Seasons of West Virginia

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Seasons of West Virginia Powered By Docstoc
					 Seasons of
West Virginia

  Norma Jean Venable
       Appreciation is expressed to...

Edmond B. Collins, WVU Extension Service division director,
for administrative support for the natural
resources publications;

Joyce Bower, Extension Service publications specialist, for

Brandon R. Vallorani, Extension Service graphic designer, for
layout and design.

Illustrations are taken from the following booklets written by
Norma Jean Venable: birds from Guide to Common Birds of West Virginia,
Diane Stirrat, artist; wildlife from West Virginia Wildlife, Ann Payne, artist; dragonflies from Dragonflies,
Diane Stirrat, artist; and twigs from Winter Botany, Diane Stirrat, artist.

Poetry is taken from Amanita by Norma Jean Venable, Dunkard Ridge Press, 1989.

About the Author
Norma Jean Venable is a retired natural resources specialist with the WVU Extension Service and author of the
publications in the Natural Resources Series.
Late Winter & Spring ...................................... 3
           Out with the Owls ..........................................................................................3
           Frogs, Foxes, & Feathers ...............................................................................5
           Early Risers ................................................................................................. 9
           Trees, Trilliums, & Trills ..............................................................................12
           Green Grow the Grasses ................................................................................15

Summer ............................................................ 9
           Jaunt into June ................................................................................................19
           Brimming with Birds .....................................................................................20
           For Snake’s Sake............................................................................................28
           Nightlife .........................................................................................................30
           Plants in Your Path ........................................................................................33
           Tale of a Turtle...............................................................................................36
           Buckets of Muckets........................................................................................37

Autumn............................................................. 41
           Bushy-Tails and Woolly Bears ...................................................................... 41
           Tabby’s Tidbits .............................................................................................. 44
           Dancing Dragonflies ...................................................................................... 47
           Autumn Wings ............................................................................................... 50
           Saucy Sumacs ................................................................................................ 52

Winter............................................................... 55
           Berry at the Beak............................................................................................ 55
           Feathers from Afar......................................................................................... 58
           Wig on a Twig................................................................................................ 60
           Sleeping Snow................................................................................................ 62

References .................................................................................................................. 64
Late Winter
   & Spring
Out with the Owls
                                       Mountain State, you will learn
                                       that although the calendar says it
                                       is still deep winter, already some
                                       animals are preparing for the
                                       coming spring.
               Silly owl,

    booming that strange owl song      You begin your tour of West
                                       Virginia’s seasons with a quiet
      what have you got to say         evening walk on a snow-clad
                                       path in a shadowy wood. It is
      that can’t be said by day?
                                       that magical time between
               Silly owl,              sunset and twilight, when the
                                       trees cast cobwebby blue
      I would make fun of you-         shadows on the evening snow.
                                       It is still, perfectly quiet,
    except I’m sitting out here too.
                                       except for the whisper of a
                                       warm south wind passing
                                       among the trees melting the
On a clear night in late January,
                                       snow, bringing a faint hint
the mountains and valleys of
                                       of the spring to come.
West Virginia are sleeping under
                                       You can hear the sound
a soft cover of snow.
                                       of the snow melting,
                                       and you can hear that
Spring with its scent of flowers
                                       the water in the little
and song of birds seems to be a
                                       creek is running free of
far world away.
But tonight, as you begin your
                                       From deep in the woods,
tour through the seasons in the
                                       you hear a low-pitched,
                                       haunting “hooo, hooo,” soon          bonding behavior very
                                       followed by a similar but lower      early in the year, often in January,
                                       pitched “hooo, hooo.” The            calling to each other and renewing
                                       sonorous sounds are the calls of a   the rites of courtship and nesting,
                                       pair of great horned owls. You are
                                       hearing one of the first signs of    Because nesting begins so early,
                                       the coming spring: owl music.        the parent owls may be sifting on
                                                                            a nest covered with late winter
                                       With a wingspan of 5 feet and        snow. Both male and female share
                                       body length of 2 feet, and an        incubation duties, which last
                                       appetite that includes skunks,       about a month.
                                       rabbits, and snakes, great horned
                                       owls are one of West Virginia’s      Nesting probably begins this early
                                       most predatory birds. They are       in the year so the young owls can
                                       also the state’s earliest nesting    get a good start in life and have
                                       birds.                               enough time to hone their hunting
                                                                            skills so they will be adept
                                       Great horned owls, easily            hunters ready to start life on their
                                       recognizable with their noticeable   own by summer’s end.
                                       ear tufts and white throat patch,
                                       mate for life and begin pair
Once you have heard a pair of         Other kinds of owls living in
horned owls calling, you might        West Virginia, including the             Screech owls also are fairly
want to return to your wooded         barred owl, also begin nesting           common in the state’s woods.
path at various times in the spring   early in the year.                       Their call is not really a screech,
to see if the owls are raising a                                               but a plaintive trill or whinny.
family. You sometimes can locate      Barred owls are similar in size to       Screech owls come in two colors-
young birds by their eerie-           horned owls, but lack the ear            gray and dark red. The screech
sounding food-begging calls,          tufts. Their plumage is gray-            owl is small, about 10 inches long
which alert you to the presence of    brown, spotted and barred with           with a 2-foot wingspan. Screech
an owl family.                        buff-tan, the feature that gives this    owls nest in tree cavities. As you
                                      owl its name.                            walk through the woods, you
Great horned owls eat a variety of                                             might want to keep an eye out for
critters-whatever they                        Barred owls have a distinct      these cavities where owls might
can catch. After a meal,                      series of hoots that             set up housekeeping. Courtship
the owls disgo rge the                         translate into ‘who cooks       and nesting begin In February.
undigested fur and bones                        for you, ahh.’ This            Their culinary choices of mice,
in the form of a pellet,                          unmistakable call            spiders, cockroaches, cutworms,
often with the skeleton                              easily identifies the     chipmunks, and rats make them
intact. You can find                                     big bird. Barred      welcome visitors in wooded areas
pellets under                                            owls are not          around the home.
trees where the owls                                   strictly night birds,
roost. (Owls,                                        but sometimes hunt        Owls, subject of many a myth and
hawks,                                             in the late afternoon.      legend of the night, are
                                                     They prefer to live       fascinating creatures. As you
                                                         in deep woods,        begin your tour of West
                                                         but may hunt in       Virginia’s natural history through
herons, and other birds leave         more open areas. Mice, rabbits,          the seasons, you will find few
pellets. You need to check around     opossums, shrews, snakes, snails,        activities more exciting than an
to see the kinds of birds are in      beetles, smaller owls, and               owl-prowl and a night ‘out with
your vicinity.)                       sometimes fish are all on the            the owls.’
                                      barred owl’s menu. Courtship
Great horned owls nest                may begin in January or February,
throughout West Virginia,             and eggs usually are laid by
preferring to live in woods and       February.
forests where they can find plenty
to eat.
Frogs, Foxes,
& Feathers
                                      Whatever made the cacophony of
                                      calls - it was not ducks.                                              5
                                                                            eggs in globular masses 3 inches
Snow still whitens the night earth.   You wait several minutes by the       in diameter. Masses, attached to
But it is warm-and at almost 60       pond, and there is a splash-a frog    stems under the water’s surface,
degrees; this is among the first      jumps to the water’s surface.         often contain several thousand
warm nights of late winter.           After a while, more frogs surface     eggs. In two to three weeks, the
                                      and float on top of the water. The    eggs hatch into tadpoles, which
                                      frogs resume their duck-like,         by fall become frogs hopping
                                      quacking noises. You realize they     about the woods in daytime eating
                                               are wood frogs. These        insects, mites, and snails. Wood
                                                   very shy creatures       frogs live throughout West
                                      usually dive under the water and      Virginia.
                                      hide when anyone approaches
                                      them, resurfacing after a few         You take another quick glance at
                                      minutes.                              the wood frogs, and know that if
                                                                            the weather stays warm for
                                      Wood frogs, medium-sized at 3         another day or so, the first balmy
                                      inches long, have a black mask        late February night will be redo-
  You put on your hat and coat,       from eye to eye, that makes them      lent with the calls of spring
because the night air is warm but     look like raccoons of the frog        peepers. The high-pitched calls of
rather damp, and walk along a         world. They are pale or tan- gray     the peepers, ear-splitting if you
wooded road, your boots making        but can have a pinkish cast; they     are close, carry for a long way
squashy sounds in the soft, slushy    have a white line above the lip.      over a mountain valley. Only the
snow.                                                                       size of a quarter, spring peepers
                                      Many amphibians, including            have an X-shaped mark on their
From the direction of a small         frogs, toads, and salamanders, are    backs,
pond along the road, you              terrestrial dwellers most of the      They are tree frogs, adapted for
suddenly hear a chorus of strange     year, but                             climbing; their toes have disk- like
noises that sounds like the           return to                                       suction structures to help
quacking of mallard ducks.            water to                                             them cling to
                                      mate and                                               smooth surfaces.
Deciding to investigate the source    deposit                                                   Their singly laid
of these strange sounds, you hurry    eggs. Wood                                                 eggs are
along the path. Your way is           frogs are among                                               attached to
lighted by the pale light of the      the first of these                                             plant stems
winter moon on the snow, making       animals to                                                  on the pond
the woods glow as if lit by pale      begin the                                               bottom.
fire.                                 rebirth and                                         Occasionally, males
                                      renewal                                         will call during summer
The intensity of the strange volley   processes in                                and fall. Spring peepers are
of quacking sounds increases as       very early spring. Sometimes            found throughout the state,
you reach the pond, but when you      wood frogs appear in ponds that       eating ants, spiders, and beetles.
arrive the calls cease. The little    still have ice. They can be heard
pond lies before you, mirror still    croaking during the day as well as    You turn away from the pond,
and silent in the moonlight.          at night.                             notice a snowy meadow, and you
                                                                            walk there to see if there are
                                      Males gather to utter distinctive
                                      calls to attract mates. Females lay
traces of animal tracks. As you         devoted parents, taking good care
approach the snowy area, you see        of their family. Family ties are                       FOX
a line of dog-size tracks going         broken in August when the young
straight across the snow, like a        foxes go on their own. Foxes have        Piquant, prickly as pine needles,
series of periods placed in a           a varied cuisine: mice, rabbits,
                                                                                 spritely, shrewd, sharp as spruce
straight line. The snow is so soft,     grapes, apples, birds, and turtles
the exact imprint is not clear, but     and their eggs. Culinary
the straight line tells you these are   diversity and a fox’s ability
the tracks of a red fox, out for a      to survive on anything from
trot in the moonlight. Up in the        remains of fried chicken to
woods, you hear distinct barking,       mice and berries help
and you realize it is the male dog      explain its success. The red
fox barking to attract the vixen, or    fox is a survivor and is
female fox. The dog fox and the         common in West Virginia.              fascinating, as fragrant
vixen mate only once a year, and                                                                  fir.
are thought to mate for life. Life      Foxhunting has been done in                        Red fox, run,
for a fox may be very short, so the     West Virginia-one way or an-
survivor may have several mates.        other. In the early 1900s, when         dart among and confer with conifer.
                                        there were farms and open land to
Some 50 days after foxes have           hunt in and rail fences were             Weave in and out of orbs of light
mated, 4 to 10 fox pups come into       common, it was quite a sight to                spun by shade and sun
the world. Born blind and deaf,         see foxhunters on swift steeds and
with chunky bodies and round            baying hounds chasing foxes.                  I know you will think
snouts, they do not resemble            However, when farming
grown foxes. When they are 5            decreased, the state grew up in             how soon your race is done.
weeks old, fox cubs come to the         woodlands, and old mountaineers,
den to look out, and you make a         always resourceful, traded in their
mental note to return at that time      horses for trucks. On a dark night,
and hope for a glimpse of the           they parked the trucks, opened the    Not far from the fox tracks, the
frolicking cubs. A fox den is often     back, and out bounded a dozen         moonlight shines on other signs
a remodeled woodchuck burrow            yelping hounds, off to chase          of the presence of wildlife-a set of
in a wooded slope or open field.        foxes. Meanwhile the                  raccoon tracks. The back- foot
The youngsters are an attractive        mountaineers, snacks and spirits      tracks look a little like the
sight, tumbling and rolling in          in hand climbed the nearest hill to   impression of a child’s foot. The
play. The vixen and dog fox are         spend the night around their          tracks head in the direction of a
                                        campfire, listening to the hounds     stream, where the raccoon foraged
                                        baying, as fox and hounds             for crayfish and stream life.
                                            coursed the ‘hollers’ of West     Raccoons sleep during bad winter
                                             Virginia.                        weather, but are not true
                                                                              hibernators. They begin to wander
                                                                              about on warm nights in late
                                                                              winter and begin mating in
                                                                              February. Sometimes you can
                                                                              hear them squabbling and
                                                                              quarreling, and you know that
                                                                              soon there will be another
                                                                              raccoon family.
You can see also up in the woods
where the earth has been torn up
and trampled-here is where a          wingspan. The body shape is
flock of wild turkeys scratched up    chunky-short and heavy-with a
the dirt in search of grubs or        short, thick neck and large head.
insect larvae, a tasty meal for       The large eyes are set well back
turkeys. A large, dark turkey         and high on the sides of the head
feather flutters across the winter-   to let the bird look all around,
white earth.                          behind, and above, while it looks
                                      for food. Plumage is mottled
You are about to start home,          russet and brown.
when you hear unusual sounds
coming from a wet meadow near         The woodcock’s brain is unique
the pond. You walk over to            among birds, because in a sense it
investigate, and you hear a low       is upside down. Its cerebellum,
nasal call that sounds like           which controls muscle
‘peeent.’ Then you hear one of        coordination and body balance, is
nature’s most beautiful sounds: a     in a ventral position above the
trilling whistling sound, like wind   spinal column. In most birds, the
playing on the strings of a wild      cerebellum occupies the rear of
harp. You are listening to the        the skull. One theory suggests that
courting songs of a bird known as     as the woodcock evolved, the
the American woodcock.                eyes moved back in the skull, the
                                      bill lengthened, and the nostrils
The woodcock is a strange little      approached the base of the bill-
bird with big eyes and a bill that    adaptations that permitted ground
looks too long for its body.          probing. As a result, the brain was
Woodcocks are active at dusk,         forced back.
night, and dawn, using their long
bill to probe rich soil for
earthworms, a favorite food.
Sensitive nerve endings in the
lower third of the bill help a
woodcock to locate earthworms.
A special bone- muscle
arrangement lets the bird open the
tip of its upper bill while it is
underground. The long tongue
and the underside of the bill are
both rough-surfaced to grasp and
pull slippery prey out of the

Also known as timberdoodle,
night partridge, big-eye,
bogsucker, and mudsnipe, the
woodcock has other parts as
amazing as its bill. A woodcock is
about a foot long, with a standing
height of 5 inches and a 20- inch
Woodcock are migratory, and            Favored nesting habitat includes
while a few may remain in West         damp woods near water, hillsides
Virginia during the winter, most       above moist bottomlands, old         in the fall, woodcock migrate,
spend the cold months in Florida,      fields with low ground cover,        flying low during the night and
Texas, and the Carolinas.              brier patches, edges of shrub        resting and feeding during the
Woodcock begin returning to the        thickets, and young conifer          day.
state in February and March,           stands. There may be little
when they start courtship.             overhead cover or up to 50 feet of   Habitat requirements for
                                       vegetation.                          woodcock change throughout the
Woodcock are quite vocal during                                             year. In spring, they need areas
the mating season, with at least 10    A typical timberdoodle nest is a     for courtship and nesting, and
separate calls, including the nasal,   slight depression on the ground in   males need singing grounds.
buzzing ‘peeent’ call you just         dead leaves. Some nests are          Females nest and raise broods
heard.                                 rimmed with twigs or lined with      near breeding grounds. Good
                                       pine needles. A female lays one      cover includes thickets, conifers,
The flight song-a series of liquid,    egg a day until she completes the    and brushy fields.
gurgling chirps- is sounded on the     normal clutch of four. Incubation
wing by a male trying to attract a     takes 19-22 days beginning after     The flight song of the woodcock
mate. When woodcock flush from         the last egg is laid; so all eggs    is one of nature’s marvels, and
the ground, air passing through        receive equal incubation and         birders ‘flock’ to wetlands to hear
the rapidly beating wing primaries     hatch at the same time.              the timberdoodles.
produces the trilling or whistling
sound that you just heard. The         Eggs split lengthwise (unique        Again you hear the croaking of
birds usually flutter up out of        among birds) as the chicks           frogs and the barking of foxes-
cover, level off, and fly from 10      emerge. Chicks can leave the nest    yes, it’s that time of year in late
to several hundred yards before        a few hours after hatching. They     January, February, and March to
settling down.                         grow rapidly and can fly at 2        walk the winter woods in search
                                       weeks old. As temperatures drop      of frogs, foxes, and feathers.
                                        The bright yellow flowers,
Early Risers
               Many people
                                        prominent in March and April, do
                                        not appear the rest of the year,
                                        unlike dandelions that can be
                                        found in bloom at almost any
                                                                              them from view, looking like a
                associate spring
                                        time. Coltsfoot, which spreads        strange curved horn growing out
                 with West
                                        rapidly, gets its name because the    of the ground. The pale green,
                 Virginia’s lovely
                                        leaf shape looks like a horse’s       heavily clustered leaves growing
                  spring wild-
                                        hoof. The large, heart-shaped,        to 2 feet tall appear after the
                   flowers. Perhaps
                                        white-woolly leaves come up           flowers.
                    you are one of
                                        after the flowers and are
                     those lucky
                                        conspicuous throughout the            Skunk cabbage actua lly produces
                      folks who
                                        summer. The Latin name (genus         its own heat to help it grow
                       eagerly await
                                        Tussilago) signifies cough plant.     during cold temperatures. In short
                        the beauty
                                        At one time the plant was             bursts of intense metabolism,
                                        regarded as a cough remedy. The       skunk cabbage heats its flowers
                                        fuzz on the leaves was used for       up to 30 degrees above the air
                              of the
                                        pillow stuffing.                      temperature, actually allowing the
                                                                              plant to melt its way through the
spring wildflowers growing up
                                        Another very early wildflower         snow. With the hood acting as
from the winter earth. Some of
                                        grows in wet places throughout        insulation, the flowers inside the
the wildflowers are ‘early
                                        the state, especially in mountain     hood are warm. Plants do some
Risers,’ appearing just a few
                                        areas.                                amazing things.
warm days after a snowfall, or
even during a late snow.
                                        This is skunk cabbage-the name
Sometimes the early flowers seem
                                        comes from its unpleasant odor,
as anxious for the coming of
                                        which you discover if you crush
spring as their human watchers.
                                        the leaves. The odor is attractive
                                        to pollinating flies. Skunk
A warm day in March is a good
                                        cabbage is a member of the Arum
time to look for an early
                                        family, which includes jack- in-
wildflower that grows along many
                                        the-pulpit and sweet flag. A spike
roadsides, fields, and forest edges
                                        of flowers, the spadix, surrounded
throughout the state: coltsfoot.
                                        by a leaf- like bract, and the
Coltsfoot resembles a dandelion,
                                        spathe, characterizes members of
to which it is related. However,
                                        this plant family. Skunk cabbage
coltsfoot’s bright yellow circular
                                        grows in shallow water and wet,
disk of flowers appears before its
                                        soggy places. It blooms as early
fuzzy leaves. When you first see
                                        as February, sometimes when ice
coltsfoot in the very early spring
                                        is still on the ground. The small
the flowers look like scattered
                                        white flowers are in a hood-
dabs of yellow sunshine growing
                                        shaped structure (spathe), which
on an otherwise still winter earth.
                                        is light green streaked with
                                        purple-brown, usually growing in
A native of Europe, coltsfoot first
                                        the mud. What you will see when
began appearing and spreading
                                        you seek skunk cabbage is the
throughout the state in the 1930s,
                                        purplish shell- like spathe curling
growing profusely in barren soil
                                        round the tiny flowers, hiding
and waste places.
10                                     Hepatica grows in dry, open
                                       woods and the hairy flower buds
                                                                             are 3-lobed at the tip, very thin
                                                                             and delicate. This plant and the
                                                                             related wood anemone are also
                                          may appear in mid-March. The       called windflowers because
                                          6 to 12 petal- like sepals are a   anemones have slender stems and
                                         delicate blue, white, or pink,      tremble in a slight breeze.
                                        looking like rich gems arising
                                       from the forest floor. The dark       Bluets are often prominent in
                                       green, three-lobed leaves appear      early spring. They may grow in
                                       after the flowers. The name           great numbers, the 2- to 8-inch-
                                       ‘hepatica’ comes from the Greek       high stems forming a carpet in
                                       word for liver; the leaf              fields and roadsides. The small,
                                       supposedly resembles the human        sky-blue flowers with yellow
                                       liver. Old-time herbalists thought    centers are delicate and refined,
                                       plant parts shaped like human         suggesting purity, which may
                                       organs cured diseases of those        account for the other names for
                                       organs, so hepatica, or liverleaf,    bluets, Quaker- ladies and
                                       was reputedly useful for treating     innocence.
                                       liver ailments.
                                                                             Wildflowers are not the only early
                                       Spring beauty is another of the       risers in the new world of spring.
                                       early blooming plants. Spring
                                       beauties are small - around 6
                                       inches tall, growing in clusters
                                        that may cover grassy areas.
                                        They also grow in the woods,
Bloodroot, a member of the             often in dense patches. The 5-
poppy family, is another ‘early        petaled flowers have an exquisite
riser’ among spring wild flowers.      white or rose color like delicate
The snowy white flower petals          china. This plant has long leaves.
with their golden orange center        Spring beauties have tubers (short
decorate woodlands with rich,          underground stems) that
moist, acid soil after just a few      were used for food by
sunny spring days. Bloodroot           the pioneers; they taste
flowers have about 10 fragile          something like
petals that fall off if touched. The   chestnuts.
leaves are lobed and often curl
around the stalk. The orange-red       West Virginia has
sap in the leaves, stem, and           many beautiful early
rhizome (roots) gives bloodroot        wildflowers, including
its name. American Indians used        rue anemone, growing on
the bright red sap as a dye and        woodland borders and dry
also painted themselves with it to     open woods beginning in
frighten their enemies. This must      March. The ‘flower’ consists
have produced a dramatic effect,       of 5 to 10 white or pinkish
as indeed bloodroot “juice” is         petal- like sepals. Leaflets
bright red.
As you walk along a meadow or
woodland trail looking for
bloodroot, anemone, and other
wildflowers, you will probably
hear birds breaking into song,
                                       West Virginia’s first returning
calling their mates and                spring birds: the phoebe, uttering
announcing their territories,          its distinctive ‘fee-be, fee-be’ call.
which is the purpose of birdsong.      At 7 inches long, the eastern
Some familiar birds that have          phoebe is a member of a group of
been in West Virginia for the          birds known as fly catchers, birds
entire winter may begin to sing in     that typically perch on a branch
early spring: the cardinal gives his   and dart out to snap up insects.
cheery song the tufted titmouse        Most flycatchers have bristly
gives his whistling call, and          ‘whiskers,’ a flat bill, and large
bluebirds break into chattering        head. West Virginia has several
chorus.                                kinds of flycatchers, but the
                                       phoebe is the one you are most
                                       likely to hear in the early spring.
                                       The eastern phoebe has a brown-
                                       gray back, with a pale or yellow
                                         chest. They often nest under
One                                          bridges and around barns and
morning,                                         rafters. In warm winters,
about the time                                       they may be year-
you hear the spring                                      round residents.
peepers calling you
may hear the call of                                    Watch and listen
one of                                                  for ‘early risers’
                                                   on your spring walks.
                                      trunks. Leaves, which come out         woods to his Mount Vernon
                                      after the flowers, are oval,           gardens. Judastree is another

