Monday, May 22, 2017

Walnut Creek Park

Yesterday, I went on a delightful hike with a delightful group of four others - well, one of them was focused on geocaching and so ended up doing that on his own rather than hiking - at Walnut Creek Park south of Charlottesville. It felt like being in the mountains but with less elevation gain - same type of forests and birds, for example.  Here is a map of the track, which was a 5.5 mile circuit hike.  Arrows show the direction, and the red star marks the starting and ending point.

There was a nice lake and thus, the hike had water views for a decent part of it.  We walked past beaver activity and even went through a forest fire zone.  Some of the birds I heard as we hiked were oven bird, Eastern wood pewee, tufted titmouse, Acadian flycatcher, phoebe, and pileated woodpecker.

Here are a few photos from this pleasant hike.  It was a little sad to see this abandoned house in the woods.  It makes me think of how this was once someone's home, and I wonder what their life was like.

 Deeper into the forest was the remains of a fireplace and chimney for what must have been a cabin.  It had to have been a difficult life.  Maybe they had a little farm in the foothills.  No grocery stores back then out this way!

No, we are not in Tibet, but we did find these faded prayer flags.


There was plenty of mountain laurel in bloom.

Timber!!!!  I wonder if beavers yell that when they drop a tree?

This was the inlet into the lake.

An apparently quick moving forest fire burned part of the area a couple of months ago.

The lake had a number of nice viewpoints.

Here is the hiking group, minus Steve (who went geocaching.)

After hiking, we met up with Steve, ate lunch by the lake, and headed for home.  With a fairly short hike and a pretty short drive (about 75 minutes each way), I actually got home in time to relax a bit before dinner after getting a shower.  It was a fun day in the woods.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Best Laid Plans

My initial plans were to go backpacking in Shenandoah for yesterday through tomorrow.  But starting last weekend, I began to have some lower back pain, and even after a visit to the chiropractor Thursday, I felt as if this were not a great idea. But, thought I, I can still get up early on Friday, my day off, and do a day hike, getting done before the projected early afternoon thunderstorms rolled in.  But I came down with a migraine headache about 9PM Thursday and popped two Excedrin Migraine pills.  That knocked the headache out, but they have a super high does of caffeine, and as a result, I was wide awake by 1:30AM and never fell asleep again.

So my final plan was a short (5 mile) day hike in Powhatan State Park.  On this warm days with temperatures reaching 90 degrees (F), it was just the thing.  I saw and heard abundant wildlife - mostly birds and butterflies - and enjoyed a walk in the woods and fields of this nice park, just a 40 minute drive from my home.  Here is the track, parking at the star and following in the direction of the arrows, with a lunch break at the James River.

Some of the hike is in the deep woods, with grey tree frogs and oven birds, wood thrush, tufted titmice, and wood pewees calling,

and a cool stream or two where I saw this green frog.

This friendly butterfly, which might be a hackberry emperor, landed on my pack, and even on my hand!


Other parts of the hike went through large open areas, where field sparrows and common yellowthroats called continually, and I saw wild strawberries and brilliant flowers.




It was along the edge of the overgrown fields that I spotted this summer tanager,

indigo bunting,

eastern box turtle,

and this tiger swallowtail.

Down by the river, along the aptly named River Trail. is a dedication to my friend Holly Walker, who died of cancer a couple of years ago - way too soon.  Rest in peace, Holly.  Your dedication is at a wonderful spot.


I ate lunch by the river,


thought about Holly and how much she loved and knew about nature, and listened to the birds.  Then I partially retraced my steps to the car, where the air conditioning felt most welcome.

Yeah, my original plans didn't work out, nor did Plan B.  But Plan C turned out to pretty amazing in its own way!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Hiking in Sleeping Bear Dunes

I was in Michigan a couple of weeks ago for a granddaughter fix, and I managed to get in a morning of hiking in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  I am going back to that area in August, and I promised to take my granddaughter camping or even backpacking, so I was scouting out a potential trip in the "Dunes."  It is a beautiful area to be sure.  Here (circled) is the location on the shores of Lake Michigan in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula.


The specific area I hiked in is called Platte Plains and Otter Pond.  There is a back country campground a couple of miles in with six campsites, a fire pit, and a vault toilet.  It would be a good place to hike into, set up camp, do day hikes, and then hike out after two nights of camping.  It is one possibility.  Aja has only been camping once, and never backpacking, and really wants to go.  I am all about getting kids into the outdoors and away from televisions and such - not that she watches too much TV, actually. So, this was not just a hike but a scouting hike for a future potential trip.

One thing that I needed to learn was how we would get water.  I learned that from the campsites, it is a tough 1/3 mile slog to Lake Michigan, the only source of water nearby.  But it is doable if one were to filter a couple of gallons at a time so it only had to be done once or twice.  Here is the map showing my out and back track to the lake, starting and ending at the purple star (I also did a short leg to the north to get a look at Otter Pond - Lake Michigan is on the left side of the map.)

At the start of the hike, I walked a few hundred feet from the parking area to the shores of Bass Lake.  I love the northern lakes.  I listened to woodpeckers, probably pileated, drumming loudly as I stood by the shore.

The trail to the campground (White Pine Campground as it is called) is easy to follow and fairly level as it goes through the forest.  The trails are also used for Nordic skiing.

At the campground, the National Park Service has provided a metal box to lock up one's provisions from bears and raccoons.

There is a communal firepit for all of the campsites, one of which is visible in the background.  It looks like a pleasant area to camp out.  I could hear loons yodeling as I explored there.

From the campground, I hiked towards the big lake, leaving the forest and walking through the dunes.  If we end up camping there in August, it is not going to be an easy trip for water, that is for sure!

