The Forest Floor

Some of the most magnificent artistic creations of nature can be found on the forest floor. Of course that sometimes means being down on hands and knees, camera close to the ground to capture something from an unusual angle.

One of the things I’ve been trying hard to do this summer is really observe what is around me, rather than just walking through life seeing what I expect to see. I miss so much of what nature has to offer when I forget to truly explore like a four-year-old.


Fungi fascinate me. Their unique shapes, colors and ability to pop up out of seemingly nowhere (and sometimes overnight) are amazing. Like this Amanita. It reminds me a bit of a dumbbell the way the bottom is of similar shape to the top. There are several hundred species of this type of fungi. Some are vivid colors or red or yellow.


These are Summer Oyster mushrooms. They are vividly brilliant white and look so delicate when seen from underneath. Their intricate gills remind me of an old fashioned silky pleated skirt. A true work of art, or at least to me it is.


But along with the beautiful and delicate also come what most would describe as a “standard” mushroom, but is really one of the most deadly ones in the forest – the Eastern North American Destroying Angel. Part of the universal veil on this mushroom can be seen at the bottom of it. A universal veil refers to a membrane covering on a fungi when it is starting to grow. As it grows, this breaks sometimes leaving bits on the top of the fungi and/or at the bottom, such as shown in this picture.

My take on fungi: DO NOT EAT MUSHROOMS FOUND IN THE WILD. Even experts in the field have been fooled by fungi that look similar to other edible ones. I just admire them and buy my mushrooms from the grocery store.


But the forest floor isn’t all about fungi. It’s a wonderful world to explore, with new trails around every corner. Who wouldn’t want to find themselves on this boardwalk on a cool summer morning. Doesn’t it look inviting?


Or on this magnificent trail…where birds, chipmunks and squirrels keep you company. Where troubles and worries seem to cease to exist, and it’s just you and the forest. The sound of leaves rustle gently in the trees. And peace surrounds you.


And flowers, of course, like this little yellow jewel. I believe it’s a Woodland Sunflower but not positive. This group of wildflowers always keep me guessing, but I so admire their beauty and ability to thrive in all types of circumstances.


But look closer, and you will see the tiny little bug that likes this flower. This little one is in the Geron genus, but I couldn’t identify it beyond that due to the poor photo quality (and inexperience identifying bugs). The bug capture was pure accident, but it just goes to show when you take a photo you sometimes never quite realize what you’re actually getting.


And sometimes you just get lucky and manage a quick photo of something you happen upon, like this Green heron. There were somewhere between six to eight Green Herons in this small wetland area just off a very-little used trail in Blackhand Gorge state nature preserve. They were not very happy that we were sharing their wetland area, so we quietly observed and left them to their day.


Sometimes when I’m hiking I find beauty in things most would probably consider very unconventional, like the moss-covered roots of this tree. So many shades of vivid green and roots that stretch out across the ground like fingers holding onto the earth. Rather artistic. Mother Nature should be proud of this one.

Perhaps next time you find yourself in the woods, you’ll take a look around. Admire the beauty there and be sure to look at what great works of art you can find on the forest floor.

Nature at our Doorstep

I’m finding after months of hearing way too much news about Covid that I’m a bit on edge and desperately searching for avenues of normalcy. But, as always, I make sure I have a mask in my pocket when I walk out the door of the house with camera in hand.

In an effort to explore further afield, I’ve been trying to include a weekly “day trip” to different nature preserves. It feels a bit like a mini-vacation and provides the fun of exploring new areas while staying away from news headlines. That’s a win-win in my book.


There’s a terrific 200-acre old-growth forest in north eastern Ohio in Wayne County called Johnson Woods Nature Preserve. Some trees are said to be 400 years old. Signage states “Johnson Woods appears to be the largest and best old-growth woods found in Ohio.” And I would agree with them. My photos do not do it justice.

Upon entering the forest and walking on the 1 1/2 mile boardwalk trail, we were greeted by newly fledged Eastern Wood-Pewees being fed by a parent. Cute little guys that couldn’t quite fly straight nor land on a branch without wobbling a bit. But they’ll learn.


