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)

North Bend State Park’s Winter Wonder Weekend… January 19-21, 2018

Special Fun for people who love Birds of Prey!!!

Join Jan and me for a fun-filled weekend of programs, hikes, activities and field trips.

North Bend State Park’s Winter Wonder Weekend is a wonderful tradition and a great way to have fun.  There are loads of indoor and outdoor activities for all ages to choose from.  The staff at North Bend always shows amazing creativity with decorations and activities related to their theme – I’m sure this year will be just as wonderful.  This year’s theme is the 1960’s:   Have a Blast from the Past.

Friday evening I will present the program, “The Sixties in West Virginia – A Blast from the Past“.

the sixties

My Sixties program will cover everything from “Zeke from Cabin Creek” (Jerry West) and wilderness in West Virginia to The Beatles (of course) – and so much more.  I bet you didn’t know……….

The presentation will be followed by an ice cream social by the fireplace and a performance by Stepping Stone Band…music to sing along with or even dance to.  The final Friday night activity will be a winter-night walk led by Jan and me.  We may even try to call in some owls and admire the brilliant constellations in that very dark area.

pho_ice_cream_sundae

Make your own sundae

 

owls

Left to right – Eastern Screech-owl, Barred Owl and Great Horned Owl (Eastern Screech-owl and Great Horned Owl photos (c) Bill Beatty – Barred Owl photo (c) Grant Hickey)

 

stepping stone band

Stepping Stone Band

This is a sample of the music from the Stepping Stone Band –   Jan and I always marvel at their talent.  “Our” music comes alive and we can’t help but dance.

During the day on Saturday, there are indoor and outdoor options in the park and at nearby locations…always something fun for  everyone.

Part of Saturday’s program will be presented by Wendy and Ron Perrone of the Three Rivers Avian Centerhttp://www.tracwv.org/

raptors

American Bald Eagle and Red-tailed Hawks, two of several raptors that will be part of the Three Rivers program.  (Photos courtesy of the Three Rivers Avian Center)

Programs on Sunday conclude the weekend.

This is something Jan and I always look forward to and would love to share with our friends.

Weekend description, prices and registration form: http://www.wvdnr.gov/Winter_Wonder_Brochure_2018.pdf

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

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.

Dolly Sods Wilderness fall scenic

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

signs

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.

thrushes

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.

veery

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.

scenic 2

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.

cape-may

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

palm warbler

Palm Warbler (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

black-and-white

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.

mourning

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.

chest-nut-sided

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.

hooded 1

Hooded Warbler (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

hooded 2

Hooded Warbler (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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

IMG_3805

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.

IMG_3837

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.

bog to bog 1

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)

bog to bog 2

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).

gentian

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.

plants 3

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

 

plants 1

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

plants 2

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.

beaver 1

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.

groups 1

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)

groups 2

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

groups 4

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.

groups 3

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

chip

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)

jan lauren

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

april jenny

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)

33 IMG_3910

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

Birds are not the only animals visiting the AFMO.

other animals

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.

hike 1

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

hike 2

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

hike3

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

hike 4

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

9 hike IMG_3968

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.

tick 1

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

tick 2

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

tick 3

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

Each and every morning the bird banding research continued.

banding 1

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.

BBWA BLBW

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

black-throated blues

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

OVEN AMRE

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

REVI PHVI1

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

REVI eyes

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)

SASP SWSP LISP

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.

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!

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

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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)

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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.

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

We found lots of backwaters and little passageways to explore.

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

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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)

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Jan drinking from her Life Straw. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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)

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Jan caught Bill photographing this Shrubby St. John’swort (Hypericum prolificum). (Left photo (c) Jan Runyan; right photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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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Three White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus), two does and a small buck, were curious enough to stop and watch as we floated by. (Photos (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.

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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.

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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)

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Photos (c) Jan Runyan

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

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Photo (c) Jan Runyan

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.)

A Grandkid Discovers the Nature of Dolly Sods

When each of our grandchildren reaches eight years old Jan and I take them on an eight day Dolly Sods Wilderness adventure.  This was Lila’s year.  Below are a few highlights.

