Home Authors Posts by Joe Malmisur & Matt Sorrick

Joe Malmisur & Matt Sorrick

Joe Malmisur & Matt Sorrick
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Matt Sorrick is Director of The Center for Science Education at Hiram College. Joe Malmisur is an amateur naturalist and graduate of the Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist program.

I can assure the readership that this will not be a critique of the famous Dickens novel of the same name, but a few ideas on how to make the most of your adventures when exploring Nearby Nature. When you go to the zoo you want to see the animals, the same can be said about hiking, camping, or fishing; you want to see and experience nature first hand. When the sun is shining, birds chirping, and you go out to experience nature, one of the most disappointing things that can happen is that by the end of the day all you have experienced is tired/aching legs and bug bites from your hike.

As with anything in life, a little planning and preparation can go a long way to make the experience enjoyable and meet your expatiations or the expectations your group may have. Technology has greatly aided in this regard with web sites and blogs highlighting what is occurring in our area or an area you are planning on making a visit to in the near future. All of the areas’ park districts have web sites with links to their calendars of events and/or newsletters which highlight what is going on or what to look for in their respective parks during the various seasons. However, I want to focus on two sites specifically, eBird ( http://ohioebirdhotspots.wikispaces.com) and Trek Ohio ( http://trekohio.com/). These two sites can almost guarantee your expectations will be meet.

Let’s take the Snowy owl as an example. You are determined to see one but don’t know where to go. Let’s visit eBird. Launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, eBird provides real time information on bird distribution worldwide. Individual birders submit checklists with species names of birds seen and/or heard and location into the main web site. These locations called “hotspots” will list the date and number of a particular species. Sometime the information is time-sensitive, especially during migrations. Birds may spend only a short time in a location before continuing on their journey.  Above is an example what the eBird screen looks like. I have chosen Portage County but you can pick any county in Ohio. In the Birdtrax data table is a compilation of all the bird sightings in the county by location. Specific locations can be found on in the middle of the page and by clicking on a location, trail maps, descriptions, and other useful information can be found. Also listed are rare bird alerts, historical data on species, and links to other birding web sites. The site is very user friendly and once you have spent some time navigating around the page you will be able to find the nearest location and  see that elusive Snowy Owl!

The TrekOhio Guide  http://trekohio.com/ is designed to help meet expectations of hikers and nature enthusiasts around Ohio. The site specializes in listing natural sites and activities in Ohio. Developed by a husband and wife team, Bob and Deb Platt, they have created one place online where you could learn about sites that are in the same geographical region regardless of whether the park, nature preserve, or trail managed by the federal, state, or county government, or a non-governmental agency. Broken down into five quadrants, the site allows the user to click on the region of interest of the state and a listing of the counties appears. Click on a county and a list of all the natural areas appears, complete with directions and points of interest. Along the right side is a listing of seasonal or special events across the state and nature blogs from various sources around Ohio. Of particular interest is the “nice to know section” and “hiking overviews.” The nice to know area is an excellent quick reference with pictures of plants and animals to be looking for during your hike. You can quickly see that a lot of time and effort has been put into this site and will surely meet with your expatiations.

Also Matt and I urge you vote May 6th and support the upcoming Portage Park levy.

 

If you are anything like Joe and me, we are big supporters of our county park systems. County parks provide us with beautiful natural places to hike, bike, canoe, picnic, sled ride, fish, bird watch and much more. They also help to preserve habitats for plants, animals and other living things. As a result, the air we breathe and the water we drink is cleaner.

Growing Up In Nature

We should all be thankful for having wonderful parks in Northeast Ohio. Parks have been a major part of my life and my family’s lives. My daughter was born while we lived in Chardon and Geauga’s Best Park was a wonderful location to put her in a stroller and watch loons dive and fish. The steep ravines and stately hemlocks of Big Creek Park remain one of our favorite places to visit. My son was born while we lived in Leroy, in Lake County. Indian Point (the bumpy road to get to the park may have induced labor!) provides stunning views and clean water to search for salamanders and crawdads. Nearby Girdled Road Park was the rendezvous for my family to meet me after work with a picnic basket and change of clothes more appropriate for hiking. Now teenagers, my kids still want to visit these parks, play in the creeks and hike the trails. On a side note, my son was born the year of the periodical cicadas emergence (1999). He is now 14. In three more years, we will be revisiting some of these parks so that he can observe for himself the emergence of these long-lived and harmless insects.

