Archive for the ‘Flora and Fauna’ Category

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.

 

“Indigo Swamp”

Swampy section of the canal below Indigo Neck

Swampy section of the canal below Indigo Neck

I’d like to think that everybody is a little bit biased on some subject.  With that in mind, I can’t imagine anybody frequenting the C&O Canal NHP and not having a certain spot that’s a bit more appealing than the rest.  My favorite four.something miles are between Sideling Hill Creek and Fifteen Mile Creek, and one place in particular comes to mind–the wide, swampy section just downstream from Lock 57 and the Indigo Neck Hiker/Biker Campground.  The area is a haven for ducks and other birds, turtles, frogs, and–apparently–an occasional beaver. I’m interested in the ecological history of the area, so (as usual) I defer to Thomas Hahn’s Towpath Guide to the C&O Canal: 138.63 Fine swamp with dark brown water has developed in canal bed.  Many wood ducks and ducklings sighted May 1972.  Beaver sighted several years ago.  Floodplain lush with spring flowers; spotted turtles slide into the swamp as one approaches; pileated woodpeckers drum in the surrounding forest; and and the towering mountain side across the river finishes a suitable backdrop.  This is typical of many wild sections in the next 40 mi.  Opportunities for nature study or for absorbing the refreshment of virtual solitude are many (186).

Beaver activity from 2010

Beaver activity from 2010

Shortly after Candee and I took up level walking for the C&O Canal Association, we noticed beaver activity on the towpath side of the swamp.  These trees were chomped on at the time, but the busy critter suddenly abandoned the project.  Today, the trees are leafless and dead and will probably fall into the swamp in the years to come.  Surprisingly, beaver activity has been limited in the area over the past three or four years, but the rest of this wetland has thrived for the most part.

In spring, I’ve seen the water as high as towpath level, but once or twice in the driest part of the summer, the swamp has dried up completely.  Generally, the ducks and ducklings are long gone by then, and I assume that the turtles make their way to the river in these desperate times.  The one good thing about the dry seasons has been the opportunity to guestimate how big the swamp is.  Back in the day, the canal was generally 60-80′ wide and 6′ deep, but at high water, this section appears to be 8-10′ deep and–perhaps–150′ wide.

Another tree bites the dust!

Another tree bites the dust!

As Hahn stated, the water is generally the color of weak tea,  probably due to the many trees and leaves that have tumbled into the swamp over the years.  As a kid I was led to believe that all really big trees are hundreds of years old, but there are some massive specimens along the towpath and in the prism–here and elsewhere.  The thing is that none of them can be more than ninety years old. Otherwise, the towropes would have been rendered useless in the latter days of the C&O, and boats couldn’t have plied the waters of the canal.  In general, this section of the C&O doesn’t offer a very good depiction of what was, but it is a great example of  what it has become–a sanctuary for a wide variety of flora and fauna.  This is just a great place to take a hike, but PLEASE remember the mosquito repellant!

The day-lillies flower every year near the Lockhouse 57 ruins

The day-lillies flower every year near the Lockhouse 57 ruins

 

Mayapple Fruit

The Mayapple and its unripened fruit

The Mayapple and its unripened fruit

On May 14th, we encountered a large patch of Mayapples while hiking along Carroll Road.  At the time, the plant was green, healthy, and sporting a beautiful white flower.  Since then, nearly two months have passed, and the plant has begun to turn brown in spots, and it now holds a small fruit that has yet to ripen.  Sometime over the next few weeks, the Mayapple plant will continue to wither, and its fruit will turn a waxy yellow, which is a sure sign that it’s ripe.

I’ve done a little bit of research and have learned that the pulp of the yellowed fruit is (supposedly) edible.  I say supposedly because I would suggest consulting more of an expert opinion before partaking of them.  There are recipes for using this fruit on the internet.  The most common ones are for jam, but one of the more unique ones is for Mayapple punch, which consists of one part Mayapple juice mixed with seven parts lemonade.  I’m up for trying new things, and I’m planning on harvesting a few of these (allegedly) tasty morsels over the coming weeks.  If there aren’t any posts on this site in the near future, that probably means my little experiment has failed.  Wish me luck!

This shows the fruit in scale.  I always welcome comments, but if a palm reader drops in to tell me that my life line is running short, I'd rather not hear about it!

This shows the fruit in scale. I always welcome comments, but if a palm reader drops in to tell me that my lifeline is running short, I’d rather not hear about it!

 

Dragonfly Hike at Oldtown: June 22nd

The crowd gathers in hope of seeing dragonflies!  it was a good turnout for what started as a gloomy-looking day.

The crowd gathers in hope of seeing dragonflies! it was a good turnout for what started as a gloomy-looking day.

In the past, Candee and I have stumbled upon certain interests after buying a book with a colorful cover.  That explains our past hunts for wildflowers and mushrooms.  In fact, sometimes it feels like the only things we can sneak up on are wildflowers and mushrooms, but that’s another story for another post.  In the case of dragonflies, our friend and Level Walker Chair, Steve Dean, had a hike scheduled this past Sunday concerning these interesting creatures.

Dragonfly photography.  I saw the pictures, and these guys have an eye for their quarry!

Dragonfly photography. I saw the pictures, and these guys have an eye for their quarry!

The watered section of the C&O Canal near Oldtown–known as Battie Mixon’s Fishing Hole–is a great place to seek out dragonflies.  However, this day didn’t have a promising start: the temperature was in the high sixties and it was drizzling, which isn’t perfect for insects that prefer sunlight and heat.

I'm going to start Candee's collection with a Pondhawk--the only type of dragonfly we have positively identified at this point.

