Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Sense of Place

Travel is the best way to experience the vast wonders of nature, and I have done my share. The verdant forests of West Virginia, the rocky mountains of Colorado, and the breath-taking vistas from Big Sur California, each are special for their own unique flora and fauna. 

Nothing annoys a plant enthusiast more than golf-course grass in the middle of a dessert or palm trees in Nevada! Seriously, we should travel to experience each unique location, not to visit some homogenization of landscape or the floristic counterpart of McDonald's fast food!

This gorgeous model has been paid nothing to appear in this picture.
Yes, she is my daughter.
Experience the beauty of each place.  Breath deeply.  Let the colors penetrate your soul, and you will soon know why so many people migrate to blue of Lake Erie  for their vacations and relaxation.  This particular spot in Lakeside, Ohio is very special to my entire family.  One can visit our history and the natural world simultaneously.  View Perry's Monument on Put-in-Bay and scan little known Mouse Island, just off the point of Catawba Island.


No one enjoys horticulture any more than I do.  After all, gardening is my primary hobby and it was once my livelihood. But, I have evolved.  Now I want more than ornamental plants such as hosta and day-lilies.  Subtle grasses and delicate flowers have their place too.

Quite possibly America's rarest flower, the Lakeside Daisy.
Too often we overlook the beauty in front of our very eyes. The Lakeside Daisy was considered unremarkable by locals, until visiting botanists recognized it for the rarity we know it to be now.

Consider the delicate flowers desperately clinging for life on an alvar, battered by waves of water and ice in hostile Lake Erie waters.
Little Blue Stem grasses line the shore.
Shorelines are given to erosion, by the same forces that batter alvars.  So we are planting deep-rooted native grasses along the lakefront on the west end of Lakeside. Native Ohio plants will do will growing in our climate and may have the fortitude to stand up to the temperament of the lake.

Butterfly-weed, Asclepias tuberosa is a host plant for Monarchs.
Milkweeds are also being added to the landscape in order to provide nectar and nursery space for Monarch butterflies.  Monarchs pass over these shores twice a year, on their way to and from Canada. Much has been written on the plight of our migration Monarchs, and we hope to give them a little assist.

Zebra-mussels may crowd our shore line, but make attractive slug control in flower beds.
Even alien invaders can be put to use.   Zebra-mussels are unwanted nuisances in our lake, clogging our water intakes and littering or shores with their sharp shells.  But, used as a mulching material, they blend in quite nicely with the existing shoreline and make a natural snail barrier for plants.  This is far better than using a poisonous snail bait which can harm pets.

Irish compost?  Sure, lake-weed is a natural for the garden!

The lake is determined to increase our compost piles with heaps of eelgrass, Vallisneria americana.
Farmers in Ireland have used seaweed to supplement their poor soils through-out the ages. Landscapes on Martha's Vineyard often utilize this bounty from the sea.  Why not? Eelgrass is filed with nutrients, readily adaptable to being used as a mulch and dries to a clean straw-like substance.

Piles of eelgrass on the shoreline.
When left to rot along the shoreline, eelgrass becomes rather rancid and fishy smelling. Pulled from the water and spread out to dry on the shore, it is odor-free and beneficial to shoreline stabilization. So we can clean up our lakeshore and put the material to good use at the same time.  This is just good old Yankee-engineering and common-sense gardening practices.

Planting Hibiscus moscheutos, our native marsh or rose mallows.
So join us where the sky meets the lake and the views of the Lake Erie Islands are unhampered! Lakeside is transforming with a tidy little clean up along the lake. Plantings will re-introduces localized native plants and utilize some further afield Ohio natives that will thrive in this location.

We think it is a very progressive way to take a step back in time and witness our lakeshore au natural.


Monday, September 29, 2014

ONAPA visits Lakeside

 Saturday the 20th of September 2014 was a big day for Ohio Natural Areas and Preserves Association.  Our second Annual Meeting was held in Lakeside, Ohio. This organization is only two years old, but it has grown by leaps and bounds!  We have amazing volunteers working in preserves and the backing of some very impressive scientists and educators all across our state- and beyond.

Mr. Allison Cusick gave the Keynote address.
 Retired Ohio Natural Areas and Preserves Chief Botanist, Allison Cusick, gave a rousing program on The New Sandusky Flora.

Besides being an excellent public speaker, Allison has also authored or co-authored 3 books. Currently, Allison is a Research Associate of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, PA. This man has hardly retired!

 He encouraged us to  "lament what has been lost, marvel at what has persisted and cheer at what has been preserved."  We literally cheered for some plants during this program, as Allsion is a gifted orator who knows how to engage a crowd!

His program referenced E.L. Moseley's Sandusky Flora which cataloged the plants of the Marblehead Peninsula and surrounding areas at the turn of the century (1900.)


 There were displays by supporting non-profits, Ohio Ornithological Society and Mid-West Native Plant Society were both in attendance (special thanks to Julie Davis and Kathy McDonald.)

