Monday, October 30, 2006

Kenny Park

I've talked about Kenny Park before. It is a small strip of land on both sides of the Olentany River about a half a mile west High Street, behind the old Burlington Coat Factory at Graceland Shopping Center. This evening was particully warm, clear, and wet underfoot. We've had several days of rain and the Olentangy was just under bankfull. Megan walked around the river and floodplain for about 30 minutes, and we saw the following:

Several gray squirrels hopping about, looking for the perfect hiding place for black walnuts.

Several American robins, high up in the now leafless black walnut tree.

Both male and female cardinals, in their typical habitat, low brushy and weedy vegetation. This evening, I watched a female feasting on the seeds of Polygonum scandens or Polygonum convolvulus through my black ruberized bushnell binoculars.

Megan spotted a downy woodpecker in the top branches of a box-elder. This particular specimen had been mutilated by a chainsaw. It had the fortune to take root underneath powerlines, and it will never get much taller than 15 feet.

2 mallard pairs, at the edge of the flooded Olentangy, doing there best to stay in the same place and avoid looking like the little plastic colored duckies at the state fair circling around the giant mountain of stuffed animals.

A deer....a large female doe, walking slowing underneath the bush honeysuckle canopy. It saw us, stopped a bit, ate some grass, and moved on. My neighbor Jackie tells me that she often sees deer in her front yard and in our road. Again, her Husband Marvin spreads seeds in the street everday attracting all kinds of fun urban wildlife.

Finally...we heard a faint whistle...Oh Sam peabody peabody...Oh Sam peabody peapody peabody...Over and over again. I offered a ten dollar award for the first to spot the small sparrow that was timidly calling out to us with this classic tune. Megan said that the bet was not at all fair since I was the only one with the binoculars. But after some careful listenting. She found it. A white throated sparrow. A little ragged and definitely lonely, it was cool to see this bird had chosen to stop at Kenny Park as he passes southward.


Fall Back

I wake up early. Megan has physiology at 7:30, and I drop her off the bus at 6:30. When we step outside our side door and look up, it is black. Ok, well, it isn't totally black. Pinkish black might be a better description, since the light pollution from the city taints the pure black sky. But it is dark, there is no sign of the sun. Period. I think that awaking before the sun gives me a better awareness of when the sun does rise. Not just at what time, but what the weather is doing when the sun rises. Will I see the sun? Will it be shaded by clouds? Will it be raining? The sun is still there...if only I could jump through the clouds and land on a magic platform in the sky! But I digress. Several things on my mind tonight.

First, the forest fire deaths in California. I recently completed a rigorous 40 hour interagency wildfire training course at the Ohio Fire Academy. This course trained me to be an official "weed beater". Come summer, I could travel in 24 hours notice to a wildland fire "out west" Throughout our training, safety, by far, was the absolute most critical aspect of fire fighting that our teachers drilled into our heads. Be safe. But sometimes, you just can't be safe. The engine crew that perished were a professional, highly trained team for the U.S. forest service. They didn't make it. The fire got them. Yes, deaths are rare, but it does happen, and I'm absolutely impressed that these men for gave up their lives to protect private homes. Incredible. I'm not ready for their level of dedication, and I will be sticking to light, prescribed burns set here in our state nature preserves.

Second. The time change. This always throws me for a loop, but I think perhaps this is the finest time change I can remember. Why? Um, the aforementioned trip to the bus in the dark every morning. Finally, I just might not look up at the sky tomorrow morning and see the pinkish black sky....maybe the sun will have peaked over the horizon and provided me just a little light for my drive to the bus stop and then on to Fountain Square along Morse Road.


Thursday, October 19, 2006


Have you ever been driving down the road and noticed a huge patch of tropical cane-like grass invading in a ditch along Ohio's highways? A giant green grass, surpassing 12 feet tall? Maybe you have seen it along Lake Erie, or perhaps Mentor Marsh in Lake County?

