Sunday, May 24, 2009

West Virginia Road Trip

Our destination on this trip to West Virginia was Spruce Knob, at 4863 feet the highest peak in West Virginia and also the Allegheny Mountains. A wind-swept desolate place with its Red Spruce trees limbs pointing eastward caused by the westerly winds and its stunted Birch and Maple trees growing in small gnarled clumps. We lucked into a beautiful day as you can see by the following pictures.

Views from the 1/2 mile long Loop trail on the summit of Spruce Knob.

A dead spruce tree along Loop trail that my wife thought "needed a hug".

A Trillium along the Loop trail on Spruce Knob.

These Birch trees on the top of Spruce Knob were only now on May 22 starting to leaf out.

Some sort of fungi growing on a Red Spruce limb on Spruce Knob.

A stand of wild Geranium along a mountain road.

The flower of the Cucumber Magnolia tree.

After visiting Spruce Knob we headed west to the Sinks of Gandy area of WV.

The southern entrance of the Sinks of Gandy. Gandy Creek travels under a spur of Yokum Knob for about 3000 feet before reemerging.

Some of the large meadows that make up the Sinks of Gandy region of WV.

And so ended a beautiful day, one of so many that we have enjoyed in the mountains of West Virginia.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New Family

When we first built our house in the corner of the horse pasture we put up bird boxes and soon had families of Bluebirds nesting in them. The open pasture was a favorite hunting grounds for them as they collected insects for their young. As the years went by and we planted more and more shrubs, bushes, and trees to attract more and different birds we slowly lost our Bluebirds to the more aggressive House Wrens who thought nothing of destroying the Bluebirds nests and hatchlings. So you can imagine our surprise and delight when a pair of Bluebirds took up residence in an old maple snag just feet from our front door. These pictures were taken last evening as the mother fed her just hatched young.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Mid-May walk over the Back 40

The Back 40 is my little piece of "heaven on earth". A place where I can go to unwind, relax, think, and even escape from the rigors of everyday living. Part woodland and part pasture it is laced with stone walls running here and there seemingly with no purpose although many years ago they probably separated pasture land from tilled fields. With the last of the cattle leaving a dozen years ago it has begun to revert back to its natural state. With careful tree cutting, mowing ,and tree plantings I hope to keep it a habitat for a variety of wildlife for years to come.

The rocks that make up these old stone walls are usually covered with different types of lichens. According to an article in the West Virgina Wildlife lichens can grow directly on bare rock and actually begin to make soil by secreting acids that break down the rock. They also trap dust which helps form more soil and allows other species like mosses to move in.

A stop at the vernal pond revealed lots of nice sized tadpoles and this snake looking for a mid-day snack.

A doe skull. In late winter near the vernal pond I found the remains of what I believed to be a coyote killed doe.

For many years cattle grazing on the Back 40. In the 10 or 12 years since they have been gone the Virginia Pine have started to make a nice comeback.

The Black Locust are just starting to set their sweet smelling blossoms.

This is a clump of aspen from the only aspen tree on the Back 40. I had my nephew cut it down several years ago and was rewarded by a nice bunch of suckers from the roots. In the second picture you can see the stump of the "mother tree".

These next two pictures are of wild flowers that I don't know the names of. Guess I need a wildflower book to carry on my wanderings.

These are the blossoms of a Bleeding Heart that I planted beneath an apple tree years ago.

A wild strawberry blossom.

The blossom of the Nannyberry bush. Although a native of the east coast I've never found one growing wild. This is one of several that I have planted in the Back 40.

Friday, May 15, 2009

More Spring Treasures

Easily the most fragrant of the spring blooms are those of the wild honeysuckle. It's clusters of pink blossoms are eagerly sought out by hummingbirds making their way north to their summer breeding grounds.

Perhaps the "Queen of the upland trees" the Dogwood's brilliant white flowers stand out against the basic green foliage of the spring woods. Sadly I've lost some Dogwood trees on my Back40 to the Dogwood Anthracnose, a fungal disease that appeared in the 1980's. According to articles I've found on the Internet the disease seems to be abating but the damage is done and it will take years to replace the trees that succumb to the disease.

This maroon flower is the blossom of the Paw Paw tree. With its rank scent it is pollinated by only the carrion fly. I've found several wild groves of Paw Paws growing along my smallmouth bass streams in southern Bedford and Fulton Co. here in Pa.

This is the blossom of the Mountain Ash. Although not found in my home coverts in Pa. it grows profusely in the Dolly Sods area of West Virginia. In the fall it erupts with a bounty of red-orange berries to brighten up the landscape.