Hiking down a different path

We’re probably like a lot of people right now, trying to find outdoor activities to keep us active in cold weather yet still keep away from crowded parks. That can be a challenge. The Ohio state nature preserves usually work quite well, and we’ve been visiting quite a few of these lately. But today our destination was to walk part of the bike trail west of Gambier. It’s a pretty trail. Quite scenic. But that’s not what we actually explored…

Just off the trail, past the first bridge over the Kokosing River, was a dirt path leading through the woods and beside the river. Interesting. Thankfully it was an invitation we did not ignore. And that was an excellent decision, as this was our introduction to the 500-acre Brown Family Environmental Center. Until now, I’d never heard of it.

The trail followed the river and offered benches that would have been inviting on warmer days. Huge Sycamores lined a portion of the waterway, no doubt loving the wet low ground.

Along the way we saw a few trees that still had green leaves, which was surprising. It’s December. Leaves should have already fallen or at least be brown and dried by now, like on Red Oaks or Beech trees which retain their leaves. These were green. What’s up?

These were not the leaves of a tree. It was Oriental Bittersweet vines (an invasive) that had wrapped around the tree and was prolific enough to resemble tree leaves at first glance. Luckily someone had recently cut the 3″ thick vine near the base of the tree. Hopefully this tree will live to see another year because an environmentally conscious person recognized the destruction vines pose to trees.

The Kokosing River is 57 miles long. It’s watershed is 435 square miles covering a good portion of Knox county as well as parts of Morrow, Richland, Ashland and Coshocton counties. If you’re near in the summer, you’ll undoubtedly see kayakers floating peacefully along this State scenic waterway. The trail we were on continued along this river and then made a turn to cross the Kokosing bike path and lead upward into the woods.

The woods was moss-covered with varying shades of green throughout the area. At this time of year, one might think it’s pretty gray outside, but this woods proves different. Like the colors found on this decaying log and at the base of the beech tree. What I believe are puff balls are at the tree’s base, though they have undoubtedly seen their better days.

Ferns covered the north-facing hillsides which are typically more shaded and provide moisture for these plants which grow in colonies. In the fall, ferns reproduce via spores which are so small they can’t be seen by the naked eye. However, some spores are encapsulated within something called “sori” which can be seen on the underside of the frond. I’m not sure how many species of fern call Ohio home, although I’ve read Wakeena state nature preserve in Fairfield county is home to 29 of them.

There was an interesting building at the Brown Family Environmental Center closer to the administrative building. It appeared to be used for storage. It had a stone base with some type of concrete or stucco wall. There were tiny cylindrical windows which were oddly shaped and not flat. Upon closer inspection these turned out to be bottles that had been incorporated into the walls. Pretty creative!

Within the woods is a pine plantation which was planted in 1991 by the biology faculty at Kenyon College. The area was used for student research to look at relationships between growth rates and tree spacing. The trails were softly carpeted with pine needles and you could hear the gentle breeze in the branches overhead.

But the trails were not all within the forest. A huge prairie meadow was in the lowland and was home to many types of wildflowers and native grasses. The prairie is maintained by annual spring burns which discourage tree growth – a necessary thing to do to maintain prairie.

On the return to the parking lot we took one last look at the Kokosing River beneath the bridge and found what we believe is a type of liverwort growing on the wet stone abutment. I believe it’s in the genus Conocephalum, but am unsure of species. Regardless, it’s an interesting looking plant when viewed up close. I’ve read that this plant is reproduced by spores and is somewhat similar to mosses as it is non-vascular.

From here we took the car to a parking area on the northside of the Environmental Center just off New Gambier Road. The trails here were quite different from what we had encountered so far. The forest area embraced Wolf Run stream and contained beautiful large White Oaks. The trails climbed ridges and followed the stream in the low land. Some of the wetter areas had recently had boardwalks installed. It was so new the boards didn’t show signs of weathering as yet.

The trails were quite pleasant with footbridges over Wolf Run which meandered through the area. As we walked, we encountered not a single soul unless you count the squirrels. It was like having our own private park.

