The Sunflower Gardens Mini-Adventures

We have known for a few years that the State of Maryland manages a few sunflower gardens in the area of McKee Beshers Wildlife Management Area near Sycamore Landing, one of our starting points for Sunday morning walks along the towpath. The exact locations of the gardens can change every year. The primary purpose of the sunflower gardens is to provide food for birds. That having been said, The Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the organization that maintains the area, allows visitors to the many sunflower gardens, including the one next to the parking lot at Sycamore Landing for the C&O Canal.

We went to see the sunflowers for first time this year. This year, all of the gardens other than the one at Sycamore Landing are accessed from parking lots along a rough road called Hunter Quarter Road. Hunter Quarter Road is a diversion from a main road called River Road. It runs parallel to River Road for a short while. River Road itself runs roughly parallel to the Potomac river. It is the road we take to get to both Sycamore Landing and Edwards Ferry. McKee Beshers WMA occupies all of the space between River Road and the C&O Canal park next to the Potomac River. River Road and the towpath are spaced by a distance of roughly a mile. The wildlife management area is broken up into woods, swamps, and plots of land which either lie fallow or are used for growing plants like corn, and even sunflower. I suspect that some of the plots are leased out to people. This being a wildlife management area, there is plenty of wildlife, including a variety of flora and fauna.

Here are some pictures from the outing!

The following pictures are from the first location that we stopped at. The garden had to be accessed via a trail through a wooded area.The sunflower garden itself was next to a cornfield.

The sunflower plants here were growing in the midst of some other tall wild plants.

It was still a little cloudy at that time of the morning. We could see the occasional aircraft flying in the direction of Dulles airport.

The sunflowers were easier to view at the second place that we stopped at.

We saw a lot of goldfinches flying around the sunflower field. They would occasionally land on the sunflower plants, sometimes sitting on top of the plants, and sometimes going down into the leaves of plants themselves. They did not stay in any one place for too long.

Beyond the sunflower garden, we were able to follow the pathway in the direction of the Potomac River, all the way to its end. We then had to walk through a field of fairly mature corn plants to get into the woods next to the canal. It could have been a setting for a Stephen King novel.On the other side of the cornfield, a trail led through woods to the prism of the canal and the towpath on its other side, and then the river just beyond.

We did not see any sunflowers at the final place that we stopped at. The pathway in this area lay next to a swamp. There were plenty of interesting other plants to be seen. These are some of the newer ones.

There were also mallows and bindweed aplenty in this last section.

Here is a picture of a bird I do not recall ever having seen before. It was very cooperative when it came to my taking its picture. I have been unable to identify it so far. Notice the multi-colored beak.

We have been aware of the existence of the McKee Beshers Wildlife Management Area for a long time. I have actually studied a map of the area in the past to figure out if there were places to hike. I had been looking forward to exploring this space for a few years. Now it is done thanks to the sunflower gardens! We might return to the place in the future.

Walk, Bike, and Run

I felt good this morning. I was able to go for a run after a somewhat long break. The last couple of days have been a little cooler than usual, and the temperature was in the 60s when I started out. I thought that I would feel a little sluggish because of the break. That happened to not be the case. I got my mojo going pretty quickly, probably because of the cool temperatures. The running came easy. I was was able to maintain a decent pace throughout the run, and I actually felt wonderfully refreshed the rest of the morning.

We walked from Weverton to Harpers Ferry last Sunday. We were walking a section of this trail for the first time this year. Because of the location closer to Harper Ferry, there was more activity on the trail than one wishes and hopes for. But it was OK. We still had our extended periods of quiet. Here are some pictures from the walk.

The railroad line runs beside the canal all the way to Harpers Ferry.

This is the Route 340 bridge across the Potomac.

The river is very rough downstream of Harpers Ferry. The water is also very low in summer.

Harpers Ferry is across the river in West Virginia at the meeting point of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. The railroad line crosses over the river on the bridges to the right of the picture.

The newer flowers that we saw for the year during this walk include White Campion,

Buttonbush,

Queen Anne Lace (here in its early stage),

flowers that I was unsuccessful in identifying last year too,

Crown Vetch (distinguished from Red Clover because of the nature of the leaves),

Hedge Bindweed,

Wild Sweet William,

Rose of Sharon,

and Asiatic Dayflower.

