I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house.
If Nathaniel had lived in our times, he might have added something to that sentiment….or by going shopping, especially on Black Friday. I think outdoor retailer REI made a huge splash with their decision to encourage people to go outside over Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and by closing their stores to allow their employees to do the same. I was trying to remember if I have ever gone shopping on Black Friday…I don’t think so. And with the publicity of #optoutfriday, I think many more people did what so many of us have done in the past, get outside with family and friends over the Thanksgiving holiday. This year’s weather was especially conducive to such activities. After visiting my folks in the mountains, we traveled to Richmond to spend the remainder of the holiday with Melissa’s family. They live adjacent to a large reservoir bordered by a thin conservation buffer.
I like to get up early and walk around the lake shore, enjoying the sights and sounds (in spite of the frequent gun shots from some nearby duck hunters this past weekend). There is something magical about being up early when few people are out, when the natural world is starting to stir. The glowing quality of the morning light is especially pleasing when a very light mist hangs over the water.
After breakfast we all headed over to nearby Pocahontas State Park, an 8000+ acre forested preserve with some nice creeks, a marshy pond, and a large lake. The warm weather created ideal conditions for some end of the season wildlife sightings.
With morning temperatures in the mid-60’s, it seemed more like late summer than Thanksgiving. The day before we had spotted a very active late season snake, a Brown Snake, Storeria dekayi, at another nearby park. Brown Snakes are common in forested areas but are often missed because they tend to move about under leaf litter and logs in search of their favorite prey, earthworms. This one was caught as it crossed the trail. A quick portrait and it was released back into the leaves. I was hoping for some other late season surprises on this hike.
Down by the water’s edge at Beaver Lake, we saw a couple of small dragonflies darting about. One landed briefly on the dock railing and I managed a quick pic with my point and shoot Olympus. I thought it was a species I had photographed earlier back home, a Blue-faced Meadowhawk, but, in looking at the field guides later, I think this is a different species, an Autumn Meadowhawk, Sympetrum vicinum. There is little black on the abdomen and the legs look light in color, which separate this species from the other. Plus, field guides say this is one of the latest-flying of our dragonflies. The hike continued with sightings of several other insects and spiders enjoying this autumn warmth, as well as some nice birds, including a Red-headed Woodpecker feeding on acorns.
Toward the end of the hike we started playing a nature nerd game we often do while walking in the woods…trying to identify trees just by their trunk and bark. Along a boardwalk near the lake edge I walked up and tapped a trunk and asked for an identification. Melissa quickly gave an answer (an ash) and then pointed to something right above where I had tapped (something I failed to notice, I’m ashamed to say) – a chrysalis. The overall shape, plus the way it was connected to the trunk (via a silk loop around the upper third of the body with its posterior end connected directly to the trunk) told me it was a swallowtail chrysalis…but which one?
Looking around the habitat, I could see two possibilities based on the available host plants – a Spicebush Swallowtail (some Spicebush were nearby in the low area adjacent to the boardwalk), and an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (several Tulip Poplars were along the trail). I have raised plenty of Spicebush Swallowtails from the larval stage, and this chrysalis looked different in both color and texture (those of a Spicebush Swallowtail are generally light brown and sleek-looking). When I got home, I looked online and confirmed that it probably was a chrysalis of an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. The color can be variable but they often have a mixture of green and brown which makes it look like they are a broken twig covered in small patches of lichen. An impressive camouflage. And a morning well spent, to be sure. I hope all of you had a chance to get outside this holiday and enjoy the bargains that nature brings to us every day.