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!

2019 West Virginia Wildflower Pilgrimage – Our Trip

The WV Wildflower Pilgrimage is a celebration of the return of the colorful wildflowers and birds to the mountains of West Virginia. Daily tours can feature not only the wildflowers and birds, but also ferns, mosses, geology, herps and other aspects of glorious Nature in the mountains.

The 58th Wildflower Pilgrimage was held May 9 – 12, 2019. Jan has been a bird leader at this event for 9 years and a “pilgrim” for 2 more years. This was my 43rd year as a leader.

On Thursday afternoon, Jan presented a program called “Birding Essentials“. It is designed to improve the birding skills of beginning as well as experienced birders.

Jan’s “Birding Essentials” program. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Friday, Saturday and Sunday began with early morning bird walks at 6 a.m. These are led by Brooks Bird Club members. When the alarm clocks in the birders’ cabin begin to ring at 5 a.m., I am always reluctant to get out of bed. I remember, though, that, even if I feel like rolling over and going back to sleep, there has never been I time I have regretted getting up early once I am out in nature. It’s refreshing, peaceful and the best way to get back in touch with the peacefulness our lives can contain.

Beginning the Friday morning bird walk. (Photo @ Jan Runyan)

Jan was the main leader for the Friday all-day field trip to Cranesville Swamp, one of the first National Natural Landmarks in the country. The trail from the parking lot leads through meadow edges and woodlands where there are some interesting plants.

The walk to the swamp. (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)
Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens) and Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Each trip has at least one bird leader and plant leader. This year on Jan’s trip the other leaders were wonderful friends, Cindy Slater (birds), Dr. Conley McMullen (plants) and Jackie Burns (birds and plants).

Conley and Cindy Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Cranesville Swamp is the southern-most point in the world where the American Larch tree grows wild.

American Larch (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

There is a boardwalk through the swamp so this sensitive area is not greatly impacted by the people that visit. Many interesting plants can be seen from the boardwalk, including insect eating plants.

Cranesville Swamp boardwalk (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Top – Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) and bottom – Spatulate-leaved Sundew (Drosera intermedia) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
Bog Clubmoss (Lycopodiella inundata) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The trail at the end of the boardwalk traverses some interesting habitats where other interesting non-flowering plants can be found.

Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) fiddleheads that will grow into the mature ferns on the right. (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
Running Clubmoss (Lycopodium clavatum) (top) and Tree Clubmoss/Groundpine (Lycopodium dendroideum) (bottom) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

My Friday all-day field trip was a 5 mile hike in the Dolly Sods Wilderness. Although we did see some very nice wildflowers and interesting birds, the emphasis of the hike was the scenic beauty of the high mountain Dolly Sods area.

The highest point of the Rohrbaugh Plains Trail goes through a lush evergreen area. Migrating birds seem to love this area, too.

(Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The young man in the middle of the above photo is the son of a man who was part of the first group hike I led on Dolly Sods in 1974 — when the father was 14 years old. Also, this young man’s maternal great, great, great grandmother was from the Rohrbaugh family, for whom this trail is named.

Lunch at the Rohrbaugh Plains overlook (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

On Saturday Jan and I led an all-day field trip together along the Beall North Trail and Idleman’s Run Trail in the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

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

The Beall North Trail is a mix of open meadows and woodlands. We spent so much time looking at birds and plants on the North Trail that we had to forego hiking the South Trail so we could have time for Idleman’s Run Trail. Jan and I had scouted the Idelman’s Run Trail on Thursday and decided it was so rich in wildflowers that we wanted to make sure we went there.

Chip, who I’ve known since the beginning of his White Grass Cross Country Ski Resort in Canaan Valley, joined us for our Idleman’s Run Trail hike.

(Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

White Grass: http://www.xcskiresorts.com/white-grass-touring-center

Again we stopped frequently to look at the wonderful wildflowers this trail offers. My long-time friend, Conley McMullen (also known as “the Monster of Botany”) offered many insights into plant identification along the way, and Conley’s nephew, Charles, helped out with bird identification.

Dr. Conley McMullen talking about the Confederate Violets (Viola sororia). (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

At one point I showed the group how to eat a leaf from a Wood Nettle (Laportea canadensis) without getting stung by the stinging spines on the underside of the leaf. Conley was dubious.

Wood Nettle ( Laportea canadensis) leaves and stinging spines from the underside of the leaf. (Top photo (c) Jan Runyan, bottom two photos (c) Bill Beatty)

The “flower” below was confusing to pilgrims until I explained that what looks like a small greenish flower is really the calyx lobes after the flower petals have fallen from a Carolina Spring Beauty.

Carolina Spring Beauty (Claytonia caroliniana) (Top photo (c) Jan Runyan, bottom photo (c) Bill Beatty)

There were so many interesting plants to see and so little time. We didn’t have time to talk about the natural history of all the plants we identified.

Dwarf Ginseng (Panax trifolius) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
Foam Flower (Tiarella cordifolia) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Miterwort/Bishop’s Cap (Mitella diphylla)

The plant highlight of the day, at least for me, was again finding the 2 inch high Botrychium fern in the same location Jan and I had discovered it two years ago. There was a fertile frond already forming on the plant.

Daisy Leaf Grape Fern/Moonwort (Botrychium matricariifolium) (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Thursday and Friday each concluded with a program and door-prizes. This year we had a fascinating look into the geology of the Blackwater area and an interesting explanation of the history and future of the Maple Syrup industry in West Virginia.

If you enjoy wildflowers and birds, the West Virginia Wildflower Pilgrimage is a wonderful event that offers trips to many scenic Mountain State destinations led by some of the most knowledgeable people. That’s why the event averages 300 participants each year even without any advertising! And why so many pilgrims and leaders keep coming back every year to Blackwater Falls State Park on Mother’s Day weekend.