My bike ride last Wednesday started once again at Pennyfield lock, but this time I headed towards Washington, DC. I rode up to Chain Bridge. It was a typical hot and humid Washington, DC, summer day. I covered more distance this time than I did during my first ride of the year last week. I put in a little more effort than during that first ride – keeping up a decent speed on the trail. There were quite a few people on the trail in spite of the heat. Thankfully, interactions with folks I encountered were generally pleasant, including a conversation with a couple who were in the early stages of an ambitious ride of over 60 miles! I hope they made it.

Here are a couple of pictures from my ride. The first one was taken at Widewater.

You can make out the typical haze of a Washington, DC, summer day in the second picture.

The Heat of Summer – Once Again!

Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city…
…………..The Lovin’ Spoonful

The temperatures began its rise into the 90s last weekend. Knowing that it was going to get very hot, we started our walk earlier than usual on Sunday. We were on the trail at Swains Lock before 8 O’clock! In spite of the early start, it did not take too long before we began to feel the sweat collecting on our necks and back. It was going to be one of those days!

We walked towards Great Falls. Here is a picture of the tavern at Great Falls.

We continue to see flowers for the first time this year along the towpath. The numbers I am recording are staggering. These include Tall Meadow Rue,

Yarrow,


Trumpet Flower,


Pickerelweed,


Mullein,Thistle,what I believe is Bindweed of some kind,


Black Cohosh,


Day Lily,Basil Bee Balm,

and a couple of flowers that I could not identify.

We also found raspberryand pawpaw fruitalong the trail.

The heat of the summer also brings out the dragonflies and the butterflies. We saw a few skimmers, a zebra swallowtail, and even a Red Admiral and a Crescent butterfly. (I will post some of these and other pictures in my Pbase photo galleries.)

We took a detour on to the River Trail just north of Great Falls on our way back to Swains Lock. It was a delightful experience! We ended up walking on a narrow trail along the side of the river. There were very few people on the trail and we saw a lot of birds. There were so many herons on the other side of the river, with many of them standing on their own individual rocks!I have to believe that there is a park on the other side of the river that is attracting the herons.

We also saw a Indigo Bunting.At first I was not sure about the identity of this bird, being confused by a shaft of light falling on its breast, but I now feel more confident of my conclusion. (Of course, I am not an expert on this matter, and my process for identifying a bird is always subject to verification/confirmation by any knowledgeable birder or ornithologist who happens to come this way!)

Here is the video of the song that I mentioned at the beginning of the blog.

The Cicadas In Full Force

The Cicadas seem to have ramped up their numbers and activity these days. It got so loud one afternoon that we could not even follow the conversations on the TV show that we were watching in the living room with the patio door open. We had to close the door! The trees in the backyard and in the front are full of these creatures. This is how it sounded one afternoon from the deck.

If you look at a capture of the volume levels for the above audio recording (processed using an app called Audacity), it looks like this!There is a real pattern here. They are actually communicating in their own way.

There are dead cicadas all over the ground in the outdoors these days, anywhere you walk. It is difficult to avoid stepping on them. The birds must be having a feast. You can hear the cicadas buzzing in the air, and watch them flying all over the place. You may even get hit by a cicada every once in a while if you are outside for a long time. While there can be a somewhat panicky reaction when this happens, with some frenzied flapping of the hand(s) where you thought the insect made contact with you, they are actually quite harmless!

We continued to experience the presence of the cicadas during for our walk from Edwards Ferry last weekend. Here is a picture of one of them.This is also the time for dragonflies and butterflies. Here are some pictures. We saw a few different kinds of dragonflies, but I had a difficult time getting them in a position where they could be photographed properly. I was successful with this Common Whitetail male.

You can see two Cabbage White butterflies in the picture below.

This is a a Question Mark butterfly. As you can see, I had to be happy with getting a picture from a significant distance away.

The picture below is of a Northern Pearly Eye butterfly on the trail. It might be sitting on the remains of a dead field mouse. That was the conclusion I drew when looking at the rest of what lay around it. Interestingly enough, we saw a couple of dead frogs on on the trail. The sight was surprising enough for me to give a yelp and leap into the air on one occasion to avoid stepping on it.

