Branching out, under bright lights

20170419_143537You know that tingling excitement you get when you try something on for the first time, especially when it fits and what looks back at you in the mirror looks pretty good? Yeah, you know. That’s kind of what last week felt like.

The week’s events started last fall with an email from Quarry Farm Friend Robyn. The trails here are not new to her or her family. In fact her son Zane is one of our best advisers during programs. Zane is kind of a barometer—if he’s happy with the program’s progression, we go with the flow. Anyway, Robyn is a Findlay teacher who recommended us as a field trip destination. So back at the start of School Year 2016-17, her co-worker Alyson scheduled a spring field trip.

After the ball dropped in January, Ada Girl Scot Leader Cathy called to schedule a three-badge (Hiker, Bugs, and Animal Habitats) for Brownies and Juniors. A month later, I entered Erie Conservation District‘s “2017 Recycled Runway: A Clean Water Cause” on behalf of The Quarry Farm.

None of these things are truly new. We raise our hands all the time. In fact we all but shout, “Pick me! Pick me!” in order to fulfill our mission statement. What was a stretch is that all these things were set to happen in the same week in April 2017.

20170419_142307On Sunday, we fortified ourselves with chocolate and other Easter basket contents. From Monday to Thursday, 218 Findlay preschool students, their teachers, parents and bus drivers made lasting-leaf t-shirts and followed the Cranberry Run Trail to meet the farm animal sanctuary residents before making the bus ride back to Hancock County. The mornings were cool and afternoons exceedingly warm, but Miracle Max the Bronze Turkey was always the gate greeter for every group even if the other animals dove for cover.

Fearless Girl

Fearless Girl from “200 Years…Same Shoes”

Friday night was the big Sandusky runway show. Recycled Runway was a fundraiser to restore Lake Erie’s Big Island Preserve on the eastside shoreline off the Cedar Point Causeway. Since everything done upstream (here) impacts downstream (Lake Erie) the Fabulous Sarah wrapped herself in repurposed pop can tabs, plastic shopping bags, snack bags, mesh fruit bags, plastic bottles, plastic caps, plastic straws, bubble wrap, and feed bags and walked the red carpet in our Regency/Roaring ’20s/2020 Fearless Girl time-warp entry “200 Years…Same Shoes.”

We made the Final Four (whoo Hoo!) and they raised $10,000 towards increased water quality. Check out the media photos.18034077_1524536627558995_2990400833246355312_n20170422_110444

Saturday morning, the Ada scouts reused bush honeysuckle to make hiking sticks, hiked habitats, tasted garlic mustard, and met the animals. Max was red with happiness.

2017-04-23 16.12.32Today we rest. So does Mister Bill. Looking in the mirror, or at the photos and videos on our cells, and through the perspectives captured by others who shared the stage of the day, we’ll still keep raising our hands.

A long week with not enough time

Beginning with an 11 a.m. appointment with a room full of children and a few adults at the main branch in Ottawa, we visited every Putnam County District Library location in the county. In this case, “we” is not a royal “we” but rather two humans, a middle-aged Virginia opossum and a bucket of freshwater macroinvertebrates.

Two weeks ago, we drove an hour east to Honey Creek, a Seneca County tributary to the Sandusky River. Our mission was to collect hellgramites, the impressive predatory aquatic larva of the terrestrial and flighted dobsonfly. By all rights, or if all was right with the world, we should have been able to find them in Cranberry Run as it passes through The Quarry. Underneath all the silt of the stream and Riley Creek into which it flows — even the bigger Blanchard at the end of the Riley — there is a river bottom of cobbles and boulders, prime habitat for hellgrammites. But there’s that silt, smothering everything.

Like I said, we drove to Honey Creek in between heavy rains and flood events and did net a few dobsonfly larva as well as two large dragonfly “babies”: a spidery skimmer and a froglike darner. Here at home, we collected leeches, snails, and half of a freshwater clam shell, its mother-of-pearl lining worn smooth. We set up an aquarium for their stay.

