Signs of spring are in the air at Dorsey's Knob Park! Literally! The other day as I sat atop Sky Rock, I saw at least three different species of butterflies flying around the top of the Knob. Have you ever actually taken a few minutes to watch a butterfly to see what it might be doing? Contrary to first impressions, butterflies do not just randomly flit about the countryside. Rather, they are generally quite busy as they move and act with purpose.
By far the most abundant butterflies at Sky Rock were the tiny blue Spring Azures, which can be seen by the thousands at Dorsey's Knob on a warm day in April. These particular ones had been attracted by the nectar-laden blooms of a nearby shrub.
Joining the Spring Azures in the air was a lone male Falcate Orangetip. As the name suggests, this small white butterfly has bright orange-colored wingtips...or at least the males do. This particular Orangetip had claimed Sky Rock as part of his little territory. I watched as he patrolled the perimeter looking for possible mates or the incursion of a rival male.
As I watched the Azures and Orangtip go about their butterfly business, a different medium-sized butterfly circled Sky Rock twice before landing right beside me. It was an American Lady butterfly.
The American Lady is a spring migrant, which winters in the more mild south, but migrates north into West Virginia and beyond to breed. This particular butterfly only stayed long enough for me to pull out my phone and take a few quick pictures. After resting for but a moment, it again took to the air to continue its journey north.
Since that day, I continue to regularly see the Spring Azures visiting blossoms and the Falcate Orangetips patrolling their territories at Dorsey's Knob. Unfortunately, I have not seen any other American Ladies paying a visit to Sky Rock.
Last Saturday morning, BOPARC in partnership with Mountaineer Audubon, offered the second of a three part series of classes on introductory birding. The class started inside the Stacy Groscup Center conference room where Mountaineer Audubon President Terry Bronson shared bird identification tips with his students. After studying images and listening to songs of some of the birds we hoped to find, everyone moved outdoors for the field trip portion of the class.
Mid-April is a magical time for birding in the Morgantown area. Not only can birders see year round residents, such as Carolina Chickadees and Northern Cardinals, but there are also many species of migrants passing through. Terry pointed out that there are different types of migrants. Some migrants, such as White-throated Sparrows, are winter visitors who spend the winter here, but do not nest around Morgantown. Another type of migrant spends its winters in the southern United States, the Caribbean or Latin America but comes north in the spring to nest. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Baltimore Orioles and many of the warblers fall into this category. And lastly, some migrants move only short distances during the spring and fall. Examples of these short distance migrants include Dark-eyed Juncos and Brown Creepers. Both of these species can be seen around Morgantown during the winter, but spend their summers in the higher elevations of Preston County and Coopers Rock. The nice thing about birding in April is that all of these different types of migrants can be seen at Dorsey's Knob on the same day.
The beautiful springtime weather on Saturday morning enticed the birds to put on quite a show. As the birding group made its way from the Groscup Center, past the playground, along the Mountain Meadow Trail and back up past the log cabin, we saw and heard over thirty species of birds. A lot of the bird activity had to do with courtship and nest building. Northern Cardinals, Eastern Towhees and Brown Thrashers sang from numerous prominent perches where they proclaimed ownership of breeding territories and/or advertised for mates. We also discovered two pairs of Carolina Chickadees and a Carolina Wren working on their nests. Although every participant had his or her own personal highlight of the morning, I was particularly excited to see a Pine Warbler foraging in a large spruce tree near the Dorsey's Knob Lodge. Pine Warblers may be common in some parts of the state, but they can be difficult to find in Monongalia County.
The official list of birds seen and heard at Dorsey's Knob by the Birding 101 class can be seen here.
And click here for information on the third and final Birding 101 class scheduled for May 10th.
Field Notes from Dorsey's Knob
Thoughts and observations on the natural history and current happenings at Dorsey's Knob Park.
About the Author
John Boback is a naturalist, historian, environmental educator and caretaker at Dorsey's Knob Park. He can often be seen around the park staring intently into the trees through binoculars or crouched down trying to photograph a wildflower or an interesting insect. If you see him, take a moment to say hello.