“…But only God can make a tree”

Joyce Kilmer wrote it very eloquently, and it says exactly how I feel about trees. They’re truly God’s miracle.

This year I’ve been more attune to the promise of Spring. Seeing the new little buds on trees, their colorful blossoms, their pollen-laden blooms. In the past, I’ve primarily paid attention to trees in their “leafing out” stage, always seen at a distance, always on the go, always in a rush, seeing it as the sign Winter has loosened it’s grip. I’ve missed so much!

In these unsettling times of the pandemic, I believe we all need to embrace something that grounds us, that provides a sense of peace, that offers us joy that can’t be taken away. Maybe it’s the essence of finding some control in our world. And for me, that’s getting closer to nature and marveling at its wonders. Really seeing all the things I’ve been missing for so long. A benefit of Covid-19? Quite possibly.

Maple trees have been capturing my attention of late – primarily red maple (acer rubrum). Their blooms have been spectacular, but most have passed their prime in central Ohio and are off to the seed stage. But even the seeds are quite colorful.

On a recent walk, I discovered catkins on this male Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides) tree. They’re almost as colorful as red maples. I’ve never seen these catkins before, or at least that fact never reached my level of consciousness. These trees love the water, and you’ll find them quite often in riparian areas. They can become huge and very tall (up to 120 feet); they can grow 2 to 3 feet every year. In early to mid-summer, the female catkins (which are green and can be up to 6 inches in length) will split open and release 30 to 50 seeds each. I’m sure you’ve seen these before, just floating around in the air. Hopefully it’s not an allergen for you.

Trees are pretty magnificent, even when they’re no longer living. Some can be quite artistic looking (or perhaps the stay-at-home order has my sense of art a bit diminished). Many of these dead snags (and living trees as well) provide homes to a lot of Gods creatures, including this menagerie of squirrels pictured below.

Speaking of squirrels, I came across something recently that caught my eye. Perhaps you’ve seen these too? If you could flip this black walnut over, you would see that the opposite side has exactly the same markings. The tiny little teeth of a flying squirrel did this. I’ve never seen a flying squirrel, perhaps because I’m not out and about trying to take photos at night. Flying squirrels are nocturnal and are actually very common in Ohio.

Flying squirrels don’t really fly; it’s more of a glide from tree to tree. I’ve been told they can glide as much as 300 feet depending upon the circumstances and make 180 degree turns. That’s pretty impressive! Flying squirrels are omnivorous and eat not only nuts, but berries, moths, mice, eggs, slugs, insects and even small birds.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, there are only two native flying squirrels in North America – the northern and the southern flying squirrels. They are both gray brown, but their belly fur color is different. Northerns’ are gray while southerns’ are all white. Perhaps one day this blog will have a photo of one, but don’t hold your breath. My nighttime photo experience is slim to none.

I guess I can’t end this blog without another photo of a tree, or rather, in this case, a group of trees along the Big Walnut Creek. It’s not the most spectacular photo – actually it’s not even a very good one – but it brings with it the promise of Spring. Soon the branches will be full of leaves, casting shade on the stream and providing wonderful niches for birds and the wood ducks that call this little oasis home.

Stay safe and may your world be filled with much joy.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.

Winged Wonders

It’s amazing what you see when you slow down and really start to look. I don’t think I’ve truly realized this until just now. There’s always been so many things on my “to do” list that I’ve failed to see what’s right in front of me. Guess it’s a benefit of these strange times.

My daily walks have allowed me to see a lot of amazing things, like this Eastern Spring Azure (Celastrina lucia) which looks like it’s smiling. See for yourself…look closely at the photo on the left. Perhaps it’s just my imagination but the little guy sure looks like he’s smiling to me. And don’t those legs look like he’s wearing striped socks? Maybe if I wore striped socks, I’d be smiling too. (Sorry for the photo quality, but it was quite camera shy and very tiny!) And another of those “white” butterflies, the Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) was also out and about that day.

