Opossum and Snake Go to School

Tyree the Red Rat Snake (also called Corn Snake) and Sean the Virginia Opossum starred at the Wildlife station at the 49th Annual 5th Grade Conservation Tour in September.

Every now and then someone tells us about the Virginia Opossum that has lived under
their porch for years. If there is one thing that we learned while volunteering with
Nature’s Nursery Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and during the years following is that
these individuals are probably not the same Virginia Opossum. While getting to know
educational ambassadors for this fascinating species, we have discovered that they are
nomadic creatures, moving from place to place to eat whatever they find in their path and
sleeping in the most convenient dry spot when they need to. Combined with the fact that
Virginia Opossums only live for two or (maybe, if we’re lucky) three years, the animal that
people see around their porch from year to year is actually a parade of several of North
America’s only member of the marsupial class of mammals.

Did you notice that I said “if we’re lucky”? There are a lot of reasons that it’s a great thing
to have Virginia Opossums around. These free-ranging omnivores consume a varied diet
that includes plant material, grasses and leaves, grains, fruits, carrion, snails, slugs, worms,
insects, rats, mice, snakes, amphibians, eggs, crayfish, and fish. They are nature’s garbage
collectors. We would be up to our eyeballs in offal without these animals coming and
going. We would also be dealing with more biting, disease-transmitting ticks. Research on
captive Virginia Opossums at Illinois’ Eureka College estimates that they eat, on average,
5,500 larval ticks per week. That’s nearly 95% of ticks that cross their path.

The biggest and best reason that we are lucky to have Virginia Opossums is that we just are…lucky,
that is. They have been around for a very long time—at least 70 million years—as one of
Earth’s oldest surviving mammals. Because they eat almost everything, they are disease-resistant. In fact, they will do just about anything to avoid direct contact. To appear
threatening, a Virginia Opossum will first bare its 50 teeth, snap its jaw, hiss, drool, poo
and stand its fur on end to look bigger. If this does not work, the Virginia opossum is
noted for feigning death (passing out) in response to extreme fear.

Here on The Quarry Farm, we are so lucky to have known a few non-releasable Virginia
Opossums. Sean is the current onsite educational ambassador of his kind. Sean was born
without eyes so can’t properly protect himself from predators. He is also agreeable to
human contact, which is why we have a State of Ohio education permit that allows us
to house him and introduce him to people who want to know more about him and the
world around all of us.

Scouts honor

Things are greening on The Quarry Farm now. Dutchman’s Breeches have bloomed and gone above the “Cut-off” oxbow, shaded by the oldest trees on the nature preserve. The farm animal sanctuary residents trim new leaves and grass while outside the fences the grass grows and grows. Much of this spring so far has been wet and cool to cold. Arthur the Rooster stands in an alcove of the front porch, glowering at the wall with his spiking wet ruff raised around his feathered ears. On rare sunny days the roosters crow and the pigs stretch out, bellies hitched high for maximum exposure to warmth.

The floodplain has been awash with the merging of Cranberry Creek and Riley Creek as floodwaters ebb and flow, from April now into May. The footbridge, so beautifully engineered by David Seitz, is still with us; the longest-surviving passage from west to east banks over the Cranberry. David watches it rise and fall from internet feeds, using stretched cords to monitor where it settles when the water drops. A new bridge project is underway several meters upstream of the old one. David is at the helm; more news on this to come. But I’ll take this May moment to catch up on April.

Before April showers changed from gentle mist to a series of gully washers, Girl Scout Service Unit 221 from Ada and Kenton spent the better part of April 13 cutting bush honeysuckle. They needed 70 potential hiking staffs to carry home. They tackled the ridge and bottom on the east edge of the stone quarry wetland, lopping their way through one of the densest growths of this confounded invasive woody plant. As well as making way for shagbark hickory and swamp white oak seedlings, they helped us release a woodduck drake who had flown down the Red Fox Cabin chimney.

The following Friday was rainy and windy—just the perfect sort of day for Sophie the Potbelly to go for a car ride. She didn’t think much of the idea; she never does until she is in the back seat and the car is rolling. Sophie, Tyree the Cornsnake and Gerald the Rooster were invited to attend Spring Break Day Camp at the Girl Scout Camp in Lima. Once there, I parked outside Rose Marie Duffy Lodge, leaving the car door open while I carried Tyree and Gerald into the conference room. I heard laughter behind me and turned to see Sophie marching up the Lodge steps, ready to greet her newest fans and to accept accolades as only stars of her caliber receive. She hoovered up the spoils of a snack break while I shared why we do what we do here with those that share this Back 50.

Thanks to Katlin Shuherk for sharing her photos.

Smelling spring with new fingers

20180509_095537This land that we two-leggers call The Quarry Farm has been in family hands for a long time. I remember walking up the trail toward what we still call ‘The Cut-Off.’ My Uncle Carl led the way. He was a teenager and I was pretty sure he would get us home. This wetland, an oxbow severed by 1950s-era engineers from the free-flow of Cranberry Run, was the outer reaches for me. I had faith that teenage Carl, a grown-up to grade-school me, would know the way back.

20180509_100344Around the time that Carl and I took that walk, I decided that my mission was to preserve this 50-acre island. I know how lucky I am to have this memory. After adult years of looking for my purpose in life, I realized that my small self was right.  I came to my senses in time for my child to create her own memories among the native flowers, trees and cricket frogs that sing of wild spring here. Luckily, My Steven agreed.

There are lots of reasons why we do what we do here. In my mind, the best thing we can do is give people of all ages the opportunity to connect with the natural world of Northwest Ohio as we do every day. If you’ve seen a baby dragonfly with your own eyes, touched its budding wings as an emerald-winged adult snatches a whining mosquito from the air around you, you’ll remember that and want to see it again and again, here and in your own backyard.

20180509_094706Last week, we introduced The Quarry Farm to children, teachers and parents from Patrick Henry Preschool. On May 9 and 10, they made lasting leaf shirts from the foliage of blooming buckeye trees. They took a “Smelling Hike” of Red Fox Cabin gardens to enjoy the scents of mint, costmary, and viburnum. They saw the inhabitants of Cranberry Run and were greeted at the farm animal sanctuary gate by pigs Nemo, Carlton and Beatrice.

Before they did any of these things, the visitors met Tyree the Cornsnake. Small fingers brushed his smooth skin, described as “ripply” by one boy. Never would have thought of that myself, but that young man is spot-on. Teacher Cheryl, a self-professed ophiophobia, stretched out her own hand and touched the snake’s red-orange scales. She’d never touched a snake before.

That’s what we’re talking about.20180510_091636

Summer news is here

20170617_125330Summer CoverWhat’s that all about, you say?

Click on the cover to the right for your very own copy of The Quarry Farm Summer 2017 Newsletter. Read about the busy season that was Spring 2017, mark your calendar for all that’s to come this summer, and register for The Quarry Farm 2017 5K.

Hope to see you on the trails.