Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Dat in the Life...Part 47

It's been another pretty quiet week around the nature center...

and back in along the wooded trails of the preserve.

The forest floor is dominated now by the dark evergreen Christmas Fern.

Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) is by far the most common fern in the area. The name implies the past use of this plant as a Christmas decoration.

Others parts of the forest floor are covered with another evergreen -  Southern Ground Cedar  (Diphasiastrum digitatum). The yellow structures are called strobili- this is where the reproductive spores are produced. If you give them a tap, you will release a "cloud" of light yellow spores when they are mature.

A plant I have mentioned before, but always nice to see in the now barren landscape, is the Downy Rattlesnake Plantain- a common evergreen orchid.

The not so green thing above is an oak apple gall. The gall was formed when a wasp laid her egg in an oak leave and the oak responded to the "invasion" by creating the gall. The gall provides a safe environment for the developing wasp larva to grow in. The small hole is an indication that the former occupant (the wasp) has" left the building."

In preparing for this post the first snow of November 2015 began to fall. The somewhat granular crystals began to accumulated on cold surfaces- like the American Holly leaves above. 

By the time I got back to the nature center the snow had frosted the roof and with frosty fingers it was time to head inside and enjoy the warm geothermal heat!

Happy Thanksgiving to all who follow this post. I am truly thankful that I get to experience the beauty and wonders of this special place. 

Posted by TS

Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Day in the Life... Part 46

It is now mid November and most of the leaves are now off the deciduous trees and the evergreens now dominate the wooded landscape. The beaver lodge can again be clearly seen from the driveway to the nature center at the opposite end of Lake Odonata.

A closer inspection of the lodge shows that the beavers are still actively adding mud (near the bottom) and fresh sticks (top)  to insulate the lodge for winter.

On the lawn in front of the nature center, common violets, confused by the moderate temperatures, are blooming again. It is not uncommon for some spring wildflowers to bloom again in the fall since the light and temperature condition can be very similar. 

Another flower can never seems to go away is the dandelion. And there are several blooming in the sunny lawn areas.

This was a good year for the Redbud trees and many are loaded with "bean like" seed pods that rattle when the cold wind blows. The seed pods hint that the Redbud is a member of the Legume Family.

A late fungus arrival is the Giant Puffball. Hopefully I will get to see how big this one will get this year. Because its location is near a high traffic area when the preserve is open, these fungi are unfortunately often the target a little boy feet. Perhaps the soccer instinct is just too strong and more fungi.

Posted by TS

Saturday, November 7, 2015

What a year...

This post has been almost a year in the making. The idea arose in early spring with a young boy who had found a piece of deer bone while on a hike. The piece of bone in question was part of a deer vertebra, the backbone, and it also had dozens of little scrapes caused by rodents chewing. Tom explained to the boy why rodents might want to chew on the vertebra in the first place: mice and other rodents chew on bones in order to get calcium into their diet. Humans also need calcium, one way we get it is by drinking milk. At this point the boy's mother walked into the room and he jumped up, grabbed the deer vertebra and ran to his her to tell her everything that he had learned. This is what he said: 
"Mommy! Did you know that there is vertebra in chocolate milk?" 
Of course, there isn't vertebra in chocolate milk, but this made us think about all the humorous things that visitors tell us, so we decided to write some of our favorites down. Please note, this post is not meant to poke fun of anyone. Many of the questions and comments included in this post were simply phrased in a way we found amusing or we thought could be solved using common sense. 

Thank you to everyone for a wonderful year!! 
- Tom & Nora

Crazy Things That Kids Say

"There are a lot of crazy people in my family and I am one of them."
This certainly turned out to be true!

"Where is the can of geese!" 
This child heard Tom say 'Canada geese' wrong and was literally looking for a 'can of geese!'

"I've never felt so scared of myself before!" 
This was after Tom explained that humans are the most dangerous animals on the planet.

This girl was trying to spell 'stupid' and somehow ended up with Stups. 

"I'm going to take another dump!"
 With our school groups we use nets to scoop insects out of the pond. This girl confused 'scoop' with 'dump' and proceeded to 'take a dump' in our pond! 

"Hey look! I've got Venus sausages for lunch!"
I would hope that they were actually Vienna Sausages...

"Where do you work?"
This was asked by a little girl to one of the naturalists while she was visiting during a school program.

"That smells like saffron, I don't know what saffron is- but I heard my mom say that one time and I think it makes me sound smart."
We were smelling beaver poop by the way... Yum! 

