A hearty congratulations goes out to Ben Taylor from Boy Scout Troop 65 for becoming an Eagle Scout! Ben recently completed his Eagle Scout project at Dorsey's Knob Park by installing an interpretive sign near the summit of Sky Rock.
The colorful panel features a timeline as well as a panoramic photo of the view toward the north. Not only did Ben install the sign, but he also raised the necessary funds to purchase it. Manufactured by Pannier Graphics from Gibsonia, PA, the panel and its stand are made to National Park Service standards and are resistant to the fading caused by exposure to bright sunlight.
Be sure to stop by the park to see the new addition!
I had decided that I wasn't going to tell anyone about what I had seen the other night at Dorsey's Knob. After all, I don't want people thinking that I'm crazy. But now that I actually possess video proof of what I saw, I think that its okay to share my story with the world.
To put it bluntly, the other night I saw a white formless "entity" moving around the disc golf course near basket #2. As soon as I saw it, I threw the BOPARC truck into 4 wheel drive and quickly repositioned it so that the headlights aimed in the direction of the movement. Thanks to modern technology, I actually captured 30 seconds of grainy video on my cell phone camera.
Take a look at the video for yourself. If this isn't a ghost, then I don't know what it is. I just hope that sharing the story of this haunting doesn't raise any sort of stink.
I recently witnessed one of the most well-executed examples of mockery to ever greet my ears. It happened one evening as I sat reading on the deck of my residence at the Groscup Center. It was a very pleasant evening with several groups of people playing disc golf on the nearby course. I could also vaguely hear another group of park visitors talking as they stood atop Sky Rock.
I'm not entirely sure when the "incident" started, but I first became aware of it when I heard what I took to be a Killdeer calling. As you may know, Killdeer are a species of grasslands "shorebird" that are often seen on golf courses, beaches and in the parking lots of shopping centers. I had heard Killdeer flying above Dorsey's Knob Park before, but this one seemed to be calling from the top of a tree. Wait! Although a Killdeer is a bird, they do not land in trees. Or at least I've never before seen one in a tree.
Suddenly, the Killdeer stopped calling and a Northern Cardinal began singing from the same direction. Then after but a few seconds, the cardinal stopped singing only to be replaced by a snippet of song from a White-eyed Vireo. At this point, it became evident that we had a Northern Mockingbird singing from a treetop. It took but a moment to locate the mimic perched in the highest branch of a Black Cherry tree.
Mockingbirds are members of the Mimidae family, which also includes catbirds and thrashers. All of them are noted for their ability to mock the songs of other birds. By far, mockingbirds are the champion mimics within this bird family. I have even heard them mimic car alarms!
Most likely, male Northern Mockingbirds mimic the songs of other birds as a way of "showing off" to the females. It takes time and experience to learn a lot of songs. Ostensibly, only those individuals with good genes survive long enough to accumulate a long "playlist" of songs.
As I listened to this mockingbird sing one song after another, it became obvious that he had been around for awhile. And when I heard him imitate a Belted Kingfisher, I realized that this bird had previously lived at some other place. I knew this because there simply are no kingfishers high on the hill at Dorsey's Knob Park.
Hands down, this mockingbird could mock more species of birds than any other mocker I had previously heard. I couldn't identify every species mimicked, but what follows is a list of the songs that I did hear.
And yes...a car alarm, which is sometimes heard in the Dorsey's Knob parking lot.
Much thanks goes to Ben Taylor from Boy Scout Troop 65 for selecting Dorsey's Knob Park as the site for his Eagle Scout project. Over the weekend of July 12th-13th, Ben managed a work crew of over thirty fellow scouts, friends and family members as they improved and repaired the park's popular Sky Rock Trail.
