Friday, September 28, 2012


Some of our most interesting and diverse finds from a fall walk in the woods were mushrooms!

The Scarlet Wax Cap
 The brilliant red cap of the Hygrocybe coccinea, Scarlet Wax Cap drew my eyes across the forest floor.  It was so small I thought it was a partridge berry!  This is an up close macro photograph, and it is probably 2 to 3 times as large as the real life 'shroom.

Fairies' Bonnets
Clusters of Fairies' Bonnets, Coprinus disseminatus clung to a rotting log in the deep woods.  They are members of the "Inky Cap" group of mushrooms- look for the dark underside.  Most inky caps "melt" into a stick black mess once they become fully mature.  The sticky black substance attracts flies, which "track" their feet though the fungi's spores mixed in with the black mess.  Now that is a creative way to spread genes around!

 Jim Davidson investigates over-ripe mushrooms.

Our friend Jim explains deliquescence.

What are these rotty-looking 'shrooms?
 In mushrooms rotting is the strategy the Coprinus species use to attract insects for spore dispersal.   "Deliquesce" means to liquefy or become liquid. Some mushrooms just become rotten or the consistency of slime.

An Umbellate mushroom looks as though is has a "belly-button" where it attaches to the stem. 

This photo show the various stages of a disintegrating Umbellate Polypore. The ones on the right are still fresh, and rather attractive.  The middle mushrooms are well on their way to becoming black gooey masses.  It is "snot" very pretty!

Fungi are some of our earliest and most basic life forms, which have been around over 1,400 million years. They have developed all types of strategies for survival and can be seen as molds, yeast, and an endless variety of mushroom forms.

Mushrooms have many strategies for reproduction, too. Inky caps deliquesce. Some mushrooms, like puffballs, "shoot" their spores in the air.  Others are tasty enough to attract little woodland animals to feed upon them and in turn, become dispersal systems for the fungi. 

Mushrooms are so clever! If you just start by looking at the ones with bright colors, pretty soon you will find you may be "hooked' on the whole fungus family.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Big Woods

One hundred and fifty some acres of the most impressive trees to be seen in Ohio are in Wayne County.  Yesterday we traveled to Johnson Woods, a State Nature Preserve just outside of Orrville.  The locals have always called it "The Big Woods." 

Several of the trees here are over 400 years old.  Imagine: they were already growing when the Pilgrims arrived in America! This towering Old Growth Forest was  featured in the book Among the Ancients  (by Joan Maloof.)  It inspired our visit, and has re-awakened my interest in trees.

 These giants dwarfed the mere humans on the board walk.  To appreciate an old growth forest, one must consider the whole ecosystem.  The rich forest floor is fed by fallen trees and leaves.  Forests do just fine without human "management."  This rich eco-system boasted more chipmunks, mushrooms and wildflower than you could shake a stick at.

Birders talk of "warbler neck,"
 but we were experiencing "tree neck."  My father is gaping at the dizzying height of one of the giants.  Friends and family were leaning back and pointing, like tourist seeing sky-scrapers for the first time.

Fall color is starting to arrive with the blackgum trees.  They are always the first red flags to wave autumn in. This giant of a Blackgum- or Tupelo- as some call them, had us all craning our necks to admire the view.

Johnson Woods is an wonderfully wet woods with several open stands of Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis  and Turtlehead, Chelone glabra.  A Ruby-throated Hummingbird was enjoying the nectar in this clearing and putting on a good show.

We are so fortunate to have this forest monument preserved for our enjoyment. Schedule an afternoon there and look closely at the entire eco-system.  It is filled with life and death- the very stuff of nature.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Our Great Lake...

 It is no great stretch of the imagination to understand why I want to protect and conserve the Great Lakes.  Marblehead, the most photographed location in Ohio, was my home for 20 years.  Yes, it is beautiful.

The Marblehead Lighthouse, Ohio's most photographed location.
We never tire of the view at the Marblehead Lighthouse.  I have been there a hundred times, and hope to return another hundred before I shuffle off this mortal realm. But, during my last visit something was different...