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

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

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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

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

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

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

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

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

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

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

Short spurs from the trail lead to the creek.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We had a great time!

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

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

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

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

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information: Call: 304-242-6855

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

Plant Friends Without Their Flowers

I have been fortunate to have had the best jobs in the world — at least from my point of view. Eighteen years as Interpretive Naturalist in Oglebay Park and since then as a freelance nature photographer/writer/teacher have been magic. Just the other day I read an article about how important it is for people to spend at least 20 minutes a day outside in some kind of natural place. We’re encouraged to take a “nature bath”. By communing with plants and animals a person’s life will be enriched and they will live longer.

I may live forever! For many years I spent at least 8 hours a day in natural settings searching for photo opportunities. Hiking up and down ridges and valleys, exploring swamps and bogs, following streams and walking through the spectacular forests of West Virginia, I have become acquainted with countless plant friends in all stages of their lives. Plants just emerging from the ground, getting their first leaves, opening flowers, producing fruits and seeds — I recognize so many no matter what stage they are in. I explored like this almost every day for 20+ years documenting it all in photos for the publishing industry.

Nowadays, walking our two acres in the spring I always notice the subtle changes in plants from week-to-week. Today I saw familiar plants that are not yet in flower, but still I can recognize them and know their names.

Just outside our door and throughout much of our property there are literally thousands of Hairy and Pennsylvania Bittercress plants. Jan and I have been eating them all week as a garnish in a Common Chickweed salad along with wild Meadow Garlic.

Pennsylvania Bittercress (Cardamine pensylvanica) Photos (c) Bill Beatty

At this time of year, most of what I find are plants with only their leaves, but no flowers. However, to me the flowers are still always there, in my mind’s eye, since I have photographed them in the past.

Common Chickweed (Stellaria media) Photos (c) Bill Beatty

Another chickweed common to our property is one of the mouse-ear chickweeds. Their leaf clusters are smaller than those of the Common Chickweed and they’re not as tender or tasty, so they don’t find their way into our spring wild food salads.

Common Mouse-ear Chickweed (Cerastium vulgatum) Photos (c) Bill Beatty

Many of what some often call weeds have spectacular flowers, but those flowers are so tiny that their beauty goes unnoticed. Jan and I pull these same “weed” plants from our vegetable and flower gardens, but with great appreciation. Two of the most pernicious garden weeds are in the mint family. The elaborate shapes and intricate designs of these flowers would make them highly prized if they were large enough to be easily seen. Both of these mints have a handful of common names, but neither of them has what we think of as the traditional “mint” fragrance.

Purple Dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum) Photos (c) Bill Beatty
Ground-ivy (Glechoma hederacea) Photos (c) Bill Beatty

I am always glad to see so many wild edible and medicinal plants on our property. We use the wild edibles regularly. The wild medicinals are there if we need them. One of Carl Linnaeus’ “official plants” (so-called because of its value as a medicine) is one of the speedwells. The Common Speedwell was the only plant in the Veronica genus to be given the “official” designation by Linnaeus.

Common Speedwell (Veronica officinalis) Photos (c) Bill Beatty

One unusual cluster of leaves in our woodlands and under a large Blue Spruce tree is often difficult to identify at this young stage. By the time it flowers, it will have grown much larger and the leaves will almost seem to have changed shape. The two West Virginia species of Leafcup look very similar except for the color of the petals of their often-overlooked flowers.

White-flowered Leafcup (Polymnia canadensis) Photos (c) Bill Beatty

I have taught thousands of people about wildflowers and weeds — their identification, edibility and medicinal values. And I have noticed that one of our most common wildflowers continues to challenge and confound even some of the most avid wildflower enthusiasts. Because False Mermaidweed has unremarkable leaves and very diminutive flowers it is practically invisible to most people.

False Mermaidweed (Floerkea proserpinacoides) Photos (c) Bill Beatty

On my explorations I rarely find a plant I’ve not seen before. When I do I am truly excited. However, when I walk our property or elsewhere, I am always happy to revisit my familiar plant friends. I feel a contentment just like when I meet my human friends again. Most people have just human and sometimes animal friends. I also have hundreds of wonderful plant friends. Life is good!

“Spring Wildflowers” Program for the Brooks Bird Club Headquarters Chapter – March 19, 2019

This program is open to the public. Join me for an informative program on the exciting, soon-to-show spring wildflowers found in and around our northern Ohio Valley. The Brooks Bird Club Headquarters Chapter meets at the Schrader Environmental Education Center in Oglebay Park, Wheeling, WV. Doors open at 6 pm. We share a covered dish supper (bring a covered dish to share and your own table service) at 6:30. The BBC-HQC meeting is at 7:15 and my program is at 8 pm. You can come to the program only, if you wish. Spring really is right around the corner!!!!

Left to right – Bloodroot, Sharp-leaved Hepatica and Blue-eyed Mary (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Directions to the Schrader Environmental Education Center: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Schrader+Environmental+Education+Center/@40.0920798,-80.6951597,12.5z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x8835d0766f5f3fc9:0xf025f9c1966a2b82!8m2!3d40.096657!4d-80.6617122

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

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

I have been visiting this bird banding station since 1972 and volunteering since 2004.  Jan has volunteered since 2007, the year she retired. We are both federally-licensed bird banders, but at the AFMO instead of banding, we work as net-tenders removing the birds from the 30 mist nets used for trapping the migratory birds that cross the Allegheny Front in this area.

IMG_2007
(Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Shortly after we started our trip to the AFMO in 2018, our adventure was augmented by a fallen tree blocking Rt. 42 just south of Friendsville, MD.  It had just happened and we were the first south-bound car to be stopped by the tree.  Fortunately I had a pruning saw.  Three other gentlemen joined Jan and me and we had the tree off the road in a short time.   People in West Virginia and western Maryland are like that — we take care of things.

