Wild Ideas: A wild, wonderful week ahead for nature lovers   

As spring peaks, options for enjoying the season out in nature abound. One of the biggest nearby events is Shenandoah National Park’s annual Wildflower Weekend. Walks, talks and other activities will be happening all over the park, led by park staff, master naturalists, master gardeners, Virginia Native Plant Society members and other guest experts. I know most of the activity leaders, and they really know their stuff.

By Mike’s Birds via Wikimedia
The scarlet tanager might be one of the species encountered on the bird walk in Shenandoah National Park’s Wildflower Weekend.

Saturday, May 6

Hikes: Starting Saturday, from the North District (entrance at Front Royal) south into the Central District are hikes that feature spring ephemeral wildflowers, along with perhaps some wildlife. Rock outcrops and the habitat they provide are featured in the “Stony Man ‘Rocks’” hike (mile 41.7, at Skyland turnoff), which is up to one of the most famous (and popular) rock outcrops in the park; learn about the wildlife habitat there.

Or try the new Crescent Rock Trail to the Limberlost hike (mile 44.4), a 1.5-mile descent with a van at the bottom to take drivers back to their cars. Since this is a new trail, it should be an adventure for spring-wildflower seekers. I was just up on the Limberlost Trail, and saw several wildflower species, along with deer, chipmunks, American Redstarts and Eastern Towhees.

A hike up Hawksbill Mountain (mile 45.6), the highest peak in the park, should also provide opportunities to see spring wildflowers, and even more should be along the Mill Prong Trail (mile 52.4, just past Big Meadows). Last year, according to Virginia Native Plant Society members who helped with the hike, flowers spotted included large-flowered trillium, lady slippers, marsh marigold, miterwort, rose twisted stalk, Canada mayflower, wood betony, many violets, native buttercups, wake robin, lettuce saxifrage and turtlehead, along with 13 species of ferns.

Photo by Pam Owen
Hikes coming up soon feature spring ephemeral wildflowers, such as these large-flowered trillium (above) and maybe this showy orchis (below).
Photo by Pam Owen

Another hike offering views to Bearfence Mountain (mile 56.8), which should also feature spring irises, birdfoot violets and other wildflowers. Early saxifrage, rue anemone and showy orchis should be among the wildflowers found on a hike to South River Falls (62.5), which may also have some interesting birds.

Other activities: If you feel like taking a break from hiking, enjoy “Spring Wildflowers for Future Generations,” a talk on what wildflowers may pop up in the park this spring and how they, along with insects and other fauna, might be affected by climate change. Or take the “Botanical Art Workshop (repeats on Sunday) to “Learn a few botany basics, pick up tips on observation and composition, then sketch and use watercolors to paint what you see,” according to the event schedule.

Sunday, May 7

Hikes: The “Snead Farm Loop Hike” (mile 4.7) offers wildflowers and an easy hike through a former apple orchard and home site. The “Passamaquoddy Loop Hike” (mile 41.7) will give wildflower lovers the chance to look for moss phlox, trillium and more wildflowers along the Appalachian Trail to Little Stony Man Cliffs and the Passamaquoddy Trail and also offers great views of the Shenandoah Valley. Or see diverse native woodland flowers on a gentle section of the Appalachian Trail near the Lewis Mountain picnic area (mile 57.2).

If birds are your thing, try the “Spring Birds of Pocosin” hike (59.5), where you might see a few migrants, including cerulean warblers and scarlet tanagers, along with a few wildflowers along the way. Park ecologist Alan Williams leads this hike, and having been on bird walks with Alan, I’m always amazed at how well he can identify birds by sound.

Repeated on Sunday are also the Hawksbill hike (“Hike to the Highest Peak) and the “Botanical Art Workshop.” Go to tinyurl.com/wi-wildflower-weekend for more details and to download the full schedule.

© 2017 Pam Owen

Other spring nature events

“Woods and Wildflowers” class (Thursdays, May 4-June 8, 6-8 p.m.): Join Carrie Blair to explore the flora of Virginia at this four-week Earth Village Education class. See more information at earthvillageeducation.org.

VNPS spring wildflower walk (May 7, 1 p.m.): Join the Piedmont VNPS chapter to see abundant large-flowered trilliums and other spring flora at Thompson Wildlife Management Area, near Linden. Go to vnps.org/events for more information.

Second Wednesday Bird Walk (May 10, 8-11 a.m.): Join local birder Todd Day for Environmental Studies on the Piedmont’s monthly walk to explore the field station in search of birds. The field station, north of Warrenton, offers diverse habitat (fields, scrubland, wetlands and woods) and the chance to see a large variety of year-round and summer resident species, along with a few lingering migrants. Novice and experienced birders are welcome. Space is limited to 10, so RSVP to sgarvin@envstudies.org.

Garden Fair (May 12-14): Featuring native plants for sale, this fair is at Blandy Experimental Farm, 400 Blandy Farm Ln, Boyce (for more information, go to tinyurl.com/wi-gardenfair).

Trees of the Northern Piedmont (May 13, 1-4 p.m.): Native trees provide food, shelter or both for myriad vertebrate and invertebrate species. Learn about trees in our area and how to identify local species using a dichotomous key. Also at Environmental Studies on the Piedmont. RSVP requested: email sgarvin@envstudies.org.

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