This adult nature studies camp has been operating for over 90 years! This was the 89th year that either Oglebay Institute or the Brooks Bird Club has sponsored the camp in Preston County, WV. Many campers return year after year for the fun and quality Nature education. The following photos show much of the learning and enjoyment that were packed into one week.
One of the first things each camper does when they arrive is to put up their tent. The tent sites are as close to friends or as secluded as each person desires. Those that don’t want to camp can stay at nearby Alpine Lake Lodge.
Each morning starts with a bird walk. Sometimes we go into the woods; sometimes to nearby fields and pastures. Other bird walks take us through a variety of habitats along the road bordering Terra Alta Lake.
This year I was the camp Botanist. On Monday I taught a class on plant identification and natural history. Since 2006 we have found and recorded 106 species of wildflowers and shrubs flowering just on the camp’s 18 acres, just during the third week of June when Mountain Nature Camp is usually in session.
While I was out teaching and exploring the camp habitats with half of the campers, Jan was inside presenting her “Birding Fundamentals for Everyone” program. Jan and I usually take photos of each other teaching, but at Mountain Camp we were both teaching at the same time, so, below, I have a photo of her teaching the program at another venue. The other program that day, “Newcombs — One More Time”, was given by Helen Wylie, camp botanist emeritus. She has always said that many of us need a yearly reminder of how to identify plants…we were glad to have Helen teach us again!
Greg Park, retired Oglebay Institute Naturalist, visited camp on Tuesday to present a herpetology program. In the morning, after talking about reptiles and amphibians, Greg took us into the woods where we found and studied some “herps”.
On Tuesday afternoon we visited nearby Herrington Manor State Park in Maryland. Some campers hiked while others searched for herps, birds and interesting plants.
Besides ferns we found a wide variety of other non-flowering plants and some interesting wildflowers including Swamp Saxifrage and Dewdrop (pictured below).
Campers searched high and low for herps and found a variety of salamanders. Using plastic bags we were all able to get great looks at the different kinds before we released them in the same location.
Len found a log that was just loaded with tiny fungi and slime molds. Then, surprisingly, a tiny Red-backed Salamander also appeared from a fissure in the log. He was gone before we could get a photo!
Mary Grey and Larry Helgerman were the bird leaders for the week and at Herrington Manor State Park there was no shortage of birds.
Later, Greg caught a Milk Snake and talked to us about them.
At the designated time we all met so we could continue to the dam and the lake.
At the breast of the dam Larry set up his scope so everyone could see the Bald Eagles and their nest at the far end of the lake.
On the way back to Mountain Nature Camp, Greg moved a Snapping Turtle from the road. Although this photo is not that same turtle from this year’s camp, the photo actually shows another Snapping Turtle from another camp trip in a previous year. Greg and Snapping Turtles seem to have a history.
Each night at camp, when the weather permits, we have great campfires. Again Lenny Muni was our very capable campfire leader. We always enjoy sharing our highlights of the day and hearing Lenny’s music (solos and sing-alongs), stories and inspirational readings.
On Wednesday we traveled to Copper’s Rock State Forest. Part of the group chased birds on Raven’s Rock Trail while Jan and I went with a group along Rattlesnake Trail to explore parts of “Rock City”.
All week Len was looking for and finding many kinds of slime molds. Some he already knew the names of and others I was able to teach him.
The variety of amazing rock formations we found only whetted our appetites for what we knew was coming in the afternoon.
After our picnic lunch, Claudette Simard from Fairmont University met us for a Geology lesson. She took us to the Cooper’s Rock overlook to describe the big picture of the whole area and then down in crevices between boulders to explain the finer points of certain rock layers and formations. Jan wished she could take Claudette back to interpret Rock City.
While at the Cooper’s Rock overlook Jenn saw a young Five-lined Skink.
There were so many birds, plants, animals, fungi and slime molds to see, I’m sure Mountain Nature Campers will want to return to Cooper’s Rock again.
When we returned to Mountain Nature Camp on Terra Alta Lake, our camp cook (and long-time friend) Bobby Hauger treated us to a special find. While we had been on our field trip, he had seen 2 Roseate Spoonbills in an inlet bordering the 18 acre peninsula where the camp is located. The birds were then observed by two campers who had not gone on the field trip. When the rest of us returned and heard the news, several campers immediately went looking for the birds, but couldn’t find them. After dinner, as the search continued, two campers decided to walk around the lake and eventually the spoonbills were spotted way across the lake in the headwaters’ shallows. Thanks to Mary Edith, all campers were able to see the birds.
Of course we set up scopes and took lots of photos. This find will be a new state record for West Virginia. The tradition of spectacular nature finds by Oglebay Institute’s Mountain Nature Camp continues!
On Thursday, as some birders from around WV arrived to try to spot the Spoonbills, we separated into two groups for our field trip. One group went to look at birds and wildflowers along Canaan Loop Road and I took the other group hiking in the Dolly Sods Wilderness. It was a beautiful day along Canaan Loop Road and at Red Run. The orange color of the water is due to tannic acid from the decaying Red Spruce needles and sphagnum mosses in the bogs that feed the stream.
Canaan Loop Road never disappoints – we always find a variety of interesting wildlife. The following photos represent the kinds of things campers saw on Canaan Loop Road.
Meanwhile, up in the Dolly Sods Wilderness, I was leading a hike on one of the little-known “off-trail” trails that I have discovered and explored during the many years I have been visiting this spectacular mountain plateau.
In the pond at the bottom of Blackbird Knob Trail, just before it crosses Alder Run, we found a beautiful Red-Spotted Newt.
Randy always seems to have close encounters with wildlife. In 2016 and 2017, it was a Common Snapping Turtle. This year on Dolly Sods it was this curious Pearl Crescent Butterfly.
There were many crossings included in our hike which is known as the “Beatty Labyrinth”.
The Mountain Laurel was beautiful. Depending on the location, some flowers were just opening and others were in full bloom.
At supper time both groups met at the Pendleton Point Overlook picnic shelter at Blackwater Falls State Park for a cookout and to share stories about our trips.
On Friday, after the bird walk and breakfast, we took a morning field trip to nearby Chestnut Heights, a treasure trove of botany, ornithology and scenic beauty.
In the afternoon I presented a power point program about “The Salamanders of West Virginia”. That evening, Bobby outdid himself, presenting us with steak and shrimp for our last supper. It was a wonderful week of fun people, spectacular wildlife and delicious meals.
During the week we had several visitors including past campers, and past teachers/leaders.
Saturday was our last day. We had a casual bird walk, ate breakfast, and relaxed with friends as our tents dried. Then we said our goodbyes to friends, old and new, and to Mountain Nature Camp…until next year!
Post Script: The other birders searching for the 2 Roseate Spoonbills on Thursday were not able to locate them, although they searched Terra Alta Lake and nearby locations. Only Mountain Nature campers had the pleasure of seeing and photographing the unusual birds. Our thanks, again, to Bobby for finding the birds and recognizing that they were very special.