We have lived in Hiram now for 13 years and enjoy bike rides and walks along the Headwaters Trail from Mantua to Garrettsville (often rewarding ourselves with an ice cream cone for Dairy Queen) and on the Portage Bike and Hike Trail from Ravenna to Kent.

The mission of the Portage Park District is to conserve Portage County’s natural and cultural heritage. This is accomplished by conserving unique and critical natural areas for wildlife habitat and water quality protection, creating parks and trails for healthy recreation, providing nature education programs, and working to efficiently manage the parks. Currently, Portage Park District manages 14 miles of hike and bike trails and 1,300 acres of parkland. All of this is under the direction of Christine Craycroft. Under her outstanding leadership, Portage Parks has grown and expanded and touched the lives of many people in the area. She has single-handedly (or nearly so, at least) brought millions of dollars of grant funds into the county to purchase and preserve unique natural areas, to link communities with trails and to educate people about the environment and the natural and cultural history of our region.

How do the parks in Portage County compare to Geauga, Lake, Summit, Cleveland Metroparks and other nearby counties? They don’t. There is no comparison. What’s the difference? Support. Residents of these other counties support and value their parks. Portage County has not yet supported the Park District. Sure, there are lots of park users and supporters. But, we have a struggling park system because the funds don’t exist to make it even better.

An Urgent Need

Unlike other area park districts, which have been in existence for 50 or more years and have taxpayer support, Portage Park District doesn’t have any tax levy support. As a result, our parks don’t compare. More than half of Portage Park District property (800 acres) is not open to the public because funds don’t exist to build trails, offer programs and maintain the property. Additionally, lack of funding has hampered the ability to receive additional grant funds to purchase and develop new land for parks.

Our neighbors to the north and west enjoy wonderful parks, thanks in no small part to levy support. Summit County Parks receives $17 million per year (about $32 per person countywide). Geauga County Parks receives $9 million per year (about $96 per person countywide). What about Portage Park District? Our county operates its parks on less than $100,000, costing each person in the county about 61 cents per year. In fact, nearly half of the annual budget for the parks comes from donations. Portage Park District has never had a levy but with dwindling financial support from the state and county, the Park District is in serious need of long-term funding support.

A Small Request…A Great Value

On May 6, county residents will vote on a proposed ½ mill, 10-year operating levy. This levy will cost the average homeowner in Portage County about 2 large pizzas…A YEAR!

What will we get in return? More beautiful miles to canoe or kayak downstream. More miles to hike and bike throughout the county. More bird and butterfly and dragonfly watching. More places to spread out a blanket and enjoy a picnic under the shade of a tree. More fun nature programs for the family. In other words, more of everything that we already love about the outdoors.

Additionally, our parks and trails will be better maintained. More land will be opened across the county and more critical habitat and water quality protection can be protected. Some of the properties to be developed and open to the public with levy funds include:

•  Chagrin Headwaters Preserve (95 acres, Mantua Township)

• Breakneck Creek Preserve (63 acres, Ravenna Township)

• Morgan Preserve (504 acres, Shalersville Township)

 

Additionally, new parks and trails will be sought with matching grants to:

•  Extend the PORTAGE Hike and Bike Trail to West Branch State Park

• Link the Franklin Connector Trail with the rest of the PORTAGE Hike and Bike Trail

• Extend the Headwaters Trail to Aurora

• Accept the donation of property to create the Shaw Woods Equestrian Park/Buckeye Trail Link

 

Please support the Portage Park District by voting “Parks YES!” on May 6. Learn more about Portage Parks at www.portageparkdistrict.org.

 

The opinions presented in this article are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Weekly Villager and its staff.

 

 

More Nearby Nature 

Thinking about summer? Think about Nature Camps at Hiram College and enjoy exploring nature and discovering its many wonders. For more information, visit www.hiram.edu/summerathiram or call 330.569.6003.

•  BioBuddies (July 14-18 or August 4-8) – Ages 3 & 4

•  Half-Day Hikers (July 14-18 or August 4-8) – Ages 5-7

•   Nature Explorers (July 14-18 or August 4-8) – Ages 8-10

•  Adventure Naturalists (July 7-11) – Ages 11-14

•  Adventure Expeditions (July 18-20) – Camping trip for high school students to the Grand Canyon of the East

 

Wow what a winter! It is like the children’s fairy tale “The Never Ending Story” instead we should call it “The Never Ending Winter.” To date, 93% of the Great Lakes are frozen and some say it is the coldest since the winter of 1977-78. Believe it or not, spring IS on its way. Hopefully this is the last week of below average temperatures. Since we at Nearby Nature are eternal optimists, we thought there was no better way to think about spring than to talk about Morels.  

