding shed where all the banding takes place.

Left – AFMO volunteers… and Right – some visitors observing and learning about birds and banding (c) Jan Runyan

All of the people who work at the station are highly trained volunteers who apprenticed at the station and return year after year to work.  They pay for their own training, equipment (except bands) and travel expenses.  Some help at the station for one or two weeks during the month and a half it is open (mid-August to early October) and several stay for almost the whole time.  The AFMO is funded completely by donations.

Visitors are always welcome and if the day is not too busy, we can teach about birds, bird banding and the science behind what we do.

Left to right – Banders checking a Lincoln’s Sparrow, Blue-headed Vireo and boy being handed an Ovenbird for release. (c) Jan Runyan

Most of the birds we catch are warblers (“fairly small, vocal, insectivorous, perching songbirds which vary widely in color and pattern”).   Some days we capture many hundreds; other days only a few.  The banding is weather dependent.  We do not open the station on rainy, foggy or very windy days.  Most birds are caught in the early morning hours, often before 10 am.  The banding is over by noon except on very busy days.  On October 26 of this year we caught and banded 829 birds and the banding (3 banders with several helpers) continued until 2:30.

Left to right… Connecticut Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Nashville Warbler and Hooded Warbler (c) Jan Runyan

On days with few birds the station closes earlier and we are able to take more time to appreciate Dolly Sods’ scenic beauty.  On slow days I often hike and sometimes Jan joins me.

Left to right… view from the AFMO and red spruce forest along the Bog to Bog Trail. (c) Jan Runyan

One day I led a group on a 4.7 mile wilderness hike for some friends. We traversed part of the Beatty Labyrinth, Alder Run Bog, several red spruce forests, a CCC red pine plantation, a high mountain meadow and Fisher Spring Run Bog.  Much of the hike involved bushwhacking into beautiful areas most hikers on Dolly Sods never see.

The wilderness hike and the Wilderness (c) Bill Beatty and Jan Runyan

On the hikes we see wonderful kinds of wildlife.  During any season there are many beautiful and interesting plants to enjoy.  The fall glows with Goldenrods and Asters accented by plants like Joe-Pye weed and different kinds of Gentians.

Left to right… Narrow-leaved Gentian, Bumblebee at Closed Gentian and Five-flowered Gentian (c) Bill Beatty

With the plants we often find an interesting variety of insects and spiders.  Some of the spider webs are spectacular, especially when wet with dew or fog.

Grass/Funnel Weaver Spider and male at funnel entrance (c) Jan Runyan and Bill Beatty

If we look fast, we might see several kinds of small snakes “running” away from us. Occasionally when the day is warm, we get to watch a Milk Snake sunning itself on a rock.

Left to right… Camouflaged Smooth Green Snake, holding a Smooth Green Snake and Red-bellied Snake (c) Bill Beatty

Because of its geology, the top of the mountain is dotted with bogs.  Some are small wet spots; others are huge open areas that take a long time to traverse.  In the fall, the Cottongrass spikes speckle the bogs and dance in the wind. In wetter parts, the bogs are filled with insectivorous Sundew plants–both the native Round-leaved Sundew and the invasive Spatulate-leaved Sundew.  In the fall the Sundews often have flower stalks above their insect-catching leaves.  Dolly Sods’ bogs are a moss lover’s delight.  Sphagnum can be found everywhere, but many other kinds entice us to kneel down and look carefully.   This year the Reindeer Moss (which isn’t a moss at all, but a complicated lichen) was very dry and crispy in exposed areas, but lush and spongy in the deep, moist woods.

Left to right… Sphagnum Moss, Cotton Grass and Spatulate-leaved Sundew (c) Jan Runyan

After our hikes or cranberry picking or photo expeditions or visits with friends, we savor an early dinner and fall asleep as the sun goes down.  Each morning while it’s still dark we are back at the banding station looking in awe at the Milky Way, watching the sunrise and, of course, catching more birds.

