Ideas for Isolation

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


At this point we are all a bit stir crazy from a life of quarantine. Isolation is not always easy but for those living in beautiful Nelson County or other nearby locals, we have the ideal setting for seclusion. The key is to get the most out of our time spent distancing from the general public. This chapter of the Nine Minute Naturalist will give you possible ideas to break the monotony here in our backyard of Nelson County. 

One obvious way to use our time is to go for a hike. With miles 1-13 of the Blue Ridge Parkway closed, you will need to get a bit more creative with your choices. Wintergreen trails are open and inviting to all. With over 30 miles of trails it is easy to explore for days and see nary a soul. Go to our website to download a trail map. Fortune’s Cove, owned by The Nature Conservancy, is open to public use during the pandemic. It is a very challenging 5.3 miles but worth the effort. There is also a grove of reintroduced American chestnut at the trailhead to explore. 

Nelson County is home to some of the best small river fishing in the state. The Tye and the Rockfish rivers are gorgeous and accessible to the most novice fisherman. Both offer easy wade fishing as well as fun canoe fishing at standard spring water levels. Once the dry summer weather arrives, water levels can be insufficient for canoeing. The Tye River can be accessed from Rt. 662 and Rt. 654. The Rockfish River can be accessed easily from Rockfish River Rd. Both rivers offer very good smallmouth bass and sunfish populations. For minimal cost, I recommend a 5’-5.6’ ultralight rod with 6lb test line. Buy a few Rapala crank baits and crawfish imitation crankbaits and you are ready to fish. 

Another great use of your time is to search for Virginia’s big trees. The Virginia Big Trees website offers a source for many of the state’s most magnificent specimens. Search Nelson or any of the surrounding counties and you will get a list of options to visit. Some of the trees are located on private property and may not be available at the present time. Assuming the restrictions get eased in the summer, The Nature Foundation will be leading another big tree tour in late summer that will showcase some special trees in central Virginia. 

How often have you driven by historic markers at 55mph wondering what they might have said? I have done it times untold. Now is the time to plan your drive around the historic markers. The Department of Historic Resources website allows you to search historic markers by county. Nelson County has 20 markers for you to search out and read. What better use of idle time than to learn more about the history of this beautiful county.

When dealt a bunch of lemons it might just be time to make lemonade. Use this time to get out into your environment in a way that follows the rules but also builds you up. Nelson County should be the ideal in social isolation without having to stay homebound. Enjoy, learn and make good use of the time given.

 

Fortune’s Cove

 

Historic marker

 

 

 

Wings Over Wintergreen

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


Every naturalist has certain strengths and weaknesses. One of my greatest weaknesses is birding. I am good with visual identification but struggle with audible id. Sadly, birds don’t always offer a good view in the binoculars, especially when trees are leafed out. Despite my flaw, I never fail to get excited when the migrants begin returning to Wintergreen each spring. The time is now for us novice birders to get out and improve our skill set.

We are going to focus on a few of my favorite birds that grace the Wintergreen environment in spring. These birds are all relatively easy to learn and can be found with just a bit of knowledge and effort.

One of the most beautiful migrants is the scarlet tanager. This brilliant bird is set apart by its blood red body and black wing and tail. The scarlet tanager has a chick-burr call that sounds a bit robin-like. They tend to mix in with other birds after the breeding season so learning the call is important. To find them visually search the top of the forest canopy. Their bright red bodies make them a relatively easy target to find. A good place to look for them is on the Fortunes Ridge Trail just below Blackrock Drive.

The warblers are what set the Blue Ridge apart in terms of bird diversity. Many different varieties can be found using the Wintergreen area as a breeding site. One of my favorites is the black and white warbler. Two distinct reasons make me like this bird. First, it is quite attractive. Second, it is easy to find. These warblers make nests in leaf litter and tend to feed on lower layers of the forest. They are also not shy in the least and will often go about their business while you get a good look. Their call is a thin, squeaky song that can be heard before most migrants. A good place to look is along the Old Appalachian Trail from Cedar Drive to Laurel Springs Drive.

The ovenbird is another warbler that offers the novice a great opportunity to see and hear it throughout the spring. Its call is hard to miss. They spend much time singing teacher, teacher, teacher letting everyone know where they are. The odd part is that they are usually hanging out on the forest floor strutting around like a rooster. With a bit of caution, you can watch this bird feed along the forest floor for as long as you please. Look for them on Cedar Cliffs Main Trail in open stretches of wood.

Head to the water for the last of our migrants we will focus on. The Louisiana waterthrush is not a thrush but a warbler with the appearance similar to a thrush. This bird can be found working its way along forested streams and creeks bobbing its tail constantly. It has a sharp metallic call that certainly helps identify its location so you can begin the visual search. A great spot to look for this bird is along the Lower Shamokin Falls Trail.

There are so many great migrants that call Wintergreen home for a time each year. Find the ones you love and can identify and continue to build your knowledge. I highly recommend finding a birding app you like and becoming very familiar with it. They are great for bird calls and can even be used to get birds to respond to you while in the woods. Keep trying to improve those weaknesses!

