Canaan Valley for Fall Color and More – October 2020

Jan and I got a new trailer in January. We didn’t get rid of our old one, but when we took our 2006 18-foot Micro-light to have the roof re-caulked, we decided to look at even smaller trailers on the lot. There happened to be a 2015 15-foot Whitewater Retro on consignment. It is light enough to be pulled by our mini-van. We got a great bargain, and all-of-a-sudden we had two trailers! We usually travel a lot each year, especially from mid-April until the end of June, leading workshops, guiding hikes and teaching. We plan to use the smaller trailer for short stays away from home. The “big” one is more like a cabin for longer stays.

But Covid happened and everything was cancelled, so our maiden voyage with the new trailer didn’t happen until 10 months later in October. We had to attend a meeting at Canaan Valley State Park. We could have gotten up really early that day and made a very long day of it, but decided instead to take the “little one” on her maiden voyage, arriving the day before, and staying for some hiking.

The new trailer (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

What turned out to be the best part of a great trip was that our wonderful friend Cindy was camped about 20 yards away for the first 2 days. There was even a trail between our two camp sites! The first thing Cindy asked was, “Can we go to see the Fringed Gentian?” Soon we were on our way.

Cindy and Jan looking at the Fringed Gentian. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

There is only one known site for the Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis crinita) in West Virginia, and it is a spectacular wildflower. When we have seen them before, it was about 1 week earlier in the season and they were already in full bloom. Luckily, this year the season was later and we were fortunate to see the Fringed Gentian in various stages of flowering — from flower bud to full flower.

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

At this same location we found some beautiful Nodding Ladies’ Tresses Orchids (Spiranthes cernua).

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Cindy wanted to make supper for us. Absolutely! We had a lovely supper of delicious Chicken Romano and a table full of side dishes.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Later we sat around a campfire and had fun reminiscing.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Cindy had to leave the next day, but we enjoyed a bit more time together before our meeting started. Due to renovations happening at the Blackwater State Park Lodge next spring, the West Virginia Wildflower Pilgrimage will be held at nearby Canaan Valley State Park in 2021. Since I am in charge of the birding aspect of the Pilgrimage and Jan is one of my bird leaders, we decided after our meeting to hike areas near the Canaan Lodge to see where the early morning bird walks would go. The fall colors were beautiful.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty
Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) tree (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) trees (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

On our walk we discovered a hole where a turtle had laid her eggs. Unfortunately, a predator had found the nest and destroyed it, eating the eggs.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Deer were easy to see and approach — they are used to people in the park.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Near Canaan Valley State Park Lodge (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

From Canaan Valley we could look up to the ridge that is the western edge of the Dolly Sods Wilderness area where we had been just a few days before. (See our posts: https://wvbirder.wordpress.com/2020/10/03/a-different-dolly-sods-adventure-2020-style/ AND https://wvbirder.wordpress.com/2020/10/14/just-us-hiking-on-dolly-sods/ )

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

On our last full day at Canaan we began with a leisurely, hearty breakfast.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Jan and I decided to hike the 6-mile Promised Land Trail loop. Since we often stop, explore and take photos…

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

…we knew there wouldn’t be enough time to do the whole loop. Fortunately, there are several trails that intersect and they made it possible to get back to where we parked well before dinner time.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

I appreciate BIG trees. To put things into perspective, a BIG Sassafras tree isn’t nearly as big as a BIG Tuliptree. I determine a BIG tree as being big compared to others of the same kind/species. What impressed me most about the Promised Land Trail was that, early on, we went through a woods with some BIG Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) trees.

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

Jan saw some unusual patterns to photograph, like these holes made by a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker…

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

…and other interesting shapes and designs.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Turkey Tail Mushroom (Trametes versicolor) (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Evidence of weathering (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

At one point, the trail skirted the woods with views of large, open wetlands on our right. Soon we noticed a beaver dam on Club Run.

Beaver pond with the dam at the right (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

We decided to explore. I went down and stood on the beaver dam while Jan walked to the other end of the pond where Club Run flows in.

Bill standing on the beaver dam (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Photo (c) Bill Beatty
Video (c) Jan Runyan

After exploring areas surrounding the beaver dam we continued on Promised Land Trail and discovered more interesting things.

