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May. 13th, 2009

slytherin, snakes, books, potter

tezukasama

Summer's On Its Way....

At least in my area!  The spring wildflower bloom is petering out.  Virginia Bluebell, Bloodroot, Dutchman's Breeches, Squirrel Cornflower, Sessile Trillium and Larkspur have come and gone.  There are a few Waterleaf sp. hanging on, but everything is slowly subsiding to green.

One thing I have noticed is the amphibian breeding activity is delayed this year.  Even with the cooler, wetter spring we had in 2008, the frogs and toads started calling by mid-April.  This year I've heard the odd Green Frog, one or two American Toads and a lone Bullfrog (who's actually early!). 

In fact it's been a veritable mausoleum out at the vernal ponds along the trail we lead most of our spring hikes.  Last year the American Toads turned the waters into a seething hotbed of amplexus.  This year.....nothing as yet.  Updates to follow.

A.K.

Mar. 24th, 2009

slytherin, snakes, books, potter

tezukasama

Turkey Strut....

Well, I'm returning to quasi-regular posting anyway!  Welcome to our 2 new members, I can't believe someone else besides myself is actually reading this community.

On my way into work the other morning I caught sight of a lovely turkey hen on the park road.  Of course I slowed down to take a longer look at her (cursing the fact that I'd left my digital camera on my desk at the office) and as I pulled up even with her I saw a tom turkey in full strut doing his best to impress her.

He was puffed up, with tail fanned to the fullest and that beautiful blue and red head shining in the morning sun!

I love mornings like that, what a fantastic way to begin a work day!!

A.K.
(keep checking back for more entries!)

PS on a side note, the buck whitetail deer are nearing the end of their antler dropping time (in my neck of the woods anyway).  I've been combing the park woods for sheds but so far no luck!

Mar. 1st, 2009

slytherin, snakes, books, potter

tezukasama

Of Maples, Tracks and Scat.....

It's maple sugaring time again.....well, here in SW OH it is anyway! 

We tapped some of the sugar maple trees where I work two weeks ago and have been reaping the benefits of a very successful sap run so far.  My part in the Maple Sugaring Experience at my workplace is an interpretive hike covering the history of sugaring and modern methods used to gather sap.

I include general information on tapping trees (minimum size, hole depth, equipment, etc.) as well and the trail we use for the hike has some nice, mature sugar maples growing alongside it.  

Yesterday was our big public event.  Even though it was very cold and windy, the other naturalist and myself were busy leading hikes most of the afternoon.  My personal highlight had nothing to do with maple sugaring however!  During a bit of downtime between groups, I strolled along the beginning of my hike route to try and keep warm.  As is my habit, I began scanning the ground and saw a perfect front and hindfoot print from a raccoon!  A little further along I found a fresh pile of coyote scat (chock full of white-tailed deer hair...evidently it had scavenged a road killed animal from the nearby 4 lane)! 

I know it seems like I'm always raphsodising about animal droppings...but hey, it's a naturalist thing!

A.K.
(who WILL return to regular posts for the rest of '09!)

Apr. 20th, 2008

slytherin, snakes, books, potter

tezukasama

Roadside Raptors

As I make my drive to and from work every day, I've been keeping watch on a redtail hawk nest perched high in a tree right next to the Interstate.  Although it is too high to look into, I can see the female's head or tail sticking over the edge of the nest as I zoom by at 70 m.p.h.  I've also seen the male perched in nearby trees and power pylons.  

There are quite a few turkey vultures in the vicinity as well....I've seen them sunning on the same pylons in the early morning, but as yet they have not disturbed the hawks or their nest.  I'm looking forward to possibly getting to see the youngsters as they fledge and hopefully learn to hunt at Lake Isabella (the nest is located at that exit ramp). 

I routinely see 4-5 redtails on my daily commute in the morning.  There is a mated pair who have territory right at the 275-71 interchange and I have seen a couple of more pairs and single birds along the 71 corridor.  It just goes to show that wherever wildlife can find a talon-hold they will make the best of it (most species anyway)!

A.K. 

Apr. 14th, 2008

slytherin, snakes, books, potter

tezukasama

Down & Dirty!

