Foster Tract Field Trip

NOTE:  I wrote this for an ANS foray last year that had to be cancelled.  But it’s our route too.  Field trip ends at 4 but anyone who wants can hand around for the late-day birds at Milburn Landing or depart from there.  May 12. 

Description:  Join us for this first ANS foray to the newly-opened Foster Tract in Worcester Co., part of the Chesapeake Forest complex in the Nassawango Creek drainage. We should be able to see many of the Eastern Shore’s common spring butterfly species here in a variety of sandy and marshy habitats, including a new location for the uncommon Dusted Skipper. The area also supports a good population of Festive Tiger Beetles, as well as offering good habitat for herps like Eastern Hognose Snake. After a thorough exploration of the east end of the Foster Tract, we’ll take a short drive to known locations for another rare butterfly that may still be flying, the Frosted Elfin, and its sundial lupine hostplant. We’ll end the trip listening and looking for Prothonotary Warblers and other spring birds along the Nassawango.

Bring insect repellent, water, and sunscreen; most of our time will be in sunny rather than shaded habitats.  Wear long pants and study shoes; we will be wandering across terrain with brambles and scrub.

As with many insect species, our butterfly targets don’t always arrange their flight periods by our calendar, but we should be able to see some nice butterflies and other creatures during our foray.

Here’s our itinerary for the day:

Meet at 10 am at the eastern parking lot for the Foster Tract.  Follow the signage from MD 12 South from Salisbury to Governor Smith Lane on your right (Slim Chance Lane is on your left about a quarter-mile north of Governor Smith; if you reach Millville Road you have gone too far).  Drive all the way to the end of Governor Smith Road and park in the large lot on your left, our staging point for the morning.

Parking lot coordinates:  38.242142, -75.507407

NOTE:  There are no facilities at the Foster Tract.

We will spend about two hours exploring this habitat for butterflies, tiger beetles, and other flora and fauna and walking the east end of the Algonquin Trail.

Map of East access to Foster Tract and the Algonquin Trail

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One of our targets for this trip, the Festive Tiger Beetle

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Dusted Skipper, an uncommon early spring butterfly. We located a new colony at Foster Tract in 2015 and are hoping to report on its status to DNR from this field trip.

12:30 pm:  Drive just a bit south and park at the Furnacetown Living Heritage Museum Complex, 3816 Old Furnace Rd, Snow Hill, MD 21863.  http://www.furnacetown.org/explore/

We’ll eat lunch at our cars (and maybe, if they’re kind and don’t charge us admission, at the picnic tables inside the fence at the Visitor Center).  There are restroom facilities here (and bottled water for sale on previous trips). 

Once we finish lunch, we’ll ditch all but a couple of cars in the parking lot and drive down Millville Road for about a mile to visit some roadside stands of Sundial Lupine, the host plant for the rare Frosted Elfin.  The butterfly lays its eggs on the buds and flowers of lupine; the caterpillar feeds on the developing seed pods and fresh growth.

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Frosted Elfin laying eggs on the buds of Sundial Lupine along Millville Road

1:30 pm:  We’ll return to the cars and caravan to a location along Mt. Olive Church Road to look for Cobweb Skipper and more tiger beetles in the transmission line there.  This is a new location for Cobweb Skipper as well, and a good location for Eastern Hognose and other reptiles.

Coordinates 38.262151, -75.462652

It is also the historic location of the only known record for the presumed-extirpated Hessel’s Hairstreak, which was restricted to old-growth stands of Atlantic White-cedar in this region.

2:30 pm:  We’ll spend a half hour or so slowly driving and stopping frequently along Sturgis Road and other back roads that parallel Nassawango Creek, stopping frequently to see butterflies along the road and listen to/look for migrating songbirds.  We should have good opportunities to hear Prothonotary Warbler here, along with other migrant warblers.

The roads should be passable even by sedans (they are dirt, and may be muddy if there has been recent rain, so we’ll play it by ear and may consolidate into higher-clearance cars as needed).

4 pm:  We’ll end the day at Milburn Landing State Park (http://dnr2.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/eastern/pocomokeriver.aspx), in the day use area, for a short walk along the cypress boardwalk for evening bird song and other plants and animals typical of old-growth cypress ecosystems.  There are fountains and restrooom facilities here.

Departure will be from Milburn Landing.

Area accommodations:  Our starting point is about 2.5 hours from DC, so some folks may want to get an early start by staying in the area the night before or continuing to explore the next day.  There is excellent camping at Milburn Landing, and hotels and bed-and-breakfasts in Salisbury, Berlin, Snow Hill and Pocomoke City.

Leader phone number:  202.812.7101; email rborchelt@gmail.com.

En route for the morning drive is one of my faves, RiseUp Coffee in Easton.  Great coffee and a food truck (Mad Eggs) colocated there.