Tom: "If someone didn't know what a habitat was, how would you explain it to them?" 
Kid: "It's like if you're walking around Australia, and there are lots of different places that you can see. You can walk around and go to the desert and ocean and there are different things there that only live in Australia and no other place. I really like Australia, there are a lot of things that live there that don't live here. Australia is a nice place where lots of things live..." 
He/She kept going for at least another minute, at least it was mostly correct! 

"I'm scared of Turkeys, I don't like Turkeys. The turkeys ate my hot dogs!"

"That cat is famous, he has his own pizza shop! But, he wouldn't give me a pizza!"
Well, I've never gotten a pizza either and I'm the one that feeds him!

Nora: "Where does a raccoon live?"
Kid (shouting): "IN THE OCEAN! Oops, I meant in the woods, I just have oceans in my head!"
That would be one soggy raccoon!

"Sometimes when I run I get a taste in my mouth and I don't know what it is, I think it's the Sun. If it is the Sun, then the sun tastes like graham crackers!"

Ummmmmm.... What?

Kid 1: "What's in this cage?"
Kid 2: "Can't you see? It's a Carpet snake!"

Even Crazier Things That Adults Say

"Do you guys ever do anything outside?"
 This one was asked in the middle of a huge thunderstorm while we were waiting it out inside the Nature Center.

"Since this is a Nature Preserve are you allowed to swat at the mosquitoes if they bite you?" 
Nope, not ever. 

"What do you guys do to make the air smell so good?"
I think it's called 'fresh air'. 

"I noticed all the wet areas, do you have any carnivores here?"
We finally figured out that he/she meant 'carnivorous plants' such as Venus fly traps or pitcher plants. Yes, there is a difference between 'carnivorous' and 'carnivores.'

"I have two extremely gifted children!"
We learned all about this parents' two gifted children, and thought nothing of it until we realized that he/she had three children with them, all siblings, who had been listening the entire time.

"Now explain to me how the girl that is scared of toilets just picked up a snake!"
This was said by one of the adults chaperoning a school group, he/she went further to explain that the girl in question refused to use any motion activated toilet because she was scared of it flushing before she was finished! 

Have you ever had any Sasquatch sightings here? I checked out some of the trails and I saw some broken branches that were placed in a tree."
Yeah... Broken branches in a tree can't be explained by anything other than Sasquatch, you know, like storms.... wind....gravity....

"Did you guys move this place because it didn't used to be here?"
Said by a visitor that was convinced that the Preserve had been moved from a different location.

Message left on Voicemail: "So I'm outside the building looking at the signs after just walking around the place... Is Wahkeena open to the public? After walking around the place I want to make sure that's actually the case." 

"What do the beavers eat? It doesn't seem like there are enough trees around here for the beavers. You guys should plant a corn field for them to use." 
Wouldn't we have to cut down a lot of trees to make room for a cornfield?

(This adult is holding a snakeskin on display in the nature center and talking to a friend) 
"See, this skin is from a Diamondback. I know it is because that is the only snake that can shed its skin!"

(Said by the same adult)
 "This isn't a real Beaver. Beavers don't get this big and they don't have webbed feet. It looks like they took the feet off a duck and stuck them on. Also, I saw on TV that Beavers are small- they must have put a few skins together." 

Note: All snakes shed their skin. This visitor also said that we must have taken the rattle off the end because it might be dangerous. And yes, that is a real Beaver, webbed feet and all! 

We saved the best for last: 

"Are these animals real? Like, do they actually exist or did you guys make them all up?" 

This adult was pointing at a beaver, and was completely serious.

 "Wow! There is no way these things live in Ohio, this is a desert cat! They must ship these things in from Africa or something!"
This was said by the same adult as the quote directly above while he/she was looking at the Bobcat, and the map that shows that bobcats live in Ohio.

Thanks again to everyone for a great year!!

A Day in the Life...Part 45

It's a quiet Saturday the second weekend in November. Even though the preserve is still open this weekend the visitation has dropped dramatically. And you could not ask for a nicer day. The Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea) above shows off some of the last bright color of autumn.

Back along the Casa Burro Trail the rugged sandstone cliffs have again revealed themselves with the falling of the tree leaves.

 These ridges are part of the Blackhand Sandstone formation that can be seen throughout the Hocking Hills Region and typically of the unglaciated Appalachian Plateau area of Ohio.

The evergreen patches of Marginal Wood Fern (Dryopteris marginalis) stand out now against the backdrop of a brown leafy forest floor.

Up at the base of the sandstone cliffs a small trailing vine can be seen growing over the moss covered sandstone. This is Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens). Sometimes it is easy to figure out how some plants got their names. In this case it was no doubt because someone saw partridges/grouse feeding on the berries. This plant is also evergreen, but the berries will quickly disappear.