 In the midst of leading a hike for a group of second graders the other day, I stopped the group next to a vernal pond along the trail we were walking and began to explain to the kids about how important it was to our local amphibians.  There were a couple of kids talking as I was and since this happens often, I just ignored them at first.  More kids chimed in with "oh look!" and "what's that?!?!?" and pointing behind me.

I began to be aware of loud splashing sounds over my shoulder and then the trilling began......right in my ears.  I turned and lo and behold a veritable toad orgy was taking place before our eyes!  It was almost embarrassing.  Needless to say, I abandoned my spiel and waved my hand at the frolicking amorous amphibians and said "well, that proves my point!"  

I also managed to pick up a female (with attendant male clamped on to her back) and show the kids up close the eggs coming out of her.  When I put the happy couple back in the pond there was one lone male sitting at the water's edge singing his heart out, still looking for a mate.  The group got a great look at his throat sac & his calls were fantastic.

It is days like this that really drive home how much I enjoy my job.  Every day brings a new, unique experience...sometimes big (like the aquatic body electric show), sometimes small...a new bird at the feeder, but always ever-changing.

A.K.

 

 

Feb. 20th, 2008

slytherin, snakes, books, potter

tezukasama

Wiley Coyotes.....

I was out at Woodland Mound Park on Feb. 13th for a bit of quiet time last week. The trails were coated with snow and ice and it was great to be the only one out walking them.....well, the only human at least!

For those who aren't familiar with this park, it has 2 nature trails and a paved hike/bike trail. Now normally when I walk the nature trails out there, I can see deer, squirrel, rabbit and a multitude of bird tracks all over the ground. Last Wed. the species du jour was Canis latrans, our old friend the coyote. I'd known there were coyotes in the park, but I'd never seen one and most of the time the trails are so covered with human and dogs tracks that trying to decipher any other canine spoor is a waste of time.

That day it was just me and the coyotes! I could see tracks from the night before that had melted and refrozen, but what was really neat was a couple of track lines that were fresh, literally within an hour or two of my being there. It was blowing snow most of the day and the fresh tracks I saw were crisp, clear and had no snow in them. I love it when I can take my time and really study the ground as I walk and not get stared at by the average park goer who wonders what the heck I'm doing!

The other interesting observation from that day is that I did not see a single deer track anywhere. Knowing how difficult it is for them to navigate ice with their hooves, I can't say that I'm surprised but it was a bit like reading your favorite book only to find a key character has been removed!

Enjoy the snow out there today all Cincy-ans and check out what wild creatures have been schlepping through your own backyards or parks!

A.K.
The Highway/Backyard Naturalist

Feb. 18th, 2008

slytherin, snakes, books, potter

tezukasama

Love Is In The Air, Er...The Pond!!

Even though it is still the winter and everything looks dead, little signs of spring are starting to emerge. The first of these (at least in my neck of the woods) is the Jefferson Salamander.

A member of the mole salamander family, Jeffersons range in size from 4-7 inches and are a grayish black in color with small, pale blue flecks on their sides. Normally, as their family name implies, they spend most of the year underground. Mole salamanders will live in chipmunk, vole or mole tunnels or other underground crevices that stay cool and damp. They are very secretive and only venture out in mid-February (although as early as late December in some regions) for the breeding season.

At this time of year, Jefferson salamanders head towards vernal ponds (temporary water sources) to lay their eggs. The males deposit a spermataphore (or sperm packet) on the bottom of the pond, which is picked up by a female to fertilize her eggs with. The female will then find a submerged clump of vegetation or sticks and deposit a gelatinous mass of from 40-70 eggs. This egg mass looks like a double handful of clear jello filled with black dots. Each of those "dots" has the potential to develop into a larval Jefferson within a couple of weeks.

Although the eggs appear to be well protected in their jelly-like casings, they are in fact very sensitive to any disturbance. If the egg mass falls from its plant moorings to the pond bottom, the eggs will become silted and smother. If the mass is deposited too close to the surface of the pond and a late freeze occurs then the eggs will be destroyed.

Amphibians are great indicator species of the overall health of an ecosystem. They are very sensitive to pollutants in our waterways and scientists have noticed a steady decline in many amphibian species populations in the past decade. Coupled with physical destruction of amphibian breeding habitats, the outlook for many amphibians is not good.

