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

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.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Revisiting old friends

 I had the opportunity today to spend a little time in the Toledo Botanical Gardens, a favorite haunt that I had not visited for several years.The weather was less than ideal--fifty degrees with a damp wind, heavily overcast, occasionally drizzly--but the gardens were, as always, a joy. I of course had gone off without a camera as the stop was unplanned. (Someday I may have to get a phone with internet, but for now, I am hanging onto my beloved, nearly indestructible flip phone.)

  The rhododendron collection was in full bloom, and those pure whites and singing pinks work regardless of lack of sun. The floor of the woodland garden was a sea of blue and white scilla and spangled with trilliums and wild geranium. One patch of yellow lady's slipper (seen here in a 2012 photo) provided a memory of sunshine on a gray day.

On the same path, a large swath of shooting stars (also 2012 photos)  had definitely come down to earth.

My beloved European copper beech was as spectacular as ever.

 And then, in the herb garden, was a plant I had seen only in pictures (these courtesy of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center): camassia. I am not certain if the specimen next to my favorite bench was the eastern or western variety (I expect the latter, because the flowers were really blue),  but the utter gorgeousness of the flowers inspired serious plant lust.

Camassia quamash, a western species. Doesn't that center just pop?
I need to find more excuses to visit the garden.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Death of the Dancers

A few weeks ago, I mentioned a group of trees on the river trail that I have long thought of as "the dancers" because of their gracefulness.

The week after this photo was taken, an afternoon walk revealed city crews removing several of the trees.

It turns out the most graceful of our city trees were ash, and they had succumbed to the emerald ash borer, the nasty Asian insect that feeds on the inner bark of ash trees, and only ash trees. Our local population had evidently been having quite a feast. 

Every exposed inch of every dead tree looks like this.

The eastern US has lost millions of ash trees to this accidentally-introduced scourge since 2002.  There are now insecticides that can treat individual trees, but the outlook for the wild population is not good.

Our local trail, at least, is not devoted entirely to ash; Marietta learned its lesson when Dutch elm disease took out the more than 1900 elm trees that once lined the city streets. Our urban forest is now more diversified and, blessedly, less prone to vanishing all at once. Just a few yards past the dead dancers, an Ohio buckeye is in full bloom.

And the sweet gums are doing fine.

Good news (I guess.)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Still a mess

Final exams and Earth Day are behind us, so at last it is back to the blog. This was for some reason the busiest semester of my career (surely not a sign that I am slowing down).

Some things have not changed, and one of them is troubling. The pitiful-looking house finch subject of an earlier blog post looked just as pitiful on April 27 as he did in March, nearly six weeks on.

In these blurry shots, you can see how naked his neck is.

This little guy does not seem to be getting new feathers. This kind of feather loss is often associated with mites, but no other neighborhood birds seem to be affected. The mystery deepens.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

It's alive!

When we moved from Chipmunk Ridge last year, I potted up some favorite plants to bring with us. One of those was clematis viorna, a native vine with sweet little bell-shaped flowers in an unreal-looking pink and yellow combination. (My photos of the plant are all on an external hard drive that I am too lazy to access at the moment, but you can access images and information here.) Not sure how a native vine would do in a container, but not having anyplace in the walled garden to plant it until the Final Battle With the Alien Invaders has been won, I purchased the largest container available at our local Lowe's (which coincidentally happened to be pink and on sale for $2.99), planted the clematis with burgundy and chartreuse heuchera, and stuck in a large tripod from our local ironworkers at Garden Forge for climbing.

The results were not good. The heuchera did fine, and for a good few months the clematis climbed slowly, twining its tiny tendrils around the metal supports and putting out some healthily-green leaves. Then--nothing. Sometime in September or thereabouts, viorna vanished. Not a wisp of anything vaguely resembling a vine.Evidently, the plant had departed this earthly plane.

The pot remained on the patio all winter, where the heuchera stayed in full leaf in front of the large bare spot. Then, making my morning toast, I glanced out the window to see--tendrils! Viorna has put out a good eight inches of growth already, and we had snow just a couple of hours ago.

This is a Sign of Good Things to Come.

Friday, April 1, 2016

A beauty-ous spring

This may be the best year for spring beauties (claytonia virginica) that I remember. Of course, it is totally possible that my memory is getting worse, but this year, the little things are everywhere: not only in the lawns and lawn strips where we expect them, but popping up in sidewalk cracks and covering one entire side of the Turtle Mound, a Hopewell earthwork a few blocks from our home. Alas, I had no camera with me when walking past the mound, but this view of a city park may give an idea of the abundance of beauties this year.

And this isn't one of the most thickly- carpeted areas. When the violets and dandelions really get going in a day or so, the show will be even more impressive.

Individual claytonia blooms are small--not as tiny as those of creeping veronica (a favorite weed) but not as large as those of sweet violet, with both of which it shares a blooming season. It is a major nectar source for early pollinators, so most people around here avoid mowing until after the plants go dormant.

Claytonia is edible (not that I have ever sampled it) and has had a variety of medicinal uses. Native peoples dug and roasted the corms, while the raw roots were eaten as a form of birth control. The powdered plant was used to treat convulsions, eye problems, and dandruff, according to Marian Blois Lobstein of the Prince William Wildflower Society.

 I don't intend to experiment with our local plant populations, but obviously, spring beauty is more than just a pretty face.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The beauty of bark

Spring is (finally!) springing out all over, but today it was the tree bark along the river trail that got my attention. The process began with "the dancers," one particularly graceful group of trees along the Muskingum River,

but soon brought out my usual admiration for the utter whiteness of mature sycamore bark.

Sycamores are not my favorite trees most of the year, given that their fluff irritates my eyes and nose and their leaves take forever to break down, but in their unveiled state, they are one of the most beautiful of all trees.

 Tree skin is even more varied than human skin, ranging from this relatively delicate version

to the delightful shagginess of dawn redwood (and don't you love it that the ancestors of this tree shared the planet with dinosaurs?)

or an old crabapple.

Young members of the genus Prunus tend to have a gorgeous shimmer

 but can get entertainingly warty at the same time.

Some bark becomes an ecosystem.

 If the presence of buds is any indication, we are soon likely all to be flower-intoxicated,

but for a few more days, it's all about the bark.