With a cold front on the way, new changes are coming to the preserve and its environs.

Posted by TS

Monday, November 2, 2015

A Day in the Life....Part44

It's now the first of November 2015 and much of the autumn color is fading fast. While there are still flashes of brilliant color more muted tones now dominate. Subtle yellows, like the fern above, and subdued pastel colors stand out.

Unfortunately one of those colors is that of Winged Euonymus, an invasive species. The bright pink color is a beacon marking the locations of this understory shrub. Now that the program season is behind us efforts will now focus on invasive species removal. 

A good color to see in the fall is that of the Cinnamon Fern above. Autumn is the best time to see why this fern was so named.  Too bad it has no cinnamon smell!

While scout euonymus locations I came across an old friend...a really old friend. Above is the oldest tree on the preserve - a 200 year old Tulip tree (Lirodendron tulipifera). This tree has thus far survived the ravages of time and stands quietly on a low ridge top that was once farm pasture, standing majestically above the young surrounding forest.

Deer sign is becoming more common as the weather cools. Above is a fresh deer rub-a mark made by a male White-tailed deer to mark its territory.

The new leaves of the Cranefly orchid have emerged amongst the newly fallen tree leaves. Thus the process of gathering sunlight energy begins. If enough energy is stored in the root stock we may see a flower next July.

The same situation applies to Puttyroot, another of our native woodland orchids that will bloom in May.. These plants demonstrate the closing of a circle that began one year ago - the natural cycle of birth, life, death and renewal.

Take time to enjoy the ride.

Posted by TS

Saturday, October 24, 2015

A Day in the Life ...Part 43

 We've reach the fourth weekend in October and the autumn foliage is now at its peak here at Wahkeena and the Hocking Hills.

Many vibrate colors can be seen, especially in the maples. I do not know if there is a more pleasing sight then seeing the colorful canopy against a clear blue sky.

There are also more muted color like the shot about. This slop is dominated by oaks, which change from green to yellows and than browns fairly quickly.

On cold nights the chloroplasts (cells that produce the green pigment chlorophyll) are killed. Chlorophyll is actually made up of two greens and two yellows. When the supply of green is used up the yellow pigment become visible. You can see this in the leaves of the hickory tree above.

The Sugar Maple above has used up almost all of the remaining chlorophyll in its leaves. And below the American Beech has done the same. The beech leaves however will quickly turn to brown because of the presence of tannin which is also found in the leaves of oak trees.

Below is a common understory shrub, Maple-leaved Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) .

The Red, blue and purple colors in trees and shrubs are due to a substance called anthocyanin.  Anthocyanins form when sugar is abundant in the cells of the leaves.

The beavers have claimed another casualty. This time an elm tree on the main dam of Lake Odonata. This tree is a short distance of the large beaver lodge so they will not have to take the branches far before caching them at the bottom of the pond. 

The warm sunny days of the past week have been much appreciated by the Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum). This dragonfly is one of the last to emerge from the aquatic nymph stage.

The pair above is seen in the "mating wheel" The bright red male clasps the head of the duller female. She then curls her abdomen forward to the base of the male's abdomen to retrieve his semen and thus fertilizes her eggs. Some have suggested that this position may have been the inspiration for the valentine heart!  

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Day in the Life...Part 42

Sights of the fall season are everywhere now. The water lilies in Lake Odonata are beginning to disappear as the pond undergoes a seasonal phenomenon known as fall turnover. During the cold night the water at the surface of the pond cools, becomes more dense and sinks to the bottom of the pond. At the same time warmer water at depth rises to take the place of the cold sinking water. During this convection the pond is stirred (not shaken) and decaying material like the water lilies "disappear" as pond nutrients are redistributed.

One week after the photo posted in the last blog, the beavers finished the job of felling the Maple tree above. Tree cutting increases dramatically in the fall as temperatures drop.

The American Holly (Ilex opaca) trees are loaded with fruit this year so that should make some birds happy!

Finally found a pair of mating walking stick insects. One day after a school group had just left, the above pair was seen mating on my trash can. Nora whipped out her trusty I Phone and snapped the picture. The smaller male is clasping the much larger females abdomen.

While scouting the trail this past Sunday morning we saw the Turkey Vulture above in the pines at the beginning of the Casa Burro trail. Vultures will turn their backs towards the morning sun and spread their wings wide and fan their tails to expose the maximum surface area to the sun for a fast warm up. Nora capture this shot by holding her I Phone up to her binocular lens.

School groups and numerous general visitors to the preserve made for an extremely busy week. Three more school groups to go and then we will be able to relax a little bit. But the next several weeks should continue to be busy as the autumn foliage progresses.

Posted by TS