Thursday, October 11, 2012

Dolly Sods on Fire

Heading east from the rolling hills of southeastern Ohio, fiddling blues and folk rock filled the car and the minds of three like-minded people who are connected by a deep fascination for the outdoors - each equipped with their own perspective on nature to create a well-rounded, inspiring atmosphere. As hills grew into mountains, the entrance to God's country appeared quicker than our ears could pop. Color greeted us at the gates from a palette full of anthocyanin, carotene, and xanthophylis pigments. We arrived with our headlamps guiding our path, hinting towards an unfamiliar landscape through moonlit red spruce treetop silhouettes. By morning, a sense of shock seemed commonplace as we sat and built a warm fire beneath a grove of colorful, stunted blackgum trees -  eggs, bacon, and summer sausage would fuel a long day of hiking.

 I've wandered through no other place as vibrant during autumn as the sub-arctic tundra of Dolly Sods Wilderness Area in northern West Virginia. I hiked the same trails exactly one year from this past weekend; though, the views seemed completely fresh as this weird-weathered year continues to bring surprises. Rather than last year's colorful forest canopy, the low-growing understory and meadow plants seemed to be burning brighter this year probably due to such a dry spell, which helped trees shed their leaves much quicker.

We moved through the upland sods with the falling leaves. Mountain oat grass, hay-scented fern, and blueberries created an enchanting weekend for Kaitlyn and Alex who have never experienced Dolly at her best. Alex (a former guide at the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of the northern woods) and Kaitlyn (a prolific rock climber and trip leader at Hocking College Outdoor Pursuits) both thanked me by sharing stories and teaching me about camp-cooking tricks and "leave no trace." It's so rewarding to have the chance to share a place as beautiful with good friends.

Golden carpets of hay-scented fern provided a beautiful aroma along the trails. These ferns not only out compete other plants through forming dense colonies, but also through their alleleopathic chemical composition, which inhibits growth of even the mightiest of tree species like oaks.

From the meadows to the forests, biodiversity means color during autumn. My home-state of Massachusetts was well represented with its state fower, "mayflower," mixed in with bristly dewberry, deer moss, sphagnum moss, and blueberry leaves. Beach-maple forests lit up the normally darkened woodlots.

Early on, we were graced with a heavily anticipated show from the sun.

A photo from the same spot exactly one year later. This year, blueberry leaves and quartz deposits added an extra element of beauty at Bear Rocks overlooking the alluring Allegheny plateau. The geology is made up of white sandstone.

Within minutes upon arrival to this view, we were quickly swept with a familiar sight of billowing fog rolling up from the valley. Instantly, we were able to fully understand the presence and power of sub-arctic tundra weather - Dolly Sods.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Cool Plant Discovery on Hocking Campus

I thought for sure that my next blog post would be a good two weeks from now detailing my trip next week to the Ozarks. But you never know what exciting natural wonders might pop up - even on your daily walk to school. In fact, I've been walking the same path to school for a few years and I just now came across an odd looking plant: Black chokecherry (Photinia melanocarpa). According to BONAP and USDA Plants Database, this plant doesn't exist as a native in Athens County; however, it was planted years ago in the nearby Waterloo Wildlife Area, which is also in Athens County, as well as in landscaping. I'm not sure whether or not this plant emerged from a wild seed but it sure is a pretty native plant nonetheless.

What I found most exciting about this is that it has emerged and survived in such harsh growing conditions. This old train trestle also had wild hydrangea (Hydrangea aborescens) - an indicator of rich habitat - growing out of its crevices. That just goes to show that human disturbance is not always a bad thing. Southeastern Ohio's bedrock is sandstone, which is what the foundation of this train trestle is carved out of. The exposed outcrop-like sandstone combined with the shade created by the bridge creates a sort of disjunct habitat for plants that are tolerant to those conditions.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Garden of Art

Just finished and shipped a custom drawing for Daricia (A Charlotte Garden) - my very first customer. She provided me with a picture of her house and a list of her favorite plants and animals. I included a few native North Carolina woodland spring ephemerals that occur in Ohio as well. Thank you again for providing me with an opportunity to be creative and to have some fun in between classes!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Extra Early Ephemerals

Did you know that this year's unusually mild winter temperatures have influenced flora and fauna species negatively? For instance, honey bees are dying in great masses due to starvation from waking up much too early. Similarly, bat species, which have already been weakened by the mysterious White Nose Syndrome (WNS), are also waking from torpor earlier than expected, burning valuable calories before any sign of food supply emerges. Oh but just wait a couple of weeks when insects do emerge in a booming way, which will likely affect crop damage, disease transmission, and of course nuisance issues. 

