The 2018 Brooks Bird Club Fall Retreat – Tygart Lake State Park

The Brooks Bird Club had their fall reunion and membership meeting at Tygart Lake State Park near Grafton, WV.   Since the trees are late to change this year, the view was not typical of WV in the fall, but the weather was good for hiking.

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Photo (c) Bill Beatty

accomodations

Our accommodations – Top to bottom – Tygart Lake Lodge, lodge lobby, and our room.

The Tygart Lake SP staff was wonderful.  All the BBCers at the get-together took full advantage of the comfortable lobby and great view between activities and before and after meals.

Jan and I arrived early enough to get settled in and take a walk behind the lodge, along the lake.   One plant I noticed right away was poison ivy.  Poison ivy vines were climbing many of the trees.  For birders that’s a plus since so many kinds of birds like to feed on poison ivy berries.

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A poison ivy vine and an Eastern Bluebird feeding on poison ivy berries.  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

downy woodpecker (Dendrocopos pubescens) on poison ivy branch wi

Downy Woodpecker feeding on poison ivy berries.  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The lake had been drawn down for the winter, so part of our walk would have been under water in the summertime.  We noticed people fishing from shore as well as from boats while we were there.  Our walk wasn’t long, but we found some interesting things near the lake.

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Jan looking at some Mustard Yellow Polypore Fungi (Polyporus gilvus).  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Jan is a Board of Trustees member for the Brooks Bird Club which, for me, translates to — I get to go exploring while she is at the board meeting.  I decided to hike the 2 mile Dogwood Trail near the lodge.

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The state park offers a number of trails.

The Dogwood Trail contains a series of switch-backs that climb to the top of a ridge and follow it for a while.  Then the trail comes back down the other side.  The trail is wooded along almost all of its length.

dogwood trail

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

The most noticeable thing for me were the frequent groves of Pawpaw trees.  Most of the trees were smaller, but several were large enough to produce fruit.

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Pawpaw Tree (Asimina triloba) grove and ripening pawpaws  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

I saw a Comma Butterfly feeding on a fallen pawpaw.  I could understand that since pawpaws are one of my favorite fruits, too.

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Comma Butterfly (Polygonia c-album)  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

There were many plants and fungi that made the hike more interesting for me.  Christmas Ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) seemed to be everywhere.

Christmas fern sori (Polystichum acrostichoides)

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) was the dominant shrub.

spicebush berries (Lindera benzoin)

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

I saw only one American Holly (Ilex opaca), but it was loaded with berries … good news for the birds.

F American holly tree (Ilex opaca) berries

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Along the level part of the Dogwood Trail, high on the ridge, there were so many dead American Ash trees that it looked like a tornado had blown through the area.  The trees had been killed by the Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis) and had been cut down for safety reasons.

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Downed American Ash trees (Fraxinus americana)  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

On several trees where the bark had fallen off there were Emerald Ash Borer larvae trails.

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Larvae trails and active larva  (Left photo (c) Bill Beatty)

One of the wildflower plants I saw was the leaf of a Cranefly Orchid (Tipularia discolor).

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Cranefly Orchid (Tipularia discolor) leaf  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Having so much wet weather this year has been good for many kinds of fungi.  It wasn’t hard for me to find a number of different species.

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Left – Turkey-tail Fungus (Trametes versicolor);  right – old Pear-shaped Puffballs (Lycoperdon pyriforme)  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

On Saturday some of the BBC members went to Pleasant Creek Wildlife Management Area to look for birds, while others of us decided to hike in the park.  We started with seven hikers, but Jeannie and Cindy wanted a more vigorous hike so they charged ahead of the rest of us.

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Photo (c) Bill Beatty

The Woodland Trail is a short hike, but even at this time of year there were lots of interesting things to see.  And the trail is definitely in the woodlands.

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Photos (c) Bill Beatty

Tom and Dawn stopped frequently to inspect the ferns along the way (one of their specialties).  There were lots to see.  Most abundant were the Christmas Ferns.

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Left – Black-footed Polypore (Royoporus badius) and right, Ebony Spleenwort (Asplenium   platyneuron)  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Photo (c) Bill Beatty

After finishing the Woodland Trail, we started the Ridge Trail.  Soon we came upon a log covered in edible Combs-tooth/Lion’s Mane fungi (Hericium sp.).

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Comb’s Tooth/Lion’s Mane fungus  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

We collected all the fresh specimens and took them back with us.  The mushrooms were sauteed and served at supper for anyone who wanted to try this delicious wild food.

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

The Ridge Trail ended at a rustic bridge over a scenic stream.  Although we had hiked only 2 miles in all, we had seen lots of interesting things.  We were finished in time to savor the hearty lunch packed for us by the park and have the BBC Board Members back in time for their last session of the board meeting.

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(Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

There is always something special and unique in each WV state park we visit.  Jan and I have talked about returning to Tygart Lake SP when the lake is full to kayak along the wooded edges of the lake and maybe try our luck at fishing, too.

 

A Celebration with Friends in the Mountains of West Virginia – Great Food, Laughing, Hiking, Singing and Spending Time with Each Other at Some of our Favorite Natural Places

This isn’t our usual type of post … but then nothing about this weekend was usual … except the beauty and diversity of our incredible Appalachian Mountains.

Where to begin?  It is a bit difficult for me to explain it all.  The short of it is that, for over a year, Jan had been planning this 3-day get together with hiking friends to celebrate my 70th birthday … and it was an absolute, total surprise to me.  I had no idea!  It was, without a doubt, the best time I have ever had playing in the mountains of West Virginia!

The story I was told was that we were going to the Canaan Valley area so that Jan and our friend Shelia could attend a Fiber-arts workshop.  That would give Jeff and me some time to go hiking on Dolly Sods.  The truth of it was … there was no workshop at Ben’s Loom Barn and … well, let me tell you all about it.

The trip started just like any other trip to the mountains.  The van seemed to have more than we would normally need for a weekend trip to the mountains, but I didn’t think much about it.  As usual, Jan and I always stop at Saffiticker’s and the Farmer’s Market/Candyland in Maryland on our way to and from the high mountains of West Virginia.  She seemed to be buying a lot of cheese and snacks, but, oh well.

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(Photos (c) Bill Beatty and Jan Runyan)

For some unknown reason Jan had been a bit mysterious about where we would be staying.  I had just assumed it would be somewhere in Canaan Valley.  I thought it was strange when Jan told me to turn onto the Blackwater Falls State Park road and it was even more odd when we eventually parked in front of one of the deluxe 4bedroom cabins.

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Jan asked me to stay in the van for a moment while she did something in the back.  From what I could see through the rear view mirror I thought she was putting together political signs, which made no sense at all to me.   Then she brought them to the front of the van and showed me ………

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Signs she designed on the Build-a-Sign site. (Photos (c) Bill Beatty and Jan Runyan)

I started grinning and never stopped for days.

The “deluxe” cabins really are a treat with a utensil-stocked kitchen and lots of space to enjoy a group of friends.  I had no idea what was coming next … well, really … what was coming all weekend.

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Our accommodations.

Singly or in pairs, friends started arriving.  Wonderful food had been brought so that we didn’t have to go out to eat that evening, but could just stay there as people arrived.  Turns out we actually had two 4-bedroom cabins, some people camping in the campground, some coming from their homes nearby, and some traveling there for just a day.

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Thursday night supper in the cabin  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Later, we welcomed our last visitor of the evening, my long-time friend, Chip Chase, who lives in Canaan Valley.

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(Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Chip brought a gift of apple-moonshine and after it was passed around, Carla got out her new guitar to show him.  Chip began to play and created a very appropriate song about my birthday celebration.  We were all amazed and delighted how the lyrics and music just flowed out!

 

(video (c) Jan Runyan)

Friday was a hiking day as more friends arrived, but Jan had reserved tables at Amelia’s and Sirianis for lunch and supper respectively – soooooo, we had a time schedule to keep.

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Planning for our Friday morning hike  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

It was decided to do the Beall North Trail  in the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge that morning.

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Photos (c) Jan Runyan

After hiking part of the Beall North Trail, we took the turn onto the Blackwater View Trail and hiked out to a pretty site overlooking a section of the Blackwater River.  I wasn’t sure why Jan kept checking her watch and insisted that we not go farther on the Blackwater View Trail.   But we turned around at the overlook and finished the Beall North Trail.

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Photos (c) Bill Beatty

The weather (shorts-weather just a few days before) had turned significantly cooler and fall-like during the night, so it was perfect for hiking.

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Photos (c) Bill Beatty

We chatted along the way and stopped occasionally to see interesting Nature items.

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

We are so fortunate that all of these friends have so much in common — we enjoy Nature, hiking, West Virginia and each other.

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The hikers at Amelia’s for lunch  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The reason it was so important to be at Amelia’s on time was because of a special visitor who met us there:  my long-time friend, Conley, the “Monster of Botany”, from Virginia.  I was really surprised.

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Conley and Bill (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

After lunch we hiked the Idlemans Run Trail, a short trail that is so full of scenic beauty, botanical wonders and interesting geology that it takes quite awhile to traverse it.

