Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Stauffer’s Marsh Nature Preserve (Potomac Valley Audubon Society)

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Entrance sign (above) and trail map (below)

Entrance sign (above) and trail map (below)

Stauffer’s Marsh is a 45.7 acre nature preserve just south of Shanghai, WV along Back Creek Valley Road.  The site is especially popular for birdwatching, as approximately 150 species have been spotted there to date.

A view from the West Pond Trail

A view from the West Pond Trail

The hiking opportunity consists of approximately 1.3 miles of short, linked trail that begin at the roadside parking area.  The Marsh Trail and Marsh Overlook Trail offer an opportunity to view the large pond.  From there, the Connector Trail leads to the Back Creek Trail, which runs from the creek back to the parking area.  Finally, the West Pond Trail is an out-and-back trip that leads to further views of the marsh from a roadside vantage point.

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Interesting reading.  There are several signs and a kiosk at the marsh

Interesting reading. There are several signs and a kiosk at the marsh

Fishing, for the most part, is not allowed in the marsh, although locals with prior permission are still able to wet a line.  Nevertheless, there is enough diversity in avian and aquatic wildlife to make for an interesting hike.

On the Marsh Trail

On the Marsh Trail

The Potomac Valley Audubon Society has four local preserves (also including Yankauer, Cool Spring, and Eidolon), so there are ample opportunities to check out the eastern panhandle’s flora and fauna.  The brochures and interpretive signs at each site add greatly to the learning experience and make for a really nice family experience.  I would highly recommend a trip to any of  these PVAS operated tracts.

From the Marsh Overlook Trail

From the Marsh Overlook Trail

Saw Whet Owl (South Mountain, Maryland)

Holding these beautiful birds is best left to the professionals.  In this case, Steve Huy.

Holding these beautiful birds is best left to the professionals. In this case, Steve Huy.

Today, I was lucky enough to attend a saw whet owl banding in South Mountain State Park, hosted by the Potomac Valley Audubon Society (PVAS).  The banding season lasts a few weeks, from about Halloween-thru-Thanksgiving, and the process provides valuable information regarding the migratory patterns of the birds.

The saw whet is one of the smallest owls in North America.  Adults are roughly 8-9″ high with a wingspan of 17-22″, which isn’t much bigger than a robin or a blue jay.  On average, the female saw whet is slightly larger than the male, and they make up roughly 90 percent of the birds netted.

On South Mountain, a male call was blasted, and the lone female saw whet was caught in a mist net.  The mist net is so-named because it is visible to the human eye in a slight breeze and looks like a light wisp of fog.  We stayed with the group for around three hours, and a little after midnight she was caught and banded.  Afterwards, she was re-acclimated to the dark and shortly thereafter released back into the wild.  Seeing this saw whet owl was a great experience, and I will definitely be checking the PVAS website for further birding opportunities.

Wingspan runs from 17-22"

Wingspan runs from 17-22″

Cranesville Swamp (The Nature Conservancy)

A rustic sign heading into the small parking area at the Cranesville Swamp

A rustic sign heading into the small parking area at the Cranesville Swamp

I first saw the Cranesville Swamp on a map many years ago, and I’ve often thought about stopping for a visit.  Recently, by chance, I discovered that it’s only about 12 miles from the Hazelton exit on I-68.  I pass through that area pretty often, so it seemed like my destiny to finally see the swamp.  Unfortunately, I got sidetracked both heading in and leaving, but the good people of Garrett County, Maryland helped me first find the swamp and later the interstate.

Some information and a map of the trails!  Fortunately, it's almost impossible to get lost in the nature preserve

Some information and a map of the trails! Fortunately, it’s almost impossible to get lost in the nature preserve

Cranesville Swamp is owned and maintained  by The Nature Conservancy, and the site has grown to nearly 2000 acres in size.  The swamp lies between two hills (at roughly 2500′ above sea level), creating a “frost pocket,” and the captured moisture creates a habitat similar to what one would find in Canada.  There are more than fifty unique plants and animals that live on the preserve, and, surprisingly, these include sundews and cranberries.

Through the trees on the blue trail

Through the trees on the blue trail

The blue and orange trails form an outer loop for hikers, and the yellow and white trails cut across the center of the loop.  With a little bit of imagination, all of the trails can be walked with a minimal amount of repetition, and the entire course can be traversed in a little over two miles.  The elevation gain is pretty insignificant, but “swamp” generally means mud, so wearing hiking boots is definitely a good idea.