One spur trail climbed a hillside and descended to a small pond. On the way up we encountered this huge White oak which overlooked the pasture. Quite stately looking and regal. Much larger than any tree in the vicinity. Not sure how old this tree must be but you can estimate it’s size by comparing it to the metal gates beside it. It was impressive.

We didn’t hike all the trails on this day but we easily had about 8 miles that we explored. I would imagine this area would offer great wildflowers and migrating birds in the spring. The terrain would suggest so. If you’re looking for a good area to hike that offers diversity and very few people, this is it!

A copy of the trail map is below. Additional information can be found at: https://www.kenyon.edu/campus-life/sustainability-green-initiatives/brown-family-environmental-center/ Go exploring. It’s well worth the drive.

BROWN FAMILY ENVIRONMENTAL CENTER at Kenyon College

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.

Bee amazing

This has been an unusual year for everyone. One of the things I’ve gravitated to has been learning online about nature, as well as experiencing it outside.

This fall I participated in a 5-week online class about bees in the eastern United States. Now I’m probably like many of you, and at the mention of bees I instantly thought of honeybees and the nasty stings of yellow jackets. But the Eastern Bees 101 class offered by The Ohio State University Extension office has changed my mind. Completely.

Bees are pretty amazing creatures! Let’s look at the bumble bee as an example.

Isn’t she beautiful? This is a Bombus fervidus or a female Golden Northern bumble bee. This is one you don’t see nearly as often as the Common Eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) which is prevalent here in Ohio. Look at how “golden” she is. Her abdomen is yellow on the first four (tergal) segments with just the last two being black. A Common Eastern bumble bee would have just the first abdomen segment that is yellow. In the photos below you can easily count those segments.

And she has a unique black “stripe” across the top of her thorax (the middle part of her body where her wings attach).

Bumble bees live a year or less, depending upon whether they are male, female workers or the queen. They are primitively eusocial, that is…partly social and partly solitary. Their life cycle explains this.

A fertilized queen will emerge from underground in April to early May. She will be by herself. She will feed on pollen and nectar after her winter “nap” and will frequently be seen flying close to the ground looking for a good place for a new nest. She then starts a nest and lays eggs – all daughters. The eggs will quickly turn into larvae, which the queen provisions with pollen and nectar so they may become bumble bees.

Once the daughters go from larva to bumble bee, they are able to forage for food for the nest, and the queen stays in the nest and lays successive generations of eggs. She will lay anywhere from 50 to 300 eggs over the summer (depending on the species of bumble bee).

Queens have the ability to determine whether their eggs will be male or female. In late summer she produces what will be future queens and males. Males will find mates from different colonies and the new queens will mate with males from other colonies. At this point the hardworking daughters in the colony will die, as will the old queen and the males.

Newly mated queens will find a hibernaculum (a place to hibernate for the winter). And next spring the cycle will start all over again.

There is so many interesting things about bees – such as how they carry pollen and nectar, which is different for different bee species. A female bumble bee has what is called a “corbicula.” It’s a smooth indentation in the upper part of their hind leg that is slightly concave. This allows them to carry a mixture of pollen and nectar back to the nest.

The photo below is of a female Common Eastern bumble bee. If you look closely at the leg you can see a slight bit of yellow on the corbicula. Only bumble bees and honeybees have a corbicula. Other bee species may transport pollen on the underside of their abdomen, or on their hairy legs or even eat it and regurgitate it to their young. It varies based upon the type of bee.

I was fortunate enough this summer to be at Clear Creek Metro Park and see a bumble bee “warming up” on a flower. Bumble bees have this unique ability to disengage their wings and operate their flight muscles in order to warm their bodies. Sort of like how we shiver. Bumble bees need to have a body temperature of at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit in order to fly. I’m only sorry I wasn’t able to get a good photo of this to share with you.

And one final item you might find interesting…if you look carefully in the early fall, you just might see some of those male bumble bees “sleeping” on flowers in the early morning hours because once they initially leave the nest, they never return to it. If you ever see a bumble bee “sleeping” on a flower, you can be assured it will, in all likelihood, be a male.