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Photos (c) Jan Runyan

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

As usual, there was much discussion about plants with the “Monster of Botany”.  Martin discovered what some refer to as Palm Tree Moss … quite aptly named.

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Photos (c) Jan Runyan

Last summer when Jan and I had explored this trail, we had found a rare fern.  We remembered the spot and, now 3 1/2 months later, we were able to find 2 of the 6 tiny Daisy-leaf Moonworts we had located in late June.

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

It seemed like everywhere we turned on this trail, there were interesting things to examine.

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Left – Pinesap (Monotropa hypopitys), a saprophyte of oaks and pines;  right – Horse Hoof Fungus (Fomes fomentarius) on a dead American Beech Tree  (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

Martin explained the different kinds of rocks and geological structures we saw.

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Checking out some geology along Idlemans Run  (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

Although the trail is short, it took us most of the afternoon.  Even during the short walk back to the cars on the Forest Service Road 80, we saw interesting, delicious things … which made us think about dinner.

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Talking botany I’m sure.  We found large groupings of Honey Mushrooms (Armillaria sp.)  (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

So … on to dinner!  Sixteen of us headed to one of my favorite restaurants, Sirianni’s Cafe in Davis.  Oh Mike Goss!!!  (try it sometime)

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Sirianni’s Cafe for supper

Then we returned for more laughter and stories at the cabin.

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Relaxing back at the cabin after supper  (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

On Saturday morning we had planned to take a longer, rugged hike (Allegheny Front Vista Trail) on Dolly Sods but the weather had turned even colder and snowy.  The high winds blowing snow and ice made me reconsider that trail due to the possibility of slippery rock fields.  Instead I decided on a shorter, safer hike to Castle Rocks along the Allegheny Front.  I have some wonderfully crazy friends!  The saner, wonderful friends stayed at the cabin and waited to thaw out the 7 of us when we returned.  (Cue the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song …. see end for the full lyrics)

(video (c)  Jan Runyan)

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Left and middle photos (c) Lee Miller;  right photo (c) Jan Runyan.

The wind was howling and the snow/ice was almost impossible to look into, but we had a hearty group with proper cold-weather gear for an icy, snowy, windy hike.

(video (c) Jan Runyan)

We understood first hand how the conifers on the open plateau get to be “flagged”, with only a few, tiny branches on the windward west side.

When we reached Castle Rocks, we hid from the wind and relaxed on the leeward side.  After a while, the snow stopped, the clouds began to break up and blew east to pile up above the famous view of mountain ridges which opened before us.

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Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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Hiking north along the Allegheny Front  (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

In a normal fall, the plants in the heath meadows around Castle Rocks would be bright crimson, gold and orange with incredible fall colors.  Below are 3 photos Jan and I took during a hike there in 2012.

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Photos looking south and east from Castle Rocks during a good fall color season in 2012.  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Lady on rock formation

Looking east toward Castle Rocks (and Jan) in 2012.  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

After our hearty crew waded through head-high brush to return to the road, several of us decided to explore a now-defunct beaver lodge nearby.

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Photos (c) Jan Runyan

After our Dolly Sods hike we returned to the cabins at Blackwater Falls State Park for lunch.  Then we traveled 4 miles to Thomas, WV, where the God-daughter of two hiking friends was performing at the Purple Fiddle.

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The Purple Fiddle and Kipyn Martin

Kipyn performs many of her own songs and some from Joni Mitchell.  I asked her if she was going to sing Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”, my favorite Nature-advocacy song.  She hadn’t planned to, but said she would sing it for me … and she did, dedicating the song to me.  The whole concert was amazing and having that song as the finale was like the cherry on top of a sundae!

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Kipyn Martin with Bill (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Following Kipyn’s performance, we ordered food from the Farm Up Truck.  This was the dinner Jan had planned after getting rave reviews about their food.  We took a whole box of delicious-smelling food back to the cabin for supper.

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Farm Up Truck

All weekend we had a plethora of wonderful, scrumptious food!

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(Right photo (c) Jan Runyan)

On Sunday morning most of our group left for home, but several of us met up with two other hiking friends for one last hike — the Moon Rocks Trail adjacent to the northern end of the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

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Moon Rocks Trail hikers  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Again we hiked through a variety of habitats, seeing many different, interesting plants and WV geology.

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Left, Turkey Tail fungus; right, Waxy Cap Mushrooms  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

At the top of the Moon Rocks Trail, we discovered that there really is an American flag on the moon (rocks).

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At the top of Moon Rocks Trail  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

At the end of the section we hiked was a large wetland with a beautiful stand of Cottongrass in full cotton.

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

After our hike we stopped for lunch at another of my favorite restaurants …  Hellbenders Burritos in Davis, West Virginia.

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Hellbenders

And, as always, one of our last stops on the way home was Saffitickers … which was still open for this, their last day of the season!

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Photos (c) Jan Runyan

I would like to thank all of the people who helped Jan, those who came to help me celebrate — Ashton, Bev, Carla, Chip, Cindy, Conley, Dawn, Doug, Jacquie, Jeff, Jim, John, Kimberlee, Lee, Martin, Randy, Rebecca, Sheila, and Tom  (and the ones Jan tells me wanted to come but couldn’t), and those who kept this hiking trip a secret, even when I saw them just a few days before the trip!

There’s nothing better than Appalachian Nature, the West Virginia mountains, and all of my wonderful friends!

Thank you Jan Runyan – you are the best!

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Beatty’s Isle Song (to the tune of “Gilligan’s Isle”)

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale,      A tale of a fateful trip.    That started from a mountain port      Into a wind that ripped.

The mate was a Master Naturalist,     The skipper brave and true.     Five brave hikers joined them that day     On a 3 hour tour.

The wind was howling full of snow,      The tiny group was tossed.      If not for the reck’ning of the fearless guide,      The hikers would be lost.

The group found refuge on the leeward side      Of Beatty’s Castle Rocks.      With Lee Miller;        Bill Beatty, too;     Randy Kesling and Dawn Fox;    with Jan Runyan;        Martin Tingley and Rebecca W.,

There on wild Dolly Sods!

Discovering Life through Birds program, October 3, for the Three Rivers Birding Club of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Bill w PIWO

What in the world are nature’s connections from rainbows to bluebirds to Buffleheads?  We will find out in a colorful program by Bill Beatty at the 3RBC meeting on Wednesday, October 3, 2018.  Bill is a widely known consulting naturalist and outdoor education specialist from Wellsburg, West Virginia.
The program’s title is that of his new book, Rainbows, Bluebirds and Buffleheads: Discovering Life Through Birds, which chronicles his interest in birds from a young boy to the present.
Bill has a B.S. degree in biology from West Liberty University.  He founded a company named Wild & Natural in 1990, specializing in nature/environmental programs, nature writing, and nature photography with more than 2,500 published photos.  From 1993-2008 he was an instructor for the Center for Professional Development, where he taught teachers how to become better teachers with unique and innovative teaching techniques.
He was an Interpretive Naturalist for Oglebay Institute from 1972 to 1990 and is an instructor for various nature-related events in the West Virginia State Park System. Bill taught recreational camping, outdoor leisure pursuits, and outdoor activities classes for the P.E. Department 1999-2015 and guest lectures for the Biology Department at West Liberty University.

Bill holds a Federal Master Personal Bird Banding permit and for 28 years studied the breeding biology of the Eastern Screech-Owl.  He presented a program on his owl research at our club’s April, 2005 meeting.  Bill and Jan Runyan, who is also a bander, band approximately 1,000 birds each year at their home near Wellsburg, West Virginia.
Bill is the author of Bill and Bev Beatty’s Wild Plant Cookbook, which many people refer to as “the cookbook you can read,” highlighting nutritional insights and simple recipes using many commonly available edible wild plants. He will have copies of both books for sale (cash or check only) at the meeting: Rainbows, Bluebirds and Buffleheads is $18.95 and the Wild Plant Cookbook is $9.95. Read more about Bill and his work on his website and photo gallery at www.agpix.com/billbeatty.
Our meeting place is the Phipps Garden Center, 1059 Shady Avenue in Shadyside. Doors will open at 6:30 PM for socializing, a business meeting will begin at 7:30, and the program will start at 8:00.
We hope to see you on October 3, 2018!

Directions to Phipps Garden Center: https://www.mapquest.com/search/results?query=Phipps%20garden%20center&boundingBox=45.460130637921004,-117.3779296875,30.826780904779774,-78.6181640625&page=0

 

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).

misc plants

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.

Greg snake

(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)

lenny fires

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”.

Rock City

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.

geology claudette

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.

misc Coopers

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.

roseate spoonbill color

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!

scope spoonbill

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.

Canaan Loop 2

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.

molt limits

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

banding 2

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.

