Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Vinton Furnace Experimental Forest

Phil and I had the honor of hosting the forest biology class for the OCVN 2012 session.  The class was held at the Vinton Furnace State Experimental Forest... can one really think of a better place to have class on a warm spring evening??

Our class began at the training center where we watched a short film, Ora E. Anerson's A Forest Returns.  It is an incredible and eye-opening film.  A lot of southeast Ohioans do not realize that this gorgeous forest that surrounds us was not here prior to The Great Depression.  Farming and agriculture completely wiped out the great forests that were home to the Native Americans.  Restoration efforts did not begin until the farmers had exhausted the soil and tough economics forced citizens deep into poverty and debt.  As part of a relief effort, our government began buying these troubled farms with the agreement that the former owner could continue living in the house (which was usually some type of cabin or shack) as long as all surrounding acres were allowed to grow and return to forest. Once the owners left the property, the abandoned house would be demolished and the forest would be allowed to reclaim the land.

After the indoor classroom portion of the evening, we ventured out to see the Experimental Forest first hand!  I had only made it about three steps out of the building before discovering this Eastern Fence Lizard.  I only had time to snap one decent shot and off he went!  A great "introduction" to the forest indeed!

eastern fence lizard (we have five species here in Ohio)

Dave Apsley, an expert in forest management and a natural resource specialist for The Ohio State University Extension Office, was our instructor for the evening.

Dave, showing us a rare five-sectioned sassafras leaf!  He was excited to find this and we were excited to see it!

discussing tree species
next we boarded a wagon, sat down on a hay bail and headed deep into the forest

notice the difference in this section of forest?  it has been through three prescribed fires.  under the care of experts, prescribed fires can renew the forest neat!  I love how it looks like muscles, hence the name!
one of the highlights of the evening was getting to see this gorgeous specimen of an American Chestnut Tree!!  It was the first time many of us had ever seen one!

Tree of Heaven is NOT a nice species!  It is invasive and it stinks BAD!  eew!  I couldn't believe how bad it smelled!
our feelings toward Tree of Heaven are not heavenly!

Monday, May 28, 2012

a very tough lesson

I am still in my infancy when it comes to being a naturalist... even an amateur, volunteer naturalist.  I do have some training from the OCVN (Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist) program... and I have logged hundreds of field hours, but alas, I am constantly learning and learning just how much I don't know.

A person can study field guides all they want and travel afar to see fascinating flora and fauna, but none of that really prepares you for the kind of experience I had Sunday afternoon at the farm.  Immersing oneself in nature is extremely rewarding.  It allows a person to view the world through a different spectrum... it is a privilege to sit quietly amongst their world and bear witness to miraculous cycles that take place daily.  Nature is a balance.  Sad and tragic deaths must occur in order for the incredible miracles of life to continue cycling.  Without one, the other will cease to exist.  Life and death are a daily happening in the natural world.  The creatures of the wild know this.  We humans tend to pretend it doesn't exist... or make excuses, or take matters into our own hands... or carry through with some other act or thought that helps us cope and self-soothe our hurt feelings.  True, our feelings hurt deeply for the wild creatures.  We root for them!  We cheer them on!  We want the very best... it is our human way.

By Sunday afternoon, the heat and humidity had a strong hold on the day.  It was a hot steamy day, no doubt about it.  Mom and Julia had retreated to the cabin to find some relief from the sun and play a few rounds of "stack the blocks".  Dad and Phil were power-washing the boat in order to get it in the lake later that afternoon.  I was wandering around with camera and binoculars, like I normally do when I have free time. 

My attention was immediately called to the pond when I heard a violent eruption of squawks and scolds.  I looked across the field and down toward the pond, about 100 yards away.  I could see the struggle was taking place on the opposite side of the pond.  I quickly pulled my binoculars to my eyes to get a better look.   Even though I could only vaguely make them out through the binoculars, I knew the struggle was taking place amongst red-winged blackbirds.  First, I recognized their scolds and calls, and second,  I knew they were nesting around the lake (just like last year).

female scolding as she flew from branch to branch

male circling overhead while calling his high-pitched warning whistle

The struggle was centered around a low growing shrub amidst tall grasses, cattails, and small trees.  Once I arrived at the pond gate, I paused and looked through my camera lens to see if I was close enough to snap a few shots of the raucous.  This is when I realized that something was very wrong.  The birds were not behaving normally.  I don't know how to describe "normal" and "abnormal"..... more so, it was my instincts that told me something was wrong.  Both male and female were scolding, crying, yelling, and calling LOUDLY and repetitively... over and over and over!  They took turns landing in the shrub.  Each time one of the birds would land, there would be a struggle that would violently shake the leaves on the bush.  The bird would emerge to fly toward the sky calling all the while, then the other bird would take a turn at the bush.  This went on uninterrupted as I made my way around the pond, through the tall itchy grass, towards the nest site and struggle location.  I was expecting that my presence would spook the birds and they would leave whatever it was they were doing... but no, they did not even notice me... they just kept at it.

both male and female in postures that seemed undeniably defensive

Finally, I rounded the corner of the pond and was within ten feet of the struggle site.  I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw what was happening.  Intertwined through the branches of the shrub was a large black rat snake.  In his mouth was a clutch of baby birds.  My heart raced and my stomach sickened.  I knew I could be of no help.  I stood frozen in time as the snake sealed the deal and slithered away. Once he was out of sight, I came back to my senses and approached the nest to confirm with my eyes what my heart already knew.  Empty.  A beautiful nest devoid of life.

