Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category

Black Snake Near MM 72 on the C&O Canal

This fine looking fellow was climbing a tree near mile marker 72

This fine looking fellow was climbing a tree near mile marker 72

While taking a short walk on the C&O near Shepherdstown, Candee and I came across a relatively big black snake hanging out in a tree.  About a week ago, we had a snake encounter above Pearre Station.  We think that one was a corn snake, but we’re not positive.  Corn snake or not, it was well-behaved, but I couldn’t be too sure about this one.  I’ve had a few experiences with cranky black snakes!  Granted, he wasn’t as bad as the garter snake that kept striking at us a couple of years ago (on December 24th no less!) near Indigo Neck.  Many of our recent hikes have taken us away from the C&O, but I prefer to have my snake encounters on the towpath–where I can see them!

This was a pretty big snake.  I would say that it was at least 5' long.

This was a pretty big snake. I would say that it was at least 5′ long.

Calling All Moms: We Have Your Flowers Here!

A section of the  C&O Canal towpath above Pearre Station (roughly mm 138)

A section of the C&O Canal towpath above Pearre Station (roughly mm 138)

I’m going to preface this post by saying that I welcome all comments–especially those that correct my less-than-stellar plant identification skills.  With that said, I did spend a couple of hours trying to ID several wildflowers, and in a few cases I obtained second–and even third–opinions.  Years ago, our hiking and biking excursions on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal took root upstream from Pearre Station, and I was afraid that I wouldn’t have anything new or unusual to say about today’s hike/level walk, but Mother Nature fittingly delivered an abundance of flowers on Mother’s Day!

Star of Bethlehem

Star of Bethlehem

I’m going to start things off with the Star of Bethlehem.  For whatever reason, this one was the most difficult to ID.  A few weeks ago, Candee and I noticed this wildflower just beginning to open about 65 miles downstream (near Shepherdstown).  Our Peterson’s pocket guide wasn’t much help, so I eventually rolled the dice and searched the internet for white wildflowers with six petals.  While we have seen this flower occasionally, it doesn’t appear to be terribly common along the towpath.

Wild Stonecrop

Wild stonecrop

The Wild stonecrop (see above) is a wildflower that neither of us can recall seeing on the C&O Canal prior to today.  The reading I’ve done states that this plant thrives in shaded woodlands, but it’s found most often on bare slopes or around rocks.  Surprisingly, we located this specimen a few feet from the towpath on the river side.  Because of the difference in our location and its usual habitat, I feel lucky to have seen this plant at all.

Golden ragwort

Golden ragwort

We saw a few small patches of golden ragwort along the way.  The plant requires full sun to light shade, and in conditions with more light, the plant needs moister soil.  The towpath between the Sideling Hill Creek and Fifteen Mile Creek Aqueducts seems to meet some–but not all–of the criteria, so it isn’t too surprising that golden ragwort didn’t dominate any particular part of the trail.

Philadelphia fleabane

Philadelphia fleabane

Philadelphia fleabane has a similar look to asters, but the difference is that the former can be seen in the spring, while the latter occur in the summer and early fall.  My Peterson’s guide states that it occurs along roadsides or in wastelands, so I suppose seeing it along the towpath isn’t all that surprising.  Nevertheless, it was fairly sparse in comparison to a couple of the other wildflowers.

Mayapple bloom

Mayapple bloom

Mayapples, on the other hand, were nearly everywhere along the towpath.  They were blooming near Shepherdstown a few days ago, but the first few that we saw today didn’t have any flowers.  Nevertheless, as we headed up the trail, the large, white flowers became numerous.  However, the fading dame’s rocket and thriving garlic mustard (not pictured) were even more common.  Both of these plants have been described as invasive, but it’s the garlic mustard that has “inspired” volunteers to remove it in volume all along the canal.  From what we saw today, it’s going to be an uphill fight!

Dame's rocket

Dame’s rocket

In all, Mother’s Day seemed like the perfect opportunity to get back to the C&O Canal after a bit of an absence.  Wildflowers were out in force, and there will certainly be numerous changes in the coming weeks.  Dutchman’s breeches are long gone, and the flowers of the Virginia bluebell are already few and far between.  Being an amateur, I would have to look back on some of our older posts to even have a guess at what’s coming next, but it’s bound to be interesting.

I'm not much of a herpetologist either, but the owner of a pet corn snake told me that's what this is.

I’m not much of a herpetologist either, but the owner of a pet corn snake told me that’s what this is.

 

Of Black Vultures and White Petals

I hope they're not trying to tell me something!

I hope they’re not trying to tell me something!

During a typical walk in the woods, the wildlife generally sees us before we see them.  Deer, squirrels, and birds flee as we think we’re stealthily heading down the trail, but occasionally an animal seems to be unaffected by our presence.  In fact, some seem to be a little bit too curious–but vultures?

Today, as we hiked the AT near Keys Gap, Candee noticed two Black Vultures hanging out about 20 feet from the trail.  They just kind of gawked at us as we passed, and my first inclination was to lift my arm and sniff my sweatshirt.  satisfied with passing the first test, I decided to check my pulse.  Fortunately, everything checked out, and a couple of minutes later they flew away.  What a relief!