Here are a few of the newer flowers this year.

This is the flower of what seems to be a somewhat common weed. It is easy to miss because the plant is very small, and I did not realize how common it was until looked around more carefully this year. I have seen it in other, very different, locations. I have also seen it in the past years but have been unsuccessful in identifying it so far. The flower looks like a sombrero to me.This one is called Deptford Pink. It is a real tiny plant.

And this is Chicory. We will be seeing much more of this all around us from now on – as the weather heats up.

I thought these mushrooms on the trail were quite pretty. They were tiny. You may be able to make the size out from the size of the stones around them.

Another week passes by as we quickly head towards the Summer Solstice and the official start of summer in these parts. Outdoor activities, including the barbecues, the lazing around swimming pools, the visits to the beaches, etc.., have already begun since Memorial day. The increased vaccination rates have made it possible for people to gather together in a safer manner than was possible last year.

Unfortunately, there are still many who do not want to be vaccinated in our country. Some do not “believe” in the vaccines. Some talk about their “freedoms”. Perhaps there are also some who still even refuse to acknowledge the reality of the pandemic. It is a pity that people do not understand the concept of living in a society where we all need to pull together and look out for each other. It is also a pity that there are people living in an “advanced nation” who do not even recognize that the science and the technology that was responsible for providing us these vaccines is the same thing that is allowing us to exist and also enjoy our current lifestyles at the current moment in time in the earth’s history. It is especially a pity when people in our country do not realize how fortunate they are to have vaccines freely available. They still do not want the vaccines, even while other countries are suffering because they do not have enough, or any.

The Scent of Honeysuckle

There were a few suggestions being generated for the title of this blog even as we were walking along the towpath last Sunday. I settled on using this one.

The weather turned cold and somewhat nasty over the weekend. There was also the threat of rain. None of this impacted our plans for the weekend walk. One motivation was the fact that the rest of the week had been a disaster with regards to doing any form of exercise. It has been quite hot outside, and there were also the persistent distractions of the mind on a few fronts that affected the motivation in this regard. In fact, the weather had been hot enough during the week that we had to turn on the air-conditioner one day. And now it was cold enough that we had turned on the heat once again.

Thankfully, it did not rain while we were walking. Also, thankfully, the weather is back to normal temperatures for this time of the year once again.

The decision to go to Brunswick, MD, was made even as we were driving towards Point Of Rocks, our originally intended destination for the start of the walk. There was a sudden realization that we had actually visited Point of Rocks quite recently, and we really felt like going to some place new. We indulged ourselves! We changed our destination while en route. Because of this very late decision, the route we took to Brunswick was not one that I would normally have taken. We drove on the more beautiful back roads between Point of Rocks and Brunswick, arguably taking a little more time to get there than we would have done otherwise.

We walked north from Brunswick in the direction of Harpers Ferry. We did not make it to Harpers Ferry, but turned back more than half way there, less than a mile beyond the entrance to the trail at Weverton. Weverton used to be a mill town on the Potomac river. Water power from the river drove its development back in the day. The town was eventually destroyed by flooding from the river. All that is left behind today are the thick woods. You can apparently find the remains of some of the old buildings – a surviving foundation wall or a chimney – if you wander off the main trail. I have made such efforts in the past to find the lost town. This was when I used to run along the towpath by myself. I had no success. I only found this one trashed car during one of my explorations. (The car was most certainly from a time well after the original town’s existence.) We did not make any such attempt to discover the remains of the town during this walk, though we kept peering every now and then into the woods, hoping to get a some glimpse of the remains of foundation stones for buildings – without success!

As we were starting our walk from the parking lot in Brunswick, we came upon a creature that looked like a nutria (or a beaver, I cannot tell the difference!) with its little one. They were just a short distance away from the restroom located next to the parking lot. It held its place, not attempting to get any further away from us humans.As I walked towards the restroom, another small creature emerged from the ground beside the restroom.This little one was so engrossed in what it was doing – probably looking for food in the grass – that it did not attempt to get away from me until I was almost on it. I had some fear of being charged by a parent beaver (one could imagine it even being rabid!) that was obviously waiting for its young one, but, thankfully, it stood by calmly. The little one eventually noticed me and ran towards the parent, and the whole family vanished into the tall greenery next to the water. Just FYI, Canada Geese react very differently in situations like these!