The water on the western basin of Lake Erie is at an all time low.
The water at the Lighthouse was disturbingly low.  The local marina has but 2 foot of water in their harbor.  I hear that the West Bay at Kelleys is too shallow to enter safely.  What is causing these low water levels?  A dry year? A seiche (low water levels due to high winds) would be in our favor on the day I photographed the shore-winds were from the north-west.

There are many factors potentially at play here -but we need to look closely- as Lake Erie is a one time gift from the Glaciers.  We must protect it for the life and health of Ohio (and Ohioans).  Perhaps it is time time to enact laws (like Pennsylvania) reducing the the water "harvested" from our rivers to feed the fracking frenzy.

This Columbus Dispatch article illuminates one more reason our lake level is going frighteningly low.  The water is being taken from the rivers before it ever reaches Lake Erie.  Is the water being regulated?  Not really, regulations are so vague there is no way we will know who is taking how much.  Experts have told me they have grave concerns for our rivers.

The Dispatch article states:  "In Steubenville, Chesapeake took roughly 6 million gallons over a two-week period ending March 5..."

That is one town in a two week time frame.  What of the other towns and the other fifty weeks?  Wake up Ohio,  your lake is trying to tell you something.  

Friday, September 21, 2012

More Meadowbrook

 More Meadowbrook.  Let's face it, the world would be a better place if there were "more Meadowbrooks."

Great Egrets lined up at Meadowbrook Marsh
Meadowbrook Marsh is a park in Danbury Township on the Marblehead peninsula of Ohio.  It was set aside for nature and recreation through some great community efforts, and some statewide birding projects are helping to conserve even more of the wetland.

It was the first ever Carbon Offset Bird Project- rolled out at the Midwest Birding Symposium 2011.

A towering Bur Oak.
In addition to the wonderful wetlands, you'll find woods, fields and the most incredible oak tree that dwarfs mere humans.

Julie Davis, Kim and Kenn Kaufman, Jen Sauter, and Cheryl Harner hope you will bird at Meadowbrook.
Two of Ohio's largest bird organizations, BSBO and OOS are working together to protect and preserve this area which provides excellent bird habitat.

I hope you will join us on Sept 28-30 in Lakeside for the OOS Conference... and join a field trip to Meadowbrook Marsh to see what all the fuss is about!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Service in the Preserves

 Columbus Audubon's  Katryn Renard  has been organizing service trips to Ohio Natural Areas and Preserves for many, many years.  She knows that the best trips are a combination of good works...

Katryn peeks through a tree's unusual root growth
 and having a little fun.

 Last Saturday things were looking up at Fowler Woods, just north of Mansfield.  It is a wet woods best known for its exceptional spring wildflower display.

The boardwalk, essential for access to this wet woods,  is in need of repair. Columbus Audubon was able and willing to help
Ryan Schroeder and Mike Grody of Natural Areas and Preserves.
 The job was laid out by the pros, Ryan and Mike.  They supplied the goods for repairs and we followed their lead.

Team Mayham strikes a pose.
The guys did some phenomenal work, but you know this is a posed photo- in real life they would never let me use the crow-bar!

Carrying the slats.
Mostly we carried the slats to the repair locations, and enjoyed the wonderful morning in the woods.

Brown (DeKay's ) Snake
Like all "big kids," we had to interact with nature a bit and admire some of the local residents. This is a DeKay's snake, a species that feeds on small insects and invertebrates in decaying logs and leaf matter.

Egg masses injected into a Viburnum stem
 Unfortunately, I found evidence of Viburnum Leaf Beetle damage and their egg masses.  We are just on the cusp of this infestation and need to be proactive now.  A good first step is to remove and destroy these egg masses.

These service trips are a wonderful example of the hard work, science, and fun that can be accomplished by a team. Our Ohio State Nature Preserves need constant maintenance and attention.  Not only to the trails and boardwalks, but as importantly- they need constant monitoring and removal of invasive species.

