A stroll about the Red Fox
Today is promising to be a hot one, with temperatures in the 90s and a heat index climbing higher. A hawk just flew over with a blackbird in hot pursuit of the raptor’s red tail. Even the birds are feeling it.
The plants, however, are loving the warmth and light after the heavy rain of last week. They’re positively dripping with joy. Humid fog sits over the soybeans to the west of The Quarry Farm, but the nature preserve is rich, deep, rainforest green, with dabs of brilliance. Seems the best kind of morning to inspect those colors more closely.
The gardens at Red Fox Cabin are blooming. The whites, pale yellows, pinks, and violets of spring are gone, replaced by a full spectrum in every shape and size. Bumblebees navigate the lavender and bee balm, hovering just long enough that I think I can get a picture. When I bring up the photo, I see they’ve led me on.
The pollinators are back this year. Populations are smaller, but they are here. The big fuzzy bumblers share space with other wild bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, and moths.
And the dragonflies are glorious.
It’s a little too early in the day for them to be up and about, but Steve is seeing species that he’s not familiar with. The books and apps are out and he is getting to know new odonata in 2017. Storms are in the forecast for later this week. He will be on the front porch watching the dragonflies surge before the storm, hunting for insects ahead of the rain.
The two pipevine trellises are heavy with green. Two days ago, The Quarry Farm Gardener noticed tiny black crawlies on the southwest tower. They grew, expanding with the humidity and tasty leaves, as pipevine swallowtail caterpillars do. We missed them during the past two years. The cropduster that flies low of late is a concern. The news is that gypsy moth treatments are underway.
The raingarden is doing a fine job drawing water away from the cabin and housing leopard frogs.A wheelbarrow supports its own garden, spilling a fragrant shower that doesn’t quite make landfall.
Mullein reaches for the sky here and there. The flannel leaves of common mullein were used as lamp wicks–since the time of the Romans for torches–as well as toilet paper. The leaves were once placed inside of shoes to provided both warmth and softness. Mullein isn’t native to North America, but local insects are attracted by the flower’s honey-like scent.
I’ve looped back to my car; my ride to pay the piper. If you balance a coffee in one hand, it’s possible to snap a photo. This last mid-week catch: coneflowers above the nature preserve, leaning toward the place I want to be.
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.
It 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.
But 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.
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?”
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.
While 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.
As 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.
Setting Up The Quarry Farm at Toledo Botanical Garden
One of the programs offered through The Quarry Farm is something we call Small Streams. The program gives us the opportunity to talk about aquatic insects and other macroinvertebrates and their importance to all living things, water quality and what each of us can do to help keep Ohio’s waterways healthy. Small Streams can be as complex as setting up a freshwater stream
microhabitat in a classroom, or as simple as a plastic bucket half-filled with water and teeming with clams, snails, crayfish and the larva of dragonflies, damselflies, mayflies and a host of other insects with larval forms that start their life cycle in the water. This past Saturday, June 15th, we had the opportunity to take our show on the road to Toledo Botanical Garden as part of Nature’s Nursery’s Walk for Wildlife.
To be honest, this is the kind of presentation we like best. While a classroom setting provides the chance to really get in depth about some very important issues, it frequently lacks spontaneity. That’s never a problem when we set up in public and have people from all walks of life wander up and ask us what we’re doing there. And while we love the kids, the adults who have never seen a dragonfly nymph, never held a hellgrammite…well, they’re our favorites. Most people never completely lose their childhood curiosity and when it’s piqued, the child they were comes instantly to the fore. We were lucky enough to witness several such transformations as parents found themselves just as fascinated as their children.
The only down-side to an event such as Saturday’s is the inevitable loss of at least one of the insects in our charge. Typically, when we’re standing at a folding table with a couple of buckets, there is no electricity available. No electricity means no bubble stone. No bubble stone means that the only oxygenation the water these insects are trapped in is what’s provided when we stir the bucket. So, as is typical at one of these events, we lost two of the dragonfly nymphs we took along. But, since our primary goal is education, we took that calamity and turned it into a teaching opportunity.
See, there’s this thing about dragonfly nymphs…Have you ever seen any of the Alien movies? The monster in these films has a unique feature. It has this mouth within its mouth that shoots out and chomps the unsuspecting. Well, that’s not entirely true; it chomps the suspecting, as well. While not exactly like that, dragonfly nymphs have a similar set up. Their lower jaw are hinged and fold up under their heads.
When something tasty wanders by, the nymph is able to extend its jaw well out and away from its body, snatch up its soon-to-be dinner and pull it back in. Getting a live nymph to cooperate, to actually extend its lower mandible out to its fullest, is pretty much impossible. The dead, however, know no fear. So, with a couple of dozen people looking on, we were able to pull that jaw out and show people just exactly what we were talking about. That’s when the Alien and Predator conversations started, culminating in the question, presented by a man of roughly my own generation, “I know this sounds strange, but how do Predators kiss?” (For those of you with more highbrow tastes, who are confused by the nature of the question, try this: http://www.alexvisani.com/monstergallery/predator.jpg
We’d like to extend a special thanks to Chris,a Natural Resources student in the Toledo Public Schools system, for all of his help. We’d also like to thank Nature’s Nursery for inviting us to participate in the event.
Long Sleeve Weather
The air was chill but the sun was high on Saturday, October 6 for the “Wetland Wonderland” (see WORKSHOPS AND PRESENTATIONS) Tri-Moraine Audubon Society field trip to The Quarry Farm. The group was led by Quarry Farm Friend Dave Betts. All the Thursday rain put water back in the oxbow, enough to yield a sampling of aquatic macroinvertebrates that included a scud. This freshwater crustacean was the first such mini-shrimp seen and held by participants. Got to love that. I did.