Canaan Valley State Park and Canaan Loop Road – Late June, 2018

We decided to spend the last day of our “Let’s Explore Some Places in Canaan Valley We Haven’t Had Time To Explore” trip expanding our knowledge of two areas we were already somewhat familiar with.  We knew we had to keep an eye on the clock because I had a speaking engagement that evening in Morgantown.  We wanted to explore as much as possible but still arrive at the WVU’s Core Arboretum in plenty of time.

Our first stop was at the parking lot of the Middle Ridge Trail not too far from our cabin in Canaan Valley Resort State Park.  In the past we had often stopped to scan this meadow and the beaver pond below the parking lot with our binoculars.  This day, things got quite interesting even without binoculars.  Two women and a boy were next to their car in the lot, staring intently at the meadow across the pond.  They hurried over to tell us what the young man had spotted:  a large Black Bear climbing in the Serviceberry trees and browsing for ripe berries.

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Black Bear (Ursus americanus) (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

We were impressed that the boy had spotted the bear and we shared our binoculars so they could get a better look.  We could see that one tree had experienced bears before because some of the leaves were already dying on branches that had been broken earlier by a bear gathering Serviceberries.

We had planned on hiking part of the Middle Ridge Trail that day.  Since the trail went close to where the bear was, I told Jan that we could start down the Middle Ridge Trail and then go off-trail to the meadow where it might be possible to get closer views and maybe some additional photos of the bear.  She was enthusiastic, so off we went. The trail was easy walking downhill, across a stream and then uphill again.  Because of that topography, it was easy to figure out when we were close to the area where the bear had been.  A short bushwhack through the woods led us to the edge of the meadow dotted with Serviceberry trees.  When we arrived at the vantage point where we hoped to see the bear again, it wasn’t there.  We carefully scanned the trees and meadow all around, but no bear.   We began to talk softly, becoming more relaxed.  We decided that the bear had probably noticed us coming and had wandered away.   We began looking at the many kinds of plants around us and in the meadow.   When we turned to examine the plants behind us, we noticed a dark shape under a tree where before there had just been ferns.  The bear was standing quietly under a tree about 30 yards away!

Black bear looking

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Moving very slowly, we got out our cameras, hoping our bear would stay long enough for some pictures.  As we watched and photographed the bear, it occasionally looked, listened and sniffed in our direction.  It seemed relaxed, but didn’t come out from under the tree.  Eventually it turned and slowly walked uphill away from us.  That was exciting.  It appears that Jan’s “I never get to see the bear” curse has been broken.

We walked downhill and explored the wetland formed by the beaver pond.  Hiking back to the car we didn’t find anything that compared to our bear encounter, but we did see some common plants that were in beautiful full flower.

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Jan near Middle Ridge Trail (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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Poke Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata)  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

When we returned to the car, the overcast sky was starting to produce a light rain.  As we were leaving Canaan Valley State Park we looked at the ridge to the east and saw  that the Dolly Sods Wilderness, rising 1,000 feet above us, was fogged in … probably getting some much heavier rain.

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Fog on the Dolly Sods Wilderness plateau  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

From Canaan Valley Resort State Park, Canaan Loop Road was a short 7 miles north and 500 feet higher.  Although it was overcast, no rain was falling, making it a great day for hiking.

Along Canaan Loop Road we discovered that the Wild Strawberries were ripe and ready to pick.  They were delicious!  Luckily we didn’t have to compete with any bears for these treats.

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Wild Strawberries (Fragaria vesca)  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

We decided to hike farther on one trail which we had already explored briefly on a previous trip with one of our grandkids. Since this had been a very rainy spring, the woods were lush with ferns, mosses and beautiful fungi.  I was carrying my basic camera equipment and decided to take the opportunity to photograph some of the fungi.

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Bill photographing a ‘Yellow Patches’ Amanita mushroom (Amanita flavoconia)  (Left photo (c) Jan Runyan and right photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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Orange mushrooms on the left are in the Family Hygrophoraceae; on the right is a Milk Cap mushroom (Lactarius lignyotus)  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

As we continued to explore we found many Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) middens (a midden is a dunghill or refuse heap).  After the squirrels had chewed off the spruce cone bracts to get at the seeds deep inside, they had tossed the bare cones in the same area.  In Nature, even refuse has a story to tell!

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Red Squirrel midden  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

We made several more stops to explore things in the woods and in meadows.  We always found interesting plants.  One unusual plant was a very purplish Boneset plant … not at all like the usual green we were used to seeing.  The flower heads of the Rhododendron plants are always interesting to look at.  They were just starting to open up and show their hot-pink color.

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Purplish-leaved Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) and Cinnamon Ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum)  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) on left and Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)  (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

There was so much to explore along the Canaan Loop Road, we could have been there for days.  After a final hike around an unusual meadow surrounded by a moat of wetlands, it was time to tuck our packs in the car and get on the highway north and westward.

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Packed and ready to leave  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Our first stop was to have a late lunch at Heidi’s Cafe on Blue Ribbon Road south of Oakland MD.  This was another of those “we will have to try it sometime” places, so it fit very well with the theme of this trip.  We decided we will definitely return to Heidi’s again.  Next was a quick dessert at our old favorite, Saffiticker’s Ice Cream, just a half mile further north on US 219.

Then another 1.5 hours brought us to West Virginia University for my presentation for the Nature Connection Series at the WVU Core Arboretum.  Our friend, Zach Fowler, Director of the Core Arboretum, has put together a great series of lectures in this awesome setting.  He welcomed us warmly and soon I was wired for sound and ready to go.

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Bill’s presentation  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

I had fun speaking to an enthusiastic almost-full house.  Afterwards we had fun talking with old and new friends, including someone we had met just a month before when we were birding at Magee Marsh in Ohio.  On the way home we decided that in the 3 days of this trip, we had really accomplished our goals of getting to know some new places and people and learning more about some old-favorite places and people in the beautiful mountains of West Virginia.

 

Idleman’s Run Trail in the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge – Late June

After spending several hours early in the day hiking the Beall Tract in Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge,  Jan and I decided to drive to Forest Service Road 80 and explore Idleman’s Run Trail.   The upper end of the trail comes out on FS 80, but the lower end stops in a clearing in the woods.  From there, an overgrown access road (for some reason not officially part of the trail) leads back to FS 80.  The trail itself is  4/10 of a mile, but adding the access roadway and the hike on Forest Service Road 80 back to the car, the entire distance is close to 1 mile.

We pulled off FS 80 and parked about halfway between the lower access road and the upper end of Idleman’s Run Trail.  Then we walked down to the access road leading to the lower end of the trail.  This would give us water-level views of the Run as we walked up the trail.  That turned out to be a great choice.

In the meadow just before the beginning of Idelman’s Run Trail we noticed lots of European Skipper Butterflies visiting many Cat’s Ear flowers.

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Left photo (c) Jan Runyan and European Skipper Butterfly (Thymelicus lineola) nectaring on Cat’s Ear (Hypochaeris radicata)  photo (c) Bill Beatty

When we reached the beginning of the trail we were amazed at the beauty of the run itself.  If you look closely in the next photos, you can see Jan standing in the middle of the woodland above the falls.

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Idleman’s Run  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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Another part of Idleman’s Run (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

This little waterway had all you could ask of a mountain stream:  boulders, rock ledges, waterfalls, pools, mosses and other plants of moist areas, splashes, trickles, and small floodplains.  While exploring the stream edges I found an abundance of Bishop’s Cap.  Although not in flower this late in the year, I could easily picture in my mind the tiny, very fancy flowers the way they would appear in May to anyone willing to take the time to use a hand lens.

Bishop's Cap

Bishop’s Cap (Mitella diphylla) flowers in early May.  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

There were other interesting treasures along the stream.  I found several small stands of Golden Saxifrage (Chrysosplenium americanum) and Lettuce Saxifrage (Saxifraga micranthidifolia).  Some of the Golden Saxifrage were still flowering, however the Lettuce Saxifrage had been browsed by deer and the flowers were gone.

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Photos (c) Jan Runyan

The tiny flowers of the Golden Saxifrage don’t look like typical flowers … another fascinating treat for people who take the time to view them with a hand lens.

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Golden Saxifrage  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Finding Saxifrage plants, especially in the abundance we found, is an indicator of good water quality.  The good condition of the water was verified  by a man we surprised as he came down the trail.  We had stepped off the trail to let him pass, but he hadn’t heard us, so when he looked up he was startled to see us just a few feet in front of him.  He explained that he rarely encounters anyone there as he does his frequent water quality checks of Idleman’s Run.  Actually he was the only other person we saw on the trail that day, too.

The Meehania (Meehania cordata) mints were in full flower.

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Left photo (c) Jan Runyan and Meehania photo (c) Bill Beatty

American Basswood (Tilia americana) trees were common along the stream and it was exciting to see a perfect example of how the younger clones form a circle around the main tree.

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

Every place we explored, we kept finding interesting plants, animals and geology.

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Young Chanterelle mushrooms (Cantharellus cibarius)  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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Jan looking at a rock formation and the variety of plants growing on and around the rocks.  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

As we hiked in an area where the trail left the stream, Jan noticed a grouping of leafless flower stalks.  They were Ramps/Wild Leeks (Allium tricoccum).  We have large Ramp patches on our property and each spring we use them in a variety of delicious ways.  My favorites are  Cream of Ramp and Morel Mushroom Soup and Ramp Mashed Potatoes.

