Saturday, April 28, 2007

Beavers in the valley

Westbound at dawn I cleared Vienna and was zooming down the grade toward the Difficult Run valley when I saw a pair of beavers in the creek below mile 12.5. One was pale brown, the other dark brown, and they seemed to be chatting, or perhaps courting. At any rate, after a few minutes, one swam away and the other followed.

Continuing west I saw a big herd of deer having breakfast among the Skunk Cabbage while being serenaded by the squeaky hinge call of the Red Winged Blackbirds in the marsh to the south. Farther west, an Indigo Bunting flew across my path and the Wild Azalea scented the air up on the Reston Plateau.
Out near Goose Creek about mile 30 the dogwoods and redbuds were spectacular on either side of the trail. Toothwort is blooming out there too.

Returning home I was handed a safety brochure by police at the trail in Reston. They were giving out information this weekend, and one of them said that they were going to start enforcing the safety guidelines along the trail in the near future. The Boy Scouts were clearing brush along the trail near Maple Avenue in Vienna. Be careful riding in that area, there are lots of people on and around the trail and the chain saws are making a lot of noise.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Purple Haze

The fox kits were out again last night east of Gallows. I try to watch them without turning my head their way: Tim is right, not good for them to become too accustomed to humans. But they are pretty high up on the cuteness scale.

What is that purple stuff out there? Everything! I never realized it before this spring, but lots of the purple wildflowers bloom in April. Of course the rare and priceless bi-colored birdfoot violets that I showed in my last blog. Today I reveal that on that same day I also photographed the less charismatic plain lavender birdfoot (below). Am I a violet snob? Maybe.
The common violets are out in force along the trail now too (top left). Gill-over-the-ground (top center) and Purple-dead-nettle (top right) all add to the low purple haze along the trail.
Finally, Virginia Bluebells carpet the bottomlands near Broad Run west of Rt. 28, and if you look up around mile 10 east of Cedar Lane you will see Wisteria in the trees.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Critters and Blossoms

Well, today was gorgeous out on the trail. In the morning, at around 8:30 - 9;00, there were plenty of dogwood blossoms, like the ones here at the Beltway overpass.

About halfway between Gallows and Cedar, I saw a fox slipping off into the brush to the south. And then, between Cedar and Park, I spotted a young buck crossing the trail. We both eyed each other before going on our way. He went into the brush behind the houses there, to join another deer.

Then, on the ride home this evening, around dusk, I saw a couple standing at the south side of the trail, looking at the bank on the north side, just west of Gallows. Remembering idabike's earlier posts, I stopped and walked back to the spot... and there, on the opposite bank, were three young fox kits, eyeing the humans with curiosity and a measure of suspicion. The other folks and I wisely decided to leave them to their business, as it's best that wild critters not get too used to humans.

No pics of the kits... too dark, and I didn't want to use the flash.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Sweet Breath of Spring

Sweet Breath of Spring is a bush honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima --- great Latin name!). But today, it was in fact the sweet, warm breath of the season that charmed me on the W&OD. Another beautiful long ride out to test my lungs and legs and let my mind spin slowly for a while.

Sound of the day: The toads were calling along Difficult Run. There is nothing that quite says springtime like the call of a toad. It is a clear, rich, musical "Breeeee" at a pitch that a human can imitate quite easily. Here is the URL where you can hear American Toads:

Adrenalin Rush of the day: A Black Ratsnake slipped across the trail just as I rode by --- narrowly missing my wheels. Coluber constrictor. Coluber means "snake" and constrictor means... you don't want to be a mouse around this specimen.

Wildflower of the day: Bi-colored Birdfoot Violet. This was a good test of my peripheral vision. There were only a few clumps of the birdfoots, all on the lean clay soil exposed on the north side of the trail just west of Sunrise Valley Drive. Some were unicolor (pale violet), but the bi-colored ones were much showier, and I clambered up the steep slope --- to the astonishment of 'serious bikers' passing below --- to photograph them.

Runner-up Wildflower of the Day: Trout Lily. I had to take a little side trail off of the W&OD to find these. It is located on the north side of the trail about Mile 11, and runs through a little stream valley. The Trout Lilies were surrounded by Spring Beauties, another lovely little spring wildflower. Trout Lilies get their name from their leaves, that are speckled like a trout.
The sweet breath of spring blew me gently home.

An Introduced Species?

Along with the many wonderful signs of spring along the trail already noted, Saturday evening, on my way home from the shop, something caught my eye on milepost 11. Not AT the milepost, on it.

