Jan and I got a new trailer in January. We didn’t get rid of our old one, but when we took our 2006 18-foot Micro-light to have the roof re-caulked, we decided to look at even smaller trailers on the lot. There happened to be a 2015 15-foot Whitewater Retro on consignment. It is light enough to be pulled by our mini-van. We got a great bargain, and all-of-a-sudden we had two trailers! We usually travel a lot each year, especially from mid-April until the end of June, leading workshops, guiding hikes and teaching. We plan to use the smaller trailer for short stays away from home. The “big” one is more like a cabin for longer stays.
But Covid happened and everything was cancelled, so our maiden voyage with the new trailer didn’t happen until 10 months later in October. We had to attend a meeting at Canaan Valley State Park. We could have gotten up really early that day and made a very long day of it, but decided instead to take the “little one” on her maiden voyage, arriving the day before, and staying for some hiking.
What turned out to be the best part of a great trip was that our wonderful friend Cindy was camped about 20 yards away for the first 2 days. There was even a trail between our two camp sites! The first thing Cindy asked was, “Can we go to see the Fringed Gentian?” Soon we were on our way.
There is only one known site for the Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis crinita) in West Virginia, and it is a spectacular wildflower. When we have seen them before, it was about 1 week earlier in the season and they were already in full bloom. Luckily, this year the season was later and we were fortunate to see the Fringed Gentian in various stages of flowering — from flower bud to full flower.
At this same location we found some beautiful Nodding Ladies’ Tresses Orchids (Spiranthes cernua).
Cindy wanted to make supper for us. Absolutely! We had a lovely supper of delicious Chicken Romano and a table full of side dishes.
Later we sat around a campfire and had fun reminiscing.
Cindy had to leave the next day, but we enjoyed a bit more time together before our meeting started. Due to renovations happening at the Blackwater State Park Lodge next spring, the West Virginia Wildflower Pilgrimage will be held at nearby Canaan Valley State Park in 2021. Since I am in charge of the birding aspect of the Pilgrimage and Jan is one of my bird leaders, we decided after our meeting to hike areas near the Canaan Lodge to see where the early morning bird walks would go. The fall colors were beautiful.
On our walk we discovered a hole where a turtle had laid her eggs. Unfortunately, a predator had found the nest and destroyed it, eating the eggs.
Deer were easy to see and approach — they are used to people in the park.
On our last full day at Canaan we began with a leisurely, hearty breakfast.
Jan and I decided to hike the 6-mile Promised Land Trail loop. Since we often stop, explore and take photos…
…we knew there wouldn’t be enough time to do the whole loop. Fortunately, there are several trails that intersect and they made it possible to get back to where we parked well before dinner time.
I appreciate BIG trees. To put things into perspective, a BIG Sassafras tree isn’t nearly as big as a BIG Tuliptree. I determine a BIG tree as being big compared to others of the same kind/species. What impressed me most about the Promised Land Trail was that, early on, we went through a woods with some BIG Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) trees.
Jan saw some unusual patterns to photograph, like these holes made by a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker…
…and other interesting shapes and designs.
At one point, the trail skirted the woods with views of large, open wetlands on our right. Soon we noticed a beaver dam on Club Run.
We decided to explore. I went down and stood on the beaver dam while Jan walked to the other end of the pond where Club Run flows in.
After exploring areas surrounding the beaver dam we continued on Promised Land Trail and discovered more interesting things.
A tangle of dead trees and branches —
Beech Drops (Epifagus virginiana), an obligate parasitic plant which grows and subsists on the roots of American Beech trees —
Fall-colored Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum) leaf with brilliant color —
American Witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) in bloom —
American Basswood (Tilia americana) tree cluster —
Fall-colored Red Maple (Acer rubrum) leaves everywhere —
A tiny Lion’s Mane Mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) —
Thanks to Cindy, we had lots of delicious leftovers to add to our planned supper on the last evening: clam chowder with extra clams and rice, vege slices with dip, Greek olives and homemade applesauce.
After dinner we enjoyed a campfire and made some new friends (also West Virginians) from the campsite next to ours.
