Our Caretaker, John Boback, is also a naturalist and historian. He often does lectures for various groups, including the WV Mater Naturalists. Recently John photographed this Tulip-tree Silkmoth in Dorsey's Knob Park. This is the 437th species of moth that John has documented at the park. It is amazing that we have such diverse wildlife and a wonderful natural area like Dorsey's Knob available to residents and visitors of our community.
Dorsey's Knob Park is a good example of a place where humans and wildlife can live side by side. Take for example the coyote. In recent years a family of coyotes has lived at the park and in the adjoining forests. Chances are that you've never seen one at the park even if you're a frequent visitor to Sky Rock or the disc golf course. In part this is because coyotes are mostly nocturnal, but also its because they tend to be very cautious of humans. I personally have encountered a coyote only twice in the past two years at Dorsey's Knob. In both instances, the coyote quickly fled as soon as it saw me.
Like their larger cousin the wolf, coyotes have long been feared and persecuted. Although they are wild animals, coyotes actually pose little threat to humans. Your chances of being bitten by a coyote and much less than your chances of being struck by lightning. And only two people are known to have actually been killed by coyotes in all of recorded history.
In those rare cases when a human actually is bitten by a coyote, the humans are oftentimes at fault. In order to avoid this happening to you at Dorsey's Knob, just take the following three easy steps. First, do not corner a coyote because they will fight to defend themselves. Second, do not feed coyotes because they will eventually lose their fear of humans. And third, keep your dog on a leash as you hike the trails at the park. Coyotes perceive unleashed dogs as invaders in their territory and will sometimes attack the dog. Pet owners put themselves at risk of being bitten if they try to break up a fight between their dog and a coyote. If you follow this simple advice, humans and coyotes will continue to be able to share the hiking trails and forests of Dorsey's Knob Park.
The other day I added a new species of bird to the Dorsey's Knob Park bird checklist. While working outside near the lodge one afternoon, I spotted a group of three Turkey Vultures migrating south. Turkey Vultures are quite common in the skies over Morgantown so I didn't really think much of it. As I returned to my task at hand, something deep in my subconscious prompted me to grab my binoculars from the truck and take a closer look at the alleged "vultures." Boy am I glad that I did because one of them was actually an adult Golden Eagle! I've seen Bald Eagles above the park on numerous occasions, however, this Golden Eagle was a first for me at Dorsey's Knob.
I recently lost a set of keys at Dorsey's Knob Park. I knew approximately where I had dropped them on the ground, however, the sun set before I could find them. The following day I returned to the scene and searched the lawn until I discovered them lying in the grass.
In the process of looking for my keys, I stumbled upon another treasure. Several clumps of Inky Cap Mushrooms, Coprinopsis atramentaria, had seemingly appeared overnight.
Inky Cap is an interesting species of mushroom because it contains a chemical compound called coprine. One of coprine's most notable properties is that it interacts with alcohol. Basically, whether or not Inky Caps are poisonous depends on whether the eater has also consumed alcohol. If there is no alcohol present in the body, Inky Caps are generally not toxic. But if consumed with alcohol, nausea, vomiting, and tingling limbs occurs with five to ten minutes. The severity of the symptoms is directly related to how much alcohol has been consumed. In rare cases, the coprine and alcohol interaction results in a heart attack!
For the time being, I think I'll just stick to eating mushrooms that I find in the grocery store.
It never ceases to amaze me how predictable the cycles of nature can be. The interaction of climate, temperature, precipitation, elevation and the amount of sunlight exert on irresistible influence on what the plants and animals do during the various seasons of the year. The scientific study of the these cyclical biological occurrences is known as phenology. I just call it miraculous.
As an obsessed birder, I am particularly in tune with the seasonal behavior of West Virginia's avian life. For example, even though winter storm Thor is threatening to dump more snow on the Mountain State this week, I know that the spring bird migration is already in motion. Over the past week, the flock of American Robins hanging out on the disc golf course at Dorsey's Knob has grown from about a dozen birds to over a hundred today. I have also already been hearing the expected springtime songs of Carolina Chickadees, Northern Cardinals and Song Sparrows coming from the thickets around the Groscup Center. Even a nomadic flock of Cedar Waxwings showed up on cue this week to feed on the dried fruit still clinging to an ornamental tree near the lodge. Last March they were in that very same tree at this very same time of year. Some of them might even be the very same birds!
Bird migration is so predicable that I already know what species will be showing up at Dorsey's Knob over the next couple of weeks. For example, within a few days there should be a male Red-winged Blackbird singing his heart out beside the pond. And then around March 16th, I'll be greeted in the morning by an Eastern Phoebe singing from the hillside near the mosaic Spirit Wall. Phoebes spend their winters in the southeastern states and are some of the earliest spring songbirds to arrive back on their nesting grounds in West Virginia. Last year a pair of phoebes raised two broods in a nest located on the back side of the lodge. I bet they'll be there again this year.
