Just Us – Hiking on Dolly Sods

Many of my hikes on Dolly Sods are leading groups and teaching about the Nature of the Sods. Other times I hike with one or two friends to special, rarely-visited habitats. And sometimes I am alone exploring new areas or looking for rare plants and birds. However, this year Jan and I found ourselves with an unusual circumstance — we were alone for a day — just us. Jan said, “I haven’t been to the Rohrbaugh Plains overlook for a long time. I’d like to go there again.” That’s all I needed to hear.

We packed our backpacks and headed for the Rohrbaugh Plains trailhead.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

The first part of the trail is a moderately rocky, uphill hike through a deciduous forest consisting primarily of American Beech trees.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

We soon noticed a familiar Red Spruce tree with a dead branch that had set the stage for a photo I took of our granddaughter, Haley. In 2011 we spent 8 days on Dolly Sods with her for her eighth birthday. She was a great photographer’s model. I decided to see what that was like.

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

At the top of the hill, the habitat changes dramatically, from a deciduous American Beech woods to a verdant evergreen woods consisting mainly of Red Spruce trees with an under-story of Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel.

Left and center photos (c) Jan Runyan; Right photo (c) Bill Beatty

One of Jan’s favorite photo subjects is root and branch tangles.

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

All along the trail we found interesting mushrooms.

False Turkey-tail Mushroom (Stereum ostrea) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Red Brittlegill Mushroom (Russula sp.) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Red-gilled Polypore Mushroom (Gloeophyllum sepiarium) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Beside the trail the trees and shrubs were so thick in some places that it was difficult to explore, but easy to hide.

“I see you!” (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Because we are often exploring in nature, teaching about the things we observe and showing the wonders of creation, Jan and I sometimes discover secret things — like this recently-used thrush’s nest.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

At first I thought it was a Hermit Thrush nest, but when I looked more closely and saw how much moss was incorporated in it, I decided it was probably the nest of a Swainson’s Thrush. That was an exciting find!

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

The Hermit Thrush is a common nesting bird in the Dolly Sods Wilderness, however, Swainson’s Thrushes are uncommon. While leading spring hikes on Rohrbaugh Plains Trail I have heard many Hermits singing their beautiful song — my favorite. But I have only heard the Swainson’s twice along this trail. Birdsong in the spring is one indicator that the males are staking out territories for nesting. So hearing a Swainson’s at that time of year, when most of those thrushes are much farther north, is a good sign that some stayed to nest on the mountaintop.

Hermit Thrush song —

Swainson’s Thrush song —

The familiar leaf wheels of the Whorled Wood Aster (Oclemena acuminata) were growing in many locations.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

There weren’t many plants flowering along the trail, but there were a few like this Crooked-stem Aster (Symphyotrichum prenanthoides).

Crooked-stem Aster (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Most people who look at an aster in flower don’t notice that there are, in reality, very many tiny flowers which together look like one flower. Look closely at the aster photo below, and you can see that there are many little flowers growing in the central disk, each flower producing just one seed. Each “disk flower” has 5 tiny petals fused together, plus 5 stamens fused around a pistil with antennae-like stigmas.

Crooked-stem Aster (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Identifying an aster to species is difficult for most people, since they psyche themselves out because there are so many similar species. However, if one looks at the color of the rays of the flowers, the size and shape of the leaves and the way the leaves attach to the stem, then the identification is not so difficult. In the two photos below notice the leaf tapering gradually at the end to a point and, on the stem side, abruptly narrowing as the leaf clasps the stem. These leaf characteristics and the violet rays of the flowers together make the Crooked-stem Aster identification easy.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Photo (c) Jan Runyan

The trail crossed several small streams and the only sounds we could hear were made by the water meandering through the rocks.

Video (c) Jan Runyan

We decided to photograph each other at this happy spot.

Top photo (c) Bill Beatty; Bottom photo (c) Jan Runyan

Clubmosses seemed to be everywhere.

Running Clubmoss (Lycopodium clavatum) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Shining Clubmoss (Huperzia lucidula) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Tree Clubmoss (Dendrolycopodium dendroideum) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Ground Pine Clubmoss (Diphasiastrum digitatum) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Jan noticed the berry clusters of Canada Mayflowers (Maianthemum canadense). During the spring when I lead hikes on the Rohrbaugh Plains Trail, these plants are in full flower.

Canada Mayflower berries (Photo (c) Jan Runyan), Canada Mayflower with flowers (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

We had quite a journey to our destination, the Rohrbaugh Plains Overlook. It was time to relax, eat lunch and enjoy the incredible views.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty
Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Photo (c) Jan Runyan

In 2005 I led a group from Oglebay Institute’s Mountain Nature Camp (a nature studies camp for adults) to the overlook and took a photo in the same area. Jan was in that group.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

After food, rest and wonderful photo ops at the Rohrbaugh Plains overlook, we returned on the same trail we had traveled earlier. It was interesting to see some of the same things from a different angle as we retraced our steps.

And speaking of steps, as usual on this trail, we hadn’t really noticed how dramatically the trail descends from the Red Spruce hilltop. We had heard someone call this section of trail the “Rohrbaugh Staircase”. The return trip was more challenging through the “Staircase”, but it still took us less time than our outward journey — I think we did less exploring as we were homeward bound.

Jan and I had a great time hiking together, taking photos, identifying plants and making nature discoveries. But, what I think was most special to both of us was being alone in the Dolly Sods Wilderness — the solitude of just us.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

A Different Dolly Sods Adventure — 2020-style

Each year Jan and I usually spend 2 weeks in September volunteering at the Allegheny Front Migration Observatory (AFMO) on the eastern edge of the Allegheny Plateau in the mountains of West Virginia. We go to bed with the sunset — usually about 8 pm, and rise each morning at 5 am to open the mist nets in the dark for morning bird banding. This year was different due to COVID. AFMO didn’t open. But we decided we would still go to the Dolly Sods Wilderness in September. This year, instead of “early to bed and early to rise”, we sat around the campfire until 10 pm and got up the next morning whenever we wanted to. We had no schedule. Best of all, close friends were camped at sites on either side of us.

For extended visits to the Dolly Sods Wilderness area, we camp at the Red Creek Campground, a primitive campground in the Monongahela National Forest.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

I started the first morning by taking some photos.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

My first photo was of a White Flat-topped Aster (Doellingeria umbellata). It is, by far, the most common aster in the Dolly Sods Wilderness.

White Flat-topped Aster (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Just across the road was a goldenrod. Some of the goldenrods are hard to know by sight and I had to key this one. It keyed out to be Elm-leaved Goldenrod (Solidago ulmifolia).

Elm-leaved Goldenrod (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Several butterflies caught my attention. Just across the camp road was a Flowering Dogwood, the only dogwood I saw during our time on Dolly Sods. And drying out on the fall-colored leaves was a Monarch Butterfly.

Monarch Butterfly (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

A Question Mark Butterfly couldn’t resist enjoying a nearby partially-eaten pear.

Question Mark Butterfly (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

We noticed Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies on several occasions.

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

After more than an hour of shooting photos, Jan and I sat down to a nice picnic lunch, and, a short time later, our last homegrown watermelon.

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

I hiked every day. Sometimes Jan hiked with me and sometimes she followed her own trail. One day, after talking with two campers also staying in the campground, I invited them to join Jan, Lee and me to hike on the Allegheny Front Vista Trail.

Jan, Lee, Dunn and Jeff on “The Rock”. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Cottongrass/Cottonsedge (Eriophorum angustifolium) in the Alder Run Bog. (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)
Lunch at the Red Pine Plantation at the end of the High Mountain Meadow Trail. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

It was fun to share with new friends some new sights they had never seen on Dolly Sods.

Checking out the 1953 Mercury (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

For several evenings Jan and I set out a mist net and audio lure to attract locally-breeding Northern Saw-whet Owls as part of Project Owl-Net. On most evenings, while the audio lure beeped out the sound of a Northern Saw-whet Owl, we sat around the campfire sharing stories with various friends.

One night we did catch a NSWO. She was a young, local bird, very well-behaved in spite of her razor-sharp talons.

NSWO and the campfire (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

NSWOs are aged by using a UV light to check the porphyrins present on the underside of the wing feathers. New feathers have lots of the chemical, which shows up as bright pink under the ultra-violet light. Since all her feathers show the pink, they are all newly grown this year. That only happens the year a bird is born.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

To determine that this bird was a female we had to take 2 measurements. After measuring her longest flight feather in the wing (wing chord) and weighing her, we took those measurements to the chart developed by past NSWO banders. Based on their experience, a bird with her measurements would be a female.

Video (c) Jan Runyan

It is always fun to see what a NSWO will do when it is released. Some fly away immediately and are silently out of sight in seconds. Others don’t mind hanging around for a while.

Video by Jan Runyan

One morning Jan and I explored an open area near the campground. We found some interesting things. Golden Ragwort is a distinctive-looking plant, but at this time of year, only the leaves were present after having bloomed earlier in the spring.

Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Initially we were unsure of this leaf rosette. Then we noticed the same basal leaves on a plant that was blooming profusely nearby.

Black Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

A large female Garden Spider was in her orb web as if she were guardian of the meadow we were exploring.

Garden Spider (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Rock Polypody Ferns (Polypodium virginianum) covered many rocks in shaded areas.

Rock Polypody Ferns (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Lots of Many-flowered Gentians (Gentianella quinquefolia) were in full bloom and could be found in several open areas near Forest Service Road 75, but we didn’t see any in the backcountry.

Many-flowered Gentian (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Shrubby St. John’s-wort (Hypericum prolificum) with their seed capsules appeared to be almost everywhere we went.

Shrubby St. John’s-wort (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Indian Cucumber-root (Medeola virginiana), which had already flowered, was easy to notice due to its whorled leaves. Most often the plants have one or two levels of whorled leaves, but this one had four!

Indian Cucumber-root (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

On Dolly Sods our camping meals vary from very simple with no cooking, to gourmet, expertly cooked by friends Jeff and Shelia.

One-pan suppers make for the easiest clean-up, which I appreciate since that’s my job. One night Jan cooked salmon steaks with fried potatoes and onions. W.V. peaches Jan had frozen days before completed the feast.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Supper at Jeff and Shelia’s campsite started with fried manchego cheese wrapped in fresh sage leaves (from Jan’s herb garden) as an appetizer.

Sage-wrapped cheese ready to cook (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The main course was sliced rib-eye steak and varieties of Hericium mushrooms, expertly prepared.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

And for dessert we had a special treat: fresh-picked apples and cranberries, both from Dolly Sods, in an apple/cranberry galette. Everything was ABSOLUTELY delicious!

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

We were happy, well-fed Dolly Sods campers!

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Captain Morgan, a.k.a. Lee Miller, is my frequent hiking companion on Dolly Sods.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Our hikes are often shorter in miles than we plan, and longer in time than we expect, because we are always stopping to investigate, like here where we are examining a fungus on a dead, fallen Red Spruce.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Lee and I found quite a few interesting fungi, including a highly prized, medicinal Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) mushroom growing on a Yellow Birch Tree.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Among the many kinds of fungus we discovered were the deadly Destroying Angel Mushroom (Amanita bisporigera) and

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

the Gelatinous Stalked-puffball (Calostoma cinnabarinum).

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Each September, when Jan and I are on Dolly Sods working at the AFMO, I invite a small group to accompany me on a 5-mile hike on a trail that does not appear on any Dolly Sods trail maps. This year there were 8 of us, including Dahle, the dog.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

In many Dolly Sods rock fields, berry-loaded American Mountainash Trees (Sorbus americana) were obvious.

Mountainash Tree (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The “bent” tree is a trail indicator we sometimes use to lead us to our lunch site and is a good place to search for snakes.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Lunch time was at the edge of at the Red Pine Plantation and the High Mountain Meadow.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Although we didn’t see any Black Bears on Dolly Sods this year, we did find several fresh bear scats – always full of Wild Black Cherry seeds.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

The midway point of the Bog to Bog Loop Trail is at Fisher Spring Run Bog, probably Dolly Sods’ largest wetland.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty
Video by Jan Runyan

Bog Goldenrod (Solidago uliginosa) is probably the most common goldenrod on Dolly Sods. It is often the only goldenrod found in bogs and other wetlands, but is also common in dry habitats.

