Nature

Washington column for July 10

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July 10
Artist Jill Banks paints along Main Street.

Washington hosts 14 plein air artists, the WVFR hosts its monthly all-you-can-eat breakfast and the Fourth of July was another successful show in this week's Washington column.
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Wild Ideas: Summer wildflowers and their insect fans

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July 10
One of the many native pollinators of purple coneflowers is the color-coordinated perplexing bumblebee.

Now that summer is truly here, Pam Owen headed out to see what is blooming in the meadows and along the roadsides of Rappahannock. She found a number of brightly colored blossoms, and a variety of pollinators drawn to them.
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Photo: Double rainbow?

Photo by Molly Peterson

Photos: Officially open

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July 3
John Sullivan and crowd. Photo by Matt Wingfield.

Wild Ideas: The decline of the monarch

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July 3
An adult monarch on butterfly weed, in the milkweed genus. While monarch caterpillers will eat only milkweed, the adults feed on nectar and fruit from a variety of plants.

Pam Owen explores the complex life of the iconic monarch butterfly and the reasons for its 15-year population decline.
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Letter: We’ve all been down ‘This Road’ before

This song has been stuck in my head since the town hall meeting hosted by the Rappahannock News last week. I thought it might give some perspective about what seems to have drawn all of us, on all sides of the debate, to the county. I’d almost moved to Rappahannock County in the early...
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Wild Ideas: Life goes on

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June 26
A harvestman drags a struggling eight-spotted forester moth to a suitable dining spot.

Nature is amazing and endlessly fascinating, but not always pretty. Within it lie the forces of destruction as well as creation, as it constantly reminds us — and not always in subtle ways.
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Wild Ideas: Entertaining the indoor cat with cat TV

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June 19
Golda at rest, after a full schedule of cat TV, ball swatting and rug surfing.

Entertaining a cat can be not only cheap, but easy. All you need is aluminum foil, a throw rug or two and windows — or what Pam Owen thinks of as cat TV.
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The Rapp for June 12

The Gold Top County Ramblers at last year’s Castleton Festival.

Central Coffee hosts a Father’s Day bluegrass concert, RLEP hikes in memory of its former president, RappCats puts on a benefit flea market, SNP appreciates its neighbors with a fee-free day and the Democrats are seeking items for their annual yard sale in this week’s Rapp column.
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Wild Ideas: The sartorial splendor of the golden-backed snipe fly

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June 12
A female golden-backed snipe fly has markings that mimic a bee or wasp, a common adaptation among flies and some other insects to avoid predators. However, her short, straight antennae and single pair of wings blow her cover.

While many male songbirds can easily catch our eye this time of year, invertebrates emerging after winter are easier to overlook but can be just as wonderful. Pam Owen noticed the sartorial splendor of one insect, the golden-backed snipe fly, the last week in May.
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The Rapp for June 5

The Stone Hill Amphitheater is ready to rock this Saturday in Flint Hill.

John Henry offers an inaugural play in his stone amphitheater, the Inn opens its campus for a tour, Jeanne Drevas returns to Haley Fine Art, SNP teaches hikers to go “Beyond the Trailhead” and the Public House hosts a wine and craft beer tasting festival in this week’s Rapp column.
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Reading the roadside

Since I’m new to Rappahannock County, I keep an eye out for what there is to see and what used to be as I drive along U.S. 522, which is close as anything to the spine of this county.
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Wild Ideas: Harbingers of summer

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June 5
A handsome male eastern box turtle with bright-orange markings crosses the author’s driveway.

Pam Owen saw her first fireflies of the year on Memorial Day weekend, and they were hardly alone. The fireflies’ nightly displays are just one of the many harbingers of the upcoming summer season.
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The Rapp for May 29

“Virginia Farm House,” a 24-by-30-inch oil on canvas, is one of two Kevin Adams paintings headed to Burkina Faso courtesy of the state department.

