A Hidden Gem

Have you noticed how many people are out and about lately? Running. Walking. Biking. Pushing strollers with kids (or dogs, yes – not kidding). It’s a good thing, but it makes social distancing more of a challenge, which is why I’m always looking for interesting places to go to get my “nature fix” without joining the crowds.

This past week it was Chadwick Arboretum North.

I went on a Tuesday morning, and I saw five people in the two hours I was there. It’s truly a hidden gem in the middle of Columbus. Chadwick is a little nature oasis on The Ohio State campus, just off SR 315 and Lane Avenue (2235 Fred Taylor Drive). It boasts a 3.5 acre Research lake which allows fishing (catch and release) and lots of pollinator habitat, not to mention more dragonflies and damselflies than I could begin to count (or photograph).

I always have a camera in hand, hoping to catch that next great photo or find that particular camera angle that makes a scene eye-catching. I’m not so sure I’ve achieved that, but I do have a few that you might enjoy.

I always learn something new when I’m out in nature. That’s a given. On this day I found an Allegheny Monkeyflower that was on the edge of the lake. It’s a beautiful flower that looks a bit like a snapdragon but isn’t.

It gets its name because the bloom is supposed to look like a monkeys face – but I couldn’t see it no matter how I tried. It’s native and grows near water. It was about three feet tall and it spreads by both seeds and rhizomes. It attracts butterflies and is a larval host for the Common Buckeye and Baltimore Checkerspots. It’s a perennial and blooms June to September. It’s an endangered species in Maine.

I’ve been taking online pollinator classes this past spring and summer through the Ohio State University extension service, so this blog will be filled with a number of “critters” on flowers. It expands my education to not only identify what I’m seeing, but also understand a bit of its behavior and preferred environment. Plus, it’s just fun to do.

On this day the Brown-belted bumble bees (Bombus Griseocollis) were favoring the Coneflowers and Wild Bergamot/Bee Balm. Brown-belted bumble bees are recognizable (at least for me) for the brown belt that is on the T2 area of their back, which can be seen in the photo below.


Of the bumble bees in Ohio, it is estimated that 19% are Brown-belted. The most common bumble bee (69%) is the Eastern Common bumble bee (Bombus Impatiens).

The Arboretum also had a number of Hibiscus flowers lining the lake. They had big, beautiful pink flowers that were filled with insects and bees, like this Hibiscus Turret bee (Ptilothrix bombiformus). It’s a solitary ground nesting bee. This one is has a bit of pollen on it, and I believe it’s a male that is waiting for a female to arrive for mating purposes.

Wasps were also enjoying the flowers. This may be a Metric Paper wasp (Polistes metricus) but am unsure of that identification. Due to the red coloration, it may be a female, but don’t quote me.

Here’s a cute little guy (a Western honey bee I believe but the photo isn’t good enough to confirm that). But what intrigued me was actually the flower that it was on – a Flowering Rush (Butomus umbellatus). A reed like wetland plant growing at the pond edge. They spread by rhizomes and can grow to four feet tall. While the flower is very pretty, it is an invasive plant in Ohio.

As mentioned earlier, there were a number of dragonflies and damselflies all around the pond area. Many dragonflies were doing great sweeping flights around the lake, but were too much for my poor camera to capture. I had to wait for those that would land on something. But a few did cooperate. Eastern Pondhawk dragonflies did quite a bit of posing that day. They’re pretty impressive due to size and color.


There were a couple of pennant dragonflies that were very colorful – the Halloween pennant and the Calico pennant. Both bright vivid bits of color that attract the eye.


And finally, here’s a male Twelve-spotted skimmer missing a wing, poor little thing. Most likely due to a close encounter with a predator. I’ve read that even with a damaged or missing wing they can still fly and find food. Obviously he wouldn’t be able to fly as well as an undamaged dragonfly.

And finally one last dragonfly I always find beautiful, the male Widow skimmer. Dramatically beautiful.


I would be quite remiss if I didn’t give you one last look at Chadwick Arboretum North and encourage you to go for a visit. It’s a beautiful, peaceful area right in the middle of Columbus. And it always provides new nature wonders to explore.


Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.

A Walk in the Woods

There’s nothing like a walk in the woods to bring things back into perspective. Sometimes I find myself contemplating too many “what ifs” and “what might be’s” and not focusing on the here-and-now. A walk in the woods can help realign what’s important and help one let go of those things that are simply out of one’s control.