Talking about encounters between animals and people, here is another one that took place during the later part of our walk. The deer had been staring at us from a distance while standing on the trail before these bikers appeared.

It was another beautiful walk,including the subject matter of the title of this blog. The sides of the trail closer to Brunswick had been mowed. These sides were covered all along the way by mock strawberry plants that had fruited.

We saw a plant with a flower that looked like a rose,and this is other new flower that I also could not identify.

I believe these are blackberries!

We passed Lock 31 and its unique lock house as we approached the entrance to the trail at Weverton.You can see Weverton Cliff in the background of this picture. We have climbed Weverton Cliff in the past. You get there by getting on the section of the Appalachian Trail (AT) at Weverton going north (in the general direction of Maine). Of note is the fact that the Appalachian trail and the towpath share a common pathway between Weverton and Harpers Ferry. At Harpers Ferry, the AT crosses over into West Virginia on one of the railroad bridges across the Potomac (at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers). From Harpers Ferry onward, the AT heads south in the general direction of Georgia.

There were some interesting signs on the trail at the location in Weverton where the AT diverges from the towpath and heads off north on its own. The white blazes on the brown post in the picture below are the general markings for the AT. You will find these all along the approximately 2,200 mile long trail to guide you on your way. The double blaze on the post indicates that this is a place where there is a change in direction of the trail. You find it here since this is where the AT makes an abrupt left turn and diverges from the towpath. The unique element in the picture above are the road signs for bicycle routes. I do not recall seeing these anywhere else on the towpath. Some extended research has revealed the existence of a U.S. Bicycle Route System that covers the entire US. Interesting!

Brunswick has a massive railroad yard that is operated by the freight railroad company CSX. There is also a separate section in this railroad yard where the suburban MARC trains are parked when not in use. During the stretch of our walk closer to Brunswick, we walked next to a line of closed auto-carrier rail cars (also called autoracks) that seemed to stretch at least a couple of miles, more than half way to Weverton! I am not used to seeing such long trains. This is a picture of a coal train passing by the parked auto-carriers just outside of Brunswick.

We did see a couple of new birds for the first time this year. There was the goldfinch, and the other bird was a female wood duck with its little ones.I had seen the same kind of ducks in the same area around the same time of year many years ago.

The graffiti in the picture below was the source of one of the other suggestions for a title for this blog. It was difficult decision at game time! The location of this piece of graffiti was one of the supports for the Route 17 bridge across the Potomac river at Brunswick.You can barely make out the remains of lock 31 of the canal in front of the bridge support in the picture above. Our car was parked under one of the other supports for the bridge closer to the river itself.We took the back roads once again when returning home. I think this is the route we will be taking from now on to go to Brunswick. It avoids the stress of the highway traffic and lets us enjoy a scenic ride through the more peaceful back roads of rural Maryland. Why rush?!

Brood X

This is the year of Brood X, a brood of cicadas that emerges from the ground once every 17 years in our part of the world – to mate, lay eggs from which nymphs emerge, and then die, perhaps even before they are able to complete the process. The nymphs that are born drop from the trees where the eggs are laid, burrow into the ground, and they are gone for the next 17 years – to reappear once again and transform into fully grown cicadas. The cicadas are everywhere these days, and they will be gone within the next month or so. They do create a racket! We saw a lot of them last weekend on the trail near Dargan Bend.
This visit to Dargan Bend was a follow-up to a visit earlier this year. At the time of the first visit, all of our surroundings were primarily brown. This time the experience was completely different. It was green all around, although the leaves for the Sycamore seem to emerge a little later than for other trees and plants. It is also already getting warm enough for the gnats to emerge in certain sections of the trail.

We walked south from Dargan Bend, towards Harpers Ferry, the opposite direction to the one we had taken earlier this year. This was a stretch of the trail that we had not explored before.

