Saturday, September 26, 2015

Fog Play at Meadowbrook

Over due for a few restorative moments, I rose one morning and headed out to Meadowbrook Marsh in Marblehead, Ohio. Although I arrived mid-morning, the fog was just burning off the prairie and the marsh was completely socked in.

The woods had an enchanted forest feel.
Taking my time to soak in the view, I moved about slowly, enjoying the light-play on the branches and foliage.  It created the feel of an enchanted forest.

The giant bur oak stands guard at the edge of the prairie.
 The fog filled prairie crept up silently under the giant bur oak.  Trees speak to me of time and resilience.  Season by season, year by year, they have so much to teach us about patience and time.

The prairie flowers take form in a mist.
 The prairie golds glowed against the silvery haze. With no breath of wind for movement, their dance must wait.  The still, silence and fog took center stage. It was as if- morning was on pause.

Spiders' webs took on an ethereal air.
 Glowing in the subdued light, every spiders' web shone apparent. Each limb and leaf held  remnants of the finest weave. Their shear numbers were staggering.

Beads of water gather on grass.
Every stem of grass gathered dew, until the fog lifted. Glistening beads were all that was left of the earth-bound cloud. The feathers of Indian grass stood tall, while droplets weighed down the finer branches of Switch grass. Light reflected off a million droplets to create an illusion of  spun glass.  

The last of the fog disappears over the marsh.
Finally, as the poet Carl Sandburg penned,"The fog comes on little cat feet."
His fog "sits looking over harbor and city."

Our fog preferred marsh and prairie, until it...  slipped...  away.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Hellbenders and Hemlocks- Flora-Quest 2015

Flora-Quest is still a major topic in my conversations... mostly folks asking, "How did it go?"

Honestly, all the Flora-Quests in the last 9 years have been amazing, informative and fun, but this year's was almost magical.  Whether the  good fairy of ecology put us under a spell or we just had the precisely the right combination of people, presenters and places to go, the results were superlative.

Greg Lipps studies a "first capture" Hellbender. Photo by Jeff Belth
Seriously, it is a no brainer that getting Greg Lipps involved in any program means it will be informative and fun.  He is Ohio's #1 cheerleader and head scientist for all things amphibian (and reptilian.) He said he couldn't promise he would find Hellbenders, but instead he found two.

The aquatic team returns victorious. Photo by Jeff Belth.
Both aquatic teams had a session in the field with Lipps and Josh Dyer and a second session with Semroc and Rosche, the dragonflies experts from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Needless to say these folks couldn't have been flying any higher with their successes in the field.  The guides' ultimate goal was to convey an understanding of how Hellbenders and dragonfly larva are bio indicators,  creatures which monitor water quality in our rivers and streams.

The Clear Fork State Nature Preserve hike. Photo Michelle Goodman.
It is the flora of Mohican that makes all the difference: trees protect watersheds. The giant old-growth trees (some of them 300 year old!) in the Clear Fork Nature Preserve survived all those "bad old days" of deforestation and erosion.  Those were the days before the 1940's and the Civil Conservation Corps,  a government program set people to work during the depression, restoring the lands denuded by poor farming and forestry practices.

Cheryl Vargas, Chris Riley and Mary Lee Minor study the forest floor. Photo Michelle Goodman.
Steve McKee opened Flora-Quest with a program that discussed the uniqueness of the Mohican forest and its history of development, deforestation, reclamation and the ongoing efforts to protect Mohican from poor industrial practices and timbering.  Much of the story can be found in the excellent short video (15 minutes)featured during Steve's progam:  Mohican: The Long View.  

Mohican still has much to offer for nature lovers, and should be preserved for the Hemlock Forests, pine plantations, unusual breeding bird populations, mammals and all of the biota which occurs here.

Mohican's Little Lyons Fall of the Appalachia to Canada tour.  Photo by Mark Dilley
The best waterfalls in the area were featured on two tours: Appalachia to Canada and The Waterfall Tour.  The Little Lyons Falls is likely the most hiked trail in all of Mohican.  People love to see this well-known site, but our guides were able to show the lesser known botany and bugs on the trip in and out.

The Barn at Malabar served us well. Photo by Ed Lux
The second day of Flora-Quest convened at Malabar Farm State Park.  We gathered in the barn and split into groups for tours of the Big House, the Farm, the Doris Duke Woods and the wetlands at Junglebrook Trail.
Jim Berry speaks of the Bromfield family in the cemetery at Malabar. Photo by Ed Lux
We had the good fortune to have Bromfield historian and past Malabar Farm manager Jim Berry as a Flora-Quest guide.  Jim is recently retired from the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in New York. He is  an expert birder and excellent botanist and his love for the workings of Malabar Farm is well-known.
Steve McKee orients his Doris Duke Woods group on the steps to the Big House.  Photo Ed Lux
The Doris Duke connection to Malabar is a lesser-known story, but one of great interest.  In fact, Steve McKee's brother, Tim McKee, made a lovely short video about the woods and Bromfield.  You can find that story here:  The Woods at Malabar.
The Junglebrook wetlands in bloom. Photo by Mark Dilley
The little known Junglebrook wetlands at Malabar was one of our attendees' favorite sites. It was an explosion of floristic color and featured a wealth of Ohio's wetland experts and naturalists: Mark Dilley, Jim McCormac, Lisa Rainsong, Larry Rosche and Judy Semroc!  Everyone found something of interest on this trip.  I even learned later that a few individuals sneaked back for a second tour!