Until about 2 years ago, we thought this stuff was horrible. And really, the plants that I have described are still highly invasive. And those plants are horrible. But at national meetings, botanists would get together and talk about Phragmites australis, the common reed. Along the east, botanists and wildlife managers swore at this stuff. Phragmites is running us out of our wetlands! It is taking over! Plant lovers and other scientists in the upper midwest were like, um really? Phragmites is really a well behaved plant in our managed areas. It really isn't invasive at all.

And it turns out that some people did some great botanical work. Specifically, Saltonstall, Peterson, and Soreng published an article in the international botanical journal Sida, naming the native species Phragmites australis subspecies americanus. Since this article has been published, numerous botanists have developed ways to tell the native from the invasive species.

Anyways, all this background is in the back of my mind when I go out into the field. So the other day, when I was at Springville Marsh in Seneca County, some phragmites caught my eye. I had seen the plant two years before. Tall, growing with cattails and shrubs. I asked Greg and Rick if the stuff was native, but they just didn't know the plant back then. Today, I was sure what I saw was the native stuff. The large dense plume that I normally seen in the agressive phragmites was replaced with a more open panicle. Could this be it? I collected a few large stems, Walt helped me place them in a temporary vasculum (a trash bag!) and I headed back to Columbus. Sure enough, upon returning to the office, my specimens matched 4 of the characteristics of the native plant. The stems were red and smoothly polished instead of rough, the plants had black fungal dots on the stems, the glumes, part of the highly modified grass flower also matched. I showed the specimen to Rick Garder, state botanist, and he concurred. Maybe I'll write a newsletter article for Natural Ohio, my employer's newsletter, describing the find? We'll see. It felt great finding this plant that most people had passed over for a weed.


Monday, October 16, 2006

Friends with Exoskeletons

When Megan and I were camping at Alum Creek, we had the fortune to run into some very cool invertebrate friends. The first guy we found, if it is a male at all (i have no idea how to tell the difference between a male and female spider) was quite striking. When I got back to the naturalist's hideaway, I realized that we had found a banded garden spider, or Argiope trifasciata. Isn't it stunning? Also, yay for digital camers with the superb ability to take close up pictures. Canon and I have teamed up for some truly great moments (with sarcasm).

The ventral side of the spider. Notice the spinnerets near the top of her abdomen. This anatomical area is where the spider generates silk.

Finally, the hungry spider snathes and entombs a wonderful meal. About all that is recognizable is this fly's two beady eyes.

Last but not least, I shot this small grasshopper on an evening primrose a mere arm's length from the spider's web. This again brought me back to my childhood, when Kevin Myers wood pluck fat and juicy "tobacco spitting" hoppers from my yew bushes and throw them into the garden spider's web. I was tempted to watch this green creature warm up in the hazy sunshine and see if he would make the unwise move of hopping into the web of death. Alas, he did not, I wasn't patient, and I he let me capture this image.


Sunday, October 15, 2006


This evening, Megan and I were feeling tired. It was a busy weekend. Last night we attended the Cameos of Caring awards Gala at the Columbus Convention Center. This morning, I zipped over to pastor Kathy's home to assist in the development of a sermon. The point here? We're busy. Megan and I live in the City of Columbus, but only about 500 feet from the Olentangy river. We retreat to the river whenever we need a little rest and relaxation. Kenny park is a patch of land owned by the City of Columbus. There are several winding trails through the bottomlands. The vegetation of the park can be summed up in one word: weedy. The overstory is actually black walnut, but underneath is a thicket of Lonicera maacki shrubs, in some places reaching eight feet. Wild ginger, and rue-anenome were present in some areas, and this surprised me. I could see some vestiges of a "real" mesic forest community. The river this evening wasn't beautiful. The silver maples dominating the banks haven't shown any sign of changing color. Any splotches of blues and whites from the fall blooming asters have diminished. And we could hear the steady din from constant freeway traffic on "315" just on the otherside of the streamside forest. Still, this finger of nature that stretches just down from Delware county into the city of Columbus was a nice refuge from the day to day grind. We're lucky to live so close to to the river.


