Friday, October 31, 2008

Owl loss

I have been out of touch with Illinois Birders Exchanging Thoughts lately. Then I saw this story on the Trib Web site about the unfortunate demise of a burrowing owl, here in Uptown no less.

Cold facts

A belated post acknowledging that we saw our first snowflakes of the year here on Monday, Oct. 27. The highs on Monday were wintry mid-40s. We have a couple goals this cold season: to cross country ski whenever possible and to go for winter hikes when there isn't enough snow to ski. I also am hoping to latch on to a Christmas Bird Count somewhere. I'm not sure winter camping is in order, but it's not out of the question.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Red final

A few final comments from Day 3, back along the rocks at Red Creek.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Treading softly

More navel gazing here. Video from moments before getting turned around on the squishy footing. Are these narrators on message or what!?

Sod approach

The first glimpse of a sod, midday during Day 2.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

UFO encounter

Sitting by the fire on the first night. The light you see at the end is me walking around with my headlamp.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Camp view

A view of the first night's campsite.

Creek ford

A stop on the trail on Day 1.

Rhododendron tunnel

This is the first of a series of videos from the Dolly Sods trip. Of course, the YouTube compression takes from the quality, but hopefully these are interesting still.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Autumn wonders

View from camp along Red Creek. More photos here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Bogged down

It was about 4 p.m. Saturday when we got lost. "Lost" might be overstating it a bit, but we were no longer on a trail and not entirely certain of our position. We had been hiking the Big Stonecoal Run trail when we came to a mile-long "sod," what they call the boggy, heath-like high plateaus in this section of West Virginia. Here a path had been stomped out in the tall grass of the sod. The path, though, was on the spongiest ground we had yet experienced. We followed it a while until it came to Big Stonecoal Run itself, a lazy creek flowing atop the plateau. Here there was little evidence of a path, only dense underbrush and the sand and rocks of the creek.

We began looking for a footprint or any sign of the direction we needed to go. There was a deer print and a coyote print, but nothing human. The GPS indicated we were on the same side of the creek as the trail, the one we had lost and needed to find again. A quick foray into the dense woods and brush near the creek yielded nothing but even spongier sods. It was on toward 5 now, the sun still warming the vast, grassy plateau. One more crash through a stand of conifers, following the GPS' wayward directions, and still no sign of the trail. It was disconcerting, but we had our packs and water and so would have been OK for the night. And we knew we needed to follow the creek downstream if nothing else.

Across the creek, over a dense logjam, the grass appeared matted and something like a trail was discernible. The trail took us up a slight rise, and on the other side we found a well-used campsite. Steppingstones crossed to the other side of the creek. Moments later we heard the sounds of voices and relocated the trail. Whew.


Dolly Sods Wilderness is a land of steep ravines, waterfalls, dense woodlands and--oddly enough--bogs. Imagine the wooded slopes of the Allegheny Mountains and the Monongahela National Forest. Then picture a secret wilderness, a surreal slice of Canada, draped across flat mountaintops--those are the spruce-and-cranberry laden sods.

Day One began hiking about three miles up Red Creek Canyon. The weather was perfect and remained so all weekend--70s for the highs and 40s for the lows. The trail was lined by massive rhododendrons, 20-feet tall in places. The rhods, in some areas forming a tunnel around the trail, were omnipresent along the wooded slopes on this trip. The first night also called for a dip in frigid Red Creek, a broad, boulder-strewn stream.

Day Two, before getting lost, called for a long uphill to the sods. The trail was steep and rocky. It was a relief to reach the boggy, 3,500-foot-high plateau, but even here the ankle-breaking rocks persisted. The aforementioned sod detour derailed our camping plans a bit. We had to high-tail it to get to a real campsite before dark. The result was an 11-mile day on Saturday, and we actually ended up closer to the car than where we began (if that makes any sense). The 15-mile loop was complete when we hiked out on Sunday morning.

Appendix: 2008 has been the Year of the Merlin. After observing a nesting pair at Bay Furnace Campground along the shores of Lake Superior in May, I spotted a merlin while we were lost in the sods. It spooked a group of robins, nuthatches and chickadees.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Dominion approach

Tomorrow I depart for Richmond, Va., for a trip into the wild. Once in Richmond, it's off to Bear Creek Lake State Park. The park is a favored car camping destination amid the rolling forests of the Piedmont in Cumberland County. Next, it's a few hours north and west to Dolly Sods Wilderness near Red Creek, W.Va. This is a rare boggy area on a high-elevation plateau (~4,000') where the environment has more in common with Canada than the rest of West Virginia.

In preparing for the journey, I went to Acronym yesterday. Among the notable purchases were trekking poles and gaiters. The trekking poles are not just old walking sticks that you find on the ground. These are made of space age material and even have shock absorbers. The gaiters are rather like nylon spats. They hopefully will protect against water, nettles, thorns and ticks. More to report later from the Old Dominion!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Spying avifauna

Today I learned something random: that James Bond is named after a birder. Several years ago, I bought "The Birds of the West Indies" for use in The Bahamas. I always noticed that the author's name was James Bond. Turns out that author Ian Fleming had an estate in Jamaica and was an avid birder. He owned a copy of the book and hence 007's name.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Monotonous repetition

How many times can I create a "welcome fall" post? Several, apparently. The northern tier of Illinois was dotted with lows in the lower 30s last night--presumably the first frost in the Land of Lincoln since last May. The temperature hit 32 in Rochelle and Freeport, and it was 33 as near as Joliet. The lake-warmed low here in Uptown was 46.9, but at O'Hare the mercury dipped to 44. Today is a picture-perfect fall day, sunny with an expected high of 61. Welcome, fall!