A host of questions arise when abnormal weather occurs. For example, many are wondering if the powers of climate change have quickly buckled to the pressures of industrialization. But before making that assumption, some scientists attribute this year's phenomenon to cyclic weather patterns such as La Nina and the Arctic Oscillation (AO). La Nina (opposite of El Nino) increases water temperature in the Pacific Ocean, which influences rainfall throughout the country, often leading to droughts in the south and heavy rainfall in temperate North America. The AO influences the position of the arctic jet stream, which controls winter temperatures; thus, snowfall. La Nina's impact on water temperature ultimately pushed an already abnormally northerly jet stream further north, which caused Ohio and many other states to experience an abnormally low amount of snowfall this year. Two main problems arise when this occurs. For example, the sun puts most of its energy into heating the ground rather than melting snow that should be there. Further, we know that snow deflects a great deal of solar energy because it is white. When there is a reduction in snow, the ground absorbs more solar energy this way as well. So, it is easy to see how two cyclic climatic events can cascade into such a dramatic change in weather by coincidentally occurring at the same time. As a result, we have one of the warmest winters on record.

Though many problems have arisen from such an unusually mild winter, one segment of society has greatly benefitted from this phenomenon - botanists. Today, Andrew Gibson (The Natural Treasures of Ohio) took me on another stroll through his stomping grounds of the biologically diverse Adam's County, Ohio to explore an extra early array of spring ephemeral plants. There, we found approximately 20 new early bloomers for the year!

One of the highlights for me along the trip was the Snow Trillium (Trillium nivale). Of course, as the common name implies, this species - the smallest of the 8 Ohio trilliums - emerges so early that they are often blooming through snow. However, they certainly didn't have to live up to their epithet this winter.

The white trout lilies did not disappoint either. Like T. nivale, this species tends to prefer calcareous soils, which are aplenty in Adams County with such an abundance of dolomitic limestone parent material. We were surprised to see them blooming this early; we were absolutely mind-boggled to see that many had already gone to fruit! The noble plant on the right is surely the king of the ephemeral forest.

Only one bloodroot was to be found today among a complete absence of rue anemone. Similarly, there was no spring beauty to be found, either. We were a bit curious as to why some plants were not in bloom yet when their associates were already so far along. Perhaps some species are less anxious to bloom when such early warm weather occurs; rather, they might rely more on an internal clock. In any event, dwarf larkspur surprised us by blooming much earlier than normal years.

Blooming toad shade trillium (Trillium sessile) was a major surprise to me since I found a healthy patch near peak bloom last year in Athens County on April 24th - almost a month and a half later than this year! Granted, Adams county is two-hours south of that population.

Two other "firsts" for me were the state threatened Michaux's leavenworthia (Leavenworthia uniflora) and one of Ohio's rarest plants - the endangered little whitlow grass (Draba brachycarpa).

Among virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) and yellow fumewort (corydalis flavula), we also came across two toothwort species, common blue violet (Viola sororia) , and many more. I'm already looking forward to visiting Adam's County again. Happy Spring!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Happy Birthday Rachel!

Today marks a very special day for my younger sister, Rachel. She'll be turning 5 AND 20 all at once. That's right, she's a leap year! And to celebrate, I decided to do something a bit more special by drawing her a picture. In the five years of being in Ohio, all of my immediate family has had the chance to make it out here except for her. So, I couldn't think of a better way to show her my recent stomping grounds than to send them to her from my perspective. A closer look will reveal some of my favorite plants, animals, and historical sites from southeastern Ohio that have made an impression on me. Happy Birthday, Rachel! BIRDS: Ohio's state bird - cardinal, Pileated woodpecker, Hooded warbler, Yellow-crowned kinglet, Whippoorwill; ANIMALS: Southern flying squirrel, Black rat snake, Wild turkey; FUNGI AND LICHENS: Morel mushrooms, Devil's urn fungi, Old man's fingers fungi, Green sheild lichen; TREES, SHRUBS, AND VINES: Ohio's state tree - Ohio buckeye, Persimmon, Sassafras, Witch hazel, Bigleaf magnolia, Paw paw, Tulip tree, Spicebush, Pignut hickory, Poison ivy, blueberries; WILDFLOWERS AND SEDGES: Ohio's state flower - cardinal flower, Toad trillium, White trillium, Plantainleaf sedge, Spotted pipsissewa, Virginia bluebells, Wild ginger, Dutchman's breeches, Squirrel corn, Bloodroot, Yellow trout lili, Bellwort, Woodland sunflower, Wild blue flox, Yellow lady's slipper, Bluets, Fire pink; SITES: Ash Cave, Conkle's Hollow, Moonville tunnel, An abandoned coal mine, Lake Hope furnace, and a fire tower.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Ohio Forever

Five years ago, I ventured away from my home in New England to follow my dreams of pursuing the field of natural resources in southeastern Ohio. I didn't know then that I'd stumble upon such vast opportunities, which have led me to live and breath all aspects of Ohio. From botanizing the most southern counties of the state to working on the northern islands of Lake Erie, and everything in between; I feel as though I've experienced the heart and sole of this midwest gem of a state. As I reflect on my experiences as an Ohioan, I realize that I've been blessed with a life-changing opportunity - one that I feel I've taken full advantage of. Thus, as graduation from college fast approaches and I come full circle in this experience, I feel fulfilled and grateful.