Although Jan did come home with a couple dozen things to get or to do to the new trailer, we were pleased with how things worked on our first trip.
Even after we left Canaan Valley, we continued to enjoy the fall color that helps make West Virginia… Almost Heaven.
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.
I started the first morning by taking some photos.
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.
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).
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.
A Question Mark Butterfly couldn’t resist enjoying a nearby partially-eaten pear.
We noticed Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies on several occasions.
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.
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.
It was fun to share with new friends some new sights they had never seen on Dolly Sods.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Initially we were unsure of this leaf rosette. Then we noticed the same basal leaves on a plant that was blooming profusely nearby.
A large female Garden Spider was in her orb web as if she were guardian of the meadow we were exploring.
Rock Polypody Ferns (Polypodium virginianum) covered many rocks in shaded areas.
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.
Shrubby St. John’s-wort (Hypericum prolificum) with their seed capsules appeared to be almost everywhere we went.
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!
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.
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.
The main course was sliced rib-eye steak and varieties of Hericium mushrooms, expertly prepared.
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!
We were happy, well-fed Dolly Sods campers!
Captain Morgan, a.k.a. Lee Miller, is my frequent hiking companion on Dolly Sods.
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.
Lee and I found quite a few interesting fungi, including a highly prized, medicinal Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) mushroom growing on a Yellow Birch Tree.
Among the many kinds of fungus we discovered were the deadly Destroying Angel Mushroom (Amanita bisporigera) and
the Gelatinous Stalked-puffball (Calostoma cinnabarinum).
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.
In many Dolly Sods rock fields, berry-loaded American Mountainash Trees (Sorbus americana) were obvious.
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.
Lunch time was at the edge of at the Red Pine Plantation and the High Mountain Meadow.
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.
The midway point of the Bog to Bog Loop Trail is at Fisher Spring Run Bog, probably Dolly Sods’ largest wetland.
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.
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.
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?
And the answer is…
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.
I decided to go hiking.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jan and I found ourselves with a lot of time to spend at home this late spring. All of our spring programs had been cancelled. You know we aren’t the type to sit around. We always have a list of things we want to do to improve our property, especially ways to make it more attractive for wildlife, but we don’t always have the time. Since we like to do things ourselves and the time was available this year, we were able to accomplish several big projects. Jan’s recent post ( https://wvbirder.wordpress.com/2020/07/24/bills-spruce-adventure-by-jan-runyan/ ) relates the story of how we removed a large, dying blue spruce in the back yard. This project left dozens of large branches to cut up for firewood.
I didn’t consider the project finished until I had cut and stacked the spruce logs for fall/winter campfires. And that part of the project led to a real surprise.
Most days I walk our trails. Much of what I see and hear is the same from day to day, but sometimes there are surprises — something totally unexpected. Recently I was brought to a halt by some faint, but slightly noticeable, somewhat familiar sounds. Standing still, I turned my head in the direction of the sounds. When I saw where they were coming from I knew right away what was causing them. I had experienced these same sounds years before from the same kind of creature. Smiling, I went to the house and said what Jan hears on a regular basis, “Get your shoes on! There’s something I want to show you!”
We stopped near the stacked spruce logs and I said, “Listen. Do you hear that?” “Yeah, what is it?” Jan asked. We went closer and the sounds became louder, more obvious.
It was like a squeaky crunching or the snipping sound of scissors or clippers. It wasn’t a loud sound, but loud enough to hear when standing nearby. The piles of fresh tiny wood pieces were a clue, too.
Sometime after I had stacked the spruce firewood, Pine Sawyer Beetles had visited and laid their eggs in the dead wood.
The eggs hatched and the resulting larvae began burrowing into the logs. Young larvae feed on the inner bark, cambium, and outer sapwood, forming shallow excavations. As they grow older and larger with each larval molt, they start to bore back toward the surface, thus forming a U-shaped tunnel.
The clumps of sawdust and, of course, the constant munching sounds, which can be heard for several week, were clues to the presence of Pine Sawyer Beetles.
