Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Amphibian Alert

Just in case anyone is out there listening.....we believe that tomorrow (Wednesday March 25) will be the big night for Spotted Salamanders to mass migrate to the breeding pools. Wahkeena will reopen at 7:30 PM until 11 PM for anyone who would like to join us. Bring a flashlight and rain gear.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Day in the Life....Part 12

Wahkeena is now singing with the sounds of spring. The Spring Peepers are peeping, the Wood Frogs are clucking, and the Eastern Phoebes have announced their return, reciting their name: "fee-be", "fee-be". The Barred Owls are unusually noisy now. The lone owl who has been courting our captive owl has now been joined by other wild owls. And the "who cooks for you" calls are coming from all directions and can be heard throughout the daylight hours as well as all night. The Red-shouldered Hawks are likewise screaming their call. And a male has been visiting our captive Red-shouldered's enclosure. Love is definitely in the air... on the land and also in the water!

Wood Frog Egg Mass

Here is a picture of an egg mass deposited by one Wood Frog. Notice how the eggs are clustered together like a bunch of grapes. Wood Frogs like to lay their egg masses in vernal pools and other shallow water areas that are devoid of large predators like fish.

Spotted Salamanders also seek out the same type of breeding areas as the Wood Frogs. But you won't hear salamanders as they make no mating call. Some "early birds" have already mated and laid eggs, but it looks like this Wednesday night is likely to be the major migration event when the bulk of the Spotted Salamander population will be moving to the breeding pools.

Spotted Salamander Egg Mass

 Noticed that the salamander egg mass above has a smoother envelope encasing the embryos as opposed to the bubbly nature of the Wood Frog egg mass. Note too that the salamander embryos are larger.

In contrast, not much has happened with the plants. The catkins (male flowers) on the alders are slowly opening and some of the large trees are showing hints of flower color high in their tops. But no new wildflowers yet. We did see numerous rosettes of Garlic Mustard leaves on our hike yesterday, but that is one wildflower that we would rather NOT see!

Common Alder Catkins

Wood Ducks and Mallards have returned and there was also a pair of Blue-winged Teals on the pond yesterday. And Great Blue Heron today.

Beautiful warm day yesterday...beautiful cold day today...ah Spring!

P.S. Finally! I found a new blooming wildflower today. It was tightly closed this morning, but is now open all over the lawn in front of the nature center.

This tiny flower is aptly named Small-flowered Bitter Cress

Posted by Tom
With special thanks to semi-professional hand model, Nora Steele.

Please Note: We do have a new feature on the blog, at the top of the page you will notice a 'Bird Sightings' and 'Wildflower Bloom List.' We will update these throughout the season as more species return to the preserve! 

Friday, March 13, 2015

A day in the Life.....Part 11

The second week of March brought some long awaited weather changes....50+ degree days and SUN!
On Monday, the snowdrops were peeking through the snow again and by Thursday the snow was finally gone and the flowers officially in bloom.  These cultivated bulbs are a legacy of the late Carmen H. Warner and it's always good to see them each year, as it usually means we have turned the corner from winter to spring.

Snowdrops on Monday

Snowdrops happy to see the sun on Thursday

The skunk cabbage did not fare quite as well as the snowdrops. In the photo below, you can see that the tips of the spathe have been damaged by the 6-8" of snow and ice that covered them since they appeared a month ago. Between the two spathes you can see the new emerging leaves.

Frosty Cabbage

The animal activity has also picked up this week. About 20 Canada geese flew in on Wednesday. Must to the dismay of the pair that want to nest here. The goose wars have begun! Honking, hissing, flapping and much posturing has made for a noisy scene.

Hey, where's the water??

The pair below beginning the defense of their breeding ground. Notice the low neck position of the one on lower left....not a friendly sign.
Get off my pond!

And on Thursday the little guy below was seen hanging out on the window screen on the south side of the nature center.
Little Brown Bat 

And even though it is raining now at 8:50 PM and the temperature is 47 degrees, no sighting of amphibians yet. The breeding ponds are still locked with a thick layer of ice.  But I would expect that sometime during the next two weeks or so, the wood frogs, spring peepers and spotted salamanders will make their appearance.  And the spring wildflowers will not be far behind.

Posted by Tom

Saturday, March 7, 2015

A Day in the Life...Part 10

When last we met it was snowing...and then came the thaw.

The picture above is looking upstream of the small pond northeast of the nature center. There was still thick ice, but the warm temperature and rains had melted the snow covering. Notice the dark drown in the background. This is mud and silt being washed over the surface of the ice. The picture was take on Monday. By Wednesday, the same shot looked like the picture below.

Six inches of wet snow fell on top of slush. All of which then fused together when the temperature plunged again. By Friday, bright sun began the melting process...again. And with predicted temperatures raising above freezing this coming week, it will all be gone by next weekend.

Through it all life goes on. Back in Part 4, I showed a picture of some mourning dove features and speculated on the culprit. Well, this past week as I was walking around the nature center, a sharp-shinned hawk flew right over my head and landed on a branch near our resident red-shouldered hawk's enclosure. Later on the opposite side of the nature center near the bird feeding area, I discovered a another pile of dove feathers. Can you say "food chain"? Bird seed, dove, hawk.

The extreme weather has been tough on all of us-humans and wildlife. And everywhere I go, I hear the same thing - "I am done with winter!"  Fear not. Lurking below the snow are lots of spring wildflowers and amphibians biding their time.

Wahkeena will reopen for the 2015 season on Wednesday, March 18,  Wed.- Sun. 8 AM- 4:30 Pm

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 water....no 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 kill....it's skunk mating season.

Posted by Tom