Thursday, May 6, 2010

Cranberry Glades Botanical Area

One of my favorite places ANYWHERE is the magical Cranberry Glades Botanical Area, nestled in a lofty bowl high in the mountains of West Virginia's Monongahela National Forest. They might have just as easily dubbed this the Cranberry Glades Ornithological Area, so rich is it with interesting and regionally significant breeding birds.

We were there on a foray as part of the recent New River Birding & Nature Festival, and following are a few snapshots of the place.

Serious students of botany make regular pilgrimages to these lofty heights, to drink in alluring bog plants normally found far to the north.

The first thing one notices are spruce - lots of spruce. They are Red Spruce, Picea rubens, a conifer of the north that ranges south along the high, cool mountains of the Appalachians. It, along with abundant Eastern Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis, create a very boreal habitat. Northern birds, such as Red Crossbill and Olive-sided Flycatcher, breed here, far south of their core distributions.

A vast boggy meadow of cranberry fills the bowl. Most of it is Small Cranberry, Vaccinium oxycoccos, with a bit of Large Cranberry, V. macrocarpon here and there. This habitat is a treasure trove for those seeking rare botanical jewels such as Bog-rosemary, Andromeda polifolia, or Round-leaved Sundew, Drosera rotundifolia. Those more interested in macro-beasts are sometimes rewarded by the spectacle of a Black Bear shuffling down the boardwalk.

A showy Mountain Serviceberry, Amelanchier bartramiana, foreshadows the boggy spruce forests and cranberry meadows. The serviceberry is at its southernmost limits at Cranberry Glades.

The boardwalk traverses a hemlock-yellow birch forest. Springy and super-saturated, this habitat is a riot of yellow Marsh-marigold, striking blue-purple Marsh Blue Violet, and many other vernal bloomers. Birds abound as well. We saw northerners such as Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Blue-headed Vireo, and Dark-eyed Junco. All breed here.

Memorable moments are routine at the Glades, and one that our group will surely not forget anytime soon was an especially obliging Canada Warbler. A beautiful male, with no goading of any kind from us, popped into a spruce next to the boardwalk and eyed us with apparent curiosity while we stood in shell-shocked awe. It came within two feet of me, and at one point I thought it might land on my outstretched hand.

A bold Red-breasted Nuthatch plays the part of Cranberry King from a lofty, lichen-encrusted branch. These diminutive nuthatches also nest here, and their tin horn yammerings are a regular part of the avian sound track.

Another special moment occurred when a Blackburnian Warbler - flamethroat! - took umbrage at the nuthatch's goofy yank-yanking toots. There's the Blackburnian at the lower right, seconds before he roared up there and sent the nuthatch packing.

We'll be back up here in the misty mountains next year. If you can make the New River Birding & Nature Festival 2011, you'll get to see the place with your own eyes.


Wil said...
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Wil said...

Wow, great shots Jim. I too love this special place. It is certainly magical.
Here is a link to the song of the Northern waterthrush:
Blue-headed vireo:
And the Blackburnian warbler:
Feel free to add them to the post if you like.

Murr Brewster said...

I was there with you last Saturday and I want to thank you again for your generosity and knowledge.

Jim McCormac said...

Thanks for the nice links, Wil, and it was once again a pleasure to get afield with you and Donna. Murr, nice to meet you and I'm glad that you got to experience the delights of Cranberry Glades firsthand.