A New Appreciation

My favorite season of the year is Spring. Always has been. Primarily because I am always so in awe of the new little leaves on the trees and the promise of spring wildflowers popping through the ground, especially after living with bare tree branches and cold Winter weather.

But I moved into the Fall this year with an amazing new respect for the season. In the past I’ve seen it as the beginning of Winter, wherein I dread the cold weather and have a feeling that everything has died. But this year, for the first time in my life, I truly embraced Fall. I really reached out and was amazed to find a new appreciation for the glorious color and splendor all around me.

And as much as I hate to admit it, I think it’s a side effect of the Covid pandemic, wherein you realize how important it is to appreciate each day. I know everyone always says to try to find the positive side of everything, but I think in this case, the positive side found me!

Just look at this photo. It’s of a rail trail (the Ohio to Erie Trail in central Ohio). It’s probably much like a trail you have in your area – perhaps in a local park, or in a neighborhood – but it’s absolutely glorious in the Fall! I’m so shocked that I’ve never appreciated this in the past.

I went on a hike at Boch Hollow state nature preserve earlier this week with friends. The colors in southern Ohio weren’t yet at their peak, but it still supplied yet another amazing Fall experience.

PHOTO CREDIT: Robert Papps

This scene mesmerized me. It was as if God had flipped on the light switch and illuminated the forest. There weren’t the vivid oranges and reds that maple trees provide, but it had an appeal all its own. It was primarily a beech/oak area of the woods with steep ravines and beautiful golden leaves gently filtering down to the forest floor. Quiet. Peaceful. The rest of the world just didn’t exist. No politics. No news updates. Just you, and the earth and the realization that it really is possible (at least for a time) to let go of all the “stuff” that bogs down our lives. And just be.

Of course we always have a few creatures to keep us company on any hike. Little friends whose primary goal this fall may be to build up their food supplies to survive the winter. This little guy (or gal?) blended well into the background. He was as curious about us as we were about him. Usually chipmunks don’t stick around long before they sprint off to find their hidey hole for protection. This guy was the exception.

While this wasn’t a bird watching trip, we were able to capture a photo or two of a White-throated sparrow hiding in the brush. I’ve never had much appreciation for sparrows in the past. I guess I’ve seen them as rather non-descript brown birds that weren’t nearly as appealing as warblers in the Spring. But I don’t see how I could have overlooked this little beauty with it’s spots of yellow, black head stripes and brilliant white throat. Another new appreciation I guess.

One thing I’ve learned to appreciate this Fall is when I see something suddenly illuminated by sunlight. Almost like (just like the earlier forest scene in this blog) a light switch is turned on and a spotlight focuses on something in an extraordinary way. I thought I’d share one of these with you.


This is Turkey Tail. The sun just beamed down on this one specific thing for a very short time, while all around it, the area stayed dark. Like someone was saying “just LOOK at this!” And you don’t have a choice but look and admire. Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) is a polypore mushroom and if you haven’t seen this before, you’re in for a treat, because this little jewel comes in many, many colors. They can be shades of brown, tan, gray, black, green, tinged in purple… and I’ve yet to read exactly why they are the colors they are. Oh I suppose there has to be research out there somewhere that explains it, but I haven’t read it yet. Maybe a reader of this blog will share that with me sometime.

And I can’t end this blog without offering another mesmerizing photo of Fall. This one is from a trail close by. It offers a little glimpse of the stream below (which is very low right now), as well as the beautiful colors of the tree canopy above the trail. It’s an absolute pleasure to walk there.

I hope you take the time to fully embrace the colors of Fall and, like me, learn to appreciate its beauty every single day. May your path be lined with the many wonders nature provides.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.

A Walk in the Meadow

I’ve done quite a lot of walking this year, partly due to Covid and partly to seek the beauty that surrounds me every day. Many times those walks have led me to the woods. There’s just something so appealing about walking through towering trees and realizing the history that must have been occurring when they were just saplings. But also I’ve found meadows can be just as appealing in a very different way.

Like this pollinator meadow at Caesar Creek State Park. This view made me stop in my tracks to admire it’s magnificent color. Quiet. Calm. Peaceful. The bees loved it. And so did I.

