A walk on the wild side

American Kestrel (photo by Roger Garber)

I hope I never lose the burning desire to learn more about natural history. I knew that Mother Nature could be quite the designer but I learned some new things at the Wildlife Diversity Conference this week. Things that tell me she has quite a few more tricks hiding up her sleeve. From discovering how nonnative earthworms are detrimentally impacting our forests to learning what is down in a terrestrial crayfish tunnel….It was great. Sponsored by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife, this annual conference draws nearly 1000 people to hear researchers who are tops in their fields. Consider attending next year. You won’t regret it.

Perhaps you’ve heard it said, “Tell me something I don’t know.” I’ll try to add a new snippet in my posts that just may give the reader something to ponder. Something to demonstrate just how magnificent the natural world is. Here we go:

American Kestrel (photo by Roger Garber)

Did You Know? The American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) is the smallest of our falcons. About the size of a Mourning Dove, they can frequently be seen sitting on a power line or telephone wire or hovering over a field just waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting meadow vole or grasshopper. It goes without saying that raptors (hawks, falcons, eagles and owls) have great eyesight but here’s something even more unusual. Because kestrels can see ultraviolet light, and because vole urine reflects that color, it’s possible that kestrels can follow vole urine trails to potential prey. Go figure! Thank you to our friend Roger Garber who kindly provided some of his spectacular photos for this post.

Arc of Appalachia Wildflower Pilgrimage

Now in its sixth consecutive year, the popular Wildflower Pilgrimage is a weekend event hosted in southern Ohio celebrating one of Earth’s greatest natural spectacles – the grand showcase of wildflowers gracing the world’s temperate forests in the spring. Located at the southern edge of the glacial advance, and also occupying the edge of the Appalachian foothills, this region has one of the richest wildflower displays to be found in America’s Eastern Forest. The Wildflower Pilgrimage is timed to catch the blooming of many of the showiest species and will be held April 20-22. Check it out HERE.

Area garden centers gear up for spring season

The area garden centers are BURSTING with a riot of colors and fresh new ideas to get you in their doors and out in your garden. Grandma’s Gardens and Landscaping (Centerville/Waynesville) is celebrating with their Spring Preview Open House March 9-11. Knollwood Garden Center (Beavercreek) has already started their spring series of seminars. This Saturday, March 10 at 10 am is “Spring Tonic: Early Vegetable Gardening”. Call the store to register at 937-426-0861. Meadow View Growers (New Carlisle) also has a list of upcoming seminars. Check them out HERE. Siebenthaler’s (Centerville) is having a Potato Planting Party. Check it out HERE.

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Raptors: Hunting on the Wing

Great Horned Owl

This past Saturday I traveled to Cedar Bog Nature Preserve, just south of Urbana (OH) in Champaign County for a Raptor Workshop led by the amazing Tom Hissong, education coordinator for Aullwood Audubon Center. Participants were schooled on the numerous hawks, eagles, falcons and owls that can be found in at Cedar Bog as well as around Ohio.

Cedar Bog is an Ohio Historical Society property that is managed by the Cedar Bog Association. The bog is the largest and best example of a boreal and prairie fen complex in Ohio formed by retreating glaciers about 15, 000 years ago. It is home to many rare, unusual and endangered plants including the Small Yellow Lady Slipper and Showy Lady Slipper orchids. The 450-acre site features a one mile long board walk and an eco-friendly nature center, which was the location for the raptor workshop.

Small rodent bones in an owl pellet

Weird one that I am, I thought the highlight of the workshop was the opportunity to dissect an owl pellet. Less you are grossed out by this thought, would it soften the weirdness to know that the pellets were sterilized? Hmmm. I didn’t think so. Anyways, owls, as you may know, hunt and eat small animals like shrews, mice, voles and birds. They tear their food and swallow large chunks whole. They can’t digest all the hair and hard materials such as bones, so they regurgitate these in the form of a pellet. Sounds like an owl version of a cat’s hair ball!

Bones found in an owl pellet. The tiny bones just under the jaw are less than 1/4 inch.

