By Blogger Meg Raynes
Photos by Meg Raynes
Have you ever heard the far-off chirping of frogs during spring? If you grew up in rural Virginia, I’m sure you know it well. These frogs are known as spring peepers, and they were the highlight of my visit to Scheier Natural Area.
Scheier Natural Area is located in Palmyra and falls under the Monticello & Rivanna Loop of the Virginia Bird and Wildlife Trail (VBWT), which is part of the Piedmont Region. It is worth noting that as you arrive, the parking lot will bring you to a series of trails while the man-made ponds that house the spring peepers are on the opposite side of Long Acre Road. I learned this the hard way by spending the first few hours of my visit exploring trails, wondering where the ponds were! That time, however, was not wasted. These trails are peaceful and easy to moderate for all levels, providing a source of stress relief just barely out of sight. Thankfully, as I followed the frog chorus (and took a tip from friendly passers-by) I found my way over to the source.
When you’ve only ever heard frogs chirping from miles away, the close-up sound is more than enough to send the mind into a state of awe. I could have stayed there for hours more, studying what I heard and getting lost in the nature of things (pun intended)! As I made my way down the path, I grew more and more excited. I reached a marshy area, followed by the first of several ponds. I was met by a variety of peeps, chirps, croaks, and clucks along with an assortment of tones and speeds. The path I chose to follow ended with the largest pond, which brought the noisiest frogs all competing with each other. What a treat to find myself in the midst of so many tiny bodies with big, bellowing voices.
About 10 miles east of Scheier is Pleasant Grove Park. This park has two entrance points—one to the East and another to the West. My visit began on the Eastern side and included an exploration of the Fluvanna Heritage Trail as it follows alongside the Rivanna River, and a few of the side trails including River Bluff and Sandy Beach. These trails are perfect for avid bird-watchers. While stopped at Sandy Beach, I had the simple pleasure of watching woodpeckers, bluebirds, and cardinals dancing from tree to tree. Beware the muddy banks beside the river—I learned firsthand what happens when you’re paying more attention to birds than footing, and I am just glad that the worst thing to happen was a couple of mud-covered palms.
Finding my way down the heritage trail further along, I caught glimpses of a group of crows chasing a hawk on the opposite side of the river accompanied by many caws and squawks. As my mind wandered and my feet carried me along, I was startled by a couple of white-tailed deer who were just as startled to see me. We stopped only a moment for a quick greeting before they went on their way and I continued on mine.
The final stop on my adventures through the Monticello & Rivanna Loop brought me to Ivy Creek Natural Area, just outside of Charlottesville. This location is home to over seven miles of trails where I spotted many birds, including a hawk, a few deer, and tons of turtles. I would suggest including the peninsula trail for anyone planning a visit. It takes you to a secluded area near the water where you can keep a lookout for wildlife, or maybe share a moment of peaceful silence with the trees. A friendly fellow hiker shared with me his tip of this location being a good one to see herons, though I had no such luck on this day.
After covering a majority of the trails, I took a break beside The Barn in a grassy area that also has a butterfly garden and bat shelter. Of course I had to see if any bats were snoozing inside the shelter, but not this time. The Barn was not open during my visit, but starting in April it will be on most weekends so I am already planning another visit to see the inside of such a historic building, and to see if any bats will show up! When it’s open, The Barn, which was built in the late 1930s by former enslaved person Conly Greer, offers natural history education and informs visitors about the agricultural heritage of the former River View Farm, the location of Ivy Creek Natural Area.
As I watched birds flitting back and forth through trees and bird-feeders in front of The Barn, I was stopped by a cheery local who asked me about my photography as he gestured toward my camera. I explained that this was my first visit and I was hoping to maybe catch an owl or deer sighting as the sun began to set. He suggested that I go back to the white trail, where he had spotted deer in the past, so I did just that and was not disappointed. I was treated to two deer and the previously mentioned hawk, discreetly tucked away in the branches of a towering tree.
Scheier Natural Area, Pleasant Grove Park, and Ivy Creek Natural Area are just outside of Charlottesville, making them perfect day trips for anyone looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Out of the choices above, I would heavily suggest a visit to listen to the spring peepers in springtime at Scheier Natural Area. You might not get to see very many with your eyes, but these frogs will treat you to a vibrant choral performance regardless.