Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Nature Hike with my Granddaughter

My little granddaughter, Aja, is in town and she and her mom and I went for a little one mile hike around the nature trail in Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge this past Sunday. It is fun to see things through the eyes of a child. We took a one mile hike along the nature trails in the refuge, stopping often to explore. We had to keep an eye on the weather because distant thunder rumbled loudly at times. At one point very early, I nearly stopped the hike because it looked a little threatening, but it passed and we continued with our adventure. Here is a locator map of where we hiked, mapped on my Beta version DeLorme PN-60 GPS and imported into Beta DeLorme Topo USA 9:
Here is a close up of the route of the hike along gravel and board paths through the wetlands:
One of the first things we saw was a pair of pickerel frogs just a couple of feet apart. Aja tried to catch this one, but it was too quick for her, and vanished into the wetlands.
At the end of the trail, where we turned to partially retrace our steps, there are pretty views of the bay and marshes. We stayed here a long time to explore and so Aja could try her hand at "fishing" with a practice rod and reel.
Aja trying her hand at "fishing." Now is that a girly-girl rod and reel or what? I think we spent more time trying to untangle things than she did fishing, and she never did get the hang of casting. But it was fun to watch her having a good time.
She was convinced there were fish hiding in the weeds, and would try to grab a handfull, often getting some mud instead.
Eventually we turned back as the weather threatened again. Here she is, running along the path. I had introduced her to sucking on honeysuckle, which was in abundance all along the route. I created a monster, because she wanted to stop at every single honeysuckle bush after that point. We had to keep an eye on her - thistles and poison ivy are abundant, I once saw a very large cottonmouth on this very trail. A few weeks ago, I saw two copperheads on another hike in the refuge. I was hoping we could see a nonpoisonous snake for her to look at, but we didn't. We saw a rabbit shortly after this point, off the trail in the marsh. Good eyes by her mom! I walked right past it.
When we nearly were back to the road, we saw this deer just feet off the trail. We stayed a long time watching it. Aja was fascinated to be this close to a big wild animal, but minded pretty well when we told her not to get closer.

She did not mind as well with this large turtle, some kind of a slider, I think. She was convinced that it needed some grass to eat, and we had to tell her about five times to get her hand away from its mouth. I told her that "Aja Nine Fingers" is not a good nickname to have. Finally, we had to leave the turtle behind, resulting in a trail of tears for a minute until we found some other things to catch her attention.
I love being in the outdoors with this young girl! It is nice to share that with her.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Two Civil War Battlefields

Last Sunday, my legs were sore from the prior day's 12 mile run, and I had other stuff to do, but I did find time for short hikes on two local Civil War battlefields. Something like one fourth of the battles in this terrible war were fought on Virginia's soil, so there is no shortage of these now peaceful places. However, a number of battlefields are threatened or have largely disappeared to development.

My hikes were primarily a chance to do some testing with my DeLorme PN-60 GPS that I am Beta testing. It is very impressive so far. I would love to take a month off and do nothing but hike and test this thing.

My first hike was on the Gaines Mill battlefield. The battle was fought in June 1862 as part of the Seven Days Battle. The USA won most of these battles but it was overall a strategic Confederate victory because the Union gave up on its attempt to capture Richmond and retreated. You can see with this map how close the USA Army got to the capital with both of these battles, just to the east-northeast of Richmond:
Gaines Mill was fought on open ground that is now mostly wooded with pretty forests. There is a stream running through it, and some steep slopes that soldiers had to charge up into musket fire. A trail goes through some of the battlefield, and I mapped where I hiked here with my GPS:
In the swale downhill from the trail, near the creek, I spotted a pretty whitetailed deer, who bolted before I could get a photo. The only other wildlife I saw on the hike were mosquitoes (plenty of them at points) and a bluebird.
At this point is a memorial to a brigade from Alabama. I wonder how it was for farmboys who had never been more than a few miles from home to be fighting and dying hundreds of miles from where they were born?
This old rifle pit certainly would have been deeper nearly 150 years ago, but it is still distinctive. At the time of the battle this would have been mostly fields.
The guns are now silent here, thank goodness!
The Battle of Cold Harbor was fought over much the same ground almost exactly two years later in June 1864. It was the last major battle in Grant's overland campaign against Lee, and was such a decisive Confederate victory that Grant abandoned the attempt to take Richmond directly and instead conducted a nearly 10 month siege against Petersburg that ultimately ended the war. My hike was on a tiny portion of this huge battlefield, where trenchlines once extended something like seven miles. Here is map of my one mile circuit hike produced by my GPS:
This battle was a huge mistake by the USA, and Grant recognized it later. Something like 7,000 men in his army fell in the first 20 minutes of Grant's final assault.
Here is part of the Confederate trench line, still pretty well preserved.
From this position, you can see the Confederate trenches with the field downhill from it, across which the Union Army had to attack.
The battlefield was mostly open (and devastated) farm land in 1864, but now this part of it is peaceful and pretty woodland.
This area is maintained in field to show what it would have looked like at the time of the battle.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mothers' Day Beach and Marsh Hike