Have you noticed? It’s getting lighter closer to breakfast and is still light out after supper! The temperatures have warmed (albeit very slowly) but you know spring is around-the-corner now that the sap buckets are hung and local breakfasts are serving hotcakes and maple syrup.

This has been a good winter for those of us who love cold and snow. It has also been a good winter to observe birds at the feeder. Winter birds are some of my favorite and I enjoy watching them steal seeds from the feeder and hang upside-down from the suet block. Tufted titmouse. Northern cardinal. Downy and Hairy woodpeckers. Nuthatch. Blue jay. During the cold snap (one of the cold snaps, anyway), a Red tailed hawk visited our feeder. Of course, it wasn’t interested in the seeds and suet. Turns out it was very interested in one of our chickens. It was reluctant to give up an easy meal, but the hawk flew off angrily with an empty stomach. The chicken survived and our breakfasts have remained tasty!

As we reflect on this past Thanksgiving holiday and get ready for the coming Christmas season, we want to begin this week’s segment with some reflections of our own; we are truly thankful for the opportunity to write Nearby Nature and the Weekly Villager for printing our articles. It is hard to believe that this is article #56. We are thankful for the opportunity to enlighten our readers, share hiking experiences, meet new friends, and most of all the ability to enjoy our natural world up close and personal. Finally we are thankful to our respective families, who at times think we are a bit “loony.” 

As I write, the full Beaver Moon is dancing brightly behind passing clouds on a blustery Sunday (November 17) evening. Known as the Beaver Moon because this is the best time to set traps prior to the marshes freezing and because beavers are actively making preparations for winter. To celebrate the November full moon, let’s learn a little about this interesting creature that has been remarkably important in our history. In fact, the Beaver has been so important to the development of Canada through fur trade, that the animal was designated the “national animal” in 1975. It also holds noble places on Canadian coins, stamps and was even the official Olympic mascot for the 1976 Summer Olympics held in Montreal.

With school now well underway, this will be the last of our articles in our series of getting out and experiencing Nearby Nature. As Matt indicated in the last article when he took us north to Pictured Rocks, I will take us west to Colorado and the Rocky Mountains. Yes, we know they are both a little more than one tank trips, but in our estimation they are more than worthy places to visit and enjoy nature. For some they might be worthy of going on the bucket list, for others just an opportunity to go and relax. 

In the last installment of Nearby Nature we discussed the Portage Park District and the idea of one tank trips where you can go out and discover and explore some of the plants, birds, or trees we have highlighted in the past year and a half. A few months ago, we also talked about “special places” and the memories and experiences at these places. In this edition, we will highlight four “special places”, at least to this writer: Holden Arboretum, Penitentiary Glen, Hell’s Hollow, and Cooks Forest State Park. Three of the four are in the Lake County and the fourth is in western Pennsylvania. All are well within the one tank limit and are more than worthy of spending the day hiking, picnicking, and enjoying Nearby Nature.

We all remember the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, where the bears come home to find “someone has been sleeping in my bed.” Well, during the months of June and July in Northeast Ohio, some night you might come home to find a bear sleeping in your bed! At a recent ODNR presentation, it was noted that Portage County has the highest number of confirmed sightings of all counties in northeast Ohio. According to ODNR, in 2011 statewide, there were 152 confirmed sighting representing 89 individual bears.

High school classrooms tend to follow a similar pattern: students arrive to class, sit in rows, listen to the teacher and take notes, memorize the information, and take the test. All of this is usually accomplished in periods lasting about 45 minutes. At the end of the period, the bell rings and students move en mass to the next class. State and national learning standards guide the teaching of nearly all classes and subject areas and the goal is to prepare students for success on chapter and unit tests, and the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT). The OGT is one of the measures of successful schools and a requirement to receive a high school diploma. 

As we make the transition from spring into summer, the wildflowers are fading, flowering trees and shrubs are ablaze in color, and the mosquitoes, deer flies, and other insects are making their presence known in one way or the other. We are all too familiar with the biting and blood sucking insects that cause us so much irritation, but there is another insect that can almost drive people to insanity due to its constant-saw like droning; the cicadae. There are 170 species of cicadas in North America, 2000 in the world, and they inhabit every continent except Antarctica. There are three types of cicadas, the periodical, photo-periodical, and the annual or commonly known as dog day cicadas.