IMG_2012
(Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Saffitickers is always a welcome stop on our way to the Blackwater Falls/Canaan Valley area.   Ice cream is a great reward for a tree-moving job well-done.  Despite my reputation, I really am a vanilla kind of guy.
We arrived at the Red Creek Campground without further interruption and set up our trailer for our 2-week stay.

 

DS sunrise 1
(Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dolly Sods sunrise (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

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

West Virginia Wildflower Pilgrimage May 10-13, 2018

The WV Wildflower Pilgrimage is a tradition for people who love the wildflowers and birds of West Virginia!

Each day starts with a bird walk hosted by members of the Brooks Bird Club.  On both Friday and Saturday participants choose from a dozen field trips with a wide variety of habitats, elevations and difficulty. Each trip includes a knowledgeable plant leader, one of the BBC’s best bird teachers, and, occasionally, another expert in areas such as geology, mosses or ferns. Thursday and Friday both end with an interesting program.

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

Jan and I will be leading bird walks, field trips and giving a class during the Thursday afternoon to Sunday noon event. See below for what we are offering at this year’s Wildflower Pilgrimage.

Thursday late afternoon — Jan will be teaching a Birding Essentials workshop at the Blackwater Falls State Park Lodge.

Friday —  Jan will lead a tour to Cranesville Swamp, a National Natural Landmark.   It is one of the few remaining boreal bogs in the southern United States, unusual because it harbors many plants and animals that are normally only seen in more northern climates.  Eastern hemlock, red spruce and American larch are some of the few trees which flourish in this acidic boreal bog.  The northern relict wetland complex also supports a wide variety of smaller plants such as goldthread, trailing arbutus, gay wings, several species of sundews, cranberry and a variety of ferns and mosses.  The nineteen diverse wetland communities of Cranesville are home to such birds as Blackburnian, Magnolia and Chestnut-sided Warblers, Alder Flycatcher, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Indigo Bunting and Northern Saw-whet Owl. Pilgrims will walk less than 1 1/2 miles on mostly flat forest and meadow trails and on a boardwalk into the wetland. Restrooms will be available in nearby Oakland, MD, before and after the tour.

Left to right: American Larch… Trailing Arbutus… and Gay Wings and Goldthread (All photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Friday — I will lead a Dolly Sods Wilderness Hike. We will start at the Rohrbaugh Plains trailhead on top of Dolly Sods. The hike begins through a mixed red spruce/deciduous woodland where we will be greeted with a variety of bird songs — mostly warblers… Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Blackburnian, Ovenbird, Yellow-rumped and Magnolia. This trail is rocky at times and eventually traverses a mixed hardwood/evergreen forest. Lunch will be at the Rohrbaugh Plains vista looking south through the Red Creek Valley and west toward Rocky Point (Lion’s Head). The vista is one of the best scenic overlooks in WV. After lunch we will continue on the Wildlife Trail, traveling through several meadows and some deciduous woodlands. There will be opportunities for wildflower and bird identification, however, this tour’s primary focus is the spectacular beauty of Dolly Sods. Hiking shoes/boots are required. Appropriate rain gear is required. There will be restroom facilities available at the Dolly Sods Picnic Area before the hike.

Lunch at the Rorhbaugh Plains vista (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Saturday — Together Jan and I will lead hikes in the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge. The Beall North and South Trails traverse a mix of open meadows and deciduous woodlands allowing for a large variety of plants. Parts of both trails border the Blackwater River. These are not rugged trails — they are mostly level with moderate or shorter steep elevation changes and few rocks on the trails. The entire hike will be scenic in varying ways. The birding should be excellent with the beautiful song of Hermit Thrushes possible along the entire 3 1/2 miles. A nice variety of warblers are expected. If time permits we will then travel to the nearby Idleman’s Run Trail off Forest Service Rd. 80 for a more botanical/wildflower walk. Idleman’s Trail is just 4/10 mile. It gently slopes uphill the entire way and is quite notable for all the interesting plants we can encounter. Hiking boots/shoes and rain gear are recommended. “Facili-trees” are the only restrooms available on these hikes.

The Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge Beall Trails (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)
Idleman’s Run in the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The Wildflower Pilgrimage is one of the best ways to learn and have fun in some of the most biologically outstanding and scenic areas in WV’s mountains!

For additional information and to register go to: http://www.brooksbirdclub.org/uploads/5/2/8/3/52832773/2019_wfp_brochure_fillable.pdf

Directions to Blackwater Falls State Park: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Blackwater+Falls+State+Park/@39.1076563,-79.4972965,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x884ac93ea954f8ad:0xa67bfe42ac7e9843!8m2!3d39.1076563!4d-79.4951078

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

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

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Photo (c) Bill Beatty

accomodations

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

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

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

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

downy woodpecker (Dendrocopos pubescens) on poison ivy branch wi

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

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

fungi

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

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

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The state park offers a number of trails.

