Sunday, April 28, 2013

Old Rag Flowers and n+1

This was the first weekend that Old Rag Mountain Stewards was on duty in 2013. I talked to WanderMindfully last night. She spent yesterday on the mountain and said it was pandemonium, complete with proverbial flying monkeys. The parking lot filled by 9:30 and lots of large groups. Our experience today couldn't have been more different.  Although it was beautiful and sunny on the drive to the mountain, by the time we were ready to start walking, it was drizzling. The rain continued for the rest of the day, right up to the time we arrived back at the car.  Fortunately, it never rained very hard, and except when we were exposed to the wind up near Byrd's Nest Shelter, it wasn't very cold.

Spring has arrived in Weakley Hollow.  Flowers are blooming everywhere and the leaves are starting to fill out on the trees.  The climb from Old Rag Shelter to Byrd's Nest Shelter effectively takes you back a few seasonal weeks to when the trees are just barely budding out and few flowers have started blooming.  Returning to the bright green valley after being back in the drab colors of winter up high is a little visually shocking, but a welcome sight nonetheless. Changing seasons in a few hours' walk is always like that. A nice quiet start to another season on Old Rag.

Saturday was a different adventure. Our neighbor said he wanted to sell a couple of his old mountain bikes and we fell victim to an immutable law of cycling:  The Correct Number of Bikes to Own = n+1, where n is the number of bikes you currently own.  We had talked about how it would be nice to own bikes with larger tires so we could ride on the C&O Towpath and other unpaved places, but had never really gotten around to doing anything about that.  Then two bikes presented themselves to us.  We took them out on the Towpath on Saturday and rode 34 miles from Riley's Lock to mile 40 and back.  We had a blast and are talking about setting them up to do some touring on the Towpath.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 The trail through the clouds at Byrd's Nest Shelter.
 A dogwood tree blooms above the fire road.
Thalictrum dioicum (Early Meadow Rue).  These flowers are tiny - about 1/4 inch across.
 Old Rag Mountain Stewards looking at an old fruit tree along the fire road.
 Obolaria virginica (Pennywort)
 Maple seeds on the upper Saddle Trail.
 My new ride.  This and the next two pictures were taken with my phone.
 Asimina triloba (Paw Paw Tree)
Trillium sessile (Toadshade Trillium)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Quick Garden Update

It has been nearly a month since I last did a garden update.  Things are coming along nicely.  I have enough lettuce to supply my lunch salads.  The first wave of radishes have come and gone (more are planted).  I also learned that, for cold season vegetables (e.g. broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc), starting them in the cold frame works much better than starting them indoors.  The ones that I started outside in the cold frame are much bigger and stronger than the ones I started indoors.  Next week, a frenzy of planting starts, since the danger of frost will have passed.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 The peas are tall enough to grasp the supports I put in the ground.
 The blueberry bushes are in full bloom.
A Brandywine Tomato start outside on the deck.  It hasn't been warm enough yet to leave them out overnight.
 Look closely and you will see two little purple asparagus sprouts.  Asparagus requires a lot of patience the first couple of years.  We won't be able to harvest any of the spears until next year, and then only a few.  Two years from now, we'll finally be able to get the full benefit of the bed.
 Another asparagus spear.
 Strawberry blossoms.
Lettuce (probably planted too closely together).

Monday, April 22, 2013

Morgan Run Natural Environmental Area: Spring Flowers!

There isn't a lot of information out there on Morgan Run Natural Environmental Area (NEA).  It is a small park located in Carroll County, MD, east of Frederick, MD. I couldn't find anything on the history of the area or how it came to be public land.  We could guess, based on ruins of agricultural buildings made partially of metal, that is was established fairly recently, but beyond that, there just isn't much information out there.  Michael, WanderMindfully, and I started our walk started in a parking lot just off of highway 97, where our vehicles were the only ones without a horse trailer attached.  Morgan Run NEA is more popular with equestrians than with hikers, although we only saw a couple of horses during our hike.

We descended from the lot on a wide, grassy path towards the woods. Once we were in the woods, the path became a more normal trail, at least for a while. Pretty soon we were picking our way through a stream, then a seep, over blowdowns, and finally onto an old woods road. The terrain slowed us down, but the flowers did, too.  Unlike last week, flowers covered the forest floor. Our route eventually took us to a path along Morgan Run, which was the prettiest part of the walk: lots of flowers, clear water, and little waterfalls. Unfortunately, at the end of that section, a nasty third-mile, partially shoulderless road walk awaited us.  We made quick work of it, but that will probably keep us from coming back and doing exactly the same hike.