A tangle of dead trees and branches —

(Giant pick-up-sticks!) (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Beech Drops (Epifagus virginiana), an obligate parasitic plant which grows and subsists on the roots of American Beech trees —

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Fall-colored Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum) leaf with brilliant color —

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

American Witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) in bloom —

A truly late-bloomer! (Top photo (c) Jan Runyan; Bottom photo (c) Bill Beatty)

American Basswood (Tilia americana) tree cluster —

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Fall-colored Red Maple (Acer rubrum) leaves everywhere —

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

A tiny Lion’s Mane Mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) —

(Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Thanks to Cindy, we had lots of delicious leftovers to add to our planned supper on the last evening: clam chowder with extra clams and rice, vege slices with dip, Greek olives and homemade applesauce.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

After dinner we enjoyed a campfire and made some new friends (also West Virginians) from the campsite next to ours.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Although Jan did come home with a couple dozen things to get or to do to the new trailer, we were pleased with how things worked on our first trip.

Even after we left Canaan Valley, we continued to enjoy the fall color that helps make West Virginia… Almost Heaven.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis crinita) flowers (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Just Us – Hiking on Dolly Sods

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

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

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

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

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

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

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

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

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

All along the trail we found interesting mushrooms.

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

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

“I see you!” (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

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

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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

Hermit Thrush song —

Swainson’s Thrush song —

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

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video (c) Jan Runyan

We decided to photograph each other at this happy spot.

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

Clubmosses seemed to be everywhere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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

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

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

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

A Different Dolly Sods Adventure — 2020-style

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

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

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

I started the first morning by taking some photos.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

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

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

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

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

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

Monarch Butterfly (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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

Question Mark Butterfly (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

We noticed Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies on several occasions.

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

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

Video (c) Jan Runyan

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

Video by Jan Runyan

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

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

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

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

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

Garden Spider (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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

Rock Polypody Ferns (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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

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

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

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

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

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

We were happy, well-fed Dolly Sods campers!

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

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

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

the Gelatinous Stalked-puffball (Calostoma cinnabarinum).

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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

Mountainash Tree (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

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

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

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

Photo (c) Bill Beatty
Video by Jan Runyan

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

Bog Goldenrod (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

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

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

And the answer is…

Video by Jan Runyan

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

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

I decided to go hiking.

Photo (c) Lee Miller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a Great Nature Workshop Weekend!

Jan and I were invited by Paulita, Naturalist at Blackwater Falls State Park, to lead the West Virginia Natural History of Plants and Birds Weekend. To me it seemed like a mini West Virginia Wildflower Pilgrimage. We had a smaller group of very interested participants and the best part of it all, to me, was getting to know everyone so well.

Jan presented her The Making of Dolly Sods program Friday afternoon. That evening, I presented my West Virginia Plants that Changed the World program. These were in preparation for our all-day Dolly Sods area field trip on Saturday.

In the Dolly Sods area we drove from Laneville to Bear Rocks, approximately 11 miles, stopping and looking at wildflowers and listening for birds. The first stop was the Dolly Sods Picnic Area to visit the spring and see Golden Saxifrage (Chrysosplenium americanum).

The Dolly Sods Picnic Area spring . (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Golden Saxifrage has a tiny flower which you need a magnifier to see. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Golden Saxifrage is an excellent indicator of very clean water. Both public springs on Dolly Sods have it growing there.

Between the spring and the road is a beautiful stand of Bee Balm (Monarda didyma). We discussed West Virginia’s four different Monarda species and how to tell them apart.

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

A short distance away was the trailhead of Rohrbaugh Plains Trail. This is a great example of how, in a short distance and elevation change, the plant life changes. On the way up one of our class members discovered something quite interesting: a Cordyceps militaris fungus, also known as the Zombie Mushroom because it is a parasite on a variety of insects, especially sphinx moth pupea.

Zombie Mushroom (Cordyceps militaris)

This video tells why it is referred to as the Zombie Mushroom.

To watch the entire video follow this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfymmH2rD-s

Our next stop on Dolly Sods was a meadow full of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). The Monarch Butterflies were actively laying eggs and we saw some tiny, tiny monarch caterpillars feeding on the plant.

Common Milkweed (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Monarch Butterfly egg (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

One of the most fascinating finds was on the underside of a milkweed leaf. A group of ants was tending to the “ant cows” a.k.a. aphids. Aphid excrement is referred to as honeydew and the ants collect it for food.

Black Ants tending the “ant cows”. (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

This meadow also had many Pipevine Swallowtail Butterflies. We knew there had to be Dutchman’s Pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla), the host plant of the larva, somewhere on Dolly Sods to have so many of the butterflies there. We looked for it, but we were in sunny locations near the road most of the time and those plants prefer shady areas, so we didn’t see it.

Dutchman’s Pipevine and Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

We saw many other wildflowers.