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

dogwood trail

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

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

pawpaw

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

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

comma

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

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

Christmas fern sori (Polystichum acrostichoides)

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) was the dominant shrub.

spicebush berries (Lindera benzoin)

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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

F American holly tree (Ilex opaca) berries

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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

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Photos (c) Bill Beatty

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

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

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Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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

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

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

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

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

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(Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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

 

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

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

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

tents

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

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

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

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

Camp flowers

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

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

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

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

Greg herps

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

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

ferns

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

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

misc plants

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

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

salamanders

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

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

len slime

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

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

birds

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

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

Greg snake

(Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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

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(Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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

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

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

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(Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

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

fires

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

lenny fires

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

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

Rock City

Rock City  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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

Slime 2

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

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

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

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

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

geology claudette

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

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

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

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

misc Coopers

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

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

roseate spoonbill color

Roseate Spoonbills  (Photo (c) Cory Altemus)

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

scope spoonbill

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

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

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

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

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

Canaan Loop 2

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

red-spotted purple butterflies (Basilarchia astyanax) puddling

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

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

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The intrepid hikers  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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

red-spotted newt salamander (Notophthalmus viridescens viridesce

(Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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

Randy butterfly

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

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

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Crossing Red Creek  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photos (c) Bill Beatty

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

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Chestnut Heights  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo (c) Jan Runyan

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Mountain Nature Camp 2018

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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photos (c) Jan Runyan

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

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

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

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

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

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Veery (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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

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Dolly Sods sunrises (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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

 

 

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

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

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Palm Warbler (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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

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

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Mourning Warbler (photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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

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

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

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Hooded Warbler (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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Hooded Warbler (photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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

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Cape May Warbler (photo (c) Jan Runyan)

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

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photos (c) Jan Runyan

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

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photo (c) Jan Runyan

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birds are not the only animals visiting the AFMO.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Each and every morning the bird banding research continued.

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photos (c) Jan Runyan

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photos (c) Jan Runyan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canaan Valley State Park and Canaan Loop Road – Late June, 2018

We decided to spend the last day of our “Let’s Explore Some Places in Canaan Valley We Haven’t Had Time To Explore” trip expanding our knowledge of two areas we were already somewhat familiar with.  We knew we had to keep an eye on the clock because I had a speaking engagement that evening in Morgantown.  We wanted to explore as much as possible but still arrive at the WVU’s Core Arboretum in plenty of time.

Our first stop was at the parking lot of the Middle Ridge Trail not too far from our cabin in Canaan Valley Resort State Park.  In the past we had often stopped to scan this meadow and the beaver pond below the parking lot with our binoculars.  This day, things got quite interesting even without binoculars.  Two women and a boy were next to their car in the lot, staring intently at the meadow across the pond.  They hurried over to tell us what the young man had spotted:  a large Black Bear climbing in the Serviceberry trees and browsing for ripe berries.

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Black Bear (Ursus americanus) (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

We were impressed that the boy had spotted the bear and we shared our binoculars so they could get a better look.  We could see that one tree had experienced bears before because some of the leaves were already dying on branches that had been broken earlier by a bear gathering Serviceberries.

We had planned on hiking part of the Middle Ridge Trail that day.  Since the trail went close to where the bear was, I told Jan that we could start down the Middle Ridge Trail and then go off-trail to the meadow where it might be possible to get closer views and maybe some additional photos of the bear.  She was enthusiastic, so off we went. The trail was easy walking downhill, across a stream and then uphill again.  Because of that topography, it was easy to figure out when we were close to the area where the bear had been.  A short bushwhack through the woods led us to the edge of the meadow dotted with Serviceberry trees.  When we arrived at the vantage point where we hoped to see the bear again, it wasn’t there.  We carefully scanned the trees and meadow all around, but no bear.   We began to talk softly, becoming more relaxed.  We decided that the bear had probably noticed us coming and had wandered away.   We began looking at the many kinds of plants around us and in the meadow.   When we turned to examine the plants behind us, we noticed a dark shape under a tree where before there had just been ferns.  The bear was standing quietly under a tree about 30 yards away!

Black bear looking

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Moving very slowly, we got out our cameras, hoping our bear would stay long enough for some pictures.  As we watched and photographed the bear, it occasionally looked, listened and sniffed in our direction.  It seemed relaxed, but didn’t come out from under the tree.  Eventually it turned and slowly walked uphill away from us.  That was exciting.  It appears that Jan’s “I never get to see the bear” curse has been broken.

We walked downhill and explored the wetland formed by the beaver pond.  Hiking back to the car we didn’t find anything that compared to our bear encounter, but we did see some common plants that were in beautiful full flower.

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Jan near Middle Ridge Trail (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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Poke Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata)  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

When we returned to the car, the overcast sky was starting to produce a light rain.  As we were leaving Canaan Valley State Park we looked at the ridge to the east and saw  that the Dolly Sods Wilderness, rising 1,000 feet above us, was fogged in … probably getting some much heavier rain.

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Fog on the Dolly Sods Wilderness plateau  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

From Canaan Valley Resort State Park, Canaan Loop Road was a short 7 miles north and 500 feet higher.  Although it was overcast, no rain was falling, making it a great day for hiking.

Along Canaan Loop Road we discovered that the Wild Strawberries were ripe and ready to pick.  They were delicious!  Luckily we didn’t have to compete with any bears for these treats.

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Wild Strawberries (Fragaria vesca)  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

We decided to hike farther on one trail which we had already explored briefly on a previous trip with one of our grandkids. Since this had been a very rainy spring, the woods were lush with ferns, mosses and beautiful fungi.  I was carrying my basic camera equipment and decided to take the opportunity to photograph some of the fungi.

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Bill photographing a ‘Yellow Patches’ Amanita mushroom (Amanita flavoconia)  (Left photo (c) Jan Runyan and right photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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Orange mushrooms on the left are in the Family Hygrophoraceae; on the right is a Milk Cap mushroom (Lactarius lignyotus)  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

As we continued to explore we found many Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) middens (a midden is a dunghill or refuse heap).  After the squirrels had chewed off the spruce cone bracts to get at the seeds deep inside, they had tossed the bare cones in the same area.  In Nature, even refuse has a story to tell!

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Red Squirrel midden  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

We made several more stops to explore things in the woods and in meadows.  We always found interesting plants.  One unusual plant was a very purplish Boneset plant … not at all like the usual green we were used to seeing.  The flower heads of the Rhododendron plants are always interesting to look at.  They were just starting to open up and show their hot-pink color.