Bog Goldenrod (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Crossing Fisher Spring Run Bog can provide some difficult hiking depending on how wet it is. This fall the bog was drier than usual and crossing was less difficult. Still, it took quite a while due to how large it is.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Is Lee: 1) praying we find our way out of the vast wilderness, 2) looking for a contact lens, 3) trying to suck water from moss, or 4) trying to identify some animal by tasting its scat?

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

And the answer is…

Video by Jan Runyan

The next day was cold (27 degrees) in the morning, but warmed rapidly. Jan found a warm, comfortable spot to sit and repair her hiking pants.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

I decided to go hiking.

Photo (c) Lee Miller

On a hike with Lee, I discovered that what I had been previously identifying as “Winterberry” (Ilex verticillata) was actually “Mountain Holly” a.k.a. “Mountain Winterberry” (Ilex montana) … those @^#*! common names can get confusing! Just so I could keep these two deciduous hollies straight in my mind, I collected berries from both, squeezed out the nutlets and photographed them. The “Mountain Holly”/”Mountain Winterberry” has ridges on the nutlets while the “Winterberry” nutlets are smooth.

Mountain Holly/Mountain Winterberry (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
Winterberry (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

On clear nights the Milky Way was incredible. Dolly Sods is one of the darkest places east of the Mississippi River. One camper we met explained that it is the standard of darkness for the eastern U.S. — the goal for the rest of the areas to attain. We were lucky to be there while the moon was “new” and the sky was at its most dark.

For more information about dark skies and the best star gazing places in West Virginia visit: https://wvexplorer.com/2018/01/21/pre-industrial-nights-sky-over-wv/

It was amazing how many friends we encountered during our stay. The wild, mountainous plateau is like a magnet for others who also appreciate its beauty and nature.

How time flies on Dolly Sods. Our 10 days were over much too soon. On our way home we stopped in Davis, WV, to get a Sirianni’s pizza.

While I ordered the pizza, Jan shopped at “Wild Ginger and Spice”. I wandered around Davis for a short time while waiting for the food.

Roofs of houses on one of the back streets in Davis, WV. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Leaving Dolly Sods is always bittersweet for Jan and me. It is sad to say goodby to close friends and the beautiful mountain plateau we’ve grown to love and respect. But we are also glad to get home to our own special “Almost Heaven” place in West Virginia.

Northern Saw-whet Owl (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Saga of the Green Herons

— by Jan Runyan

We have wonderful neighbors.  They watch out for us in many ways.  Just a couple of weeks ago, Joanie called to let us know that her daughter, Nicole, who lives nearby, had discovered some big birds building a nest in a tree at the back of her yard.  They weren’t sure, but had an idea what kind of birds they were.  If we were interested we could go see them any time.  So we grabbed binoculars, a scope and our cameras.   

The Photographer (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Standing in the hot sun on Nicole’s deck, we watched one bird bring in sticks from time to time and give them to the bird who stayed by the developing nest.  The “home-body” added the sticks to what looked, to us, like just a loose pile on a tree branch. 

Green Herons building a nest (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Our friends’ search in bird books was accurate…here, high in a tree, on some of the highest land in Brooke County, not near any water or wetlands, were Green Herons making a place to raise a family.

We guessed that it was the female who stayed at the nest while the male flew off and then returned with a stick. 

photo (c) Jan Runyan

He would land nearby in the tree and walk the branches to the nest.  There he gave the stick to the female.  She would place the stick in a specific location and then fuss with it while her mate watched. 

photo (c) Jan Runyan

When they both seemed satisfied, he would walk away and then fly off in search of another stick. 

While the male was gone, the female rested by the growing nest or fussed with some of the nest sticks, improving the construction.

photo (c) Jan Runyan

This continued the whole time we were there. 

photo (c) Jan Runyan

By the time we left, the nest still looked to us like just a random pile of twigs, but the birds appeared to be satisfied with what they were doing. 

photo (c) Jan Runyan

Days later, we got a report that a bird was sitting on the nest.  Later we were told that Nicole had seen five heads peeking out of the nest.  One of the heads seemed to be much younger than the others. 

Then, after a windy storm, we got a report that the nest had fallen to a much lower place in some large bushes, but the five babies were still in the disheveled, broken nest.   

We went to Nicole’s to see the broken nest with nestlings.  From the deck, we looked about eye level at the top of a bush in the back of the yard.  A small pile of sticks was all that was left of the nest. 

Remains of fallen nest in the top of a bush (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

After many minutes of watching with binoculars, we decided that there were no nestlings in it.  We searched the bush and the ground around it for signs of movement.  Nothing.  We were discouraged, but kept looking.  Finally, we saw movement high in the branches of the trees, much higher than the broken nest.   Looking carefully, we finally identified the movement as the fuzzy butts of Green Heron nestlings. 

Yellow legs of Green Herons among tree branches (photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Downy rear-ends and partially grown feathers on the wings (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

On their wings, a few adult feathers were starting to show, but they still had a lot of down. 

Green Heron newly off the nest (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Luckily, Bill discovered that we could get a better view from down below in the yard – wonderfully shaded from the heat of the sun.  I set up the tripod for my camera.   

photo (c) Jan Runyan

The young herons were well camouflaged, but occasional movement helped us see where they were. 

photo (c) Jan Runyan
photo (c) Jan Runyan

Soon we saw two adult Green Herons fly in, but they stayed on the far side of the tree, nowhere near the two fuzzy butts we were watching.  After a few minutes they left without coming anywhere near our two babies.  It was puzzling that “our” babies hadn’t been fed.  Nicole had said that the adults were feeding the nestlings about every 45 minutes, so we were determined to wait and see them again.   

We watched the young birds as they stretched, preened and mostly rested. 

video (c) Jan Runyan

From time to time they would move to a slightly different place and I would have to move the camera to keep them in sight. 

video (c) Jan Runyan

Usually they were close to each other, but sometimes they moved apart.   

video (c) Jan Runyan

It was funny to watch their long yellow toes which support them so well in the muddy water’s edge now wrapped almost all the way around a branch and flexing to help them keep their balance.  

photo (c) Jan Runyan

It seemed that, on those smaller branches, babies that size would slip and fall hopelessly to the ground where some predator would find them. 

video (c) Jan Runyan

Amazingly, they were able to perch on and traverse the branches, although clumsily, without too much difficulty. 

video (c) Jan Runyan

Occasionally the pair would touch each other’s bill, almost as if they were trying to get food as they would from an adult.  

video (c) Jan Runyan

When they preened, sometimes I could see small pieces of feather sheath falling as a bird bit the sheath to free the newly forming feathers. 

video (c) Jan Runyan

45 minutes…  From time to time I would get a new angle and more photos or some videos, but no adult Green Herons with food for the young.

photo (c) Jan Runyan

1 hour…  Bill and I began occasional stretching (birders yoga) similar to the birds we were watching. 

video (c) Jan Runyan

1 ½ hours…  We met a neighbor who also likes to watch birds. 

photo (c) Jan Runyan

When another neighbor came by with a loud lawnmower, the birds paid attention for a while, but then one yawned. As he yawned, I learned more about how adult birds can give their babies the food they’re carrying. (Watch carefully at the 17 second mark.)

video (c) Jan Runyan

Finally, when we had been watching for about 2 hours since the adults had last come in, Bill spotted an adult Green Heron fly in – and then another.

Adult Green Heron (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

 The demeanor of the young ones changed dramatically.  They started almost running up and down the branches, flapping their wings and opening their mouths. 

video (c) Jan Runyan

We couldn’t hear much, but it was clear that they were actively begging for food.   

video (c) Jan Runyan

Twice we saw a rusty-colored adult come to our side of the tree and feed the young we had been watching.  The feeding was rapid and somewhat violent. It almost looked as if the adult and young were fighting.

video (c) Jan Runyan
video (c) Jan Runyan

Even after the adults left, the young herons were agitated and begged for a while.  Then they calmed down and went back to resting. 

video (c) Jan Runyan

After things calmed down, we decided not to wait for the next feeding session – standing for three hours of heron watching was enough in one day for us.  It was then that we glimpsed two more Green Heron young way in the back of the tree.   One of those was noticeably smaller than the other.  We figured that those 2 (or maybe 3 were back there since there had originally been 5 nestlings) had been fed earlier, the first time the adults had come in on the far side of the tree.  That was why we had not seen any adults near “our” two birds then. 

photo (c) Jan Runyan

It was great to verify that at least 4 herons, including the youngest baby, had survived the fall from the original branch and were growing stronger as they exercised, rested and were fed.  

photo (c) Jan Runyan

We are so grateful to have neighbors who made the effort to share with us the wonders of new bird life!  

photo (c) Jan Runyan

Natural History of Plants and Birds Weekend – July 31-August 2, 2020 at Blackwater Falls State Park

Come to the WV Mountains to enjoy a summer weekend learning about plants, birds and other natural treasures of the Blackwater Falls, Canaan Valley and Dolly Sods Wilderness area!

Friday, July 31

  • 1:30 p.m. Registration and welcome at Blackwater Falls Lodge Lobby
  • 3 p.m.  The Making of Dolly Sods. Presentation by Jan Runyan.
  • 7 p.m. “West Virginia Plants that Changed the World.”  Bill Beatty. We will learn about five common but amazing plants that shaped the history of the world.  Three are native to West Virginia and two are introductions from Europe, but have been in West Virginia for hundreds of years.  You have seen them all, but never knew….

Saturday, August 1

Allegheny Front Migration Observatory overlook (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
Common Milkweed (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
  • 8 a.m. Dolly Sods Trip. This trip will include numerous stops to experience the plants, birds, and beauty of the Dolly Sods Wilderness and Scenic areas.  Scheduled stops include:  Rohrbaugh Plains Trail/Dolly Sods Picnic Area, Northland Loop Trail, Allegheny Front Migration Observatory overlook, Bear Rocks Nature Preserve and serendipitous stops to examine specific wildflowers, trees, and non-flowering plants and fungi.  Enjoy unusual Canada-type nature on the highest plateau east of the Mississippi River.
Top – Round-leaved Sundew; Bottom – Spatulate-leaved Sundew along Northland Loop trail (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
  • 7 p.m. Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia. The Avian Conservation Center for Appalachia’s mission is to conserve our region’s wild birds through research, education, and rehabilitation. This interactive presentation, featuring several live, non-releasable birds, will discuss the important role birds play in healthy ecosystems as well as the natural histories of the educational birds. Bring your cameras and questions! Program is at Blackwater Falls Lodge. Open to the public. Please wear a face mask when attending indoor programs.

Sunday, August 2

9 a.m. Idleman’s Run Trail. We will explore this beautiful 4/10 mile trail located in the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.  The emphasis of this walk will be the natural history of all that we find – birds, wildflowers and non-flowering plants.  Even though this trail is short it is quite beautiful with an interesting variety of wild treasures.

Daisy Leaf Moonwort (Botrychium matricariifolium) along Idelman’s Run Trail (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

For additional information and registration: https://wvstateparks.com/event/mountain-state-birding-festival-2/

Don Pattison – A Soft-spoken Gentle Friend

Ralph Bell, founder of the Allegheny Front Migration Observatory (AFMO), and I were best friends. When I needed to find two new bird leaders for the West Virginia Wildflower Pilgrimage, I asked Ralph if he could recommend anyone. He said, “How about my daughter Joanie and her husband Don?” Don and Joanie were eager to be leaders, especially since Ralph was also a leader, and I added two excellent, knowledgeable birders to our group.

Soon after that I began to volunteer at the AFMO. Not only did I get to see and handle hundreds of migrating warblers and other kinds of birds, I met some wonderful people. Joanie, Don and I immediately became good friends.