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Ramp flowers  (Left photo (c) Bill Beatty and right photo (c) Jan Runyan)

The most exciting find of the day was a fern that was almost new to me.  In 1972 at Oglebay Institute’s Mountain Nature Studies Camp for adults, I was shown a Daisy-leaf Moonwort Fern (Botrychium matricariifolium).  Being a young naturalist at the time, I didn’t fully understand the rarity and  importance of this find.  I don’t really remember much about that fern itself, but I do remember its location.  In later years I looked for it many times at camp but haven’t been able to rediscover it.  Now, along Idleman’s Run Trail, I was able to spend more time examining, photographing, and enjoying this fern rarity.

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Daisy-leaf Moonwort Fern (Botrychium matricariifolium)  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

There was so much to discover along this short trail.  Some of the things we saw hinted at the treasures that might be found here at other times of the year.  We decided to return and visit this trail often when we are in the area.

As during the morning along the Beall Tract trails, all along Idleman’s Run Trail we delighted in hearing the beautiful songs of Hermit Thrushes (Catharus guttatus).  It turned out to be a spectacular and rewarding day in so many ways!

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Hermit Thrush  (Photo (c) Laura Meyers)

Click to enjoy the Hermit Thrush song: 

 

 

 

Beall Tract – Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge – Late June, 2018

Free cabin!  Canaan Valley!  June!  LET’S GO!  Jan and I decided to use a voucher for a complimentary cabin at Canaan Valley State Park as the home base for an exploratory trip into the CVNWR.  We had already been there many times, hiking some of the trails, leading birding trips and kayaking the Blackwater River and its tributaries.  This time we wanted to scout two trails we had seen, but not been on, as possible trips for the West Virginia Wildflower Pilgrimage and for other nature-related groups we lead.

Our first hike was at the Beall Tract:  Beall North Trail, Blackwater View Trail and Beall South Trail, approximately 3.8 miles.

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Photo (c) Bill Beatty

After leaving the parking lot on the Beall North Trail, a short hike took us through a mixed meadow/woodland area to the first of several large meadows lined on both sides with thousands of Bracken Ferns,  Pteridium aquilinum.

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Photos (c) Jan Runyan

It was a perfect day for hiking with temperatures in the low 70s and a partly cloudy sky.  In the meadows, the sun warmed us.  When we then entered the forest, the shade cooled us.

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Photos (c) Bill Beatty

In the woodlands were several vernal pools where small frogs  jumped into the water as we neared.  I was actually able to catch a young green frog to examine more closely.

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Young Green Frog, Lithobates clamitans  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

We noticed a wide variety of insects and plants that are frequently found in or near wetlands.  Catching a dragonfly is not easy, but not impossible for a man who has caught birds bare-handed.

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A female Common Whitetail Dragonfly, Plathemis lydia and American Water Horehound, Lycopus americanus, with flowers  (Dragonfly photo (c) Jan Runyan and Horehound photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Continuing on the Beall North Trail we hiked through more open meadows, some of which had small wetlands slowly flowing toward the Blackwater River, and beech tree woodlands finding many interesting creatures.   The wooded sections of the trail provided many ferns for Jan to identify and study.

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(Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

The woodlands are populated mainly by American Beech trees, Fagus grandifolia.  Since camping and fires are not permitted in National Wildlife Refuges there was a significant amount of dead wood decomposing on the ground with a wide variety of wood-rooting fungi growing on it.

turkey-tail fungus (Trametes versicolor)

Turkeytail Fungus, Trametes versicolor  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The Beall North Trail ended at the Blackwater View Trail and we turned south on Blackwater View to continue our circular hike.  Most of the Blackwater View Trail was along a Refuge-use road.  Because of all the wonderful plants and animals we were finding (and also some time spent picking and eating Serviceberries) the hike took longer than we had expected, but we thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Hiking the Blackwater View Trail and an Orb Weaving Spider, Araneus sp. (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

common serviceberry tree (Amelanchier arborea) fruit

Serviceberries, Amelanchier laevis, along the Blackwater View Trail  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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Deptford Pinks, Dianthus armeria, were flowering in many places.  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Back near the parking lot we then continued onto the Beall South Trail.  At the beginning and the end we found ourselves in even more expansive meadows.  Right away we encountered a problem – there were countless Bracken Ferns, but there were also ferns, very similar to the Brackens, that had 5-7 parted fronds rather than the typical 3.  Our field research determined that they were “atypical” Brackens … overachievers, I guess.  Jan wondered if this had to do with the abundance of rain this spring.

24

Atypical Bracken Fern, Pteridium aquilinum, and Jan looking for grassland birds  (Left photo (c) Jan Runyan and right photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Although we didn’t find a large number of plant species in flower, those that were flowering were found in multiple locations.

36

Left – Northern Swamp Buttercup, Ranunculus septentrionalis, and right – Dwarf St. John’s Wort, Hypericum mutilum.  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

In one section, the Beall South Trail traversed a large field of Spreading Dogbane which was in flower.  The Monarch Butterflies and other species were loving it.  It was impossible to get a photo of the huge extent of the dogbanes and still be able to see the butterflies.

17

Monarch Butterfly, Danaus plexippus, nectaring on Spreading Dogbane, Apocynum androsaemifolium  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

We followed the trail as it turned downhill and then northward along the Blackwater River.   Sitting-rocks were convenient so we stopped along the river for lunch.  As we ate and looked around, something that caught our attention was the attractive leaves of the Mountain/Whorled Aster.

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Mountain/Whorled Aster, Oclemena acuminata  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

I decided to go down to the Blackwater River edge and see what I could find.  There were so many wonderful photo opportunities that I told Jan, “We should come back and just do photos along the river.”  I spent some time shooting interesting photos that didn’t need a tripod.  This is definitely a spot to return to!

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Left – Rushes, Juncus sp., lining the shallow water along the Blackwater River and right – Sweet-scented Indian Plantain, Cacalia suaveolens (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

ripple bugs

Me taking photos and Riffle Bugs, Family – Veliidae, in the river  (Left photo (c) Jan Runyan and right photo (c) Bill Beatty)

mating ebony jewelwing damselflies (Calopteryx maculata)

Ebony Jewelwing Damselflies, Calopteryx maculata (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Jan looked at ferns and other plants and picked blueberries (more lunch) while I explored along the river.

blueberries

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

Finally we continued on the Beall South Trail as it turned uphill away from the river.  After a short distance, we were again in the meadow/grasslands where we had started, still finding more amazing wildlife.

meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark, Sturnella magna (Photo (c) Jan Runyan

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European Skipper Butterfly, Thymelicus lineola, nectaring on Red Clover, Trifolium pratense  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

blue-eyed grass

Bill photographing Blue-eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium angustifolium (Left photo (c) Jan Runyan and right photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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Green-legged Grasshoppers, Melanoplus viridipes (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

One of the most interesting things about this set of “Beall” Trails was the variety of habitats we traveled through, and, because of that, the variety of living things we were able to see and hear.  There were so many great “learning moments” that it would be a nice set of trails for people of diverse interests.  Most of the elevation changes on the trails were gentle and short, making it accessible to most people who love to walk in a beautiful natural setting.

Next stop:  Idleman’s Run Trail off Forest Service Road 80.    Blog post coming soon!

Snaggy Mountain Area, Garrett State Forest, MD – Late June 2018

Did you ever drive by a trailhead and think, “I wonder where that goes?  It looks interesting!”  Over the years, we had driven by a trailhead near Cranesville Swamp  several times and always said we wanted to explore it someday.  So on a recent trip to Canaan Valley, we took the time to stop at the Snaggy Mountain area in Garrett State Forest near Oakland, MD.

At the first parking lot was a trail sign that said “ROCK MAZE”.  That made us curious so we went hiking, and we were not disappointed.

1 Jan Rock Maze

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Right away we began finding interesting creatures.  With all of the rain this spring, the forest was lush with moisture-loving plants.

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Left-to-right – Butter-foot Bolete, Boletus auripes (I think); Rock Tripe Lichen, Umbilicaria sp.;  Clintonia lilies that have already flowered.  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

We found several sprouting American Chestnut trees.   The larger trees had died back to the root and new sprouts were beginning to grow.  With the current research into American Chestnuts, hopefully one day soon we will again see these majestic trees full-grown in our forests.

6 Am Chestnut

American Chestnut sprouts, Castanea dentata  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The trail to the Rock Maze was lined with large, beautiful ferns… mostly Cinnamon Ferns.