A few of the Wild Bleeding Heart (Dicentra eximia) were still in bloom (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Indian Pipes (Monotropa uniflora) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Oceanorus (Oceanorus leimanthoides) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Turk’s-cap Lily (Lilium superbum) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Next we walked Northland Loop Trail, looking for and finding many kinds of plants.

Hiking Northland Loop toward the Alder Run Bog boardwalk. (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Looking at the wetland plants along the boardwalk. (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Most fascinating were the insectivorous plants — the sundews.

Spatulate-leaved Sundew (Drosera intermedia), an introduced species (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Native Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) and Cranefly trapped on sticky sundew pad (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Just after we explored the Alder Run Bog Boardwalk, one of the predicted rain showers came by, for which we were very glad. The prediction of rain kept home some of the many people who are discovering Dolly Sods this year, so we were able to find parking places in the locations we wanted to explore.

Our next stop was the West Virginia Nature Conservancy’s Bear Rocks Nature Preserve, arguably the most scenic place on Dolly Sods.

The crew of the West Virginia Natural History of Plants and Birds Weekend. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Bear Rocks is very scenic with many outstanding views of the mountain ridges to the east and many wonderful rock formations to explore.

Bear Rocks Escarpment (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Exploring a rock formation (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Pancake Rock (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The last wildflowers we looked at were Wood Lilies (Lilium philadelphicum) growing in the meadows near Bear Rocks.

Wood Lily (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

After a restroom stop at the Dolly Sods Campground, most of us walked a short distance to the location (mid-August to October) of the Allegheny Front Bird Observatory along the Allegheny Front. We managed to get occasional glimpses of the ridge and valley area of West Virginia to the east through the rain clouds we had worked around all day.

Ridges and Valleys east of the Allegheny Front (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

On Saturday evening The Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia presented a most excellent and informative program. (http://www.accawv.org/ )

Two of the birds they brought were red and gray morphs of the Eastern Screech-owl.

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

Before breakfast on Sunday, Jan and I walked behind the Blackwater Lodge listening to birds, looking at plants and taking in the breathtaking views of the Blackwater Canyon.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

After breakfast the group drove to Idleman’s Run Trail in the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

The meadows were full of Shrubby St. John’s Wort (Hypericum prolificum).

Shrubby St. John’s Wort (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

In the meadow and along the trail we also found interesting insects.

Dogbane Leaf Beetle (Chrysochus auratus) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Ebony Jewelwing Damselflies (Calopteryx maculata) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Paulita, Jan and I were the leaders this weekend, but as with many field trips where I am teaching, there are participants who add a great deal to the information we share about identification and natural history. Emily explained this about one of the plants we found.

Video (c) Jan Runyan

Two years ago when Jan and I had been exploring the trail, we had found several small, often overlooked, Daisy-leaf Moonwort (Botrychium matricariifolium) ferns. We found them again last year. This year they were gone from the original location where we had seen them before. However, when we stopped to look at a mushroom, a Daisy-leaf Moonwort was discovered. It was in a different location, but still along Idleman’s Run.

Daisy-leaf Moonwort (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

At Dolly Sods and Idleman’s Run, Jan occasionally showed interesting geological sights, often talking about weathering and erosion. Here she showed us a “rippled rock”. The sediment was laid down in ripples when it was deposited several hundred million years ago and the ripples were retained as the sediments turned into rock.

Video (c) Jan Runyan

Interesting fungi were all along the trail.

Fading Scarlet Waxy Cap mushrooms (Hygrocybe punicea) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Colorful caps of Brittlegill mushrooms (Russula spp.) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Golden Chanterelle mushrooms (Cantharellus cibarius) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Pinwheel Marasmius mushrooms (Marasmius rotula) (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Blue Stain Fungus (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

There were large patches of Wood Nettle (Laportea canadensis). Many say that the stinging qualities of Wood Nettle are more severe than those of Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica). So, some would ask, “Why would someone ever eat it raw?”

Video (c) Jan Runyan

For the full video of me eating Wood Nettle raw — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pt610xH2fXk

On Saturday at the top of Rohrbaugh Plains Trail and on Sunday all along Idleman’s Run Trail we saw many different kinds of mosses, like this moss — possibly evergreen Rose Moss (Rhodobryum ontariense) — but I’m not sure. The photo shows the splash cups. The function of the splash cup is to use the momentum of rain drops to disperse the sperm contained within the antheridia (male sex organs).