I was originally hoping to go for a hike in the mountains today, but my legs are moderately sore and stiff from yesterday's 12 mile training run. So instead, I will belatedly post a few photos from my hike a week ago. This was a 4.4 mile hike to do some Beta testing for my DeLorme PN-60 GPS, so my focus was on trying different things and seeing how the GPS responded to them more so than the hike itself.

I hiked along a nature trail, then crossed down to the beach, hiked down the beach a bit, and crossed the dunes back to the dike trails. I hiked down the east dike trail as far as the wildlife observation post, then turned around and hiked back down the west dike trail, where I had seen the copperheads the week before. After a bit, I reversed myself and went back to the car.

This hike was in the middle of the day, and wildlife was scant. I did see a deer and numerous turtles, which would invariably slide into the water as soon as I stopped. As if I would somehow be able to cross 50 feet of water and muck and grab one from the log before it could react!

The GPS handled itself pretty well. Here are a few photos from my hike:

I was proud of myself to spot this deer along the trail in a heavily vegegated area. I had a sense of movement, stopped, and found a vantage point to peer through shurbs, and there she was.

The beaches at Back Bay and at False Cape State Park are simply gorgeous. A few years ago, I hiked along the dike trails and down the beaches all the way to North Carolina, a round trip of about 20 - 21 miles.

This impoundment created for wildlife looks something like a stream.

View across the marsh at a wildlife observation area.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Copperheads and Other Wildlife

Author's Note (June 16, 2013): several people making comments about this post have pointed out that I incorrectly indentified the snakes I saw as copperheads, but in actuality, they were cottonmouths.  I wrote a corrective post here.

Prior to this morning, I had seen one copperhead in my life. After this morning, that number was tripled. I had an interesting hike near dawn for five miles along the west dike trail of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Along with the two copperheads, I saw two turtles on land, a harrier, three deer, various shorebirds, dozens of egrets, a muskrat, and a snake that zipped across the path too fast for me to identify. I really enjoyed this hike, especially seeing all the wildlife and hearing birds singing wherever I walked.

These yellow flowers were a nice contrast.

If you have ever brushed against a thistle, you know not to ever do it deliberately. If you haven't done so, trust me on this one.

I was thinking that this turtle was digging nest, but on the hike back, the turtle was gone and the shallow depression held no eggs.

This turtle was probably the same species as I found on my last hike here a couple of weeks ago. I think it is a mud turtle.

I love the views across the marsh.

Usually, if I get within 100 meters of an egret they fly, but this one didn't. So I captured his image. Their white is such a striking contrast to their surroundings.

I left the dike trail to hike down this old road. Note the two ruts from tires. I hiked in a rut to stay out of the tall grass, but still picked up a couple of ticks. After a while, it led to open woodland and eventually to views of the bay. I turned and hiked out, and it was in this very section shown here where I nearly stepped on a small copperhead. It pays to pay attention some times.

He was about 10 inches long and very fat. He was not agressive but assumed a defensive pose with his mouth wide open, his head back, and his body coiled a bit. He would vibrate his tail rapidly. I have heard that when they do this in dried leaves, it sounds a bit like a rattlesnake. I watched him for a few minutes, and then continued hiking. Back on the dike trail, I turned to start heading the 2.5 miles back the way I came, still excited about the copperhead and never dreaming what was ahead.

About a half mile up the dike trail, I ran into this big guy (or actually a gal, I think). She took on the same pose: mouth wide open, head back, and tail vibrating rapidly. She was not agressive but made it very clear not to invade her space. "You go your way, I'll go mine, and all will be fine," she said.

Here is a close up of the mouth - the fangs are very clear and positively identify this as a poisonous snake, and not a water snake, which has similar marking.

I was almost back to my car when three deer, walking single file about 30 feet apart, walked by through the marsh. They had no fear of me being only 25 feet away from them. I took a number of photos, and liked this one the best.