2011 SiteSection, Trial Program Journal Excerpts I


May 21, 2011.
Grayson Highlands State Park, Sullivan Swamp, Quebec Branch Headwaters Bog

Warm and sunny, 75 degrees.
Temperature at 3 inches above the ground in the bog remained at 70 degrees throughout the day.

Focus of the day would be on the east end of the ten acre bog. Notable species discovered were northern sawwhet owl, Appalachian tiger swallowtail, alder flycatcher, and Blue Ridge two-lined salamander.

Participating in this survey were Mason Pullam, Eli Borchgrevink, Allison Herrington, Mica Paluzzi, Carol Broderson, Jane Floyd, Eric Harold, Scott Jackson-Ricketts, and Devin Floyd. *Scott departed at 11am, Jane at 12pm, and Carol at 2:30pm. All other participants except Devin departed at 3pm.

Everyone arrived at Massie Gap at 7 am. The birders (Scott and Mica) were sent on their way, map in hand. The rest of the crew remained in the parking lot until 7:30am. Devin provided and introduction to the SiteSection project and fielded questions. Having reviewed the basic components and approach of the project, we reviewed maps of the area. The “bowl” formed at the headwaters of Quebec Branch was noted and we all hit trail with folding table, nets, cameras, pencils, journals, lunches, binoculars and field guides in hand.
The walk to the top of the ridge was longer than expected because of several recently installed switchbacks. Along the way we walked on the crunchy and distinctly high-pitched “clink!” of rhyolite cobbles and gravel. Discussions of explosive volcanoes an preshistoric artifacts framed the discussions on the walk.

Upon reaching the edge of the bowl, the crest of the hill from which one may see the entirety of the Quebec branch headwaters, we were finally faced with the challenge of finding the “bog”. Using a compass and a GIS data map, we were able to pull measuring tapes from a trail intersection (visible on our map). Participants quickly located the southeast terminus of what the Department of Conservation and Recreation calls the “bog”. It was actually quite easy to tell you were in it, as the ground cover changes dramatically to being dominated by mushy sphagnum moss. Aside from this obvious change in ground cover and moisture, the slope of the land decreases sharply and it is finely divided by networks of seepages, pools, and shrub colonies (some of which were nearly impossible to penetrate).
We proceeded to locate a suitable spot for “basecamp”, the hub from which smaller expeditions could launch from and return to. 
Aside from a couple of difficult side ventures into rhododendron thickets, today’s survey focused primarily on the east end of the bog.
After establishing an appropriate location for what we called “basecamp”, we set up a table and prepared for survey. Teams were created, resources laid upon the table, and journals were passed out. Survey teams were to focus on different subject areas with the leaders of each team being somewhat specialized in those subjects. Priority was given to birds and flora but protocol was set to give utmost priority to “things that move”. While teams worked on identification of trees and other plants, focus shifted immediately if an insect appeared, or if a micro-habitat for amphibians or reptiles was discovered. On several occasions insects would be documented while in the middle of documenting a shrub or tree. The tree id might take 15-20 minutes if several insects appeared.
Our survey method in the morning was to send out two teams with the goal of returning to basecamp by 11am. Meanwhile the birding team continued its work (as team #3).
During the time from 8-11am the three teams collaborated on occasions. The tree-focused team would call on the wildflower person from another team if something of interest was discovered. The same could be said for the wildflower team who, on a couple of occasions, called upon a butterfly-knowledgable leader from another team. It was during this time that the whistle protocol was developed, especially fro documenting butterflies. If a butterfly was discovered, two quick blows of the whistle by any team called upon the person responsible for documenting butterflies.

