We talk a lot about camouflage when we take school children out on the trails. It is always fun to try to find examples and children are remarkably good at spotting slugs on a musclewood tree or moths on a tulip poplar. I was down at Martin's Branch the other day and I almost missed this little guy, he blended in so well. I am sure the kids would have had him spotted well earlier.
I love the time around the Equinoxes and Solstices. I am always reminded of the balance of things in nature. The autumn equinox reminds me of the balance between light and dark in the day. On this day it is even. And as I walked and found this witch hazel bloom I was reminded that sometimes there is balance where we least expect it. Here is a tree that blooms in the fall. And because there aren't so many pollinators around, it balances by blooming for a long time--from September-December. And it can self-pollinate if need be. The life cycle is a long one with pollination happening in the fall but fertilization not complete until the spring and seeds maturing for the next fall. I love Witch Hazel, because it reminds me that there is a "long haul" and to be patient. But also to be diligent and keep working. And it is beautiful. If you haven't ever looked up close at witch hazel flowers, they are worth a moment of your time.
The South Field at ICNA is particularly beautiful at the moment and I encourage you to come and visit it while the grasses, wingstem, and thistles are glorious in the early autumn light. This month's Virginia Native Plant Society self-guided plant walk is a good excuse to walk this trail sometime over the next two weeks (you can find out about how to take this walk at our website. And if you keep your eyes out you might find some animal wonders happening in those fields. The migrating birds are active this time of year, the butterflies are attracted to the plants and you might even find a praying mantis laying her eggs. That is what Mary Lee Epps found the other day and has shared this photograph. In my many years of watching praying mantises, I have found many ootheca and even been there to see them hatch but I have never seen this. Apparently it is a very slow process and may have taken her a good portion of the day to complete. Thank you Mary Lee for sharing!
.....and then chased off the interlopers.
It was a busy day on the reservoir last Thursday. As I passed the marsh near the wood duck box I noticed a group of Canada Geese. As a couple of geese who were obviously not from the group drifted past, one of the geese got quite perturbed. He did some posturing...
Today is International Vulture Awareness Day. In honor of the day, Bob Gore has shared this photo of a group of Black Vultures. There are two types of vultures that you can see at Ivy Creek: Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures. Both are carrion feeders but Turkey Vultures have a keen sense of smell which Black Vultures lack. Black Vultures have grayish heads, are more social and can be recognized from below by the white at just the tips of their wings. Turkey Vultures adults will have a red head (hence their name), are more solitary and have white all along the bottom margins of their wings which can be seen when they fly. Both types of vultures have the habit, which I love to watch, of "sunning" themselves. Particularly in the early part of the morning, you can often find vultures perched with their large wingspans spread open. According to the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, this can be to dry off the morning dew from feathers; to warm their bodies for flight; or to help realign their feathers after flight. Whatever the reason, it is a majestic sight.
Late August/early September is the time for the annual nighthawk migration over central Virginia, which can often be seen from the Ivy Creek Natural Area. In past years, we've been able to hold a gathering, hosted by Dave Hogg of the Monticello Bird Club, to watch for these birds. The gathering would start in the ICNA parking area and migrate to the north field and would happen in the dusk-dark time of day. We are sorry not to be holding this gathering this year but urge those who would like to learn a little more about these amazing birds to listen to the September Walking With Bess audio tour. Bess Murray gives a lovely introduction to nighthawks as well as monarch migration, hawk migration and other late summer happenings.
There has been an abundance of fungi to observe at Ivy Creek lately. Diana Foster shared this photograph of what I believe to be an eastern american toad taking a moment underneath one. One of my favorite resources for frog and toad identification is the Virginia Herpetological Society's website. Check out this website for photographs and to listen to the recordings of calls of the 28 species of frogs and toads found in Virginia.
Birders will know that now is the time to begin watching for the fall migrations of certain species. One of these that you might find flying overhead at Ivy Creek is the osprey. This photograph from Bob Gore was not taken this year but two of our trail monitors saw what was likely a pair of osprey on the Peninsula Trail recently. I thought I would share this photo to remind you to look up now and again over the next months.
One of the best attractions for any autumn school tour is a hunt for beech aphids. Usually in late summer/early fall we will start to see branches of beech trees covered with what looks like white fluff but which are really insects feeding on the beech tree. They look dramatic but don't seem to harm the trees and kids love watching them "wiggle". Just before I left for vacation last week, Bob Gore alerted me to the first ones we've seen this year. I don't know if they have survived the rain but it is worth searching for them along the trail. One of the best ways to search for beech aphids is to watch the ground for the sooty mold fungus that grows on the honeydew secreted by the aphids. If you see a patch of black fungus on the trail, look up and you might spot a colony of "boogie-woogie" aphids. For more information about beech aphids and some good close-ups, check out Bob's video.