The Great Backyard Bird Count – Be a Citizen Scientist! Saturday, February 13, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Admission: FREE, donations are encouraged
Meet at Creasey Mahan’s Nature Center
Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve and the Louisville Audubon Society present this special day where you will learn about birds and also participate in the national Great Backyard Bird Count. This is an annual nation-wide event sponsored by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. All bird sightings will be entered into the Cornell database to help track the rise and fall of bird populations.
The day will start with a 45-minute indoor presentation by Kathy Dennis, President of the Louisville Audubon Society, to acquaint you with birds you are likely to see on the bird count. After this, the group will be guided by an expert bird watcher through prairies and wooded areas to count birds at the Nature Preserve. This fun event is for beginning to advanced bird watchers – no experience necessary.
There will be complimentary refreshments and free crafts for kids! Bring binoculars, if available, and dress warmly.
The magnificent American chestnut tree once dominated 200 million acres of the eastern United States. Chestnuts were the primary food source for wildlife, livestock and people. Many different uses of the wood from these trees supported the U.S. economy and our way of life. American Indians were eating the American chestnut species, long before European immigrants introduced their stock to America, and before the arrival of chestnut blight.
In some places, such as the Appalachian Mountains, one-quarter of hardwoods were chestnuts. Mature trees often grew straight and branch-free for 50 feet (15 m), up to 100 feet, averaging up to 5 ft in diameter. For three centuries, most barns and homes east of the Mississippi River were made from it.
In the early 1900’s, the American chestnuts were nearly wiped out by chestnut blight. The discovery of the blight fungus on some Asian chestnut trees planted on Long Island, New York, was made public in 1904. Within 40 years, the nearly four billion-strong American chestnut population in North America was devastated; only a few clumps of trees remained in Michigan, Wisconsin, California and the Pacific Northwest. Due to disease, American chestnut wood almost disappeared from the market for decades, although quantities can still be obtained as reclaimed lumber.
Today, they only survive as single trees separated from any others (very rare), and as living stumps, or “stools”, with only a few growing enough shoots to produce seeds shortly before dying. This is just enough to preserve the genetic material used to engineer an American chestnut tree with the minimal necessary genetic input from any of the disease-immune Asiatic species. Efforts started in the 1930s are still ongoing to repopulate the country with these trees, in Massachusetts and many places elsewhere in the United States. In the 1970s, geneticist Charles Burnham began back-breeding Asian chestnut into American chestnut populations to confer blight resistance with the minimum difference in genes.
Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve is working with the American Chestnut Foundation to return American chestnut trees to our forest, planting young blight resistant trees in various areas of the preserve. We also have several resistant Chinese chestnuts near the sunny side of the Woodland Garden.
Every autumn we revel in the beauty of the fall colors. The mixture of red, purple, orange and yellow is the result of chemical processes that take place in the tree as the seasons change from summer to winter.
During the spring and summer the leaves have served as factories where most of the foods necessary for the tree’s growth are manufactured. This food-making process takes place in the leaf in numerous cells containing chlorophyll, which gives the leaf its green color. This extraordinary chemical absorbs from sunlight the energy that is used in transforming carbon dioxide and water to carbohydrates, such as sugars and starch.
Along with the green pigment are yellow to orange pigments, carotenes and xanthophyll pigments which, for example, give the orange color to a carrot. Most of the year these colors are masked by great amounts of green coloring.
But in the fall, because of changes in the length of daylight and changes in temperature, the leaves stop their food-making process. The chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears, and the yellow to orange colors become visible and give the leaves part of their fall splendor.
At the same time other chemical changes may occur, which form additional colors through the development of red anthocyanin pigments. Some mixtures give rise to the reddish and purplish fall colors of trees such as dogwoods and sumacs, while others give the sugar maple its brilliant orange.
The autumn foliage of some trees show only yellow colors. Others, like many oaks, display mostly browns. All these colors are due to the mixing of varying amounts of the chlorophyll residue and other pigments in the leaf during the fall season.
As the fall colors appear, other changes are taking place. At the point where the stem of the leaf is attached to the tree, a special layer of cells develops and gradually severs the tissues that support the leaf. At the same time, the tree seals the cut, so that when the leaf is finally blown off by the wind or falls from its own weight, it leaves behind a leaf scar.
Most of the broad-leaved trees in the North shed their leaves in the fall. However, the dead brown leaves of the oaks and a few other species may stay on the tree until growth starts again in the spring. In the South, where the winters are mild, some of the broad-leaved trees are evergreen; that is, the leaves stay on the trees during winter and keep their green color.
Most of the conifers – pines, spruces, firs, hemlocks, cedars, etc. – are evergreen in both the North and South. The needle- or scale-like leaves remain green or greenish the year round, and individual leaves may stay on for two to four or more years.
Temperature, light, and water supply have an influence on the degree and the duration of fall color. Low temperatures above freezing will favor anthocyanin formation producing bright reds in maples. However, early frost will weaken the brilliant red color. Rainy and/or overcast days tend to increase the intensity of fall colors. The best time to enjoy the autumn color would be on a clear, dry, and cool (not freezing) day.
Enjoy the color, it only occurs for a brief period each fall.
As if Executive Director Tavia Cathcart Brown weren’t busy enough to begin with at the Nature Preserve, she has now become a Monarch butterfly Mama! Her interest in flowers extends to an extensive garden at her home, including lots of the milkweed required for the life cycle of Monarch butterflies. Monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on milkweed, and caterpillars only eat milkweed. But humans don’t seem to like milkweed very much and are cutting it down for various reasons. Sometimes humans cut down milkweed in order to build houses, buildings and streets. Sometimes the milkweed is cut down when trees are removed to harvest the wood. In recent years there have been a lot of wildfires that have destroyed a lot of milkweed. Humans cut milkweed down in their own yards because it doesn’t smell very good or they think it is a weed. But these humans don’t realize that monarch butterflies need the milkweed in order to survive, and the monarch butterfly population is dwindling. Did you know the Nature Preserve is a certified Monarch Waystation, participating in the efforts of Monarch Watch to preserve these beautiful insects?
