Late Summer has been unbelievably cool. During the past week (first week of September) the temperature barely reached the 80s. With various happenings to attend at the end of summer, this weekend was the first available for a walk in a few weeks. New construction on the access roads to the park blocked some of the pedestrian walkways but people found a way in to enjoy the weekend trails.
The temperature was perfect for walking. Gentle cool air and sun. There were still signs of the heavy thunderstorms. There were still traces of cascading water on a steep bank of soil facing the trail. Here and there small mushrooms burst out from under the carpet of leaves or peeped out from between tree roots.
Trees have been forming seeds. A birch tree next to a small meadow had beechnuts just starting to open among the leaves. Ripening seed pods looked like strips of brown crinkled paper. Oak leaves and new acorns had fallen to the trail. Leaves were still green, but looking worn with browned edges or transformed by insect damage. Here and there just a few leaves have changed from green into various colors, and late cooling summer had scattered just a handful of green, red or yellow leaves onto the ground and graced the green undergrowth with golden yellow flowers. Bold red berries hung in clusters.
Trees that had fallen during the summer have been cut and removed from the trail. The tangles of brown branches and brown dead leaves look strikingly dark against a backdrop of living green leaves. One large tangle of dead branches and leaves had become the framework for beautiful silky spiderwebs. The webs created a spectacular show of shimmering geometric patterns as sunlight and playful breezes bounced off the delicate webs.
Chipmunks sprinted along logs and shuffled through the dead leaves, stopping to nibble on snacks and eye the trail.
The heavy rains during August had a significant impact on the woods. Visiting one week later, the impacts were visible along the trails. Down along the creek, where it had appeared after the latest storm that the creek had swept onto the trail, the creek bank had completely collapsed into the creek taking large sections of the trail with it. Metal culverts to carrying stream runoff underneath the trail were fully exposed and the sand and soil had eroded from around them. Many more exposed roots, rocks, and loose debris changed the formerly smooth well-trodden path into an obstacle course. The leafy carpet was looking ragged after so many months and so much rain. But mosses and small mushrooms appeared fresh.
Trimming the open trail were starry white flowers framed by three leaves, and sprays of pink flowers. Sunny yellow petals decorated a leafy plant growing in the understory. Tree pods continued to develop and round seed balls had fallen onto the trail.
There were no chipmunks in the woods at that time. Had their ground homes been flooded? Some songbirds could be heard, and of course the ever-present robins hopped and flew along the path.
Bursts of rain a week back carved deep channels into the trail, and formed neatly terraced patterns of debris where the torrents of water found paths of least resistance.
Muddy patches were stamped with foot and paw prints. The sandy trail along the creek was damp, and there were smoothed areas where either the creek had overflowed onto the trail or large amounts of water had washed across the trail into the creek. The creek water was brown and swiftly flowing.
New trees had split and splintered, brought down possibly due to rain or unstable soil.
After the downpours and through the mugginess industrious spiders attended to their webs.
A few weedy ground covers were decorated with tiny flowers.
New green items have appeared on the trees and bushes: nuts, acorns, green balloons, and seed pods. A beech tree had formed brown spiky beechnuts, and an oak had already dropped several green acorns along the path. On trail and branch other green seedy things could be found. The mimosa tree over the creek had lost its pink pompoms and was all green with copious bunches of wide green seed pods maturing among the leaf fronds.
The vines along the creek had traded clusters of tiny white flowers for small green berries transitioning into purple and blue. The berries identify the vine as porcelain-berry.
A few stray yellow and red leaves had dropped onto the trail.
On trail and branch other green seedy things could be found
Porcelain berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata) is described by the Virginia Native Plant Society online as an invasive exotic vine which can overgrow and block sunlight from other species. The berries on the porcelain berry vine stick upwards unlike native grape species on which the grape berries droop downward.
This week’s walk found the woods very damp and waterlogged after heavy rains. The summer has produced a series of surprise thunderstorms, with torrential rain, thunder and lightening. After the storms, the air outside may be cool and breezy, but within the woods the air was completely still, very humid and moldy smelling. These conditions were the delight of all kinds of mushrooms which sprouted and conjured themselves from beneath the leaf litter. This visitor had never seen so many mushrooms. The mushrooms stood tall and short, alone, in clusters, in pairs or trios, with caps of gleaming white, or yellow, red, orange, or purple. So many mushrooms, some appeared to be tiny lanterns colorfully lighting the woods while others arrived as guests for a mid-summer party.