Thank you again to all the fabulous Flora-Quest guides and our patrons.  YOU made it magical by your attendance and participation.  Thank you, too, for all the wonderful photos provided to me by our talented attendees! It is said a picture is worth a thousand words- and what a story that first photo tells.

Let me leave you with one important thought: our watersheds matter.  Let us not be doomed to repeat past mistakes of poor farming practices and short-sighted forest management.  Let us cherish the surviving natural areas we have and reclaim more areas for nature, for the health of our watersheds and for future generations.

To learn more about the Hellbender- click on this link below to see an incredible video by the US Forest Service on their efforts to protect this prehistoric animal. It was the one featured by Greg Lipps in his program for Flora-Quest 2015.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Flora-Quest 2015 finale

For those who know me, the fact that I devote a good part of my year organizing Flora-Quest comes as no surprise.  Flora-Quest was the brain-child of Jim McCormac, and Paula Harper and I provided the first "boots on the ground" so to speak.  From 2007-2015 it has been a good run, many of those years were held in Shawnee State Park and Forest.  This year it was time for something new, and Flora-Quest 2015 moved to Mohican Forest and Malabar Farm State Park.

Maidenhair Spleenwort, photo by Steve McKee

With a name like Flora-Quest one might expect flowers.  Most of our Quests have been flora-centric, however this year we focused more on eco-systems. We wanted to convey a better understanding why the hemlock trees and hellbenders are as important as rare ferns, like this Maidenhair Spleenwort, and Roundleaf Orchids.

Mohican's own Steve McKee,  photo by Jennifer Kubicki
But a long time ago I learned what was really important at Flora-Quest: the people.  The incredible guides who share their knowledge.  The fascinating attendees - often guides, authors, conservationists and professional naturalists- who bring so much collective intelligence to our programs.  Many of them are old friends and even more of them have become our new friends.

Long-time guide, Bob Scott Placier and friends. Photo  by Mark Dilley
Bird Banding, photo Zach Pocock

Many of our guides have dedicated their lives to environmental and outdoor education.  Bob Scott Placier recently retired from a long career teaching Dendrology and Ornithology at Hocking College. He is Flora-Quest lifer,  and a guide I can always count on to pitch in and help out in the wee hours of the morning.  There is nothing in the world to capture one's heart like seeing a tiny wild bird, up-close and personal. Bob makes that happen.

Judy Semroc, photo by Jennifer Kubicki
One of our sponsors, The Cleveland Museum of Natural History sends people to our event.  Guides Judy Semroc and Larry Rosche are experts in the field.  They literally wrote the book on Northeast Ohio's Dragonflies. Their combined abilities identifying birds, bugs and plants is legendary.

Greg Lipps and Hellbender, photo by Jeff  Belth.
This year we went to -hellbender- in a basket, or rather a plastic tube. Greg Lipps, Ohio's foremost expert on these endangered, prehistoric aquatic creatures brought some fauna to our flora program. The health of our watersheds matter and the flora we love filters the run-off to our rivers.  Eco-systems are important and we must protect entire ecosystems to protect individual charismatic species, like hellbenders.
Lousie Warner, Chis Riley, Clyde Gosnell 
 For me, the addition of interns or Flora-Fellows took the entire event to a whole new level.  We provide students and young professionals the opportunity to meet the movers and shakers in the world of conservation.  Pictured here, Chris was sponsored by The Stratford Ecological Center (represented by Louise and Clyde.)

Tim McNiven, intern Nicole Hoekstra and Greg Blum
 Nicole Hoekstra brought her many talents to us as an intern, and she was funded by two wonderful individuals who have attended past Flora-Quests.  Greg and Tim wanted to provide this educational opportunity to someone who would not be able to attend without a scholarship.

These are the people of Flora-Quest: intelligent folks who want to share their knowledge and love for nature. People who care.

Mark and Michelle Goodman-  photo selfie
Especially nice for me, my daughter and son-in-law helped by coordinating the efforts of those interns. They also remind me why bringing people closer to nature and learning about our environment really matters.  We do this, not only for our own enjoyment, but rather for future generations.  We are growing a constituency for our parks and forests.

Sure, we all feel better when we breath clean air. We are happier when we are trotting down a wooded trail. My friends all want to have a personal encounters with a bird, butterfly or beetle. Flora-Questers are the people who help us ensure these special places are here for the next generations as well.

Special thanks to all those who have sent in photos!  I rarely have time to get decent pictures during the event. This blog is strictly the result of using the photos I have been given to share.  There were 20 fabulous guides, 4 awesome interns, 1 energetic emcee, 4 excellent speakers- and I will hope to share more of their photos in the future.  For now I would like to say thank you to the paying participants; YOU make this event happen.  "Thank You."