12                                    arranged alternately on the stem.
                                      The sweet, juicy, red or purple
                                      fruits are ripe in June, giving the
                                      tree one of its names, Juneberry,
                                                                             name for redbud, in accordance
                                                                             with the old belief that it was the
                                                                             wood on which Judas Iscariot
                                                                             hanged himself. Redbuds are
Trees, Trilliums,                     although the fruits are at their       common throughout the state, but
& Trills                              prime tastiness in July. Another       form perhaps the most beautiful
                                      name for the tree, shadbush, refers    display in the eastern section
                                      to the American shad, a fish in the    where the soil is alkaline.
April’s arrival brings the wonder     herring family, which returns to
of West Virginia’s spring             fresh water from the sea to spawn      Just a short time after
flowering trees.                      about the time serviceberry trees      serviceberry and redbud blossom,
From mountains                        are in blossom in New England.         the woods in spring are alive with
to valleys                                                                   the state’s many beautiful
through April                         In the Appalachian region, the         wildflowers. Hundreds of
and May,                              name of this tree is often             wildflowers can be found in West
the                                   pronounced ‘sarvis,’ which may         Virginia, including trailing
woods                                 be a local pronunciation of the        arbutus, Dutchman’s breeches,
are                                   European name for the tree that it     Virginia bluebell, wild geranium,
                                      resembles, whose Latin name is         larkspur, several kinds of trilliums
                                      Sorbus. Several kinds of ‘sarvis’      and orchids, pussytoes, celandine
                                      thrive in West Virginia. One           poppy, many kinds of violets,
                                      species reaches 60 feet tall, which    wild ginger, and a profusion of
                                      is tree size, while other species      other spring wildflowers.
                                      are shrub size.
                                                                             Trilliums are among West
                                      American Indians used the              Virginia’s most popular
                                      serviceberry fruits as a food          wildflowers. Many places in the
                                      source, crushing and drying the        state’s wooded areas are literally
                                      fruits to make into cakes. The         abloom with ‘trillium trails’
                                      fruits were also used to make          where the beautiful flowers
woven and trellised with a special    pemmican, a mixture of dried           abound. West Virginia has several
kind of flowering tree whose          meat, animal fat, and dried            kinds of trilliums. Earliest
delicate white flowers resemble       serviceberry fruits. Hikers today      blooming is the snowy trillium
lace. The flowers are those of the    still carry homemade or                with white petals appearing as
serviceberry tree, also known as      purchased pemmican on their            early as March in the mountains
sarvis, shadbush, and Juneberry.      trips through the woodlands.           of Pendleton, Randolph, and
A member of the genus                                                        Tucker counties. Painted
Amelanchier, which is in the rose     Redbud, another attractive shrub       trilliums, so called because of the
family, the serviceberry is among     or small tree with dark, scaly         pink or purple stripes at the base
the earliest blooming trees in the    bark, grows in the West Virginia       of the petals, grow in the
state and certainly one of the most   woods. Clusters of magenta or          mountains and bloom in May.
conspicuous trees in the early        purple flowers glowing like            The ill-scented trillium, or wake
springtime woods.                     garnets festoon the forests in         robin, has dark red-purple petals
                                      April, often blooming at the same      and produces an ill-smelling
Serviceberry trees, which can also    time as serviceberry. The flowers      aroma attractive to the flies that
be shrub size, are easily             appear before the large, heart-        pollinate it. Perhaps the most
recognized with their smooth,         shaped leaves. So attractive is this   conspicuous of the trilliums and
light-colored bark, and white         tree that George Washington            all our wildflowers is the large
flowers in loose clusters. The        recorded in his diary that he
trees often have multiple, slender    transplanted redbuds from the
                                        Orchids are another favorite
flowered trillium, whose white
petals gleam in the woods April to
                                        among wildflower lovers. West
                                        Virginia has many kinds of
                                        orchids, some quite showy and
                                        some rather plain. The large
                                                                                  No discussion of West Virginia’s
Wildflowers blossom at different        yellow lady’s slipper blossoms            wildflowers would be complete
times, according to elevation and       April-June, and although not              without mentioning ramps, or
resulting climate. Plants that          abundant it probably grows in             wild onions. These plants, which
bloom in low elevation areas may        every county. The showy lady’s            grow in wooded areas in rich soil,
blossom three weeks later in            slipper, white with rose-purple           have a very potent and long-
colder mountain areas. You can          streaks, is very rare and occurs at       lasting onion flavor. The plants
actually see spring twice, by           only a couple of places in the            feature in many West Virginia
looking for wildflowers in              state. More widely distributed and        ramp festivals, where you can buy
warmer places, then going to visit      probably growing in every county          ramp sandwiches and other foods
a trillium trail in                            is the pink lady’s slipper, or     embellished with this most potent
the mountains.                                       moccasin flower,             of plants.
                                                       which is rose-pink
The word                                               with purple streaks.       Along the state’s many woodland
‘trillium’                                                                        trillium trails, you want to watch
comes from                                             As with trilliums, it      for the natural beauty of West
the Latin                                              can take years for         Virginia’s spring wildflowers.
word                                                    the orchid seed to
for                                                     become a mature           Not only wildflowers are found
three since                                              plant. In the fall,      along trillium trails. During the
everything                                               thousands of tiny        first week of May, bird lovers
about the                                                orchid seeds fall.       from all over the state come to the
trillium plant                                            They are only the       woods to see one of nature’s most
comes in threes:                                           size of a dust         beautiful sights: spring warbler
three leaves, three                                           speck. If a tiny    migration. Warblers are a special
sepals, and three petals.                                       seed lands in     group of birds known for their
Trilliums are interesting                                         the right       beautiful colors and lovely songs.
plants. In the case of the                                          place,        Many of these birds spend the
large flowered trillium, it takes up    the seed produces a structure             winter months south of the border
to six to eight years for the seed to   called a protocorm. Then, the             in Central and South America, but
form the mature plant, which is         little plant must come into contact       return to northern nesting grounds
why you can’t exactly buy               with a Rhizoctonia fungus, which          to begin the age-old pattern of
trillium seeds. At three to five        can take up to two years. The             nesting and rearing young. About
years, the trillium plant produces      fungus acts like roots for the little     the first week in May, these birds
a stem with the familiar three          plant, helping it absorb nutrients        pass through West Virginia. Some
leaves, and then it takes two more      from the soil. This process takes         - such as the yellow warbler,
years to flower. Seeds grow into a      five to eight years. It is difficult to   ovenbird, cerulean warbler,
berrylike fruit. When mature, fruit     transplant orchids because the                     hooded warbler, and
drops to the ground and splits          new soil may not contain                             redstart-are birds
open, Seeds are sticky, and             the required fungus.                                   returning to West
exploring ants eat the oil-rich part    Wild orchids should                                      Virginia to nest.
of the seed and leave the seed to       not be picked.                                             The Connecticut
sprout. This is how trilliums are                                                                    warbler and
dispersed in the wild. Like us,                                                                        many others
plants have rather complex life                                                                       are birds of
processes.                                                                                          passage coming
                                                                                                  our way on
the trip north. In addition to
                                       hummer that nests east of the
                                       Rocky Mountains. Sixty percent
                                                                           and South America. The resulting
                                                                           forest fragmentation does not
warblers, many thrushes-               to 80 percent of birds in West      provide the birds with a safe,
including wood thrush, hermit          Virginia during the summer are      adequate nesting place. Studies
thrush, and veery-can be seen.         neotropical migrants. This is a     indicate that nests located within
These birds are known for their        very important group. Brightly      70 feet of edges or clearings
beautiful ‘trills’ and intricate       colored warblers, vireos, and       suffer the highest predation from
song. Also returning is the ruby-      swallows add brilliant color and    such animals as cats, raccoons,
throated hummingbird, a popular        song to the spring and summer       snakes, and blue jays, which lurk
bird at many backyard feeders.         landscape. In addition, many        around forest edges. These small
Other returning birds include the      warblers, flycatchers, and          areas where neotrops nest, but
swallows, such as barn, cliff, and     swallows are prolific insect-       may not successfully reproduce,
tree swallows, and other birds         eaters, providing natural control   are called ‘sinks.’ You often may
including the brown thrasher and       on insect populations. Purple       see such birds as scarlet tanager,
catbird. An especially beautiful       martins, for instance, can          wood thrush, and cerulean
bird is the rose-breasted grosbeak.    consume thousands of mosquitoes     warblers around sinks, but they
West Virginia has more than 300        a day.                              may not raise enough young to
species of birds, many of which                                            replenish themselves.
can be seen at this special time of    Many of these birds, especially
year. Many areas of the state offer    the deep forest dwellers such as    In addition, songbirds often have
excellent birding, especially at the   the wood warblers, have suffered    their nests invaded by cowbirds.
state parks. Wetland areas along       population declines because of      Cowbirds lay their eggs in the
rivers, ponds, and streams are also    clear-cutting of forests in both    nests of other birds, which then
very attractive to migrating birds     North                               raise cowbirds instead of their
and waterfowl, offering a                                                  own young. Parasitism by cow-
chance to see the sun-                                                       birds is a serious threat to many
yellow prothonatory                                                            of our birds. Nests located in
warbler, or hear the                                                            deep woods are less
‘wheep’ notes of the                                                              susceptible to cowbird
attractive crested                                                                 predation.
flycatcher and the raspy
call of the belted                                                                  Maintaining healthy
kingfisher.                                                                         forests and learning more
                                                                                   about the needs of
Birds that spend the                                                               neotropical migrants are
winter months in                                                                   ways you can help this
southern climes are known                                                          group of birds, so that our
as neotropical migrants, or                                                        ‘trillium trails’ will be
neotrops for short. This                                                           abloom not only with
group of birds, which winters                                                      trilliums and wildflowers,
in Central and South America                                                       but also the trills and
and returns to North America                                                       music of our lovely
for the nesting season, includes                                                   songbirds.
many of our beautiful birds
such as warblers, vireos,
swallows, and the ruby-
throated hummingbird.
The ruby-throated is the
only species of
                                        Grasslands have their own unique

Green Grow
the Grasses
                                        fascination, with a tranquil kind
                                                                                 areas include grassy balds at
                                        of open far- horizon beauty              Dolly Sods and Spruce Knob.
       Waves of green grass             different from the enclosed              Other open areas in West Virginia
                                        trunked and branched woods               are wetlands, such as Canaan
   stretch away in the distance         covering 80 percent of the state.        Valley, Cranesville Swamp, and
                                                                                 Cranberry Glades.
   like an emerald sea, until the       So just what are grasslands?
                                        Grasslands develop where there is        The herbaceous or knee- high
    pale green merges with the          not enough rain to grow forests,         grass in open areas has an
                                        usually under 30 inches a year.          abundance of insect life,
  mist shade of the distant hills.      West Virginia, with an average of        including spiders, crickets, and
                                        more than 40 inches rainfall a           katydids. The soil is home to ants
The sun’s rays pour down,               year, has limited grassy areas.          and earthworms. Grassland birds
casting amber halos on                                                           feed on this rich source of insects
the waving grasses,                                  There are three kinds       and their larvae. Birds that you
suddenly spraying                                       of grasslands In West    can find in open areas include:
golden beams on                                        Virginia: agricultural,   American goldfinch, American
a black-winged                                       old field, and relict       kestrel, barn swallow, bobolink,
shape flying                                        community.                   Canada goose, cliff swallow,
upward from the                                     Agricultural grasslands      common nighthawk, eastern
grass.                                               are planted in grass        bluebird, eastern kingbird, eastern
The bird is a                                         preserved by mowing        meadowlark, field sparrow,
bobolink, an ebony                                     or grazing. A             grasshopper sparrow, horned lark,
bird with a butter-                                    grassland cut for hay     killdeer, loggerhead shrike,
yellow patch sunning                           is called a meadow; if it is      mourning dove, northern harrier,
the back of his neck. The               grazed, it is called a pasture. The      red-tailed hawk, red-winged
bobolink raises into the azure sky,     second kind of grassland, an old         blackbird, short-eared owl, snipe,
uttering his flight call, then floats   field, succeeds an agricultural          and woodcock.
back to the bosom of the waving         field when grazing or cutting
grasses.                                ceases, and different species of         Many of the grassland birds have
                                        grass take over. If undisturbed,         special song flights by which they
You pause for a while on your           the field ultimately grows up into       define their territories and attract
walk through a West Virginia            forest. In the early 1900s, much of      mates. Some of the songs,
meadow, enjoying the sights and         West Virginia was farmed and
sounds of a spring day. You             there were many open areas.
notice that the grasses hold still      Today, with the decline in the
more beauty. The clear, liquid call     agricultural use of land, much of
of a meadowlark fills the fragrant      the state has been reforested.
air, announcing the bird as he
flies feather- light over the           Relict grasslands are rare, isolated
nodding grass.                          natural grassland communities
                                        whose origin, survival, and
The flickering grass sweeps on in       dynamics are not completely
quiet somnolence as the birds fly,      understood. Wet soils, climate,
as they have done for thousands         elevation, and vegetation help
of years.                               maintain these open areas. Such
such as the woodcocks’, are long        Wildflowers growing in grassy         ‘glumes.’ These flowers are
and complex, consisting of trills       places include aster, black-eyed      grouped together into spikelets.
and buzzy notes that carry well in      susan, blue vervain, bluet,           The spikelets can be arranged in
open country. Others have               boneset, butterfly weed, evening      several ways, such as in spikes, or
extraordinary courtship flights,        primrose, goldenrod, great            with long stalks in branched
like the aerial display of the snipe.   lobelia, meadowsweet or               flowerheads. The glumes
                                        pipestem, moth mullein,               sometimes have a long, pointed
In addition to birds, many other        ironweed, Queen Anne’s lace,          projection called an ‘awn.’ Rye
animals find a home in grassy           joe-pye weed, teasel, turtle- head,   grass has noticeable awns.
places. Among them are deer             wild bergamot, yarrow, and
mouse, eastern cottontail,              yellow and orange hawkweed.           Some common grasses you can
meadow jumping mouse, red fox,                                                find in West Virginia include big
southern bog lemming, striped           West Virginia has more than 180       bluestem, broomsedge (actually a
skunk, white-tailed deer, and           species of grasses, grown for         sedge, a grass- like plant), foxtall
woodchuck. Herptiles include            lawns, pastures, and ornamentals.     barley, gama grass, Indian grass,
fence lizard, garter snake, box         Botanically speaking, grasses are     Kentucky blue grass, little
turtle, red-spotted newt, American      members of the Graminae family.       bluestem, orchard grass, reed
toad, and slimy salamander.             This plant group has long narrow,     canary grass, timothy, and
Butterflies include monarch,            parallel-veined leaves, hollow,       poverty oatgrass, whose curly
sulfur, cabbage, and fritillary.        rounded stems, and small flowers      basal leaves make it easy to
                                        enclosed by a pair of scales called
identify. Other grasses include      The reason for this increase is
                                                                           Some animals, listed as open-
rattlesnake mannagrass, rice         because wildlife finds habitat        areas animals such as deer and
cutgrass, and prairie cordgrass.     elements they need in both            cottontail, use grasslands by day
                                     habitats. Birds can find seed or      and woods by night. Many
An important factor in grasslands    insects in the field and nesting      beautiful birds live in grassy-
is the edge effect, which is the     sites in the forest. Skunks and       shrubby areas, including yellow-
improvement in habitat caused by     foxes hunt in fields or feast on      breasted chat and brown thrasher.
the juxtaposition of two             blackberries, then return to the
ecosystems, such as a field and a    shelter of the forest. Cottontail     As you explore West Virginia’s
forest. The edge between a forest    rabbits eat grass in the fields all   many ecosystems and habitats,
and a field or meadow will have      night, when they are less visible     from forests to fields to wetlands,
both more individuals and more       to predators, then retire to the      you should think about the
species, than either the forest or   woods for concealment during the      relation of wildlife to habitat. An
the field or meadow by itself.       day.                                  understanding of habitat needs
Many bird-watchers take                                                    will help you find and see and
advantage of this fact by looking    Similarly, an old field growing up    enjoy more of the state’s wildlife,
for birds along edges. Landscape     in shrubs and small trees provides    as well as the plants unique to
ecologists often arrange their       a better habitat for many animals     special ecosystems.
planting to produce edge effects     than a clear stand of grass. The
to increase wildlife habitat.        grass still supplies seeds, but the
                                     growing trees and shrubs provide
                                     nesting places and cover.
                                   flowers blooming June to July,
Jaunt in June
A soft summer rain shower
has just passed over the
                                      grows throughout most of the