What makes a person care for and be good steward of the land? Connections with special places are a result of frequent visits over a long period of time. Whether it is a farm, woodlot, backyard, or fishing hole, you really have to know and understand the land. This doesn’t happen after one visit. Often times it takes years, or even a lifetime, to fully understand the land around you. Familiarity with the land is the best way to develop stewardship.

By this time of year the seed catalogs, fruit tree catalogs, and various outdoor planting publications are all dog eared, paper clipped, or marked in some fashion. You have been working on re-doing your landscape, making sketches, imagining what this would like here, and that there. Is this shrub or tree going to have the desired effect? The sun is shining, the snow is gone, the days are getting longer, and maybe, just maybe, you can go out and work in the yard. But have you made the correct decisions? Are you being a good steward? You want to attract birds and create natural areas on your property. Are you planting an invasive species? Just because you buy it from a catalog or a nursery doesn’t mean it is going to be right. If you have Autumn/Russian olive, Privet, Honeysuckle varieties, Buckthorn, Asian Bittersweet, Burning Bush, Barberry, Norway Maple, Callery Pear cultivars, Ribbon Grass, Periwinkle, Myrtle or Purple Loosestrife in your plans you have made the wrong decision! 

Last article, we learned that those squishy, pink earthworms that we adore in our gardens are invasive and capable of dramatic changes in our natural habitats. We also learned what can be done to help the situation. This started a series of upcoming articles designed to inform our readers about opportunities to be good stewards of the environment.

Since the inception of Nearby Nature, we have discussed many subjects relating to natural history, geology, plant and animal identification, places to experience nature, and many others. Like huge puzzle pieces so to speak, we have tried to create an awareness of how everything “fits together” and works in harmony creating sights and experiences we enjoy every day. Beginning with the last article we will focus on becoming good stewards of nature. What we can do as mere mortals to combat invasive species, make others more aware of destructive pest and environmental practices, educate ourselves regarding environmental issues and become citizen scientists? By no means are we advocating getting on a soap box in the middle of town square or becoming an eco-terrorist. But what can we do to help the environment in our little corner of the world? That being said, let’s turn our attention to a subject that few people would imagine as being one of the biggest threats to the forests of Ohio and surrounding Great Lakes Region including all of the New England States: Earthworms.

Remember Fred Flintstone, he was always blaming poor Wilma for all the stupid situations he and Barney had gotten themselves into. Well, unfortunately Fred can’t blame the Ice Age on Wilma this time.  As we discussed in Part One of the geology of Ohio, the concept of geologic time was explained as well as the “Periods” that led to the formation of what we call Ohio today. However, there is one more critical event, which like a sculptor chiseling away at a marble block to create a beautiful statue, reshaped the Ohio landscape for eternity…or for now, anyway. 

In many of our articles we hope to give our readers a new set of eyes so as they can discover “nature” as they have never seen it before.  Most of our readers have been to Nelson Ledges State Park and are struck be amazing rock formations, but who would have thought that if you stand in the parking lot you could straddle the divide between the Lake Erie and Ohio River watershed? But you can. As you straddle the divide facing east, water on your left side would travel toward Lake Erie down to Lake Ontario; go over Niagara Falls and down the St. Lawrence River to the North Atlantic. Water on your right side would make its way to Eagle Creek, the Mahoning and Ohio Rivers, flow into the Mississippi and end up in the Gulf of Mexico.  This is an example of having “new” eyes, seeing things from a different perspective.

Since mushrooms have been in the news of late, we thought we would try to enlighten our readers about one of the most unusual and extremely important organisms in nature. Ominous sounding names like Destroying Angel, Deadly Galerina, and Poision Pie, are obviously poisonous; but Sulfer Tuft,  Jack O’Lantern, and Fly Agaric are equally as dangerous. However Morels, Meadow Mushrooms, and White Matsutake are a culinary delight. 

I can still vividly remember the first time I saw a coyote; it was at the gravel pit where I worked during the summer behind the Red Fox housing development in Shalersville. The game protector informed the plant manager that a coyote had been killing young calves on a neighbors beef farm. He gave us permission to kill the animal if we saw it roaming through the area. Later in the day, the animal was laying across the tailgate of a truck.  It was the size of a very large German Sheppard. That was 35 years ago!  Recently Aurora, Hudson and Frohring Meadows in the Geauga Metro Parks have had “coyote experiences”.  On many nights I can hear the eerie howling as they communicate with each other in the woods where I live.  This highly adaptable canine has expanded its range to most of North America and into Mexico and Panama. This is due in large part because the other predators such as mountain lions, bears, lynx, wolverines and bobcats who normally keep coyote populations in check have been pushed out by urban sprawl, upsetting the delicate balance of nature.  Coyotes are found in all 88 counties of Ohio. Coyote populations often increase as the turkey population’s increase in an area. Seldom do they attack a healthy deer, mainly feeding on the weak or sickly. 

