I recently came across these images of a couple of interpretive orientation panels that I created while working as Director of Education at Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village, which is located in Washington County, Pennsylvania. I wrote the text, did the photography and made arrangements with artists John Buxton and Mark Kelly to feature their artwork. The graphic design was done at the Senator John Heinz History Center and the fabrication of the panels was done by Pannier Graphics located in Gibsonia, PA. Pannier's newsletter article on the Meadowcroft project can be seen here.
The panels are located just outside of the two outdoor interpretive areas that I curated while working at Meadowcroft. The first panel introduces visitors to a recreated circa 1570s Monongahela Culture Indian village. The second panel orients visitors to a recreated 1770s style open-faced shelter that serves as a trading post and the log cabin home of an American Indian family. The panels and interpretive areas explore these two formative periods of time from the perspective of environmental history.
Last week I photographed this Lithophane pexata, Plush-naped Pinion Moth, at Dorsey's Knob Park in Morgantown, WV. I don't know for sure, but this may be a first record of it being documented in the state. This is actually a species of the Northeast and eastern Canada where it frequents bogs and relies on alder as a host plant. I can't help but suspect that L. pexata also inhabits the high elevation bogs around Canaan Valley, Cranesville Swamp and perhaps Cranberry Glades.
It took over a decade, but I have now finally seen a Snow Goose in Monongalia County! I first received word of this goose while working at Dorsey's Knob Park on March 1st, While on break, I casually checked the WV-Bird listserv and noted with great interest that Terry Bronson had found a young Snow Goose grazing with a flock of Canada Geese in a pasture on Cobun Creek Road. Even though the goose was only a couple of miles away from me, I was stuck at work and didn't have access to my car.
The following day, Mike Slaven texted to let me know that he had just seen the Snow Goose. I was surprised that it was still around and I jumped at Mike's generous offer to pick me up and show it to me. This Snow Goose is my 207th species of bird in Monongalia County.
I'm getting excited because the month of March is finally here and that means the return of moths and butterflies! Actually, I've been finding very modest numbers of moths throughout this past January and February. I've found 18 moth species to be exact. I identified 17 species and was stumped by a small micromoth, which I collected and will hopefully work out the ID later.
Tonight at the dusk to dawn lights at Dorsey's Knob Park, I found Spring Cankerworm (5), Dowdy Pinion (1), Toothed Phigalia (1) Aurora Semioscopis (1) and my magical mystery micromoth. The Aurora Semioscopsis was a new species for the year.
The mild weather continued in Morgantown, WV today with a high temperature reaching the mid-50s. Although there is a full moon tonight (which discourages moths from flying), at least a few early season moths showed up at the dusk to dawn lights at Dorsey's Knob Park.
The lights attracted one each of four different species. They included a Spring Cankerworm, a Small Phigalia, a Dowdy Pinion and my first Green Cloverworm of the year.
In addition to the moths, I also spotted a Canadian Nightcrawler, Lumbricus terrestris, sticking his head out of ground tonight. Or at least I'm guessing it was his head. The funny thing about Canadian Nightcrawlers is that not only are they not native to West Virginia, but they are also not native to Canada. They are actually an introduced European species!
Some unseasonably mild weather graced the Mountain State today as afternoon temperatures soared to 73 degrees. Throughout the day I hoped that the combined warm weather, still winds and absence of rain would add up to a few moths being attracted to the dusk to dawn lights tonight.
So....between 6:30 and 8:00 pm, I kept a watchful eye on the various dusk to dawn lights at Dorsey's Knob Park where I both work and live. I only got three species tonight, but one of them was a lifer! Three-spotted Sallow Hodges #9935
I had the day off from work today so after completing a couple of morning errands, I went out to look for gulls on the Monongahela River. My first destination was Barril Riverfront Park in Star City. Just as I suspected, the recent persistent rain and melting snow had left the river high and muddy. The resident Mallards struggled to keep from getting washed downstream by the fast flowing water whenever they ventured from shore. The nine or so of Ring-billed Gulls, on the other hand, seemed to be enjoying the high muddy water because of all the food bits and other possibly debris it contained. They would sortie out, look for food and then return to either the dock or a tall lamp post to rest. Ring-billed Gulls are the most common gull species seen in West Virginia.
After watching the Ring-billed Gulls for awhile, I walked north on the Mon River Trail, which conveniently runs adjacent to the river. This section of the trail is often icy during the winter and today was no exception.