Invasive plants, animals and even insects can damage and ultimately  destroy these areas that were set aside for their natural beauty and unique biodiversity.  These little time capsules need to be constantly managed to prevent successional growth which would change and destroy these habitats the state deemed worthy of protecting.

If you would like to join us on a work program and have a insiders look at some of Ohio's most biodiverse habitats, join  ONAPA today.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Advanced Naturalist Disorder

So, you have probably heard of Nature-Deficit Disorder, coined by Richard Louv in The Last Child in the Woods.  How about Advanced Naturalist Disorder?

I believe that is what happens when you know just enough to be dangerous and you look at everything- plants, birds, dragonflies...

Clouded Sulphur, Colias philodice on an aster
and butterflies- even when you are attending an outdoor wedding.  Its not my fault, if they wanted me to pay attention they would have held it inside!

One of Ohio's rarest habitats, a lakeside alvar.
  With a lakefront view like this to compete, is it any real surprise I was using my camera for a few botany pictures?  These tiny asters were growing out the the water scoured rock ledges along Lake Erie.  This is one of Ohio's rarest habitats, called an alvar.  This aster is the very rare Pringle's Aster, Symphotrichum pilosum var. pringlei one of the alvar species.

The Weedpicker at a wedding.
We arrived about an hour early and I entertained myself bird watching and butterflying. I did put my binoculars away when the other guests arrived.

This was one of the simplest, yet most beautiful weddings I have ever seen. The sun was shining in a cloudless blue sky  as the waves splashed the rocks just beyond our seating area. Lake Erie was picture perfect and as beautiful as any Caribbean wedding ad.  

Mr. and Mrs. Michael Comings
Congratulations to the couple, Christina and Michael!   I am wishing you a lifetime of happiness- and butterflies.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Malabar's Butterflies and Blue Skies

Some of the best advice I've had in a while came from the book, Among the Ancients (featured in my last post.) It recommended therapeutic nature time for environmentalists.  Too often we are too busy "saving nature" and need to remember to slow down and connect with nature- to recharge our batteries, so to speak.

Meadow Fritillary on Wingstem,  Verbesina alternifolia
 Yesterday I planned my arrival at Malabar Farm State Park with plenty of time for a walk to connect with nature before an important meeting.  The Meadow Fritillary along the gravel drive did not let me down.  I've not seen too many Meadow Frits this year, but Malabar's fields are a good location for them.  Their host plants, Violets grow in and along the edge of the woods.

Common Checked Skipper on Aster
The Common Checkered Skipper is not common at all!  In fact, it is quite unusual in most of Ohio.  But is has been a regular occurrence near the old Victory Garden.  Let's hope someone doesn't get too vigilant in weeding or mowing that area, as their host plant seems most unremarkable.

Common Checkered White laying eggs on Common Mallow
 Here is our little skipper laying eggs on a Common Mallow or Cheeseweed,  Malva neglecta.

 Common Mallow is a weedy little plant, and indeed, it is a non-native.  However, it has been supporting a nice population of these Checkered Skippers for the last four or five years.  So it is a "weed" we might want to conserve.

 Just down the lane from the Victory Garden lies the grave of  Louis Bromfield, author, lecturer and above all American farm conservationist.  Malabar Farm was his home and we are fortunate to have these unique habitats preserved for the quiet enjoyment of the public.

It was all blue skies yesterday, but there is a forecast for change at the farm.  Finances are tight and the Big House is in need of repair, but even more troublesome is the state of the American farmer.  Our farms are the weather vane for our whole county, and big changes are in the wind.  Just as surely as farm run-off is feeding the toxic blue-green algae in Ohio lakes, good farm management can reduce chemical use and run-off.  And this was Louie's mission, better farm practices and healthier soils.