What a wonderful time in my life — sharing a cabin at Blackwater Falls State Park with Joanie, Don and Ralph for several days in early May and then, in September, spending two weeks on Dolly Sods with them each year. When Joanie and Don retired to Florida and eventually stopped coming back to West Virginia, I thought about them often when I was on Dolly Sods at the AFMO.

Yesterday, when I got news that Don had passed away, my memory flood-gates opened and I was back in the mountains walking the Dolly Sods road with him.

Don always had a smile and he laughed a lot. He was special. Many days after the morning bird banding and afternoon hawk watching, Don and I would walk Forest Service Rd. 75 and look at wildflowers. We talked about, well… just about everything. Don was a good listener and had wonderful and valuable advice. There were some times I really needed it, and appreciated and followed it.

Don was a loving, caring person. You could just feel it when you were near him. He made everyone feel welcome. His smile warmed the room (or campsite) like the glow from a campfire. His memory still warms my heart.

Goodbye my friend! Until we meet and walk together again.

Oriole Fallout — in Rhyme (by Jan Runyan)

Normally at this time of year we would be traveling much of the time, both teaching and chasing birds.  In May our time at home is short and usually includes doing laundry, mowing, repacking and doing as much garden work as we can squeeze in.  This year, because we kept our “social distance” at home, we got to experience an amazing avian event.

Last winter was warm, but spring was late and, not long after it started, we had a several-day cold snap with nighttime temperatures in the mid-20s.  A flight of Baltimore Orioles had migrated north to the Upper Ohio River Valley before the Arctic blast brought this unusual cold and caused the birds’ insect food to be extremely limited.  They found the hummingbird feeders which I had recently put out, but as more orioles arrived we knew we needed to help these warm-weather friends more. 

They immediately found a dish of jam I put out … and very soon it was empty.   I searched our unused bird feeders in the garage for ideas to help me make more feeders and I added 5 new, unusual ones out back and out the bird window along with more nectar feeders.  They finished 3 big jars of jelly and jam. A few birds even made use of the bark butter and suet feeders.

As the weather warmed a bit, we opened our bird banding nets.  We had seen as many as 10 orioles at one time, but banded 16 birds, so we probably had between 20 and 30 birds making use of our feeders. Although there are still a few Baltimore Orioles around now, most of them have moved on since the weather has warmed. We had a wonderfully fun week with lots of time to watch and photograph these usually rare visitors to Goldfinch Ridge.

 This blog is heavy on videos because we wanted to share the bustle and antics of the orioles.  The videos may take a little while to load the first time, but then they should go smoothly.  The white pieces flying by are not Spring cherry blossom petals, but snowflakes. 

If you watch carefully, you may catch an occasional glimpse of our Eastern Bluebirds going in and out of their box on the Black Locust tree and even eating from the bark butter log.  Other kinds of birds join the feast or fly through, too.  And you might even hear the clicking of the shutter of Bill’s camera, too, as we shared space at our bird window.

Why poetry?  It just seemed right!

*********

Oriole Fallout — in Rhyme May, 2020

Baltimore Or-i-oles
Freezing their toes-i-oles.

Baltimore Oriole on a snowy stump (photo (c) Bill Beatty)


Returning from the climes
Of palm trees and limes.

(photo (c) Jan Runyan)


Knew they had a date
To come north and mate.

(photos (c) Bill Beatty)


The Orioles were bold
But then it turned COLD

Baltimore Orioles in snow with frozen birdbath (video (c) Jan Runyan) 


They followed their leaders
to the hummingbird feeders.

(photo (c) Jan Runyan)


One nectar feeder wasn’t enough,
They needed more stuff.

(video (c) Jan Runyan) 


We put out jams and jellies
To fill up their bellies.

(photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Tray with jelly — full, but soon empty (photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Jam seed in the bill (photo (c) Jan Runyan)


Feeders of every kind

(photo (c) Jan Runyan)
(photo (c) Bill Beatty)
(video (c) Jan Runyan)

The Orioles were quick to find. 

(photo (c) Bill Beatty )
(photo (c) Bill Beatty)
(video (c) Jan Runyan) 


The temperatures were chilling
But the people were willing.

(photo (c) Jan Runyan)
(photo (c) Bill Beatty)


No feeder ran low –
The birds put on a show.

(video (c) Jan Runyan)
(video (c) Jan Runyan)


All the week long
We helped them along. 

(video (c) Jan Runyan)
(video (c) Jan Runyan)


It was quite a sight!
Dreams of Orioles tonight!

(photo (c) Jan Runyan)
(photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The First Day of Spring – For Me

Sometimes the personal doesn’t jive with the “official”.

The first day of spring for 2020 is officially March 19. It is always March 19, 20, or 21 every year. Spring Equinox is the official term for the day. An equinox is the exact instant when the Sun is directly overhead at the Equator and the Earth’s rotational axis is tilted neither towards nor away from the Sun. In technical terms, this means that at the instant of the equinox, the Earth’s celestial equator (our equator’s imaginary projection straight out into space) intersects with the center of the Sun. This happens twice a year — on the first day of spring and the first day of fall.

My personal first day of spring varies from year-to-year. This year it was February 18. One year it was January 21.

Since the mid-1970s, I have determined the first day of spring in a very specific and special way. It is the day when I first hear the drumming of a woodpecker and the laughing call of a White-breasted Nuthatch on the same day. It can’t be just a woodpecker tapping, nor can it be the nuthatch’s ordinary call. Those can be heard all year long. But the drumming and the laughing call seem to happen when the birds sense that the season is beginning to change a little.

Pileated Woodpecker (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Woodpecker drumming
White-breasted Nuthatch (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Laughing song of the White-breasted Nuthatch

For me, the first day of spring is a challenge. I can’t notice it if I am inside, so this challenge gets me outside — in nature. The cool air is refreshing. Being in nature clears my head. Sometimes I just saunter and listen. Other times the exercise is heart thumping, but either way, I know I am much healthier for being in nature. Always, I say to myself, “This has been a wonderful day! Remember this when it’s rainy, windy or oppressively hot.” I hope to accept this challenge again and again. I embrace the challenge. I embrace all the wonders of Creation and the renewal which is Spring.

The West Virginia Wildflower Pilgrimage – May 7-10, 2020

Lindy Point at Blackwater Falls State Park (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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

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

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

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

I am giving an introduction for the Friday morning bird walk. (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

On Thursday afternoon, Jan will be teaching the Essentials of Birding for Everyone workshop at the Blackwater Falls State Park Lodge.

Jan teaching her Essentials of Birding for Everyone class. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

On Friday, Jan will lead a tour to the Cranesville Swamp, a National Natural Landmark.   It is one of the few remaining boreal bogs in the southern United States, unusual because it harbors many plants and animals that are normally seen only in more northern climates.  Eastern hemlock, red spruce and American larch are some of the trees in this acidic boreal bog.  The northern relict wetland complex also supports a wide variety of smaller plants such as goldthread, trailing arbutus, gay wings, several species of sundews, cranberry and a variety of ferns and mosses.  Nineteen diverse wetland communities are home to such birds as Blackburnian, magnolia and chestnut-sided warblers, alder flycatcher, golden-crowned kinglet, indigo bunting and northern saw-whet owl.

Left to right – American Larch; Trailing Arbutus; and Gaywings and Goldthread (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

On Friday, I will lead a Dolly Sods Wilderness Hike on the Edge of the World Trail. From the Red Creek Campground on Dolly Sods, the hike begins by following the last quarter of the Beatty Labyrinth, continues along the edge of Alder Run Bog, through a thick Red Spruce forest, and then into an 85+ year old Red Pine forest to the High Mountain Meadow Trail (HMMT).  We follow the HMMT from end to end, cross Forest Service Road 75 and continue on the Edge of the World Trail through expanses of heath meadows, Mt. Laurel/Rhododendron thickets, rock fields, deciduous forest, and Red Spruce stands.  The hike finishes along the Allegheny Front where some of the best scenic overlooks in WV can be found. There will be three major rock fields to traverse.  The second half of this hike is over very rugged terrain.  Hiking boots, long pants and rain gear are required! 

Hiking the Edge of the World Trail (Photos (c) Lee Miller)

On Saturday Jan and I together will be leading two hikes in the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge: the Beall North Trail and then the Idleman’s Run Trail. The Beall Trails’ parking lot is off Cortland Road in Canaan Valley. The Beall North and South Trails form somewhat of a figure eight, traversing a mix of open meadows and deciduous woodlands which allow for a large variety of plants. Parts of the trail borders the Blackwater River. This is not a rugged trail — it is mostly level with moderate or shorter steep elevation changes and few rocks on the trail. The entire hike will be scenic in varying ways. The birding should be excellent with the beautiful songs of Hermit Thrushes possible in many places. A nice variety of warblers are expected. Then we will travel to the nearby Idleman’s Run Trail off Forest Service Road 80 for a more botanical/wildflower walk. Idleman’s Run Trail is 4/10 mile, gently sloping uphill the entire way, and is notable for all the interesting plants we can encounter. Hiking boots/shoes and rain gear are recommended. Facilitrees are the only restrooms available.

The Beall North Trail (Top photo (c) Jan Runyan; bottom photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Hermit Thrush

Listen to the beautiful song of the Hermit Thrush.

Dr. Conley McMullen showing several violet species to pilgrims along the Idleman’s Run Trail and the Confederate Violet form of the Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia). (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Additional information and registration for the WV Wildflower Pilgrimage can be found at: https://wvstateparks.com/event/59th-annual-wildflower-pilgrimage/

Finally — A Winter Hike

When Jan saw me getting dressed on this surprisingly snowy morning she smiled and said, “Most people are wondering — do I have enough toilet paper, bread and milk. And some are in Kroger’s right now stocking up. You are getting ready to go hiking!” She knows me! I love to hike in extreme weather — not that today was that extreme, but it was the first day we had “real” snow, about 4 inches. And I wanted to take advantage of it. So I went hiking.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Right away I noticed how the snow had beautifully coated the Critterfence that surrounds our 40’x40′ garden. I went back to the house for a camera.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Every where I looked, everything was snow-covered or, occasionally, ice-covered.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

The woodlands were beautiful!

Photo (c) Bill Beatty
Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Years ago when I was researching Eastern Screech-owls I had been out during the winter from midnight to dawn on many days. During the 1970s the winters were extreme — cold, wind and lots of snow. I had been apprehensive at first about being out alone in those conditions, but soon I embraced the opportunities to be out in the cold. I was out and everyone else was inside. The silence was astounding and I loved it! Ever since then I take opportunities anytime I can to be away from people and surrounded only by nature.

The few sounds I heard on this snowy day were snowflakes hitting my hood, water in the many small streams and some birds singing and calling — exactly what I had been hoping for.

Carolina Chickadee and Tufted Titmouse (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Most of my hiking was bushwhacking, but there were some open trails from timbering in past years.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

The main stream wound in ox-bow-fashion along most of my hike route.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

These photos below show some rare straight stream sections.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

Knowing how to identify trees by their winter buds, leaf scars and bark made me feel like I was hiking among friends.

Left – American Elm; right – Slippery Elm (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
Left – Ash-leaved Maple/Box Elder; right – Bitternut Hickory (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
Left – American Sycamore; right – Tuliptree/ Tulip Poplar (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
Left – Black Gum; right – Northern Hackberry (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

I hiked as far as what I refer to as “the waterfall”.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

On my return there were more birds singing than when I had started, including a Pileated Woodpecker.

Pileated Woodpecker (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Life is good!

Hiking Adventures in the West Virginia Highlands – In Celebration of Cindy

A small group of friends met recently to celebrate the 50th birthday of our friend Cindy. She chose Blackwater Falls State Park in Davis, WV. We reserved a large cabin like those groups of us had stayed in many times at that park. Since it was January, we had planned for winter activities, especially snowshoeing at the Whitegrass Ski Touring Center and sledding at the Blackwater Falls Sled Park. That was not to be due to the record-setting warm temperatures, so it became a hiking weekend, which we really didn’t mind at all.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Besides celebrating Cindy, another common thread of the weekend was food! We had great food and lots of it.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty and Jan Runyan

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CINDY!

