Friday, January 23, 2015

A Day in the Life....Part 4

Things are still pretty quiet around the preserve, but the fun thing about nature is that it is always changing so you never know what you are going to discover on a given day. Yesterday turned out to be a day of curiosities. The picture below is the first mystery.

Scattered feathers

The mystery. What kind of bird was it and what happened? A closer look at the feathers and zooming in to the large feather in the picture below revealed part of the mystery.
Gray feather with white tip

The feathers are those of a mourning dove. This dove was probably "recycled" by a hawk or owl,  I have seen this scenario before and once actually witnessed a copper's hawk devour a cardinal, leaving a scatter pile of feathers.

Later in the day, as Nora and I were checking the route for a future hike. we came across the usual tree below.

Spiral-shaped tree trunk

The clue to what caused this curiosity can be seen just above the spiral section. It is a small light colored piece of an old vine ( probably honeysuckle), While the vine was alive and growing, it constricted the normal growth of the tree as the vine wound its way up the tree to get sunlight. The vine has since died leaving behind the twisted looking tree.

Sometimes  you just come across simple things like the snail shell below that was resting on a rich green carpet of moss.

"Gastropodis gonus"

Up near the base of the sandstone cliffs we found  the American beech pictured below. There was something odd about the bark.

Beech tree- note left and right sides
A close up examination revealed the picture below. Only the side of the tree facing the cliff was abnormally rippled while the rest of the bark was smooth as one would expect see on beeches.

While still somewhat of a mystery, this curiosity may be caused by some hormonal problem within the tree.

And finally, below is a clump of walking fern, Asplenium rhizophyllum, growing off the side of a large moss-coverd sandstone boulder. Rhizophyllum roughly translates to mean "root leaves" and refers to its unusual habit of spreading. The tips of the frond will root themselves and another plant will grow. Walking fern is more commonly found growth on limestone and rarely on sandstone like is found at Wahkeena- so a good find.

Walking Fern- note the long tips

So as you can see, even during the January thaw, there are curiosities and mysteries to unravel in the winter woods.

Posted by Tom

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Day in the Life - Part 3

With the temperature approaching 40 degrees today, the Rhododendron leaves, that were tightly curled a week ago, are fully uncurled today. 

With the weather so nice, Nora and I thought it would be a good time to check out frozen Lake Odonata. We were curious about the thickness of the ice, so I got out the cordless drill and a spade bit and drilled some holes. The thickness averaged 6 inches. FYI 7 1/2 inches of ice will support a passenger car. Last year at this same time the ice was 12 inches thick! That was enough to support a 7-8 ton truck! 

Drilling hole on Lake Odonata

Ice depth 6 inches
Below is a picture of the beaver lodge. I am 6"2"" tall, so as you can see this is one huge lodge. The lodge is also about 24' wide at the water (ice) line.

Along the edge of the dam, a dead shingle oak is being excavated by a Pileated woodpecker, Ohio's largest woodpecker and a common bird at Wahkeena.

Pileated woodpecker hole at base of tree
A closer look inside the hole shows the reason for the tree's death and why the woodpecker chiseled out the hole. Wood munching insects has already feasted on the trees interior. Can you say food web?
A look inside the hole.
Posted by Tom w/pond photo credits to Nora.
 Stay Tuned..................

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"Wahkeena....A Day in the Life"

Posted by Tom

Hello to all the Wahkeena blog followers out there in cyberville. Today marks the start of a new blog feature that will appear under the title- "A Day in the Life". I will attempt to take you through a year in the life of Wahkeena Nature Preserve. This will not be a daily diary, but more of a weekly journal. I will share observations and happenings as they unfolded. Thus we begin..................

Today is January 2, 2015. It's been a beautiful sunny day with reasonably mild temperatures. I spotted two wildflowers in bloom today, The ever present yellow dandelion and the purple pinwheel-shaped myrtle- also know as periwinkle or vinca. Both are non-natives that were introduced long ago and are now a common sight in the landscape. No sign of the first true native wildflower- skunk cabbage. The woods was very peaceful today with only the ever present chattering of the gray squirrels- which seem to be everywhere- including seven at the bird feeder! The pond is finally completely frozen, locking the beavers in their lodge for the time being. I can hear the trees breathing a sigh a relief!

