Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sandy's Side-effects

Here in Mid-Ohio we are seeing some of Hurricane Sandy's (now downgraded to a winter storm) side-effects.  Our temps were just cool enough to turn that rain into snow.

The first snow of the year, Oct. 30th, 2012

The view from my office window this morning.  I have seen snow pre-Halloween before, but this probably sets a record for the amount of snow.

The side yard is protected by several large pines, and this is the location I chose for my rain garden/ bird feeding stations.  I installed the rain garden when I was developing a program on wetland plants (The Soggy Bottom Boys)  for the first Mid-West Native Plant Conference.  This garden was the end result.

 I have tinkered with the water garden for several years, never happy with its look or flow.  This year I finally got it right.  It looks pretty natural to me- like a rivulet or stream in Mohican.

What do you think?

 Close up.  Water runs gently from the stones, creating a natural bathing location for the birds.

 The bird seed tray is filled with Pine Siskins this morning.  The snow doesn't bother them at all.

Hang on!  It is still mighty windy, little siskins.  The tray is rocking in the wind, but this northern visitor doesn't seem to mind.

The best part of bird feeding is the non-stop entertainment value on a winter day.  Birders get to reap the benefits of their landscape 364 days a year.  You can keep your big screen TVs, this is my "Home Entertainment System"!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Bike Aboard!

Imagine our excitement as the train comes puffing around the bend!  This is the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, one of "America's best ideas," and one of the most visited parks in the U.S.

 There is nothing like an old locomotive to get your heart pumping.

Our point of entry is the Brecksville Station. You will find plenty of maps and directions at that CVNP website.

 We have a small group of six, about to set off on an adventure- biking and a little birding, on the bike trail. Our hosts were Dave and Nancy Reinhart.  (Don't tell anyone, but they are also part-time elves on the Polar Express!)

This is a well operated machine.  The train is on time, we know right where to stand, and the bikes are loaded into a cargo car as we prepare to head south on the train.

Greg Cornet visits with Nancy and Dave Reinhart during the ride.
We pass the time in the comfort of a passenger car. A short fifteen miles up the track, we disembark.  It is just far enough for a pleasant fall bike ride back to Brecksville.

If you ain't the lead bike, the scenery never changes...
 Our travels included miles of scenic canal corridors, wetlands and woods. We visited the quaint town of Peninsula, Ohio where we had lunch at a nice restaurant, The Winking Lizard. Back on the bikes afterward, to complete the last six miles of the journey.

This was an incredible trip, if were it not for some cooler misty weather, it would have been perfection!  I hope to do it again next summer, with more moderate temperatures. We could even get in a few more miles on a long day.  Either way it was great fun, and I highly recommend this trip!  Thanks to Reinharts and Cornets for inviting us along.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Falling Leaves

The weather has been unseasonably warm, but perfect for hiking the scenic trails of Mohican State Park and Malabar Farm.  Things really get good, once you wander off-trail.

One most memorable event occurred as I  stood silently in the woods; it "rained" leaves.

 I hope you are enjoying autumn too.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Fall Form Buckeyes

Trees are not the only things changing color, and Monarchs are not the only butterflies on the move in the fall.  The Common Buckeye, Junonia coenia also has a few tricks up it sleeve... er, some interesting adaptations, so to speak.
The fall form of a Buckeye is a bit redder underwing,with little or no eye-spots.
Common Buckeyes also stage a migration south.  It is not as well-known, or as well documented as the Monarch movements, it's a much more subtle movement.  The butterflies who do not move south, die.  

Buckeyes are a southern species with a population that flows north with summer, and gently corrects south for the winter. It is not so dramatic as the Monarch and therefore goes largely unnoticed.

Buckeyes also shift their coloration to a darker, more subtle fall form.  The underwings are reddish and the eye spots are not nearly as visible from the underside.  Remember, these butterflies are not changing or molting like birds, this is a different population -the children of the spotted ones,  buckeyes seen in the early summer.

This form is probably an adaptation for cooler weather and leaves on the ground. Butterflies are exothermic; they must be warm to be able to fly- over 55 degrees.  In the fall they are sluggish in cool weather,  this color form blends well into the falling leaves when they are too cold to fly.

Studying nature- through the lens: shooting this buckeye butterfly.
 How do we know these things?  Photography is a wonderful way to study insects and plants.  Get close up!  Nothing is more fun than a pile of  nature photographers.

There is something very fulfilling about looking at nature up close, and the new digital cameras make this easier than ever.  I love to learn more from folks like John Howard and Jim McCormac.

In fact, I think we will offer a Flora-Quest option for just that- seeing nature through a lens!  Look for that and a summer moth/butterfly event.  We naturalists have a few tricks up our sleeves as well!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Rockbridge State Nature Preserve

Not far from the Hills of Hocking is a State Nature Preserve, located in Rockbridge, Oh.  

