Forest Scavenger Hunt at Ragged Mountain Natural Area

About 5 families joined me on July 14 for a scavenger hunt at Ragged Mountain Natural Area, Charlottesville City's Blue Ridge jewel. We started the hunt from the parking area, where each participant got a checklist containing species that we had seen on an earlier scouting trip. Line drawings or photographs accompanied each listing to help with identification. As we started up the steep main trail, everyone immediately started trying to find and check off items. The main trail goes through an older forest on rocky soil - Chestnut Oak, and Red Maple were abundant, as were Mockernut Hickory. Black Gum , Tulip Poplar and Dogwood were also present - and on the list! A Blue Tailed Skink surprised and delighted us as he scurried over some boulders near the trail. We passed around some Ailanthus, and one of the girls said she loved the smell: it reminded her of peanuts.
The kids were hoping to find a Click Beetle, like this one that we had found on our scouting trip:
but ended up checking "beetle" off when they found a dead Cicada in the trail.
Some of the adults were happy to learn some new shrubby and ground cover plants, like Autumn Olive, Virginia Creeper, and this Tick-Trefoil:
As we left the Main Trail to turn onto the Peninsula Trail, we noticed how the forest changed. This area of newer growth included White and Virginia Pines, and more ground cover. Everyone was thrilled to reach the water's edge and the grassy "beach". Marveling at the surrounding vista was cut short by the sighting of a Brown Water Snake in the water, and the observation that no doubt it was trying to catch some of these frogs - wow, look at them! They're all over!
Cricket and Pickerel Frogs were quickly checked off.
The Peninsula Trail species seemed like some of the favorites, as people explored and found some of the many Persimmon Trees in the area, some ripe Blackberries, St. John's Wort, and Cardinal Flower.
Soon, kids were coming up and telling me they had found just about everything on the list. We headed back towards the parking lot after I pointed out a hold-out, Hercule's Club:
While I wish I could say the outing ended with the sighting of rabbits near the parking lot, I'm afraid there were some yellow-jackets, too. Everyone was a trooper, though, and the stings gave us a chance to try out the astringent properties of Plaintain. Thanks to all for a beautiful afternoon!