Nature

Wild Ideas: The spring weather rapport

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Spotted salamander egg masses, about six inches long each, appeared recently in a former concrete trout tank near where the author lives. The clarity or cloudiness of the jelly surrounding the eggs comes from genetic variations among the salamanders.

Spring may have gotten a late and fitful start, but by the first week in April amphibian eggs started appearing in pools where Pam Owen lives on Oventop Mountain. Being on the morning side of the mountain, spring typically comes a week or two later up there.
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Breathing with relief

Getting out for a breath of fresh air is a springtime joy. It’s the very symbol of aliveness and freedom, writes Liza Field. So it surprised her to hear the EPA’s latest clean air rules described as “tyranny” and clouded by misinformation. This commentary looks at some big-money sources, along with some rarely-noticed payoffs...
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Wild Ideas: Black bear hibernation, part 2

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April 10
Optical and infrared (IR) images of hibernating wild black bears are advancing understanding about the daily life of bears during hibernation. Above, IR images help to identify a black bear moving in a dark den. The images, taken upon researchers’ arrival at two den sites in late December, clearly show that bears remain alert during the winter months. The bear’s fur substantially reduces heat loss, with the maximum temperatures recorded from the eyes.

With the help of advancing technology, researchers continue to dig deeper into how and why bears hibernate. What they’re finding could have implications for human medicine.
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Of wilderness and water

The streams that eventually bring drinking water to millions begin in the cool woods of the George Washington National Forest. But US Forest Service is under intense pressure to open the woods to fracking for natural gas. Chris Bolgiano writes about one effort to protect one small part of the big woods.
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Wild Ideas: Do black bears hibernate?

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April 3
This yearling bear decided to stick close to a the carcass of a deer it found by the side of a road, denning up under the carcass when it wasn’t feeding. VDGIF anesthetized the bear, as shown in the photo, because, according to Jaime Sajecki, “as the snow started to melt we had to move the bear because it was generating a great deal of onlookers.”

Some black bears may have already emerged from winter dens, and more should emerge soon. Bear experts have long debated whether bears actually hibernate while in their winter dens, but Pam Owen has found that recent research may have settled that issue officially.
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Wild Ideas: Beeps, peeps and lovely yellow flowers

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April 3
Wild Ideas: Beeps, peeps and lovely yellow flowers

Although spring is getting a slow start, on a recent warmish night, Pam Owen heard woodcocks and spring peepers calling, and noticed more signs of a welcome change.
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The Rapp for March 27

Paul Reisler (third from right) and Howard Levy (left) perform at A Thousand Questions’ concerts April 5 in Charlottesville and April 6 in Little Washington.

Our Fourth (Estate) Friday takes a month off, Piedmont Softball’s Chili Bowl 2014 is open to entrants, RAAC screens “Captain Phillips,” Paul Reisler and A Thousand Questions perform two local concerts, the Master Naturalists guide visitors through Montpelier’s forest and more in this week’s Rapp column.
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Wild Ideas: Spring finally arrives . . . sort of

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March 27
A father teaches his young daughter to fish on opening day at Skyline Trout Farm, near Sperryville.

It’s official — it’s spring. Although a warm Saturday was followed by another plunge in temperature, Pam Owen notes that spring officially arrived with the vernal equinox last Thursday. Days are now getting longer, animals are reappearing and Skyline Trout Farm has reopened.
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Snow vs. spring

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March 20
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Spring officially arrives today. Not a moment too soon.
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Shenandoah National Park announces spring opening dates

Facilities in Shenandoah National Park will begin opening this month and will continue to open through the spring.
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Photos: Black & white and . . . March

Photo by Gary Anthes

Photos: From on high

By Maggie Rogers

The heavens cooperated at the end of Sperryville hiker Maggie Rogers’ day in Shenandoah National Park last week.
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Clark Hollow Ramblings: This too shall pass

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March 20

Even those of us who like snow have probably gotten a belly full of it by now. Richard Brady has enjoyed it all his life, probably because of the enjoyable times he had as a kid when it snowed.
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Wild Ideas: Not an angry bird, but a clever grackle

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March 20
Angry? Demonic? For reasons unknown, grackles have evolved to have white irises. More likely this is an adaptation to help them identify others of their species, making it easier to reproduce.

