Monday, November 22, 2010

Calendar: Thanksgiving Weekend (Nov. 25-28)

We'll be taking the rest of the week off from the Natural Capital to spend time with family. Have a great holiday!

Vintage Thanksgiving Day Postcard
Thursday marks the beginning of calorie overload season (unless, of course, you want to count back to Halloween). Some of our local hiking organizations have your back.

For those of you who won't be cooking all morning, the Sierra Club and the Appalachian Mountain Club have a joint hike on Thanksgiving morning: 5 miles in Huntley Meadows, promised to be done by noon. Trip leaders may be able to help you find a ride. Free.

After the fact, there are a couple of long hikes scheduled aimed to work off your big meal over the weekend:

On Saturday, the Capital Hiking Club will go 9 miles on the Potomac Heritage Trail and C&O from Key Bridge to Chain Bridge and back. $3.

And on Sunday, the Center Hiking Club will cover 10 miles in the southernmost part of Rock Creek Park, leaving from Rosslyn Metro. $2 for non-members.

For kids: T is for Turkey at Brookside Nature Center Saturday morning. " Learn all about turkeys through a story and hike." Ages 2-6; $3.

As always, there are many more hikes and other activities on our calendar.

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Friday, November 19, 2010

LOOK FOR: Lichens

As the leaves disappear from the trees and many other plants die back to the ground, many lichens will remain in their glorious diversity, bringing color to the forest even in the winter. Science Friday recently produced this charming video that will get you started in the wide world of lichenology.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Geography Week Quiz: Can You Name These Parks?

Every year for National Geography Awareness Week (this week!), the National Air and Space Museum runs a contest in which participants identify a variety of locations around the world, from aerial photos. This is our local version. Can you name these local parks? (Hint: We've featured them all on the Natural Capital.)

Type your answers in the blanks below then click "submit" to see the correct answers.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Calendar: Early Thanksgiving-Themed Activities (November 20-21)

Wild Turkey / Dindon sauvage
Photo credit: Eric Bégin
On Saturday morning, Brookside Nature Center in Wheaton is hosting an event for ages 3-12: "Give thanks to the park's animals by hiking to their homes & leaving a favorite treat. Then make a treat to take with you for the animals at home." $5; Reservations required.

And on Sunday morning, there's a turkey-themed walk at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park in Chantilly. "Discover the wild turkey's habits and secret ways during a walk in the cedar forest. Look for wild turkeys and their signs." $5; Register online or call 703-222-4664.

While it's not explicitly called a Thanksgiving activity, the kid-oriented Native American Stories, Games and Hunting program at Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale could be a great reminder of the original history of Thanksgiving. "With traditional stories and games, children age four and older with an adult explore the culture of eastern woodland Indians during the period of first European contact. The woodland walk highlights the use of native plants and animals for staples in our grocery stores and pharmacies." $6; Register online or call 703-222-4664.

As always, there are many more hikes and other activities on our calendar.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Trip Report: Fall Fruits on the C&O Canal

This time of year is the last hurrah for late-fruiting trees and plants, before everything shuts down for the winter. Several of these late fruits are high in sugar and/or fat:  important to birds as they fuel their migration or hunker down for the winter, and tasty to humans. Here's a list of the things we found on our walk on the C&O Canal last Saturday. The fruits we sampled are marked with an asterisk; links are to previous posts on the Natural Capital. Check for our future walks here.

Edible fruits
Persimmon* (Diospyros virginiana)
Hackberry* (Celtis sp.)
Blackhaw* (Viburnum prunifolium)
Grape* (Vitis sp.)
Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora)
Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina)

Persimmon tree on the C&O Canal by Cindy Cohen

Inedible fruits
Arrowood (Viburnum dentatum)
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
Greenbrier (Smilax sp.)
Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)
Bush honeysuckle (Diervilla sp.)

Staghorn sumac on the C&O Canal by Cindy Cohen

Matt with chicken & hen of the woods by Cindy Cohen
Also noted
Pawpaw (fruited earlier in the fall)
Maple (good for syrup later in the winter!)

