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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

We found lots of backwaters and little passageways to explore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Video (c) Jan Runyan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo (c) Jan Runyan

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

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

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Gymnopus dryophilus  (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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

cowbane (Oxypolis rigidior)

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

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

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Photos (c) Jan Runyan

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

mating ebony jewelwing damselflies (Calopteryx maculata)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Video (c) Jan Runyan

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

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Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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

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

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

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(Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

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

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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Photos (c) Bill Beatty

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Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

 

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.

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The Bear Rocks escarpment (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

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

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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 flowers (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.

hemit thrush 2 Laura Meyers

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.

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.

 

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.

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

Ralph K Bell Bird Club

Ralph Bell banding at the AFMO (c) Bill Beatty

The bird banding station on Dolly Sods is officially known as the Allegheny Front Migration Observatory (AFMO).  On October 10, 2004, Ralph banded the 200,000th bird, a male black-throated blue warbler.  Ralph founded the AFMO in 1958 and over 250,000 birds have been banded there.

The Ralph Bell Birding Extravaganza (c) Bill Beatty

The Ralph K. Bell Bird Club is located in Greene County, PA, southwest of Pittsburgh.

Contact rkbbirdclub@yahoo.com for additional information.

Westmoreland Bird and Nature Club

Gray Catbird feeding baby and Red Spruce seedling (c) Bill Beatty

The Westmoreland Bird & Nature Club (formerly Westmoreland County Bird Club) was formed on Feb 26, 1981 to promote interest in birds and conservation and to provide field trips in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.  Thirty or more field trips are scheduled every year and these are not entirely limited to birds. When the birds do not cooperate we concentrate on botany, herps (reptiles & amphibians) and insects.

Website: http://westmorelandbirdandnatureclub.weebly.com/#about

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1535503720023324/

The Brooks Bird Club

The Headquarters is in Wheeling, WV with other chapters in different parts of WV.

bbc_logo2

The Brooks Bird Club, Inc. is an independent, educational, non-profit organization which promotes the study and enjoyment of birds and other elements of the natural world.  Its purpose is to inform members and the public of environmental issues, to encourage intelligent use of our natural resources and preservation of our natural heritage.  The club undertakes studies which have scientific value, including population and breeding bird surveys.

Website: http://www.brooksbirdclub.org/

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BBCWV/

Summer Wildflowers of the Dolly Sods Wilderness

When each of our grandkids reaches eight years old, Jan and I take them on an eight-day camping trip to the Dolly Sods Wilderness.  This was Brady’s year.

Jan and Brady at the beginning of the Allegheny Front Vista Trail. (c) Bill Beatty

On one all-day hike with Jan and Brady I found a wildflower I wanted to photograph.  After we were done hiking I decided to go back to the flower and shoot some pictures.   Brady wanted to go with me so we hiked there together.  It takes me a long time to set up photos…determining the lens, photo angles, lighting and camera settings.  Brady’s questions while he watched patiently showed the beginning of an interest in photography and wildflowers.  Following are a few of the wildflowers we found and I photographed.  It was great fun.

                   

(left) Dewdrops/False Violet (c) Bill Beatty …Northland Loop Trail and (right) Indian Pipes (c) Bill Beatty …High Mountain Meadow Trail.  We spotted Indian Pipes in many places on many trails.

                         

Turk’s Cap Lily (c) Bill Beatty …along the Dolly Sods road…Forest Service Road 75

                     

Common Milkweed (c) Bill Beatty …along the Dolly Sods road in many places.  As soon as the flowers opened, the bees arrived.  Some flower heads were bent over by the weight of the bees.  There were lots of different butterflies around the Milkweed, including our FOY Monarch.

            

(left) Oceanorus (c) Bill Beatty … was abundant in several places and (right) Narrow-leaved Gentian (c) Bill Beatty …both at Alder Run Bog

                            

(left) Thimble Weed (c) Bill Beatty …and (right) Fireweed (c) Bill Beatty …along the Dolly Sods road…Forest Service Road 75

                      

(left) Wood Lily (c) Bill Beatty …Bear Rocks and (right) Small Green Wood Orchid (c) Bill Beatty …(found in several places)…South Prong Trail

         

(left) I was surprised to find Wild Bleeding Heart (c) Bill Beatty …still in bloom along the Big Oaks Trail.  (right) Bee Balm (c) Bill Beatty …Dolly Sods Picnic Ground.