Each weekday morning, Captain John Smith was loaded into a carrier and as many macros as we could fish out of the aquarium were placed in a bucket for transport. No dragonflies made the bucket because, a few days after their arrival in Putnam County, the hellgrammites ate them.

S & J 2BoysIt was a good week. We met new people, the Captain made a favorable impression for his kind, and I got to play with leeches. One young man suggested that leeches are kind of like shape-shifters. I like that. I’m going to remember that for our next gig. Two more suggested that the Captain’s tail looks like corn on the cob. Never though about that before, and they’re right.

Today is Saturday, and we are kind of tired. It seemed like a long week, what with two speaking engagements per day on top of day jobs, slogging buckets and straw through rain and mud here on the farm and in parking lots and nursing one of the potbellies through a mysterious spate of abscesses until his appointment next week at Ohio State University Veterinary Clinic.

IMG_4408But I realized, after finishing Sy Montgomery’s The Good, Good Pig, that two speaking engagements per day for five days wasn’t nearly enough time to point out the importance of Virginia opossums and hellgrammites in our human lives. You need a lifetime of appreciation.

Nor is it enough time to admire the intricate, delicate patterns that trace the exoskeletons, especially across the backs of their heads. One glance in a bucket at the boneless athleticism of a swimming leech is just not enough, not enough for anyone.

We hope it was at least enough to leave everyone wanting to learn more. As Ms. Montgomery noted in her book, maybe a one-off was enough to lead some to a new way of thinking.

Pause here for P-G

P-G Third Grade 2015Before we continue along the trail in a search of wildflowers and wild mushrooms, let’s take a moment to highlight a Friday adventure that we shared with the third grade class from Pandora-Gilboa Elementary School.

Although the school is just around a few corners from The Quarry Farm, this is the first time a class has been able to pay us visit in a while. This morning, the sun rose in a clear blue sky, the tortuous winds that we’ve had of late held their breath for the most part, and 41 students descending the bus steps to join us for the morning.

At three different stations, these curious kids learned about herbs alongside the butterfly garden, beneficial insects that spend much of their life in and along Cranberry Run and Riley Creek, and met some of the animals of the sanctuary.Herbs

At Station 1, Laura talked about past and present uses for herbs, and the pollinators that live amongst them in the Red Fox Cabin gardens. The students chose snipped samples of their favorites from a selection of culinary and/or fragrant herbs, zip-lock bagged the cuttings and labeled the bags for the journey home.

Steve brought on the dragonfly nymphs, or at least a bucket of them, at Station 2. He talked about the life cycles and habits of these predators, Macrosas well as others like damselflies and water scorpions. He pulled the old arm-covered-with-leeches trick, asking, “How long will it be before these leeches suck all the blood from my arm?” The answer? Never. The leeches he displayed were fish leeches.

Bronze turkeys Humperdink, Inigo, and Miracle Max were the greeting party at Station 3, the farm animal sanctuary. Johnny the Canada goose joined in, too. Most of the residents were lying low — in outbuildings and under trees — due to warm, sweaty temperatures, but Buddy the donkey came out. Potbelly Carlton and Lucy the donkey made their large group debut as well. Carlton rolled over for a belly scratch and Lucy leaned in for ear whispers.Lucy

Captain John Smith the Virginia opossum was the special guest “speaker” during the lunch hour. Half of the class met the Captain at Christmas time during a classroom reading of Jan Brett’s The Mitten. We thought it only fair he should meet the whole class on his own turf.

Here are a few more images from the day. Thank you to Nikki Beckman for sharing photos, Jessica Arthur and Jill Henry for sharing your class time, and top Paulding Putnam Electric Cooperative and First National Bank of Pandora for supporting this educational program. If anymore photos arrive in the email box, we’ll add them to the show.