Using a bone sorting chart (yes, there is such a thing) we discovered teeny, tiny vertebrae, ribs, shoulder bones, leg bones, sculls and teeth. It was quite interesting. It bears repeating: do yourself a favor and discover the wonders of nature by taking the opportunity to check out some of the wonderful places like Cedar Bog. You won’t be disappointed.

Yummy shortbread owl cookies. Who says birders don't have a sense of humor?

Sales alerts

Knollwood Garden Center – Beavercreek – Knollwood is really getting in some great and unusual house plant in stock. Just in time for Valentine’s Day (though who REALLY needs an excuse to buy a plant?) all tropical foliage plants are 20% off through the 18th. (Flowering plants not included.) Website HERE.

Grandma’s Gardens – Waynesville/Centerville-ish –  Grandma’s Gardens website has a $5 off a $30 purchase of regular priced items (some exclusions) through Wednesday, February 15. Coupon HERE.

Who-Who–Who-cooks-for-you……

Barred Owl (I took this photo in the Florida Everglades)

I invented a weird game several years ago while traveling alone many hours on the highways of Ohio. It’s a Roadkill contest. I’m the only one playing. (Hey, it kills time and keeps me alert.) Perhaps it is better described as a scientific wildlife survey. Whatever the case, here’s how you play: keep a mental tally of how many of what kinds of animals are on side of the road of which the vehicle is traveling. There is one exception to the rules: a dead deer can be counted no matter which side of the road it is spotted. It may sound morbid but it was very interesting to discover population patterns in during different times of the year. For instance, skunks are more prevalent in late winter/early spring. Groundhogs in the summer. Possums and raccoons tend to be found year round. I noted the decline of cottontail rabbits and the increase of coyote. Occasionally I’d spy a bird of some sort but it wasn’t the norm.

So when I recently glimpsed what I thought was a dead owl on the side of the road, I could hardly believe it. THAT’S a first for me. I checked it out later and discovered a beautiful barred owl that did not appear to be damaged – other than being dead. It seemed such a sad tragedy for such an gorgeous work of nature. I did what I had to do – and brought him home. Barry, as I affectionately named him, is now off to Wahkeena Nature Preserve (Fairfield County, OH) south of Lancaster, Ohio where he/she may be added to the natural history collection in Wahkeena’s Nature Center. In case you wonder about the title of this post, it is my interpretation of the call of a barred owl. You can listen to it HERE.

If you are alert, you too may find nature all around you – even at this time of the year. Keep your ears open for the great horned owls who are in mating season right now. I have heard that the male has a hoot/call that is lower pitched than the female. Keen ears may also hear coyote who are in mating season as well.

Educational Opportunities

Greene County Master Gardener Program

If you live in Greene County and would like to become a Master Gardener Volunteer,  Master Gardener Applications are being accepted for the class starting in February 2012. Detailed information is available under Master Gardener Volunteer Program at http://greene.osu.edu or by calling 937-372-9971.

Birds of a feather

Snowy Owl, Hardin County, OH

Were you one of the lucky few who caught a glimpse the glorious Snowy Owl in nearby Hardin County north of Bellefontaine (OH)? If not, our Viner friend Roger Garber put his new camera lens to work and has shared a wonderful shot for you. Snowy Owls, normally residents of the Arctic north, have been spotted much, much farther south of their native range. This unusual visitation is called an irruption and may be the result of inadequate food sources, primarily lemmings, that may have driven some owls this far south.

Sadly, it was reported today on the Ohio Ornithological Society’s Facebook page that our local avian media star was found dead today perhaps a victim of starvation. Take a listen to Jim McCormac, a biologist with ODNR’s Division of Wildlife, who was interviewed on  NPR’s All Things Considered by Melissa Block HERE.

The Harry Potter fan in me says, “Hedwig, we hardly knew ye….”

Pileated Woodpecker

I always enjoy feeding the birds in my backyard. Suet is a great way to attract many birds. Imagine my excitement spotting this pileated woodpecker. Thank goodness the feeder had a tail prop or else this guy would have been left hanging!

Educational Opportunities

Yes, it’s that time again! WHOOOOO HOOOOOO! The seminars, conferences and symposiums are gearing up.