Left to right… Jan with Black-throated Green Warbler in mist net, Grace with a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Jan with a Ruby-crowned Kinglet (c) Bill Beatty and Jan Runyan

One of the very special things about being involved with bird banding is experiencing and examining the birds so closely.  We can see the subtle differences which give clues to the age and gender of each bird.

Left to right: Cape May and Blackburnian Warbler comparison; back and front of the Cape May Warbler (c) Jan Runyan

Of the 44 species of warblers listed in Peterson’s East/Central guide, the AFMO has banded 38 species.  The real challenge for fall banders comes because, of those 44 possible species, 24 species change their plumage, sometimes radically, after the summer breeding season.  In the species that do change, both the young and mature birds look very different in the fall than they do in the spring when most of us see them.  Of Peterson’s 24 “confusing fall warblers”, the station has caught all but one species.

In the spring most warblers look very different from each other.   In the fall their  different and muted colors can make us search for hints of washed-out color, faint streaks, a couple of different colored feathers or even the color of the feet to tell them apart.  Although we are sometimes left scratching our heads for a while, we relish the challenge.

Left to right… Bay-breasted Warbler with band, Bay-breasted Warbler head and Chestnut-sided Warbler (c) Jan Runyan

Although warblers are the most frequently banded birds at the AFMO, many other types of birds are also caught and banded.  From tiny Kinglets (both kinds) and Brown Creepers to Blue Jays, Hawks and even Northern Saw-Whet Owls, birds of all sizes leave the Allegheny Front with numbered aluminum bands on their legs.

Left to right… Brown Thrasher in the orange light of early morning sun, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Gray-cheeked Thrush (c) Jan Runyan

No matter what we catch, it is always a thrill to release a bird.  Sometimes when the station is not too busy and we have the right kind of birds, we can teach a visitor how to hold and release a bird.  Usually the bird flies away almost before the person holding it opens their hand.  But occasionally a bird will stay on a hand for a few moments, not realizing that the covering hand has been removed.  That is always magical.

Lee releasing a Wood Thrush (c) Jan Runyan

Field markings which may be hard to see on a bird in the field become very obvious when the bird is in hand.  Even the almost-indistinguishable Flycatchers can be identified with the help of expert books (and expert banders).

Left to right… Eastern Phoebe, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and White-throated Sparrow (c) Jan Runyan

Hawks are always a rare and exciting event.  Because their feet and wings are so much larger than those of most perching birds, hawks have an easy time getting out of a net.  Most of our captures occur on the rare occasion when a hawk tries to go after a bird that is already in the net.  When a hawk hits the net, it usually bounces off and flies away.  But if it hits just right, it falls into the pocket of the net.  If there is a net tender close enough, he or she can gather the net around the hawk before it has a chance to fly away.  One morning Jeff was net tending on a nearby south net when some of us saw a hawk hit a net near the far end.  People yelled, “Run, Jeff, run!”  and he took off running toward the far nets, not knowing exactly where he was headed, but knowing exactly why we told him to run.

One day I was fortunate to remove a hawk that hit near where I was removing another bird.  I was able to reach it before it could fly away.  He was a beauty!

Juvenal male Sharp-shinned Hawk in the process of being banded, sexed and released (c) Jan Runyan and Bill Beatty

Note the difference in eye color between the young male Sharp-shinned Hawk above and the older female “Sharpy” below. The iris color changes from grayish-yellow and yellow to orange and reddish during the first couple years of life.

Some sparrows can still be difficult to identify, even in hand.  But being able to turn the bird around and see both the top and bottom makes it easier to see the finer points of identification.

Left to right… Lincoln’s Sparrow, Yellow-throated Vireo, Indigo Bunting and adult female Sharp-shinned Hawk (c) Jan Runyan

Jan and I always collect Dolly Sods spring water the day before we leave for home.  Because everything was so dry this year, the spring was running much slower than most years.  We usually bring home enough water to last us the entire year, but we didn’t think we would have the time or patience to fill all of our containers this year.   With the help of an old coffee pot and a beautiful day to distract us while we waited, it only took a couple of hours to gather a year’s worth (we hope) of water.  In the middle of winter, the taste takes us right back to the sunny, green warmth of the Wilderness.