The flowers of early Spring are gone and we are left with primarily the Rosa Multiflora, Honeysuckle and Fleabane. The American Bladdernut, a plant whose flowers we saw in April, have now fruited.I have not yet been able to identify this one new flower in the picture below. We saw it in at least a couple of places along the trail.The river is quite wide in the section of the trail close to Dargan Bend. This section is just upstream of the remains of Dam 3.We walked past an inlet lock just before remains of Dam 3.In times past, the inlet lock provided a good means providing water to the canal from the water collecting in the river behind the dam. We stepped off the trail in this section to go down to the river itself.This area of the river downstream of Dam 3 is quite rough.You can hear the roar of the river here.

We did not quite reach the bridges at Harpers Ferry, but we could see them in the distance, probably less than a mile away, from the shore of the river just beside the remains of Lock 34.To the left side of the picture above is Maryland Heights. There is a trail to the top of the cliff. We have hiked this trail a few times in the past. It is a good workout! Harpers Ferry is on the right side of the picture.

I have been thinking about the lifetimes of the cicada and what their lives mean in the grand scheme of things. They live underground (on the liquids in the roots of trees) for most of their lives, and they emerge from the ground once in 17 years to produce progeny. And then they die. That’s it! You should read about their strategy for survival as a species once they emerge from the ground. It is quite unique considering that they are consumed in large numbers by other creatures once they emerge above ground. (They are even considered a specialty for consumption by humans in some quarters. If you do an Internet search you can find a few recipes.) Do these creatures have a purpose, or is there simply an evolutionary process (or instinct!) for self propagation and preservation of the species that is in play? Is there some kind of grand plan that includes these creatures? How do human beings fit into all of this?

The More Familiar Flowers

We stayed closer to home last weekend, going for a walk between Sycamore Landing and Edwards Ferry. This has become our go-to walk in recent times, when we do not want to go far, and when we do not want to be too adventurous. The distance that we cover is towards the longer end of our limits, and I am usually beginning to drag as we get towards the end. I am going to feel it more and more as the heat picks up.

This was the weekend that the old standby, the Rosa Multiflora flowers,made their appearance beside the trail. The other flowers that I became familiar with when I started visiting the canal was the Fleabane. Those were also around in large numbers.

Other flowers include a kind of white violet (it could be a Canada Violet),what I think is called False Solomon Seal,and clover.

In the sections of the canal bed with water, we found Yellow Pond Lilyand Yellow Iris.

I believe that this plant is called Solomon’s Seal.It would indeed be quite the coincidence if we happened on both False Solomon’s Seal and Solomon’s Seal during the same outing, but I am not completely confident about my conclusion.

This is probably a Mock Strawberry.

As an aside, I now think the plant I had mistaken for Virginia Waterleaf back in April is actually an American Bladdernut. They form very distinctive pods later in the year.

The trail was packed with people during the later part of our walk. (This is one of the disadvantages of staying closer to home.) We passed a troop of boy scouts. They were taking their own sweet time moving north. When they stopped at Edwards Ferry for a break, their troop leader was noting (maybe complaining) that it had been less than a mile between breaks. He wanted them to get up and keep moving.

The campsite near Edwards Ferry was full. When we took a detour along the river at Edwards Ferry, we actually discovered a couple and a dog camped out on the unmarked trail by the river. They said that the campsite was too full.

Bikers were also out in large numbers, and in large groups. They were mostly riding in a courteous manner, moving into single file when passing. All the same, we had to been vigilant. There were many occasions when we would turn back expecting somebody to be coming up behind us, only to find that we were imagining things!

More Flowers Of The Season

We saw more flowers of Spring during our outing on the canal last Sunday. Here are the new ones that caught my eye.

Celandine:

Fleabanes:

Phlox:

Miami Mist:

The real Virginia Waterleaf! (I believe I falsely identified the following as possibly Virginia Waterleaf a few weeks back. The real Virginia Waterleaf grows closer to the ground than the plant we had seen earlier!):

Mayapple:

Star of Bethlehem (different from the Nodding Star of Bethlehem!):

Possibly Sweet Cicily:

and Dames Rocket:

We could see the distinctive Rosa Multiflora plants in some sections of the trail. These will be blooming soon, and, along with the honeysuckle, taking over the sides of the trail before too long!

The manner in which I have approached the presentation of the flowers observed along the canal this year has made me better appreciate, perhaps for the first time, the wide variety of the flora that we have been coming across over the years in our own backyard. This is amazing!