Now, three weeks later, the chomping is still coming from the woodpile and more firewood is changing to sawdust. This is one of the ways Nature takes care of cleaning her house and changing the solid wood into nutrients for current and future living things.
We loved the Blue Spruce by the pool yard. It sheltered a picnic table and a bench swing. For years it sheltered the grill. It was a stopping spot for birds going to the backyard feeders. It was the closest shade on the back of the house. 60-70 feet tall, it was the gateway to the net-yard and the back meadow.
But in recent years it had started looking worse and worse. More branches fell during storms. The branches that were left had fewer and fewer needles as the patio and pool had more and more. The color of the tree seemed paler and less green. Finally we noticed that it was developing a definite lean — toward the house, the pool and the new pool fence Bill had just put in. We had to admit that it was time to think about what to do.
Late June brought the perfect weather — cool mornings and no winds. And, of course, this year we were home with plenty of time to work on things.
Bill dug through his boxes and found the tree climbing equipment he had used decades ago when one of his side jobs had been as a high-tree man for a tree company. The harnesses and climbers looked as good as they had when he had put them away all those years ago. That meant we could at least attempt the job ourselves.
My 14-year-old electric chainsaw had seen a lot of use as old trees on our property had fallen in storms. Decades ago, Bill had always used gas-powered chainsaws, but recently he had learned to appreciate the toughness and ease of use of my little electric. So with the electric in hand, he climbed the extension ladder to cut out all the branches he could reach.
One of my jobs was as a safety spotter, wearing a hard-hat, with cell phone handy in my pocket.
Another job was to pull downed limbs away from the base of the tree when Bill told me it was safe to do so.
Bill says he thought he was giving me an easy job, until he saw the divots left in the ground by the weight of the falling limbs and looked at the size of the branches.
After the first day on the ladder, Bill spent the early afternoon cutting up all of the branches and transporting the pieces to wherever we needed them around the property: a deer fence behind the owl net area, brush piles for small animals and birds, and LOTS of firewood.
On the second day, things got serious! Out came the climbing equipment, each piece being checked and rechecked for usability and safety.
Then, with harnesses and straps and spikes for climbing, and with a chainsaw hanging from his belt, Bill discovered that he did remember how to climb a tree!
Up he went. Down came the branches. And when he rested, I pulled more and more limbs away.
When the branches were easy for Bill to reach, lots of them piled up quickly below the tree. The branches were like huge “pick-up-sticks” and I had to decide which one to pull out next. But I knew I had to do it since Bill couldn’t get down if the limbs were piled around the trunk.
And then it happened! The trusty old electric saw finally broke in a way that made it impossible to tighten the chain. It was done! After much discussion and online research, the next morning I drove to Steubenville and bought a new 14″ electric chainsaw. We were back in business.
Down came more branches. As Bill got higher and the trunk got smaller, the strap that held him close to the tree was too long to work well, so he had to switch to a shorter strap. On his way down, he had to reverse that process.
The tree started looking more and more like a lollipop tree in a child’s drawing.
Bill tried to stay up in the tree as long as he could since climbing up and down was hard, especially from the pressure of the climbing spikes on his legs. Bill discovered that he liked the new electric chainsaw even more than the old one — and that’s saying a lot!
On the last day, Bill finally made it to the place where the trunk split into 2 trunks — about 3/4 of the way up. That made it impossible for him to climb higher safely. Knowing what was coming, before climbing up that day he had positioned the truck in the meadow on the side of the tree opposite the pool yard. When he climbed that day, he took with him one end of a long, heavy caving rope. He cut off the last of the branches he could reach. Now came the trickiest part!
Bill tied off the rope as high as he could reach on the top of the tree. Then I took up the slack and tied the other end to the hitch of the truck.
He wanted me to be ready to move forward and “pull” when he said to. That’s when I discovered that it’s impossible to watch or hear what’s happening up in the tree when I’m in the truck with the motor on, facing downhill in the opposite direction. The best I could do was to hop quickly in and out of the truck.