I stayed at the pond for another 20 minutes.  I listened to the pair of birds who would continue to call and scold for the rest of the afternoon.  I watched them go back to the nest time and time again.  I stood with my camera, capturing the moment the best I could... wondering if my photos would show the true grief that I felt.

Eventually, I left the birds and walked away.

ANTHROPOMORPHISM-- I had never heard this term until my OCVN class.  Now, I hear it all the time amongst naturalists.  Most naturalists (most, not all) suffer just a tad from anthropomorphism.  Some naturalists suffer quite a bit.  I don't know how I feel exactly.  I am very aware of my feelings, but just don't know what to make of them.  It is a tough world.


ascribing human form or attributes to a being or thing not human
resembling or made to resemble a human form

THOUGHTS and COUNTER-THOUGHTS that ran wild through my HEAD the rest of the day and night:
1. I hate that snake
2. snakes are wonderful creatures and have a very valuable place in the ecosystem

1. I feel sorrow because I love birds
2. would I feel the same about a bullfrog that had been captured as dinner?  or a mole?

1. the "mommy" and "daddy" birds felt complete sadness and desperation
2. the "female" and "male" bird followed their hard-wired instinct of protecting their nest in order for reproduction and continuation of the species to be successful

1. the baby birds felt fear and pain as they were being swallowed alive
2. I have no counter for this

1. that snake will continue to rob every nest that surrounds the pond (and I know of at least three more nest sites!)
2. that snake will continue to feed where opportunity presents itself

1. red-winged blackbirds will leave my pond out of fear of future nest failures
2. my pond is suitable habitat and red-wings will continue to nest where habitat is suitable

1. snakes are mean
2. snakes are not mean

1. snakes are sneaky and slither
2. snakes do not have feet and must slither... this is just their means of transportation - there is no hidden motive in a snake's slither

1. the parent red-wings do not understand why their babies are gone and feel they must find them
2. the nesting red-wings do realize that their young have fallen prey to predator and they must act according to instinct and re-nest if time and situation allows

1. I am sad
2. I am learning how to accept the natural world without sadness
3. I don't want to leave behind my human traits
4. a good naturalist and teacher must understand the cycle of nature without attaching human emotion
5. I am human, so how do I disengage in my own hard-wired instincts

Nature does not plan to be happy or sad.  Nature does not plan to be kind or cruel.  Nature just happens.  
One last thing I feel I must add before closing this entry:  I did NOT kill the snake.  I will NOT kill the snake.  My choice is to allow a beating heart and working brain to continue, and I am certainly entitled to make that choice.

What would I tell Julia?  What will I tell my science students next year?  I will tell them the facts and nurture their feelings.... because that is who I am.
empty nest


Friday, May 25, 2012

Spider Babies

The Art of Propagation

Oh spider plant... how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways....
1.  spider plants are extremely easy to grow
2.  they are rarely attacked by disease
3.  insects usually leave them alone
4.  they are inexpensive
5.  they are versatile: lovely either hanging or sitting on a shelf
6.  they are fast growers
7.  they are easy to propagate and make wonderful gifts
8.  they do not shed dead leaves or create messes
9.  they are one of the best plants for filtering and cleaning air
10.  they are wonderfully retro with an unmistakable 1960's groove!

TEN ways I love spider plants.  I could go on, but I'm afraid I'd make a fool of myself, as if I give two hoots what others think of me!

I've owned a gazillion houseplants and am quite experienced with killing raising plants.  Spider plants are wonderful for beginners and for green-thumbers alike.  If you don't own a spider plant, you should consider owning one.  If you need a spider plant, ask me and I'll see if I can pot one up for you!  If you already own a spider plant and have never propagated it, I will show you how.

first, your spider plant must have "babies".  If it does not, consider putting it in a location where it receives more light.  eventually it will make babies.

spider plant "babies"

select one of the babies and remove it by pinching or cutting it from the parent stem
find a suitable pot... any medium sized pot will do as long as it has drain holes in the bottom

fill the pot with potting mix.  I use Miracle Grow potting mix, but any will work.  Oh, I should add that it is a good idea to line the bottom of the pot with rocks.  This allows proper drainage and helps prevent root rot.  Most houseplants do not like "wet feet".  I used to always add pebbles to my pots, but I rarely do anymore because I'm lazy.

put the baby in the soil so that the "root" or "stem" area is covered.  then water the heck out of it

finished!! almost....

finally, find a nice "home" for your newly born spider plant.  this new baby is going to live on my front porch until fall... then I'll move it in the house.  spider plants can tolerate chilly temperatures, but nothing below 50 degrees.