Kevin Sibbring visits the ONAPA display.
The ONAPA display (thanks to Jan Kennedy) was also present, and Lakeside's CEO, Kevin Sibbring attended the event and gave us all a warm "Welcome to Lakeside."

Black Swamp Bird Observatory's display.
ONAPA supporters Kim and Kenn Kaufman.
 My friends, Hugh and Judy Kolo-Rose brought along the BSBO display and offered an amazing selection of books for sale.


ONAPA's Silent Auction, was an outstanding success, thanks to the efforts of Mary Christensen and Katryn Renard.  A special thank you goes out to the generous people and companies that donated items to this auction.  You have been a great blessing to ONAPA, and we appreciate your kind support.

Guy Denny
ONAPA  President, Guy Denny, gave an overview of the year and the amazing things ONAPA has accomplished.  Of course, he wouldn't say this, but Guy is the glue that holds this organization together!  We appreciate all he does and the incredible knowledge of leaders like Guy, Dick Moseley, Jim McGreggor, Bob McCance, Tim Synder, Ray Heithaus, Jim Mason and all the other board members who attended (and those who were unable to be with us.)  They do so much to protect our natural areas.

One field trip was held in Lakeside Ohio along the Ohio's Most Beautiful Mile.
 Field Trips!  What would an ONAPA event be without free Field Trips?  Guy Denny led a group to Castalia Praire, while Dick Moseley led a trip to Sheldon Marsh.  Meanwhile, your blogger got to lead a field trip on the shore of Lake Erie in Lakeside, Ohio.  We had wonderful groups both Saturday and Sunday. We discussed the unique Carolinian Forest botany of Lakeside and visited many native trees and plants along the lakefront path.

The self proclaimed "Cane Brigade."
As always, when leading groups one often gets more than they give.  It was such an honor to spend time with friends on this beautiful shoreline to exchange information on botany and plant ecology.  But even more than that, I was reminded how important it was to have this simple offering available to some wonderful folks who would have physical barriers to enjoying the other field trips.  Lakeside lends itself to the enjoyment and education of people in all walks and ages.  It was a distinct honor to be able to share one of my favorite vistas with my botanical friends.

Thank you to everyone who attended and supported the Silent Auction.  You are making this state a better place by supporting our Natural Heritage!


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

September on Lake Erie

Having spanned the country and visited countless parks, forests, natural areas and sea shores, I can assure you, it is nearly impossible to find anyplace more beautiful than Lakeside, Ohio.


 There is something about this town. First it gets into your heart and then silently creeps into your very soul. The call of shore birds and gentle slapping of the waves speak to me.  The vista of Lake Erie's Islands, floral gardens and these playful stone cairns  delight the eye. They won't last for long against Lake Erie's storms, but they balance the joy of "today" against the "forever" of rock.

Jewel-weed, Impatients capensis  on the rocks.
Lakeside is well known for its history and architecture.  It is a gated community in the summer, where children rule the streets and ice cream is considered the nectar of gods. It is a Chautauqua, and I could probably devote an entire blog to that alone, if I have not already. 

But it has a compelling natural history as well.  For example, these orange flowers growing in wild abandon on the lakefront attract Ruby-throated Hummingbirds which visit them for sustenance on their migration south for the winter.


Lakeside's administration has turned a serious eye to this issue and is promoting native plants and the "natural look" of our great lake, Erie. The fall migration of birds and Monarch butterflies both pass through these historic grounds. Our wildlife will appreciate the consideration we are giving to milkweeds for monarchs and bee-balms for pollinators in general.

Our native plant enthusiasts should be proud of the on-going effort to select Ohio native plants for the restoration of the west end's lakefront.  I hope you will join me for the Ohio Natural Areas and Preserves Association's Annual Banquet and field trips this weekend.  Keynote, Allison Cusick will be speaking about our native Sandusky Flora, and we will be leading tours on this lovely stretch of Ohio's Most Beautiful Mile.


The gales of September on Erie.
 And "weather" it is windy or balmy, Lake Erie and Lakeside is always my favorite place to be each fall. Every moment is to be savored...



especially, during the sun sets.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Point of No Return

For those of you who were unable to attend the recent Conservation Symposium at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, here is a little recap.  The line-up was a wonderful selection of people involved in or studying conservation in one form or another. Dr Bridget Stutchbury spoke on Conservation Triage, with an interesting twist.  Let's just say, we can and should make conservation a budget priority.

Dreams of Martha - Painting by Kristina Knowski
This year's topic of extinction plays well, as it is the 100 anniversary of the death of Martha, the last known Passenger Pigeon. Other topics discussed were Mussels, a program by Dr. Thomas Watters, and Conserving Plants by Dr Valerie Pence.