Has this fall been more vibrant than others? The leaves have been changing colors since the last week of September and for the past three weeks have created the backdrop for truly breathtaking views of our surrounding landscape. We are blessed to live in Northeast Ohio this time of year and have our climate and biome to thank for the fall spectacle. Leaves are putting on their annual fall show throughout the northeastern US and southeastern Canada. Ohio is just part of the Temperate Deciduous Forest biome that blankets this section of North America with green each summer and reds, oranges and yellows each fall. Temperate means that this biome experiences 4 distinct seasons. Deciduous describes trees that lose their leaves in the fall. The Temperature Deciduous Forest biome extends essentially from the Mississippi River eastward and from parts of southern states (Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi) into Quebec and Ontario, Canada.

We all know there are no such things as vampires. However, bloodsuckers exist and you should be alert to their presence. They can be very sneaky. Mosquitoes, three-corner flies, horse flies and many other insects want to make a meal out of you. One of the creepiest and most repulsive bloodsuckers isn’t even an insect! Instead, this organism has eight legs and can’t even fly. Ticks! They have been very abundant this summer and it helps to know something about these parasites.

Source: firefly.org

Close your eyes and think back to a warm summer night, the smell of a camp fire, roasting marshmallows or eating s’mores; when all of a sudden, a young voice yells out, “There one is” and all the kids run to the blinking lights slowly rising into the moonlit sky. We all can remember the endless summer nights as kids, chasing lighting bugs or fireflies after a long day of picnics, swimming, and family gatherings. Even as parents and grandparents, watching kids run to catch their first lighting bug is magical. My granddaughter named the first one she caught Gloria, kept it in a container with grass only to have it mysteriously escape sometime during the night. So what are these blinking summer beacons of joy?

During the summer months, our Nearby Nature articles have provided suggestions of favorite places to visit within 150 miles of Garrettsville (all right, some have been outside of the distance limit, but certainly worth the extra miles). The articles have included unique natural areas throughout Ohio and Pennsylvania that can be visited in a day or a couple of days. 

Since the inception of the Nearby Nature column, we have strived to enlighten our readers with what is going on in the natural world around us.– trying to point out why certain events happen, what to watch for during the various seasons, how to identify what you see with useful references or field guides, and interesting bits of trivia or facts that might surprise most people.  Hopefully we have done our job as educators and you can now venture out on your own. Similar to a birds fledgling flight…we are going to push you out of the nest and this summer we are encouraging you go out and enjoy Nearby Nature. With this thought in mind, the next several articles will be focused on what we are calling “one tank trips.” Our center is the Weekly Villager office and we drew a circle with a 150 mile radius figuring most cars get at least 300 miles to one tank of gas. Many of these destinations we have been to and we recommend them highly. Each has its own unique geologic features, plants, animals, or unbelievable scenic views. Remember to take plenty of water, a light snack, map of the area, and compass. Don’t rely on your Smartphone for GPS heading; some areas do not have service. Most areas feature hiking, biking, fishing, canoeing or power boating. Most of the descriptions are taken from the individual web sites and we have added caveats from personal experiences.  We hope you go out and enjoy Nearby Nature! 

“May the trees continue to thrive and flourish on this earth, filling our hearts with joy and inspiration.” — Stephanie Kaza

“Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come.”– Chinese proverb

“He that plants trees loves others beside himself.” — Thomas Fuller

To many, sitting in a forest surrounded by the glory and majesty of the forest is almost a spiritual event, especially in the redwoods; the wind rustling through the tree tops, the sunshine filtering through the canopy, the birds chirping. Besides water, trees are one of the most important components of the earth’s ecosystem. The amount of oxygen trees produce and the consumption of carbon dioxide during photosynthesis is second only to algae. In addition, trees play a critical role in providing habitat for many insects, animals, and birds. Without trees, we would have a hard time building a house, we would have very few paper products, we could not heat our homes, and many other parts of our lives we commonly take for granted would be changed dramatically. 