Filling our water containers at the Red Creek Campground spring.  Jan fills, Bill carries. (c) Bill Beatty

There is always something new and special to discover when we are on Dolly Sods and at the AFMO.  At night, the stars or moon are so bright and close it seems that if you climbed to the top of a spruce tree you could reach out and touch them.  Bushwhacking in the forests, meadows and bogs brings unexpected discoveries, both natural and, occasionally, human-made.

On our last day on the Sods, we were pleased to realize that we had helped add a significant number of birds to the AFMO tally for the year.  We feel very satisfied to be able to help with such an important scientific endeavor and very happy to be able to spend time with such good friends in a place as incredible as Dolly Sods.

Left to right… the early dark sky greeted us with a beautiful full moon, a Dolly Sods Wilderness boundary marker and the daily tally of total birds banded and total species on our final day of net tending.

Wild Plant Cookbook

“It’s more than just a cookbook.  It’s a book you can read, with interesting stories and lots of information about nutrition.  I love it!”  Participant, Governor’s Summer Institute.

Edible wild plants can provide much of our body’s most necessary nutrition…for free!    More important, these plants are fun.  My goals in writing this book were to provide people with a tool that can make them healthier and more self-reliant and to help people appreciate and enjoy what Nature gives us.  Here are recipes, tried and enjoyed by my family, natural histories of plants and stories of my experiences with wild edibles.

5.5 X 8.5 inches 175 pages

One reviewer wrote:  “I highly recommend this book for several reasons. It is a fairly small paperback that doesn’t weigh very much, so I can carry it on foraging expeditions. Further, it covers many wild edible plants – over 30. As a wild edible plant instructor, I know that every person who wants to learn foraging needs and wants to learn good, tasty ways to cook foods that might need some imaginative recipes; even some domesticated fruits and vegetables need the help of recipes to make them palatable and tasty. Also, I particularly like the arrangement of the book – it is by the individual plants. If you want recipes for different ways to prepare dandelions, just turn to the chapter on dandelions. Most other books of wild edible plant recipes are categorized in groups like: soups, casseroles, desserts, etc. Then you have to go to the index to look up the dandelions and trek through many recipes hopefully to find what looks pleasing to you. The arrangement in the Beatty’s book makes a lot more sense to me.”

Another reviewer wrote:   “This is a great book, simple and easy to understand. Great and fun recipes, I like it! I recommend it to anyone who would like to try some new and fun foods with ingredients from nature… this would be great coupled with a plant ID book.”

Autographed copies are available for $9.95 plus $3.00 shipping.  West Virginia residents add $.60 sales tax per book.  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.

Battle of the Songs…….by Jan Runyan

The Crows were upset!  Well, that’s nothing new.  Crows love drama!

We know there was a successful nest of Crows down back this year.  The very strange sounds and un-birdlike calls we heard frequently in early July were eventually traced to young Crows.  By early August they had learned to sound more Crow-like.

crow

(c) Charles Tysinger

But today as I worked in the garden, all the Crows were upset and calling loudly and frequently in the back woods.  The cacophony carried on at such a level for such a long time that I began to rule out a cat or other ground dwellers as the cause.  Crows usually succeed in convincing them to move on fairly soon.

This noise kept going and going.  Maybe they had found an owl roosting in one of the tall trees and were calling all their friends within shouting distance to join the party.  Owls will often tolerate the Crow’s ruckus as long as the noisemakers don’t get too close.

GHOW

(c) Bill Beatty

As I weeded, I heard at least 4 or 5 young and old Crows yelling battle songs.  After more than an hour of the Crow serenade, I heard a Broad-winged Hawk call.

