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Green Hills: Volunteer planting day

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

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On Sunday, June 5 from 1 – 3 pm we will be planting plugs of native wildflowers in this otherwise drab rain garden at Green Hills. Please join us to help us get these plants in the ground! Wear gardening clothes, sturdy shoes, and bring gloves, a hat and water. We’ll meet at the parking area at 553 Gunhart Road.

Mariton: More Great Birds

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Carole Mebus.

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We went to Merrill Creek on Tuesday for another great bird outing, and Carole took some great photos. While we saw several species that we have seen before this season, the songs are being remembered and we are getting better looks.  We have a lot of fun on these walks, and we all learn from each other.

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Baltimore Oriole

We have been seeing Baltimore Orioles almost every walk. There are more Orioles around than most people realize.  How could such a brilliant bird be so hard to see?  Easy – at least for an Oriole, but when you learn the song you realize they are there, and then you look for them.

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Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroats can be a challenge to see until they start raising their young. (They become much more viewable on our butterfly walks.)  This is another bird that is seen more often when one learns the song.  Common Yellowthroats don’t look common, and travel a long way to stay in our area during the summer.

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Chestnut-sided Warbler

We had our best looks at the Chestnut-sided Warblers on Tuesday. With its brilliant yellow helmet and chestnut sides it is another stunner worth looking for.  Nest week is our last bird walk for the season, and then we will switch to butterflies on Tuesdays.

Flying Jewels

Hummingbirds are enchanting. Of all the creatures that visit our gardens, these colorful “flying jewels” seem to defy gravity as they zip back and forth to lap nectar from the plants.

Photo by John McNamara, taken at our ChesLen Preserve

Photo by John McNamara, taken at our ChesLen Preserve

While there are more than 300 types of hummingbirds, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) is the only one that breeds in eastern North America. Both male and female have a metallic green back and crown with whitish belly and black wings. The male has a brilliant red throat patch, from which the species derives its name. An adult measures about three inches long and weighs only a tenth of an ounce—about the weight of a penny.

Their diminutive size and iridescent beauty are only part of their appeal. Even more amazing is their movement! A hummingbird’s wings can rotate 180 degrees to allow the bird to hover and even fly backwards. Those tiny wings beat about 50 to 70 times per second—just a blur of movement to the naked eye.

A hummingbird’s brain is larger, by proportion, than any other bird. These winged wonders may visit up to 1,000 flowers a day; their foraging efficiency is greatly improved by an accurate memory of which plants offer the most nectar and how recently each was visited. Hummingbirds also remember—year to year—the location of each and every nectar feeder. They can even learn which household members refill their feeders!

Hummingbirds can be attracted to your yard with a combination of feeders and nectar-producing plants. So put out a feeder or two, put a few more native plants in your garden, and enjoy the show.

  • Fill your feeders with a solution of one part table sugar dissolved in four parts boiling water (cool before filling). Replace the solution weekly (more often in hot weather) and keep the feeder clean using dish soap or vinegar and rinsing thoroughly.
  • While the plastic part of the feeder apparatus should be red (an attractive color to hummingbirds), do not add dye to the sugar-water content.
  • Place the feeders in prominent, shady locations in the garden where you’ll be able to watch the birds as they use them.
  • Hummingbirds show a preference for red and orange tubular flowers that they probe for nectar with their long beaks and extendable tongues.
  • To make your yard more tempting, plant flowers in groups rather than as individual specimens and choose a broad spectrum of species (see list below) to ensure a full season of blooms.

Native Plants that Attract Hummingbirds

Common Name Latin Name Season of Bloom
Beardtongue* Penstemon digitalis mid to late
Bee-balm* Monarda didyma early to mid
Blazing-star* Liatris spicata mid to late
Blue Vervain* Verbena hastata mid to late
Butterfly-weed* Asclepias tuberosa mid
Canada Lily Lilium canadense mid
Cardinal-flower* Lobelia cardinalis late
Columbine* Aquilegia canadensis early to mid
Common Milkweed* Asclepias syriaca early to mid
Great Blue Lobelia* Lobelia siphilitica late
Indian Paintbrush Castilleja coccinea mid
Swamp Milkweed* Asclepias incarnata mid
Trumpet honeysuckle* Lonicera sempervirens mid
Wild Bleeding-heart* Dicentra eximia mid to late

* Deer resistant plant

 

Crow’s Nest: Hidden Treasure

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

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Yesterday we were pulling garlic mustard and passed by this fawn on both sides before seeing it. Being still and relying on camouflage is a fawn’s best defense while the mother is away foraging. We quickly snapped a photo and moved on.

I am reminded that this is one more reason we want our visitors to keep dogs on a leash and stay on mowed trails.

 

Mariton: Other Interesting Sightings

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

Five-lined Skink

Five-lined Skink

We aren’t just birders on our Tuesday Bird Walks.  We find time to admire flowers, butterflies and other things.  Bill spotted this skink slinking around the rocks.  Fortunately I took a photo.  (Usually I just marvel at the sighting and never think about the camera.)  It took some time with the guides back in the office, but this is an older Five-lined Skink.  The Audubon Guide says that the lines fade, and they become a uniform color as this species ages.  It matches other photos I was able to find and the range maps.

Fringed Polygala by Carole Mebus.

Fringed Polygala by Carole Mebus.