Eastern Gray Squirrels were plentiful, including black ones. I always thought the black ones were a separate breed, but found otherwise. Smithsonian says they’re a result of interbreeding between gray and fox squirrels which results in a faulty gene giving them their black color. According to Wikipedia, this occurs in less than 1% of gray squirrels. Some say the black squirrels are more aggressive and territorial.

The boardwalk is quite an accomplishment all by itself. The woods looks like it could be quite wet in the spring, so this would be the only way visit and maintain dry feet. More than 60 species of wildflowers have been documented here in the spring. Cardinal flowers were blooming quite well this past week and close enough to the boardwalk to get a picture.


While you’re in this area, it’s well worth a trip to Barnes Preserve as well. It’s a nature park that is very close by. While it also offers walks through a woods, it’s the flowering meadows, vernal pool and pond that attract the eye here. And very few visitors. Makes one feel like it’s your own private nature preserve!


Follow the trail through the meadow and down a wood-chip path to this glorious little pond. A wonderful place to contemplate the world – or just watch nature around you and absorb the peaceful setting. Like the mother mallard duck with her 8 nearly-full-grown babies following her every move through the pond. Or watch the Azure Bluet damselfly or Widow Skimmer dragonfly flit about the pond and grasses.

The wildflower meadow there is spectacular. Blue vervain was growing in magnificent patches, along with milkweed which was attracting many butterflies like this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.


Also in the meadow was what I think is a Rosepink. It’s a beautiful flower that has the most magnificent color. It’s a biennial which flowers in its second year and grows up to three foot tall. It’s common to the eastern United States, but it’s a new one for me. Looks like Mother Nature got out her water color paints to do this one.

Tucked into a corner of the woods was a little wetland pond that had been built as a class science project. It was shallow enough to attract quite a number of frogs as well as the most beautiful red Meadowhawk dragonfly. I thought perhaps it was a Ruby Meadowhawk (a new one for me), but I later learned that this dragonfly is very difficult to identify unless you have it in hand, and even then it’s not a sure thing. Oh well, a girl can dream…


I hope you’ve enjoyed the travels through these preserves. There’s so many wonderful things in nature to observe and explore. And it may be even closer than you think.

I can highly recommend a day trip to a preserve to give you a new perspective and appreciation of nature. It’s a great way to let go of problems and worries and ground oneself to what really matters. Nature doesn’t seem to be one bit bothered by Covid. Stay safe.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.

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 (

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.

Beauty with Wings

Beauty comes in many forms. Nature has a whole pallet of colors, sizes and shapes to capture the eye and the imagination. For me this week, beauty came in on wings.

I’m seeing more green sweat bees (Augochloropsis) right now, though I can’t identify the species beyond the genus. They’re a brilliant metallic looking bee with about 140 different species. I’m working on bee identification, but it’s been a slow process.

An Andrena mining bee also favored the ox-eye daisies (see photo below). Andrena‘s are ground nesting solitary bees. In the past, I thought any bee nesting in the ground was a hornet/yellow jacket and out to sting me. Not so. Actually about 70% of our wild bees are ground nesting and most are not aggressive at all.

The bee life cycle is actually pretty interesting and is similar to the four stages of the monarch butterfly – egg, larva, pupa, adult.

Ground nesting bees emerge from their pupae in the spring, mate and then look for appropriate nesting burrows, preferring a sandy soil. They will create a small tunnel which will contain several individual nest cells which are sealed off from each other. How they are sealed off varies depending upon the type of bee. Mason bees (Osmia) seal with mud. Leaf-cutter bees (Megachile) use round pieces of leaves. Cellophane/polyester bees (Colletes) create their own cellophane-like material to seal the nest cell.

Each cell will contain a small ball of pollen and nectar upon which the bee will lay one egg. The egg will develop into a larva usually a few days after being laid. The larva feeds from the pollen/nectar ball, and after about five molts (instars), they enter a prepupal stage which could last all summer and winter before emerging as an adult bee. This is a generalization of the bee life cycle; there are always exceptions.