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Purplish-leaved Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) and Cinnamon Ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum)  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) on left and Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)  (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

There was so much to explore along the Canaan Loop Road, we could have been there for days.  After a final hike around an unusual meadow surrounded by a moat of wetlands, it was time to tuck our packs in the car and get on the highway north and westward.

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Packed and ready to leave  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Our first stop was to have a late lunch at Heidi’s Cafe on Blue Ribbon Road south of Oakland MD.  This was another of those “we will have to try it sometime” places, so it fit very well with the theme of this trip.  We decided we will definitely return to Heidi’s again.  Next was a quick dessert at our old favorite, Saffiticker’s Ice Cream, just a half mile further north on US 219.

Then another 1.5 hours brought us to West Virginia University for my presentation for the Nature Connection Series at the WVU Core Arboretum.  Our friend, Zach Fowler, Director of the Core Arboretum, has put together a great series of lectures in this awesome setting.  He welcomed us warmly and soon I was wired for sound and ready to go.

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Bill’s presentation  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

I had fun speaking to an enthusiastic almost-full house.  Afterwards we had fun talking with old and new friends, including someone we had met just a month before when we were birding at Magee Marsh in Ohio.  On the way home we decided that in the 3 days of this trip, we had really accomplished our goals of getting to know some new places and people and learning more about some old-favorite places and people in the beautiful mountains of West Virginia.

 

Idleman’s Run Trail in the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge – Late June

After spending several hours early in the day hiking the Beall Tract in Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge,  Jan and I decided to drive to Forest Service Road 80 and explore Idleman’s Run Trail.   The upper end of the trail comes out on FS 80, but the lower end stops in a clearing in the woods.  From there, an overgrown access road (for some reason not officially part of the trail) leads back to FS 80.  The trail itself is  4/10 of a mile, but adding the access roadway and the hike on Forest Service Road 80 back to the car, the entire distance is close to 1 mile.

We pulled off FS 80 and parked about halfway between the lower access road and the upper end of Idleman’s Run Trail.  Then we walked down to the access road leading to the lower end of the trail.  This would give us water-level views of the Run as we walked up the trail.  That turned out to be a great choice.

In the meadow just before the beginning of Idelman’s Run Trail we noticed lots of European Skipper Butterflies visiting many Cat’s Ear flowers.

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Left photo (c) Jan Runyan and European Skipper Butterfly (Thymelicus lineola) nectaring on Cat’s Ear (Hypochaeris radicata)  photo (c) Bill Beatty

When we reached the beginning of the trail we were amazed at the beauty of the run itself.  If you look closely in the next photos, you can see Jan standing in the middle of the woodland above the falls.

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Idleman’s Run  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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Another part of Idleman’s Run (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

This little waterway had all you could ask of a mountain stream:  boulders, rock ledges, waterfalls, pools, mosses and other plants of moist areas, splashes, trickles, and small floodplains.  While exploring the stream edges I found an abundance of Bishop’s Cap.  Although not in flower this late in the year, I could easily picture in my mind the tiny, very fancy flowers the way they would appear in May to anyone willing to take the time to use a hand lens.

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Bishop’s Cap (Mitella diphylla) flowers in early May.  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

There were other interesting treasures along the stream.  I found several small stands of Golden Saxifrage (Chrysosplenium americanum) and Lettuce Saxifrage (Saxifraga micranthidifolia).  Some of the Golden Saxifrage were still flowering, however the Lettuce Saxifrage had been browsed by deer and the flowers were gone.

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Photos (c) Jan Runyan

The tiny flowers of the Golden Saxifrage don’t look like typical flowers … another fascinating treat for people who take the time to view them with a hand lens.

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Golden Saxifrage  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Finding Saxifrage plants, especially in the abundance we found, is an indicator of good water quality.  The good condition of the water was verified  by a man we surprised as he came down the trail.  We had stepped off the trail to let him pass, but he hadn’t heard us, so when he looked up he was startled to see us just a few feet in front of him.  He explained that he rarely encounters anyone there as he does his frequent water quality checks of Idleman’s Run.  Actually he was the only other person we saw on the trail that day, too.

The Meehania (Meehania cordata) mints were in full flower.

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Left photo (c) Jan Runyan and Meehania photo (c) Bill Beatty

American Basswood (Tilia americana) trees were common along the stream and it was exciting to see a perfect example of how the younger clones form a circle around the main tree.

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

Every place we explored, we kept finding interesting plants, animals and geology.

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Young Chanterelle mushrooms (Cantharellus cibarius)  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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Jan looking at a rock formation and the variety of plants growing on and around the rocks.  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

As we hiked in an area where the trail left the stream, Jan noticed a grouping of leafless flower stalks.  They were Ramps/Wild Leeks (Allium tricoccum).  We have large Ramp patches on our property and each spring we use them in a variety of delicious ways.  My favorites are  Cream of Ramp and Morel Mushroom Soup and Ramp Mashed Potatoes.

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Ramp flowers  (Left photo (c) Bill Beatty and right photo (c) Jan Runyan)

The most exciting find of the day was a fern that was almost new to me.  In 1972 at Oglebay Institute’s Mountain Nature Studies Camp for adults, I was shown a Daisy-leaf Moonwort Fern (Botrychium matricariifolium).  Being a young naturalist at the time, I didn’t fully understand the rarity and  importance of this find.  I don’t really remember much about that fern itself, but I do remember its location.  In later years I looked for it many times at camp but haven’t been able to rediscover it.  Now, along Idleman’s Run Trail, I was able to spend more time examining, photographing, and enjoying this fern rarity.

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Daisy-leaf Moonwort Fern (Botrychium matricariifolium)  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

There was so much to discover along this short trail.  Some of the things we saw hinted at the treasures that might be found here at other times of the year.  We decided to return and visit this trail often when we are in the area.

