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.

 

Weekend for the birds

20170218_103256This Great Backyard Bird Count weekend is unusual in more ways than one. To begin with, this is the first in which I wore shorts outside.

20170218_103128Today is Day 3 in the 19th year that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society have coordinated this international weekend of documenting birds. It’s a four-day snapshot of what birds are where. Some years, a few days after the count is over, I see a bird that wasn’t on our checklist and think, “I wish that had been here last week.” But that’s the point; as long as the species made someone’s checklist somewhere, all is well for now.

A breeze was promising to build Saturday morning, so I started out at 8 a.m. with binoculars. Cardinals, house sparrows, juncos, wild turkey, red-winged blackbirds, gold finches and this flock of mallards made themselves known visually.

Since I am not an audio birder, I recorded sounds at various locations in the nature preserve with the hope of blog-reader assistance.  Anyone care to share your identifications? Click on each photo to listen:

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NW corner of the back field

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SW field tree line, above oxbow

 

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Base of catalpa tree, south central back field

By 10 a.m., the wind was high. Birds took shelter, skittering into and through the woods. Eight people joined me the scheduled Quarry Farm 2017 Bird Count. All had binoculars and good hiking shoes.

Our party of nine walked the floodplain trail, past the quarry, up the main path to cross the back field. We looped back through the oldest tree groves, past the oxbow.

Fortunately, our party included a father and son who drove all the way from Jenera in the county to the east. They knew their birds by sight, sound and movement, honing their birding skills by challenging each other to car ride bird identification games.

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Springing moss at the oxbow

We documented 26 species and two other taxa. You can view this checklist at: http://ebird.org/ebird/gbbc/view/checklist/S34534270

Check out all documented species from “The Quarry Farm Nature Preserve & Conservation Farm, Putnam County, Ohio, US” at http://gbbc.birdcount.org including the entire number that we will file for February 17-20, 2017, and explore the worldwide count.

It’s now Sunday evening and there is an American Woodcock buzzing outside the window. That wish I mentioned before? One just came true.

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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