Frozen Lake Odonata with beaver lodge at rear left

I also found this wildlife sign near the nature center. Can you guess what it is?

Well, that's it for now, but stay tuned. And try to get outside and enjoy something natural!

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Day in the Life -Part 2

Old Guest Cabin
What a different a week makes! The hills and valleys of Wahkeena are now blanketed with 5 inches of powdery snow and the temperatures dancing above and below 0 degrees. The dark green foliage to the left of the cabin in the picture above is native rhododendron, Rhododendron maximum. Rhododendron has an interesting way of dealing with the extreme cold temperatures. As the temperature drops the leaves curl tighter and tighter. Think about what we humans do when we get cold- wrapping our arms around our body in an effort to reduce our surface area and retain more heat. (Interesting scientific fact- there really is no such thing as "cold" only an absence of heat!) Because they are evergreen plants, the rhododendrons are reducing the surface area of their leaves in an attempt to limit loss of water. (It's hard to drink more water when it's frozen in the ground!)

Curled rhododendron leaves w/flower bud

While checking out the rhododendrons, I also noticed some ice formations by the enclosed spring in the sandstone rocks near the old guest cabin.

Icicles on overhanging sandstone

Interesting birds at the feeders include a female Eastern Towhees and Yellow-bellied sapsucker and just moments ago an Eastern cottontail rabbit came to fill its belly.......sorry birdies!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

'Twas The Night Before Christmas

The Wahkeena Version

As our holiday gift to you, below is our rendition of the traditional 'A Visit From St. Nicholas' written about the happenings here at Wahkeena. 

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house,
Photo of the lodge, circa 1950
the only creature that was stirring outside was a mouse

The Owl looked down from his tree with delight,
 for later he hoped the mouse he would bite.
Our resident Barred Owl, blind in one eye
The Beavers were nestled all snug in their lodge,
Beaver lodge
 for they’d chewed down the forest and left only some logs.

And Tom by his wood stove, and Nora with her cats had just settled down for a long winters nap.
Keena does not like his picture being taken
When out in the meadow there arose such a clatter,
 for the coyotes were howling and the other animals scattered.

The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow gave a luster of midday to the objects below,

And what to our wondering eyes did appear,
 but our director, Dave Fey, being chased by some deer!

“Hey Dave! Whatcha’ doing?” Tom called with a fright.
“Do you know that it’s cold and in the middle of the night?” 
Tom Shisler
Dave merrily whistled and shouted in glee “Now on to see Nora, then Kelly and Dan!
Then Larry and Keena and on to Japan!”

Tom shook his head and turned from the scene,
wondering if tomorrow he would remember what he’d seen.

Now all became quiet with a new blanket of snow,
that shelters the plants and animals below,

The bees dreamed of flowers, the beavers of trees,
 and some of the birds dreamed only of seeds.

And the little mouse in the woods, the one in plain sight,
Had a Merry Christmas, for the owl had found a vole to his right.
Dr. Frank and Carmen Warner
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night! 

-Tom and Nora

Friday, November 21, 2014

Farmer's Almanac vs. Wacky Weather Wisdom

The Old Farmer's Almanac, an entertaining booklet which predicts the climate for the coming year, has forecast a colder than normal winter for Ohio. In contrast, many 'traditional' methods of predicting the weather have determined... Well, they have not determined much of anything, but they are still fun to read! 

The Old Farmer's Almanac 
The Almanac's history goes back to 1792. In the 223 years since, they have claimed about an 80% accuracy in predicting the weather. 

Bad news for those who dislike winter, the Old Farmer's Almanac is predicting a colder than normal season, with plenty of ice and snow. It also foresees a white Thanksgiving, with more snow through Christmas, and plenty more until mid March. Remember, "colder than normal" temperatures are really only a 2 to 5 degree difference than ordinary winters.    

