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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A trash tree?

Some people hate catalpas. They have enormous leaves, which they shed in great numbers, and equally enormous seed pods, which children used to use in pretend sword fights. (Do children still do such things?) They are also the host of great numbers of catalpa sphinx caterpillars, at one time a popular fish bait in the South. (Do people still catch their own bait?) Sometimes, the caterpillars are so numerous as to defoliate the tree, leaving a thirty-foot stick until the new leaves grow. In other words, catalpas will make a mess in any tidy landscape.

But a blooming catalpa is quite a sight, perhaps especially edging a wooded path. This one is at an entrance to the University Parks Trail in West Toledo.


I certainly am not capable of begrudging a few leaves, pods, or caterpillars, especially when the bloom clusters are the most tropical-looking things native to Ohio.


Wouldn't they look right at home in a rain forest?

Those gorgeous blossoms are also attractive to pollinators. A close look reveals guide marks for bees, helping them find their way where the plant wants them to go, which also happens to be where the bees get what they need. Not only gorgeous, but helpful.


Catalpas may be gaudy, but I would never call them trashy.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Getting it right

Today found me accompanying the spouse to the Hidden Gems "mini-festival" at Pearson Metropark in Oregon, Ohio, specifically at the Johlin Cabin wetland restoration area.


At the time of its construction in the mid-1800s, this cabin was an isolated outpost in a marshy clearing of the Great Black Swamp (Northwest Ohio's major ecosystem until the mid-19th century); today it is part of a 600-acre preserve surrounded by residential, industrial, and commercial development, visible in the background of this photo.


Just a few hundred feet from this part of the preserve is a new subdivision of what looks like very expensive housing, while the main commercial strip of Oregon lies just beyond the park's southwestern boundary. In other words, this is truly a metropark.


One inspiring aspect of this place is the vision that created it. During the Great Depression, Toledo Blade reporter George Pearson led a fundraising drive to purchase and preserve the last few hundred acres of the Great Black Swamp. In the early years of our century, 320 acres of farmland were purchased and are currently being restored as wetland; already, after only a decade, the preserve has become a regular stop on the long-distance migrations of many bird species, including the warblers that draw thousands of people to the nearby Magee Marsh every May for The Greatest Week in Birding.


Today, the recreated wetland that was a farm not too many years ago is home to muskrats and mink. Despite the disruption of the park festival going on, the swallows and swallowtails were everywhere, and we were treated to the sight of white herons circling overhead and then vanishing into stands of cattail. Hawks are plentiful, as are dragonflies.

The place is not what it once was, when the swamp stretched for a hundred miles, but it shows what nature can do when humans step back and give it just a little room.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Critters everywhere!

We live in the middle of town. Okay, it's a smallish town of around 15,000 people, but it has houses and cars and pavement, our street, connecting downtown and the fairgrounds, is heavily traveled, and our yard is small: a walled garden of around twenty by sixty feet or so and lawn strips  wrapping around a corner lot--nothing like the suburban half-acre we left behind in West Virginia. We do have trees--maples, dogwoods, and sweet gum--and are across the street from the city arboretum, but this place is not a pristine ecosystem. It is, however, home to a fair amount of wildlife, even if one does not include the omnipresent squirrels.

Goldfinches and titmice are common (okay, we cheat by providing easy access to sunflower seed),


and every morning a handsome cardinal makes himself heard from the highest branch of the sugar maple in the walled garden. Today, a young robin that had figured out how to leave the nest but had not quite mastered the flying thing spent several minutes hopping around on our patio, trying to figure out how to get off the ground. (One must love adolescents, of whatever species.) By the time the camera was retrieved, the bird had flown.

Our tiny pond seems to be hosting frogs, despite having been drained and cleaned in early spring. Something that is not a cicada makes quite a racket at night. Checking frog calls online, I am suspecting some sort of tree frog or peeper, though the American toad is a possibility. Given the number of hostas and their accompanying slugs in that part of the yard, toads would be welcome guests.

The pond is also home to mosquito larvae, despite the fact that I gave in and tossed in a mosquito dunk this month. The good news about that is that we now have lots of dragonflies and damselflies darting about, engaging in the sort of aerial combat that makes me glad I am too small to interest them as prey. This little beauty, I think a blue-fronted dancer, held still long enough to be photographed.


We would never know that bee populations are declining from the action in our lawn strip. I am not good at bee identification but in the last two days have verified at least honeybees, two types of bumbles, and a very handsome green sweat bee.


 I do love the cute little pollen pouches that foraging bees collect on their legs.


We are also starting to get quite a few butterflies. This gorgeous fritillary has been feasting on our coneflower and rudbeckia the last couple of days.





 I suspect that this lovely creature began its life very near here, as fritillary caterpillars feed only on violets, which are found in the thousands in our lawn strip and the arboretum's grassy areas. (Note: if you want butterflies, don't get rid of your violets.)

One last shot of a well-fed fritillary.


Who would have expected a wildlife refuge here?


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Not your usual wildlife area

 As much as I love actual nature preserves, it is no secret that the Toledo Botanical Garden  is also a favorite place. This 60+-acre public park is home not only to spectacular plantings (including one of my absolutely favorite trees, a magnificent copper beech) but also to a number of arts organizations and a variety of small animals, including a sizeable population of the ever-amusing fox squirrel.


Who wouldn't love that tail?

In addition to the shady garden with its impressive rhododendron and hosta collections, the TBG also hosts several formal gardens. Such places are Not Generally My Style as designing them requires traits like discipline and restraint, neither of which I have in my relationships with plants. But a disciplined garden is not a bad thing (not that I am likely ever to live with one).


The contrast between this exuberant native baptisia and the classical statue is amusing.


