Sunday, October 31, 2010

Weekend Warblers

I got back to the beach and Back Bay for the weekend for a couple of glorious October days. Saturday was a bit cool and breezy, and I spent the day on the beach in a windbreaker. I read, watched the shore birds and dolphins, and walked about three miles on the beach. The dolphins put on an amazing show, going into a type of feeding frenzy and leaping into the air.

I've been tired lately, and slept in both days until 7:45 - almost unheard of for me. So I didn't get in a dawn hike, as is my custom when I am down that way. But I did take a break from the near perfect beach weather Sunday to take a three mile hike in Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I walked along the little nature trail system for a while, marveling at all of the warblers coming through on their perilous migration back to Central America for the winter. I saw several different types, all hard to identify this time of year for me. I am pretty sure one of the dominant ones was the Myrtle (yellow rumped) warbler. I saw many dozens of warblers, and stopped often to try to watch them in my binoculars as they flitted around. I also saw a deer, just yards from the path, which was amazing since hunting season here ended just the day before. Somehow, they know, but when I took one step off the path to try to get close enough for a photo, she bounded into the woods. From there, I walked down the East Dyke Road for a bit, knowing that come tomorrow, it will be closed for six months to allow the waterfowl - especially the tundra swans - their winter break. Along the way, I spotted a raft of some kind of duck in the distance, saw a large turtle which dove in alarm (as if I were going to jump in and grab him), and got a good view of a harrier as it swooped over the marsh.
Here are a few photos:
Cattails along side the path:
Knarled tree trunk:
A peaceful freshwater pond along the path. I have frequently seen American bittern in this pond, but not today:
This bald cypress is a conifer, but loses its needles for the winter. Right now, they have turned a beautifully coppery or bronze color:
This tree looked like it was covered in white flowers, but they are some type of airborne seed, waiting for just the right wind to come along:
I did a SPOT check-in test from this point:
Then I took a picture from the East Dyke Road, which runs as a foot and bike path to False Cape State Park:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Why the Mountains are Blue

I like to write poetry myself from time to time. Imagine my surprise to find not only a cemetary in the middle of the woods during my hike up Little Devil Stairs, but this sad poem in the cemetary. It commemorates the mountain people who had to leave their homes to create Shenandoah National Park. A photo of the cemetary is in my Little Devil Stairs post. I have transcribed the poem here.
“Why the Mountains are Blue”
By Wayne Baldwin

Enter here these Blue Mountains,
And enjoy the Sky-Line’s views,
Sample the streams and fountains,
But don’t forget the sacrifice that was made for you

That you can come and experience this National Park today,
Many lives were affected in many different ways.
While you relax and take in all this natural beauty,
I’d be remiss if I failed in my duty….

To tell of a people who once resided on this land,
Who toiled, labored, loved, laughed, and cried,
Having their lives altered by a “plan”,
And whose stories, many untold, shall never die.

Whose way of live and culture were exaggerated by many an unjust fact,
Whose property was condemned by a legislative act,
Who moved willingly or by force,
Changing forever their life’s course.

Out from the protection of the hollows and vales,
Out into resettlements or to properties their pittance procured at sales.
Looking over their shoulders with tears in their eyes,
Pitifully departing their old homes among the skies.

Leaving familiar sights, their homes, their burial plots,
Most left begrudgingly for some low country spots….
The blue of the mountains is not due to the atmosphere
It’s because there is a sadness which lingers here.