BWHA

(c) Judd Patterson

The Broad-wings had a successful nest down back, too, and this sounded like the not-quite-right call of the young hawk.  I looked up to see two large birds flying between tall locust trees beyond the garden.  One, the youngster, perched where I could see it.  It kept calling and calling.  Was it whining again?  “Mom, I’m hungry!”  Or was it shouting insults and dares at the crows?  “You better not fly past this branch or you’ll get it!”  The Crows moved closer to the young Broad-wing.  Back and forth they exchanged “words” for quite a while.

Then, all of a sudden, there was one scream from a Red-tailed Hawk.

RTHA

ninnescahlife.wichita.edu/node/618

Junior Broad-wing shut up and both large birds in the locust trees took off for the deeper woods.  The Crows continued to fuss until one more Red-tailed scream sent them all flapping their way south in silence.

Apparently the Broad-wing and the Crows agreed that the Red-tail had won the battle of the songs.  No broken bones or blood…but the battle was decided.

The woods were now totally silent…except for one sound.  The insistent call of a Tufted Titmouse which told me he thinks he chased off all of them.  Because, of course, he knows (and if you have ever seen one being banded, you know) he really is the toughest bird on the block.

TUTI

(c) Bill Beatty

Kayaking the Blackwater and Little Blackwater Rivers

The stars aligned so Jan and I made a spur of the moment decision to take a kayaking trip.  We took our favorite drive to the WV mountains and got a cabin at Canaan Valley State Park.  The next day the weather was perfect (partly cloudy, 74 degrees) to spend the day kayaking the Blackwater and Little Blackwater Rivers into the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.  Surprisingly, we didn’t see another person on the rivers.  Except for the treetop fighter jet that thundered down the valley, we were alone all day in one of West Virginia’s most scenic areas.  It was a spectacular day!

Following are some of the highlights.  Click on photo for a larger image.  Use back button to return from photos to the blog.

We use foldable/inflatable kayaks because they fit easily inside our Prius with all our other gear. Here we began our journey upstream from Camp 70 Road on the Blackwater River. (c) Bill Beatty/Jan Runyan

I was surprised to see dozens of Blue Monkshoods flowering on the shady east shoreline early in the trip.  It was the only place we saw them.

Blue Monkshood (Aconitum uncinatum) (c) Jan Runyan

Along both banks of the stream we saw what appeared to be the dominant plants in flower: Yellow Sneezeweed and Sweet-scented Indian Plantain.

Yellow Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) (c) Bill Beatty and Sweet-scented Indian Plantain (Hasteola suaveolens) (c) Eric Lhote

Jan and I happily paddled from shore to shore looking at plants and other creatures, listening to the few late-season bird songs and enjoying the ‘Almost Heaven’ scenery.

Continuing upstream on the Blackwater River. (c) Bill Beatty

The most dominant shrub along the Blackwater River is Ninebark.  We were about 6 weeks too late to see it bloom.  When the Ninebark is in snowy bloom along the river it is spectacular.

Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)… third week in June (c) Bill Beatty

Large patches of Swamp Milkweed are along sections of the Blackwater, but most of it had already gone to seed.  The few last flowerheads were quite colorful.

PF90017

A close photo of the individual flowers on the Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) flower ball. (c) Bill Beatty

After 2.1 miles of paddling we came to the mouth of the Little Blackwater River and decided to follow it upstream as far as we could.

Jan relaxing in the shallows of the Little Blackwater, Black Bear footprint in the mud and stopping to look around. (c) Bill Beatty/Jan Runyan

Just off the Little Blackwater, the view of the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge wetlands extends for miles.

Jan on a high bank overlooking the Little Blackwater River, Jan collecting a delicious snack for us… blueberries and dewberries. (c) Bill Beatty

We were able to paddle .4 miles up the Little Blackwater until it became impassable due to dense Speckled Alder shrubs overhanging from both banks.