As during the morning along the Beall Tract trails, all along Idleman’s Run Trail we delighted in hearing the beautiful songs of Hermit Thrushes (Catharus guttatus).  It turned out to be a spectacular and rewarding day in so many ways!

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Hermit Thrush  (Photo (c) Laura Meyers)

Click to enjoy the Hermit Thrush song: 

 

 

 

Beall Tract – Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge – Late June, 2018

Free cabin!  Canaan Valley!  June!  LET’S GO!  Jan and I decided to use a voucher for a complimentary cabin at Canaan Valley State Park as the home base for an exploratory trip into the CVNWR.  We had already been there many times, hiking some of the trails, leading birding trips and kayaking the Blackwater River and its tributaries.  This time we wanted to scout two trails we had seen, but not been on, as possible trips for the West Virginia Wildflower Pilgrimage and for other nature-related groups we lead.

Our first hike was at the Beall Tract:  Beall North Trail, Blackwater View Trail and Beall South Trail, approximately 3.8 miles.

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Photo (c) Bill Beatty

After leaving the parking lot on the Beall North Trail, a short hike took us through a mixed meadow/woodland area to the first of several large meadows lined on both sides with thousands of Bracken Ferns,  Pteridium aquilinum.

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Photos (c) Jan Runyan

It was a perfect day for hiking with temperatures in the low 70s and a partly cloudy sky.  In the meadows, the sun warmed us.  When we then entered the forest, the shade cooled us.

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Photos (c) Bill Beatty

In the woodlands were several vernal pools where small frogs  jumped into the water as we neared.  I was actually able to catch a young green frog to examine more closely.

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Young Green Frog, Lithobates clamitans  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

We noticed a wide variety of insects and plants that are frequently found in or near wetlands.  Catching a dragonfly is not easy, but not impossible for a man who has caught birds bare-handed.

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A female Common Whitetail Dragonfly, Plathemis lydia and American Water Horehound, Lycopus americanus, with flowers  (Dragonfly photo (c) Jan Runyan and Horehound photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Continuing on the Beall North Trail we hiked through more open meadows, some of which had small wetlands slowly flowing toward the Blackwater River, and beech tree woodlands finding many interesting creatures.   The wooded sections of the trail provided many ferns for Jan to identify and study.

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(Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

The woodlands are populated mainly by American Beech trees, Fagus grandifolia.  Since camping and fires are not permitted in National Wildlife Refuges there was a significant amount of dead wood decomposing on the ground with a wide variety of wood-rooting fungi growing on it.

turkey-tail fungus (Trametes versicolor)

Turkeytail Fungus, Trametes versicolor  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The Beall North Trail ended at the Blackwater View Trail and we turned south on Blackwater View to continue our circular hike.  Most of the Blackwater View Trail was along a Refuge-use road.  Because of all the wonderful plants and animals we were finding (and also some time spent picking and eating Serviceberries) the hike took longer than we had expected, but we thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Hiking the Blackwater View Trail and an Orb Weaving Spider, Araneus sp. (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

common serviceberry tree (Amelanchier arborea) fruit

Serviceberries, Amelanchier laevis, along the Blackwater View Trail  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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Deptford Pinks, Dianthus armeria, were flowering in many places.  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Back near the parking lot we then continued onto the Beall South Trail.  At the beginning and the end we found ourselves in even more expansive meadows.  Right away we encountered a problem – there were countless Bracken Ferns, but there were also ferns, very similar to the Brackens, that had 5-7 parted fronds rather than the typical 3.  Our field research determined that they were “atypical” Brackens … overachievers, I guess.  Jan wondered if this had to do with the abundance of rain this spring.

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Atypical Bracken Fern, Pteridium aquilinum, and Jan looking for grassland birds  (Left photo (c) Jan Runyan and right photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Although we didn’t find a large number of plant species in flower, those that were flowering were found in multiple locations.

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Left – Northern Swamp Buttercup, Ranunculus septentrionalis, and right – Dwarf St. John’s Wort, Hypericum mutilum.  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

In one section, the Beall South Trail traversed a large field of Spreading Dogbane which was in flower.  The Monarch Butterflies and other species were loving it.  It was impossible to get a photo of the huge extent of the dogbanes and still be able to see the butterflies.

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Monarch Butterfly, Danaus plexippus, nectaring on Spreading Dogbane, Apocynum androsaemifolium  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

We followed the trail as it turned downhill and then northward along the Blackwater River.   Sitting-rocks were convenient so we stopped along the river for lunch.  As we ate and looked around, something that caught our attention was the attractive leaves of the Mountain/Whorled Aster.

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Mountain/Whorled Aster, Oclemena acuminata  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

I decided to go down to the Blackwater River edge and see what I could find.  There were so many wonderful photo opportunities that I told Jan, “We should come back and just do photos along the river.”  I spent some time shooting interesting photos that didn’t need a tripod.  This is definitely a spot to return to!

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Left – Rushes, Juncus sp., lining the shallow water along the Blackwater River and right – Sweet-scented Indian Plantain, Cacalia suaveolens (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

ripple bugs

Me taking photos and Riffle Bugs, Family – Veliidae, in the river  (Left photo (c) Jan Runyan and right photo (c) Bill Beatty)

mating ebony jewelwing damselflies (Calopteryx maculata)

Ebony Jewelwing Damselflies, Calopteryx maculata (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Jan looked at ferns and other plants and picked blueberries (more lunch) while I explored along the river.

blueberries

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

Finally we continued on the Beall South Trail as it turned uphill away from the river.  After a short distance, we were again in the meadow/grasslands where we had started, still finding more amazing wildlife.