Bumble bees are really pretty docile and aren’t aggressive (unless you threaten them or their nest). The photos in this blog were obtained not by a zoom lens but rather by getting my camera close without being threatening.

I hope the next time you see a bumble bee, you take a minute to look more closely. They’re really very beautiful and interesting creatures.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.

Sheldon Marsh

Exploring nature preserves is a great way to banish “Covid fatigue.” It’s like a mini vacation wrapped up in a single day and provides a bit of exercise, fresh air and restores the spirit. I can highly recommend it.

This week we packed our hiking boots, a snack, water and drove an hour or so (on as many backroads as possible) to explore Sheldon Marsh state nature preserve near Lake Erie in Ohio. It’s offers about 470 acres, is home to 300 species of birds and is a well-known place for quite a number of wildflowers in the spring.

SHELDON MARSH

But it’s not all marshy, by any means. Even at the end of October the leaf colors are beautiful, though a bit past their prime.

The Preserve offers some wide straight, wide trails directly to the beach area, but I would suggest following the woods trail instead. It meanders through the trees and provides great views of the marsh and the creatures that live there.

According to signage, the Marsh has hundreds of turtles that bask along the shoreline including Midland painted turtles, snapping turtles and the Blandings turtle (Emys blandingii or Emydoidea blandingii). According to Wikipedia, Blandings turtles are an endangered species in some areas of the eastern U.S. and Canada, can reproduce for 80 to 90 years and show little or no common signs of aging. Wow! That’s a turtle I would like to see.

Unfortunately on this day there was little if any sun so it wasn’t conducive to those basking turtles (which is why I plan to come back).

This area is very attractive to ducks and shore birds. On this day we saw Wood ducks, Mallards. Gadwells, Canada geese, cormorants and Great Blue Herons. I have a few photos to share of these, but the zoom on my FZ300 wasn’t quite up to it, as the ducks/geese were quite a distance away.

GREAT BLUE HERON (forefront) and WOOD DUCKS (rear)

We also ran into a pretty aggressive groundhog. Now before you start laughing (I did too when a fellow visitor first warned me), take a look at the photos. They just might change your mind.

NORMAL GROUNDHOG, RIGHT? NOT!

Now normally groundhogs are pretty timid. They run away when they see a human. Not this guy! He would look at you, then come out onto the trail and face you like he was taking a stance. If you moved, he moved to face you and showed some teeth. He didn’t act rabid; he just acted old and mean like we were on his turf – which we were I suppose. Poor guy.

But that didn’t stop us from sliding around him to get to the Lake. It was a bit windy on this day and quite choppy. The gray/blue skies blended well with the icy gray color of the lake. The wind was quite loud in the tree branches and leaves along the shoreline.

Very near the water in some shrubby areas was a Yellow-Rumped warbler flitting about. They DO move quickly. I was surprised I could get any photos at all.

This is a barrier beach and (according to signage) is one of the most fascinating habitats at Sheldon Marsh. It’s one of the largest protected beaches on Lake Erie’s south shore. It provides the potential for bird nesting habitat of such endangered species as the Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) and Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus). (The Common Tern is listed as endangered in Ohio and the Piping Plover is on the federally endangered list.)

BARRIER BEACH AREA

If you get the opportunity, take a break from “Covid fatigue” and visit Sheldon Marsh. It’s a glorious place to explore nature and let go of some of life’s stresses. While not too many people feel comfortable going on vacations these days, a mini-vacation day trip to a nature preserve is almost perfect.

VISIT SHELDON MARSH STATE NATURE PRESERVE

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.

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.

TURKEY TAIL FUNGI

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.

SOMETIMES MOTHER NATURE ILLUMINATES WHAT YOUR EYE SHOULD SEE

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.

BROWN-BELTED BUMBLE BEE

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.

MALE EASTERN PONDHAWK DRAGONFLY
FEMALE EASTERN PONDHAWK DRAGONFLY

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.

HALLOWEEN PENNANT DRAGONFLY
CALICO PENNANT DRAGONFLY

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.

MALE WIDOW SKIMMER DRAGONFLY

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.

CHADWICK ARBORETUM NORTH

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.