When she started finding Monarch caterpillars in her milkweed, she couldn’t resist the urge to give them a little help. Monarch butterflies go through four stages during one life cycle, and through four generations in one year. The four stages of the monarch butterfly life cycle are the egg, the larvae (caterpillar), the pupa (chrysalis), and the adult butterfly. The four generations are actually four different butterflies going through these four stages during one year until it is time to start over again with stage one and generation one. The fourth generation of monarch butterflies is a little bit different than the first three generations. The fourth generation is born in September and October and goes through exactly the same process as the first, second and third generations except for one part. The fourth generation of monarch butterflies does not die after two to six weeks. Instead, this generation of monarch butterflies migrates to warmer climates like Mexico and California and will live for six to eight months until it is time to start the whole process over again.
She and husband Matt created a Monarch nursery with plastic containers and screen to provide a safe place for these caterpillars to turn into butterflies.
First, the caterpillar hangs upside down by its feet in the “J” position. Then its skin starts to split…
After a while, the skin is discarded and a green chrysalis develops, while the caterpillar turns into DNA soup as the metamorphosis continues.
10 – 14 days later, the green chrysalis begins to turn dark, and then translucent so you can actually see the orange and black of the developing wings.
When the chrysalis becomes clear, the butterfly is ready to emerge, but the wings are small and crumpled after their confinement in the small chrysalis.
Watch carefully and you can see the abdomen pulsing gently as it pumps fluids into the wings so they will spread and become firm enough to fly. This has been a fascinating experience for Tavia, and she wanted to share it with all of you. She still has some chrysalis which are getting ready to emerge, and they will be at the Nature Center on Wednesday, Sept. 16 from 9 – 1 if you can come by.
On a recent trip to Cincinnati, I noticed many trees along I-71 which appeared to be dead or dying. A quick glance at the leaves showed them to be ash trees, which are very common in Kentucky. However, due to the invasion of the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), we may soon lose most of our ash trees. Previous blights and invasive insects have killed the American Chestnut tree, Sycamore, Elm and Hemlock trees, so unfortunately, this isn’t something new.
EAB is now considered the most destructive forest pest ever seen in North America. The scope of this problem will reach the billions of dollars nationwide if not dealt with. State and federal agencies have made this problem a priority. Homeowners can also help by carefully monitoring their ash trees for signs and symptoms of EAB throughout the year. There are treatments, which can be expensive and time consuming for the homeowner. Please consult with a trusted arborist for your best options. Tavia Cathcart Brown, Executive Director at Creasey Mahan, estimates that we will lose up to 1,000 ash trees at the Nature Preserve.
Emerald ash borer (EAB), Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire, is an exotic beetle that was discovered in southeastern Michigan near Detroit in the summer of 2002. Emerald ash borer is also established in Windsor, Ontario, was found in Ohio in 2003, northern Indiana in 2004, northern Illinois and Maryland in 2006, western Pennsylvania and West Virginia in 2007, Wisconsin, Missouri and Virginia in the summer of 2008, Minnesota, New York, Kentucky in the spring of 2009, Iowa in the spring of 2010, Tennessee in the summer of 2010, Connecticut, Kansas, and Massachusetts in the summer of 2012, New Hampshire in the spring of 2013, North Carolina and Georgia in the summer of 2013, Colorado in the fall of 2013, New Jersey in the spring of 2014, Arkansas in the summer of 2014, and Louisiana in the winter of 2015.
A simple leaf is a single leaf defined by having a bud at the base of the leaf stem (also known as a petiole).
A compound leaf is one that has more than one leaflet while the entire leaf, as defined, has a bud at its stem base (petiole). Ash typically have approximately 5-9 leaflets per leaf. Their seeds and bark of ash are also unique. Ash fruit is a single samara, or seed surrounded by dry, oar-shaped wings that help with dispersal. Some older ash trees have a characteristic diamond pattern to their bark.
The adult beetles nibble on ash foliage but cause little damage. The larvae (the immature stage) feed on the inner bark of ash trees, disrupting the tree’s ability to transport water and nutrients. Emerald ash borers probably arrived in the United States on solid wood packing material carried in cargo ships or airplanes originating in its native Asia. We know EAB adults can fly at least 1/2 mile from the tree where they emerge. Many infestations, however, were started when people moved infested ash nursery trees, logs, or firewood into uninfested areas. Shipments of ash nursery trees and ash logs with bark are now regulated, and transporting firewood outside of the quarantined areas is illegal, but transport of infested firewood remains a problem. PLEASE – do not move any ash firewood or logs outside of the quarantined area.
Look at the trunk of the ash tree, and you may find the “bore” holes at about eye level, where the adults have bored out of the wood where they lived as larvae. The canopy of infested trees begins to thin above infested portions of the trunk and major branches because the borer destroys the water and nutrient conducting tissues under the bark. Heavily infested trees exhibit canopy die-back usually starting at the top of the tree. One-third to one-half of the branches may die in one year. Most of the canopy will be dead within 2 years of when symptoms are first observed. Sometimes ash trees push out sprouts from the trunk after the upper portions of the tree dies. Although difficult to see, the adult beetles leave a “D”-shaped exit hole in the bark, roughly 1/8 inch in diameter, when they emerge in June.
We always expect courtship and mating behavior to happen in the spring, and often this is the case. Some animals, however, continue to court and produce young throughout the summer. The humidity was lower than usual this afternoon, so I took a stroll back through the Woodland Gardens and Frog Pond – two of my favorite spots at the Nature Preserve. Although the butterfly populations overall are low this summer, we seem to have plenty of Tiger Swallowtails.
Most folks are familiar with the yellow and black striped male Tiger Swallowtail, but they don’t realize that the female has 2 forms: one yellow like the male and the other black with shadows of dark stripes. Hindwing of both female forms has a row of striking blue chevrons and an iridescent blue wash over parts of the interior hindwing. The upperside hindwing has a prominent orange marginal spot that is generally larger than the row of pale marginal spots. At the pond, I saw two couples flying around in a courtship display, but my photos of them are just blurs.
Dragonflies are like fighter jets. They zoom and swerve so fast that you can’t really get any good photos of them in the air. However, one dragonfly caught my eye while it hovered in one spot, dipping its tail repeatedly into the water, as the other dragonflies circled in constant motion. It’s a female dragonfly, and each time she dips her tail into the pond, she lays an egg! This isn’t something you get to see too often.
That bright gold dragonfly flitting around the female is an Amberwing dragonfly. It finally perched on a stem to let me take a photo. Yes, I’m sure it didn’t think of my needs as it landed.
