Is It Spring?

Harbinger of Spring

It’s still February, right? According to the calendar, it’s still winter, right? Well, my walk today indicates that spring is earlier than you would think! Harbinger of Spring, of course, is one of the earliest wild flowers to bloom here at the Nature Preserve. Other wild flowers are starting to show their little heads too! In fact, Tavia is considering moving the Wild Flower Walk to March.

First Trillium of the Year
First Rue Anemone of the Year
Hellebore and Honeybee
Field Sparrow

Field Sparrows are singing in the fields…

Red-slider Turtle

…and the turtles are hoping for some sun while they perch on logs in the frog pond.

Turkey-tail Fungus

We have lots of dead trees, and the fungi and taking care of helping them to decay in their slow patient way.

American Kestrel Nest Box

Have you noticed the tall poles in our open meadows? We hope to attract American Kestrels (a small falcon) to nest in them. The smaller box on the same pole has small openings for bats to use. Cub Scout Pack 984  made the nest boxes and donated them to the Preserve.

Some Winter Visitors

cackling-canada-goose-face-pattersn

We all know that birds can migrate great distances each year from their breeding territory to wintering grounds. Usually, we think of them going to nice warm places to spend the winter. But for some birds, Kentucky is far enough to fly to find food for the winter.  If you look around, you may find some of our winter visitors. For example, the Reformatory Lake, seen from Wendell Moore Park in LaGrange, sometimes hosts small Cackling Geese among the hundreds of larger Canada Geese, looking for open water on the lake. Compare the size of the bills. The Cackling Geese are shorter and have much smaller bills.

junco-fluffed-upJuncos in your backyard are a sure indicator that winter has arrived. These birds are ground feeders, hopping around at the base of your backyard feeders.

white-crowned-sparrow

white-throated-sparrow-full-face-1000px

The White-crowned Sparrow and White-throated Sparrow can be a bit confusing sometimes, since both have dark stripes on their heads. However, the White-throated has, of course, a conspicuous white throat and yellow spot by the eyes. The male sings “Oh Sam Peabody” or as some people interpret it, “Oh Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada.”

fox-sparrow-face-onMy favorite visiting sparrow is the red Fox Sparrow. It is larger than most sparrows and hops on the ground, scratching for seeds.

horned-larks-closeupWatch for the Horned Lark in open fields. You can barely hear the soft ti-ti of their call, but the black check and ear marks are distinctive. Look closely for their tiny little horns.

white-winged-scoter-eye-commaThe Ohio River is attractive to many different kinds of water fowl since it doesn’t freeze in the winter. The White-winged Scoter has a really unusually shaped bill. You don’t have to give up birding just because it’s winter. Be sure to dress warmly, and you will find lots of unusual birds!

Fruit of the Forest

chinese-chestnut-on-branch
Chinese Chestnut seeds

Today really felt like Fall, so I took a hike through the Nature Preserve to look for the Fruit of the Forest. Most of the plants we now have are angiosperms, or flowering plants that then bear seeds. The variety of ways plants use to make and distribute seeds is absolutely mind-boggling. Each plant grows the seed, then puts it in some kind of protective coating, and finds a way to distribute it and grow new little trees.

redbud-seed-pods
Redbud seed pods
dogwood-seeds
Dogwood seeds

The beautiful pink blossoms of the redbud tree and the white dogwoods usually come at the same time during the spring, and often, that’s the only part of the tree’s lifecycle that we pay any attention to. In the fall, we see their seeds – bright red berries for the dogwood, and brown seed pods on the redbud.

autumn-olive-berries
Autumn Olive berries
honeysuckle-berries
Bush Honeysuckle Berries

Many trees and shrubs bear red berries, and I must think that the red color makes them more attractive to birds and animals who eat them and then distribute the seeds. Plants don’t care if they are native or non-native. They just want to grow and reproduce. And sometimes, the non-native plants seem to out produce the native plants. We seem to have more bush honeysuckle and autumn olive in the preserve than the plants we want to see growing. Survival is survival to the plants.

ky-coffee-tree-pod
Kentucky Coffee Tree pod

Seed pods are a common way to protect your seeds. The Kentucky Coffee Tree grows large pods with only a few seeds in each. The fruit of Kentucky coffee tree is a typical legume pod, but the flowers are not the typical pea-like form most people associate with legumes. There is some evidence to indicate that the Kentucky coffee tree was introduced into Kentucky by Native Americans, who used pulp from its wood to treat insanity. A tea made from leaves and pulp was used as a laxative. The seeds of Kentucky coffee tree were used by early settlers as a substitute for coffee.