Team journal summaries:
Journal #1: Eli B. 8:28am. Sunny, slightly breezy. Approaching 80 degrees today. 71 degrees at noon.
posted notes exploring Rhododendron maximum, Rhododendron catawbiense, Kalmia, red maple, Vaccinium species, Amelanchier species, red spruce, and two spiders. Black swallowtail were seen crossing the site frequently. White pine and a cherry species were discovered, as well as striped maple. Mourning cloak and Appalachian tiger swallowtail were noted. A snail and beetle were documented photographically. Eli noted yellow birch, dusky salamander, and a willow species during the Rhododendron thicket crawl.
Note: Throughout the day Polygonia species of butterfly were observed fluttering through the site. Unfortunately no one could  catch them and  none were landing. Perhaps if Clyde Kessler had been on site some could have been identified by flight pattern.
Gooseberry was discovered in several locations, and this is the host plant for a rare comma butterfly. It was advised that a butterfly focused team return to the site prior to July.

Journal #2: Mason P. Mason recorded observations of red maple stems, leaves, etc. He noted a sphagnum species growing quite thick and cushiony with a 10 degree difference between surface temperature and ½” into the moss. Also noted was temperature in the shade are 6 feet above the surface of the moss: 60 degrees. It appears that temperatures below the surface in the sphagnum actually match above surface in-shade temperatures.  **Temperature monitoring would be a good subject for inquiry at the bog.
Noted a cherry species in full flower. This “chokecherry” remains unidentified. Lastly, Mason noted a possible crow fly-by.

Journal #3: Allison H., D. Floyd. Allison noted that she had only one bar on her cell phone in the bog. Note: cell phone is not a reliable emergency contact device at this site. Texting does work occasionally.
Noted two species of goldenrod and a species of bluet, all unidentified in the field. Two violets, one white, one purple. The white violet is viola macloskeyi ssp. Pallens (northern white violet). A.H. also noted a horsefly, a mushroom, possible lossestrife species, a perfoliate plant, cinnamon fern, Canada mayflower, rusty sphagnum moss, an unidentified moss, and tawny cottongrass.
The goldenrods will be explored at a later date, as will the perfoliate species (likely Eupatorium perfoliatum). She notes several species of herbaceous flora, lycopodae, and moss….most of which were not identified in the field.Several grasses and mushrooms, as well as an algae, also were discovered.
She notes an orange sulphur butterfly and pony bones. Additional species noted were a small fern, a single-leaved 3-veined plant, painted trillium, a cinquefoil species, a towhee nest with eggs, a variegated fritillary, a common buckeye, aquatic snail eggs, a meadow fritillary, Ribes rotundifolium, a giant grasshopper (American bird grasshopper), a water beetle, a rush, and a shrub that was likely elderberry.
D.F. began taking notes at 3pm and listed an orange fungi (Mitrula elegans, identified by Rebecca Radar), eastern tiger swallowtail, a duskywing butterfly, common sulphur, tawny cotton grass, an Amelanchier species, a pearl crescent butterfly and painted trillium. D.F.’s notes end with a sketch of a cinquefoil species and a sketch of the Quebec branch headwaters bog as viewed from the overlook to the east. Note: Journals, notes, and photographs are still being used to identify species. I expect a more complete list of species will materialize after detailed study and research, and after return site visits.

Journal #4: Mica P. Mica noted a nonluminescent beetle (Lucidota atra) in the firefly family, a Tachinomia fly, spotted,  a salamander with a flat tail and pink underbelly. He notes a change in conditions with breeze and clouds beginning to roll in at 9:45. He notes an aquatic insect “different than anything found during the Fish bugs project” and two more salamander species.
“Salamander found, two-lined salamander. Notes: larger than the last salamander, light brownish yellow coloring with speckles and a line extending down each side, like an outline. Long tail, also very fast.” (Eurycea wilderae, Blue Ridge two-lined salamander)

Noted performing detailed inquiry of a mountain ash and a hawthorn species.

“Studying a tree that is believed to be either a fire cherry or mountain ash. Average leaflets in the bunches around 13-15. Smooth gray speckled bark. 2 photographs of the leaf scars, one of a leafing stem. Sticky leaf bunches, not yet mature; leaves not yet mature; pointed and toothed leaves.” (Pyrus Americana, mountain ash)