Jan at the end of the navigable portion of the Little Blackwater River, lunch time and paddling back downstream to the Blackwater River. (c) Bill Beatty/Jan Runyan

The following video shows me paddling downstream at the mouth of the Little Blackwater where it enters the Blackwater River. (video by Jan)

Back at the confluence with the Blackwater River, we decided to continue upstream on the main watercourse.  On both banks we continued to find different wildflowers and other creatures.

left to right… Crooked-stemmed Aster flowers (Symphyotrichum prenanthoides), Blue Vervain flowers (Verbena hastata) and Common Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum) (c) Bill Beatty

Dragonflies and damselflies perched on our kayaks.  Beaver slides from the high banks into the water looked like inviting fun.  I was surprised at the large number of Viceroy Butterflies.

Left to right… Mating Ebony Jewelwing Damselflies (Calopteryx maculata), Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) and Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus) (c) Bill Beatty

After .33 more miles upstream from the confluence of the Blackwater and Little Blackwater, we came to a fallen tree totally blocking the river, sticking up several inches above water level.   The day was getting late and the portage would have involved standing in deep water to lift the kayaks now and when we returned, so we decided to start the leisurely paddle back downstream.  We noticed large patches of Halberd-leaved Tearthumb in some locations which would have been painfully difficult to walk through wearing shorts and sandals, but were beautiful to float by.

Left to right… Halberd-leaved Tearthumb (Persicaria arifolia), Moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia) and Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) (c) Bill Beatty

The following video shows the beauty of the stream, wildlife refuge and day.  (video by Jan)

Jan and I had a wonderful day renewing body, soul and spirit.  We will do this trip again.

Paddling downstream on the Blackwater River. (c) Jan Runyan

Happy Camper back at the cabin after a day of kayaking (5.66 miles) and supper at Siriani’s.

Jan (c) Bill Beatty

Rainbows, Bluebirds and Buffleheads

MY NEW BOOK HAS JUST BEEN RELEASED!

When I teach, I tell stories about birds I’ve met and many of you have asked me to share my stories in writing.  I also am asked how I could manage to learn so much about birds.  Well, let me tell you a story…..

In Rainbows, Bluebirds and Buffleheads I share my favorite memories and stories about birds and how they changed my life.  You’ll meet the rainbow birds that started it all and some amazing people who helped me when I was a fledgling.  Midnight owl surveys…an avalanche of birds…Ralph-ael…bare-handing birds…pileated prowess…and so much more.

Finally I have answered your requests and am excited to share many of my birding life stories with you.

Enjoy!

6X9 inches 312 pages

Autographed copies are available for $18.95 plus $3.50 shipping.  West Virginia residents add $1.13 sales tax per book.  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 you include your shipping address.

Bill Beatty

Bill Beatty

 

Bluebirds and Blue Birds are not Blue!

Some may think, “If I see an Eastern Bluebird, I certainly see blue.”  Well, yes you do… and no you don’t.  It’s complicated!

Eastern Bluebirds nest on our property. We trap, band and release them. (c) Bill Beatty

My daughter, Julie, was active in Science Fair when she was in school.  In ninth grade her project was “Pigment and Structural Colors in Bird Feathers”.  Most birds’ feathers get their color from chemicals in the foods the birds eat.  Those foods provide different birds with different kinds of pigments in their feathers.  The pigments show color by absorbing some of the colors of the light spectrum and reflecting the other colors…we see the reflected colors.  Northern cardinals reflect red, therefore we see red; American goldfinches reflect yellow, Baltimore orioles reflect orange and so on.  The color blue is different, however.   Bluebirds do not reflect blue, yet we see blue.  There are truly no blue colored birds…anywhere.  The blue we see is not a reflective color from a blue pigment, rather a refractive color.  It’s physics and light playing tricks with our eyes.  For blue birds, instead of the light reflecting off the feathers and showing the color of the pigment, the light enters into the feather  and bends (refracts).  This refracted (not reflected) light is what we see.

