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)

Big Run Bog – An Unexpected Road Trip – Saturday, August 10, 2019

On Thursday morning I received a call from my friend Lee with a request, “If you can take me into Big Run Bog this Saturday, we’ll take you and Jan out to supper. I know you are busy, so if you can’t do it day-after-tomorrow, maybe you can do it the next Saturday.” A few weeks earlier he had emailed me, wanting to know the location of Big Run Bog. I knew he had been there before with a group I had led, but on that trip we had called it by its other name: Olson Bog. After the name confusion was cleared up, I was sure he knew the bog’s location, so I wondered why he wanted us to accompany him.

Big Run Bog / Olson Bog (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Jan loves Big Run Bog and thought it was a great idea especially since we had recently talked about taking more road trips. We didn’t have anything planned for Saturday and the weather prediction was for a cool, dry day … perfect! And, of course, time with Lee and Kimberlee is always fun, especially in wild places. I told Lee we would meet them at the bog on Saturday at 10 am. He was excited and I was still curious about his purpose.

We arrived at the bog at about the same time. Lee got out of his truck with a piece of paper in his hand which he held out to me right away. On the paper was a drawing of Buckbean, Menyanthes trifoliata, only known in 4 very specific habitat locations in West Virginia. “I want you to show me this plant,” he demanded.

Expecting something like this, I was ready! I reached into my pocket and pulled out a blindfold. “Some of the rarest plants in West Virginia are in one part of this bog,” I told him, “and I don’t show them to just anyone. I haven’t even shown them to Jan. You have to go in blindfolded!”

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

We all had fun with the blindfold. I’m not sure if, at first, Lee knew that I was joking, but I knew Lee could be trusted 100% to not reveal the area I was about to show him.

Lee explained that he had been reading a book about WV nature which mentioned that Buckbean has been found in Big Run Bog. As a birthday gift to himself he wanted to see this very rare plant, so a few weeks earlier he had explored part of the bog, trying to find it. His solo trip in the bog had been more of a challenge than he had expected. Big Run Bog, designated a National Natural Landmark in 1974, comprises 731 acres of small streams, beaver ponds and lots of cranberry/sphagnum bog. Lee explained that when he went searching in the area where I had taken the group years ago, he had trouble staying out of the water. Often he would sink in up to his knee and then, when he tried to pull himself out with the other foot, that foot would sink into the muck, too. It was exhausting. Although he saw wonderful plants like insectivorous sundews and pitcher plants almost everywhere he searched, he had found no sign of Buckbean or any other rare plants.

Round-leaved Sundew, Drosera rotundifolia (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Pitcher Plant, Sarracenia purpurea (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Now that I knew what our target plant was, we entered the bog in a different place, near the area where I had seen it before. As we were walking through the woods toward the bog, we found American Yew, Taxus canadensis, a plant that is hard to find in West Virginia since most of its range is much farther north.

American Yew (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

About a minute after entering the bog, we ran into Lee’s target plant, Buckbean. Lee was excited! There were well over 100 plants in that small area. “Okay,” I said, “you’ve seen your Buckbean. Now let’s get out of here!”

Buckbean, Menyanthes trifoliata (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Of course we didn’t leave. We decided to explore more of this rarely-visited part of the bog to see what other rare plants and interesting nature we might find. In previous visits to this bog I had noticed that the Golden Club, Orontium aquaticum, had been so heavily browsed by deer that it might only survive in the deeper water where the deer couldn’t get to it. I was pleasantly surprised to find large patches of Golden Club in many places with no sign of deer browse. Golden Club appears to be doing quite well and is expanding to other parts of the bog.

Golden Club, Orontium aquaticum, (Top photo (c) Jan Runyan, bottom photo (c) Bill Beatty)

We found many Golden Club fruits with seeds destined to become more plants. When I had been in Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia many years ago, I had heard this plant called “Never Wet”. No matter how long they are submerged in water, the leaves never retain water or feel wet when lifted out of the water. Water droplets just sit on the top of a leaf and roll right off when the leaf is tipped.

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

Although not a rare plant, Bog Clubmoss, Lycopodiella inundata, is only found in certain wetlands. We saw a lot of this ancient, perennial, evergreen, spore-bearing plant.

Bog Clubmoss, Lycopodiella inundata (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

A plant I had seen and photographed years before in this same area was Quillwort, Isoetes engelmannii, a tiny, easily-overlooked plant usually restricted to moving-water runs and edges. Although we looked for it, we didn’t find it this time, but I still believe it is hiding in the bog.

Quillwort, Isoetes engelmannii, (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

We started to explore beyond the Buckbean area. A short distance away was a nice colony of many Kidney-Leaf Grass of Parnassus, Parnassia asarifolia, plants. Many of them had flower buds and a few were in full flower.

Kidney Leaf Grass of Parnassus, Parnassia asarifolia (Left photo (c) Jan Runyan, right photo (c) Bill Beatty)

We discovered many Small Green Wood Orchid, Platanthera clavellata, leaves, but only a few of the plants were still flowering.