So even though ice, sleet, and snow are in the immediate forecast, rest assured that the air will soon be filled with the springtime songs of migrating birds.
Have you ever taken a close look at moss? These oftentimes overlooked plants are everywhere at Dorsey's Knob. They grow on the rocks, logs, trees, buildings and even on the bare ground. If you really want to see the details of the leaves and spore capsules, you'll need some sort of magnification. I prefer to use my dissecting microscope. The photograph below really drives home the "point" of how tiny moss leaves can be.
Moss leaves from Dorsey's Knob beside the point of a pin.
Individual cells are visible in the leaf in the center of this photo. The leaf is only one cell thick and about twenty-five cells across. The two fuzzy black lines are millimeter lines from a metric ruler.
A moss-covered boulder rests below the Dorsey's Knob pond.
When the sun sets and Dorsey's Knob Park closes for the night, the trails come alive with activity! A variety of nocturnal mammals emerge from dens and briery thickets to search for food, patrol territories and raise their families. I have recently been placing a trail camera out at night just to see what species of mammals call the park home. Here is what I have found so far.
Mountaineer Audubon held its annual Morgantown Christmas Bird Count on Saturday, December 20th 2014. Sponsored by the National Audubon Society, the count occurs at over 2300 locations throughout the western hemisphere. The purpose of the count is to collect bird population data so that we better understand any changes that may be happening to our birdlife.
The Morgantown count area comprises a fifteen mile diameter circle that is centered on the landing strip at the Morgantown Municipal Airport. On count day, teams of birders and feeder watchers try to find as many individual wild birds as possible within an assigned territory inside the count circle. At the conclusion of the count, all of the various bird lists for Morgantown are compiled into a single list, which is then sent to the National Audubon Society. Audubon then makes that data available to scientists and conservationists to use in their research.
As the resident Dorsey's Knob Park Caretaker and Environmental Educator, my assigned territory for this year was the 71 acre park. Its an area that I know well. When the clock struck midnight on count day, I stepped outside onto the deck of the caretaker's house and listened intently. Within a minute I heard the hoot of a Great Horned Owl. A pair of them have been hanging around the park for the past couple of weeks and I knew they would likely be calling. Fortunately, "heard only birds" count exactly the same as "seen birds." Having tallied the Great Horned Owl, I then grabbed a few hours of sleep before getting up in the pre-dawn hours to continue my search for more owls. By the time I saw the rising sun clear Chestnut Ridge to the east, I had found four additional owls at the park. All four of them were diminutive Eastern Screech-Owls, which nest within hollow tree cavities in the wooded areas of Dorsey's Knob.
Over the course of the day, I searched every thicket, walked many of the park's trails and even spent time sitting near Sky Rock as I looked and listened for birds within and above the park. By dinner time I had located 33 different species of birds. The complete bird list as well as the number of individuals for each species is found below in taxonomic order.
Canada Goose (49)
Wild Turkey (13)
Red-tailed Hawk (2)
Rock Pigeon (34)
Mourning Dove (1)
Eastern Screech-Owl (4)
Great Horned Owl (1)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (6)
Downy Woodpecker (8)
Hairy Woodpecker (1)
Northern Flicker (3)
Pileated Woodpecker (2)
Blue Jay (6)
American Crow (31)
Carolina Chickadee (18)
Tufted Titmouse (11)
White-breasted Nuthatch (6)
Brown Creeper (2)
Carolina Wren (15)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (1)
Eastern Bluebird (8)
American Robin (2)
Northern Mockingbird (5)
European Starling (155)
Cedar Waxwing (1)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (1)
Field Sparrow (7)
Song Sparrow (17)
White-throated Sparrow (29)
Dark-eyed Junco (12)
Northern Cardinal (44)
House Finch (29)
American Goldfinch (2)
For additional information on Mountaineer Audubon's annual Morgantown Christmas Bird Count, click here.
Hikers at Dorsey’s Knob may have noticed that a new stone and gravel ramp now bridges one of the most persistently muddy sections of the park’s trail system. Credit for the construction project goes to a group of several dozen Boy Scouts who attended the recent Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston Catholic Camporee at the nearby Camp Mountaineer over the weekend of September 26th-28th.
The project involved gathering several truckloads of loose fieldstones from the hillside near the lodge and positioning them so as to form a stone ramp up and over a 9" culvert. The scouts then topped the fieldstone ramp with limestone.
In addition to this much appreciated service project, the scouts also had an opportunity to play disc golf and to hike up to Sky Rock, the highest point in the city of Morgantown. The fall weather was absolutely perfect for spending a day outdoors at the park.
So the next time that you hike past the Dorsey's Knob pond without getting your shoes muddy, take a moment to thank the Boy Scouts of America!
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.