The 2017 Brooks Bird Club Mountain Nature Camp

Mountain Nature Camp had a mix of wild and mild weather, nature-nature-nature, great music, delicious food, new and old friends, and (did I mention?) nature.  Year after year for 90 years this longest-running adult nature studies camp has attracted nature enthusiasts from many states.  Traditions have developed over the years including campfires each evening (weather permitting) and early morning bird walks every day.  In between there are on-site programs and field trips to some of West Virginia’s most scenic and biologically rich areas.

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Lenny, on guitar, and Chuck (right), on harmonica.  Besides traditional campfire songs like “Country Roads”, “Those West Virginia Hills”, “Paradise” and “The Ash Grove”, we also have a few not sung anywhere else outside of Mountain Nature Camp:  “Let’s go Down to Good Old TA” and “The Lug Nut Blues” (with its guitar and harmonica accompaniment this song is sure to become a hit!)  Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Early morning bird walks along the camp’s long tree-lined lane, adjacent trails, fields and roads provide a nice variety of songs and sightings.

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Left to right – Gray Catbird, Scarlet Tanager and Turkey Vulture.  Left and right photos (c) Bill Beatty, center photo (c) Jan Runyan

Monday’s two on-site classes were Birds and Botany.  Because of rain, the first part of the Bird class was held indoors.

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For part of the Bird class Larry showed campers how to adjust, focus and clean binoculars properly.  Photo (c) Jan Runyan

I was the Mountain Nature Camp botanist for the week and taught my classes outside…plants are still easily available even in the rain.  The Flowering Plant list (plants whose flowers we have seen since 2006 during camp week) has 105 species found on or adjacent to the 18 acres of  Mountain Nature Camp property.

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We learned the fine differences between Curly Dock and Clustered Green Dock via the keys in the Flora of West Virginia.   Photos (c) Jan Runyan

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Left to right – Black-eyed Susan, White Avens (flower and fruit) and Bluets  All photos (c) Bill Beatty

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Left to right – Blue-eyed Grass, Whorled Loosestrife, Jack-in-the-pulpit and Poke Milkweed  All photos (c) Bill Beatty

The rainy weather brought out some unexpected visitors during my wildflower/botany walk.

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Orange crayfish found along the road  Photo (c) Jan Runyan

After supper Lenny gave an indoor Astronomy class in preparation for outdoor classes that followed each evening’s campfire.

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Lenny, the campfire leader and astronomer, showed us the finer details of planet rotation, revolution and eclipses as well as explaining the constellations of the zodiac.  Photo (c) Bill Beatty

On Tuesday morning Jan and Kimberlee presented a class about Edible and Medicinal Wild Plants.

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After Jan talked about the edible value and ways to prepare a wild plant, Kimberlee talked about the plant’s medicinal qualities.  Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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They served Spearmint tea, Sassafras tea and Day Lily jerky as part of the class.  Photos (c) Bill Beatty

On Tuesday afternoon Mick Brown, master falconer and president of the Ohio Falconry Association, gave a talk about his Harris’s Hawks and falconry adventures.

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Mick Brown and one of his Harris’s Hawks  Left photo (c) Jan Runyan, right photo (c) Bill Beatty

On Wednesday we had an all day trip to “Old Hemlock” in Bruceton Mills, WV, where LeJay Graffious took us on a tour of the property and his MAPS bird banding operation in the morning.   In the afternoon, he and his wife, Helen Ann, showed some of us the historical aspect of the property while other campers took a canoe ride on the Big Sandy River.  For more information about the Old Hemlock Foundation visit: http://oldhemlock.org/

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Along the roadway to Old Hemlock we saw several American Kestrels  Photos (c) Bill Beatty

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Left to right – LeJay removing a Hooded Warbler from a mist net;  banding and recording data about the bird;  lunch in the Old Hemlock facility.  All photos (c) Jan Runyan

On Thursday I led a hike into the Dolly Sods Wilderness.  Heavy rains were forecast, but no rain happened.

We were surprised to see Wild Bleeding Heart still blooming in many places along the road.  Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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Left to right – My hikers at the “ROCK”; the Mountain Laurel was in full bloom; and crossing the Beatty Labyrinth rock field.  All photos (c) Bill Beatty

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Left to right – My hikers in the Red Spruce forest; crossing the High Mountain Meadow; along the headwaters of Fisher’s Spring Run; and posing with more Mountain Laurel.  All photos (c) Bill Beatty

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Left to right – Red Spruce flag tree; Ruffed Grouse; and Cucumber Magnolia tree with Hay Scented ferns  All photos (c) Bill Beatty

In the morning while I was hiking with my ‘guys’, the other campers explored along Canaan Loop Road identifying wildflowers and chasing birds.  At their first stop, they  listened in awe to the songs of several Hermit Thrushes and Winter Wrens echoing through the forest.  (video (c) Jan Runyan)

Later stops brought other bird songs and lots of interesting plants for Helen to tell campers about.