We thought we would begin this article with a few of  questions….What bird has breeding grounds in the Arctic and flies to its non-breeding grounds in Antarctica and then returns to the Arctic to nest again year after year?  How high is the highest altitude a bird can fly? Do birds use the stars to navigate? Do birds use compasses to help them find true north?  (Answer in the “Did You Know” Section)

Global climate change on your mind lately? Several days in the 80’s in March might cause you to consider its validity. Well, it shouldn’t because the unseasonable warmth we have experienced throughout March (actually all winter) is just variation in our weather. The saying goes ‘if you don’t like NE Ohio weather, wait a day and it will change’. This is probably more true in spring than any other time of the year. Notice though, that it is not called ‘global weather change’. The word climate is inserted because it means something different. Let’s review a couple of important terms. Weather describes the current or recent conditions, for example rainy and cool, or sunny, hot and dry. Climate, on the other hand, is the long-term average of weather. Some climate data is a compilation of over 100 years of weather data. Thirty years or more weather data goes in to describe climate. For the most part, our climate in northern Portage County is temperate, which means we have cold winters, hot summers and mild spring and fall seasons. Our climate also indicates we will amass 39 inches of precipitation each year. Most people would guess that April is the rainiest month of the year. It actually ranks 4th with slightly less than 3 ½ inches of rain. May, June and July are actually the rainiest months in Hiram, Ohio. Wondering about our average high temperature in March, particularly after the 70 and 80oF days we have experienced? 45oF! March 2012 will certainly go down as one of the warmest in history, but it will do little to change the climate records from the past 100 years (58oF is the average high temperature for April). So if summer temperatures in March don’t change your mind about climate change, what might? Phenology, of course! What is Phenology? “Many of the events of the annual cycle recur year after year in a regular order. A year-to-year record of this order is a record of the rates at which solar energy flows to and through living things. They are the arteries of the land. By tracing their response to the sun, phenology may eventually shed some light on that ultimate enigma, the land’s inner workings.” –Aldo Leopold, A Phenological Record for Sauk and Dane Counties, Wisconsin, 1935-1945 Naturalist Aldo Leopold began recording season observations at his shack in Wisconsin in 1935. For the next 11 years, his observations recorded the arrival of spring birds, melting ice on the nearby rivers and ponds, the familiar wedge of Canda Geese flying south and much more. Simple, careful observations that provided the basis for his famous work, A Sand County Almanac, still a must read for anyone interested in ecology, natural history, conservation or just a good story. The story that A Sand County Almanac tells is about phenology, the study of plant and animal life cycles changes due to climate and seasonal changes in the environment. Phenology is derived from the Greek word phaino meaning ‘to show or appear’, and is therefore used to describe the science concerned with the dates of first occurrence of natural events in their annual cycle. Animal migrations, plants budding and blooming, insect emergence, frost and ice-over and ice-out dates, and other data are important to understanding changes to climate. These observations are often referred to as “greening-up” (observing spring buds and flowers) and “browning down” (observing fall colors and leaf fall). Farmers are excellent sources of phenological data. They often keep careful records of last and first frost dates, rainfall, soil temperature, planting and harvest dates and much more. Each piece of data is useful for the next year and helps to maximize crop production. Actually, many of us keep track of such information, even if we don’t record our observations carefully. We know that daffodils usually bloom in April and even teach our children that “April showers bring May flowers”. Nature lovers know that the last week in April and first week in May is often the best time to observe trilliums and other spring wildflowers. Birders know that Mother’s Day weekend is often the best for viewing spring migrants. Fortunately, there are people and organizations that have been recording phenology data for many decades. These long-term observations have been essential to understanding climate change. More and more information from phenology studies demonstrates long term trends and shifts in climate. Record warmth in March or even a warm winter does not indicate a trend. Decades of data are necessary. Plants are budding and blooming earlier than 30 or 40 years ago and some are growing in areas that have been too cold. Migrating birds are returning days and sometimes weeks earlier to summer breeding grounds than they have in the past. The USA National Phenology Network (USA-NPN) monitors the influence of climate on the phenology of plants, animals, and landscapes. This organization of scientists, resource managers and volunteers (aka, citizen scientists) learn how to make observations and submit data as a means to understand environmental change. Visit http://www.usanpn.org/about. Project Budburst (http://neoninc.org/budburst/phenology.php) and Journey North (http://journeynorth.org/) are two other resources to learn more about phenology and to get involved in viewing interactive maps and participating in making observations. The Ohio State University has been promoting Phenology Gardens to record dates of blooms and ultimately assist with identifying insect activity. The list of plants for the gardens has been carefully selected because of their close relationships with pollinating insects. Gardens can be planted at schools, businesses and backyards. For more information, visit (http://phenology.osu.edu/default.asp). Did You Know… The famous Washington D.C. Cherry Blossom Festival happens during the first two weeks in April. Over the past two or three decades, the cherry trees have bloomed earlier and the closing parade often happens after the blossoms have lost their luster. The festival may be blossom-less altogether this year as the cherries were already blooming in mid-March. More Nearby Nature Burton Wetlands: Saturday, April 7 (9:00am-Noon) Explore trails and pathways of the Burton Wetlands, the largest and one of the most important wetlands of the Lake Erie watershed. The area provides habitat for bald eagles, river otters, sandhill cranes, and a host of other wildlife. Glacial lakes, bogs, swamp forests, marshland and the old and new Cuyahoga River are all part of this fascinating complex. Sponsored by the Friends of the Hiram College Field Station (hiking fee: $5 for members, $8 for non-members). To register, call 330.569.6003 or email sorrickmw@hiram.edu. Directions provided upon registration. Audubon Bird Walks: April 15, 22, 29; May 6, 13, 20 (7:30-9:00am) Experienced and beginning birders are invited for these walks as we set out early Sunday mornings to learn and record the sights and sounds, indicating the return of our feathered friends from distant lands. Bring your binoculars and meet at the JH Barrow Field Station on Wheeler Rd. (between SR 305 and SR 82) near Garrettsville. It is a great way to learn birding from experts. No registration is necessary. For questions, call 330.569.6003.