The last half of the hike went by quickly and was scenic. We did stumble on an old orchard, complete with an overgrown, but pretty apple tree that was in bloom. There aren't really any vistas on the hike, but it was a pleasant enough walk through the woods. We hiked a total of 6.4 miles and saw a handful of people, mostly near the road.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
Thalictrum thalictroides (Rue Anemone)
Micranthes virgniensis (Early Saxifrage)
Nala, our guide for the trek. She personally inspected every body of water we passed.
Uvularia sessifolia (Wild Oats, Sessile Bellwort).
Ranunculus abortivus (Kidneyleaf Buttercup)
Erythronium americanum (Trout Lily).  These little beauties were everywhere along Morgan Run.
Morgan Run.
Asarum canadense (Wild Ginger). This has to be one of my favorite spring flowers, just because of the novelty of it.
A pretty little iridescent beetle on a rock along Morgan Run.
Flowers on an old apple tree.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary: Visiting the Ospreys

Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary isn't our usual hiking fare: There are no mountains, no waterfalls, and no elevation gain to speak of on the trails there. I can't actually say that I ever got my heart rate "up" while we walked 5.3 miles winding around the wetlands and exploring the woods. We went looking for spring flowers and wound up finding more ospreys than I have ever seen in one place in my entire life. Unbeknownst to Michael and I (but probably known to every birder out there), Jug Bay is one of the major breeding grounds for ospreys. Apparently, the birds return to Jug Bay to their mate each year after traveling as far as Central and South America.

We started our walk on the boardwalk that runs along the wetlands. We were immediately treated to ospreys circling the marsh, calling to each other, and flying over with fish in their talons. It was a good day to be an osprey. Fish? Not so much. Further along, on the Lower Railroad Trail, we encountered to large black snakes sunning themselves in tree branches.  We sat out on the dock at the end of the Railroad Trail for quite a while, watching the birds and enjoying the warm weather.  We could see a female osprey sitting on a nest on one of the nesting platforms.

The rest of the hike was spent meandering through the woods in the Sanctuary.  We were treated to a constant cacophony of birdsong.  There actually weren't many flowers blooming, except for great carpets of Claytonia virginica (Spring Beauty).  We found some very, very large Beech trees and some equally impressive turtles sunning themselves on logs.  We didn't see a lot of flowers - although, I think there will be a lot more in a week or two - but the wildlife more than made up for it.  Other than a few birders, we didn't run into anyone on our hike.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
The Marsh Boardwalk at Jug Bay.
 An osprey that circled over us several times.
 An osprey with a fish in its talons (click to enlarge)
 Aronia arbutifolia (Red Chokeberry)
 Claytonia virginica (Spring Beauty)
This Black Snake was easily five feet long.  There was a larger one next to it, but I didn't have a clear shot of that one. They were quietly sunning themselves in the tree branches right next to the trail.
 A frog in the sun near the Scrub Shrub boardwalk.
 Interesting seed pods on the Scrub Shrub boardwalk.
 Fiddleheads on the Farm Trail
A Northern Red-Bellied Cooter (Pseudemys rubriventris) sunning itself in a beaver pond. This individual was easily 18 inches long.
 Two more Northern Red-Bellied Cooters.
Trees reflected in a pool on the Upper Railroad Trail.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Old Rag Mountain Stewards Training and Quick Ride on Skyline Drive

We spent the weekend at Pinnacles Research Station in Shenandoah National Park for Old Rag Mountain Stewards training in preparation for our upcoming spring season.  It was great to see everyone, meet with National Park Service personnel, refresh our skills, and, as usual at these events, eat good food.  Working with such a driven, yet cooperative group is a true privilege.

During some downtime, Michael and I managed to get out for a quick ride on Skyline Drive.  We started from the research station, which is near mile post 37, or just below Pinnacles Picnic Area and rode south.  Along the way, we passed Stony Man Mountain, Skyland Resort, and ultimately turned around at mile post 44 at Betty's Rock.  Snow still covered the ground in the shadows and it was chilly, but it felt good to get out and stretch the legs.

Pictures (from my phone):
 My bike at an overlook with Old Rag and Robertson Mountains in the background.
 Stony Man Mountain from Little Stony Man overlook.
The highest point on Skyline Drive at Skyland Resort.