Adams County Amish Bird Symposium – Saturday, March 3

This daylong celebration of birds features speakers, vendors and activities at the Wheat Ridge Amish Community Building, West Union (OH). Speakers include Harvey B. Webster, Cleveland Museum of Natural History; author Geoff Hill, Auburn University professor; Chris Gilkey, Wildlife Officer; Jim McCormac, Division of Wildlife; and Kimberly Kaufman Black Swamp Bird Observatory. Amish lunch included. Find registration information HERE.

Wildlife Diversity Conference – Wednesday, March 7

Wildlife Diversity: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Held at the huge Shriner’s Complex in Columbus, this event is awesome. Speakers are among the best in their field. Worms, Freshwater Mussel Restoration, Aquatic Invasive Species, Lake Erie Pelagic Bird Survey, Wildlife Orphans, Wetland Restoration & Small Mammal Community Structure and Beavers/Porcupines and Fishers. All in one day! Read more/register HERE.

Hosta College – Friday/Saturday, March 16 & 17

One of the most anticipated events of the spring is the American Hosta Society Great Lakes Region’s Hosta College in Piqua (OH). This year the date is Friday-Saturday, March 16 & 17. Check it all out HERE. Early class registration for Miami Valley Hosta Society members opens 12 midnight January 13. Non-member registration opens January 25 at midnight.

Vacation recovery

One of the poolside visitors.

It’s always fun to escape from the everyday routine and last week was no exception. Our vacation to Hilton Head Island, SC offered a whole ‘nother natural world to discover. Dragonflies were abundant as well as birds that we don’t see ’round these parts. A highlight for me was a Swallow-tailed Kite, a black and white raptor, not the kite with a string you fly on the beach! However now that I am home, there are lots of educational opportunities and sales events to report on so let’s get to it.

Who says snakes aren't cute? This one is about 8" long. Note the moss for a size reference.

Educational Opportunities

Vegetable Seminar, Saturday, August 6

Knollwood Garden Center is featuring Rich Pearson of Five Rivers MetroParks this Saturday, August 6th at 9:30 am. He will offer tips on how to keep your mid-summer gardens producing at their best and what to do with the great produce to save it for future use. Such as: freezing, drying, freezer salsa, refrigerator pickles (no canning!) and more.

Any one up for Bug Bingo? Saturday, August 6

Bring the kids out to Koogler Wetland/Prairie Reserve from 10-11:30 am, Saturday, August 6, in Beavercreek Township to learn about insects while playing Bug Bingo! Under the direction of Beaver Creek Wetlands Association (BCWA) Trustee Chris Simmons, tromp through the prairie shaking bugs from the wildflowers onto catching sheets and get a closer look-see in magnifier boxes. Volunteers will assist with identification. Those who successfully complete their Bug Bingo card will proceed to the “Edible Entomology” station, where they can create an insect from tasty treats. They can eat their creation if they can identify the basic parts of an insect.

Nets, collection boxes, identification guides, and treats provided. Dress appropriately – long pants and closed-toe shoes are recommended.  Koogler Wetland/Prairie Reserve is located on the southeast corner of Beaver Valley and New Germany-Trebein Roads.  Please contact BCWA at 937-320-9042 or by E-mail at admin@beavercreekwetlands.org for more information.

Men’s program offered this Saturday, August 6

Not slighting the men (after last post’s note on a Women’s Day event) Siebenthaler’s Nursery is offering a Men’s Morning, Saturday, August 6 from 8-9:30 am at the Centerville Garden Center ONLY. Men can enjoy breakfast cooked on the grill and hear helpful lawn tips from Len Dunaway of Green Velvet Sod Farm. Robert and Jeff Siebenthaler will discuss the latest Emerald Ash Borer news. This program is also free, but you need to make a reservation. Register by contacting Laurie Fanning at: lauriefanning@siebenthaler.com; 937-434-1326 or 937-427-4110.

Dr. Doug Tallamy to speak Sunday, August 7

The Greater Cincinnati Master Gardener Association is offering “A Case for Native Gardening: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants” and is presenting Dr. Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Back Nature for two speaking engagements on August 7. Tickets and more information can be found HERE.