                                              Evergreen leaves are
                                                                        those in woods where leaves and
emerald green                                  long and leathery,       conifer needles break down and
mountains. You stop                             with the interesting    increase acidity. Therefore,
your bike on a trail that                         habit of pointing     many members of the heath
overlooks a steep valley                           straight down in     family cover West Virginia’s
deep in the                                        extremely cold       mountains. Trailing arbutus, a
Monongahela National                               weather, but         low-growing evergreen plant
Forest. You look out                              becoming              with lovely pink flowers, is a
over the valley, and the                         horizontal during      member of the heath family as
shining sun reflects from                        warmer                 are blueberries and
the raindrops imaging                           temperatures. The       huckleberries.
acres of West Virginia’s state     position of rhododendron leaves
flower, rhododendron. The rain-    is a good temperature indicator.     As you stand beside your bike
flecked white blossoms glisten                                          and look over the mountains, you
and flicker like ivory diamonds.   West Virginia has another kind       think of the many wildflowers
                                   of rhododendron with purple or       and wild animals seen at this
The name ‘rhododendron’ comes      magenta flowers, called purple       time of year. Suddenly you hear
from the Greek rhodo, meaning      laurel and mountain rose bay. In     a bird singing a long, beautiful
rose-colored, and dendron, tree.   bloom May to June, it grows in       song that seems to be the symbol
Rhododendron, also known as        mountainous terrain, reaching its    of this high mountain wilderness.
great laurel, often grows like a   northernmost location in             Coming from a grove of red
small tree to 30 feet high, with   Pocahontas County.                   spruce trees, it is the song of the
many crooked trunks, forming                                            winter wren-a tiny wren of the
impenetrable thickets or ‘laurel   West Virginia has other              northern coniferous forest. For
hells.’ Early travelers in West    members of the rhododendron          such a little bird, it has a most
Virginia gave rhododendron         family, including flame azalea,      enchanting song. Winter wrens
thickets that descriptive name     whose fiery blossoms appear          build their nest in a ball-shape
because the thick, unstable, and   May to June in dry woods in                          made of roots and
tangled vegetation did not allow   hilly counties, and pinxter                          stems, hidden in a
horses or wagons to pass.          flowers or pink honey-                              stump, roots, or
                                   suckle, blooming May                               rocky crevice. As you
Rhododendron, which has white      to June in open                                   listen to the wren, the
                                   woods throughout                                 adage ‘spring has
                                   the state. Both are                              sprung,’ passes
                                   among the state’s most                          through your mind, and
                                   beautiful flowering                            you hop back on your
                                   shrubs. Azaleas have                           bike to continue your
                                   shorter leaves than                             ‘Jaunt in June.’
                                   Rhododendrons and azaleas                          As you continue
                                   are members of the plant                              down one of
                                        family known as the heaths.                      the state’s
                                           Most plants in this family   many fine mountain biking
                                           grow best in acid soil.
                                   Many soils in the state are acid,
                                     mountains. You hear a croaking

trails, you see a fawn ahead of
                                     call high in the sky and look up
                                     to see a raven
                                     silhouetted against the
                                     blue sky surveying his
you, bounding out of the way, its    wilderness domain. You
light tan coat dappled with white    peddle on, the
specks. Fawns, usually born in       wonderful world of
June, are a common sight in the      outdoor West Virginia
woods. They keep their white         your domain, also.
and tan coats until fall, when
they grow warm, thick, gray
winter coats.

You pass through an open area,
and darting into the air right In
front of you heading for an
unseen nest is the lovely gray
and yellow mourning warbler,

Brimming with                        spring. The bird you are              In the spring and summer,
                                     watching is raising a family in       bluebirds eat such insects as
Birds                                the snug little cavity in the fence   grasshoppers, crickets, beetles,
                                     post. The year-round residents        and caterpillars. In late summer,
The sun rises brilliant orange on    are cavity- nesters, building nests   fall, and winter, they eat berries
a blue sky flecked with fluffy       in tree holes or fence cavities.      and fruit.
white clouds. You admire the         They also benefit from nesting
sunrise, the serenity, the beauty    boxes, because starlings and          Berry-producing plants, such as
of nature, and listen to the dawn    house sparrows often crowd            holly, mulberry, sumac, grapes,
chorus of summer birds. You can      them out of their traditional         viburnums, and Virginia creeper,
hear the flutelike calls of the      spots. People have been putting       attract bluebirds.
wood thrush; the raspy, robin-                 up bluebird boxes since
like calls of the scarlet tanager;                   the mid-1800s.        West Virginia is blessed with
the scolding, impish notes of the                                          other birds sporting feathers of
yellow- breasted chat; and the                         Distinguished       blue, including the indigo
cheery notes         of                                 by their azure     bunting, a member of the finch
the bluebird.                                            plumage, the      family. The male is brilliant
                                                      familiar eastern     iridescent blue. The female is
Birds of Blue                                      bluebirds belong to     brown. This summer resident,
                                                the robin family.          found in almost any clearing in
A blaze of blue feathers                     Young bluebirds have          the woods and countryside, is
flashes from the cavity in             speckled breasts, as do young       one of the few birds that sing in
the fencepost, and you               robins. Male bluebirds have           late summer when other birds are
see the bluebird, carrying      it   bright blue backs and orange          silent.
grub in its beak. Bluebirds, a       breasts. Plumage of the females
traditional symbol of happiness,     is muted.
live throughout West Virginia.
Their bright, cheery song is a
sure harbinger of the return of
one of West Virginia’s rare and
unusual warblers nesting in the
Another member of the finch            from intricate structures on the
family decked out in blue is the
blue grosbeak, primarily a
summer resident in southern
West Virginia.

                                       Keep an eye out for birds with
                                       the ‘blue hue.’
Another study in blue is the           Swell Swallows
bluejay. This crow family
member is known for its harsh,         Today, you and your
loud, unmusical notes. Bluejays        friend decide to take
store food for use during winter.      advantage of the warm
They are common visitors to            weather and the warm
feeders.                               water to go for a swim
                                       at the old swimming
Another bird of blue is the            hole down by the river.
iridescent grackle, noisy member
of the blackbird family.               The river waters glimmer
                                       green and deep. Billowing
Warblers, among our most               clouds reflect from the
beneficial songbirds because of        emerald depths like silver
their lovely colors, songs, and        chances. Crickets chirp from the       made of mud or
insect-eating habits, also come in     bank near the alder shrubs, and a      clay pellets, lined with feathers
shades of blue. The cerulean           gray treefrog croaks softly and        or horse-hair, plastered against a
warbler has a pale blue back and       serenely from amid the stems of        horizontal or vertical surface,
white throat. Cerulean warblers        orange-flowered jewelweed.             often in barns-hence the name,
nest in deciduous woods. The                                                  barn swallow. This is the most
lovely black-throated blue             Floating silently along the water,     common swallow in the state,
warbler nests in evergreen at          you hear twittering notes and          probably nesting in every
higher elevations. Its insect- like    look up to see a whole family of       county. They are among the
buzzy song can identify it.            fork-tailed birds sitting on a wire    latest birds to come from their
                                       stretching by the river shore.         southern wintering grounds,
What makes blue birds ‘blue’?          You are looking at a family of         arriving here in late May, and
                                       barn swallows.                         among the earliest to leave, as
Primary colors, including the                                                 they begin flocking in July and
reds in the feathers of cardinals,     Barn swallows at 5 to 7 inches         August, departing south for the
are produced by pigments, which        long are our only swallows with        winter.
are chemical compounds in the          a deeply forked tail. The male is
feathers. Pigments do not              metallic blue-black on the back,       Swallows are a group of
produce blue colors. Blues are         with rust-colored under parts.         interesting birds. They are
the result of small particles in the   There are white spots in the tall.     quickly recognized by their
feather that act to scatter or         Females tend to be somewhat            slender, streamlined bodies, long
reflect short wavelengths so the       duller. Barn swallows fly over         pointed wings, and small bills
viewer sees blue. In certain light     ploughed fields, marshes, and          with a wide gape or opening to
conditions, the blue disappears        rivers to catch grasshoppers,          catch insects. These
and the bird appears dark, which       crickets, beetles, and moths.          characteristics enable swallows
is why indigo buntings                 They drink and bathe by                to hunt insects on the wing; as
sometimes look black, not blue.        skimming the water. Flight is          swallows are uniquely adapted
Iridescent blue colors such as         swift, and the birds swoop back        for life as aerial insectivores.
occur on grackles, which look          and forth. Their call is a series of   Some swallows have fork-tails,
blue-black, are the result of          clear notes interspersed with a        an aid to flight, giving the birds
differential reflection of light       harsh, twittering rattle. The nest     better braking and turning
                                       is a cup-shaped structure              ability.
                                      Both parents may incubate.              buffy rump, and a pale forehead

Species with the most deeply
                                      Parents catch food for the chicks,
                                      which fledge for several days,
                                      while the parents continue to
                                      feed them. This is the state of the
                                                                              patch that looks like a headlight
                                                                              when the bird is in flight. They
                                                                              build gourd-shaped mud nests
                                                                              under eves and along cliffs. (This
forked tails can fly slowly,          barn swallow family you are             is the famed swallow of
catching more mobile kinds of                        watching, with the       California’s San Juan Capistrano
insects.                                              young fledged or        Mission.) Cliff swallow numbers
                                                     out of the nest, still   declined in the first half of the
Swallows’ bills are small,                         fed by the parents.        century, perhaps because of
broad, and flat, adapted for                      Chicks from the first       competition from house
catching insects in flight.                      brood may hang               sparrows for nest sites. Cliff
Strong jaw muscles help                           around the nest site        swallows, not as common as
swallows snap at                                     for some time,           barn swallows, nest at various
flying insects and also                                helping feed           places in the state and winter in
help them manipulate nest-            their parents’ second brood.            Mexico.
building materials. Insects are
the main diet, practically always     Because swallows are insect-            Tree swallows at 5 to 6 inches
caught in flight. Tree swallows,      eaters, they need to migrate to         long are beautiful birds. The
however, do eat some seeds and        warmer climates in the winter to        adult male has a striking blue-
berries. Different swallow            find food.                              black or blue-green back, with
species select different kinds of                                             white undersides. The adult
insects. Swallows’ legs and feet      Worldwide, there are more than          female is duller. The wings are
are weak, and are not designed        70 kinds of swallows and                triangular and the tall is notched.
for habitual running. Their gait is   martins. West Virginia has six          Tree swallows usually forage
a shuffled walk.                      kinds: purple martin, and barn,         around water, including ponds.
                                      cliff, tree, northern rough-wing,       They roost in shrubs during the
Swallow songs are usually             and bank swallows.                      night. Their nest is made of
twittering notes. Songs are used                                              grasses, lined with feathers and
to advertise territory, attract a     Purple martins are 7 to 8 inches        placed in a tree cavity or bird
mate, and deter intruders. Calls      long. The male is uniformly             box. Tree swallows nest
are also used to maintain intra-      blue-black, with a somewhat             throughout the state. Migration
species contact.                      forked tall. Females and young          flocks may number in the
                                      are dull purplish blue on their         thousands; they winter in the
Some swallows, such as tree           backs, with gray under parts.           southern United States, including
swallows, are cavity- nesters,        Martins prefer grassy river             Florida and the Gulf States, and
setting up housekeeping in            valleys, lakeshores, marshes,           Mexico.
excavations in trees usually near     meadows, or cutover woods.
or over water. Others, such as        Their nest is in a natural tree         Northern rough-winged
cliff and barn swallows, build        cavity, but they will use martin        swallows are 6 inches long, pale
mud nests. Some swallows also         houses. Both sexes construct the        brown above, and whitish below,
construct burrows, using their        nest, which is composed of mud,         with a gray-brown wash on the
specially adapted bills to slash      twigs, and feathers. Song is            throat. These swallows nest in
the dirt, and kicking out dirt and    liquid and rich, and the call note      crevices in steep riverbanks or
sand with their feet.                 is ‘tyu,’ often uttered in flight.      cliffs and under bridges. They do
                                      Purple martins nest throughout          not form colonies, but nest in
Swallows form monogamous              the state in suitable habitat. They     solitary pairs or small groups. In
pairs, although males may             winter in South America.                West Virginia, these swallows
attempt to mate with other                                                    are most numerous in the
females. Males defend their nest      Cliff swallows are 6 inches long,       western hills region, although
and guard their ma tes from other     somewhat resembling barn                they are found throughout the
males.                                swallows, having square tails, a        state.
They migrate in small flocks,
wintering in southern Mexico.
                                      Capable of the fastest flight
                                      among small birds, swifts do
                                      almost everything in the air
                                      because they are so well made
                                                                           There are more than 80 kinds of
Bank swallows resemble rough-         for the business of flying,          swifts in the world. Identification
winged swallows, but have a           including catching insects- their    of swifts in West Virginia is
brownish gray breast band and         main food- in midair. Swifts eat,    simplified because there is only
white throat. They are colonial       drink, collect nest material, and    one species, the chimney swift,
nesters, placing their nests at the   mate on the wing. Some species       also called ‘chimney sweep.’
ends of tunnels burrowed near         may even sleep aloft. Swifts tend
the top of steep banks along          to be seen together in large         Chimney swifts are uniformly
streams in sand and gravel pits.      flocks. They are often seen          blackish birds, 5 inches long,
They are rare and local nesters in    flicking back and forth over         with no apparent tail. They are
West Virginia. Migrating in           rivers and lakes, catching aquatic   almost always seen flying with
large flocks, they winter in South    insects.                             characteristic hurried, bat- like
America.                                                                   strokes. They utter sharp
                                      Swifts have small, weak legs and     chippering notes and are
                                      when not in the air are rather       frequently seen in flocks over
A Shimmer of Swifts                   awkward. They cling to a             towns, woodlands, and
                                      vertical surface rather than         especially over water where they
You look up into the sky and see      perch, as do songbirds such as       catch insects.
what looks like flying bats. They     warblers. The birds have strong
are actually chimney swifts.          curved claws for gripping            Chimney swifts may nest in a
Swifts may look like swallows,        nesting surfaces. Swifts can take    hollow tree, but more often in a
but are not related. They just        off from flat ground, but because    chimney, barn, or dwelling. The
have similar lifestyles.              of their weak legs usually fly       nest is cemented together and
                                      from cliffs or buildings.            attached to the surface with
Often mistaken for bats because                                            saliva. After the nesting period,
of their shape and erratic flight     All swifts glue their nests          the swift’s large salivary glands
pattern, swifts are aerial birds      together with glutinous saliva       shrink, leaving cheek pouches
with long cigar-shaped bodies         from specialized salivary glands.    into which flying insects can be
tapering at each end; long,           One kind of swift, the edible-nest   packed. Swifts may hunt for
pointed wings curving                 swift in the Philippines, makes      insects far from their nesting
backwards like scimitars; and         its nest almost entirely from        areas.
very short tails.                     hardened saliva. These are the
                                      nests harvested for bird’s nest      Breeding from Florida to Canada,
With rapid stiff wing beats, the      soup, considered a delicacy by       swifts nest in towns and cities
                                      Chinese gourmets.                    probably in every county of West
birds dart over the river. The sun
                                                                           Virginia. Some may still nest in
shining on their compact bodies                                            hollow trees, but records of such
and dark feathers gives the                                                nesting are rare. Chimney swifts
sensation of a shimmer of                                                  spend the winter in South America
swifts.                                                                    and are considered neotropical
                                                                           migrants, as are swallows.
                                      frogs, crayfish, snakes, insects,

24                                    invertebrates, and small
                                      rodents found in shallow
                                      water. Herons swallow food
                                      whole and later regurgitates
Hear that Heron!                      pellets of indigestible
                                      matter. Herons are shy.
With a deep-toned ‘quaark!’ a         When approached by
big, lanky bird settles down on       people, they take off with
the riverbank, stands immobile        head and neck drawn back
on his long, branchy legs, and        in an S shape with legs held         fluffing feathers, and spectacular
stares down into the water, his       straight to the rear. Herons         flight routines. In most species,
dagger-like beak poised to spear      characteristically fly with their    bright colors appear on the bill,
a fish dinner. This bird is the       necks curved, unlike cranes,         legs, or in the bare skin around
impressive 3- foot- high great blue   which fly with their necks           the eyes.
heron, one of several heron           stretched out. Cranes are very
species in the state.                 rare in West Virginia.               Often the male begins building a
                                                                           nest to attract a mate. Then the
Herons are wading birds with          Certain adaptations help a heron     female takes over construction
long; slender legs, long necks,       wade about and catch prey in         while the male brings sticks and
and long, heavy bills tapering to     shallow water. Most obvious are      twigs. Mated herons defend a
a sharp point. Their wings are        the long legs, which keep the        zone immediately around their
broad and rounded, and their          bird above the water’s surface.      nest against intrusion from other
tails are short.                      Toes are long and flexible for       birds. Great blue herons nest in
                                      walking or standing on soft          colonies called rookeries. Great
Intrepid predators,                             ground. The bill is        blue heron rookeries are rare in
herons feast on fish,                                  sharp-tipped, but   West Virginia, with only a few
                                                     it is used for        known sites, including one on
                                             grasping rather than          the Ohio River.
                                      impaling. The long, muscular
                                      neck delivers a lightning-quick      Wading birds are part of the
                                      blow with plenty of force to         complex web of life in rivers and
                                      penetrate the water and seize a      wetland areas along the water’s
                                       fish.                               edge. When several species of
                                                                           herons inhabit an area,
                                        Herons have well-developed         specialized feeding patterns may
                                         ‘powder-down,’ areas of           develop. The great blue heron
                                          feathers whose tips              usually wades in deeper water,
                                           continually disintegrate into   looking for large fish. The green
                                            powder. Preening helps         heron waits motionless for its
                                             distribute this powder,       prey near a log or bank.
                                             which absorbs and
                                            removes fish oil and scum,     At one time herons were
                                          thus keeping the rest of the     slaughtered for their plumage,
                                        plumage clean and dry.             which was used to decorate
                                       Herons preen with a serrated        women’s hats, but today state
                                      middle claw.                         and federal laws protect herons.

