Date: 10/11/17 8:44 am From: Judy & Don <9waterfall9...> Subject: NWAAS Field Trip to Ninestone - Report
What a beautiful autumn day to spend with Joe Neal and 43 more nature lovers, sauntering under pines that tower over the savanna and trailing up through the glade to the top of the bluff. There, St. Peter's sandstone caps the bluff, and is the substrate for thin soils that provide glade habitat for specific communities of plants and animals. As the slope levels out, paths lead to overlooks that provide views of Piney Creek, the stream that eroded the cliff eons ago, and beyond that, pastures and wooded hillsides across the valley. Fall blooming Nodding Ladies'-tresses, a small native orchid, were just spiking up to bloom among grasses on a point where Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures often sun themselves and launch to soar over the land.
Many migrants, including raptors, vireos, and warblers have already passed through, and other birds will arrive soon to spend the winter here.
But Sunday the Blue Jays were migrating, as were Northern Flickers (all yellow-shafted according to Joan Reynolds), and Monarch Butterflies fluttering high above us in the blue.
American Crows cawed, a Red-shouldered Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, and two Red-tailed Hawks called or soared along with both species of Vultures.
A pair of Belted Kingfishers rattled over the creek. Woodpeckers including Red-bellied, Downy, Hairy, and Pileated investigated the trees. The Red-headed had Woodpeckers had moved to a better source of acorns a couple of weeks ago.
Titmice, Chickadees, Northern Cardinals and White-breasted Nuthatches all visited the feeder.
Carolina Wrens were busy announcing territory. A Pine Warbler trilled and Goldfinches feasted on weed seeds. One Ruby-crowned Kinglet was seen darting through pine boughs.
It's dry. The only flowers were drought tolerant White Heath Asters, White Woodland Asters, and Sweet Everlasting aka Rabbit Tobacco, a native strawflower that smells like maple syrup. The trail meandered through deeper pockets of glade soil where native grasses, such as River Oats, several Bluestems, Panicums and Indian Grass flourish, and on through rocky woods where Maidenhair Spleenwort, Fern Moss and Cushion Moss grow. We came to the sandstone formations that we call Turtle Rock. There we spotted a beautifully marked young snake that saw us and hid under a pine tree root. Mitchell Pruitt waited for the cautious creature to emerge and took photos, identifying it as a juvenile Coachwhip. In the stream, Cheryl Hall photographed a Cottonmouth, and others observed a Western Rat Snake moving into the woods. Joe Neal pronounced it a three-snake day.
Before returning home to our delicious potluck lunch, the group moved on to the balds, where bedrock is the predominant element of the glade and where the soil has collected only in crevices of the sandstone. Earlier in the year there were yellow, pink and magenta flowers emerging from these thin cracks and from the cryptobiotic crust, but on Sunday only tiny dry stems and open seed heads remained. Replacing them, an array of lichens, carpets of selaginella and other mosses beautified the surface of the rock. We carefully stayed on the path through this delicate environment where lichens have grown up and over small pebbles like draped doilies or celadon paint, indicating decades of endeavor, and a lack of disturbance.
We are so grateful for those wonderful people, who also teach their children to appreciate the miracles of Nature, for coming to Ninestone and enjoying them with us.