Wacky Weather Wisdom, Folklore or Fact?
Traditional methods for predicting the weather have been around for hundreds of years. Some are based on science, while others are not based on much of anything. Let's explore some of these eccentric weather indicators. 

The Caterpillar Knows 
The Woolly Bear caterpillar has the reputation of being able to predict the coming winter.  Woolly Bears have 13 body segments, corresponding to the 13 weeks of winter. The dark brown/black indicates bitter cold with a lot of snow, while the light brown foresees a milder time. 

The above Caterpillar indicates a cold and snowy periods of time at the beginning and end of the season, and moderate weather in between. To date, there has not been any scientific evidence to prove that Woolly Bears can predict winter weather, but watch this winter to see if it is true! 

The New Moon
This legend states, the nearer the New Moon to Christmas Day, the worse the winter. This year, the New moon falls on December 21st, just four days from Christmas. To compare from last year, the closest new moon to Christmas was 7 days away. Even though there is no scientific evidence, this legend helps to back up the unusually cold and snowy winter that the  Farmer's Almanac predicted.  

Find Yourself a Dead Goose

For this method, acquire the breastbone of a (previously) dead goose, good luck. The length of the breastbone indicates the duration of the coming winter, while the color reveals the harshness. A white bone prophesies a mild season, while a darker one foresees cold temperatures and lots of snow. 

If it is early in the winter season, and you cannot find yourself a goose. Instead, watch them fly south. The sooner the geese leave an area, the harsher the winter. If plenty of geese are still "obtainable" in late November, spare a goose because the winter will be a peaceful one.  

Foggy August Mornings
Tradition says, for every foggy August morning, there will be a snowfall in the winter. So, mark your calendar for next year to see if this prediction comes true. Or, if you are not a morning person, count the number of days from the first snowfall until Christmas. The number of days will indicate the number of snowfalls to expect. At Wahkeena, our first snowfall was November 14th, showing that we will have 41 snowfalls this coming winter.  Like all of the others, there is no scientific evidence to  date that help to back up this theory. 

There are many other ways of predicting winter weather, do you have any of your own? Have you had luck with any of the legends listed above? 

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Don't Fear...

Not to worry, the Wahkeena blog will live on! 

Wahkeena blog followers, do not worry, the blog will continue to be updated regularly throughout the coming winter months and into our next season. Look out for some new features that will help to keep you up to date on all the happenings here at Wahkeena. 

To help you get in the mood for Halloween, here are some spooky critters found here at Wahkeena that people typically find scary.

Barred Owl

Strix varia
"Whooo-Who-Cooks-For-You, Who-Cooks-For-You-All" is the typical call of the Barred Owl. This type of Owl is one of the most common types of Owls in Ohio, and can be found in all 88 counties. They eat many types of small animals including mice, chipmunks, squirrels, birds, reptiles and amphibians. 

The Barred Owl pictured above is our resident, education Owl. We have her here at Wahkeena because she was struck by a car, lost sight in one eye, and might have difficulties surviving in the wild. 

Marbled Orbweaver

Araneus marmoreus
Marbled Orbweavers are among our showiest spiders. Early in the summer, as juveniles, the spider is a pale yellow that darkens to a bright yellow with a black marbled pattern throughout the season. Around Halloween, the yellow on their abdomen becomes bright orange, often resembling a jack-o-lantern. 

Marbled Orbweavers feed at night, and are often hidden away during the day in a folded leaf retreat. 

Black Rat Snake 

Pantherophis alleghaniensis

Also known as an Eastern Ratsnake, this is Ohio's largest snakes, often exceeding 6 feet in length. The above snake is a juvenile Black Rat Snake, as the snake grows its bold patterns fade, and its color becomes darker. The bottom picture is of our educational Black Rat Snake, who turned 25 years old earlier this month. 

Have a Happy Halloween everyone!