Sunday, March 31, 2013

Spring has Sprung.

Finally, Spring has sprung here in Mid-Ohio.

The Crocus in my yard are blooming, and several European Honey Bees were servicing them. It is not surprising the phrase "the birds and the bees" came about.  After all, bees are the primary reproduction aides for many of our plants.  

 Looking a little scruffy, but happy to be in the sunshine, a Red Squirrel is working the seed pile under my bird feeders. One can only hope he isn't engineering a way to get to his "higher source" (of bird seed).

 Whoa, a sure sign of spring.  Winter weary joggers headed to the local bike trail for the season's first run.
Several couch potatoes panted past as I soaked up sunshine and the ambient songs of spring.

One of the best vernal pools for listening to the "clack, clack, clack" of Wood Frogs is located on the Richland County bike trail.  Go here to see and hear a You-tube video of calling Wood Frogs.

Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis are planted along the trail.  I haven't seen any native wildflowers in bloom yet, but I'll not be a native plant snob today.  It is so wonderful to see something -anything- in bloom!

Welcome Spring!  We have been waiting for you.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Winter World

Don't think of it as winter, but rather- our rest. 

One might believe Spring has refused to come to Mid-Ohio, and a new ice age has crept across our land.  Winter winds howled as several inches of snow blanketed our lawns and the spring flowers we had hoped to see. This too, shall pass.  No harm has been done, as our spring ephemerals are the most cold tolerant of flowers. Once temperate weather returns, the grass will get green and the wildflowers will make up for lost time.  

Meanwhile, I plan to inhale deeply; one last breath of winter and rest, before I dive into the madness we call May. The next blog posts will surely be of flowers and warblers, but let's admire the wonders of winter one last time. 

Ice formations at Mohican Outdoor School, photo by Michael Godfrey.
Festooning the rock walls at the Mohican Outdoor School, water has been captured mid-air and hardened into sculptures of ice. Our Hemlock Falls is one of the true winter beauty spots of the Mohican area.

Mohican Outdoor School

The mosses retain their green when the ice recedes, in spite of the coldest weather.  These hills are alive with ferns, lichens and mosses. They create an enchanted isle of emerald even in mid-winter.

A mini resort, for Chippy.
At home, I have created a mini island of moss covered rock, complete with icicles.  The stacked sandstone fountain in my bird friendly landscape now reminds me of my favorite Mohican haunts.  Mr. Chipmunk seem to approve.  We both enjoy this natural element in my suburban lawn. Nature is the best teacher, and winter is an excellent time to reflect on nature's perfect ways.

Winter is best spent with a warm fire and a good book.  My book of choice, during these days of rest and reflection, is Bernd Heinrich's Winter World.  It is my new favorite on my book shelf.  Heinrich reveals the ingenuity of animals and their winter secrets for survival.  Give me one more day to finish this book, and then we can all happily move on to spring. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Y'all come back!

Eco-tourism is simply: hospitality that pays off.

The little town of Loudonville Ohio knows how it earns a living, or at least the local McDonald's management knows.  It is all about tourism.  

The Loudonville McDonald's displays a beautiful  mural of Mohican State Park.

  These folks are pretty savvy about marketing, and they know from whence their dollars come. Mohican State Park and Malabar Farm are huge economic draws to this area.  That tourism would sharply decline if industry is allowed to operate in our parks.  Who wants to camp or fish next to a logging operation or fracking well?  Ohio State Park land was set aside for the people of Ohio; it should not be "for sale".

The past month has been Maple Sugaring time at Malabar.  The crowds are pouring in, as the demand for homegrown food and natural products are more relevant than ever.  

     The wagon rides make it a memorable day!                                
We love Malabar and want continued protection of the land and farm management by the conservation principles Louis Bromfield promoted.  It is good for the locals and our welcomed guests alike. We are acutely aware that farm run-off is impacting our waterways and lakes.  Conservation "best practices" and conservation education should be Ohio Department of Natural Resources highest goal for this treasured farm.

Flora-Quest was started as an eco-tourism event to enlarge the constituency of the Shawnee Park and Forest. It is no secret people naturally want to protect and conserve the birds, butterflies, plants, and trees, once they understand the basic ecology.  We are now in our 7th year, and have already filled 2013's event.

Eco-tourism works!

The Biggest Week in American Birding is another excellent example of the good that can come from tourism.  People were already coming to Magee Marsh to see the spring Warblers, so why not organize the mayhem?  Now out-of -towners can get up to date information, and a myriad of trip offerings help spread the birders far and wide across Ottawa County. Ottawa County Convention and Visitors Bureau knows BWIAB is a key player in the local economy and local politicians know, too.  

Economic statistics may be the only thing preventing the full scale "bird-beater" landscape on the Erie Shores horizon.  Kim  and Kenn Kaufman have worked tirelessly to get the message  across: Wind power is great- when it is property placed. Wind power should not be placed in a migratory highway.  The science provided by Black Swamp Bird Observatory is conclusive. We know birds are migrating through the western basin of Lake Erie, both spring and fall.  First the ducks and swans,followed by millions of blackbirds, shorebirds and then neo-tropical warblers.  Migration is much more than a two week occurrence in May!  

