Sunday, December 9, 2018

Nature is Fun: Lichens, Mosses, and Ferns

Last week, a fellow Virginia Master Naturalist and I held an after-school program on nature at Pearisburg Public Library.  Our emphasis for this November 29 workshop was on what you can find that is green or blooming in the woods in the winter.  The children attending ranged in age from 6-12.

 We had collected lichens, mosses, Virginia Pine, Witch Hazel flowers, and Christmas Fern.  When I talked about lichens, I asked the kids to pick out the different types on one small log.  I used a handout on lichens and Christmas Fern which I made for the program:


“A lichen, or lichenized fungus, is actually two organisms functioning as a single, stable unit. Lichens comprise a fungus living in a symbiotic relationship with an alga or cyanobacterium (or both in some instances). There are about 17,000 species of lichen worldwide.”  (
There are several types of lichens:  leafy, cup-like, beard-like, and crusty (usually on rocks).  In general, you want to leave the lichens.  Lichens absorb pollutants so scientists can learn about air pollution by analyzing lichens. 

Christmas Fern

Polystichum acrostichoides

The Christmas Fern stays green all winter, unlike other ferns.   Winter snows will flatten the fronds though.  Fiddleheads or the coiled fronds appear in early spring while the rest of the previous year’s growth browns and decays.
The blade of the fern is lance-shaped with pinnae (look like leaves) all along.  On fertile pinnae, sori (brown areas on underside) are on the upper part of the blade.  These release microscopic spores into the air which is how a fern reproduces.  
Christmas Ferns grow in the woods and are widespread because they tolerate both dry and wet soils.  The range of the Christmas Fern is the eastern United States, from the south all the way to Canada and west to Missouri.  Because it is bright green in December, the Christmas Fern historically has been used in holiday decorations. 

The children glued leaves to color paper.  Then, they all did colored pencil drawings which I don't have any photos of unfortunately.  All of the children seem to have good drawing skills for their ages.

After I arrived home, I put the Christmas Fern and Virginia Pine in a vase.  The ferns only lasted a couple of days while the pine is going strong.

We plan to continue the programs next year in January since there does seem to be interest for them.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Late Fall

Dogwood November 3, 2018 
 Fall peak foliage here is usually Oct. 20 but not this year and even last year too.  Typically, dogwood trees begin turning maroon color in September.  This year it was late October and as you can see from the photo above, the trees are holding their color into November.

Our driveway on November 3 also was full of color with hickories turning their golden yellow.

On November 6, American Beech trees are yellow with the bright green of the Christmas ferns below.  These trees keep their leaves all winter, only shedding them in early spring.

I love the smooth bark and close up views of the American Beech. 

On November 17, this red oak tree retained the red color.  The red oaks retain their leaves until December although they turn brown. In the foreground is another oak retaining its color well into November. 

Last year, I also noted the late fall.  If this continues, we must consider that our winter is arriving later with spring earlier as well.  It may be because of climate change.  It certainly feels like it here in Rye Hollow. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

References for presentation on Nature Journaling this evening:

Joseph Grinnell: field biologist
Berkeley handout on using his methods on journaling: 

American Museum of Natural History on teaching children about nature. 

Nature journaling: learning to observe and connect with the world around you. Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth

A trail through leaves: the journal as a path to place.  Hannah Hinchman. 

Friday, June 1, 2018

Rain Everyday But Some Love it!

We emptied the rain gauge several times so probably 8 inches or more of rain in May. Thankfully, the rains did not come in all at once so that we did have flooding like other areas of Virginia.

Spiderwort (Tradescantia) is a native wildflower that seems to love all the rain.  Everyday for about a month, the flowers bloom and then fade by the afternoon.  A friend gave me some spiderwort and they have done well, establishing another patch a few feet away.  I am not sure which spiderwort species this is but my Field Guide to Wildflowers by the Audubon Society states that the Zigzag Spiderwort (Tradescantia subaspera) is found in Virginia.  The guide also states that "Spiderworts are so named because the angular leaf arrangements suggests a squatting spider."  I don't understand that.

The flowers are so beautiful with the bright yellow stamens.  When trying to do a watercolor of them, I had to use the paint straight from the tube (See my first post on spiderworts) to get the bright yellow.

The native wildflower attracts native bees.  These smaller bees (of which we have hundreds of different species in Virginia) are not attracted to most flowers I buy such as phlox or pansies).