Video (c) Jan Runyan

We stayed up later than usual reminiscing, but we had a loose schedule and didn’t have to get up extra-early as we do so often when we are leading early morning bird walks for state-sponsored events.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Of course, Lee decided to further alienate himself from me with blatant references to the words that shall not be spoken — specifically the “R” and “C” words. An example is in the photo below — a gift he gave to Cindy.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_8374.jpg
Photo (c) Jan Runyan

On Saturday, our first morning, breakfast began with steak and eggs with a variety of fruits, cookies and blueberry muffins. Then we packed our lunches as we prepared for a full day of hiking.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

Saturday’s hike was the Beall Trail North, Blackwater View Trail and beyond into the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Last minute preparations at the Beall Trail parking lot. (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
Photos (c) Bill Beatty and Jan Runyan
Grasses (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
We hiked them all… and more (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

We found cranberries in several places, and we tried them, but ended up spitting them out — too soft and no taste unlike the delicious fresh cranberries we are used to finding.

Cranberries (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

While some looked around, Cindy showed us how excited she was to have some of her friends there to celebrate HER!

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

There were not many active birds, but we did see or hear several kinds on a regular basis.

Top to bottom – Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse and White-breasted Nuthatch (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

We paused at the bridge to view the Blackwater River.

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

We found several wood-rotting fungi.

Clockwise from top left – Crowded Parchment Fungus, Veiled Polypore and Turkey-tail Fungus (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Lunch time.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

And we continued hiking and having loads of fun.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty
Eastern Hemlock Tree (Photos (c) Bill Beatty
Photo (c) Bill Beatty

We always seem to be checking out available maps in hopes of discovering new trails to hike and explore.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

They wanted to keep looking at the scenic view of the Blackwater River. Hey, turn around so I can see your faces!

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

We were surprised at how many green ferns we saw. We thought they would be matted down from the weight of the earlier snowfalls and browned along all the margins from the cold. All the ferns we saw were Intermediate and Spinulose Shield Ferns.

Spinulose Shield Fern (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

We had hoped to hike all the way into the northern end of the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, but looking at so many plants and animals and fungi along the way meant that we didn’t have time.

Northern wetlands of the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

On Sunday we decided to hike from Canaan Loop Road, along the top of Canaan Mountain.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

We found wonder and beauty all along the trail.

Top to bottom – Lichen mixture, Trumpet Lichen, British Soldiers Lichen, and lichen mixture (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

The bark of the trees were covered in lichens – a sign of good air quality.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty
Pin Cushion Moss (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The Red Spruce were doing well everywhere we went — in the valley and on the mountain top.

Red Spruce (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Jan took the photo below as a close-up from the tree pictured above. The Birch Polypore is used as a medicinal plant in treating cancers.

Birch Polypore (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Scenic beauty surrounded us everywhere we went and Cindy found a friend.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty
Photo (c) Jan Runyan

One of our hikers was so enthralled at the various water sounds and scenic water courses that Jan decided to record the images and sounds for her.

Video (c) Jan Runyan
Photos (c) Jan Runyan
Photo (c) Bill Beatty

The patterns of nature were all along all the trails.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

One of our group was quite excited to find this Hemlock Varnish Fungus.

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

So much to see and discover and so little time! We didn’t hike the miles we thought we would because of all the wonders we discovered — and that’s a good thing. Well, actually, that’s a great thing!

Top to bottom – Partridgeberry, American Wintergreen/Eastern Teaberry and Creeping Snowberry

Afterwards we all met back at the cabin and had another great supper.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

After supper we settled in for a night of games. Cindy had brought a game that I would not recommend to ANYONE! None of us, nor Cindy, knew how — for lack of a better description — this game would test our ethics, virtue, morality and all that’s good about us. We blushed and then laughed until we cried — at least some of us did.

I felt like the Dark Lord of Star Wars fame and we had all gone over to the Dark Side.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

One last photo of Cindy and her birthday sign.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

On Monday a few of us stayed around for one last, short hike out to Lindy Point, now unofficially, CINDY POINT.

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

Before leaving Davis, West Virginia, Cindy, Jan and I had lunch at Sirianni’s Cafe.

Happy tummies!

From West Virginia to Nags Head, North Carolina — the Outer Banks

Because Jan and I are often busy traveling, teaching and speaking about Nature in or near West Virginia, we aren’t always able to visit a number of other interesting places we would like to go . When I had worked full-time as a nature photographer I had regularly visited the Outer Banks in July and October. Jan had never been there but, after hearing stories of the experiences I had there, she said that she would love to see this place that is so very different from our mountains. So, this past November we spent 5 days at the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

The Outer Banks consists of several very long, narrow barrier islands offshore from the North Carolina mainland, between the Atlantic Ocean and several bodies of water called sounds (Pamlico Sound and Albemarle Sound on our trip). With water so close on two sides, most of the popular activities there have to do with beaches and fishing.

We had a long list of things we wanted to do, and we knew we couldn’t do them all, so we let the weather decide. The first day seemed perfect for fishing, so we bought some bait and headed for an empty beach.

Part of our plan was to catch fish and cook them for supper each night. We weren’t the expert fisherman/woman we had hoped to be and only managed to catch 1 flounder. Even that had to be returned to the ocean because, for the first time ever, there was a closed season on flounder.

Our only fish, a flounder (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

Flounder is an unusual fish since an adult has both eyes on just one side of its body. At hatching, a flounder has one eye on each side of the head, but as it grows from larval to juvenile stage, one eye migrates to the other side of the body. And, yes, some flounders have left-side-eyes and some have right-side-eyes.

Flounder eyes on one side of the body (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

I have fished a lot throughout my life, but Jan has rarely fished. We took photos of each other casting. It seems I have a habit of lifting my right leg at the end of each cast.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Jan, on the other hand, seems to have great casting form.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

We discovered that my “right leg lift” disappeared when I was spinning with a double jig rig.

Video (c) Jan Runyan

We spent a lot of time casting and then sitting. Not catching fish does have its benefits. We got to relax by ourselves on a very private beach, listen to the crashing waves, and identify and watch the behavior of the shore birds.

Jan hoping for a fish to bend the fishing rod while at the same time studying her Peterson Bird Guide. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Since the fishing wasn’t what we had expected, we spent a lot of time doing what I refer to as ‘lazy’ birding – sitting in a chair and casually looking at the birds.

Brown Pelicans (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Sanderlings and a Semi-palmated Plover (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
More Sanderlings (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Solitary Sandpipers (I think) (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Ring-billed Gull (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Herring Gull – 2nd/3rd winter (top photo (c) Bill Beatty, bottom photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Long-billed Dowitcher (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

One activity we definitely wanted to do was to spend a day kayaking in the Pamlico Sound off the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

The left map shows the whole Outer Banks area – the area circled in black is the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. The right map is a close-up of the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and the “X” shows the area we kayaked.

Left – Jan inflating the air bladder in her kayak; right – ready to begin our journey. (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

The Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge was established by Executive Order in 1938. The lands contained in the refuge were set aside as a breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife. The Refuge was developed by Civilian Conservation Corps projects in the 1930s. The CCC workers built barrier dunes to protect the inland portions from storms and also built dikes and ponds for waterfowl and fields to grow wildlife foods.

The wooden structure in the background of these photos is the remains of a bridge built by the CCC that connected their camp with the seashore. (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

What to do – paddle, take photos or get closer looks at birds and other scenery?

Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Photos (c) Bill Beatty
Royal Tern (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Pied-billed Grebe (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Greater Black-backed Gull (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

The Pamlico Sound remains relatively shallow throughout, with an average depth of about 5′-6′ feet or so, even well offshore. Fortunately our kayaks can navigate waters only a few inches deep.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

The shallow waters makes it easy to see the countless Atlantic Blue Crab burrows where they stay during the cold weather months.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

At times I explored one of the many small islands to take photos or to identify small birds flitting among the grasses and shrubs.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

We saw many warblers throughout Pea Island, but they were all Yellow-rumped Warblers.

Yellow-rumped Warbler
See some rain showers in the distance (Video (c) Jan Runyan)
Photos (c) Bill Beatty

Jan and I didn’t want this day to end, but rain was on the horizon and we had to leave the Pea Island NWR knowing that someday day we would be back.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Since our plan to catch enough fish to eat each evening (and maybe even have enough to freeze and take home) wasn’t working, we ate out at local eateries each night. Jan and I both love seafood so this was a treat.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

The birds seemed to follow us every where we went – like these terns and a gull just outside the window of one of the restaurants.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

One restaurant had this record Marlin on display. Jan was glad she hadn’t hooked that monster!

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

One evening we were fortunate to eat supper at the right time to see a spectacular sunset.

Top photo (c) Bill Beatty, bottom photo (c) Jan Runyan

We had nice weather for our birding day at the the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge… except for a very strong wind. It turned out to be a lot of fun for the both of us and we were able to get good views of some great birds in spite of the blowing.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

The visitor center is set up with three Ziess spotting scopes and provides excellent views of their freshwater ponds that were full of migrating water birds. They also have plenty of resources to help people with identification.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

The first bird we noticed was a Bald Eagle on a nearby nesting/roosting platform.


After looking at birds from inside the visitor’s center, we decided to walk the North Pond Wildlife Trail. At the beginning there is a bridge that goes over the end of a small pond. We spent some time looking at turtles – one was swimming below us and a group were sunning at the far end.

Turtles (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)
Jan looking out into the North Pond. Notice the trees and bushes being blown by the wind. (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

There were hundreds of water birds, but the kind that dominated, most likely due to their size, were the Tundra Swans.

Tundra Swans and other ducks (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Two viewing platforms provided us with excellent views of the birds in the New Field Pond.

The wind didn’t permit using a tripod, but sitting allowed Jan to steady the scope against her leg and viewing platform railing. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
White Pelican (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Water birds in New Field Pond (Video (c) Jan Runyan)

After birding, we found out more about the outstanding work of the Pea Island Life-Saving Station, particularly the men under Richard Etheridge in the late 1800s, whose preparedness and determination saved many lives from ships that had run aground near Pea Island. Etheridge, who was called “one of the best surfmen on this part of the North Carolina coast” commanded the first all-black Life-saving Station.

From “The Rescue Men” video
Life-Saving boat in the late 1800s

On another day we decided to try fishing one more time in the sound near the Bodie Island Lighthouse. At the bait store we heard people talking about how great the fishing had been the previous day, so we were full of hope. Unfortunately, there were no fish for us, but we did have a great view of the lighthouse.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

On our last day we decided to visit several places on Roanoke Island. Our first stop was the North Carolina Aquarium. We were so impressed and were having such a good time there, that we stayed so long we didn’t have time to visit anywhere else.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty
Photo (c) Bill Beatty

The first exhibits we visited were outside and involved a series of hands-on activities pertaining to birds.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty
The woodpecker exhibit Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Jan caught me involved in one of the woodpecker displays.

Video (c) Jan Runyan

Once inside we were greeted by a variety of aquatic creatures.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty
Video (c) Jan Runyan

Next was an otter exhibit and Jan had to be coaxed away (she was having so much fun) so we would be sure to see the rest of the exhibits.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

There were some real alligators and some not so real.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

There were some beautiful snakes; some were venomous like the copperhead (L) and rattlesnake (R) below.

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

Frogs of various kinds –

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Turtles of many species-

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

And Jan found a friend.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

There were sea habitats where people could touch the sea creatures.

From top – starfish, horseshoe crab, and sea urchin (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

And Jan got to touch a stingray.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

The Jellyfish room was amazingly beautiful.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

There were several different kinds of Jellyfish.