My walk in the woods on this day brought some of the unusual and unexpected, like this Barred Owl. I think it was watching me as much as I was watching him (or her). It did surprise me that it was roosting in an area that had dense tree branches and leaves. Normally I would expect it to be in a dark shaded area with tall trees and a bit more open space, but perhaps he was en route to a better roosting area. The Barred Owl is one of eight types of owls found in Ohio, and its call is readily identified as “Who cooks for you.” The Barred Owl has a rounded head, dark eyes, yellow bill and rounded tail. Perhaps you’ll see one on your next walk in the woods.

The trail was primitive in that it wasn’t the typical gravel path that one finds in a lot of parks these days. It was what I would classify as a good trail to hike. There were areas with large trees and those with more thicket-like areas like the one below. It’s always a treasure to find a quiet spot with few people and lots of nature. It’s also cool on hot summer days.

A number of birds were scouting for food among the trees and shrubbery (and mostly eluding my camera) except for this Prothonotary warbler and Scarlet Tanager. Both of which just popped up on the trail in front of me. Little brilliant bits of bright color that one can’t ignore and wouldn’t want to.

I also came across one of the largest Sassafras trees I’ve ever seen. The leaves of the Sassafras look rather like the shape of a mitten. The bark is very dense and somewhat resembles a Black Walnut tree. I’ve seen lots of Sassafras trees in the past, but none that were nearly this large. It was impressive.

This year I’ve seen very little fungi on my walks. Perhaps because it’s been too dry lately? I did happen upon this vividly colorful one. iNaturalist seems to think this may be a Wax cap, but I’m not sure about that. Fungi identification isn’t my strong suit.

Out in a sunny area, I found even more colorful species like this Blue-fronted dancer and Black Swallowtail butterfly – both enjoying the sunshine. They’re beautiful creatures that can be fascinating to watch and very challenging to photograph.


This year I’ve noticed more milkweed than I can remember seeing in past years. They’re in fields, along roadsides and even in yards. It would be nice to think that people are planting more milkweed (or allowing it to grow) due to the awareness that we’ve lost a good percentage of our Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) in the past 20 years. The loss has occurred due to a number of things including breeding habitat loss and pesticide usage.

Douglas Tallamy’s latest book, Nature’s Best Hope, promotes the value of incorporating native plants in yards, regardless of yard size or even if it’s just a pot on the patio of an apartment.

A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard.

While I didn’t see a Monarch on milkweed this day, I did find bees and beetles on them, like these two guys hanging upside down. I loved the fact these two critters were similarly colored and were working side by side. Diverse, yet harmonious. I think we can learn from that.

Until next time, keep looking at nature up close.

A camping we will go…

Not sure what’s happening in your corner of the world these days, but Covid is raising its ugly head in Ohio with 19 counties on the “red” list, and the potential of more being added next week. Sometimes it’s hard to wrap my head around how to live life and still be cautious in this pandemic.

Our most recent effort involved taking a camper, canoe and hiking boots and heading to Alum Creek State Park. We could be self-contained with minimal exposure to others, while still enjoying the outdoors safely away from other people – and make us feel like we’re on vacation (or at least think we are). It’s not Michigan or Colorado, but it’s still pretty beautiful when you’re out paddling.

North of the state park is an area of low horsepower and no wake – a good thing if you’re in a canoe and don’t want ski boats to swamp you. It’s pretty peaceful there early in the morning with few boats of any kind. Native wildlife is always about. Like this turtle, which I believe is a Map turtle though I’m no turtle expert. It’s not a great photo, but I liked the reflection in the water.

Our paddle on our first day out took us near an Osprey nesting area, though we had to be content with taking photos from a great distance. Ospreys are in the hawk family and can live 15 to 20 years.

Most of the nests in the area seemed to have osprey on or near them. The ospreys were vocal but we were far enough away to not cause them concern. There’s a young chick just visible in the photo below.

Herons also abounded. Many times we had Great Blue Herons flying along with us as we explored the coves. They’re magnificent birds that always amaze me when I see them flying, though they have what I think of as “prehistorical” vocalizations when startled.

We also had two sightings of Green herons, though only one photo opportunity. Green herons are rather stocky-looking birds with yellow legs. They’re well known for hiding in bushes and branches. It was a very pleasant surprise to have one come out and pose.

