Friday, September 2, 2011

Lightning Fruit & Hurricane Bird

We got off easy with Hurricane Irene.  My area basically just had a long, heavy rainstorm, with some unusually strong winds. In my neighborhood a few big tree limbs came down but very few entire trees.  We didn’t even lose power. Victor and I played board games anyway that evening, even if we didn’t do it by candlelight as I’d expected.  Basically we were prepared for the worst but were lucky.

So Monday morning I visited Lake Frank as I’d planned, to survey any damage there.  Lake Frank too was lucky. A lot of light debris had fallen onto the trail. The water level was a few inches higher than last week, but nothing outrageous.  I found only one part of the trail that was actually blocked by a downed tree. The tree had fallen with its full, leafy branches right across the pathway.

This is how it looked from the far side.

When I came up to the tree I was following an older gentleman whom I’d encountered along the trail. He was walking his daughter’s dog, and had been telling me about his knee troubles and the knee replacement he was considering.  When we came to the tree blockage he just charged right into the treetop, clambering precariously along the main limbs. I was worried for his safety, so even though I could have just walked around the tree, I followed right in. Many of the branches were still damp and slippery from the storm and the overnight dew. A few limbs even had loose bark, making footing particularly treacherous. We both slipped a couple times, and later I discovered a line of big black bruises down the inside of my thigh even though I didn’t remember a fall hard enough to cause them.  They’ve faded to greenish by now as you see below, but are still sore.

Score one for the tree.

It was hard to see outside of the tree as we clambered through. I felt like leaves were barely inches from my face, although in reality it was much more spacious. The illusion meant at one point we veered away from the actual trail, following the fallen tree trunk instead. But eventually we made it safely out of the treetop and back to clear trail.

Other than the fallen tree, the most notable change at Lake Frank was the vast quantity of fungi that popped up in the rain’s wake.  I heard an old myth about mushrooms was that they would sprout where lightning struck the ground. I can see how that would make some sense, they do seem to appear so quickly after rain and thunderstorms. I know it’s not true of course but I do still like to think of mushrooms as lightning fruit. Let me know if you recognize any of these-- I don't know my fungi.

This slug loves a tasty mushroom lunch!

Very pretty; maybe an amanita?

Funky young mushroom.

These grew under pine trees.

I'm guessing another amanita.

Eventually I had to head back to the car, and I hadn't made it far enough around the lake to do the whole loop. So I turned and walked back the way I came, expecting I’d have to negotiate that fallen tree again. Much to my surprise when I got there, somebody had come along with a chainsaw and cleared the path! I don’t know whether this was a park employee, an official trail volunteer, or simply a kind neighbor who took the responsibility on his or her own shoulders. Whoever it was, though, I am impressed and grateful.

Hey look, the trail's back!

Unfortunately, I didn’t find any truly fabulous hurricane birds at the park. A Great Egret was new, but one had been reported last week at nearby Lake Needwood so it may have merely switched neighborhoods. The only likely hurricane drop-in I found was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. What I saw was a tiny, active olive-drab bird with light eye-ring and strong black & white wing bars. I’m familiar with kinglets from many winters seeing them here. I don’t think they normally show up in Maryland for another few weeks, but this sure looked and behaved like the kinglets I’m used to. The bird was making a high-pitched, rapid, almost agitated “ti ti ti ti” kind of call as it crept along branches. I found it in a brushy thicket not too far past the fallen tree, along with several chickadees and catbirds. It was much too quick and jumpy for me to get a photo, unfortunately. It’s possible I saw instead some other bird that’s normally around now, but I’m pretty confident with my ID. Not as cool as the rare ocean-going terns that some birders found after the hurricane, but still neat.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  Photo credit: Donna Dewhurst/USFWS

Today's location: Lake Frank, Rock Creek Regional Park, Derwood, MD

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