Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Day In The Life Part 9... Throwback Thursday Post

Not much has changed since last week.....lots of snow and very cold temperatures have kept nature in check. And I had to keep Nora from jumping into the large spring in the sandstone outcropping. She wanted to take the plunge so I would have something new to post about. 


It's Not All Fun And Games

Often times over the years, visitors will make a comment like, " Wow, this must be the greatest job." or something to that effect. Well, there are many aspects to being a naturalist here at Wahkeena. Doing fun educational programs and helping increase visitors' understanding of Ohio's natural history is only a part of the job. There are quite a few "other duties as required." One of these is the never ending control of invasive plant species, like garlic mustard and winged euonymus. Winged euonymus is also known as wahoo or burning bush. Autumn is often the best time to attack euonymus as it turns a pastel pink color, making it easy to locate in the woodlands.  The name burning bush refers to cultivated varieties that turn red in the fall.

However there can be unexpected benefits to pulling out thousands of invasive plants that are occupying space that would otherwise be filled by more valuable native species. Back in October, while pulling euonymus, I came across some interesting discoveries:

This is the last fern to appear each year in the autumn, cut-leaf grape fern, Botrichium dissectum.

Below is a more dissected form of cut-leaf grape fern. Notice the bronze color that occurs once frost has affected the plant.

Several of our native orchids produce new leaves in the autumn to take advantage of the increase in sunlight energy available, due to the falling leaves on deciduous trees. The food energy manufactured in the orchid leaves is then stored in the root system. By the time these flowers bloom in spring and summer the leaves have almost always totally disintegrated. All of the plant's energy is now directed to supporting the flower (if one is produced) and the subsequent seeds.

The two orchids at Wahkeena that preform this appearing and disappearing act are shown below.

Cranefly Orchid
Cranefly orchid, Tipularia discolor, can be easily identified by looking at the underside of the leaf, which is purple. Cranefly is a summer bloomer.

Cranefly Orchid - underside of leaf

Puttyoot, Aplectrum hyemale, has a much larger leaf with obvious white, parallel veins. Puttyroot usually blooms mid to later part of May.

This next orchid, Downy Rattlesnake Plantain, Goodyera pubescens, is evergreen, but really stands out in the autumn/winter woods. It is a summer bloomer as well. 

Downy Rattlesnake Plantain
So even if you are out in the woods pulling invasives, nature will reward you with a few surprises!

Posted by Tom

P.S. If you were wondering, that is not actually Nora jumping into the spring!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Day in the Life...Part 8

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

 This will be short post this week, as I have been working on a renovation project at the Fairfield County Historical Parks office and have not seen much of the preserve this week, And I spent much of today moving snow! As I write this we are at seven inches and counting. And this following a week of brutally cool weather and record lows.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank our AMAZING support group - the Ohio Association of Garden Clubs and the OAGC Foundation. This statewide group has supported the educational programs and site improvements at Wahkeena for more than 50 years! One of the longest support projects is the winter feeding of the song birds.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Each year about 1000 pounds of bird seed and many pounds of suet are purchased with funds provided by OAGC and it's Foundation. The photo above is a male red-bellied woodpecker. Look closely and you can see the red on the lower belly. 

Downy Woodpecker
Above is a male downy woodpecker. The female would lack the red spot.

American goldfinch

Niger or thistle seed is also provided in special feeders that only the finches can access. Often in the winter we get pine siskins here at Wahkeena, but to date I have only seen one. This may be due to adequate food sources further north. Thus eliminating the need to migrate this far south.


It's not just the birds that benefit from this support, but all who visit Wahkeena Nature Preserve.

Posted by Tom

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Day in the Life... Part 7

In Part 5 the picture below appeared.

A harbinger of spring ?
I did not reveal who had made the tracks, but if you guessed the critters below then you were correct.

This pair of Canada geese have been in and out several times. No doubt checking on the pond and open such luck yet! It is interesting to note that geese show up on or about President's Day ever year. Now I know you might be saying, but geese are around all winter. Well, I am referring to the pair that will eventual nest at Wahkeena in the spring.

On the plant side, the first native wildflower in now in bloom. Many of you may be familiar with this non-showy plant that grows in very moist soil conditions and goes by the name of Symplocarpus foetidus, common name - Skunk Cabbage. The species name "foetidus" refer to the fowl smell given off by the flower to attract pollinators. Note that the flower appears before the leaves fully emerge. 

A peek around the other side of the mottled spath of the plant reveals the opening to the interior. The club-shaped flower structure known as the spadix is hiding inside. 

Look just below the top point for the opening.

A cultivated flower planted by Carmen Warner, who create Wahkeena, is also trying to bloom. And most certainly would be in bloom if the temperature had not plummeted again.


This flower is aptly named as it often blooms when snow is still present.

It has also been an interesting week for bird sightings. This past Monday I saw a pair of bald eagles about two miles north of the preserve along the Hocking River. Later that day, as I was going down the driveway at Wahkeena, two red-tailed hawks flew right over me! On Wednesday I saw two pairs of black vultures (each pair in a different location) that were feasting on road kill. And speaking of road's skunk mating season.

Posted by Tom

Friday, February 6, 2015

A Day in the Life....Part 6

Well the winter roll-a-coaster has taken us to February. The picture below mirrors the winter - some places frozen, some places thawed. While the pond is still frozen solid, the lawn in front of the nature center has only a trace of snow, due to a couple of bright sunny days.

The next series of pictures are of some animal tracks found seen around the nature center pictured above.

Coyote prints
This coyote had wandered all over the place- up and down the driveway, across the pond, through the boardwalk area- no doubt looking for a tasty rodent or whatever else it could find.

Which way do I go?