From a distance, the Green Heron is a dark, stocky bird hunched on slender yellow legs at the water’s edge, often hidden behind a tangle of leaves. Seen up close, it is a striking bird with a velvet-green back, rich chestnut body, and a dark cap often raised into a short crest. These small herons crouch patiently to surprise fish with a snatch of their daggerlike bill. They sometimes lure in fish using small items such as twigs or insects as bait.
The Green Heron is one of the world’s few tool-using bird species. It creates fishing lures with bread crusts, insects, earthworms, twigs, feathers, and other objects, dropping them on the surface of the water to entice small fish.
They are about the size of an American Crow, and smaller than a Black-crowned Night-Heron. Since they can pull their necks back or extend them way out, it’s hard to tell how big they actually are sometimes!
There are two astronomical definitions of a Blue Moon; both are a type of Full Moon. When the Moon very rarely actually looks blue, it’s because of a certain size dust particles in the atmosphere. The next Blue Moons will occur on Friday, July 31, 2015 and Saturday, May 21, 2016 .
The phrase, once in a Blue Moon, is colloquially used to suggest that something is very rare. But just how rare, depends on your definition.
In astronomy, Blue Moon is defined as either the third full Moon of an astronomical season with four full Moon or the second full Moon in a calendar month.
Such a blue Moon (second full Moon in single calendar month) will next occur on Friday, July 31, 2015 at 10:43 am UTC.
Contrary to popular belief, a Blue Moon is not actually blue in color. Blue Moon is a term that is used to describe the third full Moon of an astronomical season that has four full Moons. The Blue Moon pictured above was Photoshopped, I confess.
There are 4 astronomical seasons in a year:
spring – March Equinox to June Solstice,
summer – June Solstice to September Equinox,
fall (autumn) – September Equinox to December Solstice, and
winter – December Solstice to March Equinox.
When one of the seasons in a year has four full Moons, instead of the usual three, the third full Moon is called a Blue Moon.
These days, the second full Moon in a calendar month is also often referred to as a Blue Moon. This particular use was popularized due to a miscalculation published in a 1946 article in Sky and Telescope magazine. Such Blue Moons occur rather frequently – at least once every two or three years. The next such blue Moon will occur on July 31, 2015.
Blue colored Moons do rarely occur when dust or smoke particles in the air are of a specific size. Such particles help create a blue colored Moon by scattering blue light.
When I was a Girl Scout, many, many years ago, we went camping several times every year. As an adult, however, we usually stayed in cabins or the lodge at state parks, until we reached the ultimate luxury of time share condos. When my son was a boy, Dick used to take him camping, but I never went along. If I thought about going camping as an adult, I always cringed thinking of how to plan the food and cook it outside.
But a friend who is an experienced scout leader and camper, and his wife, both of whom are volunteers at Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve with me, organized two family camp outs in the last few years. This is our second, and most successful outing.
It stormed like crazy Friday night, and the clouds couldn’t decide whether to stay or go all afternoon on Saturday. But by sunset, the sky cleared, the temps were very pleasant and it was perfect camping weather. We set up the tent with no help (Hooray for us!).
Our friend Karen Dean is a wonderful entertainer, and one of the boys got really involved with her song about the blue Martian! The astronomy club guy brought his telescope and we looked at Venus and Jupiter, which looked extra close to each other, the rings of Saturn and a binary star system. The Sky Guide app on my phone was a big hit with the other campers.
Of course, any time I can just wander around the Nature Preserve taking photos, I will jump at the chance. While pulling weeds along the paths in the Woodland Garden, I found scads of these small little Birdsnest fungi growing in the decaying woodchips.
While Dr. Frog, Karen’s husband the biochemist, led the group of eager young boy campers in their search for frogs, I watched for the colorful dragonflys to land somewhere just long enough for me to focus on them.
Then we walked out through the meadow to see what had started blooming in the week or so since I last visited there.
Common milkweed is noted for being the host plant for the rapidly disappearing Monarch butterfly, but they also entice many other insects as well.
The Passion Flower grows on a vine, and produces a large apple-like fruit. It is the host plant for the Gulf and Varigated Fritillary butterfly. Tavia says it is called the Passion Flower in reference to the Passion of Christ. In any event, is has a most unusual flower structure.
Purple must the color of summer, since so many summer blooming flowers are purple. Purple Coneflowers attract scores of butterfly species. As they mature, Gold Finches tear the petals off to eat the small seeds produced by the cone at the center of each blossom.
Moms are always busy changing diapers for their babies, and mother birds are no different. This female Purple Martin is ready to carry away the fecal sac from one of her chicks in the nest box.
I never mess with a nest of Tree Swallows. I didn’t even know if this box was occupied or not, and the parent bird dive bombed us until we moved back enough to suit it. Then it dove into the box, leaving only the long dark blue wingtips exposed.
We decided to use sleeping bags instead of sheets and blankets this time. I was toasty warm and slept better than I often do at home. The dawn chorus of song birds was joined by a pair of Great Horned Owls hooting in the woods. Dawn is something that just slips by when you sleep at home. But outside, it calls you to rise and be one with Nature for the new day.
Don’t worry about the dewy grass. It will dry in a few minutes. Just appreciate the incredibly long shadows that will cross the fields for just a couple minutes.
When I finally rolled out of my warm sleeping bag and started to dress, I noticed a Daddy Longlegs on the outside of the screen, but under the roof of the tent. Then I started counting, and found at least 13 of them, sheltering from the dew and, I suppose, spider predators. When we took down the tent after breakfast of burritos cooked on the big grill, I was careful to pick them up and fling them back into the grass. Don’t want them living in the car- we’ve had enough trouble finding mouse nests in infrequently opened boxes and cloth things in the garage lately! In any event, many thanks to Charon, Doug and Dave for the long hours they put in planning this terrific outing!
This morning some ominous looking clouds rushed over Kentucky, and apparently, much of the Eastern US as well. According to the meteorologists, these are shelf clouds. Shelf clouds often resemble snow plows, big waves or tsunamis and can be very scary-looking since they are usually low-hanging. Sometimes they may found only a couple hundred feet above the ground.