                                      Males are aggressive and defend
                                      small territories in the breeding
                                      season. Breeding behavior
                                        includes neck stretching,
Herons can be seen around wet         days of being deposited.
areas throughout the state.
Herons you can see include the
secretive and elusive American
bittern, snowy white great egret,
                                      It is time to head back to shore.
                                      You swim easily, as you are
                                      greeted by the rattle-like call of a
                                                                             frogs and snakes. They nest in
little blue heron, cattle egret,      belted kingfisher, another fish-       burrows in sand or gravel banks,
black-crowned night heron, and        eating bird unrelated to herons.       or in trees. You are back at
yellow-crowned night heron.           Kingfishers also eat                   shore, your mind brimming with

Butterflies                           When the eggs hatch, they turn
                                      into tiny caterpillars, first eating   How large a caterpillar is at its
They have intriguing names like
                                      the eggshell, then eating              last instar determines the size of
spring azure, mourning cloak,
                                      vegetation, flowers, or fruit of       the adult butterfly.
red admiral, dreamy duskywing,
                                      the host plant. Some
glassywing, and wood satyr.
                                      species feed only on                                      Once the
These are butterflies, bright
                                      a certain part of the                                      caterpillar is
jewels of the insect world.
                                      plant, while                                             full size, it
                                      other                                                 transforms to the
More than 120 species of
                                      caterpillars                                       pupa or chrysalis
butterflies live in West Virginia.
                                      may feed                                        stage.
Some are common; others are
                                      on a variety                                   Silk glands called
                                      of plants.                                     ‘spinnerets,’ located near
                                      The caterpillar                                the caterpillar’s mouth,
All butterflies, however, have the
                                      or larval stage                                help with this process.
same general life cycle,
                                      allows the animal time for             Using its silk, the caterpillar
consisting of four stages: egg,
                                      growth. Although a caterpillar         attaches itself to a plant or
larva (the caterpillar), pupa
                                      looks soft, its skin is inelastic.     similar object. Some butterflies,
(chrysalis), and adult (the
                                      Caterpillars ‘grow’ by molting or      such as skippers, pupate inside a
butterfly). Each stage has special
                                      shedding their ‘skin’ several          thin covering of silk and leaves.
food and environmental needs.
                                      times because the skin (called
                                      ‘chitin’) does not expand. Each        The caterpillar stays still for
The cycle begins when
                                      stage of molting is called an          about a day as the pupal skin
butterflies deposit eggs, which
                                      ‘instar.’ The number of instars        forms under the caterpillar skin.
may be in the spring, summer, or
                                      depends on the species, but is         Then the old skin splits open,
fall. Eggs differ in size and shape                                          and the pupa emerges. Pupae of
                                      usually four or five. The rate at
depending on the species. Some                                               some kinds of butterflies can be
                                      which a caterpillar grows
butterflies lay many eggs; others,                                           green or brown. The pupae of
                                      increases with each molt because
such as the monarch, lay a single                                            monarch butterflies are bright
                                      the larva eats more food as it         green.
egg on the host leaf. Butterflies
can lay anywhere from 200 to
1500 eggs depending on the
species, so a good nectar source
is important to
maintain the health
of the butterfly
during its adult life.
In some cases, eggs
hatch within a few

In the pupal phase in the
cocoon, the caterpillar
undergoes changes and
metamorphoses into a butterfly.                                            adult butterflies feed on a variety
The length of the pupal stage                                              of nectar-producing flowers.
varies with each species and
often depends on temperature.                                              Adult butterflies take nectar from
Some species must go through a                                             many plants. Some plants
hibernation stage or diapause        as an adult, may live for 10          produce nectar to attract insects
before emerging as an adult.         months or more.                       and birds and other wildlife so
Usually, it takes about two                                                the plants will be pollinated. The
weeks. Once the organs have          The butterfly’s life cycle requires   nectar is sipped through a long
changed, the skin of the pupa        food for both the adult and           straw-like proboscis or ‘tongue’
splits and the butterfly emerges     caterpillar stages. Food for the      that is usually kept coiled. The
fully- grown, ready to sip nectar,   caterpillar stage is very             insect’s feet have a special
mate, and lay eggs, thus             important. Tiger swallowtails         sensing structure that can detect
repeating the life cycle. The        feed on tulip poplar, and the         sweet liquids, causing the
entire process from egg to           mourning cloak on aspens.             proboscis to uncoil when it
caterpillar to butterfly takes an    Monarch caterpillars feed on          comes in contact with the nectar.
average of five to six weeks.        milkweed leaves. Milkweed             You see such butterflies as
However, some kinds of               contains toxins that the larvae       monarchs flying to a lilac for a
butterflies go through only one      can ingest without harm, but the      bit of nectar.
cycle or one generation per year.    toxins make the caterpillars un-
Others may go through two or         tasty morsels to predators.           Sometimes a dozen or more
three generations in a               Butterflies may lay their eggs on     butterflies gather around a
season. Most butterflies live for    or near the plants on which the       puddle or wet place. This
two or three weeks, although         caterpillars feed. The caterpillar    behavior is called ‘puddling.’
some, such as the morning cloak,     may prefer the leafy parts of a
which spends the winter              variety of host plants, including
                                     flowers, vines, shrubs, trees, and
                                     weeds. Unlike the more finicky
                                     caterpillars, the
                                      and return to West Virginia in
The butterflies are actually
gathering up nutrients with their
proboscis. Animals such as
butterflies that eat only plants
                                      the spring. The monarch is the
                                      only truly migratory butterfly. It
                                      takes several generations of
                                      monarchs to make the trip from
                                                                            butterflies, you set out a brew of
need extra minerals to                North America to their over-          rotting bananas, plums, and pears
supplement their diets.               wintering grounds                                     to which you added
Butterflies you see puddling          in Mexico and                                        stale beer or sugar
include swallowtails, fritillaries,   California.                                          or molasses and
and skippers.                         Migrating fall                                       yeast. You let this
                                      monarchs have just                                  brew ferment, and
Butterflies fly best when their       emerged from the                                    then smear it over
body temperature is about 85-         pupae; the                                         tree trunks to
100 degrees. If it is colder, they    monarchs that                                      simulate sap.
need to warm up and do this by        migrate to northern areas in
basking in the sun with their         the spring are second or third         You made a homemade feeder
wings outstretched to absorb          generations from those that over-     filled with a solution of sugar
heat. If the temperature goes         wintered in the south. It’s still a   water: 4 parts water to 1 part
under 80 degrees, you see             mystery how they know where to        granulated sugar, keeping extra
butterflies basking before they       go.                                   solution in the refrigerator. You
begin flying.                                                               made a feeder by filling a dish or
                                      Mourning cloaks over-winter as        flat container with an absorbent
                                          adult butterflies in such         material such as tissue paper and
                                            protected places as loose       saturating it with your sugar
                                               bark and log plies or in     solution. This arrangement
                                               buildings. At about 60       allows the butterflies to perch
                                              degrees they begin to fly,    while feeding You put the feeder
                                       even if the calendar says it is      near nectar flowers on a post
                                      still winter. For that reason,        about 6 inches higher than the
Butterflies need a place to roost     mourning cloaks are often the         tallest flowers, so the feeder
during the night and often pick       first butterflies you see in the      stands out.
the underside of a leaf or bush.      spring; they have a ragged look
To see where they roost, you          because of the long winter. Most      You also made a butterfly
wait until late afternoon and         blues over-winter as pupae, and       ‘buffet’ by placing tables stocked
follow them to their roosting         viceroys over-winter as               with dishes of sugar water and
spot. Butterflies also roost during   caterpillars.                         rotting fruit. The table is 5 feet
rainy, cloudy, and cold weather.                                            off the ground. You used
They usually spend about 14           Most butterflies, however, winter     slippery substances such as
hours a day roosting from sunset      in the same areas where they          petroleum jelly to keep ants from
until midmorning.                     spend the summer.                     climbing up.

Butterflies spend the winter in        You do not have to walk far to       You also put plants in your
different ways and places              enjoy butterflies. You can have      garden to serve as larval host
according to species.                  them in your own backyard by         plants and nectar sources for
                                        putting out food sources for        adult butterflies. Larval host
                                        them.                               plants include paw-paw,
                                                                            spicebush, sassafras, carrots,
                                         Some butterflies, such as the      parsley, yellow poplar, cabbage,
Monarchs,                                mourning cloak, red admiral,       mustard, violets, pansies, daisy,
for instance,                            and viceroy, feed primarily        milkweed, willows, and grasses.
migrate as far                            on rotting fruit, tree sap, and
south as Mexico                           even manure. For these
                                     Some common West Virginia            common wood nymph, red-

Nectar-producing plants include
                                     butterflies you attract include
                                     zebra swallowtail, black
                                     swallowtail, orange sulfur,
                                     eastern tailed-blue, great
                                                                          spotted purple, mourning cloak,
                                                                          comma, red admiral, silver-
                                                                          spotted skipper, viceroy, and
                                                                          sleepy duskywing.
milkweed, redbud, joe-pye-           spangled fritillary, American
weed, butterfly bush, mustards,      painted lady, monarch,
aster, clover, holly, spicebush,
cone- flower, redbud, blueberry,
strawberry, vetch, wild plum,
and azalea.

                                     poisonous, although they can         as rabbits, although they grab
                                     bite.                                and swallow smaller prey. In
For Snake’s Sake                                                             turn, black rat snakes are a
                                                                                favorite food item for red-
Your eyes bug out. There he
                                                                                tailed hawks.
hangs, all 6 feet of him, from the
                                                                                Black rat snakes mate in
beam over your front porch door:
                                                                               April to May, with eggs
a full 2 yards of black rat snake.
                                                                               hatching August to October.
                                                                              From 4 to 25 eggs are laid in
For snake’s sake, you think to
                                                                              gardens, sawdust plies, and
yourself, and with the help of a
                                                                             loose soil. Young snakes are
long stick remove the snake to
                                                                            11 to 16 inches long.
more desirable surroundings a
ways from the porch of your
                                                              Some are    You grin as you remember
mountain cabin.
                                     aggressive, but some are not; the    another black snake you
                                     one you just                         encountered. This was a
Black rat snakes are one of the
                                     transported from your porch          particularly shy snake. At your
most common West Virginia
                                     seemed downright friendly, with      approach, the snake slithered
snakes. They have black or
                                     his tongue flicking slowly in and    along the path and found shelter
brown backs with mottled gray
                                     out picking up scent (snakes         in a hole in the bank. The hole
bellies. Young snakes to 4 feet
                                     sense with their tongues) and        was evidently too small, for the
long may have brown blotches
                                     showing no indication of striking    remaining 2 feet of the 5-foot-
on a gray background and some
                                     or biting. At home in many           long animal stuck out the back of
folks confuse them with the
                                     different types of habitats,         the hole rather obtrusively. The
poisonous rattlesnake. Black rat
                                     including yards, houses, forests,    snake seemed happy, though,
snakes are not
                                     swamps, roads, and hillsides,        supposing he was well hidden,
                                     black rat snakes eat frogs, small    but his nether portions were
                                     mammals, and bird eggs. They         visible, like a rope waiting to be
                                     can climb 30 feet up in a tree       pulled.
                                     after an ‘omelet,’ a habit that
                                     does not make them popular with      Black rat snakes have an
                                     bird- lovers. Black rat snakes can   interesting habit. They can
                                     reach a length of over 6 feet and    vibrate their tail back and forth
                                     are constrictors, smothering large   across dead leaves, producing an
                                     prey such                            ominous sound like a rattlesnake.
                                                                          The black rat snake can imitate
                                                                          the sound of the viper, probably
                                                                          in hopes of being left alone.
                                    Squirmy when caught and with
                                     ill-smelling musk, like a garter
                                                                          If threatened, the hognose snake
                                           snake, this snake will         has unusual habits: It inflates its
                                                 tame down and            body with air, hisses loudly, and
                                                     become quite         strikes. These tactics have earned
                                                     docile after a       it names like puff adder and
                                                     while.               blowing viper, although this is
                                                                          not a poisonous snake; it just acts
                                                      Another snake       that way. After the hissing
                                                    whose beautiful       theatrics, the snake, if still
                                                  color reminds you of    feeling threatened, writhes and
                                                 jewelry is the smooth    twists, finally rolling over on its
                                    green snake – 20 inches of bright     back and playing dead, mouth
Some 22 species of snakes live      green snake, like a long emerald.     open and tongue agape. These
in West Virginia; only two, the     Its belly is yellow-white. It is      actions, plus copious discharges
northern copperhead and the         found in lawns, weeds, and            of foul-smelling musk, make it
timber rattlesnake, are             meadows. It eats mostly insects.      very unappealing to a predator.
poisonous. The rest are                                                   When all is clear, the snake rolls
innocuous, just going about their   The snake with the most               over on its belly and slithers
business and getting on with        distinctive behavior is the eastern   away.
their reptile lives.                hognose snake, which grows
                                    between 3 and 4 feet long. It may     It seems that snakes state that all
Sometimes you can see some          be plain, black, or gray with         they want is to be left alone-not a
pretty snakes. The 10- to 20-       dark, squarish blotches on a tan,     bad outlook for a snake, really.
inch-long ringneck snake found      reddish, or yellow background.
around bark, leaves, logs, and      The unusual upturned shovel-
firewood is a good example. This    like snout resembling a pig’s
pencil- thin snake has a glossy     nose is used to burrow in the
black or dark back and a bright     ground; most of its diet is toads.
yellow or orange ring around the
neck. The belly is orange or
yellow, sometimes with a row of
black dots. This one with its
color reminds you of amber,
citrine, and other bright jewels.
Food is mostly earthworms and
                                                                             process known as

30                                   Fireflies are not actually flies,
                                     but beetles. There are about
                                     2,000 kinds of fireflies, but not
                                     all of them light up as adults.
                                                                             bioluminescence. Chemical
                                                                             reactions inside the firefly’s
                                                                             body produce energy that is
                                                                             almost 100 percent light, and
                                     They all glow when they are             only 1 percent heat.
Nightlife                            young in the larval stage, which        Bioluminescence, or the
                                     looks like a worm. Hence, we            emission of light by living
              Twist                  have ‘glow-worms,’ which you            creatures, fascinates all of us.
                                     see on the ground on summer             How does it occur? Many
         A twist of mist             nights. They are really young           organisms, not just fireflies but
     just missed the moon,           fireflies.                              also fish and other animals,
 then accosted and frosted the                                               produce light by chemical
forest in froth plumes, mist, too    Fireflies in our area start life as     mechanisms. Light is produced
    shy to fly in the sky and        tiny eggs fastened to the               by chemical oxidation where an
           darkly prune              underside of a leaf. The female         organic compound, luciferin,
     that too lovely moon.           firefly lays about a hundred eggs,      reacts with oxygen and an
                                     which hatch after four weeks            enzyme, luciferase. The products
                                     into tiny larvae less than 1/8- inch    of this chemical reaction include
Flickering, beeping, and buzzing,    long. The larvae creep along the        water, carbon dioxide, and the
West Virginia summer nights          soil, eating small insects and          ‘living light’ so noticeable on a
abound with nightlife.               earthworms. The little larva has a      summer evening.
                                     toxic bite, which it uses to kill
Fireflies                            prey, turning        its insides to     Living Light
                                     liquid that
Your own backyard is a good                                                           Even plants can produce
place to begin observing                                                               this living light.
nightlife. At twilight in                                                         Bioluminescent fungi,
the early summer,                                                            commonly known as foxfire, live
male fireflies fly                                                 the       on rotting logs and stumps.
over fields and                                                  larva       These mushrooms, subject of
woods and yards,                                              then           many a myth and legend of
blinking their lights in a                                  sucks up.        nefarious night tales, include
regular pattern to announce their    During              winter, the         jack-o-lantern and moonlight
presence to the female firefly.      larva crawls under a stone,             mushrooms. Best seen at night,
Female fireflies, looking for        coming out again in the warmer          these mushrooms emit a steady
males, perch on the ground or on     weather, and then again spending        dim yellow- green glow. The
stalks of grass, and when they       the winter under a rock. Then in        chemical processes involved
see a flying light blinking in the   May, the larva digs a pit and           apparently are more primitive
right pattern, begin signaling       chews up soil to make a roof            than those in animals. Light
back. Females have smaller           from mud strips. Within this, the       intensity is subject to
lights, but the male’s keen eyes     larva becomes a pupa, and makes         temperature and the amount of
can see it, and he flashes his       the marvelous transformation to         oxygen available. A temperature
message again. If the female         the adult firefly. It emerges from      of about 60 degrees is a good
answers, he flies to meet her.       its earth cover, ready to start         growing temperature for foxfire
                                     making the next generation of           and a good temperature for you
Different kinds of fireflies use     fireflies.                              to prowl the woods looking for
different patterns of flashing                                               eerie lights.
light. The most common firefly       If you catch a firefly and put it
has a yellow light that flashes      on your hand, you will notice
every six or seven seconds, each     that the ‘lantern’ is cold. Fireflies
flash lasting about half a second.   produce cold light through a
                                                Some bats use tongue
Bats flutter from a dark
and spooky West Virginia
                                                   clicks instead of
                                                    vocal cords.
                                                   Usually, large,
                                                 funnel-shaped ears
                                                                            and embryonic development
hollow. Bats are also part                     receive the echoes.
of our nightlife, and you                                                   begins. Their mothers nurse the
                                             Many bats have a vertical      blind and furless young, born in
can usually see bats about                 flap inside each ear, called a
twilight circling over                                                      spring and summer, until the
                                          ‘tragus,’ which may help          young bats can provide for
fields and wooded areas.                direct the incoming echoes.         themselves at about 6 weeks of
                                     Bats’ ears are specialized for         age. Bats have low reproductive
Bats are unique animals. They        frequencies in the ultra-sonic
are the only mammals that fly.                                              potential. Many have only one or
                                     range. Nerve impulses generated        sometimes two young per year,
Their hand is formed into a wing     by these sounds are transported
by thin membranes of skin                                                               but this is
                                     to the brain for                                      counterbalanced
covering the hand and finger         processing. Bats
bones stretched to the forearm,                                                              by a long life
                                     also use echolocation                                          span of at
side of the body, and hind leg.      to help them identify
The thumb is a claw free from                                                                             least
                                     their young in crowded
the wing.                            roosts.                                                               20
Most bats in West Virginia are       When insect-eating bats search
insect eaters. Bats are not blind,                                                                     years.
                                     for food, they often emit sounds                                With a
but have poor vision. To             at 10 pulses per second. Once a
compensate for this, they have                                              life span more than 32 years, the
                                     meal is located, they may emit         little brown bat is the world’s
developed a sonar system for         pulses as high as 200 per second
locating objects. Called                                                    longest- lived mammal for its
                                     as the prey is chased and caught.      size.
‘echolocation,’ this works by
bats emitting a series of high-      Bats capture insect prey by
pitched squeals through their                                               Bats tend to be brown or reddish
                                     foraging on the wing, or catch         in color with silky fur.
mouth or nose (these pulses are      flying insects from a perch, or
usually inaudible to humans) that                                           Occasionally there are white or
                                     collect them from plants. Some         albino bats. A species of bat
bounce back to the bats, thus        bats seize insects with their
enabling these remarkable                                                   living in Texas has spots.
                                     mouths, while others use their
animals to na vigate in total        wings or tail membrane to trap
darkness. The echolocation                                                  Some bats are solitary in lifestyle
                                     prey. Bats may disable large           and during the day hang in tree
system is so sensitive that bats     insects with a quick bite, cradle
can detect objects as thin as                                               foliage, attics, and barns. Other
                                     the insect meal in a basket            bats are colonial and cluster in
monofilament fishing line. The       formed by the bat’s wings and
echolocation calls, or pulses, are                                          caves and mine tunnels. (Sealing
                                     tail, and carry the insect to a        mines can prove disastrous if
produced in the larynx, or voice     perch for eating. Bats have sharp
box, by forcing air past thin                                               there are bats in the mine
                                     teeth to chew their food into tiny,    tunnels.) When at rest, bats hang
vocal membranes that only bats       digestible pieces.
have. Most bats give signals                                                with their heads down. During
                                     Male and female bats tend to           winter, some bats migrate south
through their mouth, but some        remain separate in summer, and
use a complex nose structure.                                               and some hibernate, depending
                                     mate in early fall. However, in a      on the species.
                                     process known as delayed
                                     fertilization, sperm is stored in      Most bat species tend to migrate
                                     the female’s reproductive system       less than 200 miles. Bats often
                                     until the following spring when        migrate along the same routes as
                                     ovulation occurs                       migratory birds.

