Mountain Nature Camp for Adults – June 2018 – What We Did.

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.

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Photos (c) Bill Beatty

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.

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Morning bird walk, out the lane from camp to the bobolink field. (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

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.

Camp flowers

Left-to-right – Spotted Wintergreen, Blue-eyed Grass and Devil’s Bit  (All photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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!

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Jan presenting her Birding Fundamentals program at the West Virginia Wildflower Pilgrimage.  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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”.

Greg herps

Greg presented an introduction followed by an on-site field trip to search for reptiles and amphibians.  (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

On Tuesday afternoon we visited nearby Herrington Manor State Park in Maryland.  Some campers hiked while others searched for herps, birds and interesting plants.

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Left-to-right – Identifying a fern; comparing the sori of an Intermediate Shield Fern to a Lady Fern; and the fertile fronds of a Cinnamon Fern.  (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

Besides ferns we found a wide variety of other non-flowering plants and some interesting wildflowers including Swamp Saxifrage and Dewdrop (pictured below).

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Clockwise from top left – Groundpine; Running Clubmoss; Shining Clubmoss; and Dewdrop (also called False Violet)  (All photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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.

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Long-tailed Salamander (L) and  Slimy Salamander (R).  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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!

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Clockwise from left – Len holding the log; Coral Slime Mold; and Many-headed Slime Mold  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Mary Grey and Larry Helgerman were the bird leaders for the week and at Herrington Manor State Park there was no shortage of birds.

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Left to right – Wood Thrush; Scarlet Tanager; and Ovenbird  (Scarlet Tanager photo (c) Jan Runyan, other two photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Later, Greg caught a Milk Snake and talked to us about them.

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(Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

At the designated time we all met so we could continue to the dam and the lake.

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(Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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.

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On the dam; the Bald Eagle on its nest (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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.

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(Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

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.

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Left – Pete was that night’s “ishkatay”.  (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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Right – Lenny leading a song (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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”.

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Rock City  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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.

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Clockwise from top left – Len showing me several slime molds to identify; Yellow Fuzz Cone Slime; Chocolate Tube Slime; and Wolf’s Milk/Bubblegum Slime.  (Top left photo (c) Jan Runyan, all slime mold photos (c) Bill Beatty)

The variety of amazing rock formations we found only whetted our appetites for what we knew was coming in the afternoon.

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Formations in ‘Rock City’  (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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More ‘Rock City’  (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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.

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Photos (c) Jan Runyan

While at the Cooper’s Rock overlook Jenn saw a young Five-lined Skink.

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Left – Cooper’s Rock overlook; Right –  juvenile Five-lined Skinks  (Overlook photo (c) Jan Runyan – Skinks photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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.

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Clockwise from top left – Flat Polydesmida Millipede; Witches Butter Fungus; Shield Bug nymph; and Pokey cooling off in the shade  (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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.

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Roseate Spoonbills  (Photo (c) Cory Altemus)

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!

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Left – The Spoonbills were at the farthest shore we could see.  Right – Mary, looking at the spoonbills, as Larry spread the word to other birders in the state.  (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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.

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Canaan Loop Road;  Red Run snaking between spruce trees at the picnic area (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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Exploring parts of Red Run  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

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.

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Forest Log Millipede;  Fly Amanita Mushrooms  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

red-spotted purple butterflies (Basilarchia astyanax) puddling

Puddling Red-spotted Purple Butterflies  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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.

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The intrepid hikers  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

In the pond at the bottom of Blackbird Knob Trail, just before it crosses Alder Run, we found a beautiful Red-Spotted Newt.

red-spotted newt salamander (Notophthalmus viridescens viridesce

(Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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.

Randy butterfly

(Left photo (c) Bill Beatty and right photo (c) Pete Rykert)

There were many crossings included in our hike which is known as the “Beatty Labyrinth”.

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Crossing Red Creek  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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Traversing a rock field   (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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Crossing a meadow bordered by great stands of Mountain Laurel  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The Mountain Laurel was beautiful.  Depending on the location, some flowers were just opening and others were in full bloom.

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Left – Mountain Laurel flower buds;  right – white form of the Mountain Laurel  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Single Mountain Laurel flower  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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.

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Photos (c) Bill Beatty

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.

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Chestnut Heights  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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.

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Friday’s supper (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

During the week we had several visitors including past campers, and past teachers/leaders.

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Left – Helen Wylie, long time botanist and teacher for Mountain Nature Camp, with Cindy Slater, past camper and leader; Right – Pokey, owner of Pete Rykert.  (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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!

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Photo (c) Jan Runyan

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Mountain Nature Camp 2018

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Allegheny Front Migration Observatory (AFMO), Hiking, Wildflowers and More on Dolly Sods – late September, 2017

This is a re-post of our two week stay volunteering at the AFMO in 2017.  The 2018 dates for banding at the AFMO are Sunday, August 19 until October 5 (weather permitting).  Visitors are welcome.

