Sunday, June 25, 2017

Wildlife Sightings at Dutch Gap

A week ago Friday, I had the day off from work - always happy about that.  And I wanted to hike but not all day, so I returned to Dutch Gap Conservation Area near Colonial Heights.  It's a five mile hike, approximately, around a large oxbow on the James River.  I am not including a track of the hike in this post, but you can see an approximate track here from a prior hike.

On this hike, I always try to slow down and observe a bit, and I am usually rewarded with wildlife sightings.  It's a good place to see critters - they even have a bird banding research station here.


Birds are trapped in mist nets and banded by researchers.  I've never done it but would like to help some time.

Speaking of birds, I kept hearing prothonotary warblers and would stop and look for them to no avail.  There is really good habitat for these beautiful yellow birds with the gray wings.  Finally, at the last place I really heard them, one landed on a branch about 15 feet away.


I don't believe I'd ever seen them before, but they sure are gorgeous!  They get their name because prothonotaries (a type of court clerk) used to wear yellow hoods back in the day.  Later in the hike I spied a great blue heron that actually didn't fly away, and a wood thrush.




I also managed to get a photo of this spicebush swallowtail.  It is battered and its normally bright colors have faded, so I guess it is nearing the end of its life.

I'll be back here in early July.  I'm leading a group hike after work.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Back to Mount Pleasant

June days in Virginia can be scorching and steamy, or they can be drizzly and cool.  And sometimes, they can be picture-perfect.  It was the latter that we were rewarded with on Friday June 2 (group hike along the Doyle's River Falls loop) and on Saturday June 3 - when I led a second group hike for the Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club, this time to the gorgeous Mount Pleasant trail.

This is a 6.2 mile - a 10K - loop through part of the George Washington National Forest.  It is a popular area with hikers and backpackers, and the Appalachian Trail runs close by.  The total elevation gain is about 1,350 feet.  Here is a view of the track, starting and ending at the purple star (upper left), following the direction of the arrows, and showing the summit of Mount Pleasant at just over 4,000 feet with its wonderful views at the red star.

One thing we noticed about the woods that the trail went through was the abundance of ferns.  They were everywhere.  This is one trail that certainly comes "fully fernished."

We also got a nice bonus with rhododendrons in bloom at the higher elevations.

After a hike of about 3 miles, you reach the summit of Mount Pleasant with its gorgeous views.  Although the mountain is covered in forest, there is a bare rock area with the views, and it makes for a great lunch spot.


Rhododendrons in bloom at the summit of Mount Pleasant.

There were nine of us on this hike, and here are eight of them!

Here is the ninth.

Three of our crew did the day hike and afterwards hiked up nearby Cole Mountain to spend the night camping out.  They reported having a great time.  When we were leaving the parking area and saying goodbye to them, I said to the other men "When we were young, it was the men having the adventures.  Now, its the women, as we men head to comfy beds and showers!"

This hike capped a great two days in a row of hiking in the mountains.  I believe that a good time was had by all.  It certainly was by me!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Doyle's River

One of my favorite hikes in Shenandoah National Park is the Jones Run - Doyle's River loop, a moderately rugged hike of 8.6 miles.  On Friday, I led a group of seven of us on that hike, and we had a great time on a beautiful spring day.  It was my first time up in the mountains in several months, and it felt great to be back.

By the way, it was this very hike last July where I had a little too close encounter with a black bear.  No such wildlife sightings this time around, and with a group of seven, the chances of seeing major wildlife would be unlikely.

This hike drops down through a stream valley and then climbs steadily back out.  Along the way, three great waterfalls are passed, and this time, all three of them were gushing with water and were very scenic.  Other times of year, they may be barely running.  Here is a track of the route.  The red star marks the beginning and end of the hike, and the red arrows show the direction of travel.  The black arrow shows the location of Big Falls on Jones Run, and the purple arrow shows where the Upper and Lower Doyle's River Falls are located.


When hiking with a group, I can't dilly-dally as much, and so I take less photos.  But on this hike, it is the waterfalls that are the real attraction, so my photos will concentrate on these.  In about a mile and a half, an impressive waterfall, Big Falls on Jones Run, is reached.  Here it is, along with one of my comrades, and a separate one of yours truly.




I heard a lot of birds - eastern towhee, ovenbird, hooded warbler, red-eyed vireo, and eastern wood pewee.  But as far as visible wildlife, this garter snake was it.

An even prettier waterfall is Lower Doyle's River Falls.  It is mesmerizing to watch it.

A short distance upstream is Upper Doyle's River Falls.  Here, some of my group begin getting ready for a lunch break.

This waterfall cascades over two levels.  Eventually, all of this water will flow into the Chesapeake Bay.


On the hike out through the green tunnel, there was also a chance to see mountain laurel in bloom.

Where would you rather be on a beautiful Friday spring day? In the office, or in the mountains, hiking and looking at waterfalls with a nice group of people?  Clear choice for me!

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!