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

We were safely able to photograph the venomous Lionfish.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

The shark tank was massive and expertly done.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

Although, you know, I am passionate about Nature, my favorite exhibit was the USS Monitor display. The Turret Theater, which simulates the turret of that Civil War ironclad ship, had me from the beginning. We walked inside the exhibit into a multi-screen video and surround-sound experience that depicts the 1862 Battle of Hampton Roads and then the sinking of the USS Monitor in a storm later that year. I felt as if I were right there in the heat of battle. This exhibit won the Museum Technology Award in 2017 and we agree. This experience alone makes the Aquarium well worth the visit.

USS Monitor turret

The turret isn’t large, but watching the multi-screen video display with the narration and sounds all around make for a vivid experience.

At the end of our aquarium visit was a video experience somewhat like the one at the entrance, only this time, instead of looking up, we looked down to see the sea creatures swimming at our feet…and we could even splash in this “water”.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty
Video (c) Jan Runyan

As we were leaving the North Carolina Aquarium we saw our last new bird for the week – a Northern Mockingbird. The bird list (the ones we remembered to write down) for our trip has at least 57 species.

Northern Mockingbird (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

We ended our last night on the Outer Banks with another delicious seafood supper.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty
Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Dolly Sods Adventures – 2019

Jan and I spent 15 days volunteering at the Allegheny Front Migration Observatory (AFMO) next to the Dolly Sods Wilderness on the Allegheny Front in the mountains of West Virginia. We net tended at the banding station in the mornings and played in Nature in the afternoons. This is some of what we did.

The early mornings on the eastern edge of the Allegheny Front (the Eastern Continental Divide) are incredible. The station opens while it is still very dark, so we’re there for the sunrise each morning. The following photos are representative of mornings when we see the sun rise along the West Virginia Allegheny Front looking east toward the “ridge and valley” mountains.

Photos (c) Jan Runyan
Photos (c) Jan Runyan
Photos (c) Jan Runyan
Photos (c) Jan Runyan
Video (c) Jan Runyan

The AFMO is open each year from mid-August to early October during the fall migration. The primary focus of the station each morning is catching and banding birds which are then released to continue their migration. There are 30 10-foot high mist nets strung along various sections of the mountain-side and all nets are checked regularly. Net tenders safely remove caught birds from the mist nets and take them to the banders to be banded and released. Net-tending is the most difficult part of the banding process.

Here Jan and several others are carefully removing birds from mist nets.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

We catch many different kinds of birds, but the majority of them are songbirds in a category called warblers.

Palm Warbler (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)
Black-and-white Warbler (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)
Cape May Warbler (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)
Northern Parula (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Magnolia Warbler (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)
Hatch-year Hooded Warbler (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)
Left – Connecticut Warbler; right – Black-throated Green Warbler (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)
Video (c) Jan Runyan
Nashville Warbler (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Prairie Warbler (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

I was away from the station, leading a wilderness hike, when this brilliant Blue-winged Warbler was caught. Fortunately (for me) Jan was there to take this photo.

Blue-winged Warbler (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

One of the highlights of our stay on Dolly Sods was showing a good friend one of the rarest plants in West Virginia – the Fringed Gentian. We spent a long time in the meadow where it grows as she absorbed the beauty of the flower and wonder of the special moment.

Fringed Gentian (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Each year for the past 40+ years I have led hikes into the Dolly Sods Wilderness. Most hikes are for groups like the West Virginia Wildflower Pilgrimage or Oglebay Institute’s Mountain Nature Camp (for adults). Once each year I invite some friends to hike. This year’s hike was mostly off-trail from Alder Run across open meadows, through small woodlands, and then across upper Red Creek. Eventually we arrived at the confluence of Red Creek and Alder Run. Then we turned upstream on Alder Run to the confluence of Alder Bog Run and Alder Run. We finished the hike via the Beatty Labyrinth, crossing Alder Bog Run 19 times. It was a rugged but spectacular adventure.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

Even though most of the Dolly Sods area was very dry this year, we did encounter some wetlands which were still moist and had some interesting plants. Cottongrass was expansive in wet areas and cranberries were common snacks along parts of the hike.

Top – Cottongrass; Bottom – cranberries (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

The Bog Goldenrod was in full bloom in the wetlands and open meadows along the path of the hike.

Bog Goldenrod (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

American Mountainash trees were vivid with their bright scarlet berry clusters.

American Mountainash (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Jan and I were on Dolly Sods during the time when people from the “Leaf Peepers” event in Davis and Canaan Valley visited, hoping to see spectacular fall colors in the West Virginia mountains. However, due to weeks of dry/warm weather, this year’s color was difficult to find. What I did notice was that the already-fallen leaves of the Red Maples formed colorful patterns on the ground beneath the trees.

Red Maple leaves (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

While at the Red Creek Campground for two weeks we sometimes get together with friends for supper. Jeff and Shelia were the Campground Hosts and the AFMO station managers. AND … Jeff and Shelia are amazing cooks. One evening we had grilled salmon, couscous and French bread.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

When great friends each bring a few items to lunch, it turns into a delicious feast.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

At the AFMO we often encounter other interesting creatures besides the birds – sometimes even SNAKES!

Red-bellied Snake (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Smooth Green Snake (left photo (c) Bill Beatty; right photo (c) Jan Runyan)

This Io Moth caterpillar was found in one of the net lanes, but we were careful not to touch it because its body is covered with stinging spines.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

This caterpillar will eventually become a beautiful Io Moth.

Top – Male Io Moth; bottom Female Io Moth (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Monarch Butterflies were still migrating as were Green Darner Dragonflies. One morning I found a dragonfly covered with heavy dew waiting for the sun to find it so it could dry out and continue on its route southward.

Monarch Butterfly (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Green Darner Dragonfly (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Jan found an Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar and I wanted to show her its scent horns. A gentle squeeze causes the hidden scent horns to come out as the caterpillar arches its back to touch the creature that is squeezing it. The smell of the sticky liquid on the scent horns is quite offensive and lasts a long time. It is a great defensive mechanism for an apparently defenseless creature.

Caterpillar of the Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly, scent horns visible at right (left photo (c) Bill Beatty; right photo (c) Jan Runyan)

One afternoon Jan and I hiked to a favorite lunch spot along the Allegheny Front Vista Trail.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty
Photos (c) Jan Runyan
Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Video (c) Jan Runyan

Not all the birds we catch are warblers.

Swainsons’s Thrush and Gray-cheeked Thrush (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
American Woodcock (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Philadelphia Vireo (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Female Indigo Bunting (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

The first week Jan and I were at the AFMO was during a week-long early Black Bear hunting season. One morning at the station we could hear a group of howling bear dogs, not too far away, coming toward the AFMO nets. In the past we have had a bear and/or bear dogs run through and destroy mist nets. This morning we took the precaution of raising the 10 north nets so animals could to go under without touching the nets. Luckily no bear or dog came through our set-up. Soon the barking moved away, the nets were lowered, and it was back to bird-banding-business as normal.

Video (c) Jan Runyan

I was fortunate to be able to take one of my favorite birds from a mist net and also to release it after it was banded – a tiny Winter Wren.

Winter Wren (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Individuals and groups occasionally visit the AFMO and we are happy to show them how the banding station operates as well as telling about the 60+ year history of the station and answer their questions about birds and banding. We have a demonstration net set up outside the regular net lanes to show them how the birds get safely caught in mist nets.

At the demo net with a visiting group (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Over the years I have seen how lives can be changed when people see birds close up, hear the bird’s heart beat, see the transparent skin, and hold and release a bird. It is difficult to protect the earth if we don’t have respect for other living things and appreciate them. Helping people experience birds is one way we can change people’s hearts towards living creatures and the planet we all share.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Photos (c) Bill Beatty
Photo (c) Jan Runyan

One group from Eastern Mennonite University wanted to know if there was a botanist among our volunteers who could talk to them about the botany of the area, so I met with them later after we had closed the AFMO nets for the day.

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

One of the plants we talked about was the Many-flowered Gentian, which was in full flower near the road by the campground.

Many-flowered Gentian (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

During our 2 week stay, Jan and I took several walks along the road and on Northland Loop Trail to look at plants.

Left – Crooked-stem Aster; Right – Flat-topped White Aster (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
Left – Calico/Starved Aster; Right – White Heath Aster (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
Dewdrop leaves in the fall and Dewdrop in flower earlier in July (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
Jan photographing Fern Pocket Moss (Left photo (c) Bill Beatty and right photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Witch Hazel in full flower. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

We were pleased to see some new, informative signs along the Northland Loop Trail.

One of the new trail signs along the Northland Loop Trail (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

On the busiest day during our time there, 467 birds were caught in about 1 1/2 hours. We knew we had trapped as many birds as we could handle within a reasonable time for the birds’ safety, so after we cleared the birds from each net, we closed it. Each bird was safely “bagged” in individual lunch-sized paper bags, then these individual bags were sorted into larger shopping bags based on the size of the band the bird would get. This sorting makes it more efficient for the banders to band and release the birds quickly.

The birds waiting to be banded are kept in the shade behind the banding shed.

A very busy day at the AFMO (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The day was overcast and not warm, so we knew the birds would be fine as multiple banders and the people recording for them worked quickly. But then it began to rain. Our primary concern is always for the birds so we quickly brought all the bags under the waterproof tarp overhang at the front of the shed and continued sorting birds, banding, and recording.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

On rainy or busy days we also use a rock overhang called the “cave”.

The “cave” (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Video (c) Jan Runyan

With 4 banders, each with a recorder writing for them, we soon sent all of the birds on their way.

Even with the near drought conditions, we often heard individual Spring Peeper treefrogs singing both day and night.

Spring Peeper (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Along with the night sounds of singing coyotes, hooting owls and night-migrating thrushes, these frogs added a sense of peace to my soul as if saying, “Here on Dolly Sods, all is right with the world.”

Our trip home began, as usual, with lunch at Siriani’s Cafe in Davis, WV.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty and Jan Runyan

After 6 more stops to pick up specialty items we can only find in the mountains and for gas, we finally returned to Goldfinch Ridge even before the sun went down. Our 2-week trip had given us a truckload of memories of lots of activities, great birds, good food and wonderful friends.

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

Bird Discovery Weekend at Blackwater Falls State Park – 2019 – what we did.

There were 14 eager participants from Hyattsville, MD, Johnstown and North Wales, PA, Sterling, VA, Lakewood, OH and Wilmington, NC. They had heard about the Bird Discovery Weekend in a variety of ways. Some were very new birders and some were very knowledgeable, but everyone had something to offer.

The weekend began on Friday afternoon with Jan’s, “Birding Essentials” program.

Nice hat, Jan! (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

After dinner that evening I presented a program called “Sparrows of West Virginia.” Sparrows can be confusing for lots of birders, but by the end of the evening, everyone seemed to have a better grasp on identifying them.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Early on Saturday morning we left for an all-day field trip along Stuart Memorial Drive near Elkins, WV. With its variety of elevations and habitats, we expected to encounter a wide variety of birds and we weren’t disappointed.

First stop…where to look first? (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

At our first stop, there were nesting Gray Catbirds and American Robins almost everywhere we looked. The males were singing their territorial songs from both sides of the road.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

Although everyone was interested in birding, some were also quite interested in the botany of the area. As they say, “Look down, listen up!”

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

One plant they were particularly interested in was Wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia). The winged stems were obvious and unusual.

Wingstem (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Throughout the day I taught about and identified bird songs. We discussed what birds were singing and what those songs and calls represent.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

We stopped at many places along Stuart Memorial Drive, but one, in particular, was perhaps the highlight of the day.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Blackwater Falls State Park Naturalist, Paulita Cousin, spotted an American Redstart who was building her nest. For a long time we watched the Redstart bring in nesting materials, fit them into the half-built nest, and then sit down to try out what she had built so far.

American Redstart on her nest (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

At another spot some of us climbed a hill through a grassy meadow to see the Field Sparrows and Indigo Buntings that we heard singing. The scenic view at the top of the hill was beautiful no matter which way we looked.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Field Sparrow (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Photo (c) Jan Runyan

At the top of the ridge we heard a White-eyed Vireo singing and before long this usually difficult-to-find bird flew up into a dead tree and serenaded us for a long time.