7 Jan

Cinnamon Ferns, Osmunda cinnamomea.  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Jan has always been fascinated by ferns and has recently made an effort to study their identification and reproduction.  She found a number of different ones to compare on this trail.

ferns

Left-to-right:  Intermediate Shield Fern, Dryopteris intermedia; Rock Polypody Fern, Polypodium virginianum; Cinnamon Fern, Osmunda cinnamomea  (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

As we got closer to the Rock Maze we began seeing large rocks that all of a sudden just seemed to ‘ be there’, like a giant had dropped them in the woods.  While Jan continued to photograph ferns I started exploring the large rocks.

climb down

Left photo (c) Bill Beatty, other three photos (c) Jan Runyan

At the end of the trail was the Rock Maze at the top of a low hill, well-hidden in the forest.

explore

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

The area was larger than it appeared at first.  Every turn led to more areas to explore.  Its fissures, fallen rocks and openings brought something new to see around every corner.  Some places were great for looking at geological strata.  Other rock faces were obscured by different kinds of mosses.

maze 1

Exploring the Rock Maze  (Left photo (c) Bill Beatty, right photo (c) Jan Runyan)

We found these Black Birch roots hidden in the Maze.  The top of the tree stood above the huge boulder.  It was as if we were able to see underground at what the tree’s root system looks like.

maze - roots

Black Birch, Betula lenta  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

The moss/algae-covered rocks were beautiful.  Some rocks were solid and some were very cracked and fissured.  All sorts of geological processes were visible at various places in the maze.

maze 3

(Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

On the way back to our car we continued to find interesting plants and hear many kinds of birds.  Considering how late in the day and how late in the nesting season it was, we were amazed at all the bird songs we heard.

Jan discovered an area along the trail with about a dozen large Pink Lady’s Slipper Orchids that had already flowered.

leaving

(Left) A forest of ferns   (Right) Pink Lady’s Slipper Orchids, Cypripedium acaule  (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

We were so impressed with our hike to the “Rock Maze”, we decided to make this a future destination for some groups we take on our birding/nature trips.

After our hike, we drove down the road deeper into the Snaggy Mountain area.  We passed near a wetland, one of several different eco-systems the road goes through, and we saw several baby Wood Ducks swimming in the water .

wood duck 2

Baby Wood Duck, Aix sponsa  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

As always, time prevented us from fully exploring all of this area .  Since the first trail we tried was so interesting, maybe “someday” we will be able to take the time to explore and discover more fascinating things in the Snaggy Mountain area of Garrett State Forest, MD.

Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines class for the Master Naturalist Program – May 26, 2018, 9-Noon

This class is open to the public, but you must preregister.

Left to right… Deciduous Forest, Highbush Cranberry and Dutchman’s Pipe Vine (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

In this class, students will learn some of the more common woody plants, what makes woody plants different, and clear up the confusion over deciduous, evergreen and coniferous trees.  We will also discuss how to collect and preserve woody plants, the importance of woody plants to humans and wildlife, and how to approach further study, including helpful references.
This class is held at the Good Zoo at Oglebay Park.  Part of the class will include hands-on working with the plants and references materials outdoors so dress for the weather.
Call – 304-243-4100 to register

Mountain Nature Camp for Adults – June 10-16, 2018

The 90+ year tradition of excellent mountain nature studies for adults continues!

Come discover why West Virginia is truly “Almost Heaven”!

At this year’s Mountain Nature Camp (Nature studies for adults) in Terra Alta, WV, I will be the botanist/naturalist.  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 lead 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  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

friday supper

Friday supper at Mountain Nature Camp 2017 (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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

** Field trips focus on many aspects of Nature Study in destinations which have a wide

variety of habitats and elevations.

** Hiking options available.

group at the Rohrbaugh Plains Trail overlook in the Dolly Sods W

Eating lunch at the Rohrbaugh Plains Trail 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 made by experienced cooks using 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: 304-242-6855

Additional information and registration: http://oionline.com/camps/mountaincamp/

 

West Virginia Bird Discovery Weekend at Blackwater Falls State Park, June 1-3, 2018

A wonderful way to experience and learn about WV’s mountain birds in late spring! 

Jan and I will be the leaders at this birding weekend.

Friday afternoon – Beginning Birding and Beyond — newer birders will get many helpful ideas and more experienced birders will refresh and renew their birding skillset.

Friday evening – Wood Warblers of West Virginia — this program emphasizes identification of the group of birds that most birders find the most difficult to identify and highlights their natural history.

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Mourning Warbler in Fernow Experimental Forest (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Saturday – Olsen Fire Tower/Fernow Experimental Forest Field Trip – a host of warblers can be expected on this field trip including: Northern Parula, Black-throated Green, Black-and-white , Black-throated Blue, Magnolia, Yellow-rumped, Canada, Chestnut-sided, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, Louisiana Waterthrush and Ovenbird. Also possible are Northern Waterthrush, Mourning Warbler and several others. Expect to hear the beautiful songs of the Wood Thrush, Hermit Thrush and Veery as well as many other birds.

AMKEs

Adult female American Kestrel and 2-week-old babies inside nesting cavity (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Saturday evening – Raptors of West Virginia (except owls) – this program covers both sight and song identification. Confused by the falcons, accipiters and buteos? Well, so are the experts at times. We will study what is necessary to make a positive identification while in the field.

willow and alder

Alder Flycatcher (L) and Willow Flycatcher (R) along Freeland Trail (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

Sunday – Canaan Valley Field Trip – areas we will visit include the wetlands of Freeland Trail, the open meadows, wood edges and deciduous forests of Forest Service Road 80, and the Red Spruce woods where the road ends on Dolly Sods.  Because of the large elevation change, many bird species could possibly be heard and seen including Bobolink, several sparrow species, Northern Harrier and American Kestrel in the lowlands; forest interior breeders such as Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Ovenbird and Hooded Warbler on the way up; and mountaintop species such as Blackburnian Warbler and Golden-crowned Kinglet at the top. Along the way we will listen for niche birds such as Canada Warbler, Winter Wren and several thrush species including the Swainson’s Thrush.

Additional information and registration: https://wvstateparks.com/event/west-virginia-bird-discovery-weekend-blackwater-falls/

Friendly Faces

This spring is not really spring, yet.  Winter doesn’t want to let go and keeps sending more snow and cold temperatures.  The calendar tells me it’s April 9th, but when I look outside it seems more like January 99th.

I enjoy rambling through woodlands looking for early spring wildflowers.  Every year at this time I see the flowers of Bloodroot, Hepatica, Rue Anemone, Twinleaf and more, except for this year.  Everything is late, at least their flowers are.  The plants are there, but the flowers are waiting.  Being the reproductive part of the plant, flowers are susceptible to extreme cold and since a plant’s sole purpose in life is to reproduce itself, if the flowers freeze, there will be no fruits or seeds — no reproduction.

Even though I knew the flowers wouldn’t be there, I decided to take a walk in a nearby 50 acre woodland and I was greeted with a great many friendly leafy faces.  Having hiked the ridges and valleys throughout West Virginia so many times during all seasons, I am familiar with many plants in all their stages of growth.  And I did see the flowers — but just in my mind.  Only seeing the leaves, I was able to view the flowers imprinted in my memories.  And not just spring flowers.  I saw the leafy beginnings of summer wildflowers as well and then viewed their flowers in my mind.  Here are a few of the leafy friends I saw.  The flowers that will appear later are on the right.

Tall A.

Tall Agrimony (Agrimonia gryposepala) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

A Buttercup

Aborted Buttercup/Kidneyleaf Crowfoot  (Ranunculus abortivus) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

False Mer

False Mermaidweed (Floerkea proserpinacoides) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

Heal a

Heal All/Selfheal/Bumblebee Weed (Prunella vulgaris) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

m apple

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

M E Chick

Mouse-ear Chickweed (Cerastium vulgatum) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

H Woodmint

Hairy Wood Mint (Blephilia hirsute) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

sweet cicely

Smooth Sweet Cicely/Aniseroot (Osmorhiza longistylis) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

White-flowered Leafcup

White-flowered Leafcup (Polymnia canadensis) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

P D Nettle

Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

S W Violet

Striped White Violet (Viola striata) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

Great Chickweed

Great Chickweed/Star Chickweed (Stellaria pubera) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

It is important to go out in Nature as often as possible.  If you do, you will soon begin to recognize the friendly faces of so many more special friends.

 

Wildflowers and Weeds for Master Naturalist, April 28, 2018, 9 am – Noon

This is a beautiful time of year to be in the woods!  Join me to learn about the incredible spring ephemeral wildflowers and those things we call “weeds”.  This program is open to the public, but you must pre-register.

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 as well as how to collect and preserve plants.  Identifying flowering plants using field guides and keys will also be covered, as well as approaches to further study, including helpful references.  This class will meet at the zoo, then drive to the woods surrounding West Liberty University.  Participants will provide their own transportation to West Liberty.

Rainbows, Bluebirds and Buffleheads – Discovering Life Through Birds – in Zanesville, OH

Join me on April 10 at noon at the John McIntire Library in Zanesville, OH.  We’ll have fun as I tell some stories and answer questions.  The program is free and open to the public.  It is part of the “Lunch and Learn” series offered by the library.