Our exploration last weekend started from Point of Rocks. It has been a while since we came here. There has been enough new development around the area of the towpath that I initially even missed the entrance to the park. I would consider Point of Rocks to be at a somewhat intermediate distance from home, creating the situation where one is not really sure whether to consider it close enough to home when planning Sunday walks when there are time constraints, or far enough from home when we wish to spend more time exploring less-visited and newer spaces. This indeterminate state of affairs is probably one of the reasons that has led to the less frequent visits to this place.

Also to be considered in the context of making excuses for not visiting Point of Rocks is the fact that there are a lot more people visiting this place these days than in the past. The place is actually crowded! I still remember the days when there was almost nothing here. I would see very few people in the parking lot or on the trail. At that time, I had discovered the area from some newly found source of information about the C&O Canal, and I was still in the process of exploring these new spaces for the first time. The parking lot at Point of Rocks used to be a small area of cleared gravel/dirt beside an undeveloped road – on the other side of a narrow wooden bridge over the dry canal bed. (I once wrote about a bird that landed on my car while I was in this parking area. I need to rediscover that e-mail!) In those days, the dirt road actually extended on to the then unmaintained towpath, and ran all the way to the bottom of the Route 15 bridge over the Potomac river. There used to be another undeveloped dirt parking lot under the bridge at that time. All of this has changed. The trail has been resurfaced since then and is no longer accessible to visitor vehicles, and the previous parking area under the bridge is now overgrown with vegetation. The NPS parking lot at Point of Rocks these days is huge. The lot has a paved surface, and there is also a nice boat ramp to the river at one end of it.

A noteworthy element of the experience of coming to Point of Rocks is the sight of the Route 15 bridge across the Potomac in the early morning light. It is always striking. I never fail to take pictures. Here is another example.

We walked all the way to the Catoctin Creek Aqueduct and back.(Can you imagine that this was how the place looked in 2006, many years before they began reconstruction of the aqueduct?!)

There were a lot of gnats in the air at the aqueduct. It is a reminder that summer temperatures are slowly but surely making their way to our neighborhood, although, right now, we do have some days that are still cold enough to require a light jacket or a windbreaker.

Last weekend was the first time we went out to a restaurant after a gap of well over a year. We were expecting to see a light crowd. It was a shock to see the large numbers of people gathered in the shopping area. They were out enjoying the great Spring weather that we were experiencing that day. The restaurants in the neighborhood were all also quite busy. If people had not been wearing their masks, and if the spacing between the occupied tables at the restaurants had not been increased for safety, one would have assumed that this was a normal day in the county without anything amiss. But there is indeed a pandemic still going on! It was a little difficult sometimes to maintain spacing with other people while on the walkways, but, thankfully, most people wore masks. We also sat outdoors at the restaurant. All of this was a little risky, I suppose, but new Centers For Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for people who have been vaccinated suggests that the risk levels are low in these situations. This is not an exact science. We are still learning. One still has to be very careful, especially with mutations of the virus, like the particularly virulent version that seems to be prevalent in India, that are spreading around the world.

We did enjoy our dinner, although there were elements of the experience that felt a little new and unfamiliar to me once again. The interactions with the waiter felt somewhat unnatural. Truth be told, we have gotten so used to ordering food to eat at home, and enjoying the food in the relaxed and quiet atmosphere at home, that the home dining experience feels more natural and easy. One would go to restaurants primarily to enjoy the company of friends. That was what we did on Saturday.

The Music of The Birds, The Flowers, and Spring!

There were dark clouds in the sky, and it was threatening to rain, when we left home for our weekly walk in the park. We even considered carrying something extra to protect ourselves – just in case. Fortunately, the weather predictions by the experts turned out to be right, and the skies actually slowly cleared up over the course of the morning walk.

This was the view as we started our walk from the parking lot at the Monocacy Aqueduct.

This was the weekend of dramatic transformation of the woods.All of a sudden, everything has turned green around us! This was not the way it looked, or felt, even last weekend! What a glorious change! Everything in the woods has sprung to life. The combination of the wetness from the overnight rain and the rising sun attempting to penetrate and slowly vanquish the early morning clouds created some different and unique lighting conditions in these woods.