Not too long ago I visited Wolf Run Regional Park which is just east of Mt. Vernon, Ohio. It’s on about 288 acres with 10 miles of trail that lead through woodland, open field and meadow – quite a nice combination. The sun was shining the day I visited though most of summer’s wildflowers were winding down.

Big blue stem and Indian grass were scattered about the area, but my eye was caught more often by the handful of wildflowers that were still blooming, like Gray-headed Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata). They were still hanging in there producing just a few more blooms. It’s the end of the season, but it’s encouraging to know these are perennials and they will be blooming here again next year.

But not to worry, some birds (like this sparrow) enjoy those Gray-headed Coneflower seeds immensely. The birds are probably very pleased these flower heads have dried.

Many times I don’t know the name of something I find fascinating. But that’s okay too because I find when I’m just strictly focused on naming something I may not really SEE the beauty before me. Here’s an example. I’m not sure what this flowering plant is, but take a good look at the close up photo. See the water droplets on it sparkling like little pearls? Isn’t that stunning?

And here’s a little treasure I nearly walked on. A small wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), blooming in the grass near the edge of the trail. A gift of nature waiting to be seen and admired.

Fall is a wonderful time to enjoy the many types of asters, milkweed and goldenrod. Did you realize there are more than 20 species of goldenrod in Ohio? I feel guilty in admitting I didn’t have a clue until now. The Cleveland Museum of Natural History has a fantastic field guide, Goldenrods of Northeast Ohio, that does an exceptional job of identification and includes a dichotomous key to assist (https://www.cmnh.org/goldenrods).

Here’s another member of the aster family that is one of my favorites, Ironweed (Veronia). It can be about 6 foot tall or more and has the most brilliant purple flowers. You’ll see it in many fields this time of year. It’s a wonderful source of nectar for butterflies and bees.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a walk in the meadow with me. Exploring a meadow in the early morning when the temperature is crisp, there’s few people about and there’s glistening dew sparkling on the flowers – you just can’t beat that. I hope you find time to explore a meadow soon.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.

Boch Hollow State Nature Preserve

In a small rural area near Bremen in southeastern Ohio, tucked away into the rolling curvy roads, you will find Boch Hollow State Nature Preserve. It’s located on about 600 acres and features a small pond within a mile of the trail head and seven miles of magnificent hiking trails through wooded areas, ridges and riparian corridors. And if you visit on a weekday, you will most likely find next to no one there.

I was amazed by the large number of Poplar trees there, along with Red and White Oaks. Big, beautiful, massive trees that have undoubtedly seen a lot of history over their lifetimes. Impressive in stature.

The trails are fairly narrow once you get through the initial mowed path leading to the pond, but it’s well well defined and easy to follow. The trails hug the hillsides and encourage you to venture further into the preserve.

I feel remiss for not including a photo of the pond, but when we were there a young couple were enjoying a swim and had sufficed with underwear as swimming garments. Not a good thing to take a photo in this situation.

The topography was interesting, making me wish I knew more about geology that I do, so the best thing I can offer is a photo. This rock formation reminded me of the helm of a big ship. Appropriate given its size. It’s even larger than it looks in this photo.

There was quite a variety of fungi on the forest floor. I find these creations of nature so wonderful. I mean how can you look at these things and not be amazed by them? How do they form? Why are they the colors they are? Why are they in such different shapes? How do the delicate gills form beneath? All are mysteries to me.


Okay…enough of the fungi.

Let me share with you something very special we came upon around one bend of the trail…a small little cemetery dating back to the 1800s. Forgotten. Neglected. Distant relatives undoubtedly long gone.

The tombstones were very difficult (and in some cases impossible) to read, although one appeared to be a young son who died April 1, 1815 at the age of 5 months. Two other readable death dates on a couple of the stones were 1836 and 1840. It was sad to see. It made me wonder what their life stories were and how they came to be in this part of Ohio. Ohio became a state in 1803 but it was still a very young state at that point. I did some Google searching but could find nothing further about this cemetery.

I’ll leave you with one last look at the beautiful trail through Boch Hollow nature preserve. If you find yourself looking for a great hike, I can recommend this one. Very few visitors during the week and a great place to explore nature.

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.

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┬ásimplicicollis). 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 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.

“…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.