Friday, February 27, 2009

Oh, my!

The neighbor’s creek roars from across the road. A night of heavy rain has brought its churning, murky waters swirling onto the pasture at the road’s edge.

Late last night I walked, warm air clouded and still, to the pools, carefully panning my light in wide arcs ahead of each slow step of my boot—hoping to find just one, woken from underground to journey home, to these pools.
Jefferson Salamanders.
Again, none.
Though, with each day’s approach to March, I know it is more likely I have missed them, made perfectly to match the blackest of these rainy spring nights.

This morning I returned to the dark water of little pond pool, and sat at the edge, last fall’s leaves from the small ring of young Red Maples, matted into the tangle of grasses not yet covered by the cool rising water. And stared out across the surface, like glass, reflecting white of another heavily clouded sky. Knowing there is much hidden here I will never see.

A slight ripple, and a visitor approaches, foraging in the debris beyond the toe of my spotted boot. A terrestrial crayfish, brought up out of his burrow across the yard, to this pool to feed. The scarlet tips of his claws not often seen, buried and muddied below the chimneys built in the middle of the lawn each summer, as he digs further and further into deep tunnels following retreating water.
Here, this morning, he seems to not notice I am following him--almost unable to look away as he works his way, inch by inch, around this basin, hoping to find what we both are looking for.

Enjoy this collection of photos.
All enlarge to show the magnificent colors dotting his exoskeleton,
from pastel blues and greens to vibrant tones of red and orange.

All crayfish are aquatic crustaceans, living in varied types of water and breathing with gills. Terrestrial crayfish, also known as burrowing crayfish or meadow crayfish, live in intricately excavated tunnels, seeking to reside below the water level within the ground, instead of within a stream or lake. By digging out small balls of clay and stacking them around the opening of a burrow, he digs lower and lower, seeking the water he needs to survive. The resulting 6-inch chimneys stacked above ground may be visible in the middle of an open field of grass.
In times of high water, as these areas flood, the crayfish emerge and walk or swim in puddles, retreating to the burrow, as the waters also recede.

Crayfish chimney in field

Cambarus diogenes (?)

More Camera Critters here.


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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Have you seen...

Spangle Grass against Sky

Spangle Grass, Chasmanthium latifolium

Have you seen
the dried grasses in that field,
whose heavy heads nod
with the last plump seed
along an arched, brown cane?

Little fish on a pole,



spangle grass.

"Have you seen...." is an effort to discover the unusual beauty in things not usually appreciated for their beauty.

See more Skywatch here.

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Life's a Beech

A walk through the winter woods reveals them with ease.
The beech trees, Fagus grandifolia, whose plain and smooth gray bark sets them apart with an elegance most others lack, furrowed and scaled. So vulnerable to those wanting to leave their mark upon them for the ages.
The sweetest leggy one, like the unblemished face of a slender, young girl, freckles dotting the bridge of her nose.

American Beech, Fagus grandifolia

Yet holding last year’s leaves, now faded and lightly golden, a sheer paper rustling with each breeze though these woods.
I love the beech trees.

Beech drops, Epifagus virginiana

Beneath them, barely seen against the russet tones of sugar maple, tiny Beech drops, Epifagus virginiana, grow, literally, "upon the beech."
With no leaves and no green coloring, living off the roots below as a parasitic plant.
For them, indeed, “Life’s a Beech.”

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Mother Maple in Snow

Several snows have teased us, keeping us poised on the edge of spring, refreshing winter’s grip.
Almost daily, leaving a light covering taken again,
as if to say, “Not so soon.”
Patience for spring, tried and failing.

Carried slowly forward in the steps of this process, I know that its conclusion marks the arrival of spring. That, each day, and with each step, the grip is loosened.

The final step in the process of making maple syrup, aptly called “finishing,” takes the evaporated sap from the pan outdoors and brings it to the proper density indoors, over the stove. Of the entire operation, from the tapping of the trees until the syrup lines our shelves as amber in glass, this final step requires the most precision.

Out come the fancy tools of the trade, wrapped carefully in tissue and kept in a drawer, safely aside from all the other heavy kitchen utensils that might break its delicate, glass form. The hydrometer—a weighted float, calibrated and marked in fine black and red lines along its hollow, slender stem, to measure the specific gravity, the liquid’s density relative to that of water. And a hydrometer cup—a tall, thin, metal container that will hold a column of liquid for testing.
Hot liquid, ladled from a pot on the stove, and into the cup, is checked often, until the hydrometer floats in the column to just the right mark.

Boiling on stove

Hydrometer floating in hot liquid

Not dense enough, and mold may form over time within the saved liquid.
Too dense, and crystals may form within the jars.