Daisy, our golden retriever, also seems to love the rain.  Throw her a ball and she does not mind getting drenched.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Mt. Rogers Naturalist Rally

I attended the Mt. Rogers Naturalist Rally in southwest Virginia. Before the rally, my friend and I hiked from Elks Garden to the Lewis Fork Wilderness Area. The photo above shows how spring is about two weeks behind where I live.

We were excited by seeing a carpet of white flowers....

At a distance, it looked like snow but....

actually it was fringed phacelia.

We also saw quite a few trout lilies in bloom. 

 On Friday evening we have a dinner and talk. Our speaker this year, Allen Boynton, talked about endangered populations of vertebrates in southern Blue ridge:

  •  northern flying squirrel: lives at higher elevations as opposed to the southern like we have around here).
  •  hellbender salamander: silt in waterways bad for young.
  • bog turtle: loss of wetlands is main driver of endangerment.
  • Virginia big eared bat
He recommended that we contact our representatives in congress about sponsoring "The Recovering America's Wildlife Act" which would help to protect endangered wildlife.  For more reference, click on this website

Birding at Grindstone Campground

As I like to do at each rally, I chose to attend the session with the speaker which was birding.  I also wanted to check out the campground.   We saw and heard many birds including blue-eyed and red-eyed vireos, chestnut-sided warbler (my favorite), Canada warbler, yellow bellied sapsucker, yellow-rumped warbler, veery, wood thrush, and catbirds. We heard and saw a wood thrush. Everyone was so appreciative of their songs while I realized I hear them all the time at our home in the woods.   Above the horse campground, we saw blackburnian warblers (both male and female) as well as heard ovenbirds.  Dark-eyed juncos were here even though they have left our lower elevations.

Red Spruce Ecology Hike

On Whitetop Mountain, we went on a walk with ecologist and forester Austin Thomas who discussed why red spruce are found mostly here because of the high elevation. 

The dark forest was very cool.

At the edge of the forest was an area where spruce trees were beginning to colonize.  This is a research site now with naturalists helping to collect data to determine the health of the forest.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Crazy Spring!

Winter and spring have been very unseasonable to say the least.  January started off with bitter cold like many other years then became warmer until it was downright hot in February, days at a time so that we had ticks all winter.  March was stormy, cold then warm,  with our power out four different times, 10 days all total.  I did not feel spring until late April.  Now, May is getting hot again.

I am often asked since I live in the woods if I see any changes due to climate change.  Like many old-timers, you do sense a change in the climate.  Invasive plants like multi-flora rose grow all winter.  But native plants vary.  Some came up early like spring beauties but others like trillium waited until May when the weather was warm.  I did not see any of my lovely showy orchis but others spotted them in early May, weeks later than their usual blooming period. 

Our columbine bloomed first week in May while usually it blooms in early April.  In fact, I put out the hummer feeders when they bloom.  This year I put them out the first week in April with a hummingbird coming April 9, well before the columbine was blooming.

Today my husband found a snapping turtle in the driveway.  I went down to take a photo...

I posted on Facebook (Joan Kark) and a friend sent me this NPR link:

The article says that the turtles come on land only once a year to nest, just like sea turtles that come ashore.   I hope no one eats the eggs like was suggested in this article.

Speaking of turtles, I moved a large box turtle to the side of the road (in the direction I thought he was going).  Box turtles only have about a mile and half radius territory and should never be moved from it or they will forever wander, looking for their home.  This box turtle's home, a wide strip of former woods between Walker Creek and the road, had been cleared of trees.  I hope this old turtle can survive there.  

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Today is warm (54 degrees) and cloudy.  On my way to buy a Sunday paper (can't get it delivered anymore!), I saw a pair of ducks on Walker Creek.  I took this quick photo and tried to remember a few field marks (e.g. dark head, white body on one and rufous head with gray body on the other.  I also saw a Great Blue Heron on the creek but he quickly flew away when I got out of the car.  

I had to get my bird field guides out to identify but from the photo I figured they were Common Mergansers (Mergus merganser).  I sketched from my field guide so I will remember next time I see them.  They are migrating through to their breeding grounds in Alaska and Canada.

As I drove up the driveway, I saw the familiar flock of robins and cedar waxwings which hang out all winter here. 

They moved up the driveway to another damp area.

Finally, the flock came to our waterfall where there was plenty of water for them.

I took this photo thru the sliding glass door so it is not too clear.  It seemed like the yellow on the chest was brighter than usual to me.  I have always loved these birds because they look very exotic.