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Eastern Meadowlark, Sturnella magna (Photo (c) Jan Runyan

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European Skipper Butterfly, Thymelicus lineola, nectaring on Red Clover, Trifolium pratense  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

blue-eyed grass

Bill photographing Blue-eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium angustifolium (Left photo (c) Jan Runyan and right photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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Green-legged Grasshoppers, Melanoplus viridipes (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

One of the most interesting things about this set of “Beall” Trails was the variety of habitats we traveled through, and, because of that, the variety of living things we were able to see and hear.  There were so many great “learning moments” that it would be a nice set of trails for people of diverse interests.  Most of the elevation changes on the trails were gentle and short, making it accessible to most people who love to walk in a beautiful natural setting.

Next stop:  Idleman’s Run Trail off Forest Service Road 80.    Blog post coming soon!

Mountain Nature Camp for Adults – June 10-16, 2018

The 90+ year tradition of excellent mountain nature studies for adults continues!

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

At this year’s Mountain Nature Camp (Nature studies for adults) in Terra Alta, WV, I will be the botanist/naturalist.  I will be identifying 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 lead 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  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Friday supper at Mountain Nature Camp 2017 (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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

** Field trips focus on many aspects of Nature Study in destinations which have a wide

variety of habitats and elevations.

** Hiking options available.

group at the Rohrbaugh Plains Trail overlook in the Dolly Sods W

Eating lunch at the Rohrbaugh Plains Trail 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 made by experienced cooks using many fresh, local ingredients. For full-day field trips, lunch is brought with us. Most special dietary needs can be accommodated.

Staff: 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: 304-242-6855

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

 

Friendly Faces

This spring is not really spring, yet.  Winter doesn’t want to let go and keeps sending more snow and cold temperatures.  The calendar tells me it’s April 9th, but when I look outside it seems more like January 99th.

I enjoy rambling through woodlands looking for early spring wildflowers.  Every year at this time I see the flowers of Bloodroot, Hepatica, Rue Anemone, Twinleaf and more, except for this year.  Everything is late, at least their flowers are.  The plants are there, but the flowers are waiting.  Being the reproductive part of the plant, flowers are susceptible to extreme cold and since a plant’s sole purpose in life is to reproduce itself, if the flowers freeze, there will be no fruits or seeds — no reproduction.

Even though I knew the flowers wouldn’t be there, I decided to take a walk in a nearby 50 acre woodland and I was greeted with a great many friendly leafy faces.  Having hiked the ridges and valleys throughout West Virginia so many times during all seasons, I am familiar with many plants in all their stages of growth.  And I did see the flowers — but just in my mind.  Only seeing the leaves, I was able to view the flowers imprinted in my memories.  And not just spring flowers.  I saw the leafy beginnings of summer wildflowers as well and then viewed their flowers in my mind.  Here are a few of the leafy friends I saw.  The flowers that will appear later are on the right.

Tall A.

Tall Agrimony (Agrimonia gryposepala) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

A Buttercup

Aborted Buttercup/Kidneyleaf Crowfoot  (Ranunculus abortivus) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

False Mer

False Mermaidweed (Floerkea proserpinacoides) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

Heal a

Heal All/Selfheal/Bumblebee Weed (Prunella vulgaris) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

m apple

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

M E Chick

Mouse-ear Chickweed (Cerastium vulgatum) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

H Woodmint

Hairy Wood Mint (Blephilia hirsute) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

sweet cicely

Smooth Sweet Cicely/Aniseroot (Osmorhiza longistylis) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

White-flowered Leafcup

White-flowered Leafcup (Polymnia canadensis) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

P D Nettle

Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

S W Violet

Striped White Violet (Viola striata) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

Great Chickweed

Great Chickweed/Star Chickweed (Stellaria pubera) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

It is important to go out in Nature as often as possible.  If you do, you will soon begin to recognize the friendly faces of so many more special friends.

 

Wildflowers and Weeds for Master Naturalist, April 28, 2018, 9 am – Noon

This is a beautiful time of year to be in the woods!  Join me to learn about the incredible spring ephemeral wildflowers and those things we call “weeds”.  This program is open to the public, but you must pre-register.

Left to right… Sharplobe Hepatica, Blue-eyed Mary and Bloodroot (All photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Learn the major groups and important families of flowering plants.  Discover basic terms for describing flowering plants as well as how to collect and preserve plants.  Identifying flowering plants using field guides and keys will also be covered, as well as approaches to further study, including helpful references.  This class will meet at the zoo, then drive to the woods surrounding West Liberty University.  Participants will provide their own transportation to West Liberty.

West Virginia Wildflower Pilgrimage May 10-13, 2018

Left – Rainbow over Pendleton Point…. Right – View from Lindy Point. (Both photos taken at Blackwater Falls State Park (c) Bill Beatty)

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

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

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

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

Thursday late afternoon, Jan will be teaching a Beginning Birding and Beyond workshop at the Blackwater Falls State Park Lodge.

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

Left to right: American Larch… Trailing Arbutus… and Gay Wings and Goldthread (All photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Friday, I will lead a Dolly Sods Wilderness Hike.  The hike begins at the Red Creek Campground on Blackbird Knob Trail. We cross Alder Run, travel across some open and scenic areas, then cross Red Creek just downstream from several active beaver dams, and continue to the north-east side of Blackbird Knob (elev. 3,950) where we will eat lunch. On the return trip, we follow Red Creek downstream to the junction of Alder Run and follow Alder Run Trail to the junction of the Beatty Labyrinth. This part of the hike is mostly open and quite scenic. The hike then follows Alder Run Bog Run upstream through spruce woods and eventually joins the Blackbird Knob Trail near where we began at the Red Creek Campground. This is the most difficult part of the hike since it is at the end of our trip. There are 15 small stream crossings, one long rock field to cross, and is casually uphill most of the time. There will be opportunities for scenic views, wildflower and bird identification, perhaps map and compass use, and experiencing the spectacular beauty of Dolly Sods. Hiking shoes/boots are required; Red Creek may have to be waded if water is high; appropriate rain gear is required. Restroom facilities are available before and after the hike.

