Friday, June 24, 2016

The Flora and Fauna of My Homeland!

Last weekend, I went to Northern Virginia!  My homeland.  It was a joy to be in the trees and among the flora and fauna of my childhood.  I recognized the smell of the woods.  It is different than the smell of Minnesota woods.  The trees are taller.  There is more variety.  They rise up on the sides of the roads and I felt covered with a warm, safe, blanket of green!  As we visited various places and spent time with friends and family, I reveled in the nature that abounded!

Here are some of my favorite findings!

As I've already blogged about, our first stop was Arlington Cemetery.  There were so many feelings there.  But the flora and fauna were also amazing.  I had forgotten how beautifully moss and lichens grow on the bark of trees.  Virginia is very wet.  Very humid.  And I loved seeing the colors of moss and lichens painting the bottoms of each tree trunk.

The trees were huge and majestic!

This one was enormous.  And I noticed when I stood by it, that there was a wire going up behind my head.

It was probably the tallest tree around---so it had been wired for lightning!  This rather fat wire ran up through the tallest branches and down the trunk right into the ground!

I saw Magnolia trees!  Something I missed from my childhood in Virginia and our lives in North Carolina!

This was a variety of Dogwood.  Not the early bloomer that comes in white and pink.  But still a lovely friend to my heart!

Giant Locust trees with their compound leaves reached high into the sky above us!

Silver Linden trees were in bloom and smelled simply delicious!!

I'm still curious about this evergreen.  I haven't been able to identify it yet.  But look at those robust pine cones!

Up near Arlington House, there were several Mulberry trees!  All the birds in the neighborhood were fighting over the few mulberries that were already ripe!

Crows were plentiful!

After losing a fight to another crow higher in the tree, this crow was picking through the berries that had fallen on the ground.

Northern Mockingbirds abounded!

In the tops of the trees.

Or standing on gravestones.

They are so pretty when they take flight---because they have stripes of white across their wings.

Beautiful Bluejays stopped by here and there on the headstones to show off their stained-glass wing and tail feathers!

This one was missing some head feathers---not sure why.

Brown Thrashers hurried across walkways...

And into the bushes where they felt most comfortable!

After we left Arlington Cemetery, we got back on the George Washington Memorial Parkway and headed away from D.C.  What a beautiful highway!  Commuting through gorgeous towering trees seems idyllic to me!

We stopped off at a scenic overlook of the Potomac river.  A local artist had set up her easel and was painting the scenery.

Other than a business that rents kayaks, I didn't find anything too scenic at first!

Something caught my eye in the sky!  Was it a bird?  Nope.  Just a plane taking off from Reagan National Airport.

In the distance, I could see the tippy top of the Washington Monument.  And lots of tall buildings under construction.  And wait!  What is that?  Coming closer in the sky?!

Soaring on the wind currents and moving really fast, a big bird came swooshing by!  I clicked away with my camera---hoping to get a good shot!

 It wasn't until I got home, that I could look and see that I had captured a photo of an Osprey!  Osprey were once endangered because of DDT which caused them to be unable to metabolize calcium and their eggshells were too thin to survive.  Now they have come back and are readily adapting to their human neighbors.  Building nests on cell towers, bridges, or other human structures.  They eat a diet that is almost exclusively fish---so they are found only near bodies of fresh water.

Our next stop was the Claude Moore Colonial Farm.  I had visited there when I was a child and had been fascinated to learn about life in the 18th century.

The host family lives there authentically.  Planting fields, doing chores, and living as much like people would have lived in 1771.

As we walked back in time along the trail to the farm, the first animal I saw was a female Downy Woodpecker!  Just like the ones we have in our backyard in Minnesota!

Then the woods opened up to a field of barley and tobacco!

Near the tobacco barn, we met Mr. Thanksgiving and his Hen.

We also met an authentic farmer out doing his chores for the day.

In carefully stacked wooden fencing, was a rather large and friendly pig!

Sadly, we didn't have an apple or slop or anything to give him!  He was disappointed in us.

Further down the path we came to the farmhouse and kitchen garden.  The stacked wooden fence was much higher around the garden---an effort to keep out the deer!

Chickens clucked in the yard, pecking and scratching.

And our farmer showed us interesting tools from his time period.  This is a broom made from a stick of wood---where the wood has actually been scraped backward in tiny strips and tied together until it makes all the fibers of the broom.  It was old and worn down, but still functioning as a fireplace sweeper.