Perhaps, this is a call to “arms.”  We need to roll our sleeves up and go to work to make Malabar the mecca for sustainable farming while protecting the woods, wetlands and biodiversity we all love.  I hope you will join us.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Among the Ancients

We humans are are but short lived species, compared to some of the ancients on earth.  The term "Old Growth Forest" has many different meanings, but a general rule of thumb would be a forest that has attained significant age (pre-settlement in America) without significant disruption.  They are filled with ancient trees.

These forests are rare and unique communities, and probably less than 1%  of them remain.  Giant Sequoias certainly come to mind, but there are a few examples in our Eastern deciduous forests as well.

 Recently I have been entranced by this book listing 26 forests in the east.  You can believe I have map-quested my way to the ones within striking distance and have made plans to re-visit Ohio's representative in the book: Johnson Woods.  Yes, it is one of our Ohio State Nature Preserves.

 Joan Maloof, the author, gave a compelling program at last week's "Forest Management" seminar at Cleveland Museum of Natural History.  Not only is she a admirer of these big, bodacious trees, she is working hard to protect the last of our giants in arboreal natural history.

Old Growth Forests are rated as more beautiful.
Old Growth Forests are not only more beautiful, they are quantifiably more diverse and often protect unique organisms.  Is it any wonder some of our extinct or nearly extinct bird species (Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Black-backed Woodpeckers) prefer these- now nearly extinct forests?

But is not just beauty and diversity these forests add.  They are also good for our environment.  They have enhanced hydrology and are excellent at carbon sequestration. Both are huge pluses for a world undergoing climatic change. For a long time we thought young forests were better at carbon sequestration, because young trees take up carbon at a higher rate.  However, now we know due to their additional mass, old growth trees sequester carbon just as well.

Learn more about these forests and the goal to protect our remaining ancient trees.  Joan is quick to say she has “no problem with forests set aside for production.”   However, she also believes some
“public forests should exist for more than fiber and dollars.”  

Let's work to set aside ancient forest for our children's children.  These trees can easily outlive us, but only if we protect them now.  Go here to read more about the Old Growth Forest Network.  It is truly  America's Next Idea.

Monday, September 10, 2012

This Bug really STINKS!

We have a new player in the forest: Viburnum Leaf Beetle.  If you have native or ornamental viburnums on your property, this bad boy is coming for you. 

 Another day, another invasive- it could really get an environmentalist down.  There seems to be no end to the foreign assaults on our forest and flora of America.  But in the name of patriotism, let's arm ourselves with education.

Leaf damage of the Viburnum Beetle
On a recent field trip to Singer Lake Bog, we saw many viburnum riddled by this invasive insect.  The beetles have hatched out and are feeding.  While I did not find any larva or beetles to photograph for you, the damage was evident.  Several times I commented,  "What is that stench?"  

Apparently these beetles have a distinctive smell.  (Think Multi-colored Asian Lady Bugs: have you ever smelled them?) Not everyone noticed it, but I believe some of us could "sniff" our way to infestation in the forest!  

 Our leaders told of the recent defoliation of the viburnum in Northeast Ohio, and how it weakens the plant each subsequent year.  After three to four years of defoliation, the plant dies.  My questions were, "What are we doing to identify them?"  and  "What are we doing to protect the Viburnum?"

We didn't seem to have the answers to that- so far... most are watching the viburnums die. The sad truth is: most folks attuned to ecology are hesitant to pull out the blazing guns of chemicals.  We are wary of the "collateral damage" we have seen in the past on our good and beneficial insects when predator species are set lose (think: Gypsum moth predators killing our Silk Moth larva.)

Viburnum Leaf Beetle larva being eaten by an orange and black Lady Beetle larva, Photo Courtesy of Cornell's Website
 So I have been reading on this pest and the simple things we can do to put a hurt on them.  Follow that link to Cornell and let's start rounding these stinking beetles up!  Watch for egg laying damage on viburnums.  If we remove eggs masses in the fall- it is a good start.  Next we bring out the lady bugs.  Lord knows, we already have them, so lets hope they develop a taste for Viburnum beetles.  Click on that link above to educate yourself on this pest.  Forewarned is forearmed.   GO CORNELL!!!

