My Dorsey's Knob trail camera photographed all three of West Virginia's wild canine species last night...within a four hour period! These included a coyote, a gray fox and a red fox. Red foxes are generally larger than grays and they have a white tip on the end of their tails. In addition, red foxes also "wear" black "boots." This was the first time that I documented a red fox in the park.
My Big Year is off to a pretty good start. Or at least I think it is. After just six days of searching, I've found 80 different species at Dorsey's Knob Park. I'll be satisfied if I reach 100 species in January.
The unusually mild 60 degree weather that we enjoyed last Saturday provided me with a few bonus species that I didn't expect to get so early in the year. Take for example this Dark Fishing Spider (Dolomedes tenebrosus) that I found crawling on the outside of the Dorsey's Knob Lodge. Most species of fishing spiders stay close to water just as their name suggests. The Dark Fishing Spider is an exception. Not only do they often stray far from water, but they also regularly show up inside people's homes!
The unseasonably mild weather also brought out a few moths over the weekend. More specifically, I found three species of adult moths and a moth caterpillar. This black furry caterpillar below greeted me at my front door one morning. Its one of my favorites, a Giant Leopard Moth (Hypercompe scribonia). People often find these caterpillars while raking leaves during the late fall. They hibernate over the winter and develop into adults the following spring.
During the warm spell, I also photographed a caddisfly, a fly and a harvestman, but I've not yet ID'd them to species...if that's even possible. I'll know soon enough.
I kissed my first species of the year as the clock struck midnight and my Big Year commenced. Now my wife (Homo sapiens) literally is #1 on my list! But with 999 more species to go, I couldn't tarry. And no, I have no intention of kissing them all! Within minutes, I was bundled up and heading out the door into the uncomfortably cold night.
I had recently found two species of owls during the Christmas Bird Count at Dorsey's Knob and I hoped to re-locate them both. The first one was easy. All it took was a short walk in the dark and my best whistled rendition of an Eastern Screech-Owl. Within seconds I had one of the diminutive owls fly in and land perhaps 30 feet away. Screech-Owls nest in tree cavities in the lower elevation wooded portions of the park. Unfortunately, the second owl was a no show. I had been hearing a pair of Great Horned Owls calling off and on for a month. Sometimes they called from within the park while at other times they called from the vicinity of the federal minimum security prison located below the park. I knew the Great Horned Owls would be a long shot because they typically fall silent when they begin to incubate their eggs in early January.
As I walked back toward my home at the Groscup Center, I decided to check for moths at some of the dusk to dawn lights at the Dorsey's Knob Lodge. Bingo! A very cold looking Morning Glory Plume Moth clung motionless to the side of the building. A gentle poke confirmed that it was still alive. Unfortunately, it fled the scene before I obtained a picture. To the right is a photo of one that I took at the park late last year. Who says that you can't find moths when the temperature drops below freezing?
Over the course of the day, I picked up several more species on an incidental basis. Hearing the call of a Northern Cardinal just prior to sunrise was quite pleasant. On the other hand, seeing a White-footed Mouse scamper across my kitchen floor was rather unwelcome. Regardless, they both count equally toward reaching my target of 1000 species in 2015