This time of year many of the visual standouts are old roses


 and some knockout peonies,

but the highlight of my June 1 visit was the scent of the hedge of white rugosa.



These plants do not have the visual "oomph" of some of their companions, but the scent carries a long way and is one of the delights of summer. Walking past the rugosa hedge also provides aural amusement as the unmistakable buzz of large bees is everywhere. A formal English-style planting is not the first image  that springs to mind when one thinks of pollinator gardens, but this hedge is a magnet for bees of all sorts. I was fortunate enough to witness a brief skirmish between two bees interested in the same 
blossom
 
video 

and the dance of what I could not help but think was a very happy bumblebee.

video   

Not where one might expect to find wild ecstasy, but I'll take it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

It's not about you

Wild things often just do not cooperate. Birds, for instance. They would be much easier to identify if they would just come closer, instead of lurking in overhead foliage. And how is it that really cool primates like lemurs live all the way over in Madasgascar, where those of us with limited cash on hand are unlikely ever to be able to see them? And don't get me started on insects. There is a serious mismatch between those we would like to see more of and those with which we are ready to be done.

Cicadas are everywhere during this brood emergence. Now I am one of those oddballs who rather enjoys the once-every-seventeen-years cicada chorus, but Facebook is filled with people seemingly traumatized by the current omnipresence of large red-eyed bugs.

Mosquitoes are no doubt of some use in the ecosystem, but no amount of citronella seems to keep them from swarming my favorite outdoor seating area. On a recent visit to a forest park, the little bloodsuckers were so plentiful (and my repellent so far away) that I had to abandon an interesting trail for fear that loss of blood would leave my pale corpse somewhere along the path, until it was found by someone who had remembered to pack Deep Woods Off.

Butterflies are particularly uncooperative. The one time I managed to get to an area known to host Karner blues at a time of year when they are known to be flying, not a Karner was to be found. Last week, wandering a favorite meadow, I saw an unusual blue-gray butterfly of some kind, but would it land on anything nearby long enough to be photographed? Of course not, so with my failing memory (and difficulty observing things like how many of which markings the insect had, and on which part of the wing), the lovely little flutterer will remain forever unidentified. Ditto a black swallowtail of some kind, which danced enticingly along the path but never held still long enough for me to determine whether it was an actual black swallowtail, a pipevine or spicebush swallowtail, or a dark-form tiger swallowtail. Most annoying.

Of course, these creatures do not exist for us.The Karner blues are under no obligation to place themselves where they can be seen. The butterflies that were the object of my recent quests had their own lives to live. They were after the nectar in the meadow banquet, and avoiding the large thing that might be a predator took energy that could have gone into feeding and mate-finding. Our noisy neighborhood cicadas have only a few weeks to find a mate and pass on their genes before they die; their love song is also their death song.

All around us, every day, thousands (millions?) of lives are happening, all with their own stories. Most of us notice them only when they impinge on our lives in some way, and then the story becomes some aspect of the human one. Most of us never get to know what these beings are for themselves.

A reminder to myself the next time some creature becomes frustrating: it's not about you.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Falling in love again

with northwest Ohio, that is. A recent visit revealed new treasures. Just as a for-instance, Sylvan Prairie, a just-outside-the-city park created from old farm fields, is home to stands of golden thermopsis,


lots of wild tradescantia, and this incredibly gorgeous grass,


not to mention this exquisite little lake that reminded me of last summer's visit to County Wicklow in Ireland.


But the real highlight of that morning's ramble was the Kitty Todd Preserve, home to the endangered Karner blue butterfly. While I am not sure that I saw any Karners, the lupines on which their caterpillars depend were still in glorious bloom.


But what I loved even the more than the lupines and the possibility of sighting a rare butterfly was the landscape itself. The oak openings ecosystem, which stretches from northwestern Ohio into southeastern Michigan, is itself rare and endangered, threatened by both agriculture and urban sprawl. Many parts are called "barrens," but there is nothing barren about a field of bracken fern backing onto tall old oaks and maples.


Definitely in love.


Sunday, May 15, 2016

No Warblers, but....

I am no good at spotting warblers. Hordes of the little things fly through Ohio every spring, but I have spotted them exactly three times in my life, and one of those times was when they were drawn to a feeding station at a public park. They are just too good at hiding in the foliage, and my neck is just too bad at tilting backwards to allow me to look up with a pair of binoculars. So, even though I am in Northwest Ohio during the spring warbler migration, not a warbler did I see this weekend.

However, I did spot a few of my favorite things today. On a walk through what I call the Mayapple Woods,

a flash of white to my left turned out to be a patch of white violets, rather than the nasty garlic mustard that has invaded too many of our Eastern woodlands.


The largest hairy woodpecker I've ever seen kept swooping ahead of me along the path but would not allow a picture--of course. There were lots of unfamiliar birdcalls that could have come from warblers, but my ear for birdsong is not good. There were also lots of red-winged blackbirds and one handsome goldfinch winging his way over the Wildwood Metropark prairie.

The real treasures of the day, however, were found at the park's Window on Wildlife, one of my favorite places for hanging out and seeing who shows up. In this case, two Baltimore orioles darted in and out but refused to hold still for a picture. This blue jay and a couple of companions provided quite enough color, even though they are so common that we often fail to appreciate how handsome they are. (And okay, they're thugs, but the blackbirds and grackles were totally unintimidated by the trio of jays.)



The highlight of the afternoon, though, was a bird that I had seen in the flesh only once before and had been coveting (because it has seemed as if everyone else has had them this year....): a rose-breasted grosbeak. This handsome youngster (or so the knowledgeable birder in our impromptu group thought him) not only came to sample the offerings, he preened and posed for pictures.



So--no warblers, but today was fine.