Monday, September 27, 2010


Ravens are the coolest birds. Well, on second thought, Ravens are the coolest birds that can't swim (Creatures that can dominate land, air, and sea win every time.). But once you get over the stigma of a Raven you will probably sit and watch in awe for hours. At least that's what I do.

Ravens are one of the most intelligent birds. They have been taught to speak. Ravens have been seen to attack nest in teams, dive bomb mountain goats to scare them into falling, ignore loud noises such as air horns but head towards gun shots, and scavenge the top of Old Rag mountain all in the name of an easy meal.

So if you find yourself watching these intellectual avians on the wind racked summit of Old Rag what do you think they do? They show off! They glisten in the sun as they twirl in the updrafts, they pick up sticks only to drop them so they can chase them down and catch them again! I have watched jealously as the ravens swoop within inches of jagged granite boulders and even fly upside down nearly touching feet with another right side up Raven flying parallel and above them.

Just go sit and watch them awhile, I promise it will be better than the hike.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Peregrine Falcons can dive at 200 mph. They tuck their wings for aerodynamics and hit their unsuspecting prey (usually a smaller bird) from above. They often literally knock the life out of it, if they don't grab it at the same time they hit it they just pluck it out of the air as it falls.

Falcons are also a huge conservation success story. Due to DDT, in the years from 1950 to 64 reproduction nearly ceased and in 64 none were known to exist east of the Mississippi (except in the arctic). Their eggs were extremely fragile and had to be raised in captivity in order to survive. Because of the inaccessibility of their nests, rock climbers were some of the primary rescuers of the fragile species on the verge of extinction. Climbers scaled cliffs as big as Yosemite's Half Dome in the name (excuse) of conservation and activism. Since then the species has seen an incredible comeback and in Virginia the raptor is no longer on the endangered list.

Although the Falcons' numbers have rebounded they have not returned to their original habitat(choosing the city lights instead), so when we see them out it is really exciting. While out climbing on Old Rag today we saw two headed south. "That was cool" we thought, then we saw another, and another. Pretty soon we realized that we were seeing a migration! At one point we counted more than one hundred Falcons high above. Awesome!

The falcons are high up and to the left (the ones that look like gnats), the bigger bird in the picture is a Turkey Vulture. (click to blow the pic up)

Saw Box Turtle with an orange face too.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Perfect Weather

When the weather, the view, and the climbing trip go perfect it feels like this!

Any weather is great for watching a immature Black Snake climb around in a bush. If it gets just a bit colder and you decide to put your hand out in front of one of these friendly snakes the snake might just crawl on and enjoy a bit of your warmth sharing.

It might be a little scary but you gotta take a look at the view when rappelling off these cliffs.

Just a little more water in the center has managed to keep the Hay-scented Ferns alive a few days longer while those around the perimeter have called it a season and faded to yellow.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Picture This

The summer haze has burned off, and the blurred lines of the blue ridge have become cool and crisp like the evening air. We are headed to the canyon laden with ropes, rappelling equipment, and wet-suits for the fall's cooling water. A bottle of pink Champagne is hidden in the dry bag for a lunchtime toast to the bride to be. It's a steep section of trail and we notice some dark purple vine-ripened grapes contrasting against the still lush green of the forest. We take a moment to teach the women of the bridal party from Florida about the wild grapes and pluck a few clusters for them to taste for the first time in their lives. The grapes are small, full of seeds, and thick skinned but also sweet and tasty. At the top of the hill there is a fantastic view of the many shades of clear blue mountains to the north. Somehow we are much more awestruck by the brilliant Maple just to the side of the view. It is the only tree to have noticed it is now fall and has adorned itself in a complete scarlet red against the dominance of the green and the peaks of blue. It will make a stunning picture, and as the equally beautiful women we are guiding line up in front of the view, I fumble for my trusty GE digital point and shot and wonder, "How did I get this job?" They are still holding clusters of grapes in their hands and they give me the affirmative that it's cool for them to end up on the blog for your (the blog readers) viewing pleasure. I compose the picture and the screen reads "battery exhausted."

Sorry folks, I snapped one with their waterproof disposable and I wish you could have seen it. The rest of the day was a great and memorable canyoneering bachelorette party in the heart of Shenandoah.

This picture is unrelated but still beautiful. It's a Buckeye butterfly we recently saw on a separate hike, they are usually not found north of North Carolina.
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