The AFMO has been operating each fall since 1958 and is the oldest continuously operating bird banding station in North America.  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 at AFMO we volunteer as net-tenders removing birds from the 30 mist nets used for trapping migratory birds. The AFMO is located along the Allegheny Front (eastern continental divide) near the Red Creek Campground on Dolly Sods. Most of Dolly Sods is federally designated as Wilderness Area comprising 32,000 acres. The banding station is in the Dolly Sods Scenic Area.

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Dolly Sods looking south from Castle Rock with the Allegheny Front to the left. (photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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photos (c) Jan Runyan

In late September this year, we spent 15 days on Dolly Sods working at the AFMO.  We stayed at Red Creek Campground.  Our days began at 5 a.m. when it was still dark.  Before 6, we walked to the AFMO to help open the mist nets at 6:15 a.m.  The thrushes began hitting the nets while it was still dark and we usually needed headlamps to take  them from the nets.

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Left – Gray-cheeked Thrush just banded;  right – Jan releasing a reluctant Swainson’s Thrush (photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish a Gray-cheeked Thrush from a Swainson’s Thrush.  Having them side-by-side makes the differences easier to see.

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Left – Gray-cheeked Thrush;  right – Swainson’s Thrush (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

We also caught other thrushes:  Wood Thrush, Hermit Thrush and Veery.

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Veery (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

Being on the Allegheny Front, looking east toward the ridge-and-valley area and the piedmont, the views from the AFMO are spectacular. Each sunrise (or sometimes just sky-lightening) is different.

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Dolly Sods sunrises (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

The following video is from the AFMO.  We see something similar almost every morning. (video (c) Jan Runyan)

 

 

During and after the sunrise we begin to catch other kinds of birds, especially warblers.

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Black-throated Green Warbler (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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Palm Warbler (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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Black-and-white Warbler (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

Sometimes we catch a bird that is uncommon at the AFMO and everyone stops what they are doing to get a good look. That was the case this year with this Mourning Warbler.  It was only the 34th of its kind banded at the AFMO since 1958.

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Mourning Warbler (photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Many of the warblers we band are referred to as ‘confusing’ fall warblers due to the drastic color and pattern differences from their spring plumage.  This Chestnut-sided Warbler showed no signs of the beautiful chestnut colors it had during the spring, however the golden crown is a good indicator for identifying this species in the fall.

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Chestnut-sided Warbler (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

And this Hooded Warbler showed little or no indication of the black hood it will have when it wears its breeding plumage next spring.

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Hooded Warbler (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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Hooded Warbler (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

Sometimes identification comes down to the color of the soles of the feet or of the lower bill.

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Cape May Warbler (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

One of the things the banders record is the age of each bird that’s banded.  Among other things, they examine the wear, molt limits and colors of the feathers.

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photos (c) Jan Runyan

Occasionally there is a bird who is so young that some of his feathers are still emerging from their sheaths.  Still, he is already in the middle of his migration flight.

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photo (c) Jan Runyan

After sunrise there is often fog or mist in the valleys or rising from them. (video (c) Jan Runyan)

 

 

Each day after the birds were done with their morning feeding flight, we helped furl the nets to keep them safe and out of the way until the next day when net-tenders would be back to monitor them.  The station is usually closed by noon each day which gave Jan and me time to see many of the other wonders of Dolly Sods and other nearby areas.  One of the hikes I led was on the Bog-to-Bog Loop Trail with Jan and two friends.

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Left – In the Red Spruce woods adjacent to the the west side of the Alder Run Bog dog-leg;  right – eating lunch in the Red Pine plantation near the High Mountain Meadow. (left photo (c) Bill Beatty, right photo (c) Jan Runyan)

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Left – Fisher Springs Run Bog in background;  right – a Christmas-in-September Red Spruce surrounded by Black Chokeberry shrubs. (left photo (c) Jan Runyan, right photo (c) Bill Beatty)

During our 15 days we were fortunate to see three species of gentian in full bloom including the rare Fringed Gentian (found only in one place in West Virginia).

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Left to right – Narrow-leaved Gentian, Bottle Gentian and Fringed Gentian (photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Due to the dry conditions most wildflowers were in poor condition, but those associated with wetlands seemed unaffected by the lack of rain.

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Left to right – Nodding Ladies’ Tresses, Black Knapweed and Orange Hawkweed (photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

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Left – Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia);  right – a mosquito trapped on a fleshy Sundew leaf (photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Oblong-leaved Sundew (Drosera intermedia) (photos (c) Bill Beatty)

One afternoon we went to the beaver dam along Forest Service Road 75 just south of Bear Rocks Nature Preserve to photograph the beavers.  Fortunately on this particular day the beavers  were quite cooperative.

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

The following three videos show just how much fun we had watching the beavers. (all three videos (c) Jan Runyan)

 

 

 

 

 

The AFMO can be a busy place.  Sometimes groups from schools or other organizations visit.  Some individuals who know about the banding station stop by to see the birds, the scenery, and familiar faces.  Sometimes people just happen upon the banding operation by following the well-traveled trail east of the Blackbird Knob Trail parking lot.