Many people are surprised at how important even small bodies of water are as amphibian breeding sites. Little puddles that may only contain water for a month or so may be the only breeding water source for local populations of amphibians. I have found toad & frog eggs in tire ruts on old logging roads. If these puddles and ruts are filled in then it could be the death sentence for several species in a given area.

As we head into March and April and the temperature increases, amphibian breeding activity will shift into high gear. If you're interested in observing amphibians during this time, start by going out on a rainy evening (gentle drizzle as opposed to torrential downpour) and cruising along rural back roads. Better yet, if you have access to a pond, take a slow walk around it on a rainy evening. Listen as well as look, for the calls of breeding frogs and toads are varied and very interesting! You'll be surprised at what you find.

A.K.
The Highway Naturalist

Jul. 7th, 2007

slytherin, snakes, books, potter

tezukasama

Edge interrupted/field trip to Sharon Woods....

'Life on the Edge' is being usurped by a quick update on my field trip to Sharon Woods yesterday.

I've never been to this little gem of the Hamilton Co. Park system before and was very curious to find out what it was like. The usual water-parks, playgrounds, soccer fields & such were in abundance but I found a short trail that winds through the gorge in the center of the park. It always astounds me that you can step out of a parking area in a busy city area and onto a trail that makes you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. Only one small segment of the gorge trail parallels the golf course and then you are back in the woods again.

It also shadows a small river below the Sharon Lake dam and has several spectacular waterfalls for such a concentrated area. I took some shots of them as well as a great dead tree snag and spotted a water snake (not closely enough to determine the species) in the shallows. I also saw a downy woodpecker, but only got one blurry picture of its backside.

All in all a nice little walk and well worth the journey. Pics of the trip will be posted on the Highway Naturalist's Photo Page soon, so watch for them!

Happy Tripping!
A.K.

Jun. 24th, 2007

slytherin, snakes, books, potter

tezukasama

Life on the edge....

For many people, the drives to and home from work are the main/only times they interact with the natural world other than what is in their backyards. As limited as this contact is, it can provide great opportunities for observing wildlife.

'Edge' habitat is a term used to describe the border between one naturally occurring habitat and another, for example forest and meadow or woodland and stream. There are a whole group of organisms, plant and animal, that prefer edge habitat and will utilize the resources it provides.

Humans are very good at making artificial 'edge' habitats; lawns, power cuts and of course....ROADSIDES!!! The unfortunate side effect of the latter of these man-made habitats is that while some species will be attracted to and thrive in the new 'edge' area, other species whose original habitats were interrupted will have to cross these areas to continue living in their territories. Roadkill is the most obvious sign of this fragmentation of habitat.

In keeping with the community name, I will introduce the most commonly seen species in my 'roadside edge habitat' driving area (SW OH/N KY) in the next couple of posts. Stay tuned!

A.K.
"The 65 mph Naturalist"

Apr. 16th, 2007

slytherin, snakes, books, potter

tezukasama

Sunsets, vultures & spontaneous drives....

It's been a quiet week here in 'The Roadside Naturalist'...actually it has been so busy in OH and the weather has been so bad that yesterday, 4/15, was the first chance I've had to get out and about.

What better way to celebrate 'Income Tax Due Date' (for those readers who live in America) than by taking a last minute road trip...at around 5:30 pm! In any case I headed up the road (SR 27) North and then hopped over on SR 129 West towards Indiana. Having never gone this way before I wound up taking some twists & turns (IN 252, I think...lol) and IN 101 N and found Whitewater Memorial State Park. It looks very interesting, at least the small portion of it that I got to explore before the sun went down. Snapped a few pics of some black vultures heading in to roost in the trees and one sunset shot over a field. Jumped a whitetail buck (less shed antlers of course) on the road and saw that there is a nature preserve area with hiking trails that I will return and explore again.

Came back along US 52 East into OH and then home again. Almost no traffic, rolling hills, woodlands and farmlands and a great drive all around. A nice way to spend 3 hours when all was said and done. I just wished I could have left earlier. Ah well, there's always another bend in the road to see, a trail to hike and scenery to photograph. I should live long enough to be able to see and do it all.

A.K.

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