Attracting Pollinators – Tuesday, August 9

The guest speaker for the 7 pm, Tuesday, August 9 meeting of the Miami Valley Hosta Society which meets at Cox Arboretum is Barbara Bloetscher, Ohio State University. For over 20 years she has had a close association with OSU and now serves as diagnostician for environmental and nutritional problems on agronomic crops and turfgrass. She also is the State Entomologist/Apiarist at the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Her specialty is turfgrass but she also is a recognized expert in identifying weed and herbicide injury on crops and ornamentals. The event is free.

Cincinnati Zoo’s Plant Trials Day – Thursday, September 1

Just what is a Plant Trials Day? It is a day for people who love plants! It is a view of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens Trials, including annuals, perennials, grasses, bamboo, shrubs, vines and trees. Industry professionals in these categories will be sharing their best new varieties. Featured speakers include: Jim Nau, Manager of The Gardens at Ball at Ball Horticultural Company; Bill Hendricks, President of Klyn Nurseries with one of the largest selections of plants anywhere in the country and Paul Cappiello, Executive Director of Yew Dell Botanical Gardens and Coauthor of the Book “Dogwoods”. The event is $45 and lasts all day and includes a catered lunch and reception and a Silent Auction for rare and outstanding plants. Find more information HERE.

Appalachian Forest School

If you are serious about learning more of the natural world around you, check out this branch of the Arc of Appalachia Preserve System HERE. Upcoming in-depth on-site schools include Butterflies of the Forest Heartland (August 22-26) and Trees of the Eastern Forest (September 18-23).

Sales Alerts

Grandma’s Gardens and Nursery: Sunset Specials from 6-8 pm, now through August 5. Aug. 2: Buy one shrub, get 2nd 50% off; Aug. 3: All gallon and larger perennials, buy two, get one free; Aug. 4: Half off one regular tree planting fee; Aug. 5: 30% off regular priced in-stock fountain. Now through August 14: all daylilies and Asiatic lilies are 30% off.

Knollwood Garden Center: 20% Off all trees and shrubs, 25% off all perennials (gallons, $12.99 & up), 50% off all quart-sized perennials ($6.59 & up). Groundcovers not included. Fountains and furniture 30% off.

Siebenthaler’s: Siebenthaler’s 61st Annual Tree & Nursery Sale is scheduled for September 24th & 25th and October 1st & 2nd.


Gettin’ a little figgy with it

Brown Turkey Fig

You can put what I currently know about figs in a thimble. Growing up eating the less expensive generic Fig Newtons, I pretty much thought all figs came in graham covered slabs. I couldn’t have identified one in its natural form to save my life. Well, now I have a reason to immerse myself in fig research because I’m going to be a fig mamma. I picked up my $8 four-foot tall Brown Turkey fig plant while on my North/South Carolina in April (much to Keith’s chagrin) and it has about 20 little bitty figs. Does anyone have any culture input they can give me for growing one in Ohio?

Go local

One of the great things about summer is the opportunity to buy products that are locally grown or produced. Here in the Centerville area the Centerville Farmers Market just opened at its new 2011 location: Centerville Shopping Center (northeast corner of South Main St./Spring Valley Rd.) Open from 2:30 pm to 6:30 pm on each Thursday through mid-October, there is plenty of parking to be found. Post a comment to include other area farmers markets you have discovered.

Native Plant Conference offering 1 day registration price

The July 8-10 Midwest Native Plant Society is now offering a 1-day (Saturday only) registration price of $90 for its annual native plant conference at Bergamo. It is not listed on the site’s home page so you’ll have to click on the registration link for this discount. I attended the first one and had no idea that this was a national event. If you have any interest in learning more about growing native plants, this is the place to be.

Periodic Cicadas again? Already?

Viner Angie in Bellbrook reported hearing some periodic cicadas singing again. Having quite the deluge of cicadas in 2004, she probably wasn’t looking forward to another influx. Ironically, I had heard one yesterday as well over by Normandy Park in Centerville. Without looking into its beady little eyes and getting a positive ID, I’m not sure which species we heard. You can learn more about brood XIX at this link and even make a report if you’ve identified them in your neck of the woods.