White-eyed Vireo (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

Some of the group had stayed along the road and they were rewarded with great views of several warblers – Common Yellowthroat, Chestnut-sided and Hooded. They also found and were fascinated by a Gold-backed Snipe Fly.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Gold-backed Snipe Fly (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

At the Bickle Knob Observation Tower (elevation 4,003 ft.) there were two pairs of nesting Mourning Warblers, each male singing to protect his territory. They sang often, but we weren’t able to get a really good view of them. With all the birds we had already heard and seen, no one seemed too disappointed by not being able to see this warbler.

Mourning Warbler from a previous trip (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Some of us even took up the challenge to climb the Observation Tower and, with the wonderfully clear weather, we were rewarded with an amazing view.

At Bickle Knob Obversation Tower (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

After lunch we made several more stops in the more coniferous woods at the highest elevations of Stuart Memorial Drive. At our last stop everyone was able to get a great view of a male Scarlet Tanager. This brilliantly-colored bird is so good at hiding among the leaves at the tops of trees that we considered ourselves very lucky to have gotten such a good look at him.

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

After a long day of birding, Jan and I relaxed and had a delicious supper on the patio of the Smokehouse BBQ Restaurant at the Blackwater Falls State Park Lodge.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

On Saturday evening I presented the program, “Eastern Screech-Owls”, based on my 28 years of research with this bird. Our group was fascinated by the scientific knowledge I had gained and the amazing photos I had taken of this owl that very few people know about.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

On Sunday morning we were at it again – chasing birds and enjoying the beauty of West Virginia with the wonderful group of people. Our field trip was just a short drive away in Canaan Valley — our first stop was at the Freeland Trail boardwalk in the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge. At the parking lot we were greeted by a field full of nesting Bobolinks. Many were hidden in the grass singing their bubbly songs, while others were easy to observe as they flew and landed on small bushes, fence posts and strands of barbed wire fence.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty
Bobolinks (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Bobolink song

Another bird we heard at this stop was the Savannah Sparrow, but only one of us was actually able to catch a glimpse of it.

Savannah Sparrow (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

We also had good opportunities to see and hear Eastern Meadowlarks.

Eastern Meadowlark (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Across from the Bobolink field is the Freeland Trail boardwalk. We were able to watch and hear Willow and Alder Flycatchers at the same time. Since they look so similar, it is important to hear them for identification. The Willow and Alder Flycatchers really gave us a great opportunity to memorize their two songs.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Photos (c) Jan Runyan

Swamp Sparrows were singing in several areas of the wetland and Jan was able to make a video of one singing.

Swamp Sparrow (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)
Swamp Sparrow video (c) Jan Runyan

After we finished enjoying the boardwalk, we walked the lower part (elevation 3,100 ft) of Forest Service Road 80 looking and listening for birds.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

From there, back in the cars, we stopped several times to listen and look for birds on our way to the top of the mountain (elevation 3,980 ft) where Forest Service Road 80 ends at the edge of the Dolly Sods Wilderness plateau.

The birds we found there were quite different than those we had encountered down in Canaan Valley. Where the road ended we were surrounded by high mountain trees and other more boreal plants. We enjoyed the birds, but also discovered some other interesting things.

I showed Nancy how to differentiate between Cinnamon and Interrupted ferns even if the fertile fronds were not present.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

There was water in the low areas along both sides of the road and several people noticed the Predaceous Diving Beetle larvae swimming in many places.

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

Although half of our group had departed after we had finished the lower section of Forest Service Road 80, we did take a group photo of those remaining at the top. None of us wanted to leave — we wanted to keep exploring the road into Dolly Sods and the fields around it, but check-out times and other commitments were calling us.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

My last official duty of the Mountain Bird Discovery Weekend was to save a snapping turtle from potential disaster. She was crossing the road on her way to find a suitable place to lay her eggs. As gently as possible, I moved the turtle off the road in the direction she had been traveling. I don’t think she really appreciated my help, but she didn’t know about car tires, and, hopefully, she never will.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Magee Marsh– the Warbler Capital — 2019

Jan and I took a recent trip to Magee Marsh, a mecca for migrating birds (and birders) located along Lake Erie about 20 miles east of Toledo, OH. Magee Marsh is known as the Warbler Capital of the World because so many migrating birds, especially warblers, either make this area their home or just stop there to feed and get ready for the trip across Lake Erie on their way north to their breeding grounds.

Our campsite (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

The Magee Marsh area used to be a state park where people came to escape the summer heat and to enjoy the Lake Erie beach. Few of the throngs of people coming to cool off in the lake breezes and water noticed the marshy area behind the huge parking lot. Slowly birders began to discover the migration phenomenon happening just yards from the beach. A boardwalk was constructed to contain the birders and now the beach is closed to swimming and the large parking lot is filled with hundreds of binocular-toting-birders’ cars.

About 15 years ago, when I saw the crowded parking lot for the first time, I said to Jan, “I don’t think I’m going to like this. There are just too many people.” But since we had driven so far to see the fabled marsh, I decided to see what it was all about. Wonderfully, I discovered I was wrong…I loved it! The variety and closeness of all the different kinds of birds and the politeness of all the birders make this place sheer birding joy. It is mesmerizing.

Over the years we have been collecting photos of bird-oriented license plates. These are a few new ones we found this year.

Photos (c) Jan runyan and Bill Beatty

Occasionally I have been asked, “You have been a professional nature photographer for much of your life, so why don’t you take bird photos when you are at Magee?” The main reason is that I wouldn’t be any fun to be with since all of my time would be focused on the photos. My attention would just be on the few birds I would be trying to capture with the camera. I have decided I would rather absorb the beauty and wonder of ALL the fantastic birds at Magee through my binoculars and spend time with friends we see on our trip – there are many of both. Jan and I often joke that if we only wanted to watch the birds at Magee Marsh and not see our friends, too, we would have to wear glasses with a big nose and mustache. I think the number of people we know there and the number of species we see are about the same. Jan and I do take pictures while we are there, but they are to document our trip.

I’m not sure it would work.

Although western Lake Erie has quite a few excellent birding spots in the area, the Magee boardwalk is always the highlight of our week-long visit. We spend time on the boardwalk every day. Each day brings different birds to the marshy boardwalk area.††

Photo (c) Lee Miller

The drive into Magee Marsh from Route 2 goes through a number of different habitats and it always gives us the chance to do some 15 mile-per-hour birding. This time as we entered the first parking area, we saw that one pair of Bald Eagles was using their nest in the same location as last year.

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

After enjoying that regal sight, we parked and headed for the west end of the boardwalk. Right away Jan found subjects for photos with her point-and-shoot camera. This House Wren did manage to get the long stick inside the small hole to its nest. Everywhere Tree Swallows patrolled the skies. Jan found these 2 guarding their nest cavity.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan
(Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

We met up with Julie Gee, the Naturalist at Burr Oak State Park in Athens, OH. She credits me with sparking her interest in birds while she was an intern at the Brooks Nature Center where I was the Naturalist. She and her husband, Michael, are good friends and we have been birding together at Magee for several years.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Lee Miller, our frequent birding companion, is always learning — about plants, geology, ecology and, of course, birds. If he isn’t looking at birds through binoculars, his nose is in a bird guide or on an app learning more about them.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Jan is interested in just about every wild creature she sees and takes photos of all of the interesting things she finds.

Little brown mushrooms, Bullfrog and the endangered Blanding’s Turtle (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

Even snakes…and there seemed to be a lot of them this year.

Northern Water Snake and Eastern Garter Snakes (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

We made arrangements most evenings to meet friends for supper. On the first night, some of us had just arrived and some were just about to leave the area. We all met at the Oregon Inn, arguably some of the best food in the Magee area.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

Jan had shrimp and rice pilaf and I had the “dusted” Lake Erie Perch with garlic mashed potatoes…yummy!

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

The next morning we were back on the Magee Marsh Boardwalk looking at more amazing birds and greeting other friends.

Prothonotary Warbler (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)
Northern Parula, a warbler (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

At one point Julie got our attention and said, “John just texted me. There’s a Connecticut Warbler near the east entrance to the boardwalk! He says ‘Hurry! Run!'” We didn’t run, but we did hurry. I had only seen two others in the wild. Together with a small crowd, we searched the brushy edge of the marsh. We were finally rewarded with a couple of good looks at the bird. After seeing the Connecticut, as we were leaving for nearby Howard Marsh, we noticed that the crowd had grown considerably and people were in such a hurry that they were parking creatively as they tried to get a chance to see this rare and difficult-to-see bird..

Searching for the Connecticut Warbler (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Jan and Lee were eager to get to Howard Marsh with its shore birds so they could try out their new spotting scopes. At our first stop they immediately set up their scopes and began looking at a multitude of “water” birds.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

We had heard from several people that there were Yellow-headed Blackbirds at Howard Marsh. While Jan and Lee were checking out the wading birds to the east, I walked across the road and asked a lady scoping the wetland to the west if she knew where the Yellow-headed Blackbirds were being seen. “Right here!” she said. I looked up and saw one walking the shoreline about 20 feet away. It was a “life” bird for me and very soon for Jan and Lee, too.

We usually began each day at the Magee boardwalk and there was always something special to see or hear. One day, quite unexpectedly, a flock of White Pelicans flew overhead.

White Pelicans (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

When our bodies called for lunch, we either snacked as we birded on the boardwalk, or took a real lunch break and rested back at the truck in the parking lot. After walking the boardwalk and birding hard one day Lee was exhausted.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

That reminded me of last year when I was the one who was absolutely exhausted.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

As we were leaving Magee one day we encountered a baby raccoon that needed some help in the middle of the road. I played crossing-guard and escorted him safely across the road.

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

On several days when we were done at Magee Marsh, we decided to take the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge driving tour. This road is only open for a few weeks in the spring. It winds its way around many square miles of marshes and wetlands. This is a great place to see a variety of water birds.†

Pied Billed Grebe (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Trumpeter Swan (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Great Egret (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

One cold, windy morning, we decided to walk the east beach near Magee Marsh to see what we could find. This location has yielded some interesting surprises in the past. The surprises we found that day were not interesting or wonderful. It is sad that some people celebrate special occasions with things that are harmful to wildlife … helium balloons, or any balloon, or plastic can kill all kinds of animals.

Photos (c) Jan Runyan and Bill Beatty

Later that day we decided to go to Maumee State Park where their boardwalk is a bit more protected from the wind. Besides seeing a Sora and hearing several Virginia Rails, we saw many other wonderful creatures.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

These Eastern Screech-owls were using a nesting box right by the boardwalk. During the day, the female will not allow the male to enter the box, but at night, both parents are busy full-time feeding the chicks.

Female gray phase Eastern Screech-owl peering from nest box. (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Male red phase Eastern Screech-owl sleeping nearby. (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Our last trip to Howard Marsh yielded more fascinating waders and other water birds. After a full week, you would think that we had seen all there was to see — but birding always has surprises. This trip gave us another life bird for Jan, Lee and me.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan
King Rail, my second life bird of the trip.

Our last day at Magee had intermittent rain. Jan and I spent the day together, casually birding. Since it was rainy we decided to take the time to drive to the Tin Goose Restaurant at the Port Clinton airport for a late lunch. It’s my favorite eatery in the area because of the atmosphere. The entire place is a blast-from-the-past with the menu, artwork, decor and music reminiscent of the late ’40s, ’50s, and early ’60s.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty
Photos (c) Bill Beatty
Photo (c) Bill Beatty

After our meal we drove to the Magee Boardwalk for one last, late afternoon look at the birds. The rain had stopped but the parking lot was deserted since most of the people had left earlier due to the rain. We had most of the boardwalk to ourselves.

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

On the Estuary Trail adjacent to Magee we found this baby Great Horned Owl with his wooly-looking feathers staring at us.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

On our final morning, after we hooked up the trailer and were ready to travel, we took a short walk on one of the campground’s trails. At one spot we found a Midland Painted Turtle trapped in a deep hole. We rescued him, took some photos and released him nearby.