A shelf cloud is a low, horizontal wedge-shaped cloud, associated with a thunderstorm gust front (or occasionally with a cold front, even in the absence of thunderstorms). A rising cloud motion often can be seen in the leading part of the shelf cloud, while the underside often appears turbulent, boiling, and wind-torn. The weather radar this morning showed large areas of rain and thunderstorms in Indiana.
There are two other phenomena that might resemble tornadoes or funnel clouds but are not 1) dark rain shafts or narrow columns of heavy rain, and 2) the white color of a hail shaft, a column of hail extending from the ground to the cloud base, may generate a light-dark contrast with surrounding rain, resulting in what might appear to be a funnel cloud or a tornado to the untrained eye. “A shelf cloud is the boundary between a downdraft and updraft of a thunderstorm or line of thunderstorms,” says weather.com senior meteorologist Jon Erdman.
“Rain-chilled air descends in a thunderstorm, then spreads laterally when reaching Earth’s surface. Warmer, more moist air is lifted at the leading edge, or gust front, of this rain-cooled air. When this warm, moist air condenses, you see the shelf cloud. As the shelf cloud passes, you feel an abrupt wind shift in both direction and speed, followed within minutes by heavy rain or hail. Wind gusts once the shelf cloud has passed may be quite strong, causing downed trees, tree limbs and power outages.” As the cloud approached, the wind blew strongly, and the temperature seemed to drop. Although it looked like we were going to get a real downpour, the rain stayed north of the river.
It’s exciting to walk through Meadowlark Meadow now because of all the birds who live there. Red-winged Blackbirds, in particular, are everywhere – calling loudly to protect their territories from other Blackbirds, and from people. Why do they think people are a threat?
The beautiful brown females build nests in the grass, and if people walk through the tall grass instead of staying on the mowed paths, we might step on their nests. So even the females fly up into the air squawking loudly, if someone gets too close. The first time I saw a female, I thought it was the biggest sparrow in the world!
The males mate with several females in the same season, so he has to guard against other male Blackbirds in his territory. Studies have shown, though, that not all the young in a nest have the same father. Apparently he is right to be so protective!
This summer we have some new avian residents in the meadow. The guys moved one of our Purple Martin houses here from another location in the Preserve, and at least two Martins seem to like it. Look at his long wings and forked tail. He is dark purple all over, so it’s easy to tell the Martin from a Tree Swallow, which has a white belly. Swallows and Martins fly over the meadow looking for bugs. They really appreciate it when someone mows the soccer fields, since that stirs up a banquet of insects for them.
The female Martin is checking out one of the apartments in the building to see if it meets her requirements. Usually Martins nest in colonies, with many couples in the same area. There is safety in numbers, right? They have to protect their nests from House Sparrows, which will throw Martin eggs and chicks out to take over the nest site. Sometimes, even owls will reach into the box and grab the babies.
Our course, we always listen for the liquid song of the Eastern Meadowlark. Plain brown on the back, he can be difficult to see until he turns around. When the sun shines on his golden yellow breast and black ascot, you wonder how in the world you could have missed him before. The female Meadowlark also builds her nest in the grass, and faces the same dangers all ground nesters. Why don’t they nest in trees where it’s safer? That’s hard to say. Somehow in their evolutionary development, they decided that the thick grass provided plenty of hiding space, as long as a buffalo didn’t step on you!
When people think of the Nature Preserve, I imagine that most of them picture the forest and frog pond first. We do love our trees, but the grasslands of Meadowlark Meadow provide important habitat to our wildlife as well as beautiful wildflowers. Several years ago, we received a grant from the Louisville Audubon Society and Toyota’s Together Green to turn previously mowed pastureland into a native grassland area. We planted several kinds of native grasses, such as little blue stem and Indian grass, along with seeds for native grasslands wildflowers. To a human being, grass is just something to be mowed, but when allowed to grow, grasslands provide vital living space for many species of plants and animals. A walk in the meadow will now show how successful that effort has been, so here are some of the species you can see right now.
The early spring amazes us with its wildflowers, that bloom so quickly then die off as the leafy canopy of the trees reduce the amount of sunlight available to them. In a grasslands, however, the sun shines all day, every day, and a succession of wildflowers will grow all summer and fall. The common milkweed is ready to bloom, providing essential food and acting as the host plant for butterflies (especially Monarchs) to lay their eggs.
Red clover is a familiar plant that produces a sweet nectar for the bees and butterflies, while the flowers, leaves and young stems are edible. The flowers have been used in folk remedies for many years, treating whooping cough, bronchitis and other lung ailments. Watch for trails through the grass made by deer as they venture into the meadow to enjoy this clover and the young grasses.
Seeing this giant fluff ball, you might think you’ve discovered the biggest dandelions in Oldham County! But they will be the windblown seeds of Yellow Goatsbeard, a plant introduced from Europe. Often, these “introduced” plants become invasive, taking over any area where they grow. But Goatsbeard seems to have better manners, and grows here and there in the meadow.
The flower itself has eye catching yellow rays, surrounded by long green bracts from the bud extending out beyond the rays. It is also known as Johnny-Go-To-Bed-At-Noon, and I wonder how in the world someone came up with it. The long taproots can be ground, roasted and used as a coffee substitute.
If you find a plant resembling the dome on a Russian Orthodox Church, get ready for a surprise.
The papery cover on the bud breaks open, to display the flower of wild onion, which looks like a plant having a very bad hair day!
Yarrow has flat-topped clusters of white flowers with delicate ferny leaves. Its primary medicinal use was to stop bleeding, so it is sometimes referred to as Bloodwort, Deadman’s Daisy or Nosebleed Plant. It was thought to be particularly helpful when a wound was caused by iron, so in the Civil War the crushed plant was applied to bullet and shrapnel wounds.
Of course, we all love the sunny Oxeye Daisy, also introduced from Europe. You’ve heard of dandelion wine, but did you know that infusions of the petals and leaves from this daisy have been made into wine and medicine, and the dew collected from them was taken to promote longevity.
Driving along Harmony Landing Road in front of the Nature Preserve, you may notice a combination of white and purple flowers. The purple ones are Virginia Spiderwort and the white are Foxglove Beardtongue or Penstemon. Spiderwort best belongs in a big meadow where it can grow as much as it pleases. If planted in your yard, you will soon be looking for people to give it to! Please, take some time to appreciate the beautiful wildflowers growing in the meadow, and come back again soon, because they will be different each time!