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Campers exploring along Canaan Loop Road and a Pentstamon/Beardstongue flower.  Photos (c) Jan Runyan

In the afternoon they were invited to visit a special place hosted by a very special person.

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The woman who lives here designed and built this house stone by stone using stones from nearby streams.  All photos (c) Jan Runyan

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She is also an artist in many media.  Her art and design can be seen inside and outside the house and throughout the property.  All photos (c) Jan Runyan

At the end of this all-day field trip both groups met at the Pendleton Point Shelter in Blackwater Falls State Park for supper.

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Left to right –  Singing grace before eating; Larry took a group to the ‘Point’ to look for Black Vultures;  my great friend, Cindy, visited with us at Blackwater Falls.  All photos (c) Jan Runyan

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Some of the group went to see the falls in Blackwater Falls State Park while the rest of us went to Saffiticker’s for ice cream.  Left photo (c) Bill Beatty  Two right photos (c) Jan Runyan

Friday was our last full day at Mountain Nature Camp.  I presented a program about some of my “TA” experiences from the “TA” chapter in my new book.  (“TA” stands for Terra Alta, the small town near the Mountain Nature Camp facility.)  Some of the campers there had shared in my some of my experiences including Michelle’s White-throated Sparrow and Marsha’s White-crowned Sparrow.

TA book program

In my program I told about two people I first met at Mountain Nature Camp in 1972 — Libby Bartholomew and Forest Buchanan.  These two people were a great influence on my life.  Left photo (c) Jan Runyan

In the afternoon we all met Dr. Zach Fowler of WVU at Cathedral State Park for a class about mosses.

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Left to right – Two generations of naturalists (Martin, me and Zach);  campers focused on looking at the tiny mosses Zach was showing us on the ground and on the trees.  Left photo (c) Jan Runyan  Two right photos (c) Bill Beatty

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We discovered that you can’t learn about mosses without learning some about lichens and liverworts, too.  All photos (c) Bill Beatty

The interest in mosses never waned.  We just ran out of time and had to return to Mountain Nature Camp for supper, but we had no idea what a treat awaited us back at camp.

Breakfast, lunch and supper were great every day, but Friday’s supper was spectacular!

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Left to right – Bobby and Jane made delicious meals all week long;  the baked salmon and steak shish-kabobs served for Friday’s supper were even more outstanding.  All photos (c) Jan Runyan

Last year Randy’s tent had been partially eaten by some unknown creature.  Some said, “You shouldn’t put your tent so close to the water.”  What did he do this year?  Yes, he camped in the same spot.  However, this year things were different.

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Mystery solved!  Left photo (c) Jan Runyan  right photo (c) Bill Beatty

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2017 Mountain Nature Campers and Staff  (c) Jan Runyan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Swamp Sparrow  (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

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

 

 

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

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Yellow Warbler  (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Mountain Nature Camp June 18-24, 2017

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

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

This is a nature study camp for adults.  Mountain Nature Camp is located on an 18 acre peninsula of rural Terra Alta Lake in Preston County, West Virginia. Classes are on or near the grounds. Field trips include some of the most scenic and diverse locations in the West Virginia mountains.

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

** Field trips focus on many aspects of Nature Study in destinations with a

variety of habitats and elevations.

** Hiking options available.

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Rohrbaugh Plains Overlook in the Dolly Sods Wilderness… photo (c) Bill Beatty

Facilities: Surrounded by woods with trails, meadows and the lake, Koehnline Lodge has a meeting room, dining room and professional kitchen. Our showerhouse has flush toilets and private showers.

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

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

Staff: Experts in their fields, recognized naturalists and professional interpreters are distinguished for their knowledge and their ability to teach both beginners and experts in Botany, Ornithology, Ecology, Natural History and other topics.