 

Scarlet tangier

 

Black and white warbler

 

Ovenbird

 

Louisiana waterthrush

 

Morels on the Mind

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


With so much time on our hands and so few places we can go, I would like to offer a suggestion…become a mushroom hunter! Mushroom hunters tend to be a secluded bunch great at social distancing. As the average daily temperatures begin to climb, my favorite mushroom to hunt is beginning to appear…the morel!

The common morel is a staple on the plates of mushroom connoisseurs around the globe. It begins to break the surface when the soil temperatures climb into the fifties. Without a handy soil thermometer, a good rule of thumb is when the fern fiddleheads begin to emerge and the leaves begin to break bud the morel season is upon us. At Wintergreen that usually means April 1- April 15 depending on your elevation. The season will last for approximately 3 weeks so the time is now to socially distance in a nearby wood.

The first tool in the mushroom hunter’s tool bag needs to be identification skills. The common morel has two important features to identify, the cap shape and whether the body is hollow. The cap shape is distinct and is attached directly to the stem. It is fairly uniformed with ridges and is pitted inwards. A true morel will be hollow inward from the tip of the cap to the bottom of the stem. The false morel is the only lookalike that you need to be wary of but luckily is distinctly different. The cap is more wavy, lobed and bulging and freely hangs off the stem. The inside is also not hollow, instead filled with cottony fibers.

Now that you have a knowledge base for identification, the next important thing is to know where to look for morels. There are a few rules of thumb to follow. First, seek disturbed areas. Fire and physical disruption to the soil tends to aid the morel crop. Second, know your tree species. Morels have a tendency to associate with yellow poplar, ash and hickory. Third, follow the sun. Look early in the year at areas that get longer periods of sunlight. South and southeast facing slopes will tend to have earlier morel growth. If you can find a yellow poplar grove facing south that has had recent disruption, you may just hit the morel jackpot.

So what do you do if you find morels? My recommendation when heading out into the woods looking for morels is to carry a sharp knife and a bag with holes such as a grape bag from the store. If you find a morel, cleanly slice the fruiting body from the stem near ground level. Put the prize in the bag and continue your search. Hopefully the spores from the morel will drop out of the bag as you walk randomly through the woods. When you get home the reward for your labor begins. I clean any debris and dunk the mushroom in a saltwater bath for about twenty minutes. I like to cut my morels lengthwise in half and fry them on medium heat in butter for 4-5 minutes. Sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!

Becoming a mushroom hunter is a fun hobby but make sure you master the first skill of identification. Don’t go plopping random mushrooms into your mouth without mastering identification. Seek out more experienced mushroom experts for ID confirmation. Also, although a mushroom is edible, it doesn’t mean your stomach will agree to ingesting 10 whole morels. The first time you dine on this treat eat one and wait to see if your stomach will accept this offering before finishing the rest. Enjoy the process!

 

Morel

 

One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


Each spring the inner explorer in all of us is filled with renewed excitement. We begin to see flowers we have not seen in a year. The migratory birds begin to filter into our backyards and many mammals appear out of hibernation. My inner explorer gets excited to search for trash! To be more clear…I get excited to find new archeological artifacts pushed above ground by winter’s processes of erosion and frost heave. What one man threw to the ground can be another man’s treasure.

Wintergreen is home to a treasure trove of archeological sites. Due to the Blue Ridge being one ridge wide from Wintergreen to north of Interstate 64, our location was used as a crossing point as well as for trading and hunting. A survey of the Wintergreen property began in 2003 to identify and record archeological sites. This investigation was led by Dr. Carole Nash of James Madison University. This exploration has led to a great expansion of the knowledge of how past cultures used the Blue Ridge Mountains.

For an amateur archeologist like me, the early spring is the prime time to search for “treasure” just sitting on the ground waiting to teach us something. Let me explain why the spring is so fruitful in terms of finding artifacts. The artifacts found at Wintergreen range from Early Archaic (10,000-8,500 yrs ago) to European contact. Let’s assume a hunter during the Early Woodland (3,000-2,000 yrs ago) period breaks a spear point. He discards his “trash” which will one day become our “treasure”. Over the next 3,000 years leaves and debris pile up and decay forming soil over top this artifact. Assuming no human disturbance, this spear point could stay buried forever. Sometimes, nature helps expose unique treasures. Through the processes of erosion (sometimes very dramatic) and frost heave (a deep freezing of water in the soil which pushes ice towards the surface) an artifact goes from buried to sitting on the forest floor. Before the forest floor is covered with growing plants is the perfect time to spot an artifact amongst the rocky forest floor.

Greenstone makes up the majority of the geology atop Wintergreen. Quartzite, which makes up a large percent of spear points and arrowheads, are very distinct in color and feel from greenstone. This color difference is stark and stands out even to the newest amateur archeologist.

So what do you do if you find an artifact? First rule of thumb is to leave the artifact where it is. Important information can be lost when an artifact is moved. Second, contact The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen. If you made a great find and want information on the artifact or you want the site documented, we are a great resource to look to for information. If you find an artifact off Wintergreen property, contact your local archeological society. They will be the best resource for local information.

The time is at hand to get onto the trails and into the environment to look for these “treasures”. See how well you can train your eye to spot the wonderful resources we have at our feet throughout Wintergreen. Don’t forget to end your hunt for artifacts at our Nature Center (when we reopen of course) and see all the amazing finds from Wintergreen sites.

 

Archeological Dig

 

Greenstone & Quartzite

 

Nelson Room