Nature pics from the yard

Mourning Cloak butterfly

My attempt to attract and keep the orioles to the yard failed. Here, you see my attempt to attract them: a grapefruit half that had grape jelly in the cup. It is mounted on top of the shepherd’s hook of my birdfeeder. Ironically, in its spoiled state, it attracted the mourning cloak butterfly who likes to sip on rotting fruit or scat. When its wings open it is about 3-4″ wide.

This next picture is not for the squeemish. Viewer beware. It is a picture of a spider on the inside of my kitchen window who was having breakfast on a Crane Fly. If you can stand it, click on the photo to make it larger. The spider was on the inside of the screen. The fly was on the outside. How weird is that? Not all spiders resort to spinning webs to catch their food. Many, as this example demonstrates, catch their victims on the prowl. I love the cute (yes, I said cute) jumping spiders. Up close, they look like a sort of an oogly teddy bear…….sort of. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife has a wonderful field guide for Spiders of Ohio though with this back lighting, I can’t tell which spider this is.

Breakfast at Vickster's

Let’s get the party started

Robin Williams is quoted as saying, “Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s Party!'” Well, here in Ohio – we’re starting to get down! At least in the southern part. I was up in Cleveland last weekend and, sadly, winter still has a grip there.

OAGC’s Hike for Health

Wahkeena Nature Preserve's Nature Center

I recently visited Wahkeena Nature Preserve in Fairfield County south of Lancaster OH in preparation for the Ohio Association of Garden Clubs Foundation’s Hike for Health day on May 14. OAGC’s members are accepting pledges to raise money for the OAGC Foundation’s charitable endeavors on this day of awareness. (Email me if you would like to support me with a pledge. I’d be grateful for your support.) A side benefit is the bettering of the health of the walkers as they walk the trails at Wahkeena or other areas closer to their home.

Spring’s party has already started at Wahkeena

Long-tailed salamander

It was a great day for a short hike with Wahkeena’s staff, site manager Tom Shisler and Robyn Wright Strauss. We spotted the newly arrived Louisiana Waterthrush and even some Pine Siskins who had yet to depart for their summer grounds up north. We also heard the Yellow Throated Warbler. Always with an ear for new birdsong, they both bolted to attention when a new sound split the air. The funny part? It was only my cell phone going off – which has the ringer of an Ovenbird singing. It was a hoot.

Though the days of salamander hanky-panky are behind us, evidence of their antics were abundant. Tom knew right where to look for salamanders and when he overturned a rock by the spring, sure enough, there was a long-tailed salamander.

Salamander egg mass

Down at one of the man-made vernal pools funded by OAGC, Tom and Robin gently lifted up some of the egg masses for viewing. Frog and toad masses were present as well and is a sign that spring is well underway.

The Canada goose couple were already on the nest. Tom has had to unclog the pond’s overflow as the beaver have been busy trying to plug up that leak in THEIR pond! Sadly, I must note that the center’s hawk recently passed away. It was estimated that she was over 23 years old. Plans are already underway to have another rehabilitated and unreleasable hawk move in to Wahkeena.

Baby salamanders

If you’ve never been to Wahkeena, I encourage you to take the trip to this wonderful preserve. Willed to the Ohio Historical Society by Carmen Warner, an OAGC member, Wahkeena has long been a destination for the organization’s members. Entrance fee to OAGC members is FREE. All others are $5/car.

We have babies!

Decorah, Iowa bald eagle nest cam

Surely the bald eagle nest cam in Decorah, Iowa has captured everyone’s attention. With three mouths to feed the parents are kept very busy. The nest cam show nature’s basic instinct: survival. The babies are being fed anything from rabbit, crow, muskrat, fish and who knows what else. Yumm! The baby down will be replaced with darker, medium-grey second down when they reach about 9-11 days of age. Juvenile feathers will start to appear when they eagles are around 24 days of age.

Well, I must be off. I’m taking my worms on the road for a Master Gardener program on vermicomposting tomorrow in Newark, OH. Later!