We do need rain/snow—maybe not all at once, but it is frighteningly pleasant for January in Northwest Ohio. The National Weather Service reports that we will have it as long as that green band of precipitation doesn’t rapidly shift southeast.
Board President Laura recalled the burnt toast odor that permeated the outdoors during the Summer of 1988. I remember that, as well as the smell of decay. As I ran the trails at Wildwood Metropark in Toledo, a doe walked out of the woodland of dried leaves and cracked soil. She didn’t run but feinted a few steps into the tree line and back out again. I have always regretted not following her. There was little I could do at the time to help, but I could have offered. I think of her every time I try to do so now.
How easily what is happening in Australia could happen to us. Our inland waterways could save us, as long as we save them.
Speaking of which, stellar Friend of The Quarry Farm Dave is forging ahead with his efforts to protect the old stone quarry wetland from sediment overload produced during flood events. The land bridge between Cranberry Run and the quarry provided a great nighttime path for the Girl Scouts last month, with the young explorers spotting fish and all manner of shadows through the thin film of ice over the stream. This spring, participants in water and plant quality studies to contrast the wetland and the Run will now have a flagstone deck. Here’s the latest from our favorite engineer:
Tonight’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.
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.
No 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.
I look up to see a winged softball arc over the quarry.
A dozen squash and a bag of apples are all that remain from the December windfall from Hoehns Orchard. The fruits flash froze in the bed of the Ranger yesterday. They’ll thaw this weekend as temperatures jump from this morning’s -8°F to 52°F on Monday. Buddy and Lucy will love their sweet squashy pudding. Tonight, the geese will scavenge for apple bits after the pigs shred the applesicles.
Everyone made it through Wednesday’s -40°F windchill, at least everyone in the farm animal sanctuary. There were tracks leading up the path from Cranberry Run, so some of the wild things are beginning to emerge from the deep freeze. Here’s hoping some of the bush honeysuckle in the hedgerow weren’t so lucky.
We were—lucky, that is. A friend in Minneapolis says it’s still -21°F there on Day 2 of Invasion Polar Vortex, windchill notwithstanding. Mosaic the Llama’s dreamy eyelashes are dripping rather than hanging and she is out of the barn and staring at the mass of singing starlings that shelter in the pines.
We were lucky, counting all toes, fingers, nostrils and ears as healthy and whole. We weathered this bout with fractured weather patterns. As we hung blankets in the archway of Nemo’s and Carlton’s shed, packed straw into the barns and latched the doors Tuesday night, it wasn’t the plunging temps and 30 mph wind that scared us. It was what the wind was packing.
For 36-hours, the wind bore a topsoil blown from tilled fields to the west, a haze so thick that it coated trees, cars and ground with a gray film. Rays of Wednesday sunrise shown amber. Even with wind chill warnings outside, our boots left muddy tracks in the foyer. I wiped brown frost from the skin left exposed by my face mask. Snow and rain are predicted to wash down hill and stream this weekend.
Friend Kim called the film of topsoil on my car “cancer dirt”. She wasn’t being funny. Neither am I when I say I think I know what ash from nuclear fallout looks like. Why do we insist on taking everyone else with us?
The bowl is full. Not just halfway filled, either. After a New Year’s Eve drenching, the old quarry, its drainage channels and Cranberry Run are Lake Quarry Farm. Up above along the ridges, there are enough puddles that the geese haven’t the need to wander down the paths to take a swim in the pool.
The rain swale beside the cabin is full again, having done its job diverting one and a third inches of downpour from under the historic floorboards. Two white tails flashed behind the east-facing porch; hooves crashed through the brush as deer stranded on the Ridge sought cover. Rifle season”s good and gone so their secret is safe.
Last night’s ball didn’t drop around here. It blew from West to east which is probably why the water isn’t still deeper. All the bird nesting boxes are back up on their posts and the Christmas ladder is back up on the deck. Wintery mix is in the forecast, just enough (fingers-crossed) to wash the mud off its steps so it can be stored away, but not enough to keep the donkeys, goats and pigs from enjoying the windfall from Hoen’s Orchard. The llamas, who normally scoff at anything not hay or sweet feed, have set a place at the juicy table of apples and squash.
Happy New Year, wherever it takes you. Maybe it will be lead you here in 364 days or less.
Over 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.
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.
Two 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 absent 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.
The 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.
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.
Saturday’s 60-degree temperatures saw the flock–all ten Priscillas, Barbara, Big Girl and Karen–out of the hen-house. As I cleaned their digs, as well as the goose buildings, the girls murmured their pleasure at being out to scratch in the grass and in their tunnels under the forsythia, elderberry and tamarisk. I swear they even purred.
Buddy brayed a few times, bringing me on the run to see what concerned our good guard donkey. Twice it was to let me know that Beatrice was thinking about visiting the neighbors. The third I found out later was because a pair of bald eagles had led a Gilboa couple from the Blanchard down the Riley Creek river valley to The Quarry Farm and the banks of Cranberry Run.
Last night’s and today’s rains have laid low the eagles as well as the hens. The geese enjoyed splashing in the puddles, but the girls preferred to scratch through the fresh straw of the hen-house. Buddy stuck his head out a couple of times, but he and the goats mostly stayed high and dry. Not so for anything in the floodplain. Compare the photo taken during the fall photo shoot and sketch walk (right) to the one taken today of the same foot bridge and you’ll see that Cranberry Run has some receding to do from the rainfall, snowmelt and torrential runoff from surrounding fields. But if you scroll back to the January 1 post you’ll see how quickly the scenery changes here.
Here’s a little quiz for you: Your eyes and nose present clues that can help you determine cause and effect. We all know that. When you study the photo above of the flooded foot bridge (click for an enlargement) you can see different kinds of plants, trees, and even water. See the stacked foam along the bridge? What does an accumulation of six inches or more of foam along a water body’s edge indicate? Check back tomorrow for the answer.
No doubt we’ll have clear skies and firm ground by January 19. Click on the cover of our current newsletter (upper left) to download the complete issue. You’ll find announcements for two upcoming events including this weekend’s first Stargazing Walk. Hope to have a good gathering for this new event. Mike Erchenbrecher is a dynamic speaker and educator. He’s one of those people who can draw you into a subject with his infectious love for all things earth science. Top that off with hot chocolate and a warm campfire and you couldn’t find a better way to spend your winter Saturday evening. Owl calling and counting is optional.
Since The Quarry Farm trails aren’t open to the public without appointment, at least until the boardwalks are in and the permanent trail markers are up, we ask that you call or email ahead. Plus we need to know how many lanterns to have on hand to light the way.