                                                                            Some bats hibernate for the
                                                                            winter, migrating from
                                                                          Looking up, you see flying forms

32                                   West Virginia bats include big
                                     brown bat (common), little
                                     brown bat (common),
                                     eastern pipistrelle (common),
                                                                          darting and diving. The forms
                                                                          look like bats, but the wings are
                                                                          pointed and the flying creatures
                                                                          are bigger than bats. These are
warm nursery caves suited for        northern myotis (uncommon),          actually birds called nighthawks,
rapid growth of the young, to        red bat (uncommon), silver-          summer residents of city and
cooler caves with stable winter      haired bat (uncommon), evening       town areas.
temperatures. Bats prepare for       bat (rare), gray myotis (rare),
hibernation by putting on fat to     hoary bat (rare), Indiana bat        Despite their name, these birds
last through the cold weather.       (rare), Rafinesque’s big-eared       are not hawks. They belong to a
Disturbances that cause bats to      bat (rare), small- footed myotis     family of birds known as
awaken and use fat stores can be     (rare), and Virginia big-eared bat   nightjars, crepuscular (evening)
fatal to the bat. Therefore,         (rare).                              or nocturnal (night) birds whose
hibernating bats should be left                                           calls are loud enough to ‘jar’ or
alone.                               Bats are tremendous insect           ring in your ears. Other members
                                     eaters. A single bat can devour      of the nightjar family include
Bats are true                        hundreds of mosquitoes in an         whip-poor-wills.
hibernators.                                hour, making them natural
Throughout the winter,                       insecticides.                Nighthawks, with their long
they eat nothing, surviving                                               pointed wings and long tails, do
by slowly burning fat                                 Many people         resemble small hawks, although
accumulated during the                               interested in        nighthawks probably are more
summer. When a bat                                 attracting bats put    related to owls. Nighthawks have
hibernates, its body                               up bat houses,         blackish backs, mottled with
temperature drops                                  which can hold up      gray and brown. Their bellies are
almost to air                                      to 30 bats. The bat    white, barred with black and
temperature, and                                 house should be          gray. There is a white patch
respiration and                              located near a permanent     close to the bend in the wings,
heartbeat become very slow.               source of water. Mother bats    which is noticeable in flight, and
Bats can be roused from               prefer temperatures in the 80 to    a conspicuous white throat patch.
hibernation fairly easily and may    100 degree range, while              Males have a white band across
fly around for 15 minutes after      bachelors prefer a cooler climate.   the tail. Females have buffy
being disturbed, using up fat        Temperature will influence           throats and do not have the white
reserves needed to survive long      which bats pick your bat house       tail band. Nighthawks’
winters.                             for a home. Sometimes it takes a     inconspicuous colors suit their
                                     while for the bats to find your      low light environment.
There are nearly 1,000 species of    bat house.
bats in the world, and indeed,                                            Nighthawks may be difficult to
one out of every four mammal         Talk of the Town                     see flying about in the dark, but
species is a kind of bat.                                                 you can distinguish them by their
However, bats are basically          Nightlife exists not only in the     long, slender wings and their
tropical animals, and only about     woods but also around towns and      darting, irregular flight as they
40 kinds live in North America.      cities. You are walking down a       fly low, then high, over rooftops.
                                     street at evening, and from high
West Virginia is home to about       above the buildings you hear         Nighthawks act as a natural
13 kinds of bats. Some of them,      notes that sound like ‘beeep,        control on mosquitoes, flies, and
such as the Virginia-big-eared       beeep, beeep.’                       other insect pests. The birds
bat are considered rare and          These calls are the ‘talk of the     sweep insects out of the air into
endangered. The most common          town’ on a quiet summer              their capacious mouths, usually
bat in West Virginia is the little   evening, when daytime activity       while in flight, either high in the
brown bat, about 3 inches long       has ceased and evening seeps         air or close to the ground. Night-
with a wingspan to 10 inches. It     through the crevices in the          hawks eat everything from large
is the bat you are most likely to    concrete and brick city              moths and beetles to houseflies.
see on your twilight walk.           structures.                          Ants, grasshoppers, and plant
lice are also on their menu.
Nighthawks drink in flight by
skimming the water’s surface
with their bills.
                                     Nighthawks don’t construct
                                     nests, but lay eggs on stones in
                                     pastures, gardens and beaches,
                                     and sometimes on stumps or rail      Nighthawks are considered
The male has a courtship flight      fences. In towns and cities, the     neotropical migrants, birds that
or dive where his wings make a       nighthawks discovered that the       nest in North America but winter
loud, muffled booming sound,         gravel on rooftops provides good     in South America. Nighthawks
caused as air rushes through his     nesting places, which helps          nest from Canada and
wing feathers. When they are not     explain why these birds find the     Newfoundland south to
flying, nighthawks sometimes         urban environment attractive.        California and Panama. In West
perch on posts.                                                           Virginia, the birds nest in towns
                                     Mostly the female does               and perhaps on barren ground of
                                     incubation. The male feeds the       large strip mines.
                                     incubating female and then helps
                                     feed the young birds, which first    On drowsy summer nights you
                                     fly about 20 days after hatching.    will want to listen to these birds
                                                                          and their ‘talk of the town.’

Plants in Your Path
                                     Another unusual plant that           small ebony spleenwort to the 6-
Seeing a spiny cactus plant along
                                     doesn’t even look like a plant is    foot-tall bracken fern. An
your path makes you think you
                                     scouring rush. This member of        attractive fern is the 5-foot-tall
are walking in the desert.
                                     the horsetail family looks like a    cinnamon fern, which grows
Actually, you are walking along
                                     bunch of 3- foot-high stalks.        profusely in wet areas of the
a dry, shaly area in the eastern
                                     Small, scale- like leaves are        state. Tufts of cinnamon-colored
part of West Virginia. The plant
                                     located on round collars. Spores     ‘wool’ on the stems give this
you are looking at is prickly pear
                                     or ‘seeds’ are in the cone-shaped    fern its name. The spores or
cactus. Also known as devil’s-
                                     structure at the top of              ‘seeds’ are located on fronds or
tongue cactus, it is one of the
                                     photosynthetic evergreen stems,      stems, separate from the leaf.
few cacti with leaves, although
                                     which have a rough surface           Young ferns are called
they are small and fall off.
                                     because of the presence of rock-     ‘fiddleheads,’ which they
Flowering in June and July, it
                                     like silica particles. Pioneer       resemble when first starting to
grows in shale barrens in Cabell,
                                     families bound bundles of stems      grow.
Grant, Hampshire, Hardy,
                                     together to scour floors and pans,
Mason, Mineral, Pendleton,
                                     giving this plant its name.          Very unusual and most unfern-
Roane, and Tucker counties. The
                                     Growing along streambanks,           looking is the walking fern. Its
solitary flowers on the pad-like
                                     scouring rush is most common in      long, slightly leathery leaves
joints of the cactus are waxy.
                                     the Eastern Panhandle.               grow 7 inches long tapering at
The yellow flowers develop into
                                                                          the end. The tip has the
thorny knobs or fruit also called
                                     Ferns, with their delicate,           interesting habit of rooting and
‘Indian figs.’ The yellow-green
                                     feathery fronds, are                      producing a new plant. This
to purplish fruit is edible. This
                                     attractive plants,                       is where it gets its name.
spiny cactus is just one example
                                     and West                                 Shady limestone rocks in wet
of unusual plants that might
                                     Virginia has                            ravines are good places to
appear on your path on a walk in
                                     many kinds, from                        look for these ferns, which
the Mountain State.
                                     the                                      grow throughout the state.
                                    maple, walnut, elm, hickory, and       What is unusual about the pale

Plants with bits of rock, wool,
                                    other trees. And, have you ever
                                    noticed an orange, threadlike
                                    vine twining around bushes and
                                    shrubs? This is really a plant or
                                                                           plants is their lack of chlorophyll
                                                                           for manufacturing food. These
                                                                           unique plants have developed
                                                                           other ‘meal planning strategies’
and spines and rooting leaves are   vine called dodder. Since it does      and do not need chlorophyll.
all unusual. Perhaps even more      not make its own food, it has no       Since these plants have no green
unique are plants that, like        need for chlorophyll and               chlorophyll, they also have no
humans, may also like a             therefore is not green. Dodder         need for real leaves, which are
‘hamburg’ for dinner.               has no roots, but attaches itself to   reduced to small scaly structures,
These are the                       its host with small sucker- like       adding to the plants’ grotesque
carnivorous/insectivorous                    structures. Dodder            appearance.
plants that catch their                      grows in profusion,
own snacks, so to speak.                     looking like spaghetti        Indian pipe, pinesap, beechdrops,
Pitcher plant has vase-                      winding around shrubs         squawroot, and one- flowered
shaped leaves to 3 feet                       and bushes.                  broomrape are all examples of
high. Water collected                                                      plants without chlorophyll.
in the vase traps and                        As with animals, plants       While not exactly as common as
drowns insects, which                        have infinite variety in      dandelions, these plants grow in
the plant digests and                        their lifestyles and ways     most parts of the state.
consumes.                                    of making a living.
Sundews                                                                    Indian pipe, also known as
also catch                                     A good example               corpse plant, has as near
their own meals and trap insects    of this is another group of              relatives such shrubs as
on tiny sticky-tipped leaves.       plants that lack green color.            mountain laurel and
Both pitcher plants and sundews     These plants have names                   rhododendron, Indian pipe is
live in boggy and swampy areas,     like corpse plant and ghost               succulent or fleshy, with stems
such as Cranesville Swamp and       flower. As you ramble                      4 to 10 inches high. One- inch
Dolly Sods.                         through the deep, dark                     flowers appearing in June
                                    forest, you may encounter                  through August are at the end
Do you think you have too many      them gleaming like                          of the stalk, drooping to form
mosquito larvae?                    translucent wax growing on                  a ‘pipe.’ The Latin name for
Bladderwort, an                     the damp earth. Perhaps                              Indian pipe,
aquatic plant (lives in             you wonder if these pale                              Monotropo uniflora,
water), is also                      plants are the ghost and ghouls       means single turn, single flower-
carnivorous and                         of the vegetable world.            an appropriate description for the
catches small water                                                        lone flower at the end of the
animals, including                        Not exactly. But these pale      stalk’s single turn. Flowers,
mosquito wigglers                          misty looking plants are        which have 4 to 6 petals and 10
and even small fish.                        very unusual in the            stamens, are insect pollinated.
The plant’s tiny                              world of flowering           After fertilization, the
bladders have                                  plants. Indeed,
strands that engulf                             they are flowering
and digest prey.                                  plants,
                                                   with the same
Some plants are                                      flower parts
parasitic, letting a                                   such as petals
host plant secure food                                  and stamens
for them. Mistletoe is a                                  that their
good example. This                                         green-clad
familiar holiday ‘kissing                                    relatives
plant’ is parasitic on sugar                                  have.
           flowers turn upward,
             and become black.
              The mature seeds
              are in a
                                       A member of this group of plants
                                       is called broomrape (Orobanche
                                       unflora), named from the Latin
                                       Rapa, meaning turnip, and               Squawroot, which grows 3 to
               capsule. Indian         broom, which is a shrub on              10 inches high, is easily
                pipe usually grows     which the plant broomrape               recognized. The plants look
                 in clusters. Since    grows. This plant has stalks 3 to       like little pinecones. They
                it has no              8 inches high, with a whitish 2-        are scaly, light brown, and
                chlorophyll and        lipped flower on top of the stalk.      usually grow in clusters,
               does not need light     It flowers in May and is common         often under red oaks.
               for photosynthesis,     throughout the state.                   The yellow flowers are
              it can grow in the                                               ½-inch long, blooming
              deep shade of the        Beechdrops grow 6 to 20 inches          in early summer.
             forest where other        high. Their stems are stiff,
                                       branching, and yellow-brown or          Next hike in the
                                       purple-yellow. Dull red flowers         woods, keep an eye
‘sunbathing’ plants don’t thrive.      appear in August and September.         out for unusual plants
                                       As the name implies, the plants         in your path,
Classed as a saprophyte, Indian        are parasitic on roots of beech         especially
pipe gets nourishment from             trees. It is reported that this plant   pale and pastel plants-
decaying organic matter, but the       had medicinal uses as an                not quite the goblins of
whole process is a bit complex.        astringent for minor cuts and           the plant world they
Delicate threadlike fungi are          bruises.                                appear at first
around the plant’s roots. The                                                  encounter.
roots actually receive
nourishment from the fungi,
which in turn take nourishment
from decaying wood in the soil.
It is difficult to transplant Indian
pipe probably because the fungus
does not survive relocation.

Pinesap is related to and looks
like Indian pipe but has several
flowers growing from the tip of
each stem. Pinesap, which grows
to a foot high, is aromatic, and is
found in woods, sometimes
under pines.

Another group of plants without
chlorophyll are members of a
family with the imposing name
Orobanchaceae. The tongue
twister name is from a Greek
word meaning ‘strangle,’
referring to the plants’ parasitic
habits. These plants come in
shades of yellow, brown, violet
and red. Flowers have 5 petals,
forming upper and lower lips.
                                      A long neck attached to a head        kinds of turtles include map,

36                                    with a sharp snout cautiously
                                      sticks up and has a look around.
                                      The creature surfaces; head and
                                      neck protrude from a pancake-
                                                                            painted, slider, cooter, red-eared,
                                                                            redbelly, musk, and the rare
                                                                            wood turtle.

                                                shaped body. You are        Turtles don’t have teeth. Their
                                               looking at a spiny           jaws have bony ridges. Some are
                                              softshell turtle.             carnivores, but others are more
                                                                            vegetarians with a taste for
                                             Most unturtle looking, this    tomatoes and lettuce. Turtles
                                           animal has a long, thin snout    usually mate once a year and
                                          used as a snorkel when the        eggs can remain fertile for
                                         turtle is covered up in the mud.   several years. Ancient animals,
                                      The carapace or top shelf is          turtles have been on the earth for
                                      flattened like a pancake, and the     a million years. One fossil turtle
                                      small plastron or bottom shell        was 12 feet long and weighed a
                                      makes the turtle look as if it got    ton.
Tale of a Turtle                      squashed in a compactor.
                                                                            You can help protect these
The river nestles as softly in its
                                      The spiny softshell turtle can        ancient animals-by removing
channel as a child in its cradle.
                                      reach 18 inches long. In places       them from busy highways before
Sun from a serene summer’s day
                                      the carapace has spines,              they become road kills and by
shimmers on the smooth, satin
                                      imparting a sort of porcupine         protecting sandy areas around
water. The little boat you are
                                      texture. Almost exclusively a         rivers and creeks where they
rowing barely slits the shining
                                      water turtle, the softshell comes     deposit eggs.
green of the water’s surface. For
                                      on land mostly to deposit eggs,
a minute, you rest your oars on
                                      which are laid in June, with          If your turtle were inclined to tell
the side of the boat, taking in the
                                      hatchings arriving in the fall or     a few more tales, it might
peace of the still summer day.
                                      following spring. Spiny               mention a few fish stories or
From away on the shore, you
                                      softshells sometimes bask on          ‘that big one that got away.’ The
hear the long, drawn-out trill of a
                                      logs or in shallow water, but they    Mountain State has about 9,000
gray tree frog, chorusing its
                                      prefer to float on the surface in     streams, home to some 176 kinds
froggy song.
                                      deep water. Excellent swimming        of fish, including several kinds
                                      ability, long necks, and sharp        of catfish, many kinds of
Your boat, although unpowered,
                                      jaws help them catch insects,         minnows, white and striped bass,
still glides a few inches over the
                                      insect larvae, fish, snails, and      many kinds of sunfish, large and
water, and you look into the
                                      worms.                                small mouth bass, skipjack
emerald green surface. Just
                                                                            herring, walleye, freshwater
inches away, ripples float over
                                      If your turtle could tell tales, it   drum, northern pike,
the water. They are caused by
                                      would remind you that some 15         muskellunge, and brook, brown,
something, something ... coming
                                      other kinds of turtles live in West   and
up from the river depths. Then a
                                      Virginia. Some, such as
vague, amorphous shape appears
                                      softshells and snappers, are
outlined under the surface-
                                      aquatic, but
something like a periscope
projects up from the oozy depths.
                                      including box
Troubled thoughts about the
                                      turtles, are found
Loch Ness Monster seep through
                                      on land. Box turtles
your head.
                                      are seen often in the
                                      woods. They can live
Then the periscope apparatus
                                      to a ripe old age of 40
assumes a more definitive shape.
                                      or more years. Other
rainbow trout. Some of the oldest     River drainage. Some of the
and most primitive fish in the
state are lampreys, which are
jawless. Other ancient fish
include the prehistoric- looking
                                      prettiest fish include the darters,
                                      especially the candy darter, with
                                      its red, green, and yellow fins
                                      and red spots below the lateral
                                                                            Fishin’ in West Virginia is pretty
lake sturgeon, found in the Ohio      line. More than two dozen kinds       good, whether your idea of
River, and the paddlefish,            of darters occur in West              fishing is fins in your frying pan,
distinguished by the large,           Virginia.                             or studying and learning about
spoon- like structure protruding                                            fish and wetlands wildlife.
from its snout, also found in the
Ohio                                                                        Your observant turtle could tell
                                                                            you a lot more about other water
                                                                            animals, including mussels...