I’m going to start Candee’s collection with a Pondhawk–the only type of dragonfly we have positively identified at this point.

Candee did a great job of spotting dragonflies throughout the hike.  She let everyone with a better camera have first dibs, then she snuck up on the subject and did a remarkable job with my Samsung S3.

Candee did a great job of spotting dragonflies throughout the hike. She let everyone with a better camera have first dibs, then she snuck up on the subject and did a remarkable job with my Samsung S3.

It's amazing that many of these dragonflies literally posed while several people took turns photographing them.

It’s amazing that many of these dragonflies literally posed while several people took turns photographing them.

Nevertheless, a group of ten people showed up, and most were armed with much better cameras than ours.  I have to give Candee a lot of credit for getting some great shots with my Samsung phone, and fellow Level Walker Paul Perkus was kind enough to help us out with some fantastic pictures as well.  He has a great eye for photography, and many of his pictures have made it into the C&O Canal Association’s newsletter.  Memo to self: I need to invest in a better camera!

Courtesy of Paul Perkus.  I'm going to start  Paul's collection with a damselfly.

Courtesy of Paul Perkus.  I’m going to start Paul’s collection with a damselfly.

Courtesy of Paul Perkus.  This is a pondhawk as well, but the details are very good.

Courtesy of Paul Perkus. This is a pondhawk as well, but the details are very good.

Photo courtesy of Paul Perkus

Photo courtesy of Paul Perkus.  Check out the eyes on this guy!

Paul took so many great pictures that I could have filled a full page with them!

Paul took so many great pictures that I could have filled a full page with them!

Our past endeavors have met with mixed success: we do know a fair amount about wildflowers and have been fortunate enough to identify a number of them, but mushrooms are another story.  As for dragonflies, that remains to be seen.  One way of finding out is to attend the next dragonfly hike at Pennyfield Lock on August 9th.  Checking out these unique insects goes hand-in-hand with the history of the canal and great conversation with people who have a wide variety of interests and backgrounds.  Anyone interested should check out the C&O Canal Association’s website,  There are a number of great hikes and opportunities to volunteer in the park.  What could be better?

Going Pedestrian on Carroll Road

A lonely stretch of Carroll Road in Green Ridge State Forest

A lonely stretch of Carroll Road in Green Ridge State Forest

A friend of ours (we’ll call her Jane) is hiking the Camino de Santiago later this summer, and Candee–having done the Camino–has taken over the role of resident trainer.  So how do you prepare somebody to hike across Spain?  As much as we love the C&O, it’s kind of…well…flat, and it’s not going to get anybody ready to tackle the Pyrenees.

Our starting point--the parking lot near the Point Lookout Overlook on Carroll Road.  We have a picture of this from an earlier time, but it was a hazy day.  Anyway, I like this one much better!

Our starting point–the parking lot near the Point Lookout Overlook on Carroll Road. We have a picture of this from an earlier time, but it was a hazy day. Anyway, I like this one much better!

Lately, we’ve hit the AT and a few of Green Ridge State Forest’s many trails, but today we were looking for a change of pace–something with some ups-and-downs and a bit of scenery.  Jane requested an overlook, and I had to deliver.  I came up with Carroll Road as an unlikely spot, but it made for a very good hike.

The Red Eft salamander is the juvenile stage of the Eastern Red-Spotted Newt

The Red Eft  salamander is the juvenile stage of the Eastern Red-Spotted Newt.  We spotted this little fellow about the halfway point of our detination

Green Ridge State Forest has an interesting history, particularly the area around Carroll Road and Mertens Avenue, but I needed to know more.  Suddenly it hit me–“Champ” Zumbrun’s History of Green Ridge State Forest.  Fortunately, I have the book on my Kindle, and Candee read a couple of chapters during our ride.

Carroll Chimney

Carroll Chimney

Carroll Road is named after Charles Carroll, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence.  In the early 1800s, he owned most of today’s Green Ridge State Forest, and Carroll Chimney is the last remnant of the family’s steam-powered sawmill.  This is also the site of a pavilion and the lone port-a-john along the road.

Stream crossing on Carroll Road.  In most places there were large holes on the downstream side of the road culverts, which were home to numerous small fish and frogs.

Stream crossing on Carroll Road. In most places there were large holes on the downstream side of the road culverts, which were home to numerous small fish and frogs.

With all of this in mind, we set out on foot for a six-mile round trip from Point Lookout to Stickpile Tunnel and back.  I’ve driven the road many times, but I’ve never taken the time to listen to the two babbling streams that the road runs alongside–or to notice the many wildflowers that grow along the way.

many of the Mayapples were in bloom.  Later in the year, the plant bears a fruit that is "edible" when it ripens--or turns yellowish and starts to shrivel up.  The leaves, roots, and seeds are deemed as toxic, so I would be somewhat--no VERY--hesitant to sample the fruit or partake of grandma's homemade Mayapple jam or jelly.  Yes, there are recipes for both on the internet.

Many of the May Apples were in bloom. Later in the year, the plant bears a fruit that is “edible” when it ripens–or turns yellowish and starts to shrivel. The leaves, roots, and seeds are deemed as toxic, so I would be somewhat–no VERY–hesitant to sample the fruit or partake of grandma’s homemade May Apple jam or jelly. Yes, there are recipes for both on the internet.

The road is a popular destination for campers (although fishermen and boaters headed to Bonds Landing are advised to use Mertens Avenue), as several rustic campsites and picnic tables are nearby.  One usually doesn’t consider following a road as a means of getting exercise and taking in some wonderful scenery, but this lonely lane in eastern Allegany County makes for a pretty spectacular walk in the woods.

Spiderwort

Spiderwort