[The above information about bees came predominantly from The Bees In Your Backyard, Joseph S Wilson & Olivia Messinger Carrill. This book is an excellent reference filled with remarkable photos and fascinating facts about bees. I highly recommend it!]

On some of my hikes, I’ve had the good luck of capturing a few photos of damselflies. They’re colorful little insects that move rather rapidly, making photography quite a challenge. But I always admire their beauty. The photo below is of a male Eastern Forktail (Ischnura verticalis). This little guy was sitting on the edge of a wooden planter. The board it is sitting on is about an inch wide.

Here’s a pretty little Stream Bluet (Enallagma exsulans) below. Bluets are a very difficult damselfly to identify down to species level. And they’re small – less than 1.5 inches long. Bluets tend to stay near the edges of water and hide in grasses to avoid being eaten by larger damselflies, dragonflies or birds. If you walk slowly by, they will move and better enable you to spot them. I’ve read that female Bluets can be blue, orange or green.

Last evening I wandered by our little pond on the off chance of seeing a damselfly and I hit the mother load! There were probably a couple dozen on the edge of the pond and several were engaged with females which were laying eggs in the water. The two damselflies in the photo below are Familiar Bluets (Enallagma civile). The female was just about to deposit eggs within the plant stem just below the surface of the water. Their shadows were reflected in the water. I’m afraid I didn’t have a fast enough camera speed to capture the moving wings of the male (the blue one).

The photo below shows a female depositing eggs while other males are nearby. There were quite a few Bluets all around this area with at least three females depositing eggs.

I’ve not had much luck photographing dragonflies, which have much larger, stouter looking bodies and eyes that nearly touch. Dragonflies extend their wings at rest and make for great photographs (while damselflies fold their wings back over their bodies). The Midland Clubtail (Gomphurus fraternus) dragonfly in the photo below is a little more than 2 inches long, with green/yellow coloring. Midland Clubtails are known to be strong flyers and good hunters.

And speaking of good hunters, I encountered an American Robin which was viciously shaking something white. I thought at first it was a piece of trash, but realized later it was a white moth – probably lunch for the bird. The food cycle continues.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.

A Little Bit of Everything

I love writing this blog. I strive to have eye-catching photos with interesting facts about nature you may not have heard before. Or if you did know it, it still brings a smile to the face and some sunshine to your world.

My hikes and walk abouts have been numerous lately. I’ve visited creeks, trails and woodlands – all within the general vicinity, but little patches of paradise none the less.

I’m taking a course on pollinators in Ohio, so I’m always on the lookout for wild bees (non-honey bees). Ohio has about 500 species of wild bees and about 70% of those are ground nesting solitary bees. And predominantly non-aggressive. Here’s a cute little green metallic sweat bee which I believe may be Augochlora in the Halictidae family. It’s photographed on fleabane so you get an idea of how small it really is.

I’m learning to appreciate the intricacies of dragonflies and damselflies. They’re amazingly beautiful. Look at this female Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia). These dragonflies fly over ponds, marshes, and slow-moving rivers looking for insects. Lucky for me they like to land on objects near the water and sit with wings outstretched. Makes for a better photo.

I’ve been seeing a tremendous number of Ebony jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata) damselflies. They can be found near streams and in wet areas but also further away from water. They are the most common type of damselfly you will see in the area. On a recent hike, I saw more than two dozen in a relatively small area by a stream. Males are an almost metallic blue with black wings. Very striking. Females are more brown with a white spot at the end of their wings. Just look at those eyes…aren’t they beautiful?

They eat bugs and gnats and (according to Wikipedia) they also eat six-spotted tiger beetles (Cicindela sexguttata) – those metallic green bugs you may have seen flying around or crawling on dirt paths and trails (shown pictured below). I’ve read their color and preference for certain types of ecosystems make them popular for ecological studies (ref: Indiana Department of Natural Resources).

Sometimes you find things you don’t expect to see. I was photographing a purple rocket (Iodanthus pinnatifidus) blossom when I noticed the photo contained more than just the petals of the flower. I’m not a spider person, but this one was pretty cool looking. It’s in the Tetragnatha family and is sometimes called a stretch spider. It’s usually found near water and can hide very well in plain sight as this photo shows. It’s also called a longjawed orbweaver.