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The only site open at the Red Creek Campground was No. 1 so we settled in for our stay.  Lila helped me install our solar panels so we could have power for charging camera batteries and using the computer for transferring photos. (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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The next day, after filling water bottles at the spring, we hiked Northland Loop Trail and looked closely at the insectivorous plants along the Alder Run Bog boardwalk.  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Left – Spatulate-leaved Sundew (not native, but showing up in several bogs in West Virginia); Right – West Virginia’s native Round-leaved Sundew.  Fortunately the habitat requirements are different enough to allow both of these insect-eating plants to thrive together in the same bogs. (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Round-leaved Sundew pad with trapped cranefly.  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Jan and I always start with easier hikes for the grandchildren when we take them on their Dolly Sods adventure.  After the Northland Loop trail and lunch we hiked part of the Allegheny Front Vista Trail.  This trail is full of scenic overlooks and interesting rock formations.

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All along the Dolly Sods road we saw spectacular wildflowers.

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Turks Cap Lily  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

On day two we did a more physical hike beginning at Bear Rocks and continuing out to Stack Rocks.

WV Nature Conservancy Bear Rocks Nature Preserve in the Dolly So

The Bear Rocks escarpment (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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Jan and Lila on Pancake Rock (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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Lila and Pap/Bill on the escarpment (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

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Continuing to Stack Rocks (in background)  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

The next day one of the trails we hiked was the Rohrbaugh Plains Trail.

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Lila and Jan ready for another hike (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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Hiking the Red Spruce/Rhododendron section of the Rohrbaugh, Lila found a snail and hummed it from its shell (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Because of the moist summer, there were many colorful mushrooms and other fungi along most of the trails we hiked during the week.

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Left to right – American Caesar and Chanterelle mushrooms (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Left to right – Crowded Parchment, Chicken of the Woods and Artist’s Conk (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Left to right – Fly Amanita and Bleeding Mycena mushrooms (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Left to right – Turkey Tail and Violet Toothed Polypore fungi (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Left to right – Orange Mycena and Yellow Fairy Cup fungi (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Besides our days on Dolly Sods we also took trips off the mountain to explore Canaan Valley and other nearby areas.  Canaan Loop Road offered a wide variety and abundance of wildflowers.

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Black-eyed Susans  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Bee Balm  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

On our last full day on Dolly Sods we hiked the Beatty Labyrinth.  We saw and heard many fascinating creatures.  Jan and I were surprised that we heard Hermit Thrushes (my favorite bird song) singing every day…every where.

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Hermit Thrush  (Photo (c) Laura Meyers)

Song of the Hermit Thrush –

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At the pond at the bottom of Blackbird Knob Trail we caught a Red-spotted Newt.  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Lila along Alder Run Bog Run and crossing the rock field on the Beatty Labyrinth.  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Sadly, this was our 4th and last grandchild trip to Dolly Sods.  Luckily, however, one of our grandkids has asked if he could return to the wilderness with us and do some more hiking.  We are already thinking about Dolly Sods with him next year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Swamp Sparrow  (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

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

 

 

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

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Yellow Warbler  (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Owls In the Family…Great Horned Owls

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

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

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

Great Horned Owl (c) Bill Beatty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he did take pictures…many pictures!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No,” I replied, “I’m fine now.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes I am.”

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

This seemed to cause a bit of a stir.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Dolly Sods sunrises (c) Bill Beatty and Jan Runyan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee releasing a Wood Thrush (c) Jan Runyan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wild Plant Cookbook

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

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

5.5 X 8.5 inches 175 pages

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

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

Autographed copies are available for $9.95 plus $3.00 shipping.  West Virginia residents add $.60 sales tax per book.  Not available outside the continental United States.  Mail check or money order to:  Bill Beatty, 540 Genteel Ridge Road, Wellsburg, WV  26070  Please make sure to include your shipping address.

Kayaking the Blackwater and Little Blackwater Rivers

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

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

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

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

Blue Monkshood (Aconitum uncinatum) (c) Jan Runyan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PF90017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan (c) Bill Beatty

Rainbows, Bluebirds and Buffleheads

MY NEW BOOK HAS JUST BEEN RELEASED!

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

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

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

Enjoy!

6X9 inches 312 pages

Autographed copies are available for $18.95 plus $3.50 shipping.  West Virginia residents add $1.13 sales tax per book.  Not available outside the continental United States.  Mail check or money order to:  Bill Beatty, 540 Genteel Ridge Road, Wellsburg, WV  26070  Please make sure you include your shipping address.

