Monday, April 23, 2007


My idea of spontaneity is to start thinking as late as Wednesday about taking a weekend day trip to a familiar spot, like Jamestown or Charlottesville. Yet somehow I managed to become intrigued with what I read on the Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory website's about the bird banding station (2nd to last link on the left), see the promising weather, and instigate a camping trip to an unfamiliar site -- all in a few days! Phiance did the dirty work of making the camping reservation; and he still had a fund drive shift at WRIR -- oh, and did I mention the Teen's art class at the museum?

All that behind us, 1:15 or so Saturday found us east-bound on 64 into an April afternoon full of new leaves, dogwood blooms, and sunshine. By 5:30 or so, we were scampering on the bay beach at First Landing State Park! By midnight, I was still awake, listening to cars on too nearby U.S. Route 60. When I showered in the park's cinder block cubicle of a shower on Sunday, I still heard the traffic, and mused that it was the closest I'd ever showered to what I think of as "Midlothian Turnpike" -- or slept, or. . . . Then I thought that perhaps the bath house was about as close to 60 as, say, my high school French classroom! Weird. In summary: it's a noisy campground with sites crowded next to each other and the highway -- but under lovely under live oak trees.

Sunday morning we got going early and had the good luck to have a fellow birder spot our binocs and ask if we were heading to the bird banding station. He advised the best path, and said it would be a good 45 minute walk. Armed with this information, we packed up gorp and water and headed out. Through spanish moss-laden trees, by swampy areas, we kept up a good pace, hardly slowing for even a pileated. But as we parallelled the creek, so much twittering caught my ear, we stopped to identify a yellow throated warbler and a palm warbler. A little further on, Phiance got a new one for his life list, a brown-headed nuthatch.

At the banding station, knowledgeable and affable Peter had a hermit thrush in hand. Before releasing it, he showed us how the shape of its primary feathers helped him determine its age (eek - I think; I was still stunned by how docile it was while being held to pay attention like I sohuld). Some of the 20 or so nets he checks are in swampy areas: he did a run to those and came back with little cotton bags clipped to a cord around his neck. Some sacks screeched; less so if he kept them close to his chest, tucked into his fleece vest. We met a catbird, two ruby-crowned kinglets, an assertive titmouse -- and worm-eating warbler. The last is rare in Virginia, and warblers can be challenging to ID -- it might be the only one I ever list. Some birds were re-captures, and some got fresh bands. We went with him to check nets, and came back with a swamp sparrow. A song sparrow was the last bird we saw in hand before heading back.

The hike to the trails information center took us to higher ground and amongst lots of cyprus. We studied some unusual chlorophyll-less plants that turn out to be squaw root. Phiance ID'd magnolia warblers. As we approached the trail center, we encountered more and more traffic: the occasional joggers and hikers became, on the wide multi-use trail, more numerous. Bicyclists joined them, as did folks doing Earth Day clean up for the park.

We broke camp, snacked and got ourseleves back on the Bay beach around 1:30, where we watched pelicans while Teen waded and wandered. I flew the SpongeBob kite (the secret to flying this cheap kite is to cut off his legs and arms, surgery we completed on last weekend's cold campout at Westmoreland State Park). We relaxed our tired feet and took in the sea air.

Around 3, we "lunched" at the awesome Charlie's, and after two traffic slow-downs, we were home by 6:30 or so. Pooped, but totally worth it!

Capital City weather: sunny, 80s
Muzak at Ukrop's: "Life in a Northern Town"
Traffic report: a traffic light is coming soon to the Ellwood Thompson parking lot!! Hooray.

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