No this is not a B rated movie review from the 50’s, but a way to alert our readers that spring is well on its way! Turkey vultures, crocus, red-wing blackbirds are a clue; however, a sure sign of spring that we are all familiar with is the sound of spring peepers and wood frogs. As the temperatures rise, so does the crescendo, reaching a fever pitch in early to mid April. In our last article, “Vernal pools: Murky Puddles of Fascinating Life”, we discussed what a vernal pool is and the importance they play in nature. Since both of us are educators, the rationale for writing this column is twofold, first to educate our readership on the fascinating natural world in which we live and, second, to get people out to enjoy that same natural world…..hence the title, “nearby nature”. We are blessed with a plethora of parks and opportunities to get out and enjoy the wonders of nature. The Geauga Metro parks, Hiram College Field Station, Nelson Ledges State Park, Eagle Creek Nature Preserve, Mosquito Lake State Park, not to mention your own back yard or the woods nearby. We can’t think of a better way to spend a bright sunny day! In the next series of articles we will try to help point out what is occurring, try to identify some common plants, wildflowers, or birds to look for as you venture out. (In our best classroom voice) Boys and girls let’s start today’s lesson…… In the last article we talked about vernal pools, let’s review how we determine what makes up a vernal pool. It is small and shallow, isolated from other bodies of water or other wetlands, fills seasonally and occasionally dries out, is situated in woodland or old field, has obligate species and lacks fish. In this article we will focus on the “obligate species” or “indicator species”. It is important to be able to identify what you are looking at when you go out into the woods this weekend. The following will help you distinguish between a spring peeper, a wood frog, and/or a toad. What the egg masses of each species looks like in the pool. What are the differences between frog egg masses and salamander egg masses. Help identify some of the common salamanders that you may see migrating into the pools. And finally…. creatures from the deep you might see. (You must talk like Boris Karloff when you say that) Eastern Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica) 1 ½ -2 ¾ inch long The wood frog is the most terrestrial frog in the woods. For most of its life it prefers moist woodlands to ponds. However in March even before the ice melts, it finds its way into vernal pools. During courtship the males produce a series of five or six loud clucking notes. Eggs are laid in large gelatinous masses with spherical-shaped black eggs. Egg masses are attached to submerged vegetation. Northern Spring Peeper (Hyla Crucifer) ¾ -1 ¼ inch long The peeper can be easily be identified by the prominent dark X marking on its back and rounded tree-frog toe pads. This small tree frog lives in moist woodlands and swamps. Small in stature, size of a quarter, this familiar call is a short high-pitched, one-syllable whistles. A full chorus of peepers can be deafening. Egg masses are similar to wood frog egg masses Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma Maculatum) 6 -7 ¾ inches long These large salamanders are found throughout Ohio in low-lying moist woodlands adjacent to ponds and wetlands. They are reclusive by nature, burrow underground and are rarely seen except in early spring. They migrate in large numbers during the night to the same pools they were born in year after year, imprinted like mammals and birds. Salamander egg masses can be distinguished from frogs egg masses in that they are a solid fist or softball-size gelatinous mass that is attached to a small stick or other ridged structure. Unlike frogs with thousands of eggs, salamander egg masses only contain around one hundred or so eggs. Northern Red Salamander (Pseudotriton ruber) 4 ¼ – 6 inches long This salamander inhabits the eastern parts of the state and can be found under logs, moss and rocks. It also has a distinctive yellow iris and stout body. In addition to the wood frog, spring peeper, and salamanders; invertebrates such as giant water bugs, water scorpions, leeches, crawling water beetle, caddisfly larvae, whirligig beetles and dragonflies and many others are indicators of a vernal pool. Other amphibian species such as the American toad, tree frogs, green frogs, various types of turtles, and snakes can inhabit a vernal pool. Wood ducks also make use of vernal pools to raise their young. Now class, take out your pencils it’s time for a pop quiz!! Did You Know? e Wood frogs can freeze solid and thaw out without any serious injury. e The American Toads lay their eggs in long viscous strands that loop around and through the vegetation at the edge of the pool or pond. e The largest salamander in Ohio is the Eastern Tiger Salamander measuring up to 8 ¼ inches long. UPDATE on the maple syrup article: Mark Apple reports that he will make around 500 gallons of syrup this year. “It was a strange year with lots of sap; however the sugar content was low.” GET OUTSIDE AND COME JOIN THE FUN. GET OUT AND ENJOY NEARBY NATURE…… Vernal Poolooza! March 23 – Join the vernal pool party and see first-hand how these unique habitats team with fascinating life in early spring. This will be our first vernal pool monitoring of the spring. If we are lucky, we will hear the “quacks” of wood frogs. Registration is a must (call 330.569.6003 or email sorrickmw@hiram.edu) as below-freezing temperatures will postpone the party. Dress warm, wear waterproof boots and pack a flashlight as we hike to some vernal pools to begin our spring monitoring and observe some of the first signs of life in the ponds. The party begins at 5:30pm. Meet at the James H. Barrow Field Station in Hiram Township, located between Hiram and Garrettsville on Wheeler Rd. (between SR 305 and SR 82). The Field Station is managed by Hiram College as a nature preserve for research and education.