There were flowers everywhere. Different kinds of plants and flowers dominated different patches in the woods. There were the flowers we had seen in the earlier weeks of Spring, including Gill-over the-round, Periwinkle, Cutleaf Toothwort, Spring Beauty, Dutchmen’s Breeches and especially the Virginia Bluebells that were all over the place. And, then, there were other new flowers to be noticed, and even identified, including:

Violets,Squirrel Corn (which look very similar to Dutchmens Breeches),Nodding Star of Bethlehem,Yellow Violets (I think!),Purple Dead-nettle,and the super-invasive Garlic Mustard.

And the birds were everywhere, in many cases singing the sweet songs of the morning. During our walks, we usually find the birds only in certain sections of the trail. This was not the case last Sunday. Instead, we were entertained by birds everywhere, throughout the walk. We would stop and listen occsasionally, and look up into the branches of the trees to try to locate the source of the sounds. Most often, we would not see the birds. Here is a bird that I managed to spot:I think it may have been a Northern Flicker, but there is no way to be certain under the circumstances. We may be getting better at identifying some of these birds from the sounds they make – including the Northern Cardinal, the Carolina Wren, and the woodpeckers. Incidentally, the woodpeckers seem to make the least musical of sounds. They actually sound quite guttural.

Unfortunately, the conditions also caused a surfeit of millipedes to be present on the trail, and the danger of the regular squashing of these creatures underfoot. I grimaced every time I felt a crunch from my shoes. Thankfully, it was my imagination working overtime most of the time. There were also a lot of earthworms that had come out because of the rain.

We did see this tiny snail,and these unique mushrooms by the side of the trail.

The highlight of this particular outing was walking past the fields of bluebells. They have literally taken over the woods in some sections. There was a section where the trail was lined with these flowers. Unfortunately, my pictures may not serve the purpose of adequately informing the reader of the extraordinary impact of the sight of these flowers on the senses, and the sense of wonder that one feels in the midst of these fields of blue, but one must try!



The heartbeat and rhythm of the woods is unending. It is amazing.

The Visit to Big Pool

This was the song going through my head when I woke up this morning. And I felt like writing….

Springtime is here for sure, and this was more than obvious during our Sunday walk along the canal from the parking area at Fort Frederick State Park. There were newer Spring flowers to be seen all over the place:
Spring Beauty,Grape Hyacinth,Periwinkle,Trout Lily,Dandelions,probably Forsythia, and even a patch of Daffodils, most likely introduced by humans.We were even able to identify the plant that we had seen springing out of the side of the trail two weeks ago near Dargan Bend.They were Virginia Bluebell!

We started the walk rather late yesterday, closer to 11am, after going for the Easter service at the church. Having received our vaccinations, we have an additional degree of comfort/confidence about being in such gathering places. After mass, it was off on a long car ride to the area of Big Pool near Hancock. This section of the canal, next to Fort Frederick, opens out into a huge natural lake, an area where the boats plying the C&O canal in the days of old could even turn around if needed.An active railroad line that used to belong to the Western Maryland Railway, now operated by CSX, runs on the other side of the Pool, away from the towpath. At the western end of the pool, the line crosses over the towpath,and a bridge over the Potomac river, into West Virginia, joining the CSX mainline running on that side. Trains do not use this secondary line through Maryland (which runs to Hagerstown) very often, but we did happen to be there when a couple of them passed through.

The Western Maryland Railway originally used to continue westward on the Maryland side of the river towards Hancock and beyond instead of crossing over into West Virginia. The rails in this section are long gone, and the right-of-way has been converted into the Western Maryland Rail Trail. It is extremely popular with cyclists and walkers.

We had an extremely late lunch on our way back to the car, consuming PB&J sandwiches and apples while sitting on the rocks next to the remains of a spillway from Big Pool. There was a very pleasant and cool breeze blowing in our faces, making up for temperatures that has risen into the sixties by then.It was late in the afternoon by the time we were done, but we were in no hurry to get home. We even took another short walk to get down to the river since we had been unable to do that earlier.We checked out a beaver pond in the state park.It was a long drive home after all of that activity. We were tired!

Here is some more music to close out the blog with.

Peace out, and Happy Easter!