We found the lovely Fringed Polygala (Polygala paucifolia) on our walk this past Tuesday.  As usual, Carole was willing to lay on the wet ground to get a good photo.

Mariton: Another Cloudy Tuesday

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Carole Mebus.

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We started the weekly bird walks back in 2003 and have had unbelievable luck with the weather over all those years. We have gone out every Tuesday so far this year, but have had precipitation along the way.  This week there were some rain drops on the windshield in both directions, but no precipitation during the walk.  Clouds are another matter, and there have been few cloud-free days this spring .  A cloudy background can make it difficult to see details and color on the birds we are watching.  This is particularly perplexing for the photographers.  A white background just doesn’t showcase these beautiful birds in the best light.  (Rain and cameras aren’t a great combo either.)

Tuesday we had another unbelievable day with several “Price of Admission” sightings. It is a corny joke (the walks are free), but it signifies a highlight sighting.  On Tuesday, most people got a great look at a Hooded Warbler.  I have heard them on occasion, but this was my first sighting.  So the Hooded Warbler was my Price of Admission bird.  Unfortunately getting a photo of this spectacular bird wasn’t possible.

Immature Cape May Warbler

Immature Cape May Warbler

Another very uncommon bird was an immature Cape May Warbler. This posed long enough for a photo and a lot of discussion over the field guides.  Carole sent the photo around when she got home.  Looking at the photo and multiple resources, we still feel comfortable that this was indeed an immature Cape May Warbler.

Yellow-throated Vireo

Yellow-throated Vireo

Carole got a great photo of this Yellow-throated Vireo. These can be tough birds to locate, but everyone got to see one of these spectacular birds.  This one is carrying nesting material and we were able to locate its nest in the forest canopy.

American Redstart

American Redstart

There were lots of American Redstarts and it was good for me to hear their song over and over again. We also found a Redstart’s nest.  Other great birds of the morning included the Cerulean Warbler, Least Flycatcher, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Black-throated Blue Warblers.

Crow’s Nest: Another Busman’s Holiday

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

I had the privilege to spend a long weekend at the Appalachian Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia, and volunteer at “Kincora Hard Core,” an opportunity for hikers to give back to the trail that supports their feet for approximately 2,189 miles.

Current, past and future hikers congregate in Damascus to share experiences, update gear, and refresh themselves for the ongoing journey. The weekend is filled with lectures, music, great food, and camaraderie and serves as a reunion for hikers by class year (my wife Denise thru-hiked in 2006; we last attended Trail Days and Hard Core in 2009).

Kincora Hard Core, founded and organized by Bob Peoples of Kincora Hostel in Tennessee, was held this year in the Grayson Highlands in Virginia in partnership with the Appalachian Long Distance Hiking Association (ALDHA), the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), and the Mount Rogers Appalachian Trail Club. The Konnarock Trail Crew—a partnership of the ATC, the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Park Service—hosted the event and handled the logistics of moving 50+ volunteers into the backcountry for trail improvements, and then fed us wonderful food and gave us space to stay overnight at their base camp.

I was thrilled to participate in trail improvements on a section of trail that I hiked with Denise in 2006. The Grayson Highlands is a spectacular part of the Appalachian Mountains. I also felt lucky that we got to do some rock work—a task usually reserved for the most skilled and seasoned volunteers. We weren’t doing the hardest type—continuous staircases of huge rocks moved with block and tackle—but a series of short stone steps combined with locust wooden ones (“cribbing”), to offer improved footing and combine a braided mess of trails into just one stable treadway that will reduce erosion on this hillside that descends (for north bounders) to “The Scales” section.

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The Konnarock Trail Crew takes safety seriously. In addition to a liability waiver and an extensive safety meeting beforehand, all participants must wear safety glasses and hard hats, and those breaking rocks must also wear shin guards.

While some gravel was imported to the site to use to set the rocks, crushed stone in the backcountry is generally made by taking large rocks and hitting them with a sledgehammer until they are, well, crushed. If you think moving buckets of stone (pictured above) is difficult I have to say it’s easier than making your own. And in the backcountry the only tools we used were pick/mattocks, pulaskis, iron rock bars, shovels, sledgehammers, buckets, and web baskets (so that several people together could carry a medium-sized rock).

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The Konnarock Crew also prepped the project by selecting and moving some rocks closer to the trail before the volunteers arrived, and deciding exactly where the desired trail would go and how many steps were needed to make it easy to navigate. We just had to dig holes, place the steps, and fill in around them. But if you look carefully above you’ll also notice the scale of the project: the trails hooks to the left and then to the right; there are volunteers working on sections all the way up this hill. I’m particularly proud of these steps in the foreground that our crew placed.

While we might not have rock work in the immediate future at Crow’s Nest (which is also admittedly accessible “front-country”) I have a new appreciation for how volunteer crews can be organized, how trail design choices are made, how to leverage only human strength, and of various techniques to reduce erosion and shape hiker behavior.

 

Mariton: Bluebird Progression

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.

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Here are two different broods of Bluebirds hatched about one week apart. The photo above shows a brood that wasn’t hatched last week when I checked the boxes.  The Bluebirds in the photo below are less than two weeks old.  They grow fast.  The birds below will probably still be in the nest box next week when I monitor.  If they are still there, they will be leaving the box within a few days.

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Paunacussing Preserve

Diabase Farm Preserve

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