Snitch switchery

20190406_193749Tonight’s Golden Snitch Walk was called on account of no snitches. In mid-March the evening air was buzzing with them. As I closed the gate on evening chores, two American Woodcocks–the absolute model for J.K. Rowling’s glittery winged ball, or I’ll eat my Ravenclaw hat–twisted in their funnel-cloud dance not more than 20 feet above me.

Then it got cold; freezy enough for S’more to agree to keep his thermal goat coat strapped on just a little while longer.

Our first scheduled woodcock walk was windy and chilly. We saw deer and Indian hemp, counted birds and tracks. But snitches were nowhere to be seen or heard. That didn’t changeover the next few weeks. I told the April 6 preregistrants that the birds had come and gone for 2019.

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This dead tree is home to woodpeckers, fungi and all sorts of creatures.

Snitches aside, today was a gorgeous day; the first real spring day that we’ve had since one random warm breath in March. I walked the planned walk route, dipping a net into the quarry. Its waters team with dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, snails and shrimpish scuds. No mosquito larvae dare swim near the predatory odonata; such is the beauty of a healthy wetland.20190406_191719

2019-04-06 22.01.57No frog egg masses string the surface yet. There are frogs and toads clucking, burring and trilling from the quarry’s edge northeast across the vernal pools of Coburn’s Bottom to the property line at Riley Creek. All those Hey-Baby-Baby-Babies mean tadpoles are brewing in the slurry. A toad hops across the trail in front of me, not a snitch but gold all the same from the lowering sun and amphibian afterglow.

Two Canada geese sail in for the night, skidding across the quarry’s still surface. The ripples haven’t yet subsided when a small flock of wood ducks join them. I hurry along the path to bridge Cranberry Run so as not to scare them away. I’ve just climbed the hill and am up and out of the preserve when, behind me, I hear an airborne whistling.

“PE-E-E-ENT!”

I look up to see a winged softball arc over the quarry.

Show-off.20190406_191705

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

 

 

 

Black raspberries and more

Back FieldIt’s been summer for a little over a week now. On the quarry, and elsewhere in the region, I suppose, that means raspberries. Here they’re mostly wild and black, though there are a few domestic red raspberry brambles planted in the big back field nearly two decades ago. Now the picking of raspberries, dependent on where it is that they’re being picked, can involve some little bit of a blood-letting. Here, along the wildest areas of The Quarry Farm, that is certainly the case.

RaspberriesThere are the brambles, of course, with their little thorns that snag cloth and skin. And then there are also the multiflora rose bushes, the thorns of which are a bit more than little and, consequently, do a bit more damage. Hawthorne and honey locust trees have thorns that, for the unwary, can prove literally life-threatening: honey locust thorns can grow to as long as five or six inches, come in clusters of ten or twelve at a time and are as sharp as needles. But botany is only one aspect of the blood bath. Mosquitos range in clouds of hundreds, along with midges, horseflies, deerflies and a host of other little biting beasts.

Damselfly            White Tail           Sedge with Moss           Ivy

Turkey VultureBut the berries themselves make the challenges worthwile, not to mention the sights that come along with the raspberries. Things like dragonflies and damselflies seesawing back and forth as they chase their meals, those same pesky insects that are intent on syphoning blood; little black toads that scurry from spot to spot; robberflies pursuing the same kinds of prey as the dragons and damsels, but in a much more “point A to point B” kind of way; turkey vultures soaring across skies of blue and grey, catching thermals and various drafts that send them scooting to the horizon; and ropes of grapevine and poison ivy.

The berries, though, are the goal, and this year’s crop is bountiful. Speaking of which, the telephone just rang and it seems there’s a pie cooling on a counter not too terribly far from here.

Time to go.

If you’re lucky, we’ll save you a piece.

Pie

Live and Learn

As with nearly every other environmentally-minded organization that I can think of, a big part of The Quarry Farm’s mission is education. We hold teacher workshops here, host programs both in-class and on-site for school groups, conduct tours for civic organizations and offer hands-on, guided workshops in organic gardening, water quality assessment, macroinvertebrate identification and a wide variety of other similar programming.

Yesterday, the shoe was on the other foot.

Representatives of The Quarry Farm attended the annual meeting of the Ohio Odonata Society (http://www.marietta.edu/~odonata/officers.html) in the Buehner Center at Oak Openings Metropark (http://www.metroparkstoledo.com/metro/parksandplaces/index.asp?page_id=510). Highlighting the day’s events were trips to two sites where participants photographed and collected odonates.

Bob Restifo, secretary-treasurer for the Ohio Odonata Society, examines a Prince Baskettail.

Now I suppose that there are a few of you feeling more than a bit smug right now since you already know what an odonate is. For those of you who don’t have nearly as much spare time as the aforementioned, we’re talking about dragonflies and damselflies. And they were teeming. While we did see more than a few species that we have yet to record here at The Quarry

Cedar Waxwing

Farm, such as the Unicorn Clubtail and the Prince Baskettail, most are common visitors and residents along Cranberry Run, in the eleven-acre back field and on the quarry. Among the more common species were Blue Dashers, Black Saddlebag, Common Whitetail, Widow and Twelve-spots. What wasn’t nearly as common were the sheer numbers of dragonflies, both in the number of different species present and the number of individuals within those species. And with that increase in numbers came a similar increase in the activity of animals that feed on odonates. Bullfrogs leapt from wetlands and cedar waxwings swooped over grasses snatching these aerial predators for their own meals. In fact, at one of the two sites the cedar waxwings clearly used us to improve their chances of catching a quick bite. They stalked us as we walked the verge of a wetland, waiting until we’d disturbed newly hatched dragonflies from their hiding places and then catching them as they flitted up and away.

Bullfrogs leapt from the water to prey on passing odonates.

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Ohio Odonata Society for the opportunity to spend a day in such an interesting fashion. We’d also like to single out three men in particular:  providing a great deal of insight and information were Bob Restifo, secretary-treasurer of the OOS, and Bob Glotzhober, member at large and a former president of the society, both of whom have spent decades studying and collecting odonates; we’d also like to thank Dave Betts, without whose input we’d have missed this incredible opportunity.

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