The first frost of the fall occurred on October 27 at my house. This was considerably later than in past years. Since then, we have had several more heavy frosts but the recent warm and sunny days of “Indian Summer” may have pushed the thought of winter from your mind (technically, Indian Summer is a warm and dry period following the first frost). However, the days are getting shorter and the nights longer and colder. No doubt winter is on its way. You probably have been preparing for winter by raking leaves, cleaning the lawnmower, hauling wood, storing the lawn chairs and unpacking the warm coats, hats and gloves.

We have all heard or told childhood nursery rhymes, but what are we really looking at? Suffice it to say the sky has played a major role in civilizations from the beginning of time. From the ancient Aztec, Mayan and Incan cultures whose daily lives revolved around celestial events to the time of the great philosophers Aristotle, Plato, and Ptleomy who developed the first theories relating too many of the celestial objects. Ptleomy identified 48 of the 88 constellations in the sky today. From Copernicus who was excommunicated from the holy Catholic Church for proving the earth revolved around the sun to Kepler and Galileo who improved the telescope and developed what we now call modern astronomy. Without the human desire to make sense of the unknown universe, Neil Armstrong would never have uttered his immortal quote “This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”, the breathtaking pictures from the Hubble telescope would have never been seen, and the eventual trip to Mars would never happen. Who could live without WD 40, Velcro, Teflon, Tupperware, and of course Tang all products developed by NASA for use in the space program to quench mans fascination with reaching the stars. 

Recently my son was photographing nature by our pond; he photographed several different types of dragonflies. This got us wondering just how many different types there were. So the search began. When you see a dragonfly, the images of a large fierce flying insect quickly flitting from place to place come to mind. Though dragonflies/damselflies are excellent predators and have a ferocious appearance, they are harmless to people. They do not sting, but they are serious predators of flying insects such as mosquitoes, gnats and midges. So dragonflies/damselflies are great to have around. During this time of year you might see large swarms of dragonflies congregating in one area. There are several explanations for this phenomenon. Some species of dragonflies congregate just before they migrate south for the winter and/or there is a large swarm of tasty insects that they are dining on. Whatever the reason a flock of these fast flying insects are sure to catch your eye.