Let's embrace the pro-active options, verses the OSU attitudes of  "...Ohio's nursery industry is the nation's fifth largest. Quarantines imposed, as a result of establishment of VLB in Ohio, would represent an economic burden to the many growers who export nursery stock from Ohio."  

Follow this link to read it yourself:   There is some good info on the OSU page, but I really prefer Cornell's take.  Proactive, hands on and low chemical usage.  Print that Cornell page and pass it around to your friends.

Judy Semroc and Larry Rosche of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
Thank you to Judy and Larry for leading this fine field trip as part of the CMNH program on tree conservation.  It was an excellent opportunity to educate myself, and every field trip with Judy and Larry is an education.  Stay posted for more info from the actual conference.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Jim Bissell, the "Un-developer"

One of the finest botanist in the state of Ohio is also Mother Nature's best friend.  Jim Bissell has been quietly going about the work of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History- for as long as anyone can remember.  He was recently described to me as the world's greatest  "un-developer."   

Jim has gone about Ohio, finding the best of natural areas and preserving them for nature and scientific study.  Countless acres that might have become strip-malls and housing tracks are now permanently preserved reservoirs of plants and animals.  And let's face it, these critters need all the help they can get.

Jim Bissell, C.M.N.H.'s  Un-developer
 On a recent Ohio Division of Wildlife Diversity Partners retreat, Jim led a field trip to the nearby Geneva Swamp Preserve.  He told us of the importance of the Flat-topped White Aster, Doellingeria umbellata  and its special relationship with a rare butterfly.  Geneva Swamp is one of the few places left in Ohio that has this aster, and one of the last places this butterfly was seen.

 The caterpillar of the Harris's Checkerspot (I photographed this in Michigan.) The Harris's caterpillar only uses the Flat-topped White Aster as a host plant. This is a plant we need to be searching for, concentrating on wet meadows.

Harris's Checkerspot,  Chelosyne harrisii 
 Harris's Checkerspot has only been found in onesy-twosies in Ohio for the last 10 years.  We are very concerned that this butterfly may no long be present- we know it has not been found in any numbers.  And while it is not much larger than a pearl crescent, the under-wing pattern is uniquely different.

Harris's Checkerspot, (Michigan)
The beautiful Harris's Checkerspot was only known from the northernmost counties in Ohio.  Now it is rarely seen and we should concentrate more effort on finding any remaining pockets of its populations.

And if you like bio-diversity in Ohio, please support it- by purchasing your Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp. Jim Bissell and I will thank you!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Simple Pleasures

It has been a good, long weekend for reflection and enjoyment at home.  After the fast pace of commitments and meetings, it was time to relax and take in a few simple pleasures of everyday miracles.

Great Blue Lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica 
 The Great Blue Lobelia is blooming next to my newly created "waterfall,"  an attempt to attract a few fall warblers into the yard.  The Great Blue Lobelia has already been a nectar source for both hummingbirds and butterflies.  Don't you love it when your landscape "works" for you?

Jack-in-the-pulpit seeds
 Along the path through the woods, a brilliant, red seed-head awaits transport.  Perhaps a box turtle or bird will distribute those seeds from a Jack-in-the-pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum.  We will have to keep a close eye on its progress this fall. My woods is full of them.

Yellow and Black Garden Spider
Late summer and fall is an opportune time for spider watching.  This is the largest Black and Yellow Garden Spider I have ever seen.  A real-life drama occurred when a hapless bumblebee had the misfortune of flying smack-dab into this web.  Quick as a flash, the spider leaped upon opportunity and gingerly passed a couple of wraps of silk around the wildly buzzing bumbler.

It patiently retreated until the bee had stilled and later, the spider returned to its prey to fully ensconce the bee in a shroud of silk.  Next, it carried the bagged bumblebee to the larder, freeing the web for more activity.

Life and death, beauty and the beasts: it all goes on in your backyard.