The early spring wildflowers are finished blooming for the most part, but the Nature Preserve is still a place of peace and tranquility. Come and walk around some sunny day, and see how many of these plants and animals you can find. It’s Nature’s Scavenger Hunt!
Nothing is more delightful than the sound of a waterfall in the spring. The Nature Preserve has several waterfalls and natural springs that flow when it rains. Unfortunately, our waterfall on Little Huckleberry Creek tends to slow to a mere trickle during the dry summer months.
Other waterfalls with a more reliable source, such at Cumberland Falls on the Cumberland River, will roar down a 60 foot high drop all year long. As the waterfall recedes, it leaves a gorge and large boulders in the water downstream.
Water is one of the most powerful shapers of our world, and waterfalls are great examples of hydraulics in action. Cumberland Falls probably started about 45 miles downstream from its present location. Water always flows from high to low, eroding the earth as it flows. That’s the easy part. Then why don’t we have more waterfalls? It depends on the rock under the river. A hard layer erodes more slowly than a layer of softer rock. For example, limestone is harder than sandstone. So the underlying sandstone layer will erode, and the upper layer of limestone will come crashing down when there is nothing to support it. You can see this process even in a small seasonal waterfall such as ours.
Yahoo Falls is the highest waterfall in Kentucky at 113 feet, and is located in McCreary County, not too far from Cumberland Falls. The stream is small, but over the millennia it has carved out a huge overhang allowing visitors to walk behind the falling stream. Native Americans sometimes used it for shelter, and hikers still run under the rocks when caught in a sudden rainstorm. Rough-winged Swallows nest in the safety of the shelter too, zooming in and out of the crevasses. We think rocks are the hardest things around, but with persistence and lots of time, water is always the winner!
On a sunny day at the Frog Pond, you are sure to see turtles basking on a log. If you are quiet, you can get a good look at them, and may notice that we have two different kinds of turtles living at the pond. Yes, their faces look the same, pretty much, but you will notice that the one in the middle of this group has a red spot behind his eyes. This is the red-eared slider. The other two have a reddish color on their hind legs and under their shells. They are painted turtles.
The red-eared slider originated from the area around the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, in warm climates in the southeastern corner of the United States. Their native areas include the southeast of Colorado, Virginia, and Florida. In nature, they inhabit areas with source of still, warm water, such as ponds, lakes, swamps, creeks, streams, or slow-flowing rivers. They live in areas of calm water where they are able to leave the water easily by climbing onto rocks or tree trunks so they can warm up in the sun. Many individuals are often found sunbathing together in a group or even on top of each other. They also require abundant aquatic plants, as this is the adults’ main food, although they are omnivores. Turtles in the wild always remain close to water unless they are searching for a new habitat or when females leave the water to lay their eggs.
These turtles are “poikilotherms”, (cold blooded) so are unable to regulate their body temperatures independently; they are completely dependent on the temperature of their environments. For this reason, they continually need to sunbathe to warm themselves and maintain their body temperatures. Reptiles do not hibernate, but actually brumate, as they become less active, but occasionally rise to the surface for food or air. Brumation can occur to varying degrees. Red-eared sliders brumate over the winter at the bottom of ponds or shallow lakes; they become inactive, generally, in October, when temperatures fall below 50 °F. During this time, the turtles enter a state of sopor, during which they do not eat or defecate, they practically do not move, and the frequency of their breathing falls. Individuals usually brumate under water, but they have also been found under banks and hollow stumps and rocks. In warmer winter climates, they can become active and come to the surface for basking. When the temperature begins to drop again, however, they will quickly return to a brumation state. Sliders will generally come up for food in early March to as late as the end of April.
The red-eared slider is the most common type of water turtle kept as pets. Reptiles are asymptomatic carriers of bacteria of the genus Salmonella, meaning they don’t look or act sick themselves. This has caused justifiable concerns given the many references to infection of humans caused by the handling of turtles that has led to restrictions in the sale of red-eared sliders in the US. A 1975 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation bans the sale (for general commercial and public use) of turtle eggs and turtles with a carapace length of less than 4 in. Some states have other laws and regulations regarding possession of red-eared sliders because they can be an invasive species where they are not native and have been introduced through the pet trade. Now, it is illegal in Florida to sell any wild-type red-eared slider, as they interbreed with the local yellow-bellied slider population.
Eastern Painted Turtles are our most common turtle. There are four different sub-species of Painted Turtles in North America. Ours are the Midland variety. They breed in the Spring, and females dig nests from May to July. First, she will climb a little ways onto the shore. She will then dig a hole that is close enough to the water so that the bottom of the hole will have some water in it. The hole she digs will be about four inches deep. Next, she lays her eggs in the hole; each egg is about an inch long. The female then fills the hole back up to hide her nest. Painted turtles do not raise their young. Baby turtles will hatch and dig their way out of the nest in about 10 weeks. The sex of the turtles is decided by temperature. If the temperature in the nest was very warm, all the baby turtles will be females. If it wasn’t warm enough, then all the babies will be males. Many predators will eat the young turtles.
The turtle eats aquatic vegetation, algae, and small water creatures including insects, crustaceans, and fish. Although they are frequently consumed as eggs or hatchlings by rodents, canines, and snakes, the adult turtles’ hard shells protect them from most predators. Reliant on warmth from its surroundings, the painted turtle is active only during the day when it basks for hours on logs or rocks. During winter, the turtle hibernates, usually in the mud at the bottom of water bodies. The turtles mate in spring and autumn. Females dig nests on land and lay eggs between late spring and mid-summer. Hatched turtles grow until sexual maturity: 2–9 years for males, 6–16 for females.
We are all ready for Spring after the tough winter this year. But as we walk around the Nature Preserve, it seems that everything is still brown and bare, even though it’s April. When are the wildflowers going to come?
Ah, you can’t just walk quickly through the woods and count on finding wildflowers. You must walk slowly and look carefully around your feet, because the early flowers are almost hidden. We have planted many varieties of these flowers in the Woodland Garden, including some that don’t grow back on the trails such as this white trout lily. They may be only 4 inches tall, and the plants that bloom have only two mottled leaves. The single leaves don’t produce flowers, but produce food for the entire colony. Since we planted these recently, the colony isn’t very big yet.
When the sun comes out, the blossoms will point up, inviting any passing pollinators to stop by for a visit.