Moss splash cups (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Walking the Idleman’s Run Trail (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The last wildflower we identified was a bit challenging since it wasn’t in my 1000+ page field guide, “The Flora of West Virginia”. However, it was in the “Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide”.

Video (c) Jan Runyan

The weekend was officially over, but Jan and I wanted to stop at the nearby, newly refurbished Freeland Boardwalk Trail. We invited everyone to join us and most did. We enjoyed seeing some new plants and birds, including a young Green Heron and some Mallard ducklings.

Mallard ducklings (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

Most birds are quiet this time of year, so we didn’t encounter many species.

Freeland Boardwalk Trail (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Six of us stayed so long we decided to continue our conversation over a late lunch/early supper — pizza from Sirianna’s Cafe taken to the Pendleton Point Picnic area in Blackwater Falls State Park.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan
Picnic at Blackwater Falls State Park (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

As usual, I was tired. Continual teaching, leading trail walks, and talking much of the time is tiring. However, Jan and I had a really wonderful time — maybe the best weekend we’ll have all year. Everything was great, especially the people. At some events where we are leaders, there are hundreds of people. This group had just 14 of us and we got to know each other in ways not possible with a large group. Amazing places, incredible Nature, wonderful people! That’s special!

Turk’s-cap Lily (Lilium superbum) (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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

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

Friday, July 31

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

Saturday, August 1

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

Sunday, August 2

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

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

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

Goldenseal a.k.a. Yellowroot

For me, my earliest memories of Goldenseal, Hydrastis canadensis, seem to be related to memories of my grandmother’s ways of natural healing.

Goldenseal (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

My grandmother always seemed to have a myriad of remedies for illnesses and injuries. Sore throats were most often treated with a mixture of onion and sugar. For coughs and sore throats, she made an extract of fresh Red Clover flowers by suspending a strainer full of flowers in the steam of boiling water. Water condensed on the flowers and dripped back into the the pan along with the nectar and other chemistry from the flowers. After she boiled off half the water in the pan and cooled the clover water, it would be mixed with honey and administered in teaspoonful doses.

I also remember several times when I was given a small piece of wood to chew on. It had an unpleasant taste, but I never knew what it was.

As a young adult I began to study the identification of, well, just about everything in nature. Along with identification, I learned a great deal of the natural history of plants. The first time I tried a taste of what I knew to be Goldenseal, I immediately remembered the unpleasant taste from my childhood. To me, the tastes were the same.

I have a strong desire to be independent and self sufficient. Jan and I grow much of our own food and, on our property, I have planted a variety of wild edible and medicinal plants, including Goldenseal.

Most of the medicinal chemistry of Goldenseal is in the root. The root is a beautiful bright yellow, hence the other name, Yellowroot.

Goldenseal root, a.k.a. Yellowroot (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

When my son Josh was a young boy there were times when he wanted to make some money. Growing up in a rural town, there were not many opportunities for making money, but I wasn’t the kind of parent to just dole out money any time my kids wanted some. My kids cut our grass, washed our dishes, weeded the garden, helped with canning and did other helpful chores for the family. In return, they received food, clothes, a home, a nice two-week vacation every year, and, eventually, college educations. For extra money, spending money, they had to work outside the home.

Josh picked black raspberries. He could sell all he could pick, but, of course, that was very seasonal.

Black Raspberries (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

He also collected aluminum cans at $.40 a pound, and some people around town even saved them for him.

And, with my supervision, he also dug roots of medicinal plants from the nearby woods and sold them.

Most I my adult life I worked as a freelance nature photographer. I was outside in wild areas all the time, usually at least 8-10 hours a day. I photographed medicinal plants and knew where to find them, so sometimes I took Josh with me. I would take him to areas loaded with Goldenseal and, while I roamed the woodlands taking photos, Josh collected Goldenseal.

In Brooke County, WV, Goldenseal first appears above the forest leaf litter in the early spring, around mid-April. Goldenseal grows wild throughout the eastern United States in shady, wooded areas with loose, rich, moist soil. Hillsides provide the drainage the plants prefer. At that time of year, the root is already large, but the tiny plants are far from their reproductive cycle and not ready to harvest responsibly.

A just-emerged Goldenseal plant (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

A few weeks later the white and yellowish flowers appear.

Goldenseal’s unusual flower (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Josh would usually dig Goldenseal in mid- to late-July when the fruits were present and had ripened.

Goldenseal with fruits (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The first thing Josh would do was to collect the ripe, red fruits. Then he would dig the rest of each plant. At that time, in the mid-1990s, he sold the roots for $32/lb. and the tops for $8/lb. of dried weight.