The most physically challenging part of the project involved constructing a new 100' long section of trail that creates a loop around Sky Rock. Installing the new section required a lot of digging, chopping through roots, pulverizing rock, wheeling heavy loads of gravel to the top of the knob and setting 15 wooden steps. High humidity and sweltering 88 degree temperatures made for challenging work conditions. Despite the difficulties, the work progressed smoothly and more rapidly than anyone had envisioned. Its amazing what can be accomplished with a small army of workers! By the end of the fist day, the new section of trail was basically complete.
The construction phase of the project also called for accomplishing several smaller, yet important, tasks. One of these jobs involved repairing and replacing some of the existing wooden steps located behind Sky Rock. In addition, the work crew spread gravel on the trail, trimmed low hanging tree branches and removed poison ivy vines, which had slowly been creeping on to the trail and up the side of Sky Rock.
Although much was accomplished over the course of the weekend, this was just part one of Ben's Eagle Scout project. The second exciting phase will take place later this summer with the installation of an interpretive sign near the summit of Sky Rock. Stay tuned to this blog for more on Ben's project at Dorsey's Knob Park.
Lately I find myself waking up tired in the morning. Actually, its not every morning. Its only mornings that follow nights where there was no rain, mild temperatures, no wind, high humidity and practically no moonlight. What does the weather and phase of the moon have to do with getting a good night's sleep you may ask? Moths of course. The largest numbers and greatest variety of moths are generally seen on mild rain free nights when it is especially dark. So come on over to the dark side. You may find yourself rewarded with late night gems such as the ones below that I photographed at Dorsey's Knob Park.
I was deep in thought as I pulled weeds in front of the Dorsey's Knob Lodge, when someone yelled for me from across the parking lot. I could detect a certain sense of urgency in his voice. Hurrying toward him and his family, he said that they had seen a snake and that he was concerned that it might be venomous. When I got closer, he pointed out a four foot long dark-colored snake crawling slowly through the grass along the roadside. After taking a closer look, I happily announced that it was a Black Ratsnake and that it was harmless...unless you happen to be a mouse or other small rodent. Although Black Ratsnakes might bite if cornered or harassed, they basically just want to be left alone.
During the three months that I have been park caretaker at Dorsey's Knob Park, I have seen only one other species of snake - the Eastern Gartersnake. In general, Eastern Gartersnakes are not overly aggressive, however, this one was. As can be seen in my photograph below, they sometimes flatten their heads when they assume a striking posture. Perhaps they think it makes them look more intimidating. Regardless, I gave it plenty of space.
This particular snake had a good reason to be upset with me. I had almost hit it accidentally with a string trimmer while cutting grass near the Stacy Groscup Center.
Although it might have simply been upset, I have another theory. I suspect that this particular snake might have been pregnant. Yes, pregnant. Although many species of snakes, such as Black Ratsnakes, lay eggs, Eastern Gartersnakes actually give birth to live young. In fact, they can have as many as eighty or so babies at one time.
I haven't seen any three inch long baby Gartersnakes crawling around Dorsey's Knob Park, but you can rest assured that I'll be keeping my eyes open.
This spring I have been helping the WV Department of Natural Resources with their multi-year project to create an atlas of all of the butterfly and some of the moth species that are found in West Virginia. The surveying is being done on the county level by DNR staff as well as volunteers such as myself. The results of the surveys will ultimately be published by the DNR online. When complete, the project will provide valuable insight into the status and distribution of moths and butterflies in the state.
Why survey "all" of the butterfly species, but only "some" of the moths you be wondering? Well, mostly it is a matter of numbers. While only about 133 species of butterflies reside within the state of West Virginia, the number of moth species probably far exceeds a thousand! Nobody knows for sure. In fact, the number of moth species found at Dorsey's Knob Park alone might exceed a thousand.
My procedure for surveying moths is pretty simple. On warm nights I keep a close eye on the dusk to dawn lights at the Dorsey's Knob Lodge and at the Groscup Center. When a moth is attracted to the lights, I take a picture if it lands. Fortunately, flash photography doesn't seem to disturb them.
Below are just a few of the moths that I've seen at Dorsey's Knob during the month of April and first half of May.
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.