It sounds like it would be good on a sandwich, but...

It sounds like it would be good on a sandwich, but…

Another unwelcome presence along the trail is Garlic Mustard.  Sure, it sounds delicious, but it’s actually an invasive plant that’s possibly even less popular than the vultures.  For example, along the C&O Canal, volunteer groups are trained in the identification and removal of the plant.  As a novice in the field of wildflower identification, I have never participated in removing these troublesome plants from the park (C&O or otherwise), but retaining as much of the native environment as possible is certainly a worthy cause.

Star Chickweed

Star Chickweed

Star Chickweed, on first appearance, doesn’t seem to be a candidate for anybody’s list of undesirables.  However, when I looked it up on Google, Ortho’s website was at the top of the page.  Go figure!  Star Chickweed appears to have ten individual petals, but there are actually five that are deeply cleft.  The plant is found throughout the eastern U.S., including the Great Smokey Mountains.  It’s edible and contains vitamins A and C, but until I channel my inner Ewell Gibbons, I’ll continue to carry the usual salami sandwich in my backpack–hold the garlic mustard!

Into the Fog (Re-hashing 2013 and Looking Forward to 2014)

Fog on the Potomac and towpath

Fog on the Potomac and towpath

Today, we headed out to our volunteer area for our last level walk of 2013,  It was a strangely beautiful day, with an odd combination of light rain and fog that was offset by an unseasonable temperature in the mid-sixties.  We encountered one passerby in a car at Fifteen Mile Creek, but, other than that, we were completely alone for the better part of 3.5 hours, or nine miles.  That’s rare, even in one of the more remote sections of the C&O.

Scene at Indigo Neck

Scene at Indigo Neck

It seems like the warm weather wasn’t enough to awaken any prospective hikers from the spell of the recently melted snow.  Nevertheless, a good samaritan did come along at some point and pick up the fallen trash bag box at the Indigo Neck hiker/biker campsite.  There were a couple of fallen limbs and about a half bag of trash, so we did accomplish something.  Even so, there was plenty to think about and lots of time for doing it.  As the park is concerned, my New Year’s resolutions are to stay in one of the lockhouses and do at least a couple of hikes in Georgetown.  I’ve biked below Mile Marker 12 several times, but I can’t say that I’ve ever hiked it.  Winter might be the perfect time to beat the crowds.  We’ll see. One way to kill both birds with one stone would be to spend the night in Lockhouse 6.  That would be the perfect spot for a long round-trip trek all the way to the end of the line.

Beaver at work

Beaver at work

Yes, I suppose this is the right time of the year for daydreaming and resolutions, but there’s always today, and today turned out to be a great day for a hike.  Off in the distance, we counted four deer.  They were more spooked than usual but that’s probably a result of Maryland’s recent deer season.  Beavers are also very active around Indigo Neck, although we haven’t been lucky enough to see one, and that spans approximately thirty hikes in this area in a four or five year period.

Eastern garter snake on the towpath

Eastern garter snake on the towpath

Honestly, every time Candee and I hike between Pearre Station and Little Orleans, I think running into a beaver is a distinct possibility.  But a snake on the 22nd of December?  The garter snake pictured above is one of the largest I have ever seen, and it had a personality to match.  It struck at us on three different occasions–completely unprovoked, unless you consider the fact that I was in its mug trying to get a picture.  I suppose you could say that seeing this unpleasant chap was a pleasant surprise–just not for the snake.  After snapping a couple of pictures, we walked away, and this cold-blooded rascal was nowhere to be found when we headed back down the trail.

Looking back, 2013 appears to have been a mixed bag along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.  There was a closure downstream from the Paw Paw Tunnel because of falling rocks, and the park itself was closed for sixteen days because of government cutbacks.  However, I do feel fortunate to have a national park twenty minutes from where I live, and I’m going to continue to try to convince everybody that it’s just as cool as Yosemite or the Grand Canyon.  That’s a tall order!  In the meantime, we’re going to try to see and write about places that we’ve missed up to this point, and there’s also a great blog or two that we regularly follow.  When all is said and done, 2014 should be a great year on the canal.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to one and all!

 

 

Why Can’t We Be Friends?

What do a black snake and a rattler talk about? I wasn't going to get close enough to listen!

I’m not too well-versed in herpetology, but it was odd seeing a black snake and a rattler sitting side-by-side catching some rays on a rock.  Candee and I were hiking from the Spruce Pine Hollow pavilion to Devils Nose on the Tuscarora Trail when we encountered two fellow hikers. They told us about this odd pair of friends hanging out together on the overlook.  Naturally, we had to see for ourselves.  We snapped a few pictures and checked out the view, and after about half an hour the black snake silently slithered away.  The rattlesnake appeared lifeless, but when another hiker lightly touched it with a stick, it raised its tail as if to say, “Back off!”  Nevertheless, it was a rare opportunity to get a close look at a poisonous snake, and it seemed more than happy to pose for a few pictures.