Follow this link for  directions and details.

Rock Bridge, a natural geological formation
 We Ohioans are prone to forget the geological and biological diversity offered right here!  No need to travel out west, just slip down to Rockbridge to see the natural wonders.

The trail head from the parking lot.
There is a grassy path leading far back into the wood to take you to the rock formations.  It is an easy mile trot, which offers some of the most spectacular birding I have witnessed, maybe ever.  This trail was literally hopping with birds!

Favorite fall fruit: Poison Ivy.
The tree row along the path was festooned in fruit, and the birds were making good use of it.  Yellow-rumped Warblers, Northern Cardinals, Tufted Titmice, and numerous other species.  All were being escorted by  Carolina Chickadees: tour guides for the migrants. 

Oft disdained, poison ivy is a native plant most beneficial for wildlife.  In the proper place, well away from the path, it is a lovely component of a natural habitat.

Feeding warblers- never give head shots.

 Fall colors splashed along this walk, goldenrods, asters, and the burgundy hues of oak leaves.  It was a study in bird-friendly native habitat and  a most pleasant walk on a fall afternoon.

Dark-eyed Junco has returned.
 Working the grass for seeds, tumbling along the path and fence row, was a most welcomed harbinger of winter.  The Dark-eyed Juncos have returned from their northern breeding grounds.

Rockbridge, conveniently located just off route 33 south-east  of Lancaster, Ohio.  Plan a fall walk soon.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Leaf Spotting

"Leaf Spotting," it all sounds rather English, doesn't it? And while sorting tree species by fall color, I happened onto some very good information in the Hocking Hills.

The peach-hued glow of a Sourwood tree, Oxydendrum arboreum

Travel can expand the mind, and a recent trip to Laurelville, Ohio offered an opportunity to learn from Paul Knoop- the naturalist's naturalist.  He is a legend throughout Ohio.

Serrated leaf edge on Sourwood
We soon focused on the lovely shape, form and fall color of the Sourwood trees.  Being a more Southern species,  its unique serrated edges of the leaf were unknown to me.  It is an excellent key to aid in identification of this tree.

A similar, yet "spotted" leaf, with no edge serration.
Another understory tree begged to be identified, and we were leaning towards calling it a Black-gum / Tupelo.  There were no serrated edges on the leaves.  The bark and leaf shape were right, but these spots on the leaves finally pointed us in the correct direction.

There is only one tree with those diagnostic fall leaf spots: Common Persimmon, Diaspyros virginiana.  It probably did not  get enough sun in this woodland situation to produce fruit.

Common Persimmon leaves

Look for the persimmon's distinctive fall leaves, as seen in the Sibley guide.  Those spots tell the story even when the fruit is not present!  This is another southern Ohio species seen in Hocking Hills and in Shawnee Forest, but not found on my home turf.

It is always good to enjoy the unique qualities of trees.

Add caption
Sibley's Guide to the Trees  has quickly become a favorite guide for many naturalists.

It is a mistake to try to rely strictly on leaves for tree identification, focus more on tree shape, habitat, leaf buds and bark.  The more one studies trees in the winter, the sooner you will realize there are many tip and tricks for identifying trees to species.  

Sometimes, it come down to spots.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Screaming Reds

Nothing screams "fall color" like the Sumacs.

 The most brilliant reds of fall are reserved for members of the sumac family.  There are four common species in Ohio, with Smooth (Rhus glabra) and Staghorn (Rhus typhina) Sumacs  commonly occurring along our roadsides and byways throughout the state.

Staghorn Sumac, Rhus typhina is easy enough to identify- even for a novice weedpicker.  Look for those giant, red seed heads.  Sumac tends to colonize in low (5-15 ft.) growing hedges.  It is fabulous for wildlife and yes, you can use it in your CREP or wildlife-landscaping at home.

Who wouldn't want this fall color adorning their property?

Even after the leaves fall, the best is yet to come!

This is bird food, man.   Watch for these seed heads this winter and I guarantee you'll fine Chickadees, Titmice and Bluebirds.  What could be more lovely than a sumac in snow?

Plant some habitat in your back yard and enjoy the year round benefits of Sumac.  

You'll be screaming for these reds.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Trees- The Color Watch

There is a brief opportunity in autumn to enjoy the riot of colors offered by Ohio's trees. Peak  performance is on for much of the Mohican area; leaves are falling into colorful heaps and lining the sidewalks and pathways.

The Richland County B & O Rails-to-Trails bike path in Mansfield is covered with a festival of fall color.

I dare you to walk through this without shuffling your feet for the optimum sound effect!

Maples are like class clowns- always seeking attention!
Sugar Maples in particular are the acme of leaf color.  If you are seeing brilliant orange foliage, it is probably a maple!