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Life lessons

One of the primary goals at The Quarry Farm is to increase understanding, to educate. Sure, we provide sanctuary to animals in need, have established a preserve for the area’s wildlife and offer folks the chance to just kick their shoes off and relax. But, during every interaction that takes place in the name of The Quarry Farm, the primary goal is to provide, and learn, new insights. Arguably, the topic that gets the most attention is water quality. We have a number of programs that we present on the subject, everything from simple, on-site discussions of the various aquatic habitats that help make up The Quarry Farm, to Small Streams, a project that allows us to set up aquatic microhabitats in schools and community centers. During any presentation on streams and rivers, the question that invariably gets asked of us, and that we in turn ask of visitors or classrooms, is this: What’s the biggest pollution problem facing the waterways in rural Ohio?

The responses to that question nearly always include garbage, oil (or some other petroleum product), manure, chemicals, litter and, inevitably, dirt. The correct answer is included in that list and it’s having a profound effect on everything, from the Great Lakes to the shortest of creeks, like roughly five-mile long Cranberry Run, a stretch of which runs through The Quarry Farm.

In the 1950s, and again in the ‘80s, Cranberry Run was channelized, engineered by officials in Putnam and Allen Counties so as to more quickly move water north and ease local flooding concerns. The stream bottom was dredged and the tops of the banks widened; a latitudinal cross-section of the resulting waterway would resemble a wide-mouthed “V”. Cranberry Run was also “straightened”: oxbows were bypassed, as were any extreme serpentine meanders. Anything that could possibly impede the free flow of water was eradicated, including trees and bushes that grew along the banks. What was once a historic waterway, a vibrant habitat for a host of aquatic animals and the myriad species of birds and mammals that depended on them, was reduced to what locals dismissively referred to as “Smith Ditch.”

stream4In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Gerald and Laura Coburn, after years of civil protest, negotiated an agreement with the counties that would allow Cranberry Run, or at least that portion of the stream that ran through their property, to reacquire a more natural presence. Within the first decade, the four natural stages of a waterway – riffle, run, pool, glide – reestablished themselves. Trees rooted on the bank, grew and began to provide shade, cooling the passing water and creating a more hospitable environment for all manner of aquatic insects and fish. Today, Cranberry Run snakes its way for approximately one-half of a mile through The Quarry Farm. The meanders in the stream bed slow the water flowing through here enough that sedimentation occurs and, on most days, the “Little Cranberry,” as it is affectionately known, runs so clear that visitors can’t help but comment on its clarity.

Cranberry Run as it approaches its terminus, Riley Creek.

Cranberry Run as it approaches its terminus, Riley Creek.

And that, returning to the question of “what’s the biggest contaminant,” should help provide the answer: dirt. Dirt is our greatest concern and the biggest problem facing all of the animals that live in the water, from insects to mollusks to fish. Not only does dirt, suspended in solution, absorb the sun’s rays and increase water temperatures to dangerous levels for the animals that live there, but it carries with it chemicals bonded at the molecular level and creates an environment in which aquatic organisms find it increasingly difficult to breathe. Imagine standing downwind in the smoke of a brush fire, not for a minute or for an hour or for a day, but perpetually, forever. For gilled animals living in highly turbid water, they may as well live in the smoke generated by an eternal tire fire.

Pictured above and below  is the point at which Cranberry Run enters Riley Creek. Efforts made within the boundaries of The Quarry Farm, and upstream by like-minded neighbors, have nearly erased the sediment load in the waters of Cranberry Run.

Pictured above and below is the point at which Cranberry Run enters Riley Creek. Efforts made within the boundaries of The Quarry Farm, and upstream by like-minded neighbors, have nearly erased the sediment load in the waters of Cranberry Run.

At left is Riley Creek as it flows northwest to the Blanchard River; the clear water to the right flows from Cranberry Run as it meets and enters Riley Creek.