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

Jan’s last photo before we began our trip back home was of a beautiful Horse Chestnut tree in full bloom.

Horse Chestnut Tree flowers (Left photo (c) Bill Beatty, right photo (c) Jan Runyan)

At final tally, Jan and I had seen 149 species of birds in our 7 days during late migration along Lake Erie. The memories, smiles and laughs were too numerous to count.

West Virginia University’s Hemlock Trail near Cooper’s Rock State Forest – May 8, 2019

Jan and I got an early start to the West Virginia Wildflower Pilgrimage and so we decided to stop at the Hemlock Trail near Cooper’s Rock State Forest (near Morgantown, WV) for a short hike in a beautiful forest. Even before entering the forest we were serenaded by a nice variety of birds – American Reststart, Indigo Bunting and Hooded, Black-throated Green and Black-throated Blue Warblers.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

The first almost-ready-to-bloom wildflower we saw was Squawroot/Cancer root.

Squawroot (Conopholis americana) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Even on the sunniest, hottest days, this trail is shaded and cool.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

Some people find plants of the Buttercup Family (Ranunculaceae) difficult to identify. One we found on our hike was a bit challenging. The key to knowing the Buttercups is to use a hand lens and look at the achenes (a small, dry one-seeded fruit that does not open to release the seed) located in the center of the flower. The styles (the stalks above the ovaries) of the achenes are important for the identification. Note the styles in the photo below are “bent backwards”, hence the species epithet “recurvatus“.

Hooked Crowfoot (Ranunculus recurvatus) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

The upper part of the Hemlock Trail is lined with many large deciduous trees, while the lower section travels along Laurel Run Creek through an impressive hemlock woods.

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

Short spurs from the trail lead to the creek.

Top photo (c) Bill Beatty, lower photo (c) Jan Runyan

Jan found a very attractive clump of Wild geraniums and we decided to take some photos.

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) (Top left photo (c) Jan Runyan, other two photos (c) Bill Beatty)

We found my favorite trillium, the Painted Trillium, in several places along the trail.

Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

We found a few Clintonia Lilies. Most were forming flower buds deep down inside the leaf cluster, but one was in full bloom.

White Clintonia Lily (Clintonia umbellulata) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

We had a great time!

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

Unfortunately, there was a sad downside to our hike. In many places along the trail we found that someone had defaced of the beauty and peacefulness of nature. Some well-meaning but grossly out-of-touch person wanted everyone to know what they were feeling.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

Jan said it was as if someone were standing in the trail in front of us, whining and yelling. The vandalism certainly did take away from the beauty and serenity usually found on this trail. Jan did her best to scratch out, rub away, or cover the ecogarbage, but some had to remain for Mother Nature to take care of in her own time.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

In the end, in spite of the vandalism, the beauty and the sounds of birds and water in the Hemlock Woods worked their magic on us and we continued our journey refreshed.

Mountain Nature Camp for Adults – June 16-22, 2019

This tradition of excellent mountain nature studies for adults continues!  This marks the 90th year of Mountain Camp.

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

At this year’s Mountain Nature Camp (Nature studies for adults) in Terra Alta, WV, I will be the botanist/naturalist.  I will be identifying and teaching about the wildflowers at the camp and on most of the field trips.   I will discuss edibility, medicinal uses and other natural history information.  I will also lead a hike in the Dolly Sods Wilderness area.

And this year Mountain Nature Camp ends with a very special celebration!!

Current campers, past campers and friends are all invited to celebrate the 90th Anniversary of Mountain Nature Camp!

On Saturday, June 22, 2019, from 2 – 9 PM all are welcome to be part of the festivities: nature programs and walks, displays, music, campfire activities, plenty of time to connect with friends old and new, and delicious food catered by Russ’ Ribs of Kingwood, WV. And it’s all free! All you have to do is RSVP online at https://oionline.com/camps/mountaincamp/ or by calling 304-242-6855. Contributions are greatly appreciated, and donors giving $25 or more will receive a free TA 90th Anniversary t-shirt.

Top left clockwise… Scarlet Tanager, Velvet-foot Mushroom, Wild Columbine and Forest Log Millipede  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

The best way to enjoy the 90th Anniversary Celebration is to come to camp for the whole week. Here’s more info about Mountain Nature Camp:

Typical Friday supper at Mountain Nature Camp… vegetarian menu is available (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Camp is designed for people with a variety of interests and all levels of experience/ability in Nature.

Field trips to a wide variety of habitats and elevations in the beautiful WV mountains will focus on many aspects of Nature Study.

Eating lunch at the Rohrbaugh Plains Trail Overlook in the Dolly Sods Wilderness (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Facilities: Koehnline Lodge has a meeting room, a dining room and a professional kitchen. It is surrounded by meadows, Lake Terra Alta, and woods with trails. Our shower-house has flush toilets and private showers.

Lodging: Sleep in your own tent in the woods or meadows (cots available) or make your own arrangements at nearby Alpine Lake Resort.

Meals: Home-cooked meals are made by experienced cooks, using many fresh, local ingredients. For full-day field trips, lunch is brought with us. Most special dietary needs can be accommodated.

Staff: Our staff includes experts in their fields, recognized naturalists and professional nature interpreters who are distinguished for their knowledge and their ability to teach students at any level in Botany, Ornithology, Ecology, Natural History and other topics.

For more information: Call: 304-242-6855

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

The Allegheny Front Migration Observatory (AFMO), Hiking, Wildflowers and More on Dolly Sods – late September, 2018

The AFMO has been operating each fall (mid August to early October) since 1958 and is the oldest continuously operating bird banding station in North America.  The AFMO is located along the Allegheny Front (eastern continental divide) near the Red Creek Campground on Dolly Sods in WV.  Most of Dolly Sods is a federally designated Wilderness Area comprising 32,000 acres.  The banding station is in the Dolly Sods Scenic Area, next to the Wilderness. 

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 the AFMO instead of banding, we work as net-tenders removing the birds from the 30 mist nets used for trapping the migratory birds that cross the Allegheny Front in this area.

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(Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Shortly after we started our trip to the AFMO in 2018, our adventure was augmented by a fallen tree blocking Rt. 42 just south of Friendsville, MD.  It had just happened and we were the first south-bound car to be stopped by the tree.  Fortunately I had a pruning saw.  Three other gentlemen joined Jan and me and we had the tree off the road in a short time.   People in West Virginia and western Maryland are like that — we take care of things.

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(Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Saffitickers is always a welcome stop on our way to the Blackwater Falls/Canaan Valley area.   Ice cream is a great reward for a tree-moving job well-done.  Despite my reputation, I really am a vanilla kind of guy.
We arrived at the Red Creek Campground without further interruption and set up our trailer for our 2-week stay.

 

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(Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

The sunrises at the eastern-facing AFMO are spectacular, and, since we open the banding station well before sunrise, we are always there to see them.  Thrushes like to get an early start, often getting into the nets before the sun rises.  Later, all kinds of warblers and other species of birds grace us with their presence. 

Some mornings when the banding station is open we can be quite busy.  Most of the birds we capture are warblers.

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Hooded Warbler males — adult on left and a hatch-year on right. (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

The two birds above are Hooded Warblers.  Hooded Warbler males who were born before this year usually show an obvious hood like the one on the left.  An older female will usually have a lighter, less-pronounced hood.  Hatch-year Hooded Warbler males and females sometimes show no hood whatsoever so we have to use other means to identify the species.  The hatch-year Hooded Warbler on the right is being identified by looking at the under-tail coverts and retricies (tail feathers).

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Mourning Warbler on left and male American Redstart (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

In the fall, a Mourning Warbler can be differentiated from a Connecticut Warbler by the Mourning’s broken eye-ring.  On an American Redstart, an older male will show deep orange to salmon colored patches on the tail and wings, while younger males look more like females with pale yellow to yellow-orange patches.  After examining the throat, breast, head and coverts of this bird, it was determined to be a young male.

We regularly capture many different species of warblers.  Some look very different in the fall than they do in the spring when they are in their breeding plumage.

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Black-throated Blue Warbler on left and Bay-breasted Warbler (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
The white wing patch of the Black-throated Blue Warbler stands out vividly from the intense blue and black of the rest of the feathers.  Very little of the bay-colored breast shows up on Bay-breasted Warblers in the fall.  It can be a tough fall bird to identify as it sits in a tree. 

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Magnolia Warbler on left and Blackburnian Warbler (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
The Magnolia Warbler on the left has a distinctive pattern on the underside of its tail.   The Blackburnian Warbler’s brilliant orange springtime throat is much more muted in the fall.

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Cape May Warbler on left and Black-and-White Warbler (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)
The Cape May Warbler on the left shows much less of the chestnut-colored cheek patch than he had in the spring and summer, but his distinct white wing patch tells us he is a male.   Black-and-White Warblers look fairly similar all through the year, but this bird’s darker cheeks indicate that it’s a male. 

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Palm Warbler (western race) (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)
It is very difficult to tell the age and gender of the nondescript Palm Warbler (western race — Dendroica palmarum).

net tending
(Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
On the left, Jan is removing a Black-throated Blue Warbler from a mist net.  Between net-tending at the AFMO and our own banding at home, she has worked with many thousands of birds.  On the right, Jan is teaching Lee about ways to carefully and safely extricate a bird from a net.  Lee has been working at several banding stations learning the intricacies of net-tending.  

btgn warbler
(Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Jan is removing Black-throated Green Warbler from a mist net.  Net-tenders know how to hold a bird so it is safe and doesn’t hurt itself.  A band on the leg of a bird doesn’t harm the bird or cause it problems.  At our home banding station we have had many local banded birds who have stayed around for years and other migratory banded bird who have returned to our nets for several years, sometimes even beyond their “expected” life span. 

When we’re on Dolly Sods working at the Allegheny Front Migration Observatory (AFMO) we do more than just work with birds.  On some days the banding station doesn’t open due to high winds, dense fog and/or rain.  And since most days we are finished banding by noon, we have plenty of time for other nature/Dolly Sods adventures. 

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Monarch Butterfly life-cycle (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

This year we noticed a lot more Monarch Butterflies than in the past several years.  Our friend, a young man named Finn, being considerably shorter than the adults, was a master at finding Monarch caterpillars on the undersides of leaves. 

wet banding station
(Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
There were many wet and foggy days during the two weeks that Jan and I were on Dolly Sods this year.  The trail from the road to the AFMO became a stream (left 2 photos) and one of the streams flowing through the north net lanes was gushing over the rocks instead of trickling below them.  Of course we had to explore it all.

flooding and fog
(Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
On the left, Jan is walking through the water flowing across the entrance road to the Red Creek Campground.  She was pleased she had remembered to bring her tall boots.  The photo on the right shows the foggy, limited scenery observed by some of the visitors to the AFMO overlook. 

Although I did some solo hiking on “the sods”, there was one day I led a hike for a group of friends.  It rained the entire day, and the water was high everywhere — in the streams, in the bogs and in other usually-dry places.  We still had fun.  A bad day on Dolly Sods is better than a good day anywhere else.

hikers 1
(Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
Five of us hiked the wilderness edges of Alder Run Bog.  Some of us stayed dryer than others, who ended up in the hidden channels of deep streams. 

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(Left photo (c) Bill Beatty, right photo (c) Lee Miller)
At the halfway point of the hike, three hikers opted for the road back to dry vehicles and homes.  Only Lee and I finished the hike by taking the Edge of the World Trail along the Allegheny Front. 

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Wild Raisin (Viburnum nudum) and Virgin’s Bower (Clematis virginiana) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

On some afternoons Jan and I hiked along the road looking for wildflowers and other interesting plants.

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Left to right – Nodding Ladies’ Tresses Orchid (Spiranthes cernua), Canadian St. John’s-wort (Hypericum canadense) and Arrowleaf Tearthumb (Persicaria sagittata) (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)
cranberries
(Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
While we are there in September, Jan and I always visit out favorite Dolly Sods wetlands to pick and eat fresh cranberries.  We often pick a bagful to make into cranberry relish, a fruity treat during the winter.