                                                                            into the mud like an anchor. At
Buckets of Muckets                                                          the other end of the animal, on
                                      several inches long. Mussels are      the water side, mussels depend
... and the time your head was        mollusks, related to oysters and      on currents to bring them a
stuck in a bucket. Actually, you      snails.                               watery ‘soup,’ which enters the
and several friends had your                                                mussel through its siphon. In
heads stuck in buckets. But these     With a little training and careful    saltwater clams the siphon is
are special buckets: The clear        peering through your bucket, you      called the ‘neck,’ as in little neck
plastic bottom allows you to peer     learn to spot mussels, which          clams. This ‘soup du jour’ passes
through. Wading knee-deep in          stick partway out of sand and         through the animal and exits
the waters of a creek, you hunch      gravel, looking like two saucers      from the other end of the siphon,
over the bucket that you move         stuck together and covered with       resulting in the jet of water.
along the water’s surfaces,           mud. If the animal is alive, you      Mussels may have muscles but
allowing you to see the stream        see it siphoning water and realize    they don’t have any heads-just
bottom. Suddenly you see what         it is a bivalve, and not an           siphons to get their meals. If you
you are after, and plunge your        underwater geyser.                    remove a live mussel from its
arm into the summer sun-                                                    sandy roost, you often see the
warmed waters, bringing up            Mussels have two shells joined        foot protruding from the shell
from the gravel substrate the         by a spring hinge. The shells are     and a jet of water.
creature you wanted: a large,         closed together by two large
live, and healthy mussel.             muscles whose opposite ends are       You examine your mussel,
                                      attached to opposing shells. If       determine the species, and put
Mussels are freshwater bivalves       you pick up one of the valves               the animal back so it is
or freshwater clams. While            you can see the attachment                        oriented with its foot
picnicking or boating, you may        places. Mussels stay                               in the water and
see them either live - sticking out   half-buried in the                                 siphon on top. You
of the mud - or dead, as piles of     creek bottom,                                     stick the narrow end
sometimes pearly- lined shells        relaxing their                                    with the foot back in
along stream banks. Many              muscles to                                       the
people are surprised to discover      allow the
the existence of these animals,       shell to open
which can weigh almost a pound        so the
and has shells                        hatchet-shaped
                                      foot extends
                                     Unfertilized eggs pass from the    fins, or body of a fish. Glochidia
mud. It’s not kind to the mussel    mussel’s ovary in the cavity into   cannot swim or crawl, so if they
to stick him upside-down in the     the gills, where they are           can’t find the right fish host they
mud.                                fertilized by sperm cells           die.
                                    discharged into the water by a
Awkward blobs of mud they           nearby male mussel. The gills       Mussel shells, like tree rings, tell
may appear, but mussels are         are specially shaped to act as a    a story. The heavy ridges or lines
interesting critters. They are      brood pouch for the tiny            on the shell may indicate hard
descendants of marine clams.        embryos, which grow into larval     times when bad weather or lack
Over the ages they came from        mussels complete with tiny          of food kept the mussel from
saltwater bays, gradually           shells. Baby mussels are called     secreting shell. The spaces
working their way up freshwater     ‘glochidia.’ Eventually, the        between the ridges indicate more
inland rivers and creeks.           glochidia are expelled from the     rapid shell growth, when
Considering that adult mussels      gill pouch. Then (and here is a     conditions were more favorable.
usually stay buried in the bottom   neat phase), in order to survive
and don’t move around, this         the glochidia must clasp their
migration is marvelous. Here’s      tiny shells into the gills,
how they do it.
While definitely not the Bambi       grip, rainbow shell, and then a
                                                                         sewage, and siltation from
of the wildlife world, mussels       fat mucket, and a pocketbook        runoff, can murder mussels. And
have their place. Piles of shells    mucket. And so you now have a       since mussels require current to
on shore indicate that a muskrat     bucket of muckets.                  bring them tiny food particles,
or otter enjoyed a clam dinner.                                          dredging, damming, and
Animals that can’t open the          So who gives a mince about          channelizing waterways can also
mussel’s shell may just drag it      mussels? We all should. Because     destroy these little creatures.
out of the water and wait for the    like a dead canary in a coalmine
clam to die and then slurp it up     indicating the presence of lethal   However, on this summer day, as
on the half-shell.                   gas, declining mussel               you look at your collection of
                                     populations foretell problems.      mussels representative of West
Your clam dig is successful,         More than 40 percent of North       Virginia’s more than 60 species
proving a veritable ‘muscle          America’s 300 freshwater            of freshwater bivalves, all seems
shoals,’ and you identify many       mussels are rare or extinct. This   well with the world of turtles and
species including: 3-ridge, lady     is a worrisome percentage.          clams. Being hungry, you and
finger, snuff box, pig toe, fluted                                       your friends head for the local
shell, Ohio River pig toe,           Stream pollution, including acid    fish place-for a clam dinner.
kidneyshell, squaw foot, pistol      mine drainage, chemical spills,
                                       Good squirrel woods should
Bushy-Tails and
Woolly Bears
                                       contain mature mast-producing
                                       (acorn and nut) trees to provide
                                       foods. Squirrels also like walnuts
                                       and beechnuts. Other fruit trees
                                                                            Nesting, denning, and feeding
You enjoy the bushy-tailed
critters that flitter about, seldom    including serviceberry provide       habits of fox squirrels are similar
refusing an offering of seeds and      seasonal variety. Squirrels also     to the gray’s. Mating season is
nuts.                                  need suitable den trees. A good      January, and young arrive
                                       den tree is one near maturity that   February to March. There are
Squirrels are active throughout        has one or two openings into a       usually two to fo ur young that
the year in West Virginia, but         cavity. Appropriate dens or          develop slowly, taking up to 12
fall is a good time to watch for       cavities are formed when lower       weeks before going on their own.
them when leaves are off the           tree branches die: A cavity          Mating activity occurs again in
trees and the squirrels are busy       results when the squirrels           June.
shopping for winter supplies of        remove the rotting wood. A
acorns.                                depth of 2 feet is right for         Both fox and gray squirrels have
                                       squirrels, with an entrance 3 or 4   two distinct homes: the tree dens
Squirrels are rodents in the same      inches in diameter. Anything         and more temporary leaf nests,
animal family as fur-bearers such      larger could let in predators.       which serve as escape cover
as muskrat and beaver. Rodents’        Older trees with wide openings       throughout the year and as
characteristic chisel- like incisors   are useful for shelter, but don’t    nurseries. You often see these
make them adept at any gnawing         make good den trees.                 leaf nests in a late fall or winter
activity. Chipmunks and                                                     walk through the woods. Gray
woodchucks are also rodents,           Gray squirrels are abundant in       and fox squirrels are active in the
                                       West Virginia and live in both       winter and you sometime can
Squirrels are among the best-          towns and rural places.
known rodents and small
mammals generally. Five species        Fox squirrels are larger and
of squirrels live in West              stockier than grays, weighing as
Virginia: gray, fox, red, and          much as 3 pounds and reaching
southern and northern flying           25 inches long, including a
squirrels.                             flowing, 12- inch tail whose foxy
                                       chestnut color gives this
Gray squirrels weigh around 1-         handsome squirrel its name. Fox
1/2 pounds and are 18-20 inches        squirrels have reddish gray backs
long, including their long,            with a buff to reddish brown
somewhat flattened, bushy tails        underbelly. There is a lot of
edged with white. There is a lot       color variation from gray to
of color variation, and some gray      black. Unlike gray squirrels, fox
squirrels may be dark.                 squirrels like open, park-like
                                       woods without too much brush,
Essentially a tree species, gray       because they spend a lot of time
squirrels are well adapted to          on the ground scurrying about
forest life and are                    searching for food. Fox squirrels
excellent aerialists,                         are common in the state’s
traveling with ease                                woodlands.
through leafy
treetops and leaping
12 feet from twig
to twig.
                                      Southern flying squirrels are as      relatives and have gray belly

see their tracks on the freshly
                                      common as their daytime
                                      relatives but are seldom seen
                                      because they are out and about
                                      mostly at night. The flying
                                                                            hairs. Their habitat is restricted
                                                                            to higher elevations in red spruce
                                                                            forests. They are considered
                                                                            ‘relict’ or leftover from the Ice
fallen snow. They stay in a tree      squirrels are small, with head        Ages, when cold weather drove
cavity or bulky winter nest of        and body 5 inches long and a 3-       the northern species of animals
leaves, bark, and branches.           inch tail. Their silky fur is gray-   and plants south; some of these
Squirrels may use the same nests      brown, with white under parts.        northern animals still find a
for years.                            Their eyes are black and              home here in higher and colder
                                      lustrous.                             elevations.
Red squirrels, also called fairy-
                diddles,              Flying squirrels have a loose fold    While you are walking long
                  chickarees, and     of skin extending from the wrist      checking out squirrels, you look
                       piney          of the forearm to the ankle of the    down on forest path see a sure
                                      hind leg along both sides of the      sign of the coming fall: a fuzzy
                                      body. Called the ‘patagium,’ this     black- and-orange woolly bear.
                                      flap enables the animal to make       Actually, the woolly bear is the
                                           long graceful glides; the        caterpillar stage of the tiger
                                           squirrels don’t really fly.      moth. The tiger moth has yellow-
                                          Beginning its launch from a       brown forewings with small
                                         treetop, the flying squirrel       black dots, and paler hind wings.
                                        glides through the air in a         It lives in meadows, fields, and
                                         descending curve, alighting        road edges. The
                                            head up in a tree. Most
                                              glides are 20-60 feet but
                                      can be longer. Flying squirrels
squirrels, are easily told from fox   are sociable, and several may
and gray squirrels because of the     crowd into a tree nest cavity.
red squirrel’s smaller size,          They sometimes utter twitters
noticeable reddish or rufous          you can hear when squirrels are
colors, and different habitat. Red    inside the tree, alerting you to
squirrels are half the size of        their presence. Their food
grays, and in summer their            includes nuts, berries, insects,
pelage is rich yellowish or           and small birds. Flying
reddish, with a black line along      squirrels may come to your
the sides and a white belly.          feeders and may nest in
During winter they have               boxes you set out for
prominent ear tufts and an            screech owls or other
orange-red stripe from head to        cavity-nesting birds. If this
tall. Red squirrels are alert and     happens, you enjoy your
energetic and you usually hear        flying squirrels!
their noisy ‘chick chick chick’
calls before you see them.            As with the daytime
Red squirrels prefer to live in       squirrels, flying squirrels do
mixed conifer- hardwood forests,      not hibernate during winter,
where they dine on acorns, nuts,      but curl up together in a ball
berries, buds, fungi, and             in their den to stay warm
occasionally mice and eggs.           and snack on stored food.
They store food, and their caches
may contain bushels of conifer        Northern flying squirrels are
cones.                                larger than their southern
                                      for a female with cubs-and are
                                      mostly nocturnal, although they
                                      do travel and feed during the
                                      day. Bears utter a variety of
                                                                          but they do den up and become
                                      squeaks, growls, and grunts.        dormant, living off their fat
                                      Their vision and hearing is not     reserves when the weather
                                      especially acute, but their sense   becomes cold in November and
                                      of smell is well developed, and     December. Around the end of
woolly bear caterpillar eats many     they find food mostly by scent.     April, when the weather
kinds of herbaceous plants but        Their diet is largely vegetarian    improves, mother bear and cubs
seldom bothers ornamentals.           and, depending on the time of       are out searching for food. The
Known since Colonial times as         year, includes acorns, apples,      cubs remain with the sow until
the woolly bear, it is often seen     beechnuts, grapes, fruits of        they are 1-1/2 years old, after
crossing roads on warm days in        mountain ash, mountain holly,       which time the family disbands,
late fall. Legend has it that the     sassafras, serviceberry, ants,      although male and female cubs
amount of black on the                bees, honey, carrion, ferns,        may remain in the sow’s
caterpillar’s fuzzy coat indicates    grasses, mushrooms, wood            territory, part of which she may
the severity of the coming            roaches, and skunk cabbage.         not use for feeding in order to
winter. Actually, the color                                               leave food for the yearling cubs.
indicates how near the caterpillar    Based on this variety in diet, an   At 2-1/2 years old, the male cubs
is to full growth.                    area that has lots of plants and    roam widely, trying to find and
                                      trees has the potential for         establish a range of their own.
Ahead you hear a great crash and      attracting and supporting bears.
looking toward a patch of             The highest concentrations of       Black bears can live for more
twisted grape vines, you see          bears, essential forest-dwellers,   than 25 years, but in the wild
another bear: a real black bear.      usually are at higher elevation     legal hunting, poaching, highway
                                      wilderness areas of the state,      kills, and kills for damage
Black bears, which have lived in      although the occasional stray       control may limit a bear’s life.
West Virginia for hundreds of         bear can turn up almost
years, were numerous during           anywhere. Males are especially      You see a great furred shape
early settlement days. Standing       noted for long-distance travel,     lumbering away from the
30 inches at the shoulder and         sometimes over 100 miles.           grapevines, and watch your
weighing from 140 to 400                                                  black bear- bears are usually shy
pounds, with some individuals         Young females breed when 3-1/2      of people- bear away into the
surpassing 600 pounds, bears are      years old; breeding ability is      woods, as your mind fills with
powerful and impressive               relate to a good diet. Female       thoughts of bushy-tails, woolly
animals. Their fur is glossy          bears, termed ‘sows,’ produce       bears, and black bears.
black, although color can vary        cubs only every other year.
from brown to bluish gray. Their      Young sows tend to have one
muzzle is tinged with tan, and        cub, while older, more
some have a white V-shaped            experienced sows have two
mark on their chests.                 or three cubs per litter. The
                                      sow has her cubs when
For their size, bears are agile and   she is still in her winter
can climb trees to feed on fruits     den, often in
and buds. They are also good          December. The cubs
swimmers. They can travel at 30       weigh only about 9
miles per hour for short              ounces at birth.
distances. Alert and wary, bears
tend to be solitary-except            Bears are not true hibernators,
                                                                          Your tabby might not eat her

44                                   helps shrews locate prey. Shrews
                                     have fantastically high metabolic
                                     rates, with 780 heartbeats per
                                                                          shrew because shrews have a
                                                                          musky, unappetizing odor, so it
                                                                          is not unusual to find shrew
                                                                          corpses around your yard.
Tabby’s Tidbits                      minute. Talk about stress - the      Shrews eat enough insects to
                                     shrew could tell you all about it.   make them useful in keeping
Your tabby cat loves it, but you,    In order to survive these high       down your ‘bug’ populations,
her horrified owner, do not: the     energy levels, shrews must eat
daily doorstep offering of           almost constantly, and fasting for   Moles, adapted for a lightless life
chewed up furry critters             more than 20 minutes might well      underground, have a long,
including mice, shrews, voles,       ‘do in’ a shrew. Active all year,    pointed nose and broad front feet
and other catches that defy          shrews often travel under leaves     to help them dig. Low ridges that
description.                         and through the snow, always         appear as moles tunnel under the
                                     seeking meals and snacks. Life       surface, excavating dirt mounds
All these little animals may look    in the fast lane quickly burns       that may contain 2 gallons of
alike, especially after Tabby        them out and their life span is      earth indicate the presence of
plays with them awhile, but          only a year.                         moles.
actually these small mammals
differ greatly.                      West Virginia has eight kinds of     West Virginia has three kinds of
                                     shrews. Most unusual is the rare     moles. Most unusual is the star-
Shrews, for instance, are often      northern water shrew, adapted        nosed mole, named for the 22
mistaken for mice. But a shrew       for aquatic life. Expert swimmer     pink projections on its nose, used
is not by any means a mouse.         and diver, the 6-inch water shrew    to help it find food. Very rare in
Shrews eat insects, unlike mice,     has large hind feet and webbed
which, as you know, eat seeds        toes. Mostly nocturnal, water
and cheese. Shrews are very          shrews eat small fish, mayflies,
fierce, especially for their size,   and other invertebrates.
as they weigh less than an ounce.
The snout of a shrew is long and     One of the most common shrews
pointed, very unlike a mouse’s       is the short-tailed shrew. It is 5
snout, and the shrew’s sharp         inches long, with a 1- inch tail,
teeth are tipped with chestnut       concealed ears, tiny eyes, and
color.                               short legs. This little dynamo
                                     lives in grass and brush and digs
Aggressive and positively            tunnels in the top of soil and
belligerent, shrews may attack       leaves. Short-tailed shrews
frogs, birds, and even other         make nests out of leaves.
shrews. An echolocation or radar     Population density may be
system (bats and whales also         25 per acre. Diet includes
have an echolocation system)         insects, worms, and
                                     snakes. Their poisonous
                                     saliva delivered through a
                                     sharp bite kills prey.
West Virginia, this mole lives in
damp meadows, woods, and
swamps and is at home in the
water. Gardens, lawns, and golf
courses are good places to find
                                                                                Woodrats eat mostly plants
the not so popular 6- inch- long                                               and fruit. They are
eastern mole. Pointed snout,                                                   uncommon in the state.
velvety gray fur, naked tail, and
ability to irritate lawn owners       West Virginia, but unwelcome             Jumping mice are mouse-like
complete the description. These       imports from Europe.)                   in form, but are different from
moles can excavate up to 18 feet                                              mice with their very long tails
per hour, creating havoc in lawns     Meadow voles are 7 inches long,         and hind legs adapted for
and grassy areas. On the                      active day and night, and      jumping.
plus side,                                     incredibly prolific: A
moles                                            female can produce 17
eat                                                litters a year.
many                                                    Populations can
insects.                                               be high as 400
                                                  per acre. Meadow
Native mice, voles, and rats          voles can be unwelcome in             Locomotion is by short hops but
belong to a large group of            lawns and gardens because they        they jump several feet. They are
animals, the Cricetidae.              gnaw bark on trees. However           excellent swimmers. Home for
                                      meadow voles are staples in the       these mice is mostly meadows
Mice have large ears and eyes         diet of hungry hawks, owls,           and grasslands. They hibernate
and long tails. Four kinds live in    foxes, and even fish.                 (unlike mice, which are active all
West Virginia. Voles (not to be                                             year) in winter quarters beneath
confused with moles!) have            Bog lemmings,                            the frost zone. Jumping mice
stocky bodies, small round ears,      uncommon in                                consume seeds, fruit, and
small eyes, short tails, and coarse   the state, live in                          insects and their larvae.
fur. Five kinds live in West          cool places.                                  The two kinds of jumping
Virginia. Lemmings are voles          These 5- inch-                                 mice are meadow
with soft long fur, living in         long                                            jumping mouse and
higher and cooler places. There       mammals                                         woodland jumping
is one species in the state and       have brown                                      mouse.
one kind of rat, the Allegheny        and yellow
woodrat. There are also two           coats.                                Small mammals,
species of jumping mice.              Short ears are concealed in the       including mice, voles,
                                      long fur. Social creatures, they      squirrels, rabbits,
Deer mice and white- footed mice      live with other voles and moles.      chipmunks, and birds,
with their rich golden-brown fur                                            fish, frogs, and
are the most common mice,             The eastern woodrat is 16 inches      carrion, are food
abundant in meadows and               long, with a hairy tail.              for a slightly
woods. In the woods, the mice         Woodrats’ preferred home is a         different tabby:
are active and agile, easily          cave or rock crevice but they will    West Virginia’s tawny, sly, and
scampering up trees. They are         nest in buildings and barns.          elusive bobcat.
primarily seed eaters. These                        These packrats drag
mice make interesting                                in cans, jars,
pets, often becoming                                   clothing--
quite tame. (The house                                  anything they
mouse has gray fur. It and                                can carry-to
the Norway and black rats                                  stick in their
are not native to                                           nests.
Closely related to the Canada
                                     36 inches and weight is 15 to 35
                                     pounds - a pretty good sized
                                                                           They may cache their prey under
                                                                           leaves and debris for a later
                                                                           meal. The lair is made of dry
                                                                           moss and leaves in a rock
lynx, the bobcat is yellowish to                                           crevice, hollow log, thicket, or
gray-brown and lightly spotted       The bobcat’s muscular hind legs       under a stump. Bobcats prefer
or streaked with dark brown or       are longer than its front legs,       areas where they can find
black. The lips, chin, and under     giving the bobcat a high-tailed,      abundant food, and this is
side of the neck and belly are       bobbing gait when it is running.      usually in wild places deep in
white. The black ear tufts are                                             mountain country.
usually less than an inch long       Bobcats are most active from
and may not be apparent. The tip     evening until midnight and then       Mating occurs in February and
of the short bobtail is black        again around dawn, which is           March. Kittens arrive after a
above and white below. A ruff of     why you see them so seldom.           two- month gestation period. The
fur extends out and down from        Sometimes they are out during         litter size is one to four, with two
the ears. The fur is dense, short,   the day. Silent stalkers of small     being average. The kittens,
and soft. The average length is       game, bobcats are solitary and       weaned within two months, are
                                          bold, with behavior patterns     independent by fall. The female
                                                         similar to lynx   drives out the male when the
                                                         and cougar.       kittens are born, but when the
                                                       They use well-      kittens are weaned the male may
                                                     traveled paths,       help bring food. Some litters
                                                   sharpen their claws     may be born August to October.
                                                  on tree and have a       Bobcats can live to 5 years or
                                                variety of calls from      more.
                                              purring to caterwauling.
                                             Good climbers, they have      Tabby’s tidbits are also on the
                                           excellent sight and             menu for lots of other wildlife,
                                          hearing.                         including owls, which feast on
                                                                           mice and voles, and gray and red
                                                                           foxes, which find mice and other
                                                                           small mammals tasty tidbits.
                                                   date to 220 million
                                                   years ago. Fossils
                                                  indicate that dragonfly
                                              ancestors were much larger
                                        than current ones, with a
                                                                            summer. Then, each species has
fascinate you                           formidable wingspan of 2-1/2        its own way of going about the
with their                               feet, representing the largest     egg- laying business. The large
brilliant colors, strong flight, and     insects known.                     green darner female punctures
mysterious ways.                                                            plant tissues and places her eggs
                                       Dragonflies living today haven’t     in the plant. You can find green
Names for dragonflies-which            changed much over the                darner eggs in cattails,
include devil’s darning needle,        geological epochs, and biologists    pondweed, and other aquatic
blue pirate, black dragon, snake       consider dragonflies and             vegetation. The puncture marks
feeder, and mule killer-suggest        damselflies primitive insects.       are sometimes distinctively and
that dragonflies are more feared       This is because they can’t fold or   evenly spaced. The female blue
than admired. Such striking            flex their wings as do more          pirate flies above the water and
names conjure up vivid images          advanced insects such as moths       dips the tip of her abdomen
of ferocious dragons and fire-         and beetles. Because their wings     against the waters surface to
breathing monsters associated          can’t be conveniently ‘tucked        wash off her eggs. Some
with the “winged tigers of the         away,’ dragon and damselflies        dragonflies place eggs directly in
air.”                                  can’t crawl under rocks or into      the water. Males of certain
                                       crevices to hide. Instead, they      species actually guard their
Dragonflies are fierce predators       must depend on their flying          mates during the egg-depositing
with large appetites, as are their     ability to escape from predators.    process.
more slender and dainty but just
as rapacious relatives,                Since dragonflies have to depend     Eggs hatch into nymphs
damselflies. Damselflies are           on their abilities as aerial         (immature dragonflies or
usually smaller than dragonflies,      specialists, they’ve developed       damselflies) in two to five
and when at rest hold their wings      impressive aerial acrobatics.        weeks, but hatching time varies.
in a vertical position. When at        They can fly backward, hover,        In dragonfly groups such as the
rest, dragonflies hold their wings     and stop on a dime. Dragonflies      darners, eggs deposited in late
horizontally. Effective hunters,       can wing along at speeds faster      summer hatch the following
dragon and damselflies devour          than 45 miles per hour. Unlike       spring.
whatever they can capture and          most other insects in which the
chew. They are also among              front and hind wings beat in         When the nymph, that also is
nature’s most beautiful creatures,     synchrony, only the hind wings       called ‘naiad’ and ‘larva,’
displaying intricate designs of        are actually used in flight. The     emerges from the egg, it is about
bold color and flashing iridescent     front and hind wings beat            1/10-inch long. The nymph must
hues.                                  independently.                       catch it’s own food. The very
                                                                            predacious nymphs will eat
Ponds, rivers, streams, and            All dragonflies and damselflies      mayflies, stoneflies, and even
lakeshores are excellent places to     are predacious. Prey consists of     small fish.
observe dragonflies. Today,            mosquitoes, moths, bumblebees,
binoculars in hand, you sit            beetles, and whatever else they
dragonfly watching on a shore          catch.
warmed by the autumn sun.
                                       Life history of dragonflies and
Dragonflies are long-bodied            damselflies is fascinating.
insects with two pairs of wings,       Mating season occurs in the
short, bristle- like antennae, and
large eyes. Dragonflies have
been around a long time. Fossils
The young nymphal dragon- or         but may happen at noon. The           damselflies for you to see in
damselfly does not look anything     nymphal skin splits down the          West Virginia- more than 200
like the adult. The nymph is an      back and the emerging adult           species live here.
aquatic animal with no wings.        literally crawls out, leaving the
The lower lip or labium is           cast-off skin, termed the
modified into one of the most        ‘exuviae.’ The newly emerged          Darners
efficient predatory organs found     dragonfly is called the ‘teneral,’
in the animal kingdom. The           which means soft or delicate.         Darners are large, swift- flying
labium may be thrown forward         The teneral adult expands its         dragonflies that you often see in
more than six times the length of    wings and allows them to harden       late summer and fall. Colors are
the head to catch prey.              and dry. Then the change, which       usually blue, green, and yellow.
                                     takes about an hour from nymph
Depending on temperature and         to adult, is complete. Sometimes      The green darner is among the
food supply, nymphs can take         you find cast-off skin near pond      most common and conspicuous
anywhere from one to four years      vegetation and know that another      dragonflies. It is 3 inches long,
to reach adult stage, crawling       dragonfly is on the wing.             with a wing span over 4 inches.
around on pond and stream                                                  The thorax or back is green, and
bottoms, eating and growing.         Changes in the adult dragonfly        the face is yellow. The wings are
Nymphs grow by shedding their        and damselfly still occur, but        clear. The green darner lives
exoskeletons. This molting           nothing so dramatic as the            from the Arctic to the Antarctic
process is termed ‘ecdysis.’ Each    transformation from nymph to          and even in Hawaii. In West
time the exoskeleton is shed, the    adult. The young dragon- or           Virginia, green darners fly as
resulting nymph is bigger. Each      damselfly goes through a              early as April.
stage is termed an ‘instar.’ It      juvenile stage of 3 to 30 days,
requires about 12 instars,           when it feeds and stays away          Among other darners living in
separated by molts, before the       from the breeding site. During        the state is the Janus darner,
nymph is ready to change into        maturity, adults feed and make        smallest of the darners at 2-1/2
the adult winged form. The wing      frequent visits to a breeding site.   inches long. This darner is
buds begin to form at about the      The insects may be found well         brown, with two yellow stripes
fifth instar.                        away from water, but return to        on the thorax. The olive to dark
                                     water to deposit eggs. Length of      brown hero darner, at 3-3/4
Dragon- and damselflies undergo      the mature phase is variable but      inches long and with a wingspan
incomplete metamorphosis from        is usually four or five months.       of 5 inches, is the largest
egg to nymph to adult, compared      Most dragonflies and damselflies      dragonfly in West Virginia. Blue
with butterflies and moths,          don’t survive beyond this phase,      darners are also conspicuous, as
which undergo complete               but some do live into the third or    they fly about like bright bolts of
metamorphosis from egg to larva      post-reproductive period. During      blue. Most common is the
to pupa to adult.                    this time their color becomes         Canadian blue darner, with a
                                     dull, and visits to the breeding      wingspan of 4 inches. It has
At about the final instar, dragon-   site cease. Some dragonflies,         large blue spots on the abdomen.
and damselfly nymphs become          including the green darner,
radically changed. The antennae      apparently migrate southward
become dwarfed, and the huge         during the fall.
eyes reach final form. The
labium is reduced to normal. The     There
wings emerge. The abdomen            are
elongates. Transformation            plenty of
usually takes place near dawn,       dragonflies and
Skimmers                            abdomen are brown. Male and