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Directions: https://www.google.com/maps/dir/”/Muskingum+County+Library+System:+John+McIntire+Library,+220+N+5th+St,+Zanesville,+OH+43701/@39.9438919,-82.0756139,12z/data=!4m8!4m7!1m0!1m5!1m1!1s0x8837ee7a55c59ba7:0x6fe645d59b3bdc39!2m2!1d-82.005574!2d39.943913

 

West Virginia Wildflower Pilgrimage May 10-13, 2018

Left – Rainbow over Pendleton Point…. Right – View from Lindy Point. (Both photos taken at Blackwater Falls State Park (c) Bill Beatty)

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, Jan will lead a tour to the Cranesville Swamp, a National Natural Landmark.   It is one of the few remaining boreal bogs in the southern United States, unusual because it harbors many plants and animals that are normally 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.

Left to right: American Larch… Trailing Arbutus… and Gay Wings and Goldthread (All photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Friday, I will lead a Dolly Sods Wilderness Hike.  The hike begins at the Red Creek Campground on Blackbird Knob Trail. We cross Alder Run, travel across some open and scenic areas, then cross Red Creek just downstream from several active beaver dams, and continue to the north-east side of Blackbird Knob (elev. 3,950) where we will eat lunch. On the return trip, we follow Red Creek downstream to the junction of Alder Run and follow Alder Run Trail to the junction of the Beatty Labyrinth. This part of the hike is mostly open and quite scenic. The hike then follows Alder Run Bog Run upstream through spruce woods and eventually joins the Blackbird Knob Trail near where we began at the Red Creek Campground. This is the most difficult part of the hike since it is at the end of our trip. There are 15 small stream crossings, one long rock field to cross, and is casually uphill most of the time. There will be opportunities for scenic views, wildflower and bird identification, perhaps map and compass use, and experiencing the spectacular beauty of Dolly Sods. Hiking shoes/boots are required; Red Creek may have to be waded if water is high; appropriate rain gear is required. Restroom facilities are available before and after the hike.

Sunrises along the Allegheny Front (All photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Saturday, 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 which begins going through a red spruce woods with mountain laurel/rhododendron borders and ends 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, 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!

Additional information and registration: https://1djciw2nayur2c2mvt4dir9d-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Pilgrimage.2018.pdf

Owls In the Family… part two… Eastern Screech-owls

In 1974 I received my Master Personal Bird Banding Permit.  I chose to research the breeding biology of Eastern Screech-owls (EASO).  For the next 28 years I was knee-deep in Screech-owls.

I began organizing Screech-owl counts associated with the Wheeling, WV, Christmas Bird Counts.  Every year that we counted, we had the highest EASO number in North America.

Later I began a trapping program using bal-chatri traps.  Through this I learned much about the secretive EASOs and also about myself:  I developed an awareness of nature in a new and peaceful way.  I became accustomed to being outside alone in what some would call horrible, unwelcoming weather.  It showed me how absolutely wonderful it was to be comfortable in creation in all circumstances.  Nothing compares to the quiet of cold, cold temperatures, treacherous roads and early morning hours.  It’s a quiet that few ever experience.  While everyone else was in bed, I was alone, outside, learning to be in touch with the very essence of life. I would gaze into the starlit sky and think about how I fit into the universe.  Then a Screech-owl would arrive and I would think about trapping Screech-owls.

Screech owl (Otus asio) and white pine tree H

Eastern Screech-owl called out from hiding in the boughs of a white pine tree. (photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Thinking back on my EASO research, I believe the alone times trapping owls in the winter along remote gravel-dirt roads were my favorite times.  I remember one night in particular.  The night was cold, about 20 degrees, with 4 inches of snow on the ground.  The snow was fresh and still covered the branches of the trees and bushes.  Before going about my business of trapping an owl, my mind studied the patterns and images in the dark, snow-covered branches.  If I looked for mountains, I saw them.  Thinking of animals, I found distorted shapes of animals — perhaps a long snake with contrasting black and white stripes running the length of its body — maybe a small squirrel-shaped stub of broken branch with a massive tail composed of a thick tangle of snow-covered wild grape vines.  There were partial faces, some friendly, but most contorted and fearful, as if ravenously protecting the forest from all unwelcome intruders.  I  valued these alone times immensely.  If I had been with someone we would have talked about a multitude of things, not allowing my mind to pause and glory in the wonder of the universe.  So often while alone in wild places I never noticed the cold, wind, rain and other elements that keep most people in the superficial comfort and apparent safety of their homes, but I was always sharply aware of the marvels of Nature that surrounded me.

Shortly after I began trapping EASOs I discovered something quite amazing about these little owls.  The first few times I wanted to set a trap I would first make Screech-owl calls until I heard a response from a distant EASO.  Then I would put the trap in a visible spot off the edge of the road and continue to call as I hid behind the car.  Soon the owl came closer and onto the trap.

But soon I discovered that all my careful hiding and trying making the owl think no one was there was totally unnecessary.  I found I could just stand in the open when I called the owl in.  We could easily see each other.  Most of the time the owl perched on a tree branch and watched me as I set the trap just below.  Before I could even get back to the car I would hear a “THUMP” as the owl hit the trap.

Sometimes an EASO even hit the trap while it was still in my hands.  The first time that happened, the shock seemed to stop my heart.  The owls were much more interested in getting the food from the trap than they were worried about my presence.

In 1988 my approach to EASO studies changed significantly.  The West Virginia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Divisions Non-game Program awarded me a grant which allowed me to study EASOs in nesting boxes.  With the money I  bought climbing equipment to make it possible for me to “easily” get up to the nesting boxes.  The state constructed 30 EASO nesting/roosting boxes per my specifications.  West Liberty State College granted me permission to mount boxes in their 154 acre arboretum and in a wooded area on campus.  I also placed boxes in the 14 acres behind my house.  Two years later I left my job at the Brooks Nature Center in Oglebay Park.  I had enjoyed  working there but I wanted to be in the field more and still make a living at what I loved.  Working at the Brooks Center, I had been limited to mostly night-time owl work.  Now I was able to spend daytime with the owls.  Although the surveys continued, most of the trapping ended.

Using the nest boxes, I was able to monitor the owls’ nests and behavior during breeding season and their roosting activities the rest of the year.  Without injuring or disturbing the owls, I was able to watch and photograph many details of EASO life.

female eastern screech owl (Otus asio) incubating eggs

Eastern Screech-owl incubating 5 eggs (photo (c) Bill Beatty)

egg 1day old

Eastern Screech-owl egg hatching and the same owl 24 hours later (photos (c) Bill Beatty)

5 two week old screech owls (Otus asio)

Two-week-old Eastern Screech-owls – one of these 5 owls is the owl hatching from the egg in the above photo, but I do not know which one (photo (c) Bill Beatty)

For many years I held a Federal Bird Rehabilitation Permit specifically for EASOs.  It allowed me legally to keep and work with injured EASOs until the time they could be released back into the wild.  Most adult injuries were car-related as the owls seem to be attracted to small mammals crossing roadways.  The adult owls were ferocious and capable of significant scratches from their thin, but sturdy, sharp talons.  To me, the worst injury was a talon under a fingernail or cuticle.  This was painful and healed slowly.  The baby owls also had attitude, but they didn’t have the strength or determination to back it up.

My children sometimes argued over who got to care for a young or injured owl.  My son, Josh, was too young to care for an owl by himself, so he sometimes helped me.  Julie and Kelly were old enough to be assigned the duties of feeding, exercising, and cleaning the cage of a particular owl, most often a young one.

easo nest box

Gray phase Eastern Screech-owl looking from an owl box and red phase Eastern Screech-owl ‘apparently’ sleeping/roosting in a nesting box. (photos (c) Bill Beatty)

One day I received a call from a lady in Washington, PA.  She had been walking in the early morning and saw something unusual which she described as, “A pure white pile of feathers that moved.”

Upon closer examination she saw it was a baby bird unlike any she had ever seen.  “It’s bigger, has tiny white feathers covering the body, and long claws on the toes,” she said.  I suggested it might be a baby owl.

Once she knew I had permits to keep owls until they could be released, she was happy to bring the bird to me.  It was a baby EASO.  Unlike most other birds, newly-hatched EASOs have feathers covering their tiny bodies.  Attempts to stand the little owl upright caused it to wobble back and forth, then lean to one side, and finally fall over.  I guessed it was two days old.  My family just adored this tiny baby.  All other owls we had kept had been much older by at least by a week.  (For baby birds, a week is a very long time.  They change and grow up very quickly.)  Everyone wanted to be part of this tiny one’s care, but I decided I would be its primary caregiver for the first week.  Even so, when I fed or did anything with the baby, the entire family was present.  Although the baby owl didn’t realize it, it had five doting parents.

I had always been adamant that we not name the owls we cared for because they would eventually be released.  This little guy was different.  Secretly, he came to be called, “Archie.”  When I first heard the whispered references to “Archie,” I scowled (a little) but said nothing.  Soon it was all out in the open and ARCHIE was a major topic of conversation.  Unlike the other owls we had cared for, Archie had strongly imprinted on our family, and three young members of our family were strongly imprinted on Archie.  After school, I could usually find my children lying on the floor surrounding the tiny feather ball, just watching and laughing, gently touching his soft feathers.