Chad Pregracke shows his photo of the pollution in the mighty Mississippi River.
The afternoon keynote was a real live wire!  Chad Pregracke, the founder of of Living Lands & Waters spoke on the efforts to clean up America's Rivers, from the bottom up. As CCN's Hero of the Year for 2013, there is some pretty awesome footage of this young man and his organizations efforts.  Do yourself a favor- and go HERE to see the CNN story.  It makes you realize one person can make a difference!  We can each be a force for positive change.  It was an honor to meet Chad!

Greg Lipps, one of Ohio's leading herpetologists, spoke on the effort to captive rear and re-introduce Hellbenders in Ohio's waters. Tim Krynack gave an update on the bats imperiled by White-nosed Syndrome, and Harvey Webster told the compelling story Of Mast, Men, and Memory, about the Passenger Pigeon and the lessons we should learn from its extinction.

It was my good fortune to play a role in the program as well:


My program featured the latest information on our Midwest Monarchs, and their flight for life. Generally, migration is a behavior that benefits a species, but now migration is putting our Monarchs in harm's way.  Our "migration Monarchs" are counted each year during their diapause- or rest period- in the central highlands of Mexico.  This well documented data shows a declining trend for the last 20 years.


Generally, the data is reported in hectares but World Wildlife Fund has converted that to acres and reports the population that inhabited nearly 10 acres in 2010 was a down to 1.6 acres in 2013.  In 2014 the surviving population occupied less than 1 acre. 

In a mere four years, we have lost 90% of our Midwest Monarchs.


There is currently a movement to get Monarchs listed as a "Threatened" species.  Because the two populations of Monarch on the coasts (both have very limited migrations) are doing fairly well, the species is not endangered.  It is the Midwestern Migration Phenomenon which is endangered.

We are certainly on the brink of having Monarchs extirpated from Ohio.

There are many factors at play here.  A loss of milkweed (Monarch's host plant) and a rise in the use of herbicides, pesticides and even fungicides are being implicated.  Add in climate change, which has dumped snow on wintering populations, and decimated the spring migration start-up in the drought impacted Texas.  Hopefully, the Monarch will rebound some this year, but only time will tell.

Even if their numbers increase this winter, it is time to look toward serious Monarch conservation. They should be considered the "Bald Eagles of insect conservation".  That which improves the chances for Monarchs would also benefit other insects, especially other pollinators.

So please, plant milkweed, but only if you discontinue the use of chemicals in your yard! Better yet, let's start asking our great State of Ohio to champion the cause of the Monarchs and actively manage milkweeds in Wildlife Areas, State Parks and Forests.

It would be a terrible loss to no longer have Monarchs to be tagged and raised in school programs. They are the best introduction to natural science and basic entomology!

It is far better to start conservation efforts now than to react after they are extirpated.  Please help us help the Monarchs.





Thursday, September 4, 2014

Charismatic Marine Mammals

Monterey Bay is filled with marine mammals. California Sea Lions, Zalophus californianus are found along the rocks and near the wharf in the fall and the winter.  One of the best places to view sea lions is at the Coast Guard pier near downtown.


 This jumbo-sized male has seen a few fights. note the scaring and wounds around his neck and chest, not to mention the gaping hole in his back.  He must be more of a lover than a fighter, or I would hate to see the other guy.



Even momma sea lion is sporting a black eye.  If you believe in reincarnation, don't be in a hurry to return as a sea lion. Their lives don't look too tranquil to me. And their neighbors are a noisy lot, too!

The birds in the photo are Brandt's Cormorants, which are strictly a marine species. They are a dark brown overall, and just a few of them were still showing a metalic-blue coloration under their gape. These colored areas are more prominent during breeding season.

A couple of the cormorants were building a seaweed nest on the rocks, until some gigantic sea lion lumbered across it and laid down where it had been.  It made me wonder how the flock ever hatched out enough young to make up this group of several hundred inhabiting these rocks. Perhaps their only successful nesting occurs once the sea lions retreat back to the Channel Islands for their own breeding season.



The general commotion in the bay is due to the sea lions.  Watch the video above to hear the sounds under Fishermen's Wharf.


 Harbor Seals, Phoca vitulina are a much more peaceful group.  They are significantly smaller than the adult sea lions, and probably weigh about 100-200  pounds.  The have dog shaped heads, but do not have apparent ears. They lethargically lounge around on rocks, it didn't look terribly comfortable to me.  They were so sedentary I began to wonder, when do they feed?


Harbor seals do not make noise or move about much when resting in the harbor.  This young one made a bit of a show by grooming, it was about all the activity that went on that day. They are a very quiet lot compared to their cousins the sea lions.


The Sea Otter, Enhydra lutris is the smallest of the marine mammals found in Monterey Bay. . Once thought to be extinct, they still remain listed as an Endangered Species.  They feed early morning and evening, and it is great fun to watch them cavorting about the wharf and bay. If there was a contest for cutest marine mammals these guys would win by a landslide.  They are said to be the most popular exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is a must-see aquarium, I might add.