Birds aren’t the only ones attracted to the AFMO.  We have groups that visit to observe the research and see the birds up close.

visitors 1
(Photos (c) Jan Runyan)
On the left, Shelia, one of the AFMO station managers, is showing a bird to a group of young boys.  On the right, station banders and net-tenders talk with visitors about birds and bird banding as we wait for the fog to lift so the birds will fly.  

woodpecker tongue
(Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Visitors are always excited to see woodpeckers up close, especially when I show them something they never expected.  Woodpeckers’ tongues are about as long as the bird’s body (not including tail feathers).   After woodpeckers peck holes into insect trails in the tree and under the bark, the tongue allows them to “fish” for the insects they eat.  Here I am showing the special tongue of a Northern Flicker, a kind of woodpecker.

visitors 2
(Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
On the left Jan is showing a warbler to some budding photographers.  They knew how to use their equipment and got some great photos.  On the right a boy is ready to release a Northern Flicker.  This group of home-schooled students represents several nearby states and they visit the AFMO each year.  They are all very accomplished birders and hopefully future bird banders. 

andy
(Photos (c) Jan Runyan)
Jackie showed our friend Andy a Black-throated Blue Warbler, taught her how to hold the bird and then Andy got to release the bird.

demo net
(Photos (c) Jan Runyan)
Here I am at the demonstration mist net showing a group of students how the birds are captured. 

Although warblers are what we capture most often, we also catch other kinds of interesting birds.

(Photos (c) Jan Runyan)
On the left is a Wood Thrush and on the right is a Grey-cheeked Thrush.  If you look carefully on the Grey-cheeked Thrush, you can see that bird’s legs are not uniformly round, but much thicker from front to back than from side to side. 

(Photos (c) Jan Runyan)
We could tell that this bird was obviously a flycatcher, but which one?  Each bander brings a library of books and notebooks to help with dilemmas like this.  The closest we could determine was that it was an Alder or Willow Flycatcher, which are so similar that usually only the song can tell them apart, so it was recorded as a Traill’s type of Flycatcher.

(Photos (c) Jan Runyan)
On the left is a beautiful little Red-breasted Nuthatch.  On the right, bander Zig is showing a Lincoln’s Sparrow.

Apart from the avian data collected at the station, another great value inherent in the AFMO is exposing people to the love of nature.

(Photos (c) Jan Runyan)
Our friend, Finn is holding two different Smooth Green Snakes he found nearby.

(Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Here Finn and I are exploring a Dolly Sods road edge together.   He is becoming a great young scientist and a certified Nature nut, like me. 

(Left photo (c) Bill Beatty and right photo (c) Jan Runyan)
After a morning of banding birds at the AFMO, Jan is walking back to our campsite at the campground.   I am getting ready to eat lunch with Jan before I take off for some alone time in the Dolly Sods Wilderness.

(Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
Time with special friends at the campground!  Every now and then, the banders, net-tenders and other AFMO people get together to share potluck food, stories, laughter and fun.  Such wonderful friends!

For Jan and me, Dolly Sods represents so many different kinds of opportunities: helping to protect the earth through scientific avian research; alone time to better understand who we are as individuals and to find clues to age-old questions like “Why am I here?”; alone time together, just Jan and me, in a spectacular place; and group time with some of the best people on the planet, our friends, who also love Dolly Sods and all of nature.

Dolly Sods sunrise (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

A bad day on Dolly Sods is better than a good day anywhere else.

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

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

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Photo (c) Bill Beatty

accomodations

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

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

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

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

downy woodpecker (Dendrocopos pubescens) on poison ivy branch wi

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

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

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

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

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The state park offers a number of trails.

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

dogwood trail

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

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

pawpaw

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

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

comma

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

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

Christmas fern sori (Polystichum acrostichoides)

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) was the dominant shrub.

spicebush berries (Lindera benzoin)

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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

F American holly tree (Ilex opaca) berries

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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

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Photos (c) Bill Beatty

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

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

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Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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

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

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

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

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

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(Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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

 

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

This adult nature studies camp has been operating for over 90 years!    This was the 89th year that either Oglebay Institute or the Brooks Bird Club has sponsored the camp in Preston  County, WV.  Many campers return year after year for the fun and quality Nature education.  The following photos show much of the learning and enjoyment that were packed into one week.

One of the first things each camper does when they arrive is to put up their tent.  The tent sites are as close to friends or as secluded as each person desires.  Those that don’t want to camp can stay at nearby Alpine Lake Lodge.

tents

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

Each morning starts with a bird walk.  Sometimes we go into the woods; sometimes to  nearby fields and pastures.  Other bird walks take us through a variety of habitats along the road bordering Terra Alta Lake.

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

This year I was the camp Botanist.    On Monday I taught a class on plant identification and natural history.  Since 2006 we have found and recorded 106 species of wildflowers and shrubs flowering just on the camp’s 18 acres, just during the third week of June when Mountain Nature Camp is usually in session.

Camp flowers

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

While I was out teaching and exploring the camp habitats with half of the campers, Jan was inside presenting her “Birding Fundamentals for Everyone” program.  Jan and I usually take photos of each other teaching, but at Mountain Camp we were both teaching at the same time, so, below, I have a photo of her teaching the program at another venue.  The other program that day, “Newcombs — One More Time”, was given by Helen Wylie, camp botanist emeritus.  She has always said that many of us need a yearly reminder of how to identify plants…we were glad to have Helen teach us again!

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

Greg Park, retired Oglebay Institute Naturalist, visited camp on Tuesday to present a herpetology program.  In the morning, after talking about reptiles and amphibians, Greg took us into the woods where we found and studied some “herps”.

Greg herps

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

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

ferns

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

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

misc plants

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

Campers searched high and low for herps and found a variety of salamanders.  Using plastic bags we were all able to get great looks at the different kinds before we released them in the same location.

salamanders

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

Len found a log that was just loaded with tiny fungi and slime molds.  Then, surprisingly, a tiny Red-backed Salamander also appeared from a fissure in the log.  He was gone before we could get a photo!

len slime

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

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

birds

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

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

Greg snake

(Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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

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(Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

At the breast of the dam Larry set up his scope so everyone could see the Bald Eagles and their nest at the far end of the lake.

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

On the way back to Mountain Nature Camp, Greg moved a Snapping Turtle from the road.  Although this photo is not that same turtle from this year’s camp, the photo actually shows another Snapping Turtle from another camp trip in a previous year.  Greg and Snapping Turtles seem to have a history.

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(Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Each night at camp, when the weather permits, we have great campfires.  Again Lenny Muni  was our very capable campfire leader.  We always enjoy sharing our highlights of the day and hearing Lenny’s music (solos and sing-alongs), stories and inspirational readings.

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

lenny fires

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

On Wednesday we traveled to Copper’s Rock State Forest.  Part of the group chased birds on Raven’s Rock Trail while Jan and I went with a group along Rattlesnake Trail to explore parts of “Rock City”.

Rock City

Rock City  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

All week Len was looking for and finding many kinds of slime molds.  Some he already knew the names of and others I was able to teach him.

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

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

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

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

After our picnic lunch,  Claudette Simard from Fairmont University met us for a Geology lesson.  She took us to the Cooper’s Rock overlook to describe the big picture of the whole area and then down in crevices between boulders to explain the finer points of certain rock layers and formations.  Jan wished she could take Claudette back to interpret Rock City.

geology claudette

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

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

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

There were so many birds, plants, animals, fungi and slime molds to see, I’m sure Mountain Nature Campers will want to return to Cooper’s Rock again.

misc Coopers

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

When we returned to Mountain Nature Camp on Terra Alta Lake, our camp cook (and long-time friend) Bobby Hauger treated us to a special find.  While we had been on our field trip, he had seen 2 Roseate Spoonbills in an inlet bordering the 18 acre peninsula where the camp is located.  The birds were then observed by two campers who had not gone on the field trip.  When the rest of us returned and heard the news, several campers immediately went looking for the birds, but couldn’t find them.  After dinner, as the search continued, two campers decided to walk around the lake and eventually the spoonbills were spotted way across the lake in the headwaters’ shallows.  Thanks to Mary Edith, all campers were able to see the birds.

roseate spoonbill color

Roseate Spoonbills  (Photo (c) Cory Altemus)

Of course we set up scopes and took lots of photos.  This find will be a new state record for West Virginia.  The tradition of spectacular nature finds by Oglebay Institute’s Mountain Nature Camp continues!

scope spoonbill

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

On Thursday, as some birders from around WV arrived to try to spot the Spoonbills, we separated into two groups for our field trip.  One group went to look at  birds and wildflowers along Canaan Loop Road and I took the other group hiking in the Dolly Sods Wilderness.  It was a beautiful day along Canaan Loop Road and at Red Run.  The orange color of the water is due to tannic acid from the decaying Red Spruce needles and sphagnum mosses in the bogs that feed the stream.

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

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

Canaan Loop Road never disappoints – we always find a variety of interesting wildlife.  The following photos represent the kinds of things campers saw on Canaan Loop Road.

Canaan Loop 2

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

red-spotted purple butterflies (Basilarchia astyanax) puddling

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

Meanwhile, up in the Dolly Sods Wilderness, I was leading a hike on one of the little-known “off-trail” trails that I have discovered and explored during the many years I have been visiting this spectacular mountain plateau.

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The intrepid hikers  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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

red-spotted newt salamander (Notophthalmus viridescens viridesce

(Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Randy always seems to have close encounters with wildlife.  In 2016 and 2017, it was a Common Snapping Turtle.  This year on Dolly Sods it was this curious Pearl Crescent Butterfly.

Randy butterfly

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

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

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Crossing Red Creek  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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

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

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

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

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

At supper time both groups met at the Pendleton Point Overlook picnic shelter at Blackwater Falls State Park for a cookout and to share stories about our trips.

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Photos (c) Bill Beatty

On Friday, after the bird walk and breakfast, we took a morning field trip to nearby Chestnut Heights, a treasure trove of botany, ornithology and scenic beauty.

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Chestnut Heights  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

In the afternoon I presented a power point program about “The Salamanders of West Virginia”.   That evening, Bobby outdid himself, presenting us with steak and shrimp for our last supper.  It was a wonderful week of fun people, spectacular wildlife and delicious meals.

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

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

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

Saturday was our last day.  We had a casual bird walk, ate breakfast, and relaxed with friends as our tents dried.  Then we said our goodbyes to friends, old and new, and to Mountain Nature Camp…until next year!

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Photo (c) Jan Runyan

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Mountain Nature Camp 2018

Post Script:  The other birders searching for the 2 Roseate Spoonbills on Thursday were not able to locate them, although they searched Terra Alta Lake and nearby locations.  Only Mountain Nature campers had the pleasure of seeing and photographing the unusual birds.  Our thanks, again, to Bobby for finding the birds and recognizing that they were very special.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

The AFMO has been operating each fall since 1958 and is the oldest continuously operating bird banding station in North America.  I have been visiting this bird banding station since 1972 and volunteering since 2004.  Jan has volunteered since 2007, the year she retired. We are both federally licensed bird banders, but at AFMO we volunteer as net-tenders removing birds from the 30 mist nets used for trapping migratory birds. The AFMO is located along the Allegheny Front (eastern continental divide) near the Red Creek Campground on Dolly Sods. Most of Dolly Sods is federally designated as Wilderness Area comprising 32,000 acres. The banding station is in the Dolly Sods Scenic Area.

Dolly Sods Wilderness fall scenic

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

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photos (c) Jan Runyan

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

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

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

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

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

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Veery (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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

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Dolly Sods sunrises (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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

 

 

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

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

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Palm Warbler (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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

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

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Mourning Warbler (photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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

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

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

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Hooded Warbler (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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Hooded Warbler (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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

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Cape May Warbler (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

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

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photos (c) Jan Runyan

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

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photo (c) Jan Runyan

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birds are not the only animals visiting the AFMO.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Each and every morning the bird banding research continued.

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photos (c) Jan Runyan

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photos (c) Jan Runyan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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