Archie liked having the top of his head lightly scratched, leaning in to get more.  But he didn’t like our hands anywhere near his toes and feet.  He would become wide-eyed, dance a bit, clack his beak, and backup, with a look that seemed to say, “I don’t like that.  You should know better!”  Foot sensitivity seems to be typical for owls — other owls we cared for had sometimes reacted hostilely when their feet were bothered, too.

Within 10 days of Archie’s arrival, he could easily have been mistaken for any other EASO his age if not for his uncharacteristic behavior.  The door of his cage in the house  was kept open and usually he would just sit on top of the cage.  It was decided that Julie, my oldest child, would be Archie’s main caretaker, with Kelly’s help when necessary.  Josh became the official Archie observer.  Soon it was commonplace to see Archie on Julie’s shoulder being chauffeured around the house and yard.  Archie spent more time in Julie’s bedroom than at his cage, and so did Kelly.   I often saw all three kids playing outside with Archie perched nearby on a picnic table, on a low branch of a cherry tree, or even on a bicycle handlebar.   Archie followed their every move as they played and ran around the yard.  One day when we were all outside with Archie on the ground among us, a cat ran in and went right for Archie.  All five of us lunged for the cat.  It finally managed to escape with only a bruise or two and some well-deserved reprimands.

Julie Kelly and Archie Jul 1987 at West Liberty

Julie and Kelly with Archie (photo (c) Bill Beatty)

We decided that Archie needed a safer place to stay while outside.  I attached a roomy wood duck box to a porch support that faced out into the yard.  The box was low enough to allow us to reach it, but high enough to keep daytime marauding cats and dogs at bay.  The box had a flat roof so Archie could either sit in the entry hole or stand on the roof top.  Most of the time, he sat in the opening contentedly watching the other birds, visitors, and family activities.

12-year-old girl with 2-week-old screech owl (Otus asio)

Kelly with Archie (photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Archie was fed commercially formulated food known as “predatory bird diet” for about 3 weeks.  Then I announced it was time to introduce him to live mice for food to help him be ready to feed himself when he learned to fly.  In a period of 24 hours, we discovered two shocking things about Archie.  When I placed him on the floor and put a live mouse in front of him, instead of intently watching the mouse, clawing at it, or  pouncing on it like other owls did, Archie became wide-eyed, turned, and ran to the nearest corner of the room.  There he remained, cowering.  Archie was afraid of mice!  After supper that same day, we took Archie into the backyard for a flying lesson, as was our standard procedure.  The usual method was to toss an owl gently into the air.  Our rehab owls would spread their wings and gracelessly glide a short distance to  land awkwardly in the soft grass.  After repeating this process several times a day for three or four days, the owls made great progress in learning to fly.  When Archie, on the other hand, was gently tossed into the air, he opened his wings, and, in a panic, flew straight into the ground.  After several more attempts resulted in nose-dives straight into the ground I thought, “Archie is afraid of heights.  Now what?” Now we knew we had an owl who was afraid of mice and afraid of heights.

7 year old boy with 2-week-old screech owl (Otus asio)

Josh with Archie (photo (c) Bill Beatty)

His vulnerability made this young owl all the more endearing.  Another discovery that really surprised me was the range of foods he would eat.  One evening during supper, Archie was perched on a nearby cage while we were busily eating and talking about the events of the day.  One of the kids accidentally dropped a piece of a beet on the floor.  Archie jumped from the cage, ran over, picked up the beet, and swallowed it.

Archie likes beets!” Kelly said excitedly.

All of a sudden another small piece of beet was on the floor and Archie ate it, too.  “That’s enough,” I reprimanded.  “He may eat beets, but that doesn’t mean they are good for him.”

“Well, if beets aren’t good for us, why do we have to eat them?” Josh asked, thinking he had found a chink in the family rule that everyone ate anything we grew in the garden.

“Archie is not an us,” I answered, but someone quickly rebuked me:  “Archie IS one of us!”

The beet incident sparked a discussion which brought up a point that everyone needed to remember:  Archie, like every other owl we had helped, would one day be released back into the wild.  That sobering truth calmed everyone and we resumed eating.  Later we discovered that Archie would also eat green beans and watermelon.

Unfortunately Archie was not making good progress toward becoming releasable.  We were quickly approaching the 90 day point at which time, according to my rehabilitation permit, “Any owl not rehabilitated within 90 days is to be destroyed.”

Did Archie fit into this category?  Well, Archie had never been injured, so he wasn’t being rehabilitated from some kind of injury that prevented him from surviving in the wild.  So did that sentence apply to him?   I had never believed in keeping owls as pets, so I knew he would eventually need to be released when he had learned the skills to survive.  I didn’t want my children to view Archie as a pet and be emotionally crushed when the time came to release him.  I thought of this dilemma daily as we continued his survival skill training.

After a time, Archie would eat a dead mouse if it was offered in pieces.  Of course, it was my job to slice up the mouse.  Eventually, he learned to tear a dead mouse apart by himself, but he still ran away at the sight of a live mouse.  One morning I made a unilateral decision concerning Archie’s hunting skills.  Each morning before work I  placed Archie outside in the wood duck box.  Most days when I returned, he was just as I left him, comfortably sitting peering from the box.  I decided that this day would be different.  It was time for Archie to learn to deal with living prey.  One of my live traps had captured a short-tailed shrew, so I put the shrew in the bottom of the outdoor box, pushed Archie inside, and nailed a square piece of paneling over the entrance.  I told my wife what I had done and then left for work.  When I returned home that evening and saw the box with the covered entry hole, I remembered that this was Archie’s living prey day.   I put my ear near the box and even tapped the box several times.  There was no sound at all.  I was a bit concerned as I pried out the nails to remove the board.  The instant I removed the cover, a feathered ball of orange shot from the box as if fired from a cannon — it was Archie.  I picked him up and lifted him so he could sit in the entry hole, but he kept jumping to the ground.  I was certain he had eaten the shrew, but when I opened the front of the box, the shrew was running around inside, alive and well.

In a shocking moment of enlightenment I thought, “What have I done?  I put this poor owl through eight hours of its worst nightmare.”  Imagining myself locked in a darkened room for eight hours with a black mamba snake, I regretted what I had done.  More than a week passed before Archie would go into that box again.

Archie never cooperated in our attempted flight training exercises, but eventually he did begin gliding from his box to the ground every day about dusk.  He didn’t seem to mind when Bev scooped him up and brought him inside for the night.  Then he began to leave his box during the day and someone would find him on a nearby tree branch.  Bev called me at work one day and asked, “Archie’s on the neighbor’s porch roof.  What should I do?”

I replied, “Get a ladder and get him down or keep an eye on him and I will get him when I come home.”

Soon I regularly heard, Dad, Archie’s up in the tree,” or “Dad, Archie’s on the roof.”  Each time, I would retrieve him and place him back in the box.  Even though Archie frequently left the comfort of his box for a nearby lofty perch, we never did see him fly.

One day when we were all home, Julie said, “Archie’s out of the box again but I can’t see where he went.”  We all went out to search for him.  Finally, he was spotted high up in an 80-foot Norway spruce tree.

Kelly asked, “How are we going to get him down from there?”

“We aren’t,” I answered.  “He’s on his own.  We are going to have to say our goodbyes from here.”

Josh reacted by crying and yelling in despair over losing his companion.  We all were sad but had to accept the situation.  We were also glad, knowing that he was fulfilling the purpose for which he was created.  He had been with us for two years.  That was the last we would see of Archie.

Except, maybe, for me.  One day while checking owl boxes in the 14-acre woods, I was climbing a tree when a red phase EASO popped its head out and looked at me.

“That’s odd,” I thought, “That’s never happened before.”

Never before had an owl inside the box peered out at me.  As I climbed closer, the owl looked out at me again, then nervously looked around and flew out.  This happened one other time at a different box in the same woods.  Although I couldn’t be one hundred percent sure this owl was Archie, I thought, “Of course, it’s Archie.  He’s always been different.  He’s his own owl.”  I was able to reassure the family that Archie was alive and well, hunting and surviving on his own.

EASOs

Eastern Screech Owls (photos (c) Bill Beatty)

I studied these interesting and secretive birds for 28 years.  I learned many things about them and ended up with more questions to wonder about .  Now I monitor two nest boxes, occasionally do EASO surveys, and very rarely trap an EASO.  Eastern Screech-owls are my favorite bird.

In 2010 Jan and I did a Christmas Bird Count survey from midnight to dawn and found 27 EASOs in part of the count area.  In 2014 we were able to band our first EASO from one of the two nest boxes on our property and Jan was able to experience first-hand the amazingly soft feathers and the feeling of sharpened pins from the talons of an Eastern Screech-owl.