Josh digging Goldenseal (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Josh examining a Goldenseal root (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

After he was finish digging the plants, he would separate the fruits into their individual seeds. Then he planted the seeds right back where he had dug the plants.

Today, the patches he dug and replanted are loaded with healthy Goldenseal plants. As a matter of fact, the Goldenseal we have on our property now were started from plants and seeds I collected from one of those patches Josh dug over 20 years ago.

Historically, Goldenseal has been used for a wide variety of ailments, including common colds, respiratory problems and many other physical problems. As always, before you consider using a wild plant as a remedy, make sure to do your research about the safety of using wild remedies, and be sure of your own ability to identify plants in the wild.

Goldenseal plants (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Common Chickweed — My Favorite Spring Wild Edible Green

Jan has an indoor winter garden that supplies us with salad greens all through the cold weather months. We have fresh salads on a regular basis.

Jan’s winter garden. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

We also add freshly dug carrots (overwintered in the ground), last year’s onions or kohlrabi, and sometimes frozen peas and pickled beets from last year’s harvest. Some store bought vegetables are occasionally added.

Jan digging carrots that we let “winter over”. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Some wild plants that we harvest from our property also find their way into our salads.

Common Chickweed (Stellaria media) is the most abundant “weed” in some of our gardens. And it is wonderfully edible and highly nutritious with a good compliment of Vitamin C. In the days of the tall sailing ships, sailors foraged for chickweeds whenever they made landfall. They had learned that somehow these plants helped prevent scurvy (a very debilitating disease caused by a lack of Vitamin C) and they knew that chickweeds can be found on most continents in most ecosystems.

Common Chickweed (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

On our property Common Chickweed can be collected by the handsful. The entire plant is edible and that is how we add it to our salads — flowers, leaves and stems. Even the roots can be eaten, but we usually pull them off.

A handful of Common Chickweed. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)
Common Chickweed added to a salad. (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

This year from January through March, the garden bed destined for this summer’s potatoes was loaded with Common Chickweed and we made good use of it, harvesting it on a regular basis.

Common Chickweed in what will become our potato garden. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

I usually do my first planting of potatoes in early April. This year my gas-powered tiller wasn’t working and I haven’t been able to have it fixed due to the COVID 19 pandemic. So I decided to go “back to my roots” and use my 40+ year old, person-powered cultivator to turn the the weeds back into the soil.

Cultivating the garden bed. (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

The cultivator still worked beautifully and I appreciated the good physical workout. The abundance of great nutrition found in Common Chickweed is now decomposing underground where it will be easily available for the potatoes. Our volunteer Common Chickweed garden has transformed into our 2020 potato garden with 100 hills of potatoes planted already. Another 40 hills will be planted in mid-April, about the time those first potato plants begin to emerge.

Our 2020 potato garden has five of seven rows already planted. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Our gardens serve a dual purpose – we plant them with our favorite domestic “grocery store” vegetables and then the nutritious volunteer weeds that invade after harvest find their way into our mid-winter/spring salads. It’s a win, win situation.

But don’t worry that we might get scurvy because all the chickweed is now gone from the potato patch! There is plenty more of it all around the property! Jan just has to ask and I can easily find and harvest a big handful for our dinnertime salad….like I did just last night!

Common Chickweed (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to the beautiful song of the Hermit Thrush.

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

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

Dolly Sods Adventures – 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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

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

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

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

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

Fringed Gentian (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

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

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

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

Bog Goldenrod (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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

American Mountainash (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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

Red Maple leaves (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

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

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

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

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

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

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

This caterpillar will eventually become a beautiful Io Moth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video (c) Jan Runyan

Not all the birds we catch are warblers.

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

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

Video (c) Jan Runyan

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

Winter Wren (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

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

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

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

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

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

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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

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

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

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

Spring Peeper (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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

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

Photos (c) Bill Beatty and Jan Runyan

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

Photos (c) Jan Runyan

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!

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.

btbl and babr
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. 

mawa and blbr
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.

cmwa and bwwa
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. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dolly Sods sunrise (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

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

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

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

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Photo (c) Bill Beatty

accomodations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The state park offers a number of trails.

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

dogwood trail

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

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

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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.

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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.

IMG_5369

(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)

mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) showing petals clasping stame

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.

cookout

Photos (c) Bill Beatty

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

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Chestnut Heights  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo (c) Jan Runyan

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Mountain Nature Camp 2018

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

Dolly Sods Wilderness fall scenic

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

signs

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.

thrushes

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.

molt limits

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!

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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: