Water words and tiger tales

beetle larvaOver 100 years ago, there was no quarry here on these 50 acres. Cranberry Run was a meandering trickle. When the digs and blasts began, this place’s namesake was one of several in these parts. Over time, most closed or consolidated operation. Springs kept the abandoned holes filled. People and animals fished them. Picnics were eaten on the shores.

Before his body failed him, my dad spent a lot of sticky hot summer time rebuilding a stone wall between our quarry and Cranberry Run. This happened nearly 50 years after human hands and earth movers stretched, straightened, and deepened the natural engineering of the stream to push water through various townships to others downstream. The quarry was opened to heavy sediment loads forced through via the Run. Over the course of 50 years, the quarry depth went from 20 feet at its deepest point to no more than four of water and muck.The Quarry

As soil, grasses, and trees further rooted the wall, the quarry began to change again. Aquatic plants, their seeds held for generations in the floodplain, took root beneath the water’s surface. Some are rare, others not so much, but most are native and blooming to attract pollinators and migrating birds to shelter among the green.

unnamed.jpgTwo weeks ago, heavy rain flooded the quarry. Kayakers paddled through the preserve, weaving through trees well above the Run’s banks. The footbridge floated, held fast by heavy chains, thanks to Engineer Dave Seitz’ design. After the flood wave crested and rolled north toward the Blanchard, I kayaked under it and on to Riley Creek, past the 20170513_141555absent M-6 bridge, Putnam Aggregates and the Riley Creek United Methodist Church. The banks were surprisingly clear of debris, with one exception on the east bank in Riley Township. There, an old car follows a wave of cans and other discards toward a detonated washing machine on the bank below.

About a month ago, the water in the quarry was crystal-clear. You could lean out over the bank and watch spring life move in and out of the sprouting aquatic plants, except for those areas that were wriggling black with toadpoles. You could reach in and pick up handfuls of the fry if you wanted to. Steve used a dip net instead, keeping several in a five-gallon bucket to show to visitors at Lima’s Faurot Park Earth Day celebration.

20170502_201309_LLSThe week before that, Steve came back to the house with a bucket of fairy shrimp in quarry water. I love to watch these tool in healthy circles, especially since their presence tells me that the wetlands are doing such fine work sponging sediment and impurities in the floodplain. The pools did such a great job that the bucket also contained a salamander larva with waving spaniel-ear-gills, and a predaceous diving beetle nymph.

My dad would have been so excited to see the contents of this bucket. His artist’s eye would note the analogous brown and gold patterns of the amphibian skins and the scarlet jaws of the young beetle. The latter is nicknamed “water tiger.” You don’t have to spend much time to understand why. Steve said he started up the path between the quarry and home with 10 toadpoles. At the door, there were seven left.

After lots of people oo-ed and ah-ed over the catch, we released them. Though many were surely washed away, we know that quite a few are still there. Grown frogs and toads sing through the nights. Great blue herons, raccoons, and ducks feast in the shallows while perched raptors wait for their one false move.

 

Winter 2016 newsletter

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Prepping the back field for the Bee Buffer Project is one of the items in the latest issue of The Quarry Farm Newsletter. Click here to read all about it and what’s happening here as the snow flies and the seeds sleep.

Superheroes swoop in on Saturday (no capes!)

