Wild Ideas: Spring nature events ramping up

A male hooded warbler, similar to the one above, was spotted in Old Hollow last week, either migrating through or staying here to find a mate. Francesco Veronesi via Wikimedia
A male hooded warbler, similar to the one above, was spotted in Old Hollow last week, either migrating through or staying here to find a mate.

Now that spring is in full swing, I have a hard time keeping up with all the fantastic events lined up to enjoy our native species, from wildflower and bird walks to native-plant sales. In the meantime, I’m getting out into the forest as much as work deadlines allow to see and hear what’s happening here where I live, on Oventop Mountain.

I walk one of the easiest, flattest, and shortest trails often several times a day to see what’s blooming, check on Spring Peepers calling, and look for migratory birds flying in and through. In walking down one of the easier trails on the property, dubbed the Spring Road, one fine spring evening I settled into the beat-up iron chair near the end to listen to and watch the surround forest — but mostly just to take a break from work.

As I sat there enjoying the view of the forest which had leafed out considerably, an amazingly bright little bird flitted through the shrubbery in the understory before me looking for food on the ground. Easy to see against the green backdrop, I noted its yellow face surrounded by what looked like a black hoody, this motif running through the rest of its small body.

I knew immediately that it was a spring warbler but wasn’t sure which one. Fortunately, the distinctive markings helped. Although many warblers tend toward the olive-green side with most also sporting yellow a few do have brighter markings that make them stand out, particularly in the breeding season.

A cruise through my bird field guides and apps confirmed that the visitor was a hooded warbler. Although this species does nest here, this particular one apparently was on its way elsewhere, which is often the case with our spring warblers. Despite spending a lot more time out in the chair on the Spring Road, waiting with my camera to try to get his photo, I didn’t see him again.

To make up for this visual deficit, blue-and-black indigo buntings are busy setting up territories, singing from the treetops, along with wood thrushes. I’ve been hearing the haunting song of two of the latter along the Spring Road mornings and evenings.

This is a great time to see spring warblers as they fly through, and the Piedmont Environmental Council is sponsoring two bird walks, one for newbies (May 12), the other for more-experienced birders (May 17). The walks will be at the Jones Nature Preserve, the property of Bruce and Susan Jones, who have done an amazing job of naturalizing it over several decades.

With the naturalized meadows, forest, pond, streams and wetlands, diverse bird species are attracted to the preserve, making it a great place for bird watching. Last weekend Bruce graciously gave me a tour of his spring ephemeral wildflowers — which we hadn’t done in several years — so I could get some photos. We heard, along with several species of songbird, a red-shouldered hawk and a wood duck, and saw hummingbirds feeding on the buckeye shrubs Bruce had planted for that reason.

The yellow ladyslipper, a native orchid rarely seen throughout much of its range, is blooming along Mill Prong Trail, site of Shenandoah National Parks' Wildfower Weekend wildflower walk. Bruce Jones
The yellow ladyslipper, a native orchid rarely seen throughout much of its range, is blooming along Mill Prong Trail, site of Shenandoah National Parks’ Wildfower Weekend wildflower walk.

Next weekend (May 7-8), Shenandoah National Park holds its 30th annual Wildflower Weekend. With various interpretive walks and nature activities planned, this is a great chance to see birds as well as other wildlife and spring ephemeral wildflowers. The recent cool weather has likely slowed the bloom period, so the show should be better than expected after the relatively warm spring.

The two-mile “Wonders of the Mill Prong” walk, led by a Virginia Native Plant Society wildflower expert, is scheduled for both days. Slate Mills resident Robin Williams, who is on the board of the Piedmont Chapter of VNPS, previewed the walk with other VNPS members last weekend. She reported seeing, among other wildflowers, large-flowered trillium, yellow ladyslipper, miterwort, wood betony, rose twisted stalk, marsh-marigold and round-leaved ragwort, and also an “interesting” shrub, leatherwood.

(See below for more information on these events and two plant sales featuring native plants and other activities.)

© 2016 Pam Owen

Nature events

Shenandoah National Park Wildflower Weekend (May 7-8): Join the park for its 30th annual Wildflower Weekend. Learn about and enjoy trillium, ladyslippers, and some of the park’s other 850-plus species of flowering plants, 70 percent of which are native, on wildflower walks led by Virginia Native Plant Society experts. Other walks featuring birds and other wildlife are also scheduled, along with other nature activities. For more information, including a downloadable schedule, go to tinyurl.com/wi-wildflowerweekend.

The blooms of large-flowers trillium, now blooming along Mill Prong Trail, the site of a wildflower walk during Shenandoah National Park's Wildflower Weekend, can turn pink as they age.Pam Owen
The blooms of large-flowers trillium, now blooming along Mill Prong Trail, the site of a wildflower walk during Shenandoah National Park’s Wildflower Weekend, can turn pink as they age.

State Arboretum Garden Fair (May 7-8, 9-4:30): Select vendors offer perennials, native plants, small trees and shrubs, fine items for the garden, food and much more at the arboretum’s 27th annual Garden Fair. Admission $12 per car if paid online before May 4, $15 after; children’s activities, 12-2 both days, free with Garden Fair admission. At Blandy Experimental Farm, 400 Blandy Farm Lane, Boyce. Go to blandy.virginia.edu for more information.

PEC bird walks (May 12 and 17, 7:30 a.m.): The Piedmont Environmental Council is holding bird walks at the Jones Nature Preserve, the property of Rappahannock residents Bruce and Susan Jones, near Washington, VA, during the height of the bird migration. PEC’s Carolyn Sedgwick leads both walks. On the “Birdwatching for Beginners” walk (May 12) learn how to identify backyard birds, even by their song, and the importance of land conservation in preserving birds. No previous birding experience necessary; binoculars provided to those who need them. On May 17 (rain date, May 18), experienced birders are invited to join Carolyn for another walk. No fee for the walks, but registration is required. Contact Carolyn Sedgwick (csedgwick@pecva.org) with questions or sign up at pecva.org/events.

“Naturescaping: Using Native Plants to Create Healthy Landscapes” and Native Plant Sale (May 17, 6:00 p.m.): Janet Davis of Hill House Farm and Nursery shares ideas about adding layers of diversity to gardens and how native plants add enhanced livability to our world. Beckon birds, befriend butterflies and pamper pollinators by incorporating these concepts and plants. Plant sale to follow. Virginia Cooperative Extension Office (24 Pelham St., Warrenton). Free. RSVP to the Fauquier County Master Gardener Help Desk at 540-341-7950, ext. 1, or email helpdesk@fc-mg.org.

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