Okay, so it's a kid's toy... still, it made me smile. I hope it wasn't lost by someone.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Earth Day 2007

The W&OD called out all of our senses this morning. Shivering westbound through the Difficult Run valley just after dawn we heard scores of birds: Carolina Wrens, Mockingbirds, Cardinals, Downy Woodpeckers ("Kwerrrrr"), White-throated Sparrows and the ubiquitous Towhees ("drink your TEA!"). A pair of Canada Geese were acting like they were nesting in the wetlands south of the trail (right, photo courtesy FCPS). A Crow chased a Red Shouldered Hawk through the woods east of Reston.

The trees were in bloom too. And the young leaves, especially of the Tulip Poplar, were the brightest, gentlest green imaginable. A Tiger Swallowtail butterfly, whose caterpillars feed on Tulip Poplar, floated on the gentle breeze. The caterpillar and butterfly images (left) are also courtesy FCPS.

As the morning grew warmer, the trail filled with riders and walkers and skaters and many many canines. There was an Earth Day festival in Herndon, and the band was tuning up as we rode by. Delectable smells came from several directions.
The sights, sounds and smells of the Earth brought some peace to my badly bruised VT alumnus heart.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Falls Church - Vienna

Lovely day to ride today... sun, birds, and happy people on the trail. The only real "issues" of note are the construction at the soon-to-be Vienna Town Green, and across the street from that, the nice folks who take care of the landscaping around Whole Foods are working, and they aren't too observant of the fact that there's actually a thoroughfare right there. This morning one of them had parked a cart right in the middle of the west bound lane, right by the traffic light. Argh. Ah well, otherwise a great day to ride.

Oh, and the spring peepers were singing again, last night and this morning. They've sort of come and gone and back again as the weather keeps changing.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A damp day

I am learning something about the W&OD trail. If you want the trail to yourself, ride on a cold, rainy day. But my companion and I did not have the trail to ourselves today, despite the 1+ inch of rain that fell during our 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. ride. In addition to boatloads of worms and their avian predators (see "Wormicide" blog March 16) , we were watched by sentinel deer, raced by cottontail rabbits, and honked at by territorial geese. A brash chipmunk catapulted across the asphalt, a Kingfisher chittered in the ashen arms of a sycamore, and a dead vole reminded us that we had missed lunch.

The water ran down the trail. It pooled on the trail. It coursed across the trail. It ran down our arms and legs into our gloves and shoes. The water eased up over the banks of Difficult Run to inundate the floodplain. It gushed down every little bank and swale. It burbled along the bridle path that parallels the paved trail. The water pelted our faces when we turned them up. It drummed on our helmets when we looked down. Broad Run was out of control under the new bridge (left). It swirled angrily around the [detestable] golf course that slew the bottomland hardwoods south of the trail last year. A few Virginia Bluebells held their heads above the brown swirls on the remaining floodplain.

Most of the wildflowers were saving themselves for more spectators, but the Bloodroot was in bloom near mile 12.5 (right), and violets were looking cheery on the thin soil of the Reston plateau. Of course the oaks were blooming too, but seeing their dangling yellow-green flowers required close attention, which we found increasingly difficult after we wrung out our gloves at Smith's Switch and turned for home.
It was a splendid ride, and who needed to fiddle with a backpack hydration system? With the amount of water that collected in our hoods, we just needed a straw.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A deep breath

Wood ducks by Four-Mile run. Bunnies hopping all over the place in Falls Church. Marsh Marigolds blanketing the wetlands near Banneker Park. It may be chilly, but spring is here. As plants leaf out in the Northern hemisphere, the planet effectively takes a deep breath - of CO2! You can almost hear it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

A Summer Day?

I couldn't resist the warm weather on Tuesday, April 3rd with temps in low 80's. A planned errand ride to the bank in Leesburg found me on the way to Hamilton and back. It was very warm and I thought riding West under the canopy of trees would provide some shade. Wrong! The leaves are not fully out yet, especially in the "cathedral" area of Paeonian Springs/Hamilton. Good thing I applied sunscreen. The water fountains at the Old Mill Kennel and near the High School are not "on" yet either. Of course, I had run dry by then. Mother Nature surely can be confusing with these roller-coaster days of Spring.

I did see grafitti on some of the new signs along the way. Thanks for the email link to report it.

Keep riding and have fun.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Falls Church - Vienna: Lovely ride!

Well, nothing particularly of note today, aside from the beautiful weather. Surprisingly, I saw very few folks on the trail today on my ride to the shop. I did see one gentleman, who was excitedly pointing out something in the trees... to his dog! It was fun to see... I like when people appreciate the things that excite their pets.