GardenEveryone has stuff to do. Some of us are list makers, like Quarry Farm Board President Laura. Others have swirls of snippets of chatter spinning through their brain, like yours truly. Or little notes jotted on the backs of envelopes stuffed in the glove compartment, drawers and/or stacked on the kitchen table (again, fingers pointing right back.) Betty and BuddyHere on The Quarry Farm, there is always so much to do. Water tubs and buckets to clean and refill, food to prep and food bowls to juggle, hungry potbellies to restrain, hinnying donkeys to brush, and buildings to clean, rinse and repeat. This year, we have buildings to paint. And that’s just in the farm animal sanctuary. In the gardens of Red Fox Cabin, the long wait for nature to prevail over invasives is one which has yet to be won. But Nature is making headway, with a little help from her friends. After years of solarizing beds and hand-picking beetles rather than spraying and dusting, has allowed natural insect predators to get a foothold. The gigantic rainbarrel that collects droplets from the roof of Red Fox Cabin is almost always full for the watering. BillBut those of us who currently ‘mind the store’ rarely have the opportunity to check everything off our wish list. Last Saturday — that golden day — we got to pen a whole host of checkmarks. About a month ago, I received an email from William Schumacher. I first met Bill when an Ohio Department of Natural Resources co-worker suggested that the man, an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency employee, might be willing to lend his expertise as a soil science presenter at a teacher workshop I was planning. It turns out that actually wasn’t the first time that I met Bill. He and his brothers Joe and Dan grew up along the opposite bank of Riley Creek. We rode the same school bus and developed the same love for nature while walking the creeks, pastures and woods. CarolGetting back to that email. Although Bill and his brothers no longer live nearby, they remember. They remember the fish that swam in Riley Creek and the pasture that their dad tended for years. And they’ve seen what happened to the creek when that floodplain pasture was plowed and subsequently eroded. They like the clear waters of Cranberry Run that flow through The Quarry Farm on their way to the Riley, so much so that Bill offered up his helping hand as well of those his wife Carol and their teenaged daughters and sons. Since his brother Joe was flying in from South Dakota and his brother Dan would also be up from the Dayton area, why, they could bring up their tools and pitch in to help us out, too. GardenBoy, did they ever. When Sophie the potbelly pig arrived here last month, she was so overweight that she couldn’t walk, much less be spayed. In less than eight hours, we had a new wooden fence in the quarantine area where Sophie is now dieting. DanThe butterfly gardens were weeded of quack grass, with straw down between the rows. Bill had dug and walled a kidney-shaped raingarden off the north gable of the cabin. Dan had led a crew along the south end of the Cranberry, clearing windfall from the path and cutting a big dent in bush honeysuckle along the way. Yatchi and HWords cannot sufficiently express our gratitude to the Schumachers. Instead, I’ll let the impressions of some of our youngest visitors say it for me. These drawings just arrived in the mail, sent to us by the third grade class from Pandora-Gilboa Elementary School following a day spent here on May 8. Those kids are one of the greatest reasons why we do what we do, so that these creeks, pastures and woods, as well as the nonhumans that share it, will mean as much to them as they did to much younger Bill, Joe, Dan and me. Still do.

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

 

 

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

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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The first run of the season

Today was the first day of the plunge into the season of animal rehabilitation calls. An hour or so after arriving at home, a call came in about a Canada goose that was reported to have a broken wing, and spent three or so days frozen to the ground amidst field stubble out on Old 224. I met up with Mum so that we had a better chance at catching the creature.

We drove out toward the area where we were told we would find the goose. We parked in a driveway that once belonged, presumably, to a house along Old 224, approximately one hundred and fifty yards up the road from where we had spotted our target. The two of us laughed helplessly, looking out at the goose, which sat across one of the many impromptu lakes created by the melting of the snow. In fact, it was more like an impromptu creek, being connected to the Blanchard River at its head and base, roiling at both.

The snow made the drop down into the field look gradual, but my first step toward the bottom proved that assumption to be false. My right leg plunged down into the snow, burying itself up to just above my knees. Chuckling, the both of us tread more carefully down into the field.

Upon approaching the spontaneous creek, the Canada goose stood up, displaying a slightly off-looking wing, and took a few hesitant steps away. It had had no need to, as unless we were going to miraculously acquire a boat or full-body waders, there was no way we were going to reach the other side of the waters.

We stood on our side, looking right and left for a break we could cross, when the goose took off, running and throwing open its wings. It caught a bit of wind and rose higher and higher, gliding west through the river corridor. Turning, we strode back up to the road and back to the car, shivering in our sweatshirts. Two vehicles stopped and inquired as to whether we needed help (thank you!) and chuckled when we informed them that we were returning from a literal wild goose chase.

And so, for us, the year begins. Hopefully, this first call foreshadows the course of this year, with concerned fellows and the positive turn of events.