Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Haw Ridge hike - Flowers, fossils and lichens

It was an AB day ("absolutely beautiful"), with a record-breaking high temperature of 79 degrees! I decided to head over to Haw Ridge, a local hiking/biking/horseback riding trail here in Oak Ridge. It is a spectacular area for wildflowers, so I wanted to see what I could find. It is still a bit early for flower here, but I did find 4. The Round-leaf Hepatica (right)was just starting to bloom. Farther up the trail I found Cut-leaf Toothwort (left) and the little yellow blossoms of the Spicebush (below). The single Bloodroot I saw had already closed for the afternoon.

In a couple of weeks the trails will be loaded with wildflowers, but today I had to satisfy myself with other things to look at and photograph. One thing nice about being an all-round nature enthusiast is that I can find something to interest me just about anywhere and anytime! When I couldn't find any flowers, I looked for lichens and liverworts (left). I found both on this tree. Liverworts are non-flowering plants, the leafy variety (such as this one) has leaves arranged in pairs. I'm so glad I went to the lichen workshop at Tremont last month, it opened my eyes to a new organism to enjoy and photograph. I found this Common Script Lichen (right) on the bark of a beech tree. I also found a large patch of Gray Reindeer Lichen (below) growing on the ground in one of the cedar barrens.
Next, I turned my eyes to the ground and the many limestone rocks in and on the side of the trail. This rock turned out to be a treasure trove of fascinating fossils. Unfortunately, it had suffered numerous bicycle wheels and was fairly scratched up. It is not hard to imagine this part of the state hundreds of millions of years ago underwater in a shallow sea. We have large limestone deposits on the southeast end of town. I enjoy looking for fossils in the large outcroppings at Haw Ridge. These fossils are incredibly well preserved, the tiny holes, where the individual animals lived, can still be seen in the bryozoans and the brachiopod shells look as though the animals might have died yesterday! (Click on the photo to enlarge it)

I'm glad I got out and enjoyed the weather today, it is supposed to rain tomorrow and turn much cooler again. March is such a fickle month! Oh, one other critter I was not so happy to see was a Lone Star tick! That's not a good sign to see ticks so early!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Piney River Hike

Today Kenny and I hiked the Piney River trail in Spring City, TN. I was anxious to check out the lichens and see how many different kinds we could find. Many were the same kind I saw in the Smokies. We saw 2 wildflowers blooming along the trail. The first one didn't surprise me, I expected to see Hepatica (left) since it is one of the first wildflowers to bloom here. The second one was Barren Strawberry which did surprise me since it is a later blooming flower.

The arachnids were out in full force today! I was amazed at how many red Velvet Mites I saw crawling around on the rocks and logs. It was a real challenge to photograph them, they are constantly on the move, but I did manage to get a couple of good shots. It is impossible to use a tripod because they don't stay in one place long enough! The little gray dots in this photo are the apothecia (reproductive bodies) of the Smoky Eye Boulder Lichen.

When we stopped for lunch at the river, I could hardly eat my sandwich because I kept getting distracted by all the critters! I saw Caddisflies, 2 male spiders on the rock, and a Mourning Cloak butterfly (that I couldn't get a photo of).

A couple of other interesting things we saw were some pretty mushrooms growing from the bark of a dead tree and a dead scorpion caught in a spider web under a rock overhang! That was a first for us. We relish every moment we can spend in the woods, we're looking forward to many more hikes this year! :)