Bill had me put a little tension on the rope and he began to cut out a notch facing 90 degrees away from the pool yard and about 45 degrees away from the truck’s location. He cut a big notch which landed with a resounding “thud”!
Now the part that most worries tree men. The notch was just right. There was tension on the top. He knew just where to cut opposite the notch. Still, the unexpected can happen with big trees.
Bill told me to put a little more tension on the rope. I shifted the truck into gear, but it wouldn’t move! No, the brake wasn’t on. Park … back to Drive. I could hear the gears were working, but it wouldn’t move! Bill was yelling for more tension. Then I had an idea. The truck had gotten pretty close to the compost bins, so I had turned the steering wheel. Looking at the wheels, I could tell that they were turned too severely to be able to move. Quickly I straightened the wheels a bit, started moving slightly, and then turned them back a bit so I wouldn’t hit the compost bins as I crept forward a foot more . Whew! Now all was ready.
Bill began cutting opposite the notch as I watched. Soon he yelled, “PULL!” I hopped back into the truck and crept forward as I heard the unmistakable sound of big wood breaking and the “WHOOMP!” of a heavy landing. Jumping out of the truck, I found the tree-top lying just where Bill had hoped to put it and my tree guy strapped to the top of a tall, empty snag, grinning from ear to ear.
With the branches gone, the trunk would not be prone to being pushed over by the wind, so we had already decided to leave the 40-foot snag for the various woodpeckers, nuthatches and other birds who might enjoy it. Bill climbed down from the tree for the last time.
A few days later we saw a White-breasted Nuthatch coming down the trunk, too. He even came down head-first, with no climbing equipment … he made it look so easy!
Last spring I came inside after walking the trails in the back meadow and announced to Jan, “I have a new hobby!” She looked at me incredulously. We both laughed because I have so many interests that keep me as busy as I want to be. Then she asked, “What’s your new hobby?” “I want to start an arboretum,” I answered. Our property is already a mecca for all kinds of wild creatures including a variety of trees, so adding a few more from time-to-time just seemed like a lot of fun for both of us.
Last year I planted two Franklinia trees I had purchased (check out https://bartramsgarden.org/explore-bartrams/franklinia-tree/), and a Sugar Maple tree I had dug from a nearby woodland. And I transplanted 14 Flowering Dogwood trees, seeded by other dogwoods on the property, into rows near the roadway in front of the house and along the entryway to our arboretum in back.
Jan saved all the seeds from last fall’s pawpaws. She took 9 seeds to try to sprout them indoors. Three seeds she planted right away in a planter. Three more she put in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks and then planted them in the planter after putting a nick in the extremely hard seed coat. The last 3 stayed in the freezer for several weeks and then also got nicks in the seed coats before they were planted in the same container. I planted all of the remaining big seeds outside in the back meadow.
All winter long Jan kept the planter of 9 pawpaw seeds slightly moist in the sunporch along with the rest of our winter indoor garden. She tells me that, after a few months of no results, she had really given up since everyone says that pawpaws are almost impossible to grow from seed. But she just kept them moist anyway.
Finally in the spring we had an unexpected, exciting surprise! A couple of her seeds had germinated and we had very tiny Pawpaw Trees. Over the next few weeks we had more and more little stems trying to lift those huge heavy seeds. We didn’t want to help them for fear of hurting the baby leaves. Sometimes it took 2-3 weeks until the leaves finally grew large enough to shove off the hard seed coat.
After a while we had 6 trees ready to transplant into taller individual containers. Pawpaw Trees have a well-deserved reputation for having substantial tap roots. The tap roots were actually longer than the above-ground stem and leaves of the little trees.
The 6 Pawpaw seedlings flourished in their new individual homes. They drank a lot of water and reached for the plant lights. We were pleased to have gotten that many seeds to sprout. The different treatments (cold, freezing, nicked seed-coats) didn’t seem to matter for sprouting. All three ways gave us trees.
We thought that getting 6 trees was a great outcome from 9 seeds, but Jan kept watering the planter with the 3 unsprouted seeds. Eventually she was rewarded with 2 more baby pawpaws!
This week we transplanted the first 6 Pawpaw Trees into the arboretum.