Want to know more about scuds? Come to the Quarry Farm in the spring, but check them out here while ice covers the vernal pools: http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/scud.htm
The water continued to rise in Cranberry Run while the Tri-Moraine Audubon Society walked the trails on Saturday. But by Monday, October 8, the creek had dropped back into its banks in time for 30 Pandora Cub Scouts, accompanied by their siblings and parents, to visit for a presentation and a tour. The “show” consisted of meet-and-greets with Buddy, aquatic macroinvertebrates, a juvenile opossum, a walk to the creek, cabin, and a cider-and-cookies finish around the fire bowl. What are some of the things that we hope the Scouts learned? That fish leeches won’t drain your arm of blood, that baby dragonflies eat lots of baby mosquitos, that opossums are nature’s garbage collectors, and that Northwest Ohio sunsets are the best. What did we learn? That you can cover a lot of ground in an hour. Beautiful night.
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.
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
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.
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.
An Hour On the Quarry
We, here at The Quarry Farm, have the great good fortune of living on a piece of land that provides a host of possibilities. Because of the forward thinking of a few remarkable people (and here I’m going to name names: Carl Seitz, Joyce Seitz, Gerald Coburn and Laura Coburn), we have houses and gardens and driveways and such. But we also have an area that, for the past 40 years at any rate, has had the opportunity to go Nature’s way.
For me, there’s a definite split, a line where domestic ends and wild begins. Here is where we keep the chickens, chase the pig, run the dogs, elude the duck and other happy little domestic activities. There is where the wild things are. Here: yard. There: not yard. It’s a convenient line, too, because it’s visible: a strip of trees that divides here and there. I include the line itself, the trees, in the there category, as part of the wild area of the Quarry Farm. From the tree line on is where Nature looms. That’s where Cranberry Run snakes through the property, where the turkeys make themselves known with gobbles and great splay-footed tracks, where great blue herons heave themselves from the water with complaining voices that Hollywood stole for Jurassic Park, where the occasional coyote howls and the foxes yip and the tree frogs sing and the squirrels, raccoons and skunks argue amongst themselves and with anyone or anything else that happens to grab their attention. It’s loud, it’s messy, it’s chaotic and it is absolutely beautiful. It’s a place I love to go. And today, in a very small way, I’m going to share. I set myself a challenge, gave myself one hour to walk along and across the stream, past the quarry and through the trees to the big field, then loop back along the path, across the stream and home again. In that time and along that walk, I took photographs. Fifty-nine photographs, to be precise. I’m not going to burden you with all of them, but I do want to share a few. And it all started in the tree line.
My first photo op fell into the “well, you just don’t see that every day” category. Before passing from here to there, I paused to try and get a shot of a widow skimmer dragonfly. While in the process of completely failing to do that, I heard a rustling in the grass in the treeline. Rabbit, I thought. Then rethought, because I heard a bit of scrabbling as it ran up a tree. Squirrel, then. Nope. I’d heard of groundhogs climbing trees, but that was the first time I’d ever seen it up close and personal. It was a juvenile and had obviously found something tasty (as evidenced by the leaf dangling from the corner of its mouth) that drew it just a little too far from a bolt hole. When it realized that I was coming in its direction, it took the best avenue of escape open to it. Up.
I was pleased to find that the wood duck who had nested on the quarry was still in place along with her brood of four ducklings. They’re skittish birds, quick to run at the first sign of possible trouble. As I came up on them, mother went one way and the four little ones, another. Even so, I caught a quick glimpse of them as they fled across the duck weed. The little ones have grown enough so that they are nearly fully feathered. Their wings whickered as they half-flew, half-ran across the water.
Although it was hot today – temperatures here were pushing 90 degrees – the main trail leading to the big back field was relatively cool. Over the course of the past four decades, the property surrounding the quarry has undergone significant changes. In many places, scrub and thick undergrowth is giving way to hard woods: in most cases, sugar maple trees. Where a relatively short time ago jersey cows grazed, there is now a full-blown second-stage forest. This year in particular, with its mild winter and wet spring, seems to have fostered growth. The trees form a canopy that filters the sun, dappling the ground with shifting patterns of light.
The big back field is nearly as varied in its habitats as the whole of the property. The greatest part of the eleven acres could easily be considered meadow, though there are, spotted here and there, scrub trees and brush. It is surrounded on all four sides by verdant growth: the forest that is the bulk of The Quarry Farm. Black raspberry and blackberry brambles tangle at the edges with wild rose and grape vines reaching out from the woods. On this particular day, a red-tailed hawk spun about the field in ever-widening circles. She screamed as she flew, though I’m not sure why. Maybe calling to a mate or to young offspring in nearby trees, or possibly just announcing her presence.
It’s a source of pride for us that we have such a healthy macroinvertebrate population on the property. This time of year, we see all manner of dragonflies and damselflies.
They swarm up and down the stream, hunting, procreating and laying eggs, and they teem in the back field where there are plenty of prey species for them to feed on. While there are all manner of stories suggesting that dragonflies and damselflies are a nuisance, possibly even life-threatening, they are simply not true.
The fact is that these members of the order Odonata are some of the most beneficial insects out there, eating their weight every day in mosquitoes, midges and other annoying insects.
I was fascinated by them as a child, though I rarely had the opportunity to see them.
Now, generally beginning in late April, I go for a walk and there they are. When I see them, I can’t help but think of how cartographers, when they were filling in uncharted areas on maps, would write, Here Be Dragons. And they were probably right.
So there it is. One hour on the quarry. But you don’t have to take my word for it. It’s not necessary to limit yourself to two-dimensions. Contact us and make an appointment to see it in 3D. We’re not only happy to show it to you, but, in many ways, doing precisely that is who we are and certainly what we do. Contact us. Please. We’re counting on it.