A Day in the Life… Part 46

It is now mid November and most of the leaves are now off the deciduous trees and the evergreens now dominate the wooded landscape. The beaver lodge can again be clearly seen from the driveway to the nature center at the opposite end of Lake Odonata. Read More

What a year…

This post has been almost a year in the making. The idea arose in early spring with a young boy who had found a piece of deer bone while on a hike. The piece of bone in question was part of a deer vertebra, the backbone, and it also had dozens of little scrapes caused by rodents chewing. Tom explained to the boy why rodents might want to chew on the vertebra in the first place: mice and other rodents chew on bones in order to get calcium into their diet. Humans also need calcium, one way we get it is by drinking milk. At this point the boy’s mother walked into the room and he jumped up, grabbed the deer vertebra and ran to his her to tell her everything that he had learned. This is what he said:
“Mommy! Did you know that there is vertebra in chocolate milk?” 

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A Day in the Life…Part 45

It’s a quiet Saturday the second weekend in November. Even though the preserve is still open this weekend the visitation has dropped dramatically. And you could not ask for a nicer day. The Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea) above shows off some of the last bright color of autumn.

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A Day in the Life….Part44

It’s now the first of November 2015 and much of the autumn color is fading fast. While there are still flashes of brilliant color more muted tones now dominate. Subtle yellows, like the fern above, and subdued pastel colors stand out. Read More

A Day in the Life …Part 43



We’ve reach the fourth weekend in October and the autumn foliage is now at its peak here at Wahkeena and the Hocking Hills. Read More

A Day in the Life…Part 42


Sights of the fall season are everywhere now. The water lilies in Lake Odonata are beginning to disappear as the pond undergoes a seasonal phenomenon known as fall turnover. During the cold night the water at the surface of the pond cools, becomes more dense and sinks to the bottom of the pond. At the same time warmer water at depth rises to take the place of the cold sinking water. During this convection the pond is stirred (not shaken) and decaying material like the water lilies “disappear” as pond nutrients are redistributed. Read More

A Day in the Life…Part 41

Here we are at the second weekend in October 2015. The warm days and cool nights have set the foliage color change into full motion.  The Dogwoods ( Cornus florida) are displaying bright red leaves now that the cells that made the green pigment chlorophyll have ceased their work. Other chemical compounds- anthocyanins are formed when starch, stored in the leaves, is converted to sugar. Anthocyanins are responsible for the reds, blues and purple hues that you see in the autumn.

The morning dew has made the sheet weaver spiders webs come “alive”.  These webs are often seen in low growing shrubs like the Juniper above.

The Black Walnut trees ( Juglans nigra) have nearly lost all their leaves. Black Walnuts have the shortest leaf span of any tree in North American – they are the last trees to get their leaves in the spring and the first to lose them in the fall. Our gray squirrels have dark stains on their faces from chewing through the hulls of the walnuts.
The cool evenings bring other changes as well. The beaver are once again cutting down trees. The Red Maple above is the first one that we have found this fall. It is just up stream of the boardwalk trail. If all goes well, the tree will fall into the water in the background and the beaver will then have easy access to the upper branches.
Posted by TS

A Day in the Life…Part 40

When I walked out the door this morning, I was greeted by the fella below.
I say fella because this is a male Walkingstick. You can determine the sex by the narrow body and the claspers at the end of the abdomen, which are used to hold the female during mating. Females would have an enlarged abdomen at this time of year and no claspers. This species is likely Diapheromera femorata , the most common species of walkingstick in eastern North American. Walkingsticks feed on leaves and autumn is a good time to see them as it is also the heart of their mating season.


Out in front of the nature center the leaves of the Catalpa tree are being ravaged by a different plant eating insect. As you can see in the picture above, the leaves has been chewed down to their veins.
The culprit… the Catalpa Sphinx moth caterpillar, Ceratomia catalpae.

The Catalpa Sphinx is one of the Hornworm caterpillars. When young these caterpillars are gregarious (living together) and can appear in explosive numbers. A large number of caterpillars are capable of defoliating a small tree like the one they are feeding on now. 
The cooling weather has triggered another animal in action.
The beavers have begun plastering the outside of their lodge with fresh mud to seal out the cold night air. You can see a “slide” in the center of the lodge.

With the recent rains dam building activity has resumed as well. Contrary to myth, beavers do not carrying mud on their tails. They carry and pack the mud in place with their front paws…just like you would!
The rain and wind have brought down many small branches that are cover with lichens.
Above is Powdered Ruffle lichen (Parmotrema hypotropum). This is a very common lichen that grows on many species of trees and especially on the upper branches.  For those interested in lichens, the Ohio Division of Wildlife has a new publication that came out earlier this year entitled – Common Lichens of Ohio. Copies are available from the Division or by stopping by Wahkeena.
Autumn is also the time for nuts (insert your own joke).
Above are Hazel nuts that grow on the American Hazel (Corylus americana). (Back in Part 13 is a picture of the flower that produced this seed.) Hazel nuts are also known as filberts. Many may remember a time when folks would put out a bowl of nuts at Thanksgiving and/or Christmas time. As the nuts were still in the shell, a nutcracker was also nearby. Today most kids would only know a nutcracker as a wooden toy soldier. 
Posted by TS

A Day in the Life…Part 39

A walk through the woods at this time of years reveals dappled sunlight and splashes of crimson red.
The bright red berries are those of Spicebush (Lindera benzoin). Spicebush is a common native understory shrub and this was a very good year for blossoms in the spring and the abundant crop of seeds that have now turned from green to red. The berries are a valuable wildlife food.