I walked through clouds of thousands of some kind of a tiny insect, probably a type of mayfly, and eventually reached the shore of the huge lake.  You can see lines of the little insect washed up on the beach!  They were all over me but eventually flew off when I headed back to the forest.

In the distance is South Manitou Island, another place I want to hike and camp on someday.

On the hike in and out, there are a few small wet areas along the pathway.  I am not sure if these are vernal pools that will dry up, or if they permanently contain water.

My guidebook said that Otter Pond was a good spot to see wildlife, so I did a short hike up that way to get a view of the lovely pond.  But no animals were seen.  Hearing loons earlier, and seeing a pair of common mergansers on Lake Michigan, would have to suffice in the critter realm.

Well, I have a few months to think about it, but this area is a definite possibility for taking my granddaughter backpacking in three months.  But either way, it is a wonderful area to day hike in.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Hiking and Birding at False Cape

It felt good to be back here at False Cape State Park.  I'd hiked in the day before (April 7) and slept well in my new tent - and had pancakes for breakfast!  Now, it was time to go for a day hike and look for birds.  My friend Carlton and I both like to watch birds, although he is better at identification than I am - so I try to learn from him.  We ended up recording something like 50 species that Saturday.

Our route was south towards North Carolina, and then a "box" shape out to the beach and back around, a total of about 11 miles.  The purple arrow shows the location of the beautiful South Inlet.  There is an observation platform there, and we saw a couple of bald eagles and a northern harrier (marsh hawk) while we were there.

Here is Carlton snapping a photo of the harrier:

As we hiked along, we watched and listened constantly.  Birds were out all over the place.  One of the prettiest was this prairie warbler, which was in the live oaks over our tents, keeping us entertained with his merry song (photo by Carlton):

The route we hiked went through maritime forests, dunes, and the beach itself:




After hiking, we stopped at the little store at the park and bought ice cream and Gator Aid.  Ice cream while backpacking is an amazing luxury, and hit the spot.  Then, I took a little snooze back at the tent to rejuvenate myself for more hiking in the evening.

After my delicious - not kidding here, it really was - dinner of lentils, rice, and Indian spice,

we decided to go out again and see what birds we could see and hear.  We ended up hiking another 3.5 miles, and saw and heard plenty.  The coolest sight was a pair of red-tailed hawks sharing an unfortunate creature as a meal, and a flock of about 30 glossy ibis flying in for the night.  The moon was nearly full,

and the fading light of the day illuminated the marshes as we walked along:

As the light faded entirely, we began to hear the sounds of the night - a pair of great horned owls at first.  We headed that way, and suddenly, we heard the faint cry of a whip-poor-will and then of a chuck-will's-widow.  We walked along a path in the woods until we could hear the chuck-will's-widow better.  The moon was so bright that we didn't need headlights at all.  Suddenly, a large group of coyotes started howling and making a loud ruckus.  We hiked back to camp, as a screech owl joined into the chorus.  At camp, I fell asleep listening to the whip-poor-will call.  I'd not heard one, or a chuck-will's-widow, in over a decade, so it was a thrill.  In the middle of the night, I awoke to coyotes howling again, and at the dawn, I awoke to the call of a whip-poor-will.  It was wonderful.

Carlton packed up and was on the trail by 7:00 Sunday morning, but I took my time, enjoyed breakfast, and got hiking about 9:00.  I would have liked to go to church on this Palm Sunday, but decided that I was in God's Cathedral all weekend.  It was an uneventful hike out, although I did get close to a turkey vulture, and got to see turtles sunning themselves on the warmest day of the three by far.


I had a great time camping out, hiking, and exploring for wildlife.  I hope to get back here again in the fall or next spring.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Seven Minus Six Plus One Equals Two

A couple of months ago, I organized a backpacking trip to False Cape State Park, down in Southeast Virginia on the North Carolina border.  I immediately got six people to sign up, and was very happy about that.  Then two dropped out, then two more.  Seven had become just three. I collected the money from the couple that remained, reserved the site, and contacted them on Monday before the trip to set up final arrangements.  "Sorry, hiked 40 miles this weekend doing the AT through Maryland," she said.  "Ankle is swollen, Achilles tendon is sore.  Have to drop out!"

So, down to just me.  But I contacted a friend, and he was able to join me - even though he nearly had to drop at the last minute when his boss wouldn't give him that Friday off.  They compromised, he left work a couple hours early, and hiked into the campsite just at dark.  This was Friday, April 7.  I'd started hiking about 12:30 and even though it was incredibly windy, had enjoyed the hike in, set up my new tent, done some bird watching, and had eaten dinner by the time Carlton got there.

Here is where we were,  The top part, above the red line, is the hike in Friday and out Sunday.  Below the red line is where we hiked Saturday.  The state line is indicated by the dashed line (and arrow). The park is part of a narrow barrier beach with the Atlantic Ocean to the East and Back Bay to the West.  It's a wonderful place to hike and camp.


The hike in through Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge is always interesting.  Due to the cold and windy conditions Friday, I didn't see any snakes or turtles, but did see a number of birds, starting with these American coots:

Most of the hike in is through open marshes, but eventually, you reach a pleasant maritime forest to hike though with pines and live oaks.

When you get to the park, it is maybe another mile and a quarter to the campsite.  We camped near the ocean.

I loved these red maple seeds on the way to camp.

After setting up my tent, I went down to the beach.  About five miles down the beach is North Carolina, with its "McMansions."  I am glad that Virginia protected our beaches here from that kind of development.

Because it was a nice level hike in, and I was camping from a base camp, I carried in a little extra gear, including a small fry pan to make pancakes for breakfast.  And of course, what are pancakes without maple syrup? So I packed in a little of that as well.  It hit the spot!

Next post: Saturday's 14 miles of day hiking and bird watching (and listening).