Small Green Wood Orchid, Platanthera clavellata (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Small Green Wood Orchid, Platanthera clavellata (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Lee was excited and interested in everything we found.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

The Hispid Blackberries, Rubus hispidus, were ripe and, although very small compared to field blackberries, they were quite tasty. They were found throughout the bog and we grazed on handsful of delicious berries as we explored.

Lee photographed plants while I picked and ate the Hispid Blackberries (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

Cottongrass, Eriophorum virginicum, added interesting color and texture everywhere.

Cottongrass, Eriophorum virginicum, which is actually a sedge (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Jan took photos of many of the plants we saw as well as one of her favorite topics — old, sun-dried, gnarled tree stumps and roots.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Jan called this group of stump and roots, “Musk Ox”.

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

A Broad-winged Hawk, Buteo platypterus, began calling and was soon circling overhead for quite a long time. It seemed disturbed by something … maybe by us.

Broad-winged Hawk, Buteo platypterus (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

There were many more common plants throughout the area we explored. Most of these plants we had seen before, but they are always beautiful and interesting.

Left-to-right – Bottle/Closed Gentian, Gentiana andrewsii; Bog Goldenrod, Solidago uliginosa; Wild Raisin, Viburnum nudum (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

And we weren’t the only ones interested in the Gentian.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Large moss hummocks were covered with ripening cranberries that were larger than the cranberries we are used to seeing most years in West Virginia bogs.

Cranberries (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

As we explored our way back to the Buckbeans, we continued to notice tiny things we had overlooked earlier. We discovered what appeared to be several tiny red flowers on a very small plant. The plant looked familiar, but the red part confused me. A much closer look was warranted. When I got down (and wet) to examine the plant with a hand lens, I discovered that the red “flowers” were actually the red fruits of Lesser Canada St. John’s-wort, Hypericum canadense, an often-overlooked, tiny wetland plant which has yellow flowers.

Lesser Canada St. John’s-wort, Hypericum canadense (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

Soon Lee and Jan found another red plant that caused a quandary for me. At first I didn’t know what it was, but then it came to me — it was a very young, insectivorous sundew. But Jan disagreed, asking, “Where are the fleshy, sticky pads that trap insects?” There were none, so it again became an unknown to me. After a much closer examination I finally realized that it was a recently germinated Pitcher Plant. Examining nearby adult Pitcher Plants, we found the same design at the base of the full-sized pitchers.

Newly emerged Pitcher Plant (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

As we were leaving Big Run Bog, Jan asked Lee and me to be very quiet for about 30 seconds. She wanted to shoot a video of the ambiance of part of our exploration. Turn your sound up.

As we left the bog, we were captivated by the black-and-white artistry of this shadow of a fern on a dried leaf.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Out of the bog after hours of exploration, it was time to shed our wet clothes (how did Jan stay so clean and dry?), dry our feet and head to Davis, WV, for supper.

Photo (c) Lee Miller

There are several good places to eat in Thomas and Davis, WV, but my favorite is Siriani’s Cafe. We were so hungry from all-day bog-stomping that, although we had brought a cooler to take home our leftovers, both Jan and I ate our full servings of “Oh, Mike Goss”! Delicious!

Photo on right (c) The Waitress

And, of course, no trip to the mountains would be complete without stopping for dessert on the way home at Saffiticker’s Ice Cream in Oakland, Maryland.

Right photo (c) Bill Beatty

Jan and I are blessed to have wonderful people in our lives and to be able to visit special places and experience the wonders of Creation.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LEE!

Shirley Temple Wildflowers…..by Jan Runyan

For the “Greatest Generation”, my parents’ young years, Shirley Temple was a mega-star. Between 1935 and 1938, from ages 7 to 10, she was Hollywood’s #1 box office star, but by age 22 she had retired completely from making films. She started acting at age 3 and by age 5 she had flowered into a major actress, singer and dancer.   She could do it all and, by the standards of the time, she was a natural.

This early flower who blossomed at such a young age came to mind yesterday as Bill and I walked through woods and meadows. We saw many very early flowering plants already strutting their stuff in the cool spring breezes.

All around the yard the small, leafy rosettes of Pennsylvania Bitter Cress have already sent up tiny flower stalks. The four-petaled white flowers are often overlooked since they are so miniscule. Because of their plain design, they will never be stars in the flower world, but it’s worth kneeling to see these little gems against their backdrop of tiny leaflets (which are a great addition to a spring salad).