Reason is one thing, but dollars talk.  Eco-tourism will help save the natural areas we treasure.  Help us keep our rivers clean, our forests pristine and our birds whole.  Make your voice heard about things that matter.   Ohio State Parks were set aside for the people, not for industry. Call your state representatives today.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Shreve Migration Sensation

One of Ohio's earliest spring birding festivals, the Shreve Migration Sensation is a fun family event.  Over a thousand people attend annually, with attendance peaking on warm years. Sometimes we have ice and snow, occasionally it is warm and sunny.  This year we had early morning fog, 

With prices like this, it is still a bargain!
...but the people packed in.  Many of them chose to stay in for the programs rather than brave the elements.

A wide assortment of programs are offered each year.  It was quite an honor for me to be included in this stellar line-up: Chuck Jakubchab, Judy Semroc, Jim McCormac and both Kim and Kenn Kaufman.  No wonder I never made it outside!

Sue Olive works the Greater Mohican Audubon booth.

There were plenty of vendors, displays, yummy food and hands-on learning stations for the kids.

It is a great place to catch up with friends.
Jan Kennedy (center) Jim McCormac and Guy Denny

The bird sightings were texted to your blogger and charted on the board.
Shreve is now 4-G!  This event is totally up to speed, thanks to Scott Hannan's suggestion for texting in the bird sightings. Once the fog lifted enough for Scott to see the eagle on its nest, he reported in! We are getting all modern here in Shreve. Who knows? Next year we may add Twitter feeds! 

Carbon- or methane-  off-set?
We didn't have a carbon offset project, but then again, a third of the crowd arrives by buggy. Maybe we should consider a methane off-set project.

Kenn Kaufman had a hard act to follow- Kimberly Kaufman!

The auditorium was packed for all the programs.  By the late afternoon, the heavy hitters had standing room only!  Kenn Kaufman ended  the day with "The Magic of Bird Flight."

Jim McCormac and Mary Ann Barrett
The quaint town of Shreve must feel the influx of all these birders. We love to patronize the local businesses and enjoy having lunch at Des Dutch Essenhaus.  They even have a website!

The only birds I got to see were the ones from the Medina Raptor Center, but it was still an amazing day spent with good friends and a wonderful town full of kind-hearted people ready to welcome us in!

Thank you to everyone who donated their time and talents to this event, and to all the attendees.  Shreve Migration Sensation is a perfect example of how eco-tourism works to help promote natural areas and wildlife. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

What is an Esker?

 If you are like me, you haven't a clue about eskers.  Or rather, I did not have a clue until I recently visited a very special State Nature Preserve in Champaign County.  This area is within striking distance of West Liberty and Urbana, Ohio.

 Our story starts at the sign.  This area is significant because it is a glacial relic. Since the primary reason to visit this location was to learn how land masses were moved and formed by glaciers and melt water, it is best to visit in the winter, when one can get a good look at the topography.

 A good plan, however, a Weedpicker like me can still get distracted by a simple row of trees. Can you name this species?

Now can you name it?  Check out the "warty" bark.
Those "warts" are layers and layers of tree bark.  This is the accumulation of 
many single year's layers of growth, all stacked up like a deck of cards.

The warty bark is a significant feature for the Common Hackberry tree, Celtis occidentalis.  It is a disease resistant native that provides habitat for both birds and butterflies.  Everyone needs a Common Hackberry in their lawn.
Now the trail has lead to some interesting land formations.  Note the rise to the right?  That was formed by a stream buried within a glacier.

Formation of an esker.

This formation is called an esker. It was created when  particles of sand and rock sunk to the bottom of  melt water. In time it built up and was formed by the ice walls which remained. The Department of Mineral Resources in North Dakota does a decent job of further explaining these formations. Just go right here. 

Those large oaks are well over a hundred years old. They are a magnificent sight, riding atop of the esker. Note how the top surface of the formation is relatively flat.

Being no whiz at geology,  I am just beginning to appreciate these formations created by ice shifting all across Ohio.  Glaciers, grinding across our land, moved rock and sand in such massive scale they determine our land uses today.  Flat glaciated land gets farmed.  Rocky gorges (like Mohican) are not suitable for the plow.  Eskers, were made for pure wonder.  They are a modern day connection to the ice age.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Nice work if you can get it...

Warmer weather, combined with sunny skies, offered the perfect combination for some hiking today.  We had several properties to survey for our local land trust, The North Central Ohio Land Conservancy.

 We started with an interesting property in Ontario, Ohio.  It was successional land that had once been open farm land, with much of it planted into white pine stands about 50 years ago.  It offered a pleasant walk, along a natural spring and its resulting stream.

 Unexpectedly, we came upon "knees."  Yes,  I said knees- as in Cypress knees.  These are root adaptations for breathing in very hydric (wet) soils.  Bald Cyprus, Taxodium distichum  is not a native Ohio tree, so we can safely assume the owner planted this grove as well.

