Friday, August 15, 2014

Walking Unfinished Railroad Battlefield trail

In Manassas National Battlefield there are several trails for walkers and Keith and I decided to take a walk along the Unfinished Railroad trail starting at the Sudley United Methodist Church yard off route 234.  Which links up with the Loop trail about a mile off 234 see the link to the parks trail map above. We parked in a tiny turnaround and got out to walk along what I remembered from my high school days as a wooded path raised up about eight feet from the forest floor. It was only partly on the raised train track bed and in some places on the level of the woods and meadows that surround that incomplete train track bed.

Keith waited at the trail head up there on the left in this picture while I took this image of the purple iron weed blooming in the tall grassy area near the parked car. 
Red clay and shale is the soil I recognize from gardening in Manassas shown bare here along this row of red cedar trees where we began. Soon it became grassy and we later found that poison ivy is in the grass. Fully protecting yourself from poison ivy exposure and some sort of tick repellent are highly recommended for this hike. We didn't use either and suffered the poison ivy itchy rash and a deer tick bite for several days afterwards. 

The great surprise for me was the number of wildflowers and interesting things growing along this trail as well as a few animal sightings some of which I have image of to share. 
First was the sunny meadow flowers like queen Ann's lace and bright yellow rudbeckia the black eyed Susan of the wild with signs of goldenrod beginning to bloom


From there things began to show up I didn't know at all and was curious to document as we walked in hopes of finding names for them when we got home. This seems to be a sumac in bloom and to be sure it was a super pollinator for the native wasps and bees were all over the flowers. 

I am really fond of things that have that dark blue iridescent color like these wasp wings but they were tricky to capture moving hyper fast around on all those flowers all of them seemed to be energized from the nectar. in the distance I saw a pale pink-lavender flowers I thought was a liatrus and with the zoom bringing it into view I discovered it was host to a little skipper butterfly

There were a lot of tiny flowers. 

some narrow leaf mountain mint blooming white

this pretty little white flower in the tall grass reminded us of baby breath but was much prettier  

One lone tiger swallowtail butterfly showed up way out in the field visiting a tall purple flower the vistas from the edge of the fields were so pretty to soak in as we walked the flat straight railroad trail. 

Then the trail began to be grassy and we found that we were walking along side of the raised train track bed which is mowed by the park service now and then. It is here that I suspect that we tread on the poison ivy hiding in the ankle brushing grasses.  
Soon meadow turned to woods and we met different creatures and the only other two hikers we saw in our two hour visit. The showed up soon after we scared up a flock of turkey poult and their mom in that deep grass munching bugs and grass and maybe Polk berries from a dense grove. Scared us as they took wing from out of the grass 

Then we got in a deep part of the woods and found mushrooms and a lone box turtle at the edge of the trail!

mossy areas and leaf littler invite the native ferns to take root in dappled shade... leathery Christmas fern that is green all year round and a more sensitive one I don't know the name of were here and there sometimes side by side.

A tiny fern that is no more than 10 inches tall with sprouts about 2 inches long was on the edge of another section. We used to have these volunteer growing in the mortar between bricks of a garage on 9th St. NW years ago. 
I chased these two butterflies in the woods finding it very difficult to get a good shot. One had an orange yellow section the other was all grays on the outer wings. Never opened up to show the back sides of their wings except in flight. Then we came to a clearing and saw these skippers one orange and the other browns and white spots.  

Then while photographing a tiny spray of lavender flowers:

  I stepped back and noticed just behind those flowers stood a single straight stalk covered with brown and green flowers which didn't have any leaves. 
I was impressed with the look of it and took a great deal of effort to get a clear photo so I could identify it for this post. We are learning it was a  Cranefly orchid  

This orchid is a woodland orchid that is pollenated by nocturnal moths by depositing pollen on the moth's eye which it then carries to the next flowering orchid. Cranefly or Crippled Cranefly Orchid is the only one of this species that is in north America latin name: Tipularia discolor

 We found one we thought was St. John's Wort - Hypericum not sure which type but the flower is right. I didn't have a book to look up details but they were shrub like and had smaller leaves than the commercially grown version we see in nurseries that have a flower two to three times this size and a big leaf.
The next flowering plant we came across was a mimulus ringens allegheny or the Square Stemmed Monkey Flower. Lavender color on a 18 inch tall plant that has very square buds. It is one that would be nice to have in a garden very sturdy and visible flowers. Unlike many of the flowers we saw that nearly needed a microscope to see them mixed in the grasses and vines. 

 Square stemmed Monkey flowers
This yellow flower with those fern like leaves was one I recognized from the lecture we went to at the Native Virginia Plant Society a few weeks ago and my book tells me it is a partridge pea. 
Then there is this lavender pink flower I noticed on the edge of the trail that had a great  S shaped stem with those little triplets of leaves. It turns out it was also the tall flowering stalk that the skipper butterfly was feeding on in earlier pictures from the field. It's Alfafa  which has escaped into the wild from cultivated fields. So that isn't native but it has gone wild. 

 Next was this pink wild bean vine which had flowers the size of my thumb nail. It was twisted up with Japanese honey suckle vine leaves but if you look carefully the blue green leaves below the flowers are the bean leaves which grow in groups of three.

last but not least was the pretty pink swamp milk weed blooming in the field by the car when we got back to leave for home. Ticks hiding in Keith's pants and poison ivy wrapped into our shoes and socks waiting to show us a good time when we got back to DC the next day. It was all worth it for me because I can't ever remember going to the battle field and finding so many wild flowers in bloom. Thanks for any questions you might have about the flowers or the park hike. 

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