Efforts on the part of private individuals and organizations, and through governmental programs sponsored by state and federal agriculture departments, are beginning to have an effect. Public awareness of the issues is critical in creating healthy environments in which all forms of life can prosper.

creek chubs

 

 

This One’s for the Dogs (and the Opossum)

Rowan and OpossumIt’s been a bit longer than we like between posts. But since spring is finally here (knock on wood) you will forgive us since you, like us, are probably running around in today’s sunshine before tonight’s predicted rain.

Silence on the web does not mean it’s been quiet for The Quarry Farm. The new chicks are growing, as is the grass for Buddy and the goats. Fezzik and Inigo are displaying for every female fowl that could conceivably give them the time of day. Inconceivable? Not so for the little red hen that follows Fezzik around. The wild turkey hens on the nature preserve could care less, however.

Eventwise, The Quarry Farm has been on the road for the last couple of weekends. Saturday, April 20 took us up I-75 into Michigan for the Monroe Conservation District Tree Sale. Tim Kwiatkowski, good friend and conservationist for Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP), invited us, and an assortment of aquatic macroinvertebrates from Cranberry Run as well as an opossum that matured overwinter here, to be part of the Monroe County Earth Day celebration that was held alongside the tree sale pickup.

It was cold and the wind blew. Despite the weather thousands of trees were sold and the buyers learned a little about biological indicators and that Virginia opossums are fantastic garbage collectors. Some even decided the little guy was cute.

He was cute. And we assume he still is, wherever his nomadic opossum ways take him. Once the evenings warmed toward the middle of the week he finally ventured out of his open hutch and into the wild.

Cassie

Cassie poses

Today, we had a short drive to the 6th Annual Mutt Strut and Craft Market sponsored by Putnam Pet Pals to benefit the homeless and neglected dogs of Putnam County and Northwest Ohio. They do good work and put on a great, loud show every year at the Putnam County Fairgrounds. Last year we set up a table at the Strut; it turned out to be one of the best offsite events that The Quarry Farm has ever been part of as we handed out packs of newsletters, talked to some amazing, compassionate people, and produced more canine caricatures than we could track. Although this year’s weather was sunny and warm, a day for breeding garage sales and other such competitions for public attention, the fairground was still hopping.

Better make that barking.

Good times.

Monarchs and More

Yesterday was a gorgeous late summer day, the kind with clear blue sky and clouds so clearly defined that you could almost reach up and pluck one right out of the sky. We were honored on this golden day to present once again at the Fulton County “Monarchs and More” event just north of Pettisville at a wetland/prairie owned by Ed Nofziger.

“Monarchs and More” is sponsored by Fulton County Soil and Water Conservation District and Ed and Carol Nofziger. Presenters yesterday included Pat Hayes, Cheryl Rice, Diane Myers, Black Swamp Raptor Rehab, The Quarry Farm, and Pheasants For Ever. Attendees got to visit with a bald eagle and a red-tailed hawk, tag and release monarch butterflies, learn about raingardens, and check aquatic inhabitants.

Ed Nofziger is a generous, adventurous man who went out on a limb years ago and enrolled some of his acreage in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) http://www.fsa.usda.gov/FSA/webapp?area=home&subject=copr&topic=crp in order to establish a pollutant-sponging natural area along State Route 2. Although CRP enrollees do benefit financially from the program, this is still a step from the norm for many farmers. But families and folk from throughout Northwest Ohio benefit from Nofziger’s leap of faith, as do school groups who participate in various science excursions to his property on State Route 2. The county commissioners encourage the annual “Monarchs and More” open house.

Thanks, Ed. And Amanda. And everyone who held a crayfish, dragonfly nymph and/or a leech at our station. Before you say, “ew”, did you know that only 10% of leeches actually suck blood, and that dragonflies continually eat their weight in mosquitoes, even as larva growing up in wetlands and streams? So there.

Videographer Steve Lauber of Lauber Digital captured great footage of the afternoon.