Twinleaf is another flower that starts small. The early leaves are small and kidney-shaped. As the season progresses, they become quite large. Twinleaf can be found in the Woodland Garden and along Little Huckleberry Creek where they will cover the hillside at their peak.
Dutchman’s Breeches are settling in well at the Woodland Garden. Their white blossoms are said to look like the baggy pants a Dutchman might have worn, hanging upside down on an arching clothesline.
Bloodroot is another native added to the Woodland Garden, and is one of the first to bloom in the early spring. The leaves sprout close together, embracing the flower stem that rises between them. The underground rhizome oozes an orange-red juice when cut, thus the name “bloodroot.” The blossom opens wide on sunny days, but closes up when it’s cloudy.
Sessile Trillium is the common species found at the Nature Preserve. “Sessile” means there is no stem between the blossom and the leaves. Look on the hillside across the creek for other varieties of trillium and see if you notice the difference. Every day in early spring is an adventure in discovery, as you watch closely for new flowers to poke their heads through the brown leaves!
This kind farmer knows what to do with dead animals. You don’t have to dig a hole and bury them, just drag them out to a field and let the vultures take care of them! In Kentucky, we have two kinds of vultures, the Turkey Vulture with a red head, and the Black Vulture with a black head.
They are easy to distinguish when they are close. Black Vultures are compact birds with broad wings, short tails, and powerful wingbeats. Therefore, they have to flap more often than the Turkey Vulture. The Black Vulture has white feathers at the tips of the wings, as this bird models, and the Turkey Vulture’s wings are silver along the entire lower edge. Vultures love to sun themselves, both to warm up in the morning, and to bake off any gunk stuck to their feathers from their latest meal.
Black Vultures have a well-earned reputation for being aggressive. When livestock deliver their young in the field, Black Vultures will go after the baby. Otherwise, they eat things that are already dead. Of course, they also fight with each other for the tastiest parts of the carcass. Black Vultures aggressively prevent non-relatives from joining them at roosts or following them to food sources. They attack each other by pecking, biting, wing-pummeling, and foot-grappling.
A Turkey Vulture uses its keen sense of smell to locate food. The Black Vulture just has to follow! Traditionally, they were considered a more southern bird, but their range has spread to the north. Some people think this may result from the Interstate highway system, which provides an unending supply of roadkill!
What does Spring mean to you? How do you know it’s Spring? On the first warm day, I love to walk around the Nature Preserve looking for signs of Spring. Somehow, I always take photos of the same things each year, but that’s OK, since Spring is a state of mind. Flowers are the first things I look for. Bright purple crocus are blooming in my yard, but the wild flowers aren’t so far along. Appropriately, Harbinger of Spring is a tiny wild flower which is one of the first to bloom.
The ice is gone on the Frog Pond, and three turtles were sunning on a handy log. Look closely – they aren’t all the same. The front and back two are painted turtles, while the center is a red-eared slider. If you walk too closely, they will slide to safety in the water, then pop back out again when things quiet down. In the shallow water along the pond’s edge tadpoles are already swimming around.
It wouldn’t be Spring without the birds singing, right? Actually, I notice the birds starting to sing around Groundhog’s Day in early February. The Robin is one of our favorite singers but they actually stick around all winter for the most part. Returning migrants seen at the Nature Preserve this week include Eastern Meadowlark and Red-winged Blackbirds. Maybe you have heard some Sandhill Cranes flying high overhead as they head to their breeding grounds up North.
We have four springs that run year-round, but when it rains in Spring they start popping out of the hillsides. This one right below the dam up Hidden Spring Trail is my favorite when it appears right under a rock!
The blue topped nest boxes are for Bluebirds, although other cavity nesters use them too. This year you may find some new and much larger nest boxes such as this Wood Duck box at the Frog Pond. You didn’t know ducks nest in boxes? Not all do, but the brilliantly colored Wood Duck is an exception. Hope they like our boxes. The box on a tall pole by the baseball dugout is for American Kestrels – a small colorful falcon. Keep your fingers crossed. Louisville Audubon Society paid for the materials, Cub Pack 984 and Doug Morales built the boxes, and our staff put them up.
But my favorite part of Spring is the clear blue sky and warm sunshine after weeks and weeks of gray! What tells you – Hey! It’s Spring!
Well, the kids are finally back in school after an unexpected winter break, and the Nature Center sparkles as the bright sun shines on the blanket of snow. As always, we are open for visitors of all sorts. Just be careful where the trails are iced over and slippery.Think about all our wild friends who are having a rough time with the unbroken days of ultra-cold weather and unmelted snow. The birds cannot reach seeds that are covered by snow, and most water sources are frozen. A visitor remarked that she saw some vultures trying to peck at a frozen carcass along the road. Anything that might normally be food for them freezes before they can get to it, and never quite thaws before re-freezing. If you have feeders, please keep them filled, even if you seem to get more Starlings than any other bird. A heated dog dish is a great way to provide liquid water for the birds to drink and, yes, even bathe in despite the cold temps. We hope the Sandhill Cranes who ventured northward two weeks ago have found a safe place to shelter from this weather.
Someone decided that Mahan Manor needed a snowman by the door! We don’t know who built it, but thanks a bunch! Our staff usually doesn’t have time for such important work.
I have to admit, as beautiful as the Nature Preserve is in the winter, I am ready for a nice melt. I won’t even complain about the mud! Oh, and there are only 26 days until the first official day of spring in 2015! Keep the faith – it WILL come!
Today is not only Valentines Day, but Day 2 of the Great Backyard Bird Count. The Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology join together for a weekend of citizen science, so the Nature Preserve joined them, as we have in other years. The Louisville Audubon Society is our sponsor, with great door prizes for those brave enough to come out in the cold and threat of snow – both of which arrived on schedule! Some of us counted birds from the warm bird blind in the Nature Center, while the true birders headed out into the horizontal snow.
We closely watched for the differences between Song Sparrows……White-crowned Sparrows……and the White-throated Sparrow, all of which clustered eagerly around the feeders outside the bird blind window.Lots of little Juncos hopped around, resembling blowing leaves on the ground.Brilliant Blue Jays stood out in the blowing snow……joined by both male and female Eastern Towhees. I don’t have anything more to say. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words!