It is also the season for other things……WASPS!

At first glance, the picture  above  might appear to be just a hole in the ground. But on closer examination it is evident that some thing (an animal) has excavated the dirt in a rapid manner. A short distance from the hole is another clue seen below.
Chunks of paper comb are scattered around the hole. These are the remnants of a Yellow Jacket nest. With the extremely dry weather at the preserve this year, many Yellow Jacket nests have been found in the ground. (In wetter conditions, they will build above ground.) One of the best predator of these wasps is the Stripped Skunk. The scientific name of the skunk , Mephitis mephitis means “bad odor” “bad odor”. Once considered a member of the Weasel Family, genetic studies have shown that skunks  are not related to weasels but in a separate family all there own – Mephitidae. Skunks are well equipped to prey on the Yellow Jackets. They have dense fur for protection and long sharp claws for rapidly digging and tearing the paper comb from the nest. This happens in the cool of the night when the insects are less active and caught off guard. The skunk feast on the high protein larva in the comb.
Another type of wasp also reaching its peak numbers at this time of year is the Paper Wasp. Like it’s cousin the Yellow Jacket,  Paper Wasps built a paper comb. The paper is manufactured by the wasp chewing weathered wood and mixing it with saliva.
Paper Wasps are well known to many people as they built their small nests in more conspicuous places – like the corners of door and windows or under eaves as in the photo above. Paper Wasps and Yellow Jackets are both in the Family – Vespidae and are considered “social insects”that live in “large” colonies.
Below is a picture of a Mud Dauber Wasp colonies. Mud Dauber are in the Family – Sphecidae, also known as hunting wasps.  The Mud Dauber female constructs a mud chamber in which to lay an egg. She then stocks the cell with paralyzed spiders – food for the new developing larva.
Like the Paper Wasps, Mud Daubers build their nests is somewhat exposed areas like under eaves, as in the above photo, or on vertical surfaces that have some measures of overhead shelter from the elements.
 Another stinging creature of a different kind is the Saddle Back caterpillar (a moth) seen below. 
The Saddle Back (Acharia stimulea) has structures called scoli (a club-like shape) covered with spines. These spines can inflict pain that is similar in feel to that delivered by a bee or wasp. This insect is an excellent example of aposematic marking and coloration. Animals marked in such a way are sending a warning to potential predator to back off or else somewhat bad will happen!
And now for sometimes completely different. September is usually a good time to see a variety of fungi (mushrooms). However, once again it has been so dry that this year the “crop” is not so good. I did spot this small cluster of Puffballs along the trail.
I believe these are Gem-studded Puffballs  (Lycoperdon perlatum) that grow on decomposing organic material on the ground. They are considered edible as long as they are still firm and white in the center. As the puffball matures the center becomes a bag of powdery, brownish spores. A pore or hole develops on the top and when disturbed a cloud of spores can be seen “puffing” out into the air. 
Posted by TS

A Day in the Life…Part 38

This week we began having school groups again, so most of our time was spend in preparation for providing those educational programs. We have schools scheduling through October 28, so needless to say that will consume much of our time and energy! The kids so far have been great and excited about learning about the natural world and what Wahkeena has to offer.

We also just completed the first stage of bank repairs that were necessitated by the largest North American rodent- Mr. Beaver. After truck lots of fill dirt and rip rap ( large rocks), the damaged bank area has now been restored. Futures plans include armoring other bank areas including the entire length of the dam to discourage future intrusions by the beavers.

Poison Ivy has joined the Virginia Creeper as a colorful vine on many of the trees.

Poison Ivy can be seen in a variety of colors – red, orange, yellow, and purplish hues.

The Poison Ivy vines are loaded with berries this time of year. Sixty one different species of song birds are known to feed on the berries, an important energy source during the winter months.

The Monarch butterflies that Nora the Explora has been raising are now rapidly emerging from their chrysalises. The butterflies are being quickly released on flowers near the nature center. A video has been posted on the Wahkeena Facebook page.
The sunny areas now abound with a variety of goldenrods. Contrary to popular believe goldenrod is not the main reason for people’s allergies. Goldenrods are insect pollinated plants that have sticky pollen to aid in the transfer of pollen from plant to insect. Ragweeds, which are wind pollinated plants, have non-sticky pollen that is easily transported on the wind and therefore to not have showy flowers.(You do not have to be pretty is attract the wind!) But when people look around to see what might be causing their allergies all they may see is all of the goldenrod.
Goldenrods are an important late season source of energy for an amazing variety of bees, wasps, beetles and other insects.