Pest control

Earlier today, while wandering along and through Cranberry Run, I ran into a bit of déjà vu (yeah, yeah, yeah, I know…it’s not like the phenomenon’s a fog bank or a brick wall, but there you have it; I “ran into” it). See, thirteen years ago, back when digital cameras were really just making serious inroads, I decided to give photography another go. I was working for a local paper and they’d supplied me with an Olympus C2100 — basically a no-brainer digital point-and-shoot —  and I pretty much kept that thing with me all the time. So, one day I’m walking down by the stream and I see this damselfly perched all nice and interesting-like on a broad grape leaf. So I shoot it, photographically speaking. At the time, I was ridiculously proud of this shot, arguably my first foray into anything like nature photography. And despite its obvious flaws, I still like it.

Here it is.

Ebony Jewel Wing

So, anyway, getting back to the déjà vu experience, today I see this ebony jewelwing damselfly parked in a raspberry bramble and I think, “You know, that seems awfully familiar.” So I shoot it, photographically speaking, again and again and again, obsessively trying to get it right. I mean, I’m standing there for probably ten minutes shooting this damselfly, and while I’m standing there, the mosquitoes are massing an attack.

Am I worried?

Nope. Not one bit.

The reason I’m able to stand there for ten minutes and work at getting a decent shot (not that I ever really got one) is because, every little bit, that damselfly is leaping from his perch to snatch a mosquito. After grabbing one, he (and yes, he’s a he, just like the damselfly from thirteen years ago is a she) parks himself right back where he was, dines and then waits for another shot at a mosquito.

Pest Control

Using an analogy that Steven Spielberg would understand, basically I’m the chum, the mosquito is the shark and the damselfly is either Roy Scheider or Robert Shaw, take your pick.

Only in this version of Jaws, the shark never stands a chance.

insectile Jaws

 

 

 

Spot the frog

Over the past few weeks, we’ve spent a fair amount of time kicking around the wilder areas of The Quarry Farm, traipsing about under an increasingly dense canopy of hardwoods and skirting the edges of the quarry where what appears to be solid ground is, more often than not, more akin to thick, black soup. At this time of the year, the one common element of every off-the-map habitat, whether it’s in the woods back by the Cut-Off or wading through Cranberry Run, are the mosquitoes. They rise in humming clouds so dense that the beating of their wings creates a perceptible breeze. Even so, the very habitats that give rise to this scourge also foster a teeming number of solutions. There are dozens of species of dragonfly and damselfly patrolling the property. During the day, acrobatic swallows and other small songbirds cut the air, while at night, bats chitter a welcome swath of destruction under the stars.

And then there are the frogs.

Northern leopard frog Lithobates pipiens

Northern leopard frog
Lithobates pipiens

American bullfrog Lithobates catesbeianus

American bullfrog
Lithobates catesbeianus

Globally, frogs and other amphibians have suffered dramatic population declines over the past three decades. Even here, on the quarry, we’ve seen specific species numbers, like the American bullfrog, dwindle. Where there were once multiple waves of small bullfrogs racing into the duckweed-covered water of the quarry, now there is a fraction of that number, their individual voices discernible as evening progresses into night. Even so, they are here, though in limited numbers, as are Northern leopard frogs, the Northern green frog, the Northern spring peeper and the gray treefrog. And one more…Blanchard’s cricket frog. Its presence is cause for celebration.

Blanchard's cricket frog Acris crepitans blanchardi

Blanchard’s cricket frog
Acris crepitans blanchardi

Twenty years ago, Blanchard’s cricket frog was so common that it was frequently referred to as “ubiquitous” in reports detailing amphibian populations in North America. Now, the species is considered endangered in Wisconsin, of special concern in Minnesota and Indiana, protected in Michigan and extinct in Canada. Universally, throughout its range, Blanchard’s cricket frog is suffering. Although it fares better in Ohio, even here, radical population declines have been reported. Thankfully, on the quarry, their numbers are not only persisting, but arguably growing. While part of the nighttime chorus for at least the past ten years, the voices of the indigenous population of cricket frogs are becoming dominant.