The mushroom tops varied from circular caps to flat or rounded umbrellas. While some were new and round, others had ragged edges or holes chewed in. One set had pointy edges giving them the appearance of sunflowers. One type of mushroom had a puffy white patterned cap like a toasted marshmallow. One small orange capped mushroom appeared to have tiny white stars stamped into its cap. A set of round mushrooms with holes in their center looked like rounded jars nestled into the forest floor. Bright colonies of tiny orange disks crowded inside an old hollowed tree trunk. Along the trail there were also mushrooms which had turned green with mold and appeared to be overtaken by another fungus as the mushroom cap collapsed. Other larger fungus thrived on the damp conditions; a large leafy looking fungus was growing around the base of a tree. The yellow shelves of fungus found a few weeks ago had grown and matured. Tree trunks had populations of fungus growing on them, white scaley fungus growing on the bark, or a black slimy blob fungus clinging to a fallen trunk.
No mushrooms were touched, many varieties are poisonous and best left undisturbed.
The conditions so delightful to the mushroom are not the most comfortable for people, so a relatively short walk was enough to admire this summer fungus party.
May is a busy month in the woods. People too are suddenly busy in May. It’s more of a challenge to take regular walks and organize photos when the month is filled with travel, weddings, friends visiting. These May Chronicles entries are a look back at the walks throughout the month.
First week of May. Rain! A day with light rain can be a wonderful day to walk in the woods, after the springtime leafy canopy has grown in. The tree branches and leaves naturally reach to catch sun rays and fill open spaces at any height, providing incredible coverage over the ground below. The leaves and flower petals are positioned to catch just about every drop of sun, and catch every drop of rain as well. The gentle sounds of rain falling on so many leaves is soft and lovely to hear, instead of the noise of a crowded city. The light is low, not great for taking photos, but fine for a walk. The foliage surfaces are shiny and some bead with raindrops. The sounds of the birds are slightly amplified by all those rainy surfaces, or does it just seem that way?
There had been heavy rains the day before our walk, the trail was waterlogged, and run off had carved channels near the trails. After heavy rains the rivers and creeks turn brown, from erosion of soil from the urban yards and woods. There are a few muddy patches and small streams to cross as we go.
Ground covers have been growing under these conditions of rain, warmer weather, and filtered light.
A male and lady cardinal fly across the trail and were visible singing on a low branch. The ever present robin bobbed along over the wet leaves keeping an eye on us. A chipmunk is spotted running start and stop through the leaves too quickly and too well hidden for a photo.
Two groups of deer drifted through the darkness of the woods chewing mouthfuls of fresh green leaves. They were unhurried, but their eyes watched the trail as they chewed on leaves from fallen branches.
The Conopholis sentry have turned a rusty red color and shrunk back a bit, however still maintaining their posts! The leafy carpet takes on richer hues in this rainy weather, and ferns and moss are glowing green with all the moisture.
A final discovery before returning home, dozens of tiny orange spiders in a nursery web just next to the trail. The light was fading and the only way to get this cozy scene into focus was to use the flash, which created a black background.
A beautiful day in the woods today! Warm temperature, hardly any clouds or wind, and later in the day the warm sunlight backlit new green leaves as if they were jade charms dangling on delicate bracelets.
This week the purple violets and tiny white flowers were the most abundant flowers, decorating the trail’s edge and tucked in and around tree roots.
More green leaves and grasses have grown up since last week in some parts of the woods, and parts of the trail have become more defined as a soft brown suede path surrounded by light green growth.
I heard several woodpeckers and managed to glimpse a flying pileated woodpecker (possibly), and saw a smaller downy or hoary woodpecker through the trees, but they were too fast to be observed for long. Also there were mourning doves calling in the woods, and at one point along the trail I looked up to see a pair resting on a branch just above me, two fluffy doves on a narrow branch. I heard and caught sight of two bright red male cardinals moving about some branches making noise. And at the end of my trip, while wondering what had become of the barred owl we saw three weeks ago, I was searching the branches in the vicinity of that old owl tree, when I suddenly saw this fluffy little owlet perched quite calmly on a branch out in the open. What a cute owlet, casually snoozing as the sun was setting. I wondered if there had been plenty of woodland critters available to feed this owl. And there were still a few squirrels nearby going about their business.
Trout lily leaves have sprouted between the trees along the creek. A few yellow trout lilies have opened! The marsh marigold leaves provide a soft looking ground cover, and this week other plants have grown up through the cover to different shapes and heights.
A bright green iridescent beetle with a long body and bulgy eyes was crawling along the trail and stood still for a second as I peered down at it, then it flew away. Not a familiar sight, I wondered what this insect was doing in the woods (perhaps it wondered the same).
Sunlight shimmered throughout the woods today, spiderwebs outlined in the sun, a stream reflected golden sunlight off its surface, and translucent flowers and leaves gleamed as the sun set behind them. A folded leaf on a low growing plant caught my eye, although I nearly rushed right past. It turned out to be a lone jack in the pulpit, unassumingly growing right next to the trail! Discoveries every week.