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Left – LeJay talking to a group from the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy;  right – Carol showing a bird to a school group (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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Bill showing a school group how the birds are captured at the demo mist net. (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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Left – One of four groups from Marshall County Schools that visited the AFMO;  right – other visitors not with any organized group. (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

Giving people their first personal contact with birds is magical.  Young (and old) lives can be changed for all time.

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Jan putting a Ruby-throated Hummingbird in this young girl’s hand (photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Left – Chip about to release a tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglet;  right – Jackie holding a bird against a young lady’s ear so she can hear the heartbeat. (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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Left – Jan with a Black-throated Blue Warbler;  right – Lauren with a Common Yellowthroat (left photo (c) Bill Beatty, right photo (c) Jan Runyan)

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Left – Apryl releasing a Swainson’s Thrush;  right – Jenny and Bill with one of her very favorite birds, a Mourning Warbler (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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Girl releasing a Black-throated Green Warbler (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Birds are not the only animals visiting the AFMO.

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Clockwise from top left – Red-spotted Purple Butterfly, Steve with a Smooth Green Snake, and Green Darner Dragonfly (photos (c) Jan Runyan

On our second Saturday on Dolly Sods, after banding I led a 5 mile hike on some well-known and lesser-known Dolly Sods Wilderness trails.

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In the beginning at “the Rock” and hiking cross-country between Alder Run and Red Creek (photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Crossing Red Creek and hiking cross-country on the NE side of Blackbird Knob (photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Left – Time for lunch and rest;  right – play time at the confluence of Alder Run and Red Creek (photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Hiking upstream along Alder Run and crossing the Beatty Labyrinth rock field (photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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The end…the Rock where it all began (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

For two days while we were at the AFMO a tick researcher studying the occurrence of Lyme’s disease was taking ticks from around the eyes and mouth of birds that nest on or near the ground.  She was also taking blood samples.

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Amanda explaining her tick research to Bill and removing a tick from a Swainson’s Thrush (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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Wetting the underside of the wing to make the vein more visible and piercing the vein (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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Taking blood and then applying an anticoagulant (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

Each and every morning the bird banding research continued.

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photos (c) Jan Runyan

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photos (c) Jan Runyan

More and more birds were caught, removed from the mist nets, and taken to the ‘gurus’ in the banding shed.

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Bay-breasted Warbler (left) and Blackburnian Warbler (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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Female (left) and male Black-throated Blue Warblers (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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Ovenbird (left) and American Redstart (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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Philadelphia Vireo (left) and Red-eyed Vireo (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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Left – The reddish iris indicates this Red-eyed Vireo is an adult;  right – the brown iris indicates this Red-eyed Vireo was born this year. (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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From left – Savanah Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow and Lincoln’s Sparrow (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

One day after banding was done, Jan and I decided to check the out-and-back Old Growth Forest Trail to see if we could make it into a loop trail.  Anytime we are on this short trail we are mesmerized by the variety of habitats and the beauty, especially of the mosses and the mature oaks at the end of the trail.  The magic of the Morning Star (the planet Venus) early that morning had seemed to be a good omen of how wonderful the day would be.

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Left – Venus, the Morning Star;  right – Jan beginning our hike on the little known Old Growth Forest Trail (left photo (c) Jan Runyan, right photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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Left – the verdant Old Growth Forest Trail;  right – Jan looking closely at a Red Spruce nursery (left photo (c) Jan Runyan and right photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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Bill found this Hen-of-the-woods fungus and took it back to the campground where our good friends and campground neighbors turned it into a delicious meal (which they shared with us). (left photo (c) Jan Runyan,  right photo (c) Bill Beatty)

We never did find a way to turn the out-and-back trail into a loop trail, but we had a great time trying.

One day we caught a bird with a bewildering difference.  A male Black-throated Blue Warbler had a red plastic band on his leg.  Researchers often use various colored plastic bands during research like nesting site studies so they can spot specific individual birds by sight.  But we were baffled because this bird did not also have a numbered metal band which would identify the bander and location.  That day’s AFMO bander put one of his numbered metal bands on the bird and made note of this anomaly in his records.

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Left – the Black-throated Blue Warbler arrived at AFMO with just a plastic band;  right – the warbler left AFMO with the additional aluminum numbered band (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

Always special at the AFMO are the larger and unusual birds, especially raptors.  There were two hawks caught while we were there.

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Station Manager Jeff with an adult Sharp-shinned Hawk.  Notice the red iris and orange-brown horizontal bars on the breast. (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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Station Manager Shelia with a young Sharp-shinned Hawk.  Notice the yellow iris and brown vertical barring on breast. (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

Each year, for many years, I have spent 1 to 3 months on Dolly Sods taking photos, leading wilderness hikes and volunteering at the AFMO.  Each time I leave I feel as if I’m leaving a wonderful dear friend…sad to leave but so glad to have been there.  What a wonderful place!

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Two of the many moods of our friend, Dolly Sods.