To folks with school age children, the phrase “Winter Break” may mean having the children home and not knowing what to do to keep them occupied in the cold. Bring them to the Nature Preserve! I declare a Winter Break whenever the sun comes out. The temperature has been in the 50’s this week, so the trails are melting and a little muddy. Be sure to bring a dry pair of shoes to put on, but hiking on a sunny January afternoon changes your hole outlook on Winter. A walk through the Woodland Garden shows that plants don’t stop growing just because it’s January. The top photo in this post is the aptly named Evergreen Wood Fern. The one immediately above is the Christmas Fern, easily recognized by the the little “toe” of the Christmas stocking which it resembles. Anything green means that photosynthesis is going on, and you will find plenty of green plants in the Garden if you just look around.
But flowers don’t bloom in January, do they? Yes indeed, some brave little shrubs known as witchhazel do indeed bloom in January! American witchhazel posses some interesting lore and uses. The most interesting use as been the use of forked limbs as dowsing or divining rods. Early European settles observed Native Americans using American witchhazel to find underground sources of water. This activity is probably where the common name witchhazel came from. “Wicke” is the Middle English for “lively’ and “wych” is from the Anglo-Saxon word for “bend.” American witchhazel was probably called a Wicke Hazel by early white settlers because the dowsing end of the forked branch would bend when underground water when detected by the dowser. This practice had a widespread use by American settlers and then exported back to Europe. Dowsing became an established feature of well-digging into the 20th century.
The don’t all have the same blooming season or color. The common witch hazel (H. virginiana) peaks between mid October and mid November. A few of the spring-flowering witch hazels can start blooming by the end of December or early January depending upon weather but peak occurs between mid January and mid March. Early March is a good time to see many in bloom. Blooming of most cultivars has finished by mid- to late April. Large cavities in a tree trunk look like good homes for owls. If they are there, they are sleeping quietly during the day, but will emerge with silent flight when darkness comes. Mike Huff, our grounds manager, says he hears several kinds of owls just before sunrise.
If you look closely, you will see birds you expect to see in the summer. Many birds stay at the Nature Preserve all winter such as Bluebirds, Mockingbirds, Chickadees and all the woodpeckers. Winter migrants such as White-throated Sparrows come for a while then return north to breed. No matter what the weather, you can always find something interesting to watch!
Yes, we normally think of milkweed a summer blooming wildflower, but the seeds are beginning to fly from their pods, so I couldn’t resist a post on them in October. Common Milkweed is an important plant because so many species of insects depend on it. Monarch Butterflies, Milkweed Bugs, and Milkweed Leaf Beetles only eat milkweed, and could not survive without it. Many other species of insects use milkweed as their primary food source, or as a major food source. Common Milkweed grows up to six feet tall. It has large, broad leaves, usually four to ten inches long, sometimes with red veins. This plant is found in fields, gardens, and along roads. Common Milkweed flowers are pinkish-purple clusters or balls which often droop.The leaves of Asclepias species, are the only food source for monarch butterfly larvae and other milkweed butterflies. These plants are therefore often used in butterfly gardening. Shortage of this plant is one of the reasons we have fewer monarch butterflies in the last few years. Common Milkweed, when broken, lets out a milky sap. This sap has poisons in it, called Cardiac Glycosides. Some animals can eat the glycosides and not be harmed. When the Monarch butterfly’s caterpillar munches the leaves of milkweed, the glycosides go into its body, making the caterpillar poisonous to predators. Even after the caterpillar has changed into an adult butterfly, it keeps the glycosides in its body.Fruits are green pods which turn brown before bursting open to let out fluffy seeds. Milkweed seeds are spread by the wind, which catches the fluffy part and carries the seed for long distances. Milkweed can spread quickly underground as well, by rhizomes. Rhizomes are roots that produce new roots, then these new roots sprout new plants. Through rhizome spreading, Common Milkweed forms a colony that quickly crowds out other plants. The milkweed filaments from the follicles are hollow and coated with wax, and have good insulation qualities. During World War II, over 5,000 tons of milkweed floss were collected in the United States as a substitute for kapok, used to fill life jackets. As of 2007, milkweed is grown commercially as a hypoallergenic filling for pillows. A study of the insulative properties of various materials found that milkweed was outperformed by other materials in insulation, loft, and lumpiness, but scored well on various metrics when mixed with down feathers.Milkweed is a shelter and hiding place for other species as well. (This Swamp Milkweed has a smaller cluster of flowers, and thinner leaves.) Yellow Jackets eat bees and flies which get trapped in the flowers, and crab spiders ambush visiting insects. Milkweeds are an important nectar source for bees and other nectar-seeking insects, and a larval food source for monarch butterflies and their relatives, as well as a variety of other herbivorous insects (including numerous beetles, moths, and true bugs) specialized to feed on the plants despite their chemical defenses. In the past, the high dextrose content of the nectar led to milkweed’s use as a source of sweetener for Native Americans and voyageurs. The bast fibers of some species can be used for cordage. Milkweed latex contains about 1 to 2% latex, and was attempted as a source of natural rubber by both Germany and the United States during World War II. No record has been found of large-scale success.Found growing wild in dry fields and along sunny road sides, the showy flowers of Butterfly Milkweed make it an essential mid-summer garden plant. Due to a lack of milky sap that is common to all other milkweeds, Butterfly Milkweed can be used as a cut flower.Some research has shown that Monarch caterpillars that feed on Butterfly Milkweed are not as toxic to predators as caterpillars that feed on other milkweed species.
Have you noticed an invasion of your home by small brown bugs this autumn? These are brown marmorated stink bugs. Halyomorpha halys (Stål), the “Brown Marmorated Stink Bug,” was accidentally introduced into Allentown, PA around 1996 from China or Japan.
During the summer the stink bug produces offspring that survive the winter as adults by entering houses. They enter houses through cracks in windows and the foundation and may be seen in large numbers during September and October. Due to the noxious odor produced as a defense mechanism, the stink bug causes a nuisance to homeowners. Since its introduction into Pennsylvania, it has established itself as a potential risk to agriculture as well as a nuisance to homeowners and has been steadily spreading throughout the eastern United States.
There are many different stink bug species in Kentucky. Some are predators and some are herbivores, and each type has a different ecological role. Stink bugs get their name because they are able to secrete a bad-smelling, bad-tasting fluid from pores on the sides of their bodies (many other members of the Hemiptera can do this as well). This secretion helps to protect stink bugs from predators. Still, stink bugs are often fed upon by birds, spiders, assassin bugs, and other arthropod predators (including other stink bugs).