Can you identify these ‘not really blue birds’ by their feathers? All are native to the United States. Answers are at the bottom of this page.  Click on the feathers to enlarge and then click again. (c) Bill Beatty

To study this, Julie gathered feathers from different kinds of dead birds we found along roadways.  Certain federal laws forbid collecting birds or any parts of birds, including feathers, but my Bird Banding Permit allowed me to salvage dead birds.   I already had several in our freezer.  With mortar and pestle Julie ground the red feathers of a cardinal with the resulting powder being a red color.  After grinding the feathers of a goldfinch, the powder was yellow.  The color resulting from oriole feathers was orange.  She destroyed the structure of the feathers but the pigments were still there and their respective colors did not change.  This showed that these birds’ colors resulted from the pigments in their feathers.  When she ground the eastern bluebird feathers into a powder, however, the powder was black.  This demonstrated that the bluebird’s color comes from the feather’s structure, not its pigment:  destroy the structure and the blue color disappears.

Every time I see a blue bird I’m thankful that nature has made a way for me to see the blue color that is not really there.  Nature is AMAZING!

For a more detailed explanation of how birds make colorful feathers, see – https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/how-birds-make-colorful-feathers/

Answers: Left-to-right… Bluejay, Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Eastern Bluebird, Mountain Bluebird, Wood Duck, Steller’s Jay

Shirley Temple Wildflowers…..by Jan Runyan

For the “Greatest Generation”, my parents’ young years, Shirley Temple was a mega-star. Between 1935 and 1938, from ages 7 to 10, she was Hollywood’s #1 box office star, but by age 22 she had retired completely from making films. She started acting at age 3 and by age 5 she had flowered into a major actress, singer and dancer.   She could do it all and, by the standards of the time, she was a natural.

This early flower who blossomed at such a young age came to mind yesterday as Bill and I walked through woods and meadows. We saw many very early flowering plants already strutting their stuff in the cool spring breezes.

All around the yard the small, leafy rosettes of Pennsylvania Bitter Cress have already sent up tiny flower stalks. The four-petaled white flowers are often overlooked since they are so miniscule. Because of their plain design, they will never be stars in the flower world, but it’s worth kneeling to see these little gems against their backdrop of tiny leaflets (which are a great addition to a spring salad).

Pennsylvania bittercress (Cardamine pensylvanica)

Pennsylvania Bittercress (c) Bill Beatty

Pennsylvania bittercress (Cardamine pensylvanica)

Pennsylvania Bittercress flower stalk (c) Bill Beatty

In a large “empty” flower planter, Bill spotted Purple Henbit just beginning it’s display.  Ringing the stem is a circle of flowers — the first layer of flower rings which will build above each other like a flower apartment building. These showy flowers that no one ever sees rival orchids in their intricacy and beauty. The tiny tubes open upward into nodding hoods and lips in a variety of white to purple colors with deep magenta decorations splattered here and there. It takes magnification and, perhaps, muddy knees to get close enough to see the delicate loveliness of this undiscovered talent.

purple dead-nettle/purple henbit (Lamium purpureum)

Purple Henbit (c) Bill Beatty

purple dead-nettle or purple henbit (Lamium purpureum) mint

Purple Henbit flowers (c) Bill Beatty

Down the hill, we knew the Skunk Cabbage was blooming on its wetland stage where, this time of year, it is the only actor. Although swampy areas may not be ideal for a spring walk, it’s worth donning high boots to examine this unique character. Next to the unrolling large leaves is the green and purple, pear-shaped piece with a top that gently curves over and around. This is what many people think of as the Skunk Cabbage flower. Actually called a spathe, it almost completely surrounds the thick round spadix on which bloom a number of very tiny flowers of the same off-white, gray-beige color. Like a play way off-Broadway, Skunk Cabbage flowers are not the easiest things to see, but are definitely worth the trip.

Symplocarpus-foetidus michigannatureguy

Skunk Cabbage (c) MichiganNatureGuy

Of course dandelions can bloom in any month of the year…but be careful–what you see may not actually be a dandelion. This is the Coltsfoot time of year! It flowers so early along the road and driveway edges that the plant hasn’t even put out leaves yet. The large, hoof-shaped leaves will come later, but now the thick gray-green stems, rippled with stem leaves, reach up. The flower reminds me of a child’s drawing of a sun: dozens of long, thin, bright yellow petals seem to burst out from the center crowd of round stamens which look like the bubbly surface of the sun. Next time you think it’s just another smooth-stalked dandelion early in the spring, take a minute to look closer–you just may have a miniature sun on a leafy stem.