One day, I woke up and saw my first bloodroot, hepatica, trillium, and a woodlot full of gnarly hickories of all sorts. The paw paws were ripe in the vinton furnace forest creek bottom, where I filled my shirt with all I could eat. Later, curiously hiking the ridge only to be surprised by a timber rattlesnake slithering through the leaves. And the nostalgic Vinton furnace remnants and coke ovens deep in the woods appeared so noble as Virginia creeper swept across their sandstone faces. Taking breaks from collecting DBHs by picking blackberries, dewberries, and raspberries with the forestry crew. By night, I heard the whippoorwills, screech owls, and saw the woodcocks do their dance near school. Not to mention holding northern saw-whets and eastern pipistrells to band. Harvesting ramp, chicken of the woods, and morel mushrooms for a moonlit spring feast.

As the dew is trickling away, have you heard the colors sing, too? From indigo buntings to yellow warblers; wood thrushes and spring peepers should be heard by all. Feeling the cool woodland breeze drop from a sw aspect to a ne aspect; the scent transformes from carolina rose to spice bush, respectively. From the haunted Moonville tunnel to gazing up at the old Nelsonville brewery before it fell. Peering into old mine shafts led my mind through a long tunnel of history and curiousity. An abandoned coal tipple deep in the woods gave me vision of a booming town, now occupied by forest creatures. 

For eternity, memories will pursist of hiking through the wooded hackberry shoreline of Middle Bass Island only to be surprised by my first adult bald eagle in the canopy. And of course, the endless nights of fishing for smallies, rock bass, and sheepshead off of the Southbass Island dock with a black crowned night heron friend. Wild walks along the put-in-bay boardwalk; The most remarkable of remarkable 4ths as the “Sunny S” parked in the harbor for my lucky group to view the fireworks. The cool mist whisping off the whaler in the morning from our commute from Southbass Island to work - ol' Lonz winery in view. 

Up north to catch big steelhead on the noodle rod and back again four years later to show dad. And of course, not only visiting Shawnee State Forest, Pearl King Savannah, Prairie Road Fen, Gallagher Fen, and Davey Old Growth Woods in one day, but also being part of two county orchid records. Those timeless burr, post, and black jack oaks of northwest Ohio will stick with me forever. And of course, Conkles Hollow, to Old Man's Cave, to spending my Easter Holliday photographing the tall waterfalls come alive only to meet a blanket of red trilliums below at Cantwell Cliffs

The opportunity to see the west would have never arisen without Ohio. Stories of life on the North Dakota prairies shall be introduced to my future children like fishing tales of starry night channel catfishing on the Connecticut River were passed down to me. There, I saw new plants and animals that only books had previously shown me - from fishers and moose to banding pelicans; grasses and more grasses were not only observed, but taught to me. And I could never forget coming across acres of multiple species of lady's slipper orchids! As much as I loved this wide open space, the hills and trees were calling again. Upon returning to Ohio, I took off to meet Dolly Sod's in WV and the Red River Gorge-ous sunrises of KY in peak foliage color during autumn. It is today that I fully understand Mark Twain's quote - "Don't let schooling interfere with your education." As dad always said, "knowledge is power;" though, experiences are an essential supplement to growth.

In five years, I've exceeded my dreams and expectations for this experience. I am a changed man and the unforgettable culture, history, and feel of this midwest state and region will be embedded in my family and I forever. The Ohio fall festivals, summer farm stands, winter hikes, and spring ephemerals now run deep in my veins.  Cheers, Ohio - to past and future adventures to come!

The Ohio Fish and Wildlife Conference

This year, The University of Rio Grande was well represented at one of the largest natural resources conferences Ohio has to offer - The Ohio Fish and Wildlife Conference. As one of the three student chapters of The Ohio Chapter Wildlife Society (OCTWS), Rio was fortunate to be asked to operate and find donations for the raffle table. As the President of our chapter's TWS club, I was a bit nervous because our program is small; thus, there are a limited amount of available volunteers to help out with this project. But, I was pleasantly surprised when I showed up at the carpool meeting area in Nelsonville at 6am to find approximately 10 eager Rio students ready to volunteer! Andy Montoney, State Director of the Wildlife Services, asked us to seek out donations from any local vendors in the weeks leading up to the conference. All in all, club members were able to find donations such as personal photography, two homemade blue bird boxes, gift certificates, a walking stick, and many more items.

Jerry with a blue bird box that our student chapter built. Our professor, Don Althoff and his wife, Karen, were kind enough to design the box and let us use their tools. Also, some photography I donated.

It was very rewarding to see people choose my photography in the raffle!

Ultimately, everybody had a great time running the table, speaking to employers, and viewing presentations. I had a chance to step away from the table to view a particularly interesting topic for me presented by Roger Williams titled, "Using fire to restore forests and wildlife communities." Already looking forward to next year's conference as we've been asked to operate the raffle for th second year!