The ground around the nature center is peppered with all manner of little bird tracks. I don't know if the picture above does it justice, but it looks like a birdie stampede in all directions!

The curious tracks below were seen in front of the nature center. These were a real mystery at first. They were fairly close to the edge of the pond, so I thought...muskrat tail?  But that does not work as the pond is completely frozen.

Mystery Tracks

As I searched a little more, I found the track pictured below.

Ah ha! What I was seeing was a partial track that was created by the snow, thaw, snow that's been going on lately. I believe that mystery tracks are those of a white-tailed deer. Old tracks that had partial melted were later cover by new snow, thus creating the crescent shaped mystery tracks.

Typical Deer Tracks
I am remained of an old TV commercial that said, " You can't fool Mother Nature". By sometimes Mother Nature can sure fool you!!

Posted by Tom

Friday, January 30, 2015

A Day in the Life.....Part 5

Wahkeena Trail Head

This winter continues to be an up and down affair. Cold and snow, thaw, cold and snow....But still we have not had the fridge temperatures of last year. Earlier in the week, as the snow on Lake Odonata was melting, I found the telltale tracks in the picture below.

A harbinger of spring???

You can take a guess as to whom the tracks belong.  I am not going to reveal it at this time, but I will surely be talking more about the "who done it" in February.

Just two days later the preserve was transformed from gray and slushy to a veil of white.
A view looking back to smokehouse and cabin

Hemlocks at beginning of Casa Burro Trail 

The last thing I do in the evening each day is feed our resident Barred owl. This education animal is kept by special permit and is non-releasable due to permanent injuries.

Barred Owl
Some times I have to calm the owl down by doing a little imitation of her call - "who cooks for you". Two times this week. when I did the imitation call, I was answered by a wild Barred owl! To which the captive owl responded with a "whooooooowa." The wild call sounded like it was coming from the pine forest a short distance northeast of the nature center. Barred owls typically nest in late February,early March.  Owls usually become more vocal as they approach the beginning of their breeding season. FYI, the Great Horned owls are most likely already on the nest or will be very soon. It may seem odd that these birds nest so early. But it is all timed so that by the time the chicks hatch, the weather will have warmed enough for food populations (like mice and voles) to be active again.

Sounds like more snow is on the way, but hang in there, Spring is closer than you may think.

Posted by Tom

Postscript: Five minutes after posting this entry, as I was walking out the door, an unprovoked Barred owl called from across the lawn, very near the nature center! Always exciting to hear the call of the wild!!!

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Day in the Life....Part 4

Things are still pretty quiet around the preserve, but the fun thing about nature is that it is always changing so you never know what you are going to discover on a given day. Yesterday turned out to be a day of curiosities. The picture below is the first mystery.

Scattered feathers

The mystery. What kind of bird was it and what happened? A closer look at the feathers and zooming in to the large feather in the picture below revealed part of the mystery.
Gray feather with white tip

The feathers are those of a mourning dove. This dove was probably "recycled" by a hawk or owl,  I have seen this scenario before and once actually witnessed a copper's hawk devour a cardinal, leaving a scatter pile of feathers.

Later in the day, as Nora and I were checking the route for a future hike. we came across the usual tree below.

Spiral-shaped tree trunk

The clue to what caused this curiosity can be seen just above the spiral section. It is a small light colored piece of an old vine ( probably honeysuckle), While the vine was alive and growing, it constricted the normal growth of the tree as the vine wound its way up the tree to get sunlight. The vine has since died leaving behind the twisted looking tree.

Sometimes  you just come across simple things like the snail shell below that was resting on a rich green carpet of moss.

"Gastropodis gonus"

Up near the base of the sandstone cliffs we found  the American beech pictured below. There was something odd about the bark.

Beech tree- note left and right sides
A close up examination revealed the picture below. Only the side of the tree facing the cliff was abnormally rippled while the rest of the bark was smooth as one would expect see on beeches.

While still somewhat of a mystery, this curiosity may be caused by some hormonal problem within the tree.

And finally, below is a clump of walking fern, Asplenium rhizophyllum, growing off the side of a large moss-coverd sandstone boulder. Rhizophyllum roughly translates to mean "root leaves" and refers to its unusual habit of spreading. The tips of the frond will root themselves and another plant will grow. Walking fern is more commonly found growth on limestone and rarely on sandstone like is found at Wahkeena- so a good find.

Walking Fern- note the long tips

So as you can see, even during the January thaw, there are curiosities and mysteries to unravel in the winter woods.

Posted by Tom

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Day in the Life - Part 3

With the temperature approaching 40 degrees today, the Rhododendron leaves, that were tightly curled a week ago, are fully uncurled today. 

With the weather so nice, Nora and I thought it would be a good time to check out frozen Lake Odonata. We were curious about the thickness of the ice, so I got out the cordless drill and a spade bit and drilled some holes. The thickness averaged 6 inches. FYI 7 1/2 inches of ice will support a passenger car. Last year at this same time the ice was 12 inches thick! That was enough to support a 7-8 ton truck! 

Drilling hole on Lake Odonata

Ice depth 6 inches
Below is a picture of the beaver lodge. I am 6"2"" tall, so as you can see this is one huge lodge. The lodge is also about 24' wide at the water (ice) line.

Along the edge of the dam, a dead shingle oak is being excavated by a Pileated woodpecker, Ohio's largest woodpecker and a common bird at Wahkeena.

Pileated woodpecker hole at base of tree
A closer look inside the hole shows the reason for the tree's death and why the woodpecker chiseled out the hole. Wood munching insects has already feasted on the trees interior. Can you say food web?
A look inside the hole.
Posted by Tom w/pond photo credits to Nora.
 Stay Tuned..................