Pennsylvania bittercress (Cardamine pensylvanica)

Pennsylvania Bittercress (c) Bill Beatty

Pennsylvania bittercress (Cardamine pensylvanica)

Pennsylvania Bittercress flower stalk (c) Bill Beatty

In a large “empty” flower planter, Bill spotted Purple Henbit just beginning it’s display.  Ringing the stem is a circle of flowers — the first layer of flower rings which will build above each other like a flower apartment building. These showy flowers that no one ever sees rival orchids in their intricacy and beauty. The tiny tubes open upward into nodding hoods and lips in a variety of white to purple colors with deep magenta decorations splattered here and there. It takes magnification and, perhaps, muddy knees to get close enough to see the delicate loveliness of this undiscovered talent.

purple dead-nettle/purple henbit (Lamium purpureum)

Purple Henbit (c) Bill Beatty

purple dead-nettle or purple henbit (Lamium purpureum) mint

Purple Henbit flowers (c) Bill Beatty

Down the hill, we knew the Skunk Cabbage was blooming on its wetland stage where, this time of year, it is the only actor. Although swampy areas may not be ideal for a spring walk, it’s worth donning high boots to examine this unique character. Next to the unrolling large leaves is the green and purple, pear-shaped piece with a top that gently curves over and around. This is what many people think of as the Skunk Cabbage flower. Actually called a spathe, it almost completely surrounds the thick round spadix on which bloom a number of very tiny flowers of the same off-white, gray-beige color. Like a play way off-Broadway, Skunk Cabbage flowers are not the easiest things to see, but are definitely worth the trip.

skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foeridus)

Skunk Cabbage (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Of course dandelions can bloom in any month of the year…but be careful–what you see may not actually be a dandelion. This is the Coltsfoot time of year! It flowers so early along the road and driveway edges that the plant hasn’t even put out leaves yet. The large, hoof-shaped leaves will come later, but now the thick gray-green stems, rippled with stem leaves, reach up. The flower reminds me of a child’s drawing of a sun: dozens of long, thin, bright yellow petals seem to burst out from the center crowd of round stamens which look like the bubbly surface of the sun. Next time you think it’s just another smooth-stalked dandelion early in the spring, take a minute to look closer–you just may have a miniature sun on a leafy stem.

Coltsfoot and dandelion

Coltsfoot on top, Dandelion on bottom (c) Bill Beatty

Coltsfoot trio

Coltsfoot flowers (c) Bill Beatty

At first Sharp-lobed Hepatica flowers huddle in the woods with a bell-like shape, protected from the brisk spring winds by 3 green bracts. Soon this early-bloomer opens to show 6 or more long, rounded sepals (“petals” to most of us) of white to deep purple. Above the “petals” and a yellow pistil, the tall stamens look like a ring of bursting white fireworks celebrating the premier of the flower.

sharplobe hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba)

Sharp-lobed Hepatica (c) Bill Beatty

Also in the woods, the young Bloodroot flowers seem similarly protected from harsh spring weather by the large leaf wrapping almost totally around the bud. Eventually the stem grows beyond the leaf and the flower with a multitude of white petals and a sunny crown of bright yellow stamens stands proudly on the stage of early spring.

bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Bloodroot (c) Bill Beatty

The first daring daffodil, while not a wildflower in this area, has already braved the cool weather to dance in the wind. It stands tall, looking as if it were singing in the sunshine spotlight.

IMG_9867 LR

The first Daffodil, photo by Jan

Other plants are also starting their careers early, hoping a prompt start gives them an advantage. In open places in the woods, the ground is carpeted with bright fresh green Common Chickweed. As I found out two years ago in the garden, left unchecked, Common Chickweed will take over everything, doing a solo and keeping other plant actors out of the cast.

common chickweed (Stellaria media)

Common Chickweed (c) Bill Beatty

Tiny, exquisite flowers on our Red Maple are so early that they go almost unnoticed compared to super-stars like dogwood, apple and magnolia. When the tree just seems to have a reddish blush, I grab for a lower branch to examine it more closely. The multitude of long stamens beyond very tiny petals gives the flowers a fuzzy look. Most people have played with the winged samaras (“helicopters”, “whirlybirds”) that are the maple seeds, but few have seen where they originated.

red maple tree (Acer rubrum) flowers

Red Maple tree flowers (c) Bill Beatty

Also mostly unnoticed are the delicate flowers of the American Elm, now nearly past their season. Hanging down from the branches are the thin, long, green stems which end in petite flowers of white to pink. Spraying down from each flower are the white stems and large dark ends of the stamens reminding me of a two-layer firework display at the opening celebration for a new movie.

American elm tree (Ulmus americana) flowers

American Elm flowers (c) Bill Beatty

Like Shirley Temple, these flowers bloom early in the season, early in their young lives.

So many plants are growing, greening, and blossoming right now. Their visual chorus tells us that spring is here! But it’s like a tiny local theater production–beautiful and classy, but seen by almost no one.

Don’t miss out on Nature’s early spring pageant. The actors are dancing and showing off spectacularly right now, but soon they’ll be gone. Grab a coat, hat, gloves and hand lens.   See the Shirley Temple wildflowers!

Make Your Photos Pop!

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

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

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

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

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

Green Frog and Eastern Garter Snake (c) Bill Beatty

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

Skull-faced Jumping Spider (c) Bill Beatty

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

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