Coltsfoot and dandelion

Coltsfoot on top, Dandelion on bottom (c) Bill Beatty

Coltsfoot trio

Coltsfoot flowers (c) Bill Beatty

At first Sharp-lobed Hepatica flowers huddle in the woods with a bell-like shape, protected from the brisk spring winds by 3 green bracts. Soon this early-bloomer opens to show 6 or more long, rounded sepals (“petals” to most of us) of white to deep purple. Above the “petals” and a yellow pistil, the tall stamens look like a ring of bursting white fireworks celebrating the premier of the flower.

sharplobe hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba)

Sharp-lobed Hepatica (c) Bill Beatty

Also in the woods, the young Bloodroot flowers seem similarly protected from harsh spring weather by the large leaf wrapping almost totally around the bud. Eventually the stem grows beyond the leaf and the flower with a multitude of white petals and a sunny crown of bright yellow stamens stands proudly on the stage of early spring.

bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Bloodroot (c) Bill Beatty

The first daring daffodil, while not a wildflower in this area, has already braved the cool weather to dance in the wind. It stands tall, looking as if it were singing in the sunshine spotlight.

IMG_9867 LR

The first Daffodil, photo by Jan

Other plants are also starting their careers early, hoping a prompt start gives them an advantage. In open places in the woods, the ground is carpeted with bright fresh green Common Chickweed. As I found out two years ago in the garden, left unchecked, Common Chickweed will take over everything, doing a solo and keeping other plant actors out of the cast.

common chickweed (Stellaria media)

Common Chickweed (c) Bill Beatty

Tiny, exquisite flowers on our Red Maple are so early that they go almost unnoticed compared to super-stars like dogwood, apple and magnolia. When the tree just seems to have a reddish blush, I grab for a lower branch to examine it more closely. The multitude of long stamens beyond very tiny petals gives the flowers a fuzzy look. Most people have played with the winged samaras (“helicopters”, “whirlybirds”) that are the maple seeds, but few have seen where they originated.

red maple tree (Acer rubrum) flowers

Red Maple tree flowers (c) Bill Beatty

Also mostly unnoticed are the delicate flowers of the American Elm, now nearly past their season. Hanging down from the branches are the thin, long, green stems which end in petite flowers of white to pink. Spraying down from each flower are the white stems and large dark ends of the stamens reminding me of a two-layer firework display at the opening celebration for a new movie.

American elm tree (Ulmus americana) flowers

American Elm flowers (c) Bill Beatty

Like Shirley Temple, these flowers bloom early in the season, early in their young lives.

So many plants are growing, greening, and blossoming right now. Their visual chorus tells us that spring is here! But it’s like a tiny local theater production–beautiful and classy, but seen by almost no one.

Don’t miss out on Nature’s early spring pageant. The actors are dancing and showing off spectacularly right now, but soon they’ll be gone. Grab a coat, hat, gloves and hand lens.   See the Shirley Temple wildflowers!

Tick—ed Off: a tick—lish situation

On January 11th as I woke I found myself picking at something on the inside of my arm, just below my wrist.  It was tiny—almost like a scab.  Jan took off her glasses and peered at it.  “I think it’s a tick!”  No, that’s not possible.  So I checked it with my hand lens.  It was a tick–a deer tick!

