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!