I explored almost two miles of the river, but found only a few additional gulls including a large adult Herring Gull. Herring Gulls are the second most common gull species seen around the Morgantown area. This one was sitting on the opposite shore beside a Ring-billed Gull, which made for a nice size comparison. Note the pink legs of the Herring Gull and the yellow legs of a Ring-billed Gull.
Shortly after finding the Herring Gull, I turned around and headed back to the car. Even though I did not find any rare gulls on today's excursion, I was happy with what I did find. It was a good day to be on the river.
The coldest temperatures of the winter descended upon the Mountain State this weekend. Morgantown saw a morning temperature of -2 degrees F at sunrise today. Six inches of snow already blankets the ground and more snow is forecast for tonight. I'm sorry to say that it sure looks like Punxsutawney Phil may have botched his prediction of an early spring.
In any event, I spent some time today actually trying to compile a comprehensive list of butterfly species that I have seen in West Virginia. At least for awhile, my mind abandoned the cold present to revisit springs and summers gone by with their fluttering butterflies and colorful fields of blooming flowers. I had never before really put much thought into listing butterflies and I certainly had never specifically seeked them out just to add them to a list. Somewhat surprisingly, when the tallying was done, I found that I have seen a modest 34 species of butterflies in West Virginia. That leaves me with 100 or so additional species that I have not yet seen in the state.
In the interest of spreading the illusion that spring has arrived, here are some photographs that I added to my WV Pan-species Lists today.
I've experienced a string of bad luck in my recent endeavors to see a Snow Goose in West Virginia. In December, I chased a reported possible Snow Goose at Cheat Lake Park near Morgantown, but it turned out to be a weird white domestic goose of some sort. Strike one! Then in January, I chased another reported Snow Goose near Morgantown, but it turned out to actually be a hybrid Snow x Ross's Goose. Strike two!
Then earlier this week my fortunes changed for the better when my birding friend Mike alerted me to the fact that a Ross's Goose had just been discovered at Pruntytown Wildlife Management Area in Taylor County. Ross's Geese are even more rare in West Virginia than Snow Geese. The next morning, Mike and I set out to chase this wild goose hoping that this would not become yet another wild goose chase.
The fact that Pruntytown WMA exists in four separate tracts presented us with a small challenge because all we knew was that the Ross's was associating with a flock of 75 Canada Geese in a grassy field. That could be any of the tracts! So we decided to be methodical. The first tract that we checked was at the Taylor County fairgrounds. A quick drive through the fairgrounds property produced a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks and an American Kestrel, but no flock of geese.
Next up was the Lost Run tract located at the intersection of routes 50 and 250. Before we even pulled in to the parking area, we spotted a white goose standing out in the field with a flock of Canada Geese. Ka-Ching! We had our Ross's Goose. Within a few minutes we had parked Mike's new Jeep, studied the bird through our scopes and begun to take pictures.
As I was searching for the Ross's Goose in my camera view finder, I chanced upon a blue color morph Snow Goose mixed in with the flock of Canada Geese. Ka-Ching again! I had previously seen white Snow Geese in West Virginia, but this was my first blue Snow Goose for the state. My Snow Goose drought had finally come to a glorious ending.
A somewhat unusual white goose has showed up in a farmer's cow pasture just outside of Morgantown. I saw the goose very briefly yesterday and initially thought it was a Snow Goose. This morning I returned to the site armed with my binoculars, scope and camera. Now having had a better look, I agree with other observers that this bird is likely a hybrid between a Snow Goose and a Ross's Goose.
The features that I really keyed in on were the head shape and the bill. Consider the crown of the head. On a Ross's Goose, the crown is rounded while on a Snow Goose or hybrid, the crown is more elongated. I would say that this bird has an elongated head shape.
Now look at the bill. The bill appears to be intermediate between a Snow Goose and a Ross's Goose. It lacks the "grin patch" typical of most Snow Geese. It has blue coloration near the base of the bill like a Ross's Goose. And the transition between the back of the bill and the facial feathers is vertical like a Ross's Goose. In addition, the bill proportions seem slightly longer and shorter than what is typically seen on a Ross's Goose. These intermediate bill features once again suggest a hybrid.
But just because this bird is a hybrid doesn't mean that it's parents were a pure Snow Goose and a pure Ross's Goose. This bird could very well be a backcross, which means that one of its parents was itself a hybrid. Whether this is the case, I don't know. But what I do know is that studying this bird and reading about hybridization between Snow Geese and Ross's Geese has been a real learning experience.