Skimmers are the most common
and probably best-known
                                    female have different colors and
                                    markings. As he ages, the male
                                    develops a white or bluish
                                    white ‘dust,’ called
                                                                          The blackwing is a very
dragonflies. You see them
hovering around almost every        ‘pruinosity,’ on his                    common, conspicuous
pond and pool. They are often       abdomen or                              damselfly up to 2 inches
brightly colored. The body is       tail, which                            long. The body is metallic
stout and the abdomen less          gives his                             green. Wings are suffused
elongated than the darner’s.        name.                                 with lustrous, shining black in
                                                                         the adult male. Females are
Among the showiest of the                                                paler. Blackwings are common
dragonflies, the 10-spot is 2                                           in June, July, and August
inches long with an almost 4-                                           around riffles in small
inch wingspan. The wings are                                            woodland streams.
spotted with brown; 10 chalky
white spots develop with age, 2
on each forewing between the
brown spots and 3 on each hind      White-tails don’t perch so much
wing. The 10-spot is very           on leaves and twigs as do other
common around still waters and      skimmers, but perch on logs,
emergent vegetation.                stones, roads, and paths, where
                                    they are easily seen.
The widow is another lovely
skimmer, 2 inches long with a 3-    The fall red skimmer is a lovely
inch wingspan. The abdomen is       dragonfly easily recognized by
blackish, striped with yellow. As   its rich, dark, red color. The
the insect ages, the body may       adult is recognized in September
assume a bluish cast. The male      and October by its red face and
has dark or black wings at the      body. The flight period may last
base, giving rise to the name.      into November. Red skimmers
The widow is common, found in       are a sure sign of fall; brightly
ponds and still water. It           colored as the autumn leaves.
frequently perches.

White-tails are one of the most
abundant dragonflies in West
Virginia. Two inches long with a
3-3/4 inch wingspan, they are
often found with 10-spots and
darners and almost certain to be
found on small ponds and even
mud puddles. The thorax and
                                     The common bluet is small, 1-        streams. Bluets are small and

50                                   1/2 inches long. They are active,
                                     frequently appearing in June and
                                     flying through September and
                                     October. They are relatively
                                                                          weak flyers, and when the wind
                                                                          blows across a pond, the dainty
                                                                          bluets seem to vanish in the
                                     friendly and may even sit on
                                     your hand. They live on ponds        What better way to spend a quiet
                                     with emergent vegetation and         fall afternoon, than watching the
                                     even live around rivers, and fast-   dancing dragonflies?

Autumn Wings                         the bird in a small bag and carry    The seasonal migration of birds-
                                     it to the banding station.           with their arrival in spring and
                                     Today, you are working as a          departure in fall to their southern
  Yesterday you saw her fly
                                         volunteer at the Allegheny       wintering grounds- is a
     there against the sky.
                                            Front Migratory               fascinating aspect of bird study.
 Today you see her nest is bare
                                                  Observatory, also
  with just a flake of snow to
                                                   known as the Bird      Seasonal migration probably
                                                     Banding Station,     evolved as a way of increasing
                                                        in Dolly Sods     populations. It permits use of
 You think about the will to
                                                           in Tucker      northern nesting areas that
    leave and the will to
                                                              and         provide more food and less
 stay and what difference it
                                                               Randolph   competition than wintering
makes when you meet again on a
                                     counties. The station, established   grounds, enabling birds to
         summer day.
                                     in 1958, is open from August to      produce two or three times as
                                     October. Volunteer banders,          many offspring as they could if
The air is very crisp as the sun
                                     such as you, along with staff        they remained in southern
peeks over the distant range of
                                     from the Monongahela National        locations.
mountains, purple in the morning
                                     Forest and the West Virginia
haze. You tread carefully along
                                     Division of Natural Resources,       Preparation for migration
the stony path, reach the net, and
                                     carry out the banding, as the        involves both physiological and
very carefully remove the tiny
                                     birds migrate south for the          behavioral changes for the birds.
blackburnian warbler. You place
                                     winter.                              Physical changes include the
                                                                          accumulation of fat to provide
fuel for long-distance flight; birds   through around the first of
may lose up to one-half of their
body weight during migration.

Behavioral changes are noticeable
                                       October. Members of the thrush
                                       family, including wood and
                                       hermit thrush, come through in
                                       September and October. Birds of
                                                                             ecological health of birds and
when birds congregate in large         prey, including hawks, falcons,       helps monitor changes in numbers
groups and display a restless          eagles, osprey, and vultures, also    of birds. Birds are environmental
activity in anticipation of the        migrate along the Allegheny           indicators of the health of the
coming migration.                      Front.                                earth that all species must share.

Most long-distance migrants,           Because so many birds migrate         Bird banding is not new. The
especially the smaller birds, fly at   over the front, it was selected for   marking of birds was done during
night, traveling during darkness to    the site of the banding station. As   the days of the Roman Empire to
avoid daytime predators and            many as 20 nylon nets are set up      identify the falcons belonging to
stopping around sunrise to feed        in ‘net lanes.’ After the birds fly   the emperor. Generations later, in
and rest. It is one of these birds     into the nets they are carefully      1804, John James Audubon, the
that you have just removed from        removed to avoid injury. Since        famous American ornithologist,
your mist net. Aerial foragers,        many birds migrate at night, the      wondering if fledged birds might
such as swifts and swallows, do        nets are checked at dawn, as you      return to their nest after
not stop but feed on the wing as       have just done, and throughout        migration, placed a silver thread
they travel. Migrants traveling        daylight hours. The nets              on the legs of young eastern
short distances, such as dark-eyed     occasionally catch daytime flyers,    phoebes and observed that the
juncos moving from high to lower       including the sharp-shinned hawk      young birds did return to the
elevations in West Virginia may        and other small hawks. The birds      original nest.
travel during daytime. The juncos      are placed in a canvas sack and
nest at high elevation areas such      taken to the banding station, a       Modern bird banding had its
as Dolly Sods, but winter at lower     plywood shelter where the bands       beginning in Denmark when a
places in the state.                   are kept. The birds are identified    school teacher, Hans Mortensen,
                                       for species, sex, and age, and then   put metal bands of the legs of teal,
In North America, birds migrate        banded with small metal bands.        pintails, storks, starlings, and
along several main routes,             Different size bands are used for     hawks. These bands had his name
including the Atlantic, Miss-          different size birds.                 and address on them. As his
issippi, Central, and Pacific                                                banded birds began to appear in
corridors. During the fall, the        Banding gives much information        other places in Europe, other bird
Allegheny Front, the high              about birds. The recapture of         students became interested in bird
escarpment or cliff marking the        banded birds has provided such        banding. Birding was becoming
boundary between the eastern           information as the following:         more popular in the United States,
Ridge and Valley physiograph-          Some birds, such as the golden        and the American Bird Banding
ical region and the western            plover, do not go north in spring     Association was established in
Allegheny Plateau, serves as a         over the same route they took         1909. Since 1920, banding
flyway for birds migrating from        south in the fall; a red-winged       migratory birds in the United
northern breeding grounds to           blackbird banded in New York          States and Canada has been under
southern wintering places.             was shot 14 years later in North      the joint direction of the two
                                       Carolina; and a herring gull lived    countries, and more than 40
Migrating birds can be seen from       to the ripe old age of 36 years.      million birds have been banded.
August to November. The reason         Banding large numbers of birds
for this large time frame is that      also indicates general pathways       Most birds that fly down the
different species of birds migrate     where they fly and fluctuations in    Allegheny Front during migration
in different months. For instance,     bird populations. This information    do not nest in West Virginia but
barn swallows migrate very early,      is important because it helps         in Canada and farther north. They
usually in late August, while          describe the                          are heading for wintering grounds
kinglets and other birds pass
                                     Neotropical migrants include          The sun warms the clear autumn

in the tropics, the Caribbean, and
                                     ruby-throated hummingbirds,
                                     wood thrush, scarlet tanager,
                                     warblers, flycatchers, and many
                                     birds of prey.
                                                                           air, and you know it will be a
                                                                           good day. About 10 o’clock, you
                                                                           plan to head down to Bear Rocks
                                                                           to watch for migratory hawks.
Central and South America. Up to                                           Yesterday, you saw almost a
70 percent of birds nesting in       More than 115 species of birds        thousand migrating broad-winged
West Virginia during spring and      have been banded at the               hawks. You have seen other
summer months are the                Allegheny Front Station. Species      migrating birds of prey, including
neotropical migrants, birds that     most often banded include             red-tailed hawks and harriers.
nest in the north but winter in      Tennessee warbler, black-poll
tropical areas of Mexico, Central    warbler, Cape May warbler,            Other animals besides the birds
America, and South America.          black-throated blue warbler,          are moving south. You notice a
                                     black-throated green warbler,         monarch butterfly flitting along
                                     blackburnian warbler, ovenbird,       on its slow way toward Mexico,
                                     dark-eyed junco, and golden-          and you have seen green darner
                                     crowned kinglet. The station          dragonflies on the move.
                                     bands more than 6,000 birds in an
                                     average year.                         Autumn wings are one of West
                                                                           Virginia’s most impressive fall

                                                                           6-inch- long leaflets. The stems
                                     Bright crimson foliage attracts       and ruby- hued fruits have thick
Saucy Sumacs                         your attention as it cascades over    velvet hairs that resemble the
                                     a hill, marking the presence of       ‘velvet’ stage of a buck’s antlers.
                                     one of the shrubs or small trees      The fruits, from which
         Autumn Mist
                                     adding color to the fall landscape:   you can make a lemonade- like
                                     sumacs, tossing their manes of        drink, ripen in fall and stay on the
   Rain falls on autumn leaves,
                                     saucy scarlet leaves.                 plants late in winter when other
           entwines them
                                                                           wildlife foods are scarce. On a
   In the misted web it leaves,
                                     Sumacs, whose fall colors equal       cold winter day, bluebirds,
         until bright hues
                                     those of flaming maples and oaks,     cardinals, and other birds hungrily
    no more the forms divide,
                                     are members of the cashew family      devour sumac seeds. The flowers
      for in the autumn mist
                                     of plants. Six species of sumac       are also a favorite bee food, and
        all things coincide.
                                     grow in West Virginia: staghorn,      sumac honey is relished by
                                     smooth, shining, fragrant, and two    connoisseurs. You note the
                                     you don’t want to get near, poison    location of the sumacs, because
Leaves changing to fall reds and
                                     sumac and poison ivy. All these       you have a use in mind for some
golds are one of nature’s
                                            sumacs have brilliant red      of the sumac twigs.
most spectacular shows.
                                                     fall leaves.
Nowhere is the brilliant
                                                                           Smooth sumac resembles the
display more spectacular than
                                                     The familiar          staghorn sumac and also grows in
in West Virginia, where fall
                                                     staghorn sumac        dry soils. Smooth sumac, as its
foliage attracts thousands to
                                                     has 11 to 31          name suggests, does not have
view its splendor.
                                                                           fuzzy branches or fruits.