Bonus fungi
Michael brought us two large mushroom clusters that he found in his neighbor's yard: hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa) and chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus). It's late for chicken but you may still see hens -- others brought big clusters to the meeting of the Mycological Association of Washington this Tuesday.

What have you been seeing out on the trail lately?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What's the Best Book You Read About Nature in 2010?

I come from a family of book readers and gift givers, and at this time of year the two converge pretty heavily as I start thinking about books to give and to request for Christmas.

For those of you in the same boat, or just looking for a good read, I'll tell you the best nature-oriented book I read this year, hands down:

Where the Wild Things Were, by William Stolzenburg. It's a fascinating review of recent research on the importance of predators as regulators of ecosystems. Most notably, there's an entire chapter devoted to the overpopulated deer of the DC metro area. Long story short: because there are no predators for the deer, the entire forest ecosystem is having trouble reproducing.

I know there are lots of books I haven't made it to this year -- any you'd recommend?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Calendar: Some of Our Favorite Trails (November 13-14)

Among the many hiking offerings on this week's calendar are visits to several of our favorite trails.

Curly Fern
Photo credit: Cowtools
Potomac Heritage: Saturday, the Audubon Naturalist Society is hiking from Riverbend Park in Fairfax to Great Falls on the Potomac Heritage Trail ($20-$35). And on Sunday, the Sierra Club is hiking the stretch from Algonkian Regional Park in Loudoun County to Riverbend Park (Free).

Fern Valley: Casey Trees is leading a tree walk on the National Arboretum's Fern Valley Trail on Saturday (Free). It's a beautiful section dedicated to native trees and plants.

Northwest Branch: on Sunday, the Audubon Naturalist Society is back out with a hike on this gem of a trail along the northwest branch of the Anacostia River, in Montgomery County ($20-28).

There are plenty more ideas of things to do on the calendar. We'll see you out there!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Things to Look For in November

I am a grouch about the cold, but really, there are a lot of things to love about this time of year. Links are to previous posts on the Natural Capital.

White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia Albicollis)
White throated sparrow by Dave Maher
The white throated sparrows are back in town for the winter. Listen for their song of "Oh Canada, Canada, Canada" as they long for their summer home. It's always nice, as the weather starts to get colder and colder, to remind myself that some critters think our winter is downright balmy, and travel hundreds of miles to enjoy it.
Witch hazel by pellaea
As one of the last things in the DC area to flower in the fall, witch hazel has a special place in my heart. It's not that the flowers are particularly showy -- the petals are just small yellow wisps, really. But they start blooming in October, and can keep going until Thanksgiving or even later.
Persimmon fruits, my Thanksgiving treat
Persimmons by Janet Powell
Persimmons are another special late-year treat -- though this year, they've been falling for a few weeks already. When they're not ripe, they'll make your mouth pucker. But when they're soft to the point of falling off the tree, they're sweet and luscious. We're hoping to find some on our walk this Saturday.
Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo)
Wild turkeys by pverdonk
Of course, by the end of the month, most of us will be thinking of turkey. Read our post for some fun facts about wild turkeys, which apparently live in Rock Creek Park -- last year just after our post a reader told me she regularly sees them off Military Road. Keep an eye out!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Calendar: Trees (November 6-7)

Greetings from Connecticut, where this cold snap is five degrees colder than in DC. (The fall leaves sure made for a pretty train ride, though.) We can complain about the cold, but don't let the sudden change of weather keep you back: there's lots to do outside!

I'm looking forward to being back in town in time for the walk Matt's leading on Saturday. Come out with us to our favorite stretch of the canal and we'll check on several fruit-bearing trees, including persimmons, black haw, and hackberry. (Register here.)

Also on Saturday, the Anacostia Watershed Society is holding a tree planting event in Hyattsville, the Maryland Native Plant Society is leading a tree anatomy walk at Wheaton Regional Park, and there's a walk to look for the biggest trees at Brookside Nature Center.

Look for details on these and many other options on our calendar.

Racoon in a persimmon tree by Michael Hodge