If flowers could jump from behind a log and shout SURPRISE!
Tiny flowers call this root nook home
More photos to share throughout the week in separate posts.
It was a beautiful day in the woods yesterday. A blue sky with warm sun and cottony clouds, and gusty winds. The air was cool and fresh, and the woods had the aromas of spring: earth, humid air, and occasional faint flowery scents of pollen.
It was the day after a full day of rain. Although the trail was quite dry and walking was easy, there were signs of additional water in the leaf-filled gullies, and a few muddy spots on the trail.
The Barred Owl was not in his tree this week. I scanned swaying treetops but no sign of him or the hawk along my route.
New greenery arrived on the scene since last week. New green stubble emerged in patches along the forest floor in some places, the ivies are creeping up the trees, and young trees are unfurling their new leaves. Mosses appear glowing green.
Small flowers had popped up along the forest floor. Where last week there were small clusters of flowers, this weekend there are many more clusters and colonies of flowers dotting along the trails and off into the woods filling in around the trees and fallen logs. Yellow marsh marigold and purple periwinkle flowers and newer flowers this week confidently faced the sky. With their delicate petals fully illuminated by the sun, they looked like gems scattered around the woods’ floor.
The small white flowers from last week have appeared and opened more around the woods. And some new plants are here. Purple and green spotted leaves had grown up along the trail near the creek, threading themselves up through the pillowy cover of marsh marigolds. As I knelt to take a closer look, I happened to be looking at a slender stalk with a long yellowish flower bud. It was a type of trout lily. Based on the other spotted leaves emerging, there should be a beautiful show of yellow flowers before too long.
There were several newly emerged green umbrellas which might be Mayapple plants (Podophyllum peltatum). On the embankments next to the trail a fern was sending up new fiddle heads, while some other plants sent out flowers or grass like stalks that released dustings of pollen. Beautiful purple violets have also appeared along the wood floor!
A reminder that things can quickly change in the woods, a great dead tree had fallen across the trail in one location. Perhaps it was related to the heavy rains the day before. Only a very small portion of roots were uprooted, most of the bark from the trunk was knocked off in the fall and some higher branches snapped off. There are many dead trees in the woods which could fall as this one did. As the trail was blocked, we had to walk around this tree and over the crunchy leaves. A bright red mite was crawling on a downed piece of wood nearby.
There were some beautiful bird songs from birds too well hidden to be seen from the trail. At different points along the trail there were different songs; one was sweet and sighing, others were brisk chirps, some bubbly and chattering or complicated melodies, and even the clucking of the squirrels on lookout for travelers coming down the trail.
One small fluffy bird looked like a chipmunk from a distance and sat on a log for a while looking back. It must have been a type of sparrow, with a rusty colored back and wing and a long white stripe over its eye. A pair of slate blue and grey birds skipped about high in the tree tops.
I heard what sounded like a loud knocking on a door and looked up to see a busy woodpecker making its way up a tree branch and tirelessly working an angle to find snacks. Due to the red coloring on its head from beak to neck, white belly and black and white markings on its back, it appeared to be a red-bellied woodpecker.
With another few days of sun, the woods will continue to add even more brilliant jewel colors. Photos from this weekend walk will be posted throughout the week. So, until next week, enjoy!
Erythronium americanum – trout lily
Centurus carolinus – red bellied woodpecker. According to the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, this woodpecker eats insects, beechnuts, acorns, and habitually stores food.
Trombidioidea – Red Velvet Mite. According to the online sites InsectIdentification and Whats That Bug, the Red Velvet Mites feed on insects and larva and often emerge after a rain.
The day after heavy rains, water has returned to the woods
Yesterday’s walk, I brought my camera, hoping to spot the barred owl again this week. The weather was warm, in the 70s and humid, and a mid-day walk was quite warm, no shade in the woods at this time of year.
Amazingly, our barred owl was perched in the same hidden spot we found him the week before, sleepily resting in his tree. I quickly and quietly captured a few photos using my Coolpix point and shoot. Here is a shot of the tree without any zoom, along with some close ups using the full zoom. This owl was observing me again this week, didn’t budge. I will make sure to look for him there again.
While observing the owl, we saw a hawk flying in the distance and out of sight. It wasn’t until further down the path and almost out of the wood altogether that I happened to see this Cooper’s Hawk perched nice and tall on a low tree branch surveying the ground below. It stood still while I took a few photos.
These two birds of prey were the highlights of the walk. Photos of other birds and plants from this same walk will be shared in a separate post.