TheCornellLab All About Birds web site (a great web site!) posted an “Amazing Fact” about Green herons that I hadn’t heard before (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Green_Heron/):

The Green Heron is one of the world’s few tool-using bird species. It often creates fishing lures with bread crusts, insects, and feathers, dropping them on the surface of the water to entice small fish.”

One day we were fortunate to have a couple of very dear friends come paddle with us. We explored a “finger lake” portion of the area that narrowed down quite a bit and challenged my paddling (and ducking of branches) skills. You would never know there is a pandemic when you’re out here. It’s a great escape I highly recommend.

This area is absolutely beautiful. You can take a picnic lunch along and chill out by the water. With nobody in sight. Peaceful. Quiet.

While paddling close to shore, we spotted a Prothonotary warbler as well as some Tree swallows that didn’t mind sharing the area with the “intruders” in the canoe. The warbler was much more interested in finding good things to eat.

Even though most of the creatures seen on this trip were in the bird category, we also saw a number of dragonflies and damselflies. Most were too elusive for photos, though one little Dancer (I think it may be a Blue-fronted dancer) did stick around for a bit. How could you not love a face like this little one has? This guy is less than 1.5 inches long; amazing!

I would be remiss if I didn’t thank my “Stern Master” (yes folks, he made that title up when I asked what the guy in the back of the canoe is called) and partner in adventures, my husband. Kudos for handling the canoe as still as possible so my photos weren’t fuzzy and out of focus.

So if you find life a bit too heavy at times, I can recommend a paddle on whatever quiet river or stream might be close to you. It doesn’t have to be somewhere distant or grand. Just a quiet corner where you’re away from others and you can watch nature around you. It’s good for the psyche and can put a smile on your face.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close. And stay safe.

Hanging around a pond…

As Covid continues to drag on with ever increasing numbers throughout the country, it’s cause for concern. It’s also a cause to find ways to give yourself a much-needed break from the news. Restoring your inner peace and balance is more important now than ever. I believe we need to fill our worlds with positive things – things that make you smile.

For me, that’s turning to nature and looking at the miraculous wonders that abound all around us. And asking questions, just like a three-year old, so we more fully see and understand what is right in front of us.

I visited a local pond not too long ago and came away with a new appreciation for dragonflies. Their colors are so amazing. Like the Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) below. The exquisiteness of those delicate wings. And the amazing compound eyes!

Dragonflies have huge eyes that are multi-faceted and allows them to see in all directions at the same time (except directly behind them). They have the largest compound eyes of any insect. And their legs have small spines which keep prey from struggling free once caught. And they’re very strong flyers with speeds some say up to 30 mph.

Dragonflies come in a multitude of colors, blue, green brown, orange, black and more. Here are a few more colorful ones. There’s a Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa) in the photo directly below. The green one is an Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis). The orange and black one is a Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina). The black and white one is a male Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) and the brown one is a female Widow Skimmer. As in nature, the females tend to have more muted colors.

Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa) dragonfly

Dragonflies aren’t the only things found hanging around ponds. Frogs have been pretty prolific this year. Here’s a big guy (who seemed to think he was well hidden) that was hanging out at the pond by our house, and another one blending in with the pond. (Not sure if that’s duckweed on the pond surface.) Our little pond has hosted quite a number of Northern Green frogs (Rana clamitans melanota), Eastern Gray Tree frogs (Hyla versicolor) and American Bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) this year so far. It’s quite a chorus at night.

Preserves are great places to spot nature at its best. There’s a terrific little one that’s called Boyer Nature Preserve in Westerville. It’s surrounded by houses and you wouldn’t know it’s there unless you look for it. It has three parking spots and a small gravel path leading to it. It’s more like a bog rather than a lake, but it does offer a bit of a boardwalk to get closer to the water. If you’re lucky to live nearby, it’s worth the visit.

Something totally unexpected here was the Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) tree. It’s near the back of the park, and easily identified (at least for me) by the cypress “knees” around it’s base. I always thought those were to help the tree get more oxygen when in water, but I’ve read that may not be the case. Some conjecture it could be for better stabilization in water, but it’s true purpose is unknown.

The Bald cypress tree is a deciduous conifer and loses its needle-like leaves in the fall, thus the “bald” name. It can live up to 600 years or more.

This was the first time I’ve ever seen the nut-like female cones of the tree. Each of the scales have four to five seeds. They do rather look like ornaments on a Christmas tree. Like I mentioned earlier, you never quite know what you’ll see when you’re hanging around a pond.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.