Sunday, September 20, 2015

International Rock Flipping Day-- Dry Spiders and Random Kittens

Last Sunday (September 13) was International Rock-Flipping Day. I had every intention of participating and posting my results promptly. I led training for some new volunteers most of Saturday, then at the last minute I found out one of my colleagues at Meadowside Nature Center was in desperate need of help at the Paw-Paw Festival the next day. I had intended to visit the festival on my own anyway so of course I offered to help out. 

I had expected to work only a few hours and then head home to flip some rocks as well as  pack for an upcoming trip. But as the festival got rolling I learned why my coworker was so desperate—they were short several staff members  and didn't even have all the volunteers they'd expected. So of course I couldn’t leave the festival like that; I wanted visitors to have a good time. Actually I had a great time, mostly helping out at the Colonial Games booth where I taught visitors to play Graces, showed them fun toys like Jacob’s Ladders, and generally had a fun time goofing around. I also got to help out at the Paw Paw Tasting tent, where we had two different cultivars available for tasting. Scooping out bite-size portions while wearing non-latex gloves was quite messy! Both cultivars (Shenandoah and Allegheny) were very tasty, I highly recommend them.

So I finally got around to flipping a few rocks the NEXT day, and then we left for a week-long trip the day after that. (I’m posting this from the road, as a matter of fact). So apologies to all the IRFD folks for my tardiness! But here at last, exactly a week late, is my tale of rock-flipping.

It’s been extremely dry lately in Rockville, I think my rain gauge has collected maybe a quarter-inch of rain in the last month. So I was concerned that I’d find very few interesting critters or fungi or whatever beneath rocks in my yard. instead, we headed to nearby Lake Frank [links to older Lake Frank entries, e.g. Which I wrote about here and here?] to flip rocks at the water’s edge. I hoped for more interesting critters sheltering there, perhaps some snoozing snails or interesting arthropods.

One of the first rocks I flipped-- nobody home.

Instead, the first few rocks I flipped were barren. I didn’t want my first participation in IRFD to be so dull, so we moved down the shore to try another spot closer to the actual water. Here we found three fat worms-- one out of the soil and two barely peeking their heads out. I’m not sure if they normally live here or were escapees from a fisherman’s bait bucket. Lake Frank is extremely popular for fishing, and we frequently find emptied bait containers, to say nothing of discarded fishing line and occasionally even hooks. Blech. We clean the latter two up when we find them, of course, hoping to limit the number of wildlife that might be injured or killed.

Three fat earthworms: one peeking out near the top of the image, one sprawling near the lower center, and the third peeking out at the bottom right corner. The fat one hastily squirmed across the beach toward better shelter, the peeking ones stayed completely still, probably hoping we wouldn't notice them.

I wasn’t quite satisfied, however, so I tried another couple rocks. First I found a translucent filament clinging to a rock, which at first I hoped was fungus but turned out to simply be a piece of subaquatic vegetation; either partway decomposed or else simply not having enough chlorophyll due to its being covered by the rock. 

Tiny translucent fragment of vegetation, pinched between my fingers here.

The next rock, however, had my best find: a trio of wolf spiders who were mightily displeased at my uncovering their hiding spot. (Sorry, guys!) 

One of the hunting spiders we found staying high and dry on the bottom of a rock. Sorry I couldn't get a better photo; we didn't want to disturb the spiders too much.

We kept the rock flipped just long enough to take a few photos, and then of course replaced it carefully as we had all the rest. This of course is an essential part of IRFD etiquette—since you’re disturbing somebody’s home, you ought to be diligent and careful in replacing it just the way you found it, hopefully without squashing anybody. I got a semi-decent photo of the biggest one, and a crappy photo of the middle-size spider (which isn't even worth posting here).However, the littlest spider scurried away before we could even snap a picture. I hope it found its way either to a better spot (with fewer competitors maybe) or else crept back as soon as we were gone.

My dutiful husband was getting a little impatient now, so we decided to call it a day and continue with the second purpose to our hike: hunting for ripe paw-paws. (I’d brought home a delicous paw-paw from the festival on Sunday and we hoped to snag a few wild ones on our hike.) We found a few paw-paw trees, not many, though, and none of them had any sign of fruit, ripe or otherwise. This wasn’t terribly surprising, though—paw-paws are absolutely delicious and are devoured by nearly every animal that lives around here: squirrels, chipmunks, deer, foxes, raccoons, possums, birds, etc. So we were disappointed but now realize we ought to look for paw paws earlier in the season: maybe starting in late August instead of two weeks into September. We’ll remember that for next year! If you ever have a chance to try a paw-paw, do! When ripe they’re creamy-custardy, and taste a bit like a cross between a banana and a mango. Yum! They do have many large seeds, however, so watch out for that. It’s easiest to cut one in half, fish out the seeds, then eat the pulp with a spoon or your fingers. Messy but delicous!

Anyway, our first try at International Rock-Flipping Day didn't turn up much appropriate wildlife (ha! see what I did there?). But we did find other interesting critters on the same trip:

We found two adorable twin boy kittens, both all black, hanging around the parking lot when we arrived. They were curious and affectionate, and clearly well fed. We think they live in one of the houses nearby, and were maybe hoping for handouts from fishermen returning to their cars. We checked back the next day just in case they'd been abandoned, but they were nowhere to be seen. We felt equal parts relieved and disappointed. They were just so cute!

We also saw this azure butterfly flittering around our rock-flipping area. It landed on a rock; does that almost count as a participant in International Rock-Flipping Day? :-)

So all in all we had a lot of fun, both snuggling the adorable kittens and looking for muddy denizens, even if we found hardly any of the latter. Hopefully this post is better late than never!


  1. The butterfly totally counts! It was flipping and flipping along, and then alighted on a rock, right?

    Thanks for sending me the link!

    1. Hi Susannah, I like the way you think! :-D I wish I had been able to convince the kittens to try flipping rocks... they would probably have been the cutest rock flippers all year. Anyway, I hope your move is going well. I look forward to hearing more reports from your travels and explorations.


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