When a great photo from Larry Sherertz appeared in Pam Owen’s inbox, she realized that she hadn’t thought about grackles for a while. That’s no surprise, since she doesn’t live in the bird’s ideal habitat.
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Getting big or getting out

It’s time for diet season around the U.S., in a big way. Two-thirds of our population is now overweight and leaving a heavier footprint. While we’ve been gaining, the biosphere has been losing. This growing imbalance, Liza Field suggests, we could reverse, from a lose-lose to a win for both human and planetary health.
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Wild Ideas: Where is spring?

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March 13
With its breeding season on the way, the woodrat that has been living in the author’s attic has been relocated outdoors.

Pam Owen has been searching for signs of spring, but other than a few more skunk-cabbage blossoms poking up through the mud in the wetlands near her house, she’s found few so far. She did, however, find an opossum’s den and an otter.
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Wild Ideas: The saga of Cubby the bear

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March 6
Cubby last month visited the DeBerghs, who got the dogs inside quickly enough but not their food, although the cub appeared not to eat any of it.

When a small bear started visiting houses in Harris Hollow regularly this winter, some of the residents were concerned about their dogs and livestock, but mostly they worried about the bear’s survival.
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Photo: Still at large

Photo by Missy McCool

A young, apparently orphaned black bear seen near several homes in Harris Hollow over the last few weeks climbs atop the trap this week set by state wildlife authorities.
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No burning before 4 p.m. until April 30

Virginia’s Burning Law went into effect Feb. 15 — the start of spring fire season in Virginia.
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Photos: Another snow day

Photo by Molly M. Peterson

Wild Ideas: Snowstorm impressions

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Feb. 20
An opossum seeks privacy in a pokeberry patch to eat a prize it dug up from a compost pile buried under deep snow.

The day after the latest snowstorm dumped more than a foot of snow in Rappahannock, Pam Owen put a snack, camera equipment, binoculars and the Falcon guide “Scats and Tracks of the Mid-Atlantic” into a daypack and headed outside to look for tracks.
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Photo: Winter blue

Photo by Maureen Moran

An eastern bluebird pauses in a frosty tree last week.
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Coast to coast, water supplies stressed

When it comes to water, one thing flows to another and seemingly disconnected issues – a chemical spill here, a drought there – may be more connected than we realize. John Messeder writes from south-central Pennsylvania.
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Clark Hollow Ramblings: Pecking order 

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Feb. 13

The cold weather and ice has caused us to stay in more than we like. Perhaps you, too, are getting tired of crossword puzzles or reading “War and Peace” or whatever blows your shirttail up during the winter. Richard Brady has decided to try to write down the pecking order at the bird feeder.
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Wild Ideas: Beautiful bones: the sycamore

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Feb. 13
Without having to compete with other trees for light, this huge old sycamore on Main Street in Sperryville has expanded its canopy. Its trunk measures around four feet in diameter near the base.

The trees in Virginia’s deciduous forests are diverse and downright beautiful, displaying different seasonal looks before losing their leaves and exposing their earthy structures in winter. With one exception — the sycamore.
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Wild Ideas: Cold-hardy hummers show up at local feeder

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Feb. 6
Female and juvenile rufous hummingbirds can be hard to tell apart, since both have spots on their throats. Some females have a small orange throat patch.

When Pam Owen was growing up, she knew there was only one species of hummingbird she was likely to see in Virginia, the ruby-throated, and that was only in the summer. But that was before the cold-hardy rufous hummer expanded it range into the commonwealth.
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Tree seedlings selling fast; order yours before they’re gone

Every year, the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) grows and sells more than 24 million tree seedlings — and many of the more than 40 species sell out before the harvest season ends on April 30.
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Photos: Freeze frames

Bean Hollow Falls

It certainly is cold outside, but at least it looks pretty.
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Photo: Rising red

An early morning Rappahannock sunrise.