Have a pint for the endangered P-horse, watch “Philomena” at the Theatre, get cooking with the Castleton Festival’s newest offerings, learn the history behind the “First Washington,” sample Grey Ghost and Narmada wineries’ newest award-winners and more in this week’s Rapp column.
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Please keep off this grass

Spread the word: Kentucky 31 tall fescue, one of the dominant pasture grasses in the U.S. is an invasive, fungus-infected grass that does more harm than good, writes Robert Whitescarver.
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Time to RSVP to Mother Earth’s invitation

It’s time to remember our manners and RSVP to nature’s invitation — letting it know we’ll be showing up to help undo our own damage, writes Liza Field.
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Wild Ideas: Small squirrels, shrinking habitat

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May 29
Although leaving out bird feeders can attract some very unwelcome visitors, a bit of seed left out here in Rappahannock can attract a common yet rarely seen nocturnal denizen of Virginia’s forests, the southern flying squirrel.

Learning about a species often starts on what seems to be a simple path toward a mundane life, only to become a much more complex journey into a world with fascinating interconnections. Pam Owen began such a journey recently when Larry Sherertz sent her some flying-squirrel photos.
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The Rapp for May 22

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Our Fourth (Estate) Friday resumes tomorrow at 9, the Castleton Festival’s artists need homes away from home, Sperryville gears up for its July 4 fireworks, Laurence Juber returns to the Theatre, Janet Davis’ Hill House opens its gardens and more in this week’s Rapp column.
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Editorial: I have traveled widely in Amissville

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With respectful apologies to Henry David Thoreau, I have appropriated what he famously said of his hometown in Massachusetts: “I have traveled widely in Concord.” Meaning that if you look closely enough at your surroundings, you’ll discover the whole universe in microcosm.
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Wild Ideas: Of turtles and dragonflies

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May 22
A boldly colored male box turtle explores the forest floor.

This week Pam Owen headed into the forest near her house, where she found a box turtle and dragonfly that led her to contemplate how different species perceive the world and how much we can learn by slowing down and just watching nature unfold.
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Good intentions lead to unfavorable outcomes for bears

Two healthy young Virginia black bears face a lifetime of confinement — or worse — because they are habituated to humans. These bears have lost their natural distrust of people, likely because they were illegally held when they were small cubs.
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Wild Ideas: The Sharks and Jets rumble on the deck

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May 15
Male red-breasted grosbeaks fend off a blue jay at a bird feeder during a pouring rain.

In an effort to build up her stock of bird photos, Pam Owen decided to put some seed out on her deck to lure a few birds into shooting range, only to be surprised at the variety and the intensity with which some tried to claim the banquet as their own.
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Shocking developments at Avon Hall pond

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April 24
VDGIF biologists Mike Isel (back) and John Odenkirk surge low levels of electricty into the Avon Hall pond, netting the stunned fish that float to the surface.

Fifteen years ago, the dock leading into the middle of Avon Hall pond in Washington was lined with children dangling fingers into the water in hopes of snagging one of the thousands of sunfish just beneath the surface. Now, the town and select local environmental organizations are working to revive the pond.
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Clark Hollow Ramblings: A rough season 

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April 24

It seems that the people who say the 17-year cicadas don’t hurt anything need to rethink that position, as they, along with Mother Nature, combined to destroy most of Richard Brady’s fruit trees.
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Wild Ideas: Villain or hero, the brown-headed cowbird is unique

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April 24
A male American goldfinch, in his bright-yellow breeding plumage, shares a bird feeder with a drabber female brown-headed cowbird, apparently unaware or unconcerned that cowbirds like to lay their eggs in finch nests.

We humans have a propensity for labeling animals as heroes and villains — but usually this reflects more on us than on the animals. Such is the case with the cowbird. Often seen as a villain, to some extent it has become one, thanks to the dramatic changes we’ve made to the land.
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Wild Ideas: The spring weather rapport

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April 17
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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