While our Spring has brought us some cold days, there was a few days when the temps warmed enough to bring out the non-native Western honey bee. This little girl was on the flower of Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). Only female honey bees collect pollen which is eaten as well as carried back to the nest. Pollen is an excellent source of protein as well as other nutrients for them.

Next time you go out for a walk, stop and listen to bird song. It’s everywhere. Birds are quite happy Spring is here. Like this Dark Eyed Junko, Eastern Towhee and Brown Thrasher, calling for mates to begin the nesting season. Their songs can be quite eloquent.

Red-tailed hawks are out and about too. This big guy had his eye on things immediately below – probably breakfast. Glad those “things” weren’t me, but his distracted attention allowed for a couple of photos, though branches and distance didn’t allow for great photos.

And here’s a pic of one of my favorites, a Great Blue Heron, which sounds very prehistoric if startled. This big guy (or girl?) was hiding behind quite a bit of brush and I’m sure he felt he was invisible because though he watched me carefully, he never flew. It’s amazing such a large bird can fly so beautifully. I hope you’re fortunate enough to see one in flight soon.

And while no one would call this big guy in the photo below”winged” (as the title of this blog states), I still found him to be quite a wonder. Mr. Groundhog didn’t seem to be very afraid so perhaps he was younger; he didn’t appear to have any “battle scars” on him. He was as curious about me as I was about him. He let me get about 6 feet (social distancing?) from him before he escaped underground.

And to end today’s blog, I’d like to share something we found on one trail walk…small colorful painted stones hidden in trees, tucked into the grass or camouflaged on the edge of the paved bike trail. It felt like an Easter egg hunt, just to find where the next one might be! My sincere thanks to whoever placed these along the trail. You brought lots of smiles and happiness to walkers this week. What a great idea…perhaps one we should all try. What a wonderful, simple way to bring joy to others!

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.

Nature’s Effect

Now more than ever, it’s important to find ways to calm the mind and nourish the spirit. With all the continuing news of the Covid-19 virus and its devastating effects, it’s sometimes difficult to find that peace.

Exploring nature and recognizing the beauty around me has helped. A blogger I follow once commented something to the effect of (and I’m badly paraphrasing) if you find the joy in nature, joy will follow you wherever you go. I subscribe to that thought.

For me that means securely planting myself in the moment. Letting go of “what ifs” and truly seeing the spectacular beauty of nature. Not just beautiful scenery, but the true marvel of that tiny little wildflower or a small bee (Andrena mining bee shown in photo) with it’s legs festooned with pollen, or an unknown fly also enjoying the same flower.

On one of my walks, I found a fuzzy looking green plant which turned out to be Common Mullein, a non-native which is considered invasive in some areas of the United States. This plant is also known as “Cowboy toilet paper” among other things, though that’s not a recommended use! According to some things I’ve read, this plant was also used by Quakers (in days gone by) to brighten the cheeks of ladies when use of makeup was frowned upon.

This biennial plant can grow to 5 to 6 feet tall and produces rather beautiful little yellow flowers. The plant is also very prolific, sometimes producing as many as 175,000 seeds per plant. It loves disturbed areas, which is why it’s easy to see how it could be invasive.

And not to be outdone by plants, birds and ducks have been making their presence known this week. Mallards are what I expect to see, but I’ve also seen Buffleheads and Lesser Scaups, along with timid Wood Ducks camping out in trees.

A woodland walk helped bring a lot of things into perspective for me this week. There were so many things growing with the promise of Spring’s magnificent color. It reinforced the realization that some things haven’t changed and I don’t need to keep my “social distance” from them, thankfully!

I hope you have the opportunity to go for a walk soon. Take your time. Explore the things that are green and growing. Listen to the songs of birds anxious to find a partner and begin starting their new families. Find something unusual that attracts your attention and do a little research to learn more about it. Nature offers so many amazing things to explore.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.