Bill Beatty

Bill Beatty

 

Bluebirds and Blue Birds are not Blue!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tick—ed Off: a tick—lish situation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hook and twist (c) Bill Beatty

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

(c) University of Rhode Island…TickEncounter Resource Center

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

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Make Your Photos Pop!

It’s fall here in the east and the deciduous forest is producing some spectacular color.  Now is the time to be out looking for photo opportunities and use those colors as backdrops for your photos.  Be patient, be creative and, above all, be outside.

Staghorn Sumac color and Jan at Canaan Valley State Park (c) Bill Beatty

Think big with scenic backgrounds… with your subject in the forefront.  Find the right angle to show the most and brightest colors possible.

Scarlet and Green Leafhopper on left and Seven-spotted Ladybug Beetle (c) Bill Beatty

Think small with your subject surrounded by the color of fall leaves.  One leaf is enough if your subject is small enough.  Sometimes I find myself at a spectacular Sugar Maple looking for the perfect leaf with a contrast of bright reds, pinks, oranges, yellows and greens on one leaf.  The Ladybug photo above will appear in the Sierra Club’s 2017 Engagement Calendar.

Green Frog and Eastern Garter Snake (c) Bill Beatty

The Garter Snake photo has appeared in many publications.  Without the fall-colored leaves as the background I would not have been able to sell the photo at all.

Skull-faced Jumping Spider (c) Bill Beatty

This Spider photo is one of my best selling photos…especially during October…for Halloween stories in kids books and magazines.  The skull appearance makes it appealing for Halloween, but the color filling the entire photo makes it attractive to almost any photo editor.

Get out there and take advantage of the leaf color only available for a short time during this season of the year.

Master Naturalist Program – Northern Panhandle Chapter

Master Naturalist Program

Area nature lovers, 16 years of age and older, can now be trained and certified as Master Naturalists. The new program was developed by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, and the Good Zoo at Oglebay has been chosen as a training site. The cooperative program, led by the WV Division of Natural Resources with assistance from Davis and Elkins College, Canaan Valley Institute and the WV Cooperative Extension Service, has selected the Good Zoo at Oglebay as a training site. Good Zoo educators will be teaching the classes, along with the Schrader Environmental Education Center staff, the West Virginia Department of Natural Resource’s biologists, and university experts.

Website: https://www.oglebay.com/activities/good-zoo/master-naturalist/

Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania

Blue-eyed Mary (c) Bill Beatty

The Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania (BSWP) is one of
the oldest botanical organizations in the country. Since 1886, our members have met, botanized, and served as a resource of knowledge on the flowers of Pennsylvania.

Our group is a mixture of both professional and amateur botanists. BSWP meets monthly, September through June, and features excellent speakers. Field trips are frequent.

Website: http://www.botsocwpa.org/

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Botanical-Society-of-Western-Pennsylvania/1563403187282044

Three Rivers Birding Club of Southwestern Pennsylvania

Virginia Rail (c) Bill Beatty

The Three Rivers Birding Club was formed in July of 2001. Today, there are over 220 members who appreciate birds and the natural world of Southwestern Pennsylvania. Our members are diverse: we have naturalists, teachers, plumbers, electricians,  chemists, laborers, students, retirees, doctors and others.

First and foremost, we have many outings to locations in Western Pennsylvania and beyond. We meet 6 times a year to see slide shows and hold workshops mainly about birds, bringing in the most outstanding speakers we can find.

And we socialize with each other a lot, at meetings and outings, because we are birders who like the company of other birders.

Website: http://www.3rbc.org/index.html

Face Book page: https://www.facebook.com/ThreeRiversBirdingClub?fref=ts

Mountaineer Audubon

Acadian Flycatcher at nest (c) Bill Beatty

Mountaineer Audubon is a local chapter of the National Audubon Society.  Our region encompasses Harrison, Marion, Monongalia, Preston, and Taylor Counties in North Central West Virginia and the southern portions of Greene and Fayette Counties in Pennsylvania. The Mountaineer Audubon chapter was founded in the early 1970s.

Our Mission:
To promote the enjoyment, conservation and understanding of birds, other wildlife, and their habitats through birding, education, and outreach.

Website: http://mountaineeraudubon.org/

Face book: https://www.facebook.com/mountaineeraudubon?fref=ts