I chose a spot that is similar to areas where I usually see Pawpaw Trees in the wild. I got out the lawn mower and tiller to prepare the ground.
The area I chose for the pawpaw grove was covered with Japanese Stilt Grass so I mowed it as close to the ground as possible. And, knowing that mowing won’t kill stilt grass, I tilled the whole area about 3 inches deep to destroy their root structure. Luckily stilt grass has a shallow root system.
Then I fenced the area to keep out certain wildlife, especially raccoons and skunks. From experience I have discovered that after people transplant things, raccoons often dig up the transplants that same night. They don’t eat the transplants, they just dig them up. Just curious, I guess.
Next I collected 5 gallons of our rich compost and a bucket of water.
I made sure the holes were deep enough to give the long taproots plenty of space.
Each Pawpaw Seedling was gently surrounded by lots of rich compost made from plants on our property.
I used rainwater from our rain barrels to get the seedlings off to a good, natural start.
Of all the seeds that I had planted directly into our arboretum last fall, I have yet to see a seedling. So far, 8 of the 9 seeds Jan sowed in a container indoors have sprouted. (Yes, she is still watering the planter just in case that last seed still wants to sprout.)
The 2 last pawpaw seedlings are getting bigger in the planter, waiting to be transferred into individual, taller containers to allow their taproots to develop. Then they will join the 6 already planted outdoors.
We hope that we may live long enough to enjoy some fruits of our labor. But, as with planting any seeds, it’s all about believing and leaving something for the future. Maybe those people who say that you can’t get Pawpaws to sprout from seeds just didn’t wait long enough.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Every where I looked, everything was snow-covered or, occasionally, ice-covered.
The woodlands were beautiful!
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.
Most of my hiking was bushwhacking, but there were some open trails from timbering in past years.
The main stream wound in ox-bow-fashion along most of my hike route.
These photos below show some rare straight stream sections.
Knowing how to identify trees by their winter buds, leaf scars and bark made me feel like I was hiking among friends.
I hiked as far as what I refer to as “the waterfall”.
On my return there were more birds singing than when I had started, including a Pileated Woodpecker.
Jan and I will be presenting programs and leading hikes at this year’s event. Here is how North Bend describes this fun weekend:
“Plant the Seeds” of fun, conservation and nature education to see how you grow at North Bend State Park in Cairo, WV. Join us at Winter Wonder Weekend for exciting and activity-filled days where you will enjoy winter activities like sled riding (weather permitting), winter hikes, tours of the local area, programs, crafts, games and entertainment.
Featured guest speakers include Bill Beatty, a naturalist from Wellsburg, WV, who will plant the seed of conservation during his entertaining Friday evening program about this wonderful place we know of as “Almost Heaven” . He will include some ideas for conservation-minded mountaineers.
“Geology underlies it all!” presented by Ken Ashton of the WV Geological and Economic Survey on Saturday evening will plant the seed of geologic history and describe how WV became wild and wonderful.
Doug Wood, a master naturalist and all-round conservationist will plant the seed of nature education on Sunday with his presentation about the old growth forest found in and around North Bend State Park.
Friday activities include registration from 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m., 2:00 p.m. craft, 4:00 p.m. hike, 6:00 p.m. dinner buffet and 7:00 p.m. program – “Plant a Seed, Treat it with Care.” A dessert contest and winter walk for owls and stars round out the evening.
Following breakfast on Saturday, there’s a winter hike, a trip to Arlo’s Antique and Flea Market and Martin’s Market, a shadow box craft, a trip to Cliff’s Museum of Car Memorabilia and Berdine’s Five ‘n Dime, and bingo. Following dinner, enjoy the geology program, and then the popular live band “Stepping Stone” (one of Jan and Bill’s favorites!) and a popcorn bar. Stargazing rounds out the evening.
Sunday breakfast is followed by a program about old growth forests in West Virginia and the North Bend area.
BONUS!On Sunday afternoon, Ostenaco! Cherokee warrior, will visit with us in a “History Alive” program at 2:00 p.m. This program is open to the public without charge. The program is made possible by the WV Humanities Council.