Eastern Screech-owl

Jan holding her first ever Eastern Screech-owl (photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Kayaking the Headwaters of the Blackwater River…and Searching for Wildflowers

Recently Jan and I decided to make a trip to Canaan Valley for what has become an annual event:  kayaking a section of one of the rivers in one of the most scenic parts of West Virginia.  Our original plan was to do part of the Dry Fork River along River Road beginning east of Hendricks, WV.   We reconnoitered the river on our way down.  To our surprise the Dry Fork was high for August and the current was too swift for the kind of kayaking we like to do.  Unlike white-water kayakers, we like to explore slowly along the river banks and in back channels looking for wildflowers, listening to bird songs and finding other interesting things along the way.  Our exploration via car did alert us to one special discovery:  the wildflowers were spectacular this year!

1 cardinal flower

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) was in full bloom along the Dry Fork River. (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

1 great mullien

Along Rt. 72 to Back Hollow Road and Canaan Valley we noticed lots of Great Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) still in bloom. (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

misc. wildflowers - tall purple ironweed (V. altissima), chicory

Along a fence line and in other places we noticed these wildflowers and many more. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Whenever we have hiked the Blackwater River trail in Canaan Valley State Park, Jan always said, “I would love to be out there on that water!”  This spring we discovered the access to that section of the river.  After much discussion we decided we would explore this section of the Blackwater River close to its headwaters in Canaan Valley State Park.  After a hearty breakfast we headed for our input point.

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Our Advanced Elements kayaks, before inflation (left) and fully ready (right).  (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

The kayaks we use are referred to as “foldable-inflatables”.  They suit our purposes perfectly.  They are extremely stable — I once tried to test the stability and was not able to (purposely) flip mine — I fell off/out numerous times, but the kayak remained upright.  The quality of materials and construction of our crafts is very impressive — they have proved very durable over the years.  Perhaps the best quality is that each one packs into a large suitcase-like container so inside our Prius we can easily fit two kayaks along with other kayaking gear, clothes, a large cooler and all the other things Jan travels with…all enclosed, safe and dry until we are ready to hit the water.

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Bill made sure the professional camera was in a dry-bag and off we went. (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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In the water and ready to explore.  (Left photo (c) Bill Beatty, right photo (c) Jan Runyan)

One thing we noticed and have noticed along many waterways is the abundance of Long-jawed Orb-weaving Spiders.  Although we often accidentally knock a spider from its web into the water, they are able to run across the water expertly and quickly to a nearby dry spot.

long-jawed orb weaver spider (Tetragnatha extensa) hiding on pla

Long-jawed Orb-weaving Spider (family Tetragnathidae)  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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Jan exploring some shallows and looking at the Meadowsweet Pipestem. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

 

We found lots of backwaters and little passageways to explore.

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Meadowsweet Piptestem (Spiraea alba) is one of the dominant shrubs in this area of the Blackwater River. (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

We immediately began seeing lots of evidence of beaver activity, both old and new.

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Sticks and branches piled up by beavers.  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

On one of the main back channels, we encountered a fairly high beaver dam.

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Left – Jan paddling in the main channel of the river.  Right – Jan encountered a beaver dam on one of the main back channels.  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

The photographer couldn’t resist the opportunity to see things from a different angle.  Precariously he stepped on dry hummocks and into the swampy water to find just the right spot.

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Bill made his way to the perfect photo spot above the beaver dam.  (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

With Bill as the photographer, the resulting picture usually captures the story very well.

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(Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

When we encounter a beaver dam sometimes we portage around it and sometimes we explore other channels.  We wondered how the water level above this dam could be so much higher than that in the main channel, so we decided to go back to the main channel and continue upstream to see what we might find.

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Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is another common plant along the Blackwater. (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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As Jan paddled and Bill took the picture, he noticed the Canaan Valley State Park ski slopes on the right and the beginning of the Dolly Sods Wilderness on the mountaintop to the left. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Spotted Jewelweed wasn’t as common as some other flowers we saw, but we did see it in many places.

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Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Deptford Pink is not a wetland plant, but we did find a beautiful stand flowering atop a large flat rock that had sometime ago fallen from a high ridge along the river.

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Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

As we paddled upstream against the gentle current we were constantly looking at and listening to what was around us.

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In the background is Canaan Mountain.  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Blue Vervain was in full bloom in many places along the Blackwater River.

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Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

We soon came upon two low beaver dams just a few yards apart.  Because of them, the water level in the main channel rose to match the level behind the large beaver dam we had seen earlier.  We used a fisherman’s trail to portage around the two dams.

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After the portage, Bill returned to his kayak.  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

We often stopped to check out the incredible variety of plants along (and in) the river.

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Bill examining a flower.  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Sneezeweed is another common plant along streams in West Virginia.  We saw many beautiful stands blooming while we were kayaking.

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Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Some parts of the river were very straight, but some were quite curving — future ox-bows in the making.

 

Video (c) Jan Runyan

Bill could keep his feet inside his kayak, but in warm weather he likes to keep cool by using his feet like outriggers in the water.

We carried one bottle of water and also drank water from the river using our Life Straw bottles which are able to filter the water well enough to make it safe for drinking.

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On the left Bill is filling a Life Straw bottle and on the right he is inserting the lid and filter into the bottle. (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

Although not considered a wetland plant, we did see Common Thistle in several locations where it appeared to be thriving.

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Common Thistle (Cirsium vulgare)  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Everything was beautiful about the day! (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Pondweed was found in many areas of the river.  Sometimes it was sparse, but one section was thick enough that we had to paddle over it.  Arrowhead could be seen with its beautiful flowers and fruits.

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Pondweed (Potamogeton sp.) on the left and Arrowhead (Sagittaria sp.) on the right. (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

As we paddled one large channel which was fairly far from the edges of the river/wetland, we realized that we had come full circle, back to the first beaver dam we had seen…but this time we were on the high side above the branches.

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Beaver dam from the high side. (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

As Jan explored a side channel near the dam, she discovered many small dams along the side of the channel in the bushes.  They help keep the water level high in a very large impoundment area.

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Small dams alongside a channel.  (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

We only saw Tall Coneflower once on our trip.  We do see more Coneflowers on the nearby land when we lead groups every year hiking the Blackwater River Trail that parallels part of this section of the river.

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Tall Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata)  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

There was always something new or interesting to see around every bend.

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Jan pointing at something she wanted Bill to see on the shoreline. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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White-tailed Deer watching from shore (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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Jan found another small beaver dam in one of the channels. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

In some places, the river channel ran very close to higher land.  It was amazing to see things we had seen before from the trail, now from a very different perspective.

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Effects of erosion and plant growth along the banks of the Blackwater River.  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Some of the patterned-ground rocks that we show people along the Blackwater River Trail had fallen into the water and almost look like man-made places to dock a kayak.

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Photo (c) Jan Runyan

All kinds of living things thrive in the moist areas surrounding the river.

The only fungus we saw was this one.  Until recently it was known as Collybia dryophila, now Gymnopus dryophilus.  It is a common mushroom often considered a ‘weed’ mushroom.

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Gymnopus dryophilus  (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

We only saw three Cowbane plants during our trip.  It is usually an uncommon or rare plant.

cowbane (Oxypolis rigidior)

Cowbane (Oxypolis rigidior)  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

When the main channel was blocked by yet another beaver dam, we found a way to continue our trip through a very narrow passageway.  We got through by pulling on clumps of grass and branches.

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Photos (c) Jan Runyan

All along the trip we enjoyed watching dragonflies and damselflies darting about, chasing their winged prey as we paddled.  Several even landed on our kayaks.

mating ebony jewelwing damselflies (Calopteryx maculata)

Ebony Jewelwing Damselflies (Calopteryx maculata) mating.   (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Finally we arrived at a newly-constructed beaver dam more than a foot high.  Many of the alder branches used to make it still had green leaves on them.  When Jan realized Bill was getting out of his kayak for a walk-about she decided to relax for a while.

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

We checked our watches and decided, rather than portage again, we would end our progress toward the headwaters here.

Anytime Bill was out of his kayak exploring he was quickly reminded that Arrowleaf Tearthumb (Persicaria sagittatta) (right photo) can wreak havoc on one’s toes, feet and bare legs.

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(Left photo (c) Jan Runyan, Arrowleaf Tearthumb (Persicaria sagittatta) right photo (c) Bill Beatty)

During our trip downstream we took more time to savor the beauty of the river and the day.

 

Video (c) Jan Runyan

For much of our downstream trip we could see the Dolly Sods Wilderness mountains in the background.

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Photo (c) Bill Beatty

When we arrived at the take-out, Jan declared that this had probably been the best kayaking trip she had ever experienced.

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A celebratory kiss for what Jan called, “The most fun kayak trip I’ve ever been on.” (Photo (c) Bill Beatty… a selfie)

We made short work of drying, deflating and folding the kayaks so they could be put into their travel bags.

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(Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Although we would have loved to spend longer on the river and we had enjoyed a wonderful, wildflowery trip, Siriani’s and friends were calling.  We had spent most of the day answering the call of the water, now we would answer the call of “O Mike Goss”!  (When you eat there you will understand.)