It is also easy to propagate spider plants by removing a baby and submerging the "root" end in a jar of water.  I usually place mine in the kitchen window sill where they get plenty of light.  In no time at all, the baby will send out roots.  At that point, you can pot the baby in soil.  I use both methods all the time and have had great luck with both.  The "jar in the window sill" method is more educational and entertaining because it offers the opportunity to watch roots grow, but the "straight to the pot" method is quicker.

another newly potted  "baby"

the original "mother plant".  this is the spider plant that came from Phil's house... the one that started it all!  Sadly, it hasn't done well for the past few years and I'm afraid it has just run out of steam.  It's okay though... to everything its season.

this spider hangs in front of my living room window year round.  It is too lonely in the living room without it, so unfortunately for the spider plant, it doesn't get to summer outside like most of the other plants.

newly potted spider plant on the front porch... mixed in with many other houseplants.  I rarely buy "flowers" for my house... all of my porch plants are houseplants that spend the summers outside and the winters inside.  The exception is the ferns.  I do purchase new ferns each year.  It is possible to overwinter them inside, but Phil put his foot down and declared our home a "fern free zone" because they are obnoxiously messy when they decide to shed!!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The 40

Garden Update: May 23, 2012

click here to read the previous garden update

And we are off and running! All of the veggies are in (except four cucumbers that will soon be planted in a new bed in the side yard).  At this point, I think it is safe to say that most of the vegetables have survived transplant shock and are thriving!  Excellent!

  • tomatoes have taken hold and are doing outstanding!  The brandywines are struggling the most, but I am not surprised because they are in the former asparagus bed that gets the least sun.
  • tomatoes in the main garden have been staked..  Phil has truly outdone himself this year and I will post about that soon.
  • cheater plant (delicious variety) has already set fruit.  german pinks and better boys have blossoms, but not set fruit yet
  • cabbages are doing excellent, but have already served as host to cabbage moth larvae ... we've had to dust.  No, I am not an organic gardener... I'm just a small plot homesteader with nostalgic values who cares about nature... and uses pesticides.  Lecture me if you want, I could possibly be persuaded to stop as I know deep down it is wrong, wrong, WRONG!  **sly giggles**
  • eggplants have been attacked ferociously, but we are trying to save them from complete devastation
  • scallions are huge and are being harvested daily.  anyone need scallions???
  • broccolis all look good
  • brussels are doing well
  • peppers have blossoms 
  • cucumbers are thriving
  • salad bowls are fantastic!!  we have had MANY delicious homegrown summer salads!
cabbage patch and scallion border

german pink tomato

rainbow swiss chard

early tomatoes - delicious variety

whiskey barrel salad bowls

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Peak at Lake Logan

Right now is the time!  This is PEAK!  ...migration, breeding, plumage, singing, nesting....everything birds is at its PEAK!  Very exciting to be sure!  I try to take in every little magical moment of spring and burn it to memory.  I am building my "nature bank account" so that I will have plenty to withdraw from come winter.

Saturday, I awoke with the sun to make a quick trip to Lake Logan.  I arrived around 6:30am, birded a couple of hours and was home before Julia's morning snack.  Not too bad!  It was time well spent.  I needed a spiritual cleansing and nothing does the trick like crisp morning air and beautiful wildlife.

What did I see?  I saw a gorgeous lake blanketed in a thin layer of morning fog, songbirds fluttering from branch to branch,  great blue herons quietly wading in the shallows, dew drops of diamonds adding sparkle to wildflowers, swans and ducks tenderly guiding their little ones, and a path so green and lush that one might mistake it for velvet.

great blue herons are skittish.  they scare easily and will take flight as soon as they detect movement.  the above shot was taken as I literally crawled on hands and knees through the brush in an attempt to sneak up on this fella.  the ground was wet and my knees were dirty and soaked, but I didn't care.  this was as close as I could get.  I made one more sly move forward and ...OFF HE WENT!  graceful, but noisy!  great blue herons honk and scold as they lift from their perch.

cedar waxwing.  always dressed to impress.

I heart cedar waxwings!

eastern kingbird on the wing

eastern kingbird

green heron

cedar waxwing
tree swallow guarding his (her?) nest

mama wood duck with a duck's dozen (that's eleven!) ha!

mute swan family

mute swan family

SPECIES LIST (Lake Logan, May 19) blackbird
2. northern mockingbird
3. great blue heron
4. green heron
5. red-bellied woodpecker
6. northern cardinal
7. american robin
8. blue jay
9. chipping sparrow
10. tree swallow
11. barn swallow
12. mallard
13. wood duck
14. mute swan
15. canada goose
16. yellow warbler
17. carolina wren
18. common grackle
19. american crow
20. carolina chickadee
21. song sparrow
22. gray catbird
23. eastern kingbird
24. mourning dove
25. cedar waxwing
26. willow flycatcher
27. common yellowthroat
28. european starling