Saturday, October 14, 2006

The view from my front porch

I literally captured these photos of common bird and animal species from my front porch here in north Columbus. I was playing around with Megan's 12x zoom Kodak camera. It is pretty sweet.

First, a mourning dove. I can remember wondering what the strange squeaky noises these birds produced were whenever they would drop in from the sky to our blue spruce trees that grew alongside by childhood home. Finally, I learned that is was just there wings rubbing together. Other memories: A beautiful female nested on top of my window type air conditioner at my first story apartment in Oxford Ohio. I think these birds are beautiful. There subtle grays, blues and pinks, although not obvious in this photo are striking.

The male cardinal is everybone's favorite. I know take these for granted. I shouldn't. They do like marginal habitats, but we should be greatful that they can persist in the city. I was hoping to get a closer shot of the crows, but they know when there is someone looking at them, and they fly up into the walnut trees. Notice that the black walnut has completely lost its leaves, even though it is only October 14th.

The crow. An intelligent animal, notice they have no problem judging the distance between you and your vehicle as they diligently pick roadkill along the side of the road. They manage to fly away just before your whizzes by. I was surprised to learn that these animals are still legally hunted. I see several crows almost every morning picking corn and other seed from the road in front of my neighbor's small cape cod here in the city.


Have you noticed something different? Are you feeling differently? Well, fall is here. With the first frost Friday morning, a whole new era (ok, maybe I'm exagerating) has come to Columbus. I really mean this. I have a new feeling of calm. Why? Because the plants are done growing for the year. No longer will I feel guilty about spending a few days in the office. Sure, you can always observe things in nature at any time of the year, but my main quarry is plants. The plants are dying! Yes...the season is over...I can finally relax. Come January, I'll be itching to get back out on the trail and botanize again. This will last until late March, when the things do start to pick up again, and I'll just want a few more weeks of gray winter before the craziness picks up again! Well, I still have plenty to look at even though it is winter. I've got about 120 specimens in the press that I need to examine, show Rick Gardner, and I hope I can survive this arduous process. Many species can only be determined by close up examination with a hand lens or microscope. This requires patience and moutains of minute detail work. I can do it!


Sunday, October 01, 2006

Camping Adventure

This weekend, Megan and I celebrated our 1 month anniversary of marriage, and to boot, our 1 year anniverary of meeting for the first time. We decided to celebrate the event with a quick camping outing at Alum Creek State Park. Located in southern Delaware county about 15 miles from our home, we thought this would be a perfect little experiment to test our camping ability. We were definitely put to the test. After securely fastening our rainfly to the tent on Friday, as Megan and I were sleeping, we were awakened by intermittent rain showers throughout the night. The next morning, our friends Brian and Rita Kaspar joined our adventure. We hiked, talked, cooked some great food, and finished off the evening with some wine. That evening, the storms came to Alum Creek! What an amazing feeling to be in a tent during a thunderstorm. Our small enclosure rattled in the wind, but it held. After the constant din of the pounding rain subided, i think I went back to sleep. But I'm not really sure...Megan thinks she fell asleep during the peak of the thunderstorm. Anyways, we were again wakened around 2:00 a.m. for an equally strong attack of thunder and lighting from the night sky. We held our own once again. It ended, I fell back asleep, and just prayed for calm the rest of the night. Upon waking up this morning, we noted that others at Alum Creek had abandoned camp in the middle of the night! We stuck it out...braved the weather like a weathered old sailor during a fierce Maine 'noreaster. Wet and cold, we packed up this morning, headed home, and now we are safe and sound back in our little bungalo on Girard Road here in wonderful Columbus Ohio.