For more information: Call: 304-242-8562

Additional information and registration: http://www.brooksbirdclub.org/mountain-nature-camp.html

Canaan Valley Birding Festival – June 1-4, 2017

The West Virginia mountains in June are the perfect place for bird lovers and Nature lovers.  The  diverse high elevation boreal habitats, grasslands and boggy wetlands in and around Canaan Valley, WV, are the breeding ground for a wide variety of neo-tropical and other birds.   The Festival features all-day and half-day field trips as well as evening keynote speakers (I will speak on Saturday) and evening sounds walks.

Jan and I will be leading the following field trips:

Left – Deciduous woodland… Center – Kentucky Warbler… Right – Louisiana Waterthrush building nest  All photos (c) Bill Beatty

Friday: 6:00am–3:30pm… Stuart Memorial
Participants will carpool. Driving time to Stuart Memorial is approximately 45 minutes each way. This is a West Virginia high elevation specialties trip. Traditionally one of the most popular trips of the festival, it’s a wonderful 10-mile drive through mixed hardwood and Red Spruce forests with elevations ranging between 2,500 – 4,000 feet. Typically, 15-18 species of warbler are seen/heard which includes the possibility of Golden-winged Warbler and Mourning Warbler. Species which we should also see/hear at the highest elevations include Brown Creeper, Winter Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Other species include Least Flycatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, Red-breasted Nuthatch and Purple Finch. We will lunch near/on the observation deck at Bickle Knob which offers a stunning 360 degree panorama of the West Virginia mountains.
Leaders: Bill Beatty and Jan Runyan (Difficulty: 2-3)

Left – Beaver dam at Olsen Bog and Right – Ovenbird feeding young  Both photos (c) Bill Beatty

Saturday: 5:45am-3:30pm… Olsen Fire Tower + Big Run Bog then Fernow Forest (above photos) Participants will carpool.  Driving miles: 80 miles Round Trip.  Our first stop will be at the Olsen Fire Tower area where we usually find numerous Canada Warblers singing on territory.  The Olsen/Big Run area is home to many nesting warbler, thrush and vireo species as well as many other kinds of birds. The area where Big Run Bog empties into Big Run is often home to nesting Northern Waterthrushes.  Just before arriving at Fernow Experimental Forest we will be in an area which often has Blue-winged, Kentucky and Hooded Warblers as well as American Redstarts and more. Most of our day will be spent in the Fernow Forest where we will hear and see lowland forest birds as well as higher elevation birds.  The managed forest plots create a wide variety of forest habitats.  Along Elklick Run in Fernow there are Louisiana Waterthrushes.  Other warbler species we could encounter there are: Northern Parula, Black-throated Green, Black-and-white, Black-throated Blue, Magnolia, Yellow-rumped, Canada, Chestnut-sided, Blackburnian, American Redstart, Worm-eating, Hooded, Mourning, Common Yellowthroat and Ovenbird.  Scarlet Tanagers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks as well as many other non-warbler species are common.   Public restrooms will be available at a stop between Big Run and Fernow.  (Difficulty rating: 1-2:  Most of the time we will be along dirt/gravel roadways near the cars.  People who want to chase a particular bird might get into more difficult terrain)  Leaders: Bill Beatty and Jan Runyan.

Saturday: 6:30pm I will be presenting the keynote,  “I See Your Hooded and Raise You a Wilson’s”  I have spent much of my life outdoors surrounded by multitudes of birds and other wild creatures. I have hiked every ridge and valley I could find, taken many thousands of photos for some of the world’s most prestigious magazines, handled tens of thousands of birds, been surrounded by lightning and drenched from head to toe in torrential downpours and loved every minute of it. Although I became known among photo editors for my work with insects, spiders and other invertebrates, birds were always my favorite. Through all of this, things happened…often with birds. From my book, “Rainbows, Bluebirds and Buffleheads” I will share some of my favorite stories from a lifetime of pursuing birds.

Sunday: 6:30am–11:30amBeall Tract – Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge
Participants will carpool to the Beall Tract, approximately 20 minutes from the lodge. The Beall trails pass through forest, field, shrub, swamp and bog habitats, with spur trails leading to the Blackwater River. The forested areas should produce a variety of warblers, thrushes and vireos. Kingfishers and flycatchers are often seen along the trails near the river. The grassland areas have produced over half a dozen sparrow species along the route. With such variety of habitat, the possibilities are certainly broad ranging.
Leaders: Bill Beatty and Jan Runyan (Difficulty: 2)

Additional information and registration: http://www.canaanresort.com/events/canaan-valley-birding-festival/ or https://169307c90649224df2b8-b894092ec8bd6bd97300c832b761e87a.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com/general-uploads/CVR-Birding-Festival-2017-Event-Flyer.pdf