         

One day we went off the Dolly Sods plateau and hiked the Blackwater River Trail in Canaan Valley State Park.  (left) Blue Vervain (c) Bill Beatty …and (right) Swamp Milkweed (c) Bill Beatty.

We hear a lot about “Spring Wildflowers”….on Dolly Sods.  This July every trail was profuse with colorful, delightful Summer wildflowers.

The Field Trip that….SUCKED!

Jan and I had just returned from leading an all day Master Naturalist Conference trip to Big Run Bog in Tucker County.  25 intrepid people had accompanied us to explore this botanical treasure trove.  From the front porch of the Graceland Inn on the Davis and Elkins College campus a woman called my name, “BILL, BILL!” she yelled.  “I just wanted to tell you…your field trip sucked!”  Two women standing nearby looked at her in shock.  I think they were even more surprised to hear me laugh and respond with, “It sure did!”

For all but two people in the group this was their first trip to the bog and so most weren’t sure what it would be like.  In the tour description I had mentioned to expect getting their feet wet and to wear “proper footgear”.  That phrase brought a whole variety of “shoes” from sandals to water shoes to hiking boots.  Some people wore calf-high or knee-high rubber “muck” boots that easily slip on and off…a good choice for normal muddy conditions.

IMG_6030

Entering Big Run Bog a.k.a. Olsen Bog (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

And so it began.  People not used to choosing the bog vegetation best suited to support them often found that they had misjudged the firmness of “terra firma”.  And the longer a person stood in one spot, the more often a foot would end up slipping through the sphagnum moss mat down into the mud.  Many times someone would find their foot stuck in the muck.  Pushing with the above-ground boot for leverage often ended up pushing that foot deep into the muck, too, and then both feet were stuck.  With footgear tightly tied or strapped on, it was easier to get unstuck by working the foot and lifting with the whole leg slowly.  The people wearing slip-on boots had it much harder, however.  Understandably, they did not want to just lift their foot, leaving the boot still firmly trapped in the mud.  But keeping the boot on while doing all the other movements needed to extricate the booted foot was nearly impossible.  After trying numerous ways, sometimes almost to the point of exhaustion, and often with the help of one or two other people, the foot or feet were freed at last.  Finally, we decided the easiest way to free trapped “muck boot” people was simply to have them slide their foot out of the boot and then let someone else pull the boot from the muck.  As the helper pulled firmly on a boot, it slid from the bog with a long slurping, sucking sound.  Hence, “Your field trip SUCKED!”  Yes, it did…..frequently!

IMG_6039

(Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

   Left — Discussing the bog and the strange, unusual plant communities.                               Right — Cinnamon Ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) (c) Bill Beatty

          PF04013 16-16                                    PM02004 1-12

Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia purpurea) (c) Bill Beatty …were everywhere and some of the leaves had many floating insects.

           

Insectivorous Round-leaved Sundews (Drosera rotundifolia) (c) Bill Beatty …numbered in the thousands and were sometimes found dining on trapped insects.

                               

Many of the Beard-flower Orchids (Pogonia ophioglossoides) (c) Bill Beatty …were in full bloom.

      IMG_6049    floating pondweed (Potamogeton epihydrus)

At the beaver dam parts of the pond (c) Jan Runyan … were full of flowering Floating Pondweed (Potamogeton epihydrus) (c) Bill Beatty.

After lunch I took our explorers (in smaller groups) into a part of the bog where few people have ever been.  Here is where some of the rarest plants in West Virginia can be seen and photographed.

              IMG_6058                    IMG_6064

I knelt in the bog as a border not to cross because there were so many rare plants (c) Jan Runyan.  Just beyond me were several large patches of Buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata).  Then I pointed out several Golden Club (Orontium aquaticum) plants in flower (c) Bill Beatty .

                                                  

Dozens of Grass Pink Orchids (Calopogon pulchellus) (c) Bill Beatty …were mixed in with the Buckbean, Golden Club and Kidneyleaf Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia asarifolia).

