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.

 

Setting Up The Quarry Farm at Toledo Botanical Garden

Photographing a nymph

Photographing a nymph

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

First look at a crayfish

First look at a crayfish

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.

coupleTo 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.

nymphThe 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.

Lower mandible of dragonfly nymph, extended

Lower mandible of dragonfly nymph, extended

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

Chris and the crayfish

Chris and the crayfish

Nature's Nursery's  Linda and Icarus

Nature’s Nursery’s
Linda and Icarus

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.

No Point In Mopping

Winter 2013 TQF CoverThe word of the day is WET. The Quarry Farm, indeed all of Putnam County, went from snow and blue skies to green grass, brown fields, swollen and fast-moving streams and gray skies in 48 hours.

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.

October BridgeLast 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.

flooded bridge

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.