My female Deer Tick (Ixodes scapularis) (c) Bill Beatty

Some may wonder why would I be excited enough to write about a tick.  Considering that my career has been 100% nature-related – 18 years as a full-time naturalist at Oglebay Institute’s Brooks Nature Center and then 17 years freelancing as a nature photographer/teacher–one would think I would be familiar with ticks.  Well, I’ve seen them, identified them, photographed them and even extracted them, but this is the first tick I have ever had embedded in ME.  I can remember just two others on the surface of my skin and several more on a pants leg.  No one I know has spent more time than I have lying in grassy meadows (sometimes for hours) or hiking through grassy areas.  My routine during warm weather months used to be that I was outside before sunrise and did not return home until about 3 PM.  If I didn’t shoot at least 3 rolls of film in those 8 hours I felt like I hadn’t done anything.  Upon arriving home I changed clothes, cut up half a watermelon, found a book, and lay in the hammock to read and rehydrate myself.  I never checked for ticks.  Years before I had learned that ticks apparently didn’t like me and I was happy about that considering all the time I spent outside in tick territory.

When my son was young I would take him fishing at a nearby lake.  Much of the time we hiked the shoreline casting here and there or we sat in one location waiting for a fish to pull on the line.  Some of our time was always spent picking ticks from his pants legs–at times there were many.  I never had any, ever.  So I never felt the need to check for them on me.  A friend once suggested that, since I shave my head, ticks would climb to the top of my head and, finding nowhere to hide, they would jump off to the ground.  Interesting theory, but I’m pretty sure that isn’t the case.  Most likely it’s a body chemistry thing considering that I never use repellents.

So, here I was, in bed, with a deer tick feeding on my body fluids and hoping to remain there long enough to engorge herself and nourish her eggs.

My female Deer Tick (Ixodes scapularis) feeding on my body fluids. (c) Bill Beatty

 Considering the stories about the ravages of Lyme disease, the first thing most people would want to do is to get that dreaded thing out as quickly and carefully as possible.  But MY first thought was, “I need photos of this!”  It took some time to change from my standard 28-85mm lens to my 50mm with all the extension tubes and a ring-flash.  Finally it was time for the photos.  I sat on the floor and held the camera with my left hand.  Since this was an extreme close-up, “in” or “out” of focus was just a matter of about 1-2 mm but I was able to focus by resting the camera against my right arm and leaning slightly nearer to  or away from the tick.  Jan pulled on the skin of my arm to get more of a side view of the creature.  But, wait a minute–not so fast.  Because the tick was embedded near my right wrist I had no way to push the shutter button on the right side of the camera.   It’s nice to have a willing helper.  In a whisper, so I wouldn’t move and lose focus, I said, “Okay.”  Jan reached around and carefully pressed the shutter release button.  I checked the photo and set it up again and again.  Someone coming into the room would have thought we were engaged in that old game “Twister”.  Actually “twister” was even more true later.

We took lots of photos–some are seen here to illustrate this story.  When we had taken a number of really good ones, we also decided to get some shots of our “Tick-twister” holding the tick.  Jan had decided to get some of these for us earlier this fall after reading about them.  These tick extractors come in a pack of two tiny plastic crowbar-looking tools.

This was the first time we ever had the opportunity to use our Tick-twisters.  Jan and I were amazed at how fast and efficient this tiny crowbar was.  Once hooked around the tick’s body, it did not fall off, even during numerous photos.

Tick twisters…two sizes…the Deer Ticks take the smaller size (c) Bill Beatty

When the photos were done, a couple of twists and the tick came out easily, head and all.  (Jan says to beware of cheap imitations—she bought the exact one described in the article last fall.)

Hook and twist (c) Bill Beatty

The general consensus is that a tick has to embed for at least 24 hours before there is a danger of Lyme disease.  I hope that’s true since I know the tick wasn’t there when I went to bed the night before.  Fortunately this tick looked to be in the “unfed” stage based on medical charts like the one pictured in the post.  And, yes, we both checked ourselves carefully for other unwanted attachments.

(c) University of Rhode Island…TickEncounter Resource Center

Not only was this tick surprising since it was my first ever, it was especially unexpected since it is early January and, even though we have had some milder temperatures than a typical winter, there have been some cold days far below freezing.  One would think that ticks wouldn’t be out and active at a time like this.  So now we know that anyone chasing birds, taking photos or hiking this time of year still has to check carefully when they come back inside and even remember to check the next day.  Even someone who has been tick-resistant.  That’s the tick—et!

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