Climbing Little Devil Stairs

On a perfect October day, I joined the Richmond and Charlottesville Adventurers Meetup group for a wonderful hike up Little Devil Stairs in Shenandoah National Park. 13 of us joined together for this 8 mile (including a mile up and back to the Skyline Drive) circuit hike. There was some fall colors, and at least some water in Keyser Run as it tumbled down the steep gorge. The hike has minimal views, with its appeal being the steep "stairway" up the gorge. The climb is about 1,500 feet to where the trail joins the Keyser Run Fire Road for the return of the circuit along a gradual descent to the start. Most of the elevation gain seems to be in the middle mile of the hike up, where you litterally feel like you are walking up giant stairs much of the way. The mile up to the Skyline Drive added about 140 more feet, according to my new DeLorme PN-60 GPS. Here is the elevation profile as captured by my GPS:

And here is the track of the circuit, mapped in DeLorme's Topo USA 9.0:

From what I hear, spring is a great time to do this hike because the stream is gushing along, but even in the fall, there is consistent water in Keyser Run. Here, some leaves float in a little pool:

Members of our group climbing parts of the Little Devil Stairs:

Autumnal orange against a robin-egg blue sky:

This was a particularly steep section:

Followed by crossing the stream on a log:

Pretty flowing in Team in Training colors:

More fall colors along the descent of the fire road:

This cemetary in the middle of the woods was a reminder of the human cost of creating this tremendous park when numerous mountain communities had their residents evicted, often forcefully. In the cemetary is a plaque with a poem commemorating the mountain people who were forced out. The location of the cemetary is marked with the American flag waypoint near the bottom of the map near the beginning of this post, and it was about a mile from getting back to the car:

This tree reminded me of a strange alien being:

Monday, October 11, 2010

Dusk and Dawn by the Marsh

A week after running in the Livestrong 5K, I was back at the beach during glorious October weather. I spent time Sunday afternoon reading on the beach, taking a walk along the shore - which I love doing - and watching many dolphins fishing out in the water. I also saw a large whale a couple of times as it swam with the dolphins. It was just a couple of hundred yards off the beach. What a magnificent animal!

That evening, I took a walk at dusk in Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I was reminded of being there this past May with my granddaughter. Definitely, I miss her! I remembered the spot where we were so close to a deer, and where she saw a turtle, and how happy she was. In the morning Monday, I was up early to greet the new day back in the marsh. These walks were less a hike than just being out in nature observing it, and I walked no more than four miles total on the two walks.

I have always loved being near wetlands. When I was a kid growing up in suburban Philadelphia, my dad used to take me sometimes to Tinicum Marsh near the airport. With all the marvelous birds, it seemed like a wilderness. I have always maintained that sense of wonder about being near a marsh. Here are some photos for my walks.

There is a cool boardwalk path you can walk along and view the marsh. These are as the sun was starting to set.

Bald cypress standing in water, which was much higher than my last time here.

From a point at the end of the footpath are great views of Back Bay.
The cresent moon says hello.

The sun set, and it was time to leave, but I enjoyed my short walk at dusk.

Monday morning, I was up minutes too late to see the sun rise.

I always love seeing the marsh in the still of the morning.

I came across this toad. He had an injured leg, so I placed him off the road. Hopefully, he will find a way to survive.

Fall colors are more subtle in wetlands than in the forest, but they are still present all the same.

I took a short walk at the beach in the refuge. I love walking on the beach near first light. From this point, it is pristine beach all the way to the North Carolina border. If you are willing to walk 20 miles round trip, you can see all the "McMansions" at the border. I know, because I made this walk three years ago in October.

I found this whelk shell and this horseshoe crab on the beach.

Then I watched sanderlings trying to find breakfast in their daily struggle for survival. I like the way the birds are reflected in the wet sand in this photo, and the way I managed to catch the foamy wave behind them.

Time to go get some breakfast myself! I bet some creature is making a good meal from these persimmons!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

"Un-Glacier National Park?"

This article was on today, and it caught my attention. Glacier National Park is one of the most magnificent places I have ever seen. I had heard about this, but I think the timeframe I had heard of was about 50 years. This is much, much worse.

CNN article follows...

As recently as 100 years ago, Montana's Glacier National Park had more than 150 glaciers throughout its more than one million acres. In 2005 only 27 remained. Today the total is down to a just 25 and those that are left are mere remnants of their former frozen selves. With warmer temperatures and changes to the water cycle, scientists predict Glacier National Park will be glacier-free by 2030.