Sunrises along the Allegheny Front (All photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Saturday, Jan and I together will lead several shorter hikes, “Special Hikes to Favorite Places on Dolly Sods.”  The first hike is a 1.2 mile (round trip) on the Old Growth Trail which begins going through a red spruce woods with mountain laurel/rhododendron borders and ends in an old growth deciduous woods with a variety of high mountain spring wildflowers, interesting birds and giant oak trees.  Then we drive a short distance to our second hike: the 2.2 mile (round trip) High Mountain Meadow Trail.  This trail leads through a variety of habitats, crosses Alder Run Bog, and continues through a large red pine forest with an extensive undergrowth of ferns,  The trail ends at an area of high mountain meadows which we may explore.  The last hike, time permitting, is along the Allegheny Front Vista Trail.  Hiking 1/4 – 1 mile (round trip) we will enjoy some of the best scenic overlooks in West Virginia.  Hiking boots and rain gear are required!

Additional information and registration: https://1djciw2nayur2c2mvt4dir9d-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Pilgrimage.2018.pdf

Kayaking the Headwaters of the Blackwater River…and Searching for Wildflowers

Recently Jan and I decided to make a trip to Canaan Valley for what has become an annual event:  kayaking a section of one of the rivers in one of the most scenic parts of West Virginia.  Our original plan was to do part of the Dry Fork River along River Road beginning east of Hendricks, WV.   We reconnoitered the river on our way down.  To our surprise the Dry Fork was high for August and the current was too swift for the kind of kayaking we like to do.  Unlike white-water kayakers, we like to explore slowly along the river banks and in back channels looking for wildflowers, listening to bird songs and finding other interesting things along the way.  Our exploration via car did alert us to one special discovery:  the wildflowers were spectacular this year!

1 cardinal flower

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) was in full bloom along the Dry Fork River. (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

1 great mullien

Along Rt. 72 to Back Hollow Road and Canaan Valley we noticed lots of Great Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) still in bloom. (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

We found lots of backwaters and little passageways to explore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Video (c) Jan Runyan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo (c) Jan Runyan

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

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

IMG_3469

Gymnopus dryophilus  (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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

cowbane (Oxypolis rigidior)

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

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

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Photos (c) Jan Runyan

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

mating ebony jewelwing damselflies (Calopteryx maculata)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Video (c) Jan Runyan

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

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Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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

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

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

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(Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

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

A Grandkid Discovers the Nature of Dolly Sods

When each of our grandchildren reaches eight years old Jan and I take them on an eight day Dolly Sods Wilderness adventure.  This was Lila’s year.  Below are a few highlights.

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The only site open at the Red Creek Campground was No. 1 so we settled in for our stay.  Lila helped me install our solar panels so we could have power for charging camera batteries and using the computer for transferring photos. (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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The next day, after filling water bottles at the spring, we hiked Northland Loop Trail and looked closely at the insectivorous plants along the Alder Run Bog boardwalk.  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Left – Spatulate-leaved Sundew (not native, but showing up in several bogs in West Virginia); Right – West Virginia’s native Round-leaved Sundew.  Fortunately the habitat requirements are different enough to allow both of these insect-eating plants to thrive together in the same bogs. (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Round-leaved Sundew pad with trapped cranefly.  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Jan and I always start with easier hikes for the grandchildren when we take them on their Dolly Sods adventure.  After the Northland Loop trail and lunch we hiked part of the Allegheny Front Vista Trail.  This trail is full of scenic overlooks and interesting rock formations.

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Photos (c) Bill Beatty

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Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

 

All along the Dolly Sods road we saw spectacular wildflowers.

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Turks Cap Lily  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

On day two we did a more physical hike beginning at Bear Rocks and continuing out to Stack Rocks.

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

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

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Continuing to Stack Rocks (in background)  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

The next day one of the trails we hiked was the Rohrbaugh Plains Trail.

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Lila and Jan ready for another hike (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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Hiking the Red Spruce/Rhododendron section of the Rohrbaugh, Lila found a snail and hummed it from its shell (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Because of the moist summer, there were many colorful mushrooms and other fungi along most of the trails we hiked during the week.

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Left to right – American Caesar and Chanterelle mushrooms (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Left to right – Crowded Parchment, Chicken of the Woods and Artist’s Conk (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Left to right – Fly Amanita and Bleeding Mycena mushrooms (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Left to right – Turkey Tail and Violet Toothed Polypore fungi (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Left to right – Orange Mycena and Yellow Fairy Cup fungi (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Besides our days on Dolly Sods we also took trips off the mountain to explore Canaan Valley and other nearby areas.  Canaan Loop Road offered a wide variety and abundance of wildflowers.

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Black-eyed Susans (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Bee Balm flowers (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

On our last full day on Dolly Sods we hiked the Beatty Labyrinth.  We saw and heard many fascinating creatures.  Jan and I were surprised that we heard Hermit Thrushes (my favorite bird song) singing every day…every where.

hemit thrush 2 Laura Meyers

Hermit Thrush  (Photo (c) Laura Meyers)

Song of the Hermit Thrush –

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At the pond at the bottom of Blackbird Knob Trail we caught a Red-spotted Newt.  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Lila along Alder Run Bog Run and crossing the rock field on the Beatty Labyrinth.  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

 

Sadly, this was our 4th and last grandchild trip to Dolly Sods.  Luckily, however, one of our grandkids has asked if he could return to the wilderness with us and do some more hiking.  We are already thinking about Dolly Sods with him next year.