Hickory tree at the top of Mt Jeez.
A golden, yellow is the peak color achieved by Hickory trees. Most of the hickory trees in my yard have already shed their leaves.  Peak fall color will be moving from mid-Ohio and extending both north and south throughout Ohio.

The cooler nights have set the leaf colors ablaze for this short-lived fall phenomenon. Enjoy it while you can, winter is on its way!

If you love trees as much as I do, you'll want to consider this recent release by Ian Adams:

Trees: A Photographic Celebration, is now available at http://ianadamsphotography.com/news/blog/

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fall Color Watch- Beech

 Having traveled from the shores of Lake Erie to the forests of Shawnee, all within the last week, I can say with certainty- No place in Ohio is more beautiful with fall color than the Malabar and Mohican State Parks.

 Last evening the color was absolutely stunning.  

It is fun to play the game- "What tree is it?" using only fall color as an identifier.  It can be done with some accuracy, once you get to know the players.  For example, concentrate on the middle- lower tree in the above photo.  Pay no attention to that bright orange tree screaming out to you (we will get to it later.)

Look at the subtle copper tones of fall:

Copper tones of the American Beech
Cool nights in October transform beech leaves into these copper colored beauties.  There are no other leaves that take on this tone.  

This slide from one of my programs illustrates wonders of the American Beech.  Most people recognize its smooth gray tree bark- not unlike an elephant's skin.  It also has wonderful nuts, most desirable for wildlife.

Now you know it has coppery colors in the fall.

The view from Malabar's Mt. Jeez is incredible this time of year.  There was literally a crowd there last night.  Six car loads of people were admiring the "fireworks" of fall color blasted onto the landscape. The colors at sunrise would be even better, with the sun at our backs.

Take a little time to enjoy this brief flash of color before winter sets in, and try to identify some trees by color alone. You'll gain an even greater appreciation for the wonders in our own backyards.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Nature- Plugged and Unplugged

This morning I learned a new plant: on Facebook.  An out of range Seaside Goldenrod was brought to my attention: on Facebook.  There is a moth site, a butterfly page and birders galore on the Internet.  Sometimes it can be a bit consuming, and yet I have learned some great things here.

Hopefully, you have learned something, sometime, from this blog.

This morning a photo of a billboard caught my attention on Facebook.  Good stuff.

If you love your children, introduce them to nature. There is nothing like touching a frog, or tasting a black raspberry.  My grandson wants to see snakes in the worst (and best) way!

Nature is science- turn their brains on.

A Halictid, or Sweat-bee on Butterfly-weed
 Nature's colors are awesome.  Look at the metallic bling on this miniature bee.

What could be cuter than a baby squirrel?

Baby Red Squirrel
Scarlett Wax-Cap mushroom
This fall I have been smitten with mushrooms and their endless shapes, colors and forms. 

You are never too old to learn.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird in my yard.
 Listen: Tune in and you will hear a hummingbird long before you see it.  They have an audible buzz.

Mallard Duck
Even the most nature-impaired of persons should be able to find and recognize a Mallard Duck.  Most ponds and backwaters in Ohio have them in good number.  What a wonderful place to start!

Computers are wonderful, but something special happens when we "go outside."  Give your family the gift that continues to "give" for their entire life: nature.  Increase your children's science aptitude, their critical thinking, and give them the best stress management tool life has to offer. 


Greater Mohican Audubon Society offers nature walks twice monthly.  Hope to see you there.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Southern Style

This weekend the Weedpicker is in Adams County, Ohio. It is as far south as you can go in Ohio before falling into the great river of the same name.  It is the location for many of Flora-Quest's trips, and the home of several of our guides.

Tobacco in flower
While driving across the country side, we saw a plant in flower that I had not seen before: Tobacco!  It was the unusual flower that first caught my eye.  

Tobacco in the field
 Rows and rows of  'baccie (as the locals call it) in the fields.  I believe this is a late crop, as we saw other fields that were already harvested.

Tobacco plant
This is the true tobacco grown for smoking-  Nicotania tobacum.  Gardeners may be more familiar with flowering tobacco, a Nictotina grown for its fragrant night blooming flowers.

The Lewis Farm
The drying process is as fascinating for this Yankee as the growing process.  I know the tobacco is cut  by the whole stock in the field, and transported to hang in drying barns.

Ventilated barn

These wooden barns are often natural wood or painted black.  These ventilators are unique to southern barns, and not something I have ever seen in Mid-Ohio.

A peek in the barn shows the tobacco all hung to dry.  Each stock is 4-5' long.

One of the leaves was laying on the ground.  The fresh leaf had little or no aroma.  I found a small dried out leaf on the ground - and laid it on the large leaf for comparison.

Tobacco: once dried it has a lovely fragrance, and a surprising appeal.  Fortunes have been made on this plant, but I am glad I gave it up years ago.

Botany is often a key player in the economies of communities.  And once upon a time in the South, Tobacco was King.