Daniel Fagre, a U.S. Geological Survey ecologist who works at the national park believes that even those estimates are too conservative and says the park's namesakes will be gone about ten years ahead of their predicted demise. "The glaciers have been around for the last seven thousand years," he told CNN, "and if we are going to lose them in the next 10 or 20 years that is a pretty radical shift."

The rapid melting of glaciers has led scientists to believe that mountains are more susceptible to global warming than the lowlands beneath them. "Mountain ecosystems have been changing about twice as fast as the rest of the globe. We have had temperature increases that are two times greater than the average," said Fagre.

Many scientists are now concerned about the cascading effects on the landscape and the consequences for all species -- including humans. "Many people are directly dependent on the water coming out of mountains and in the arid western United States that figure is much larger, it is about 85 percent," said Fagre."

So even if you live a long ways away you are tied to the water in mountains and so we have a lot of concerns of future climate change scenarios." Fagre says mountains are the "water towers of the world" with 70 percent of the world's fresh water frozen in glaciers.

CNN traveled to the edge of Grinnell glacier that is at an altitude averaging 7,000 feet (2,100 meters) and was named after George Bird Grinnell, an early American conservationist and explorer. "When George Grinnell came here in 1887 he described this place as being a thousand foot high in ice and this entire basin was filled to the mountaintop," said Fagre. "Now I stand beside a lake that is 65 meters or 187 feet deep." We could see chunks of ice falling off, and others just dripping away. Fagre bent down to show us what's underneath the thin edge of the glacier."

Look under here and you can see there is a lot of mucky sauce stuff and this is a lot of the rock flour ground by the glacier because it has been dragging rocks across the underlying rock layer and rubbing those two together creating this very fine material," he said. "Many people would not be impressed by this little dirty glacier that seems to be obviously falling apart, that has become very tiny and decrepit -- and people often think about glaciers as these beautiful white expansive, blue colors – but those are healthy glaciers and this one is not. This one is on its last legs."

In 1997, USGS Physical Scientist Lisa McKeon and Fagre started the RepeatPhotography Project at Glacier National Park tracking down old photographs of the park's glaciers taken by first explorers in the 1900s and comparing them with their own images. McKeon and other USGS scientists try to re-photograph the exact spot where the historic photograph was taken, though it's not always possible when the original photographer was standing on ice that is now long gone. "If you look at these pictures, you cannot say they haven't changed over time. It's very obvious," says McKeon.

Glacier National Park is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year but soon the glaciers that gave the park its name will be gone. "Glacier National Park has been the poster child park for climate change for a lot of people in the country and I think that there has been pretty sensational news about the glaciers disappearing in fairly short order," says Chas Cartwright, Glacier National Park Superintendent. "There is a lot less water coming off the mountain. There are dramatic changes in vegetation. It begs the question: how is that going to impact wildlife in this park?"

Many of the plant and animal species that call the park home require cold water, meaning the ecosystem of the park may change dramatically when the glaciers are gone. There is a general consensus that man is contributing to the planet's changing climate. Some skeptics remain, but Dan Fagre isn't one of them."

I think on a global scale when you look at all the ice disappearing all around the world, there is no other explanation for that then climate change that is driven by people," he said. What is beyond doubt is that whatever the causes magnificent and environmentally crucial glaciers around the world are retreating: a loss to nature and to the human species.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Maybe a hike, maybe not

Well, I may yet try to get in a short hike today before the big game between the Washington Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles at 4PM, Donovan McNabb's return to Philly. But I am thinking it is more likely I will just go to the gym for a while and work out, and/or maybe just take a walk.

My legs are a little sore from the Livestrong Dolphin Challenge 5K yesterday day at the beach - photos and report here. I ran that race not just for fun but to honor several dozen cancer victims and survivors. But it was a lot of fun running at the beach on a very pretty day.

In the coming week, I am going to try to post my next few Alaskan adventures: a float trip down the Kenai River, a hike to Russian River Falls to see salmon fighting flowing water to fulfill their life's destiny, and initial hikes in Denali National Park.