                                                  

Along the wooded edges of the bog were Small Green Wood Orchids (Platanthera clavellata) (c) Bill Beatty …and on the trail to the road were small stands of American Yew (Taxus canadensis) (c) Bill Beatty.

All that evening and the next day people came to Jan and me to tell us how much fun they had at the bog and how seeing all the rare plants was such a delight.  The challenges of the stuck feet soon became a fun memory to laugh about…as we did the rest of the weekend.

Banding a Dinosaur

“If I tell you to…run as fast as you can out to the net and hold the net around the bird until I get there!!  Well, first I’d better give you some background:  On May 5 we decided to end our “winter” mist net bird banding season.  The next morning we left for the WV Wildflower Pilgrimage at Blackwater Falls State Park, followed immediately by a birding trip to Magee Marsh along Lake Erie near Oak Harbor, OH and then on to the Ralph Bell Birding Extravaganza near Waynesburg, PA.  Between Pilgrimage and Magee Marsh, I banded five baby Eastern Bluebirds from one of the nest boxes on our property.  After these trips Jan and I had two and a half weeks off before our next major trip.  While we gardened and did other outdoor jobs, we watched about a dozen House Finches visit the last sunflower seeds remaining in some of our feeders.  For the past five years we have been studying the House Finches’ homing skills by banding and relocating birds to different locations and distances from our home.  I decided to put up a mist net to catch as many of the House Finches as I could.  Ten were trapped, banded and added to the study.  The next day I left the net up thinking, “I’ll be working nearby and can check the net regularly.  By day’s end the seeds will be eaten and, who knows, perhaps we’ll catch something interesting.”  With most of the House Finches gone, it was a slow banding day.  But just after lunch I looked out back towards the net and said to Jan, “If I tell you to…run as fast as you can out to the net and hold the net around the bird until I get there!!”  Out the back door I ran screaming like a banshee toward the bird on the other side of the fence.  The Pileated Woodpecker feeding on a nearby stump flew right into the net and was caught.

Pileated Woodpecker on the stump between the house and a mist net. (c) Jan Runyan

SIDEBAR:  The reason Jan had to run to the net was because she was dressed and ready to go; I, on the other hand, was in my underwear and bare feet.  Taking a bird like this out of a mist net can take a while and cause quite a commotion.  Even though our neighbors aren’t all that close, in the past a screaming woodpecker has brought a neighbor to the net to see what we were doing.  Net-tending in my skivvies probably wouldn’t make for good neighbor relations.  

Jan was fast and was able to gather the net around the large bird until I could arrive (dressed) and help extricate him.

(c) Jan Runyan

Bill with Pileated Woodpecker

That Velociraptor look (c) Bill Beatty

Jan’s feathered dinosaur (c) Bill Beatty

This was only the second Pileated Woodpecker I have ever banded and it was Jan’s first.  It took both of us to control the bird for the banding process and photos afterwards.  As we marveled at the bird Jan said, “Doesn’t it just remind you of a tiny dinosaur?”  The Pileated has a remarkably long neck compared to all our other woodpeckers.  The regal head and crest, constantly moving lengthy neck, long-clawed legs and piercing stare reminded me of a miniature, colorful Velociraptor of Jurassic Park fame.  Unlike the first one I had caught and banded which produced a constant series of sharp calls and screams, this bird was very quiet.  The ear protectors I had brought as I hurried to the net were soon removed.  Jan and I were in awe of this creature; studying every detail and taking many photos.  The only photo I didn’t take was a shot of its extended tongue.  Because of the Pileated’s persistently moving, long, powerful neck and head I thought it might injure the bird if I attempted to pull the tongue out to full length.

The Pileated’s long, stiff tail feathers (c) Bill Beatty

The Pileated’s long, sharp claws (c) Bill Beatty

Photos accomplished, it was time to release the “tiny dinosaur”.  Jan coached me on how to use the video feature of her camera to record the occasion, then she opened her hands. Our new friend flew high on the trunk of the nearest Black Locust tree.  The last we saw him, he was hopping his way around to the back side of the trunk.

Later that day, from the mature woodlands behind our house, we could hear the familiar “jungle” bird call of the male Pileated we banded.  Click for the call…

http://www.audubon.org/sites/default/files/PILWOO_2.shortcalls_GAle_1.mp3?uuid=55637eac9a144