                                                                           Shining or winged sumac has
                                                                           11to 23 leaflets that appear

                                       Another vine that resembles
 connected by a narrow wing            poison ivy and also has brilliant
along the leaf stems, a somewhat       red fall foliage is Virginia
unusual plant feature. The fall        creeper. This climber has tendrils
foliage is dazzling scarlet and        that enable the plant to climb. It
some gardeners plant them for          has five leaflets and purple fruit.
ornamentals. The fruits can be
soaked in water to make a              Why do leaves change color?           leaves; and sassafras, which can
yellowish tea. The soft brown          Leaves are green because of the       be golden red. In these trees,
stems are a source of tannin, once     presence of chlorophyll, a green      sugars and other substances in the
used for tanning leather.               pigment. Chlorophyll allows          leaves are converted into
                                            plants to use energy from        compounds called ‘anthocyanins,’
Fragrant sumac has lobed                         sunlight to convert         which are red. As the green
leaflets. Its attractive                        carbon dioxide and           pigment breaks down, the leaves
color and scent make                          water into sugars. This        turn bright red, maroon, and
it an interesting                               process, known as            orange, depending on the mix of
ornamental.                                     photosynthesis, enables      yellow and red pigments. Trees
                                             plants to make their own        lacking these sugars lack the
Poison sumac and                          food.                              vibrant red hues.
poison ivy are not
‘user- friendly’                       Leaves also have yellow pigments      Hickories, aspens, and tulip
plants, and contact with them can      (carotin and xanthophyll), but the    poplar are noted for their lavish
cause an unpleasant itchy rash.        darker green of the abundant          yellow and amber tones.
Poison sumac has 7 to 13 leaflets      chlorophyll covers up the lighter
and grows in bogs, swamps, and         colors so that leaves appear green.   Beech turns bronze in late fall,
wet areas. It is not common in         Toward fall, triggered by shorter     while ash turns light purple. The
West Virginia. Poison ivy,             days and cooler nights, leaves        color of a fall tree may indicate its
unfortunately, is very common          stop producing chlorophyll in         species. And some, like red maple
except at higher elevations where      anticipation of winter                and sassafras, may be ye llow or
it doesn’t grow. ‘Leaves of three,     dormancy. The green                   red.
let it be’ is a good adage to follow   chlorophyll breaks down
with poison ivy. The three leaflets    into colorless components,            October, with its saucy sumacs
are variable in shape. The             but the yellow pigments               and flaming maples outlined
branches are often hairy. Both         remain, producing the famous fall     against a blue sky, is a wonderful
poison sumac and poison ivy have       color.                                time to enjoy West Virginia.
whitish or gray-white fruit; the
other sumacs have red fruit. This      Trees noted for their palate of
may help you tell them apart.          burnished scarlet hues includes
                                       sugar and red maple; blackgum
                                       or tupelo, which has waxy red
Berry at the Beak                    are gray on top and white below,

            Red Bird
                                     with a distinctive light-colored
                                     bill. They have white outer tail
                                     feathers, which they display to
                                     attract attention
              Reach                  when defending their
                                     nesting territories.
             and seek
                                     Chickadees, with
            dark seed                their striking black
                                     caps are familiar
      through the pale glow          birds. West Virginia
                                     has two species of
     of feather-frosted snow.        chickadees, the
                                     Carolina and the
                                     black-capped. When
Flakes of snow, the first of the     the two are seen side
winter season, flitter by your       by side, the black-
window. You look outside, and        capped is larger. The
see a cedar waxwing, sifting on a    song of the black-
branch and holding a red holly       capped has two notes
berry in his beak.                   and sounds like ‘fee-bee,’ while
                                     the Carolina sings a four- note
You have provided winter food        ‘fee-bee, fee- bay.’ Chickadees        goldfinch, or wild canary, often
and cove r for your wild birds by    become quite tame, and your            congregates at feeding stations.
planting homes, viburnums,           birds sometimes eat seeds right        However, in winter you do not
crabapples, grapes, and pine and     out of your hand.                      look for the bright yellow bird
fir trees in your yard.                                                     with black wings you see in
                                     The lively bird at your feeder with    summer. In winter, goldfinches
You have stocked your feeders        gray plumage and a crest is the        have dull plumage with a yellow-
with sunflower seeds for such        tufted titmouse. The unusual           brown body and black wings and
seedeaters as cardinals and                              name has nothing   tail. A conspicuous white bar on
finches and put out                                     to do with mice.    the wings helps identify
suet for such                                         ‘Mouse’ comes         goldfinches in winter garb. You
birds as                                            from the word           notice how the goldfinches stay
woodpeckers.                                      ‘mase,’ meaning bird,     on your feeder, consuming seed
                                                and ‘tit’ is an Icelandic   after seed, something like a 10-
You now can                                   term meaning small. The       course banquet. In contrast
enjoy all the                                 ‘tuft’ refers to the bird’s   titmice
birds that come                                crest. In late winter, you
to your yard.                                  enjoy watching the
                                                activities of titmice as
Cardinals are frequent                          they begin to chase and
visitors. With his bright red        scold each other, a sure sign that
plumage, the male cardinal is easy   spring and new titmouse families
to recognize. Cardinals are named    are on the way.
for high-ranking church officials
who wear bright scarlet robes.       In addition to the cardinals, West
                                     Virginia has several other kinds
The dark-eyed junco is a frequent    of finches. The American
feeder visitor. These small birds
 and chickadees usually grab a
                                     and breast and brown streaks on
                                     the flanks. Purple finches lack the
                                                                           breasted nuthatches are similar to
                                                                           white-breasted and may also visit
                                                                           your feeders.
seed and fly away with it. Pine      brown streaks. Native to our
siskins are closely related to       western states, house finches are     You stop for a moment to
goldfinches. These brown-            now common in the East, and           consider whether your winter
streaked birds have dabs of          their numbers are increasing.         birds are year-around residents of
yellow on the wings and tail. Pine                                         West Virginia or feathered
siskins stay in flocks and travel    Some birds are best identified by     tourists just visiting. Cardinals,
widely in search of food. Indeed,    the way they act so when you see      titmice, and house finches are
siskins might be described as        a bird walking down the tree          bona fide West Virginia residents.
flighty because you never can be     trunk headfirst, you know it is a     Juncos, interestingly enough, are
certain when they might descend      white-breasted nuthatch. The          state residents all right but spend
on your feeders.                     nuthatch has two toes pointing        winters in low elevation areas
                                     forward and two pointing              where the food supply is better,
Another lovely finch that with       backward, which aids its              returning to the high mountains
luck might ‘filch’ feed from your    acrobatic activities. This            such as Dolly Sods to nest. Purple
feeders is the purple finch. The     interesting little bird has a gray    finches do nest in the
male has raspberry-red plumage.      back and white throat. Males have     mountainous areas of the state,
Close relatives of purple finches    a black cap. Nuthatches begin         but the birds at your feeders are
are house finches. Sometimes         courtship early. Sometimes you        probably visitors from Canada.
these two species are hard to tell   can hear the males singing in         Evening grosbeaks, chunky birds
apart. The male house finch is a     January. Red-                         that
brownish bird with red-orange
over the eye
resemble goldfinches but have a        cherry, dogwood, persimmon,
large chalky beak, may descend
on your feeders and consume seed
by the sackful. These birds nest in
New England and more northern
                                       sarvis, and mulberry make up
                                       about 70 percent of their diet.

                                       Their gluttonous habit of gulping
places.                                overripe berries sometimes makes
                                       these birds a bit tipsy. Waxwings    Adults have a distinct crest, black
The white-throated sparrow is a        supplement their menu with tree      face-mask, black throat, and
frequent feeder visitor. This bird     sap, beetles, ants, crickets, and    bright yellow-tipped tail feathers.
nests in Canada. The American          caterpillars.                        Red tips on the upper flight
tree sparrow recognized by a                                                feathers resemble sealing wax,
central spot on his breast, nests in   So long as winter food stores hold   hence the name. Seldom do you
Alaska. Song sparrows, on the          out, you may see waxwings,           see a lone waxwing. These
other hand, are year-round             which wander about in search of a    communal birds generally travel
residents.                             meal and are likely to turn up       and feed in flocks, announcing
                                       anytime.                             their presence in high-pitched,
You are still looking out your                                              lisping twitters.
window and now see not one but         Seen from a distance, the 8- inch
several cedar waxwings, or             cedar waxwing has a unique,          Cedar waxwing travel agendas are
cedarbirds, which are enthusias-       slicked down, fawn-colored           unpredictable, so you consider
tic epicures of many kinds of          plumage that gives it a smoothly     yourself lucky to see the bird with
berries. Fruits of red cedar,          coifed elegance.                     the berry in his beak.
mountain ash, elder, holly,
                                                                              water ducks that feed on aquatic

58                                                                                    plants, seeds, and
                                                                                    crustaceans by tipping tail-
                                                                               up in shallow water to reach the
from Afar                                                                     Diving ducks live in much deeper
                                                                              waters and can dive up to 40 feet
            Thistle                                                           or more to reach aquatic insects
                                                                               and plants.
 In the thicket winter blighted the             in a bit of sailing called,
         little bird alighted,                 appropriately enough,          The male scaup has a black head,
from the tangle of the thistle came          ‘frostbiting.’ The silent        which may be glossed with
      the wry wren’s whistle,         sails will not frighten birds.          purple, a black chest and rump,
       amid withered leaves                                                   gray back, and white belly. The
      no bitter song to extract       You tack out onto the lake, the         eye is yellow. The female is
     for the nectar of her note       waters curling and lapping against      brownish, and in winter she has a
     was a rapture more exact.        the bow of the small boat. The          white facial patch at the base of
                                      waterfowl don’t seem to mind            her bill.
Many other fascinating birds          your approach, and you alter
besides your backyarders may          course to get a better look at the      The watery wake the scaups make
visit West Virginia during the        birds. You stretch out on the           as they swim is swathed in
winter. In fact, more than 120 bird   bottom of your boat, holding the        cerulean-toned light, as if the
species may live in West Virginia     main sheet in your hand to control      ducks bring with them all things
during the cold months.               the sail. Hidden behind the             blue and beautiful. This is as good
                                      billowing canvas, you focus your        as soaring with the eagles, you
Water birds, such as swans            high-powered binoculars on the          think, only this is your style,
and diving ducks that                          birds. They bob up and         sailing with the scaups.
nest as far north                                down on the water,
as Alaska,                                         some with red heads,       Your sailboat slips past the ducks,
spend                                               some with blue bills,     and you change tack swiftly,
the                                                 some with striking        jibing almost silently and coming
winter                                              black-and-white           ‘round for another look. You see
here.                                           plumage. They are like        a large duck, almost 20 inches
On this                                  jewels floating on the water.        long, with a round white cheek
November day,                                                                 patch and a lustrous golden eye.
the sun is out, and although the      You look first at the ducks with        This is the goldeneye, a duck
weather is cold the bright blue       the pale blue bills, flashing azure     nesting into Canada. They are
waters of your lake beckon both       in the sun’s rays. The ducks’           also diving ducks and eat
you and bird visitors from far        plumage is patterned in black-          mollusks, fish, and crustaceans.
away. You have seen a large flock     and-white. These are scaup ducks,       The handsome male is black-and-
of waterfowl out on the lake and      otherwise known as bluebills.                       white. When they fly,
have watched them for several         Scaups are diving ducks, which                         their wings make a
days. You want to see them close      are different from puddle ducks                         lovely whistling
up without scaring them.              such as mallards. Puddle or                             sound.
                                      dabbling ducks,
You have your wetsuit on, and         including teal,                                        You see another
you put your small sailboat into      black, and baldpate,                                  small black-and-
the cool, crisp waters to engage      are mostly shallow                                 white duck with a
                                                                              white belly, black back, and white
across his head. This is the            pictures of the far-away tundra
bufflehead, another diving duck,
which nests in Canada and
Alaska. Buffleheads eat mostly
aquatic insects.
                                        and frozen northlands.

                                        The short winter day is coming to
                                        an end, and you turn your boat
                                                                               bones are heavy and solid (other
                                        toward shore. A flock of gulls         birds have light-weight bones
You see a lovely                        flies over. You notice a dark ring     filled with air spaces, adaptations
bird with a reddish                          around the bill, and quickly      for flight). Loons are fish-eaters
head and a blue bill                               know these are ring-        and can dive to a depth of 240
with a black tip. This                                 billed gulls,           feet. They nest from the Great
is the redhead,                                        frequently found in     Lakes to Greenland and the
another of the diving                          large flocks in West            Arctic.
ducks nesting in                        Virginia during winter and
Canada and Alaska.                      sometimes during summer.               The common loon-a bird you
                                                                               always watch for during winter
You see another                         Quite close to shore, you see a        and migration times-has, in
black-and-                              small, chicken- like, brown bird       breeding plumage, a black head
white duck                                    diving down into the water       and back checkered black-and-
bobbing in the                                   and reappearing. This is      white, with white under parts.
water. Even from                                the pied billed grebe, a       Winter plumage is duller, the bird
a short distance,                              stocky little bird with a       has a black-and-gray back. This is
you notice that the bill is different   thick bill.                            a large bird, 28 or more inches
from the other ducks you have                                                  long. Loons’ feet are far back
been observing. The bill is slender      Your little boat slides up on the     under their bodies, so loons can’t
and toothed. This is a hooded           sandy shore, and as you are            walk well on land. They cannot
merganser. Mergansers are diving        furling up your sail you hear a        take flight from land and require
ducks, but they have serrated bills     haunting cry-a call that is the very   almost a quarter- mile in the water
to help them catch fish, their          essence of the far northern            paddling with their feet to get
primary food. The hooded                wilderness. This bird is the           airborne. For this reason, they are
merganser is                                      common loon.                 more likely to dive to escape
easily recognized                                                              danger.
by this black-                                         Loons are primitive
bordered white                                  birds, with large torpedo-     You hear the eerie, haunting call
hood.                                   shaped bodies, stout necks, and        of the loon again, and think how
                                        pointed,                               much you have enjoyed your day
You look toward shore, and see          dagger-like bills. They can fly up     out with feathers from afar.
six large white birds with long         to 60 miles per hour. Their
necks. These are tundra swans,
nesting in the far north. They are
resting and feeding on the lake for
a while, and may move on in
search of grass and aquatic plants.
Their call is a haunting, whistling
‘whoo-hoo, whoo-hoo’ that
evokes mental
                                       insides with satisfaction,           You give the twigs a shake, note

60                                     and place the branches in
                                       your saddlebags.

                                       You plan on using these
                                                                            the small brown buds-opposite
                                                                            each other on the sterns-and the
                                                                            gray bark, and know this is your
                                                                             stand of sugar trees.
Wig on a Twig                          large, hollow twigs to tap
                                       maple sugar trees around                 It’s handy sometimes knowing
                                                   February                       how to identify trees in
Your big bay mare trots
                                                   when the                        winter condition. Some
easily, her hooves
                                                   first warm                       other trees and shrubs that
striking the new- fallen
                                                   spell comes.                     have buds opposite each
snow, sending it
                                                   You will cut                     other on the stem are
cascading in ivory
                                                   a small hole                  maples, includ ing red and
sprays. Her long mane
                                                   in the tree,              silver maple, and the ashes,
whips into your face.
                                                   insert                        dogwoods, and virburnums.
You place your hand on
her dark brown neck.
                                                   twigs or                          Most trees and shrubs,
Her coat is the same
                                                   spyles, and place a      including the hickories, elms,
color as the earth-toned
                                                   bucket under them to     walnuts, magnolias, and other
winter woods. You can
                                                   catch the sugar water.   forest trees, have alternate buds.
see your horse’s breath,
                                                   Your faithful mare,
blowing like smoke
                                                   laden with 5-gallon      Here you need to look at the
from her nostrils.
                                                   jugs, will carry the     shape and arrangement of the
Ahead of you the pale
                                                   sugar water home,        buds, leaf scars, and any other
winter landscape beckons.
                                       where you will boil it down to       characteristics, including thorns,
                                       syrup, making enough for your        fruits, and fragrance, to know
You ride slowly until you reach a
                                       own use for the year.                what species it is. Some twigs are
stand of tall shrubs, the same
                                                                            distinctive and easy to recognize.
stand of shrubs you noted back in
                                       You ride on through the snow and
                    the fall. You
                                       turn up into the woods, checking
                    stop your mare,
                                       for a stand of sugar maple trees.
                    dismount, and
                                       You ride closer, dismounting to
                    take a sharp
                                       check the twigs to make sure the
                    knife from
                                       trees are indeed maple sugar trees
                    your pocket to
                                       and not something else. Flakes of
                    cut a number of
                                       snow cover the twigs on the
                    twigs: These
                                       branches. It looks as if the twigs
                    are staghorn
                                       are wearing cold, white wigs.
                    sumac twigs.
                    You cut them
                    about 6 inches
                    long, note their
Sassafras is a common tree easily
identified because the twigs are
green (most twigs are brown or
gray brown) and broken twigs
                                     American beech has smooth, gray
                                     bark, and long, cigar-shaped buds.

                                     Both black and honey locust grow
                                                                          Your mare gives a snort, and you
give off a pungent smell of          in wooded areas. Their spines and    note that snow is starting to come
sassafras.                           thorns quickly distinguish them.     down quite heavily, until your
                                     Honey locust has three-branched      brown horse is covered with
Sycamore is easy to recognize.       thorns.                              snow. You turn her home, your
The gray-white bark peeling from                                          mind full of thoughts-not of
the tree is distinctive. The twigs                                        winter twigs a botany but of log-
are zigzag in shape, and the fruit                                        sized twigs, waiting by a toasty
is in a round ball.                                                       fireplace when you get home.
                                       the hill. By now it is almost dark,     This old farm is one of the last of

62                                     but the snow is on-as the old
                                       mountaineer says-and the snow
                                       itself provides enough light for
                                       you to see, and you need no other.
                                                                               its kind in the state. As you look
                                                                               at the snow by gaslight, you think
                                                                               back to earlier times and imagine
                                                                               yourself a frontier settler coming
                                       You ski along the forest path           home from the forest, looking at
Sleeping Snow                          through the sleeping snow until         the warming light in the window,
                                       you reach an open ridge in              perhaps listening to the far-away
Smoke curls from the chimney of
                                       snowlight almost as bright as           howl of a wolf announcing its
your mountain cabin, adding cozy
                                       moonlight.                              presence to the wilderness.
interior warmth to your thoughts
as you watch the winter chill
                                                                You see        You end your pensive reverie.
outside. Snow is falling on this
                                                                the old        Removing your skis and placing
late December evening,
                                                                               them against the wooden
and the tree branches
                                                               farmhouse,      farmhouse wall, you walk on the
in the nearby woods
                                                              which has no     snow-swept flagstones, knock the
are etched with
                                                            electricity, but   snow from your boots and jacket,
snow like borders
                                                          gaslight shining     and walk into the house. You
of lace
                                                         from the window       have known your mountain friend
                                                           casts an amber      for a long, long time.
                                                            light on the
You put on
                                                winter snow. You stand         “Haloooo,” your old friend greets
your cross-
                                       for a while in the gleam of light       you from the living room. You
country skis, jacket, and hat,
                                       that takes you back a century.          pass through the kitchen and join
heading out into the winter
                                                                               your friend, sifting down in a
                                                                               worn and comfortable leather
                                                                               chair. You smile greetings to your
It is not quite dark. You ski easily
                                                                               friend, watch the gleam of
on the snow, looking up at the
                                                                               gaslight on the floor, and listen to
winding road surrounded by
                                                                               the faint hiss of the gas heater.
mountains. You hear in the far
                                                                               Your old friend’s farmhouse is
distance the croak of a raven, and
                                                                               cozy on a cold winter night.
you imagine the great ebony bird
winging his way over the
whitened mountain wilderness.

You are on your way to visit
an old friend who lives
alone in an old farmhouse
way up on top of
‘Go get ye some sassafras tea;        makes a good drink and we
kettle’s on the stove,’ your friend
says, seeing you shiver a bit. You
do so, taking a mug and putting
sassafras shavings in it and
                                      always used it for tonic in the
                                      spring back in the old days.’

                                      You look at your sassafras tea,
pouring hot water over them. You      with its lovely, rich, ruby color. It   You put on your skis, noting that
add a good dollop of maple syrup      tastes good.                            it is snowing harder and the wind
and enjoy the fragrance of the                                                is whipping. Snowflakes swirl
tangy brew. You re-seat yourself      ‘We used to use yellowroot, or          and billow around the patch of
in your easy chair.                   goldenseal, too,’ your friend           gaslight where it traces a faint
                                      continues. ‘We always took a            amber path on the white snow.
‘Most folks have forgotten how to     chew of yellowroot to cure the
make sassafras,’ your friend says.    sore throat. And you know,              Soon, this too will be but a
‘You wait until March, and then       ginseng used to grow around here        memory, gone like the ginseng,
you go cut you a good-sized           also; I remember some growing           gone like the wolf and the wild
sassafras root. If you wait until     right out the road-had the prettiest    things.
summer the root can be too slimy.     red berries. Folks dug it up and
Then you wash and clean the           it’s gone now.’                         Your skis slip on through the
bark, and shave it off in little                                              sleeping snow, with a soft
pieces. Then you dry it in the sun,   You finish your tea, wash and           crinkling sound like a sigh, and
and put it into a glass jar. Of       replace the mug, and start on your      your thoughts drift like the snow,
course, you can use the whole         way home.                               thinking of the new year to come,
root but it makes a weaker brew.                                              and the renewal that the seasons
That bark there                                                               bring. Already you realize that in
                                                                              another month you will hear the
                                                                              owls calling, beginning earth’s
                                                                              cycles anew.

                  Core, Earl, and Strausbaugh, P.D., Flora of West Virginia,
                  Seneca Book5, Grantsville, W.Va., no date.

                  Hall, George, West Virginia Birds, Carnegie Museum
                  of Natural History, Pittsburgh, Pa., 1983.

                  Pauley, Thomas, Amphibians and Reptiles in West Virginia,
                  University of Pittsburgh Press, 1987

                  Stauffer, Jay, The Fishes of West Virginia, Academy of Natural
                  Sciences of Philadelphia, 1995.

                  Venable, Norma, Draqonflies of West Virginia, West Virginia
                  University Extension Service, 1985.

                  Venable, Norma, Wildlife of West Virginia, West Virginia
                  University Extension Service, 1986.

Programs and activities offered by the West Virginia University Extension Service are available to all persons
without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, veteran status, sexual orientation or national origin.
Issued In furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S.
Department of Agriculture. Director, Cooperative Extension Service, West Virginia University.