Crossing the swamp on the boardwalk was definitely the highlight of the hike

Crossing the swamp on the boardwalk was definitely the highlight of the hike

Another view of the swamp, including some standing water

Another view of the swamp, including some standing water

The highlight of the hike is a short loop across the actual swamp on a boardwalk.  Here, and throughout the rest of the preserve, are numbered posts that correspond to a downloadable audio tour that can be found on the Cranesville Swamp/Nature Conservancy website.  Taking the e-tour is something to be considered beforehand because cell phone service isn’t very good in the area.

In spite of my many failures as a would-be botanist, I did recognize ground pine!

In spite of my many failures as a would-be botanist, I did recognize ground pine!

The insects that live in the preserve are cataloged after being trapped in this device.  The only way out is to fall into a bottle (top left of the trap), and after being collected, scientists identify the insects through their DNA

The insects that live in the preserve are cataloged after being trapped in this device. The only way out is to fall into a bottle (top left of the trap), and after being collected, scientists identify the insects through their DNA

A naturalist of any stature could spend hours (or much longer!) in the Cranesville Swamp, but I went about my business in a little over an hour.  I’m not the world’s most-skilled woodsman, so the only things I identified were a couple of deer and squirrels and a small patch of ground pine.  Nevertheless, this was a great side trip for a traveler heading from Morgantown to Martinsburg.  I would like to come back better prepared to appreciate this wonderful little preserve.  It’s definitely worth another look!

Orange trail sign.

Orange trail sign.

I had the whole place to myself!

I had the whole place to myself!

Theodore Roosevelt Island (Washington, DC)

The first glimpse of the footbridge and the island

The first glimpse of the footbridge and the island

President Roosevelt and a few admirers

President Roosevelt and a few admirers

Theodore Roosevelt Island is an 88.5 acre island located in the Potomac River and is part of Washington, DC.  In the 1930s, it was converted into a memorial to America’s 26th president, and today it’s a part of our national park system.

Looking upstream while crossing the footbridge

Looking upstream while crossing the footbridge

A footbridge leads from the parking area to the island, and once there, a trip around the outer perimeter plus a quick walk to the statue of President Roosevelt yields a hike of a bit over three miles. The animals seen on the island include squirrels, raccoon, and opossums, but the greatest diversity is in the number of birds and wildflowers  available for viewing.  On our journey, we did see a very interesting bird that we couldn’t identify, but the NPS offers an online checklist of the birds that have been spotted there, so it’s a matter of time until we figure it out…maybe.

Under the Roosevelt Bridge looking into Virginia

Under the Roosevelt Bridge looking into Virginia

Graffiti under the bridge

Graffiti under the bridge

Another diverse group on the island is the people who hike there.  We saw everything from a mom and her three year-old to a ranger-lead tour group.  The one thing everybody had in common is that they seemed to be having a good time.

Poison ivy!

Poison ivy!

On a personal note, I’m generally not a fan of urban hiking, but trekking across the boardwalk a few feet away from ducks, geese, and plants that are strange to me is always a good thing–even with numerous tall buildings dominating the skyline.

Taking the boardwalk through the swamp

Taking the boardwalk through the swamp

I’ve both heard and read about Theodore Roosevelt Island for a number of years, and finally getting there was a worthwhile experience.  Walking on crowded trails is something I try to avoid, but afterwards I seem to reflect fondly upon most of them.  If you’re ever in the neighborhood, the island is a great place to visit!

Looking toward Washington, DC

Looking toward Washington, DC

DC, ducks, the Potomac, etc.

DC, ducks, the Potomac, etc.

 

Cedar Run Falls, Shenandoah National Park

Cedar Run Falls

Cedar Run Falls

Access to Cedar Run Falls is at mile 45.6 on Skyline Drive, directly opposite of the trail to Hawksbill Summit.  The falls are reached by following Cedar Run Trail 1.7 miles down the mountain–and I do mean down!  The first warning was a pair of exhausted hikers struggling up the trail as we descended.  They assured us that seeing the falls was worth the trip, but it did get a little bit confusing:  the descent is so steep that the entire upper end of the stream is one waterfall after another.

Could this be it?

Could this be it?

Fortunately, I have a hiking book downloaded to my Kindle (cellphone app, in this case), and I generally know what’s coming before we get there.  I knew we had to cross Cedar Run to view the waterfall from the other side, and generally stream crossings in spring can be problematic.  However, the stream was running pretty low for late March, and that proved to be good and bad.  The crossing was pretty easy, but the waterfall was less spectacular than it could have been.

All of this raises a big question: was the difficult descent and the 1250′ of elevation gain on the way out a little bit too much bother for a five minute view of a low-running stream rolling down a long cascade?  No, not really.  I would like to make this journey when the water is running a little bit higher, but I was pretty satisfied with the fruits of my labor.

The long view of Cedar Run Falls

The long view of Cedar Run Falls