It’s the first day of fall, and what could be better than greeting the new season here in Mason Neck State Park? On my way into the park this morning I was treated to four Wild Turkey hens foraging along the side of the road, and a Whitetail doe grazing beside our park sign as well. Not bad!
Autumn is a great time to explore nature in Mason Neck State Park. You can finally hike our trails without drowning in the summer heat. The park is also full of wildlife. Right now migrating songbirds are arriving on their way south. Black-and-white Warblers, Black-throated Blue Warblers, Palm Warblers, and many more have been seen in the area recently. You might even get lucky enough to spot a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. In previous years, I’ve seen them on our birdfeeders outside the Visitor Center. Many of our summer residents are still here as well, although the ospreys have begun their migration south and are much harder to find now than they were even a few weeks ago. Bald eagles have the run of the bay instead, without the ospreys’ competition.
Late season wildflowers that are changing from blossoms to seeds include Joe-pye Weed and Ironweed. Black-eyed Susans and Wingstem, a yellow-flowered plant named for the winglike strips along its stem, are just past peak bloom, and still delight late butterflies. This afternoon a quick walk behind the Visitor Center found three orange and black Pearl Crescents, a yellow Sulfur and a migrating Monarch butterfly.
As the weather turns cooler and wetter, I also see lots of mushrooms popping up along our roads and trails. Mostly they’re various shades of white and brown but some are brightly colored. I’m by no means an expert in mycology, but I’m confident that I’ve identified bright yellow Witches’ Butter growing on rotting wood, the poisonous red-with-white-spots Fly Agaric, and even the slimy clublike Dog Stinkhorn, to name just a few. Squirrels and box turtles seem to love munching on mushrooms, even those that are poisonous to humans.
There’s lots of beautiful weather still to come this fall, and fascinating plants and animals to find here in the park. Why don’t you come visit us soon?