Along with the creepy, crawly things I’ve encountered, I’ve also had the good fortune to be at the right place at the right time to capture some poses of a Prothonotary warbler. It loves being near the water and nests in dead trees and nest boxes. We’re lucky here to have one of the best viewing sights for Prothonotary warblers in central Ohio. This warbler has been banded, though I’m not sure of the significance of this specific blue band as the photo isn’t clear enough to determine letters and/or numbers for identification.

With all the rain we’ve had recently, it’s brought out fungi. I have a tough time identifying some of it, and these photos are no exception. But this one reminds me of the old-fashioned pleated skirt I used to wear as a kid. And that makes me smile, so that’s why it’s included here.

And finally, I would be remiss if I wrote a blog that talked about being near water and didn’t include one of my favorites – the Great Blue Heron. This week I happened upon six of them playing in the stream. A couple of them kept a close eye on me, while the others continued fishing and splashing, content to allow me to observe from a distance…sharing the beauty of nature together. Peacefully. And that’s rather nice.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close. And spread kindness.

A Walk About

I find myself doing lots of walks these days, camera in hand and in search of some natural area that can show me new things of interest. I’m very lucky to have the Big Walnut Creek close by. It’s a quiet little stream fishermen like, but I usually go well beyond the convenient “fishing holes” when I explore. It’s a beautiful little piece of nature.

Birds love it here. It’s common to hear Yellow warblers, Baltimore Orioles, and the raucous sounds of Great Blue Herons (when they’re disturbed). Plenty of dead trees offer cavities providing feeding and nesting opportunities for woodpeckers like this Red-bellied.

I was fortunate enough to get a photo of a Myrtle warbler, a subspecies of the Yellow-rumped warbler. Warblers are difficult to get photos of unless you have a good birding camera (and sometimes even then it’s tough). My Lumix FZ300 fits my basic needs, but unfortunately doesn’t make for really crisp bird pics. While warblers may not pose for me, American Robins and Gray Catbirds aren’t nearly so camera shy.

One of the flowering blooms I’m seeing almost everywhere is Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronlis). It’s quite beautiful with purple, lavender and white blooms – some even striped. It grows to about 1.5 to 3 feet tall, has four petals and alternate leaves. Some people confuse this plant with Phlox, which has five petals and opposite leaves. Dame’s Rocket is actually not a wildflower and is an invasive plant in Ohio. It’s considered a biennial, is a native of Eurasia and produces seeds prolifically. One of the photos below sports an insect (of undetermined type).

One invasive plant that is blooming profusely right now is bush honeysuckle. It can grow up to 20+ feet tall and smothers out wildflowers and native plants. There are many types of bush honeysuckles, but the most common invasive ones in Ohio are Amur (Lonicera maacki), Morrow’s (Lonicera morrowi) and Tartarian (Lonicera tatarica) honeysuckle. Tartarian typically has a pink to deep red bloom while the others are white to a creamy yellow.

While the blooms can be beautiful, invasive honeysuckle is a very difficult plant to eradicate. It can be pulled by its roots when very small. If it’s a larger plant, unfortunately it almost always requires some type of herbicide.

Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) is also a very invasive bush that is blooming right now. The blooms are very sweet smelling. It has a leaf that has a silvery looking underside. This invasive can grow to 20 feet tall and also smothers out native plants and wildflowers.

Now it’s time to move onto a beautiful blooming plant that is NOT invasive – the Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra). It’s a member of the Horse Chestnut family. It’s greenish yellow blooms are beautiful right now. And when you look at the blooms up close, the colors are amazing. This plant can grow up to 70 feet tall and prefers moist wet soil like what is found in ravines. It’s one of the first trees to leaf out in the spring. And it produces the buckeyes we use to make Buckeye necklaces. O-H-I-O!

And now I just had to include a photo of a Meadow Fritillary (Boloria bellona) just because it’s one of the first butterflies I’ve had the opportunity to photograph this spring. This one is pretty small, as that purple flower beside it is a violet.