Reservation Information: Reservation packages for two nights lodging in either North Bend Lodge or a cabin include five delicious meals and the registration fee (for crafts, door prizes and all weekend activities). Two-, three-, and four-bedroom cabins (fully-equipped for housekeeping) can accommodate parties of 4-8 individuals. If you have three or fewer adults staying in a cabin or have pets, please call 304-558-2754 for the cost based on the number in your party.
All registration is completed by calling Wendy Greene at 304-558-2754 or emailing email@example.com.
“Pickin’ up pawpaws, put ‘em in my pocket; Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch.” Somehow this snippet of tune has survived in my brain through the decades since I was a child. The rest of the song is gone, but the vision of picking up pawpaws (obviously desirable), to carry home from some exotic outdoor location called a pawpaw patch caught my imagination.
Were pawpaws cultivated (like a pumpkin “patch”) or a wild find, perhaps deep in the woods? I never even questioned what a pawpaw looked like. But the phrase from the song evoked visions of carefree summer days on a farm or in the wild outdoors joyously picking up pawpaws.
Over the past couple of years I have learned more facts and had more experiences with pawpaws, but that information has only served to solidify my pawpaw pleasure.
Pawpaws are fruits. They grow on trees which usually grow in groves of several to many individuals.
Most pawpaws in the forest are sapling-size, rather than looking like big trees. Deer usually avoid pawpaws, preferring other bushes and young trees, which gives pawpaws a double advantage: they aren’t browsed, but other competitors are removed by the deer.
The trees in one patch are often genetically identical and connected underground by roots (and thus, in biological terms, are a single plant). Creating fruit in a grove that’s actually all one tree can be a problem because the pawpaw is self-incompatible, so pollen produced on a plant cannot pollinate flowers on that same plant.
To produce fruit, a pawpaw flower must get pollen from flowers on a different tree, which usually means it’s in a different patch. The job of pollination is usually done by flies and beetles.
Once pollinated, the fruits grow singly or in small clusters. As a fruit grows it starts to look like a small green potato.
Rather than being a summer delicacy, as I had imagined from the song, the fruits ripen around the end of summer / beginning of fall (end of September into October in northern WV). When ripe, the fruits fall to the ground with the least shaking of the tree.
Pawpaws, also known as West Virginia bananas, are true delicacies…in both flavor and in the sense of delicate. People say the flavor reminds them of bananas with hints of mango, vanilla, and citrus. You would be hard-pressed to find them for sale in your local supermarket since their shelf-life is measured in terms of hours to a couple days, not weeks as with most supermarket produce.
This year Bill had been keeping his eye on a couple of pawpaw patches he knows about. In one, which he actually planted decades ago, there were lots of unripe fruits hanging on the trees about the second week of September. Yummm! Visions of future pawpaw ice cream and pawpaw cakes and muffins danced in our heads.
Then we went to WV’s Dolly Sods Wilderness area to volunteer at the Allegheny Front Migration Observatory bird banding station for 2 weeks. Soon after we got back (early October), Bill loaded the long apple picker into the van to go harvest some pawpaws. (The other way to harvest is to shake the tree and let the soft, ripe pawpaws smash to the ground—not as clean or appetizing.) Visions of pawpaw cookies danced in my head.
He returned looking disappointed. Searching all the trees, which had been full of fruits, he now only found 4 pawpaws: 1 small, 2 medium, 1 large. Only 4! The sweet scent of ripening fruit must have brought all of the nearby climbers…raccoons, opossums, etc…to a sweet feast.
Speaking of sweet – pawpaws are amazingly sweet. Bill says he can’t eat more than one or two spoonfuls of straight ripe pawpaw or he goes into “sweet overload”. But that quality makes them perfect for flavoring ice cream, breads, cakes, cookies, smoothies and other sweet foods.