We saw a pitcher made out of leather.  And handmade soap and dried herbs and butter churns and the beginnings of a wooden bowl--burned out with ash and then carved from there.

Our guide told us how the farmhouse had burned down a few years back.  And that this was sadly quite common with a wooden chimney!

Walking back out of the 18th century, we saw Cardinals (Virginia's state bird!)

And endless vines and vines wrapping around vines!  I don't know what kind of vines these are--but I've only seen them in Virginia and they grow strong enough to swing from!  Like Tarzan!  (Only sometimes not---and the whole vine comes crashing down from the tallest tree on top of you! #childhoodtrauma)

We saw these fuzzy berries---which I didn't recognize---but was later told by family they are "wine berries" and make delicious jam! (And obviously, wine!)

Back in the car, we would travel down Georgetown Pike to meet up with some dear friends and go to Great Falls Park--a park along the Potomac river where I first went on a bird-watching walk with a park ranger when I was a child.  I had forgotten that day lilies grow wild along the roadways in Virginia.  No one plants them.  They just decorate the sides of the roads naturally!  Such a pretty pop of orange against a green background!

At Great Falls Park, the river is strong and wide.

The first creature I saw was a little toad---who thought he was well hidden behind a few blades of grass.

When we came to the side of the river---swarms of bugs were out on the water.

Little tiny bugs that can walk on water.  They spread their legs wide and don't have enough weight to break the surface tension!  Quite a miraculous trait!

At one place along the trail, I started seeing walnuts!

Sure enough, it was a black walnut tree!  Compound leaves!  And what's that?!  Soaring in the sky?

A large bird was up there.  And he was as interested in us and I was in him!

As he swooped down closer, I got a good shot!

It was a Turkey Vulture!  Recognizable by the white feather tips all along his wings---and also by his ugly red head!  Maybe he was hoping we would fall in the water and die going over the falls!  As they only eat carrion!  Preferably freshly dead!

As we looked across the river at a mansion-sized home, I thought I saw some movement across the trees.

A large black bird was flying parallel to the water on the other side of the river.  It was a long way away, but I took the photos anyway.

It wasn't in great focus---but it was enough information for me to determine it was a "Double-crested Cormorant!"

They look like this up close!  (Not my photo.)  It would have been fun to see them with their teal eyes and twin crests on either side of their heads.  Apparently the inside of the mouth is brilliant teal blue as well!

I did catch one landing near the falls a little later, though!  They can use their wings to swim under the water as they pursue their fish prey!

Back on the trail, we came across a dead Worm Millipede!

Thousands of little tiny legs!

I knew this tree was significant---I remembered the leaf pattern.  Later, family would tell me it was a Paw Paw tree.  They grow edible fruits!  Native Americans ate them.  Early American Settlers enjoyed them!  Lewis and Clark expedition members subsisted on them for a time!

Because he had heard from his Minnesota relatives that I was a squirrel sympathizer, this one stood perfectly still on a tree beside the trail so I could take a close up of him!  I love the little heart shape in the folds of his ear!  There is also more brown in his face that the gray squirrels in Minnesota.

We came to the overlooks of the falls and I had forgotten how massive they were.  The power of the river rushing over them was loud and intimidating!

But this Mallard couple was unmoved and just out for a scenic flight!

Overhead, several large black buzzards circled!  The wing pattern from below was different from the Turkey Vulture!  Just white on the tips of the wings and weirdly white feet!

Also carrion eaters---these Black Vultures were hanging out all over the falls!

  Perhaps waiting for one of us to make a false move!

So freaky looking with their gray hooded heads!

I think this one was doing a ritual dance to bring some animal over the falls to it's death!

Perhaps one of the crazy kayakers that were running the falls that day!

They had to use nose plugs to keep from drowning!

Almost invisible until they moved, Blue Herons were everywhere!  Can you find 3 in this photo?

So graceful when they take flight!  Such beautiful curves!

Beautiful to behold in serene flight over the raging waters!

But somewhat awkward when they land and fold their giant wings back up!

We would go on to visit family near Leesburg and have fun playing in creeks.

And picnicking under enormous Black Walnut and Tulip Poplar trees.

Where Bluebirds would bring worms to their fledgling babies.

In the early morning, we would fly back home out of the most beautiful airport in the world!

The stunningly beautiful Dulles Airport!  A place I would come as a teenager just to enjoy the vast curving architecture and watch the airplanes take off and land.

Virginia is for Lovers!  Lovers of beauty and nature and good friends and family!

It was a lovely, lovely trip!

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