So, in celebration of this little frog (it’s less than an inch-and-a-half in length) and its very big impact on the mosquito population, it’s time to play Spot the Frog. It’s a simple enough game with just one basic goal. So, without further ado…

                                                                  SPOT the FROG

The Quarry

On the quarry

For those who aren’t already aware, we didn’t come by The Quarry Farm name through sheer chance. It wasn’t a challenge presented by an odd acquaintance – “Hey, you know the letter Q’s not used all that much…Think you can come up with a ‘Q’ name?”

No.

The Quarry Farm is what the Seitz clan all called this particular branch of their dairy operation, this specific geographical spot. It was here that the family grazed cattle and Jersey calves, ponies Cookie and Babe, and cultivated hay. And, because they’re not all completely arbitrary in their actions, they had a compelling reason for calling The Quarry Farm “The Quarry Farm.”

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a string of quarrying operations throughout the area and along Riley Creek and Cranberry Run. Flagstone and limestone, plentiful in this part of the state, were the primary objectives. One such operation was located here and, though several small springs forced its closure, here it remains.

Raccoon PrintWhile at one time well known for sizable fish, the quarry underwent yet another change when, in the 1950s and again in the 1980s, local governments opted to dredge and straighten Cranberry Run in an effort to abate flooding in Putnam and Allen Counties. The spit of land separating the two bodies of water eroded to the point where the stream steadily deposited silt into the quarry until, nearly three-quarters of a century later, the quarry bears more resemblance to a wetland than to a pond or lake.

Twelve-spotted skimmerAs such, it’s home to a host of animals. There are dragonflies and damselflies in abundance. Water fowl feed and nest here and there is a treasure trove of amphibians, including a thriving community of Blanchard’s cricket frogs. Recently, we’ve discovered salamanders in the area and, this past spring, spotted what we suspect was a river otter in the one area of the quarry that still retains some degree of depth, though it’s failed to make a more recent appearance.

Here it is then, the quarry from which The Quarry Farm earned its name. And, while photos are fine, such as they are, the experience is more satisfying first-hand. So give us a call. We’ll be happy to show you around.

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Third time’s a charm

IMG_0826The Junior Gardeners of Continental were one of the first groups to visit The Quarry Farm after we officially opened to the public three years ago. I distinctly remember the initial telephone conversation with organizer Charlene. She had picked up our newsletter and wanted to bring her charges out for a program. She didn’t sound too sure about the whole idea, but her group arrived and we had a fantastic time. Guess they did, too, because they spent two hours with us on Saturday, this time searching for butterfly host and nectar plants on a scavenger hunt.

IMG_1107Beatrice met up again with her good friend Brandon, the first person she would approach of her own accord after her arrival in 2012 as a very young pot-bellied piglet. Although Brandon had some slick new wheels this year and Beatrice was sleepy in the July humidity, she knew him well. So did Buddy.008

Megan Ramey, Program and Partnerships Manager for the Girl Scouts of Western Ohio, arrived just before the Junior Gardeners to talk with us about the possibility of scouts earning various badges here. Thanks to the joyous enthusiasm of Charlene and her crew, a star of a Virginia opossum and Laura’s coffee and sugar cookie bars, we’re in.

Here’s to more face time with the kids from Continental. Special thanks to Junior Gardener Jazlyn Bishop for sharing your photos and video with us. Keep them coming.

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Small Triumph

Sandhill Cranes, 2014 Garden, Pipevine Swallowtail Larva 023

Why would a gardener be happy, overjoyed even, to discover an army of fat, black, spikey-looking caterpillars with red polka dots pillaging a prized ornamental vine?  Answer:  When the marauders are Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly larva and the vine is Dutchman’s Pipe (aristolochia macrophylla), one of their host plants.

For the ten summers and more since husband Gerald planted two pipe vines in the garden at Red Fox Cabin, we have kept watch on them.* We’ve admired the cute little Dutchman’s pipes they bear and checked the foliage for ragged holes that would give away the presence of larva. We’ve peered at black with blue swallowtails, hoping to spot the distinctive coloration of the Pipevine, inky black forewing and iridescent blue hindwing.  However, sightings have been extremely rare and none have chosen to lay eggs on the beautiful Dutchman’s Pipe. Until this July.