A few years ago at a wild foods festival we attended, someone had made several containers of pawpaw ice cream – much more than the people there ate. But the kitchen needed those containers back. So, the call went out to help finish off the pawpaw ice cream or they would have to throw it out. I had one more dish, but Bill and several other men valiantly worked to be sure the delicious treat would not be trashed. I watched, wishing I had more room in my stomach, as they finished off one of the best ice creams I had ever eaten.
Sweet things are not usually thought of as nutritious these
days, but when you are talking pawpaws, here is what the Ohio Pawpaw Growers
Association says about their favorite fruit:
”Pawpaw is higher in Niacin and Calcium than apples, oranges, and bananas. Pawpaws have 3 times as much Vitamin C as apples, 2 times as much as bananas and 1/3 as much as oranges. Pawpaws have as much potassium as bananas, and more than apples and oranges. Pawpaw is the ONLY fruit with ALL essential amino acids. In addition, it is loaded with antioxidants.” (http://www.shagbarkfarmohio.com/pdfs/Pawpaw.pdf)
I decided to make the best of 4 pawpaws. Still working hard to put away things from our trip, I wanted to save the pulp for a time when I could make something special and had the time to appreciate it. Freezing is a perfect preparation for pawpaw pulp.
First, I made a slice as deep in as I could go, all the way around, from stem to end and back to stem. The seeds kept me from slicing all the way through. This reminded me of slicing around the seed in an avocado. I kept up the avocado action by twisting apart the two sides of the pawpaw. With the fruit open, I could see that there were a number of large seeds in the center, not just one as with an avocado. The bigger the fruit, the more seeds – that means more pulp, but more work to get it.
With a sharp knife I found that I could scrape around part of a seed and pretty soon it was easy to pick out a clean seed. When the seeds were all out, I used a grapefruit spoon (with serrations along the front edge) to scrape out spoonfuls of lovely smelling pulp. It was hard to resist taking more than a tiny taste, but I wanted enough to be able to make things later. Every little bit I could scrape out with the spoon or the knife went into a bowl. It took a while to finish this labor-intensive work.
Now for saving it. Most of the recipes I saw called for ½ to 1 cup of pawpaw pulp. (See Bill’s Wild Plant Cookbook at https://wvbirder.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/wild-plant-cookbook/) So I decided to make ½ cup portions in “snack” size zip bags. Good thing I hadn’t eaten much! I just managed to get 3 of the ½ cup portions and one ¼ cup serving.
I had read that pawpaw pulp will oxidize and darken after contact with the air. To avoid that, I mixed a little “Fruit Fresh” with water and put a half teaspoon of that in each bag after I had pushed out most of the air.
The final step was to vacuum seal the little bags of early fall sweetness. Now I have some time to consider: cake?, cookies?, ice cream?, or maybe a pawpaw cream pie?
Bill made sure I knew to save the seeds.
I think he has in mind starting another pawpaw patch — this one closer to home. Maybe in another decade we can “pick up pawpaws, put ’em in our pockets…way down yonder in OUR pawpaw patch”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jan is interested in just about every wild creature she sees and takes photos of all of the interesting things she finds.
Even snakes…and there seemed to be a lot of them this year.
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.
Jan had shrimp and rice pilaf and I had the “dusted” Lake Erie Perch with garlic mashed potatoes…yummy!
The next morning we were back on the Magee Marsh Boardwalk looking at more amazing birds and greeting other friends.
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..
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.
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.
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.
That reminded me of last year when I was the one who was absolutely exhausted.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On the Estuary Trail adjacent to Magee we found this baby Great Horned Owl with his wooly-looking feathers staring at us.
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.
Jan’s last photo before we began our trip back home was of a beautiful Horse Chestnut tree in full bloom.
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.
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.
The first almost-ready-to-bloom wildflower we saw was Squawroot/Cancer root.
Even on the sunniest, hottest days, this trail is shaded and cool.
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“.
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.
Short spurs from the trail lead to the creek.
Jan found a very attractive clump of Wild geraniums and we decided to take some photos.
We found my favorite trillium, the Painted Trillium, in several places along the trail.
We found a few Clintonia Lilies. Most were forming flower buds deep down inside the leaf cluster, but one was in full bloom.
We had a great time!
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.
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.
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.