These towering conifers are deciduous, unlike our native pines.  Bald Cypress shed all of their needles in the fall and will regrow new ones in the spring. High up in tree tops I could see some of the "cones" which resemble flat-sided balls.  All in all, it was a pleasant surprise to find these, but not a good indicator for a high quality native area.

Who left these tracks in the snow?
Snow offered other clues to those living in this woodland.  Deer tracks were prevalent, and while I suspected we would find Wild Turkey tracks, we did not.  However, we did find fresh evidence of the smallish clawed feet of the local raccoon.

Some species of mushrooms are easy enough to find, even in the winter. This species looked quite similar to the Turkey Tail mushroom but they had a greenish cast.  It looks to be a polypore, quite possibly the Many-zoned Polypore, Trametes versicolor.  Any experts care to weigh in on this one?

A tree stump decays beneath a carpet of moss.
Unfortunately, the was plenty of evidence of lumbering in both lots we check out today.  Give it a good fifty or one hundred years and this area just might recover.  One of the unhealthy side effects I noted was an invasion of multi-flora rose and other non-native species in the areas that had been logged.  The additional sunlight provides an opportunity for these undesirables to flourish.  Again, given enough time and benign neglect this forest may recover.  It was not the high quality property we had hoped it might be.

So maybe we didn't save the world today, but we didn't do it any harm.   Not bad for a days work.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Turf Talk

Tonight  I had a wonderful time at the Mansfield Men's Garden Club.  We talked about something near and dear to most gardeners' hearts: their lawn. I spent much of my childhood riding the green wave, circling our yard with the mower.  It is what we suburbanites do.

What makes us want to dedicate our time, money and resources keeping a nitrogen-addicted monoculture up to the neighbor's standards?

Look around.  The lack of nature found on your Kentucky bluegrass should soon convince you to put your health and your time to better use.

Ohio's lakes are sporting dangerous levels of toxic algae.  Fed by phosphate from lawn and farms, blue-green algae is a serious liver toxin.  Lake St. Mary's is just one of the waterways that has been plagued with algae in the last several years.  Our government agencies are now in a scramble to do something about the farm and lawn chemical run-off feeding this aquatic nightmare.

Giving up our lawn chemicals would be a good start.  Better yet, think about reducing the size of your lawn.  Save money on gas, reduce your mowing time, and relax a little.  Go ahead, watch some birds or butterflies. You might even enjoy yourself.

Join us at the Midwest Native Plant Conference in Dayton in July to learn a bit more about "re-thinking your landscape" with native plants. I'll be doing a program on 'Lawn Alternatives'.  Or, put your spare time to good use and visit Shawnee State Forest with us in June for Mothapolooza.

I guarantee you won't miss your lawn.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Adams County Amish Birding Symposium

In the dark days of late winter, we bird and botany people ban together and do whatever we can to cheer up and preserver until spring's arrival.

 One of those things, just happened in southern Ohio: the Adam's County Amish Birding Symposium.

We filled the hall with a maximum capacity of 300 people!  The generator purred outside the backdoor, making it possible to power the speaker's computers and power point programs.  In an "Old Order" meets "new birders" scenario, folks gathered in from many miles away to enjoy home-bakes, loads of vendors, displays, and an outstanding line up of programs.

 This year's kick off was Connie Toops, with a program featuring the Albatrosses of Midway Atoll.  I must admit wondering how this would be relevant to my life.  But, Connie brought it home!  Her excellent presentation wrapped up with a reminder...

our trash (think plastic islands floating at sea) has become a major killer of seabirds.  Reduce, reuse, recycle- the albatrosses are counting on you.  We featured this theme before with programing from the Cleveland Aquarium.

Kenn Kaufman waits in the wings...
as Chris Bedel announces, The Vast Parade.

Migration: the great spectacle of  life and survival, a drama played out in our skies each year.  Kenn Kaufman spun new thoughts on the topic and made us reach inward for answers.  Maybe the greatest gift of migration is the wonder it creates in people.
Especially people who choose to do something with that wonder.Meet Kristina Polk. This is the live wire that sparked hope into an entire audience.  She gave us a vision for the future, in spite of all the "bad" impacting nature: plastics, wind-turbines, glass/ buildings, climate change, natural disasters.  This is the Young Birder who calls us to look- really look- at each individual bird, as you will not see that particular one again.  She came face to face with this Catbird at The Biggest Week in American Birding, and became fired for conservation.  

We are expecting big things from this little dynamo.  Watch for her program at birding venues, you'll not want to miss it.

Operation Migration's Joe Duff
The last program of the day had us howling with laughter.  Joe Duff  (see Adams County's web page for photo and program description.) described a year dedicated to raising and migrating with a flock of Whooping Cranes, America's most endangered bird species.  To increase the odds for their survival, it was deemed best  to create a separate flock from the one at Aransas, Texas.  

Joe told the story from hatching, to training and the flight of these marvelous birds, as well as the dedicated bird handler's extraordinary efforts to prevent imprinting upon them throughout the entire endeavor.  It was an incredible story.

We laugh, we cried and we were so glad we attended.   Hope to see you there next year!