Counties known to have brown mamorated stink bugs: 2014 (light green) Anderson, Breckinridge, Christian, Clark, Nelson and Powell; 2013 (blue) – Breathitt, Boyle, Campbell, Daviess, Franklin, Garrard, Grant, Henderson, Jackson, Laurel, McCreary, Madison, Martin, Montgomery, Perry, Pulaski, Rockcastle, Scott, Shelby, Taylor, and Trigg; 2012 (yellow) – Bell, Boone, Harlan, Henry, Johnson, Kenton, Letcher, Magoffin, Mason, Oldham, Pike, and Whitley; 2011 (orange) – Floyd, Lewis; 2010 (brown) – Boyd, Carter, Fayette, Greenup, Jefferson, Lawrence, and Rowan
Mechanical exclusion is the best method to keep stink bugs from entering. Cracks around windows, doors, siding, utility pipes, behind chimneys, and underneath the wood fascia and other openings should be sealed with good quality silicone or silicone-latex caulk. Damaged screens on doors and windows should be repaired or replaced. If numerous bugs are entering the living areas of the home, attempt to locate the openings where the insects gain access. Typically, stink bugs will emerge from cracks under or behind baseboards, around window and door trim, and around exhaust fans or lights in ceilings. Seal these openings with caulk or other suitable materials to prevent the insects from crawling out. Both live and dead stink bugs can be removed from interior areas with the aid of a vacuum cleaner – however, the vacuum may acquire the smell of stink bugs for a period of time.
We have run into morning fogs from time to time. Sometimes there is just a whisp in the valleys, while other times we hesitate to drive to work because the fog is so thick. Here at the Nature Preserve, the fog makes everything look softer. But what makes the fog?
Fog is considered a low cloud that is either close to ground level or in contact with it. As such, it is made up of water droplets that are in the air like a cloud. Unlike a cloud however, the water vapor in fog comes from sources close to the fog like a large water body or a moist ground. Like a cloud, fog forms when water evaporates from a surface or is added to the air. This evaporation can be from the ocean or another body of water or moist ground like a marsh or a farm field, depending on the type and location of the fog.
As water begins to evaporate from these sources and turn into water vapor it rises into the air. As the water vapor rises, it bonds with aerosols called condensation nuclei (i.e. – small dust particles in the air) to form water droplets. These droplets then condense to form fog when the process occurs close to the ground. It stormed yesterday, so the ground was very soggy today, good conditions for fog formation.
When it’s foggy, it’s great fun to walk around looking at the spider webs, which magically turn into necklaces of diamonds as the water condenses on them. You have to be quick though, because the diamonds disappear when the sun comes out.
At Saturday’s Pet/Butterfly Day at Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve, my favorite finds were two moths which can be seen during the day. The clearwing moth flies and moves just like hummingbirds. Like them, they can remain suspended in the air in front of a flower while they unfurl their long tongues and insert them in flowers to sip their nectar. They even emit an audible hum like hummingbirds. I’ve seen them called both hummingbird and bumble bee moths, since they mimic those two fliers.
Hummingbird moths are rather plump; the tip of their tail opens into a fan. They are usually of a rich reddish brown color, at least in part. Like all Lepidoptera their wings are covered by scales; some species lose many of the scales from patches on their wings, so they are called clearwing hummingbird moths. Like most moths they have a very long tongue which they carry rolled under their chins and that they use to reach the nectar of long-necked flowers. Such nectar is inaccessible to many other flower visitors, so it seems that these flowers prefer long tongued pollinators and try to keep the others away.
The adult Bumblebee Moth will feed on their larval food plants, honeysuckle and snowberry, for nectar. They also will get nectar from milkweed, Monardella, and some thistles. Monardella is an excellent garden plant for butterflies as well as Moths. It has perennial and annual forms from white to purple flowers. It also has a fresh minty scent. The one I saw was feeding on a butterfly bush.
This Luna moth was found on the side of the Field House, near the big security light that shines all night. Although rarely seen due to their very brief adult lives, Luna Moths are considered common in some areas, but uncommon in others. As with all Saturniidae, the adults do not eat or have mouths. They emerge as adults solely to mate, and as such, only live approximately one week. They are more commonly seen at night.
They have huge wingspans of 3 – 4 inches. The males are distinguished from the females by their larger and wider antennae, all the better to detect the pheromones of the female. Luna Moth caterpillars are lime green with orange spots running down both sides. The caterpillars feed on several types of trees, including, alder, beeches, cherries, hazelnut, hickories, pecan, persimmon, sweet gum, and willows. The caterpillar molts five times before settling on a host plant where they spin their cocoon.Luna Moths release a chemical at night which attracts males. Adults die shortly after mating or laying eggs.
In the Spring, we like Meadowlark Meadow for the melodies of all the nesting songbirds. But by August, the native grasses are taller than I am, and the Summer flowers, such as this gray-headed coneflower, are in full bloom. Just imagine native prairies such as this one as far as the eye can see. Insects are teeming in the grass and flowers, sometimes pollinating the flowers, sometimes eating the flowers, or being eaten by something else.Two shallow ponds in the middle of the meadow are homes to frogs and multitudes of dragonflies among the cattails! Dragonflies are fierce insect predators, and the larger ones resemble B-52 bombers to me. The females are often different than the males. This is the female Common Whitetail, who doesn’t have a white tail at all.They sometimes come in marvelous colors, like this Eastern Amberwings, and if you are lucky, you might see one actually perched for a photo op.This Common Green Darner decided to hover in place for a few seconds while reconnoitering the scene, then started dive bombing every other dragonfly on the pond. While many dragonflies are huge, others are small and slender, such as this Skimming Bluet. You have to look twice to see it perched on a small leaf in the pond.We’ve all seen small birds chasing much larger hawks in the sky. Usually we might think the small bird was protecting its nest from a predator and cheer it on. This morning, a pair of Crows chased a defenseless Turkey Vulture over the meadow. Now think about this… nesting season is over, and Turkey Vultures only eat carrion to begin with, so these Crows are just chasing it to make trouble. The poor Vulture is no threat to them at all!
Meadowlark Meadow in the Summer – what a marvelous experience!