Friday, July 12, 2013

Birds, Butterflies, Bushes and Trees at Leesylvania State Park

Taking two small children for a walk in the woods is not a responsibility I take lightly. Even for a short walk, I carry a small first aid kit, snacks, water, and Herbal Armor, a Deet-free insect repellant in my backpack.

Confident that I had packed what I needed to make the walk a success, we left our car near the park store and started on the Bushey Point Trail that winds along the Potomac River.

The girls didn't have to wait long to pull out their binoculars to look at what might be an Osprey nest at the end of the pier.

Shortly thereafter we used our Pocket Naturalist Guide to identify three butterflies, a Red Spotted Purple brushfoot, a Northern Cloudywing skipper, and an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail perched atop a Buttonbush.

We saw, but did not photograph, a Paw Paw tree, a Sycamore, an Ailanthus tree, and an orange Butterfly Weed flower near the railroad bridge.

In two hours on the Bushey Point trail, I never once felt that I could identify the majority of trees or plants. Just when walking on trail started to feel a bit familiar, adding the task of identifying plants and trees upped the challenge of the walk immensely.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Owl Prowl at Leesylvania State Park

Bedtime got pushed back last night in order to attend our first Owl Prowl at Leesylvania State Park

The girls brought their Dora the Explorer and Barbie headlamps and I brought my Virginia Birds Pocket Naturalist reference pamphlet.

As we climbed the stairs to the amphitheater near the Lee's Woods Trail, the wooden benches, stage, and fireplace came into view. On the mantle behind Ranger Genevieve White were three stuffed owls normally on display at the Visitor Center. 

"Owls are ninjas," she explained. Their wings are serrated, not blunt, so they fly silently.

Screech Owls don't screech but Barn Owls scream like a woman in trouble, thus, making them the source of many ghost stories 

Owls cannot move their eyes but must turn their entire head instead. Owls can turn their head almost to the opposite shoulder when looking behind them. 

Owls have one ear on their chin and their other ear near their temple so that when they fly and look down, their ears are equal distance from their prey, providing depth perception. 

Owls eat their food whole, digest the good stuff, and then spit the rejected food out their front end. If you look at the base of an owl's tree, you will find "pellets" of rejected food.

Owls kills lots of small animals, including cats, by flying off with the animal and dropping it from great height or performing quick surgery with their sharp talons.

Once the sun went down, Ranger Genevieve used her laptop to play owl calls, starting with the smallest bird first (if you call the bigger owls first, the little ones won't come). Two Screech Owls appeared quickly in the trees and started trilling.

The Barred Owl and the Great Horned Owl did not make an appearance despite the recorded calls. Possibly the owls were hiding silently in the trees hoping we brought a cat.

Our next Leesylvania outing might be the Tree Identification Hike on July 17, 2013.