Observations From The Field

I’ve been doing natural resources inventory field work at a location between Quantico and Aquia Creek in the Chopawamsic watershed of Stafford, Virginia.  With camera in hand I was able to get some interesting photos of what’s going on in the woods for mid-August.


First up was catching a juvenile eastern fence lizard (Sceloporus undulatus), who was quite accommodating for the photo.


Just a little further into the woods, we then observed a juvenile northern ring neck snake (Diadophis punctatus).  We also documented box turtle, snapping turtle, pickerel frog, lead-back salamander, five-lined skink and worm snake.


Walking through a section heavy mountain laurel and blueberry cover with pockets of exposed sand and gravel outcrops, I noticed a quartz arrowhead on the ground.  As I cleaned the dirt from the arrowhead, I realized just how sharp the outer edges of the projectile point was.  Looking closely I could see the multiple man-made percussion points in crafting the stone.  How cool!


Squawroot (Conopholis americana), a non-photosynthesizing parasite of hardwood tree roots was seen at a few locations.


Low areas dappled with sun had pockets of common dodder (Cuscuta gronovii), which is another type of parasitic plant.


Some of the wetland margins were draped with groundnut (Apios americana), which looked somewhat similar to the leaves of hog peanut and tick-trefoils, also observed on-site.


An eastern tiger swallowtail (Pterourus glacus) landed in front of me to lick minerals from a pool of wet soil.


Nearby, I observed a northern pearly-eye butterfly (Enodia anthedon).


I observed cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor) in flower with regularity.  This native orchid flowers in mid-August rising from the ground all by itself.  After the flower stalk goes to seed and deteriorates, a single leaf, green on the top and red on the bottom (hence the name discolor) will appear in the autumn and overwinter.  The leaf will persist into the late spring, fade away and again if conditions are right, a flower stalk will appear next summer.  These flowers are easy to overlook, as they are camouflaged against the forest floor.  A beautiful orchid.


I’m going for the trifecta of parasitic plants with today’s observations.  First squawroot, then dodder, and now Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora), also known as ghost flower or fairy smoke.


This chicken-of-the-woods (Laetiporus sp.) was over 20-inches across and bright orange.


Joe-pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) are pollinator magnets, as all manner of insects and butterflies will congregate to the flowering heads.  This particular plant wont be in flower for another day or two yet.


I noted pockets of fireweed (Erechtites hieracifolia).  Fireweed never really opens to flower, but just a crack to eventually release fluffy seeds.


Its only mid-August, but this meadow smacks of a late autumn scene, as early goldenrod, the first of the Solidago’s to bloom, come to peak display, along with the on-coming white thoroughworts.


A close-up photo of early goldenrod (Solidago juncea).


I documented three species of tick-trefoil.  This photo is of panicled-leaf tick-trefoil (Desmodium paniculatum).  You know tick-trefoil, they are the plants that have the triangle shaped velcro hitch-hiker seeds that stick to your pants and your dog’s fur in the autumn.


Carolina elephantsfoot (Elephantopus carolinianus).


Looking through meadow thickets, I could see pockets of pink, which is the rose pink (Sabatia angularis).  Rose pink, a beautiful native, is shade intolerant and grows in open meadows.


A close-up photo of rose pink.  Eye candy.


This particular meadow included lots of wingstem, just beginning to flower, then with occasional single stems of wild basil (Clinopodium vulgare), as seen in this photo.   Now for the highlight of today’s field work.


I found a loose aggregate of 20 stems of scaly blazing star (Liatris squarrosa).  This particular plant is considered uncommon but established in Virginia, and is classified as highly state rare (S1) in Maryland.  I have only observed this plant on one other occasion, at a Nature Conservancy candidate site in Charles County, Maryland.  That particular site was an old field, historic pasture, and I remember counting two stems.  My site today is more or less directly across the Potomac River from one another, and of similar habitat.  Interesting.