Ruthie Windsor-Mann captured the sun rising along Tiger Valley Road early Sunday morning (Jan. 26).
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Letter: LED signs: ‘A blight on the vistas’

I absolutely concur with Beth Plentovich’s letter last week lamenting the two LED signs which now, sadly, mar our main road through Rappahannock. What is to stop more businesses from following suit unless we, the residents of this unique and beautiful place, express our displeasure with such a blight on the vistas we so treasure?...
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Wild Ideas: The little brown bird of the forest

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Jan. 30
Although it is only four inches long, “per unit weight, the winter wren delivers its song with 10 times more power than a crowing rooster,” according to AllAboutBirds.org.

The diversity of animal species out and about shrinks drastically in winter, and the forest around Pam Owen house is often quite quiet, especially during stretches of unusually cold weather. Recently, however, an unexpected visitor braved the cold winds: the winter wren.
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150 Years Ago This Week: A nasty war was developing

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President Abraham Lincoln approved a policy on Saturday, Jan. 23, whereby plantation owners in the South would recognize the freedom of their former slaves and hire them by fair contracts to re-commence the cultivation of their plantations. He urged the military authorities to support such a free-labor system.
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Clark Hollow Ramblings: A little jag of wood

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Jan. 23

Richard Brady was out getting some wood for the stove when he remembered a time when such a thing was called a "jag." But is that the correct definition? Find out in this week's Clark Hollow Ramblings.
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Wild Ideas: The wandering, whimsical water weasel

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Jan. 23
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Last spring Pam Owen found a pile of fish scales down by the pond in what appeared to be some loose animal scat — the sign of a river otter’s visit. Having never seen a river otter in the wild, she looked forward to perhaps getting a chance to observe this one — that...
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Editorial: Thanks to busted plumbing . . .

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Jan. 16

The 12th day of Christmas is also referred to as the Day of Epiphany in the Christian calendar. Nowadays, epiphanies refer to any illuminating realization — and this recent Arctic Vortex brought a big one. (And a burst pipe.)
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Gone/green

Europe is converting coal-burning power plants to burn wood pellets, leading to the cutting of U.S. east coast hardwood forests, an unintended consequence of what was supposed to be a good green idea.
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Wild Ideas: Surviving Arctic winters: a caterpillar’s tale

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Jan. 16
Virginia’s native banded woolly bear caterpillar can survive freezing temperatures in this larval stage through supercooling and adding antifreeze to bodily fluids.

A recent NPR story said the unusually cold winter we’ve been having here in Virginia is likely to damp down populations of invasive exotic insects. While this is likely to be the case, we need to keep in mind that insects are highly adaptable . . . and can be surprisingly hardy.
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Three bridges on 2014 fix list

The fire-damaged remains of the old Lombardy restaurant might be in violation of Rappahannock’s derelict building ordinances if improvements aren’t made.

Rappahannock County is getting in shape for 2014, as the supervisors approved three bridge replacements and wrapped up discussions on a revised county trash ordinance and the old Lombardy restaurant at their meeting Monday afternoon (Jan. 6).
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Editorial: Rappahannock the Beautiful

Photo by Molly M. Peterson.

A lot of things divide us, needless to say. But at the start of a new year, let’s focus on what’s positive and bipartisan — the things that unite us.
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Wild Ideas: For some, it’s torpor time

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Jan. 9
Arctic ground squirrels, also known as “parkas” in Alaska, not only survive extreme temperatures by keeping their blood liquid below the temperature at which it should freeze, but also increase their metabolism periodically during hibernation for reasons that are not clear.

Not being a lover of the cold, Pam Owen is not enjoying this winter so far. One bitterly cold recent day, she ventured outdoors and found herself contemplating how animals cope with this weather. Namely, hibernation.
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