Sandhill Cranes, 2014 Garden, Pipevine Swallowtail Larva 016Last Saturday evening as I was walking my Jack Russel, Lefty, or rather as he was leading me where he wanted to go, he tugged me toward the rear of the log cabin, where one of the pipe vines grows luxuriantly on a porch pillar.  Lefty was intent on the rabbit or cat or whatever that he scented underneath the porch, but I was halted in my tracks by the sight of that vine, no longer luxuriant, but ragged, nearly defoliated, and crawling with the aforementioned fat black caterpillars–at least twenty.  Thrilled by the sight and the realization that our vine had finally been discovered by a passing Pipevine Swallowtail, I rushed home with a disappointed Lefty to grab my camera and my Peterson’s field guide to caterpillars, for confirmation.

Sandhill Cranes, 2014 Garden, Pipevine Swallowtail Larva 012According to the guide, predators avoid Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars because the vine that feeds them is toxic and makes them unpalatable.  Also, when they are ready to pupate they tend to crawl away from their host plant and find other places to attach a greenish chrysalis with a silken thread.  So, the total disappearance of the caterpillars two days later was not as alarming as it might have been.  Photos and a ravaged vine prove they were there.  Quite likely, somewhere on the Quarry Farm later this summer, a Pipevine Swallowtail, or maybe twenty, will emerge from its chrysalis and sail into the butterfly garden to dine, and with luck someone will be there with a camera.  A photo of the shimmering beauty will be a fitting tribute to Gerald, who inspired us with his love of butterflies and planted the Dutchman’s Pipe so many years ago.

*[Pipe vines are native  in some parts of the Northeast but not in Putnam Co., Ohio; ornamental pipe vines were common in Victorian gardens but are less so today. Pipevine Swallowtails can complete their life cycle only if they happen to find a host pipe vine or a Virginia Snakeroot growing wild or deliberately planted.  Adults might stop to nectar in a flower garden but will move on if a host plant is not available.]

They call me Mr. Bill…

Bill

“He’s a big goat,” Sandy explained to Anne over the phone and via email. “People don’t understand how big he really is.”

Sandy was talking about Bill, a Boer goat that she and her husband, Doug, had raised from when he was smaller than a pygmy. And, trust me; she wasn’t kidding (no pun intended). Bill’s bigger than Buddy, the miniature donkey that guards The Quarry Farm: taller, anyway, and he’s the newest member of The Quarry Farm family.

Sandy and Doug drove him up from the Cincinnati area, from the farm that the couple is in the process of leaving. They were successful in placing the other animals that lived on their farm, but because of his size, Bill proved a special case. They’d raised him as a pet and they didn’t want him to go just anywhere, were anxious to see that he went someplace safe. After reviewing their options, they chose here and we’re grateful for that. Bill’s every bit as sweet as he is big.It took him a few days to work out just where he belonged in the loose-knit community of goats that already reside here, all of whom are less than half his size, but he did and the pygmies and Nigerian dwarfs are finding his arrival a real boon.

apple picki BillForget the fact that he scrapes out dust wallows for all his smaller cousins before digging up his own. Never mind that, in a pinch, the pygmies can take shelter from the sun in his shadow (and, yes, they do). What’s really important, what all the goats truly appreciate him for (and the pigs, if we’re being honest), is his reach. Standing on his back legs with his forelegs braced against the trunk of a tree and stretching for all he’s worth, Bill can pretty easily top seven feet. And when the trunk he’s braced against is that of an apple tree, well, let’s just say that Sir Isaac Newton would have received more than one lesson on the effects of gravity. Another way of putting it is to say that, rather than a windfall, the animals here are benefiting from a Billfall. Seriously…who needs a cherry picker with Bill around? Not the wee beasties of The Quarry Farm.

So, welcome home, Bill. Well come, indeed.

The gang of goats

 

Summer is underway, and with it comes a newsletter

2014 Summer Newsletter.indd

Hot off the printer, as well as an upload, is The Quarry Farm 2014 Summer Newsletter. Lots to talk about, like the fact that The Quarry Farm Nature Preserve & Conservation Farm is a 501(c)3 public charity, and plenty of things coming up. Click on the cover at left, open and read away.

Hope you are able to jump in on the calendar and see for yourself.