Hopefully we will see more sunny days that will encourage these beautiful winged wonders to come out and play.

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

Seeing “what is”

I’m sure we’ve probably all read something about the importance of living in the present – not ruminating about past mistakes or worrying about the future (or Covid, our finances, paying bills, or…) But if you’re anything like me, sometimes it’s easy to say and not so easy to do.

What I’m learning is that regardless of what’s happening around me it’s important to stop asking the “what ifs” and see “what is.” Nature is my go-to escape, whether it’s crawling around on the ground to get the right view of a flower or trying to get a photo of the elusive bird in the tree (always hoping it’s a colorful migrating warbler, of course).

Oh, I’m not saying this is a solution to removing life’s cares and worries, but I am saying that looking closer at things around us can give us a much-needed reprieve. It can put a smile on the face. It can help us appreciate all the beautiful things that nature offers for free. Like wildflowers and fungi…

Wildflowers are colorful – brilliant white, pink, blue, violet, sunshine yellow and deep burgundy, And the good thing is, you don’t have to plant them, weed them or care for them. Just take a walk in the woods and see what you find.

Some of these beautiful wonders bloom a relatively short time and then disappear when tree leaves shade them. They’re spring ephemerals. Purple Cress, Toadshade, False Rue Anemone, Violets and Wild Geranium are just some of what you might find.

Dutchmens Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) have been pretty prolific along bike trails and are carpeting some woodlands. They’re pretty little things, and when you look at the flower closely, you can easily see how they got their name. Kinda looks like little britches, don’t you think?

Surprisingly it’s been the white flowers and blooms that have been catching my attention of late. Violets seem to be blooming more profusely than I ever remember in the past, plus Large White trillium, Rue Anemone, Dogwoods, and Speedwell (Thyme-leaved? or Slender Speedwell? Not sure).

Woodland areas have a special appeal. There’s just something peaceful about being in a woods with few (if any) people around. I especially enjoy searching out fungi. Like this Cracked Cap Polypore (Phellinus robiniae). It’s a perennial and it typically grows on Locust trees. It grows a new polypore surface on the underside every year. It can be found on both living and dead Locust trees.

Here’s a pretty cool fungi called Devils Urn (Urnula craterium). It appears in the spring (March to May) and grows on fallen wood that is partially embedded in the ground. It can grow singly or in a small cluster. And it’s very easy to miss.

Dryad’s saddle (Cerioporus squamosus) can be found quite readily on dead logs or tree stumps. It decomposes logs but can also be a parasite on living trees as well. It has a thick stem and the fungi can grow to be up to 20 inches across. The underside has pores that are actually made up of tubes, some of which can be nearly 1/2 inch in length.

Here’s another interesting fungi, the Hexagonal-pored polypore (Polyporus alveolaris). They’re pretty cool looking as well. They can be orange to tan in color and are fan-shaped. Their underside pores are six-sided and look rather like a honeycomb when you look at them closely. It’s not easy to get photos of the underside without destroying the fungi.

The Split Gill fungus (Schizophyllum commune) is a beautiful one I rarely see. It attaches to dead wood like a bracket fungi but has a white, hairy looking top and gill-like folds from a central point underneath. According to Wikipedia, “it is the only known fungi capable of retracting by movement.” Perhaps that refers to the fact that it shrivels when dry and revives when wet? Not sure… I wonder if they have “bad hair” days?

And one last fungi photo to share with you is what I believe to be Witches Butter (Tremella mesenterica). It’s somewhat similar in look to Orange Jelly (Dacrymyces palmatus) but Orange Jelly fungus grows on conifer logs and stumps, and Witches Butter grows on hardwoods. At least I think that branch is a hardwood.

I hope some of my photos and wanderings have taken your mind off your worries and put a smile or two on your face, at least for a short time. There’s some pretty cool stuff out there to explore. Nature has so much to offer us. So next time when your shoulders feel weighted down a bit, I hope you grab your hiking shoes and go out to explore. You never know what you might see.

Great Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

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