So, as we are “finishing,”
so is winter, wrapping itself up,
releasing, finger by finger, its grasp.
And leaving us with amber in glass.

Amber in Glass

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Sunday, February 22, 2009


I'm sitting down for a chat with Wren of the Nature Blog Network today. If you get a chance, swing by.
And if nature-themed writing and photography are what you're looking for, there are 700 more blogs you might enjoy reading here.

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Salamander School

There they were, in the dimness of an early spring morning, making their way with determination, some over long distances, from their solitary existence for most of the previous year, to this gathering place.
For just one day—to join with others of their kind.

No, not the salamanders…yet.
The pond watchers—those individuals, the citizen scientist, who will monitor vernal pools in the many counties within Ohio, identifying the creatures found within and documenting their locations.
The workshop at Stratford Ecological Center, an opportunity to learn from the experts and share findings with other watchers, before heading home for another year’s observations.

Touring the pools at Stratford

Because the percentage of wetlands lost to development and drainage in the state of Ohio ranks second only to that in California.
And the first step in preservation is an appreciation of value.

So, until that balmy spring night , ears ringing with the calls of peepers and wood frogs, feet muddied by the soft earth releasing them,
I will study my training materials carefully.

Cool stuff to read and listen to

And wait to greet them upon their return.

Do you recognize that smiling face on the cover of their brochure?
And the salamander on the Ohio Environmental Council's website?
He's my guy!!

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Friday, February 20, 2009

The Spring Dance

Day that dances,
little steps forward,
then dips quickly back
to carry its frosty blanket
into this new light.

A thin layer of ice forms on the surface of the pools each night, and disappears as the day warms and the sunshine finds its way into the woods. This morning, bubbles trapped beneath it, silver clusters, catch the first rays of light.

(all photos enlarge with click)

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Birding...on the Farm (SWF)

Aullwood Audubon Center is a small, diverse nature sanctuary within a short drive from downtown Dayton, Ohio. As one of the founding members of the Audubon Centers Network, this property offers opportunities for all to "build an awareness, appreciation, and understanding of birds and other wildlife" within its 350-acre boundaries. And, even on days when the weather outside might become a barrier to this exploration, dozens of hands-on exhibits, fascinating to all ages, are housed within thematic classrooms of the education center or scattered throughout its observation rooms and quiet, reflective areas, while birdsong captured by outdoor microphones is brought in for those who watch.

We drove the hour's drive one afternoon, prepared to walk a portion of the 6 miles of trails weaving between prairie, woods, ponds, and meadow--sure that a blue sky would reveal a bounty of birds in its branches.
But, it did not.

The only birds we could find were those belonging to the Farm--laying chickens and a hen turkey roaming freely along the walkways beyond the huge, old barn that is also Aullwood.
Areas where visitors there can see sheep and ponies and cattle and crops.
And stop to sit, face-to face, with what many have only seen in a book.

Because, fifty years ago, one generous woman with a heart for the natural world, set these lands aside for others' enjoyment. By giving it to Audubon, ensuring it would be untouched by development, and preserved as a natural place.
Because, those birds we had hoped to see, the bounty in the branches, others may not yet know to look for.
And a chat with a chicken, who inquisitively explores your shoelaces, is where that knowing might start.

all photos click to enlarge

There is more information about Marie Aull
and the establishment of the Aullwood property
from the Audubon Society here.

See more Skywatch here.

More Camera Critters here.


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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

At the Edge

I’ve begun to check the pools again, early each morning and with more regularity. Hoping they arrived in the night, crossing the darkened fields and woods, to slip, unnoticed, into this cool water.
And, although turned a dark and rusty brown by the oak leaves lining its basin, the water remains clear--enough so, to see straight through its 13 inches of depth, to the bottom.
No spermatophores yet. Easy to distinguish, if here--small, white, gelatinous deposits of sperm left by the males at night, for the females to find later.
A clue to the presence of what, otherwise, would remain unseen.
Dark bodies, still, against the dark, leafy bottom.
Again, I find none.

(click images to enlarge)

As I bend low and peer into this quiet pool, woods around me barely touched by sunshine, it would seem I have found the essence of spring.
From water, waiting.

Ice on Wood Pool

Vernal pools are wetland areas that contain water in the spring, and, often, become dry by the end of the summer. They are necessary to the life cycle of certain amphibian species, which migrate to them and reproduce within their waters before returning to lives on land. I am waiting for 2 species of mole salamander to arrive--Jefferson Salamanders first, and Spotted Salamanders, several weeks later. Because migrations typically occur on dark, rainy nights and the adults hide from daylight beneath submerged plants and leaves, finding them can be a challenge. The white spermatophores, left on the bottom of the pool by males, are easier to discover.


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