chinese-chestnut-seed-in-open-husk
Chinese Chestnut

As the American chestnut struggles with disease, the blight-resistant Chinese chestnut is quickly gaining popularity. The sweet-tasting nuts are often roasted for holiday eating and have been made famous in turkey stuffing recipes across the country. It yields a ripened nut crop mid/late September through October. A prickly 2–3½” seed husk encloses 1-4 nuts. The nuts are large, meaty, crisp, and sweet, although less sweet than American chestnuts. Don’t pick up the husk in your bare hands – they are very prickly. Squirrels don’t seem to have any trouble breaking the husk open with their mouths though.

sycamore-balls
American Sycamore

The American Sycamore bark— a “camouflage” pattern of peeling patches, like tan, gray and brown puzzle pieces—eventually turns to a smooth white on the mature trunk and branches. Fruit of sycamore are brown, woody balls that can be seen on the tree starting from October. They remain on the tree during the winter. Fully ripe fruit splits to release seed. Seeds of sycamore are arranged in V-shaped pairs and equipped with wings that facilitate dispersal by wind. One tree produces up to 10,000 seed per season. Sycamore seed are known as “helicopters” because of their wings that rotate similar to helicopter’s propeller on a wind.

sweet-gum-balls
Sweet Gum

Don’t confuse the sycamore balls with the sweet gum balls. When I was a girl, we would dip the prickly gum balls into glue and cover them with glitter to make terrific Christmas tree decorations!

red-cedar-berries
Eastern Red Cedar

The eastern red cedar produces rounded fruit that is gray or bluish-green in color and about ¼” in diameter. This fruit resembles a berry but is actually a cone made of fused cone scales. Eastern redcedar twigs and foliage are eaten by browsers while the fruit is eaten most extensively by cedar waxwings. Smash one between your fingers and you will notice a pungent odor as well as finding one to four seeds inside.  Does this smell like something you would like to eat?  If you see any birds eating these berries, you will notice that they don’t exactly savor the sauce, but just gobble the little treats down. The seeds pass on through the bird’s gut unharmed and are “planted” elsewhere as they move about.  This is a typical method that plants use to scatter their seeds. However, red cedars are either male trees or female trees, so don’t be surprised if there are no berries on an individual tree.

black-walnut
Black Walnut

Many black walnuts grow at the Nature Preserve. When surrounded by other trees in the forest, black walnut grows straight and tall with few, if any, lower branches. When planted in the open, the tree will branch out closer to the ground, developing a spreading shape that makes it easier to harvest its sweet, round, two- to three-inch nuts. The settlers snacked on the nutritious nuts out of hand, added them to soups and stews, and ground them into meal for baking; the hard shells provided a perfect package for storing the nuts over winter. Unfortunately, the black walnut does have a dark side. Its roots, which may extend 50 feet or more from the trunk, exude a natural herbicide known as juglone that prevents many plants from growing within their reach. The fruit of Black Walnut is composed of an inner kernel, surrounded by a hard corrugated round shell composed of two fused halves. This in turn is surrounded by a thick outer husk that is green when immature, and yellow-black when ripe. If ripe fruits are picked up, a brown-black dye will easily seep from the moist husk into the skin of your hand, rendering them stained for a couple of days.

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Bottle Brush Buckeye

As well as the belief in the good fortune of its storied seed, the buckeye has been held to cure rheumatism and other, more minor ailments. Pioneering farm families also made soap from the kernels of buckeye seeds, and many a child’s cradle was carved from the wood of this tree. Before the advent of synthetic materials, buckeye wood was used to make artificial limbs. Though native to rich woodland areas in Alabama, Georgia and northern Florida, it is winter hardy throughout .

beechnuts

The Beech produces a nut known as beechnut or mast. It appears in pairs, located in the spiny husk divided in few lobes. Beechnut contains high level of tannic acid which creates bitter taste of the fruit. Beechnut was used as food for the cattle in the past. Many forest mammals and birds consume beechnuts as a regular part of their diet. If the mast production is low, the animals that depend on it will suffer during the winter.

Meadows Abloom

Partridge Pea and Big BluestemWhen people think of the Nature Preserve, they often picture the forest or the Woodland Garden in their mind’s eye. But don’t forget the meadows which are a world unto themselves!Meadow Sign - Prairie PlantsMeadowlark Meadow in the front of the Preserve, was transformed a pasture into a native prairie with a grant from Toyota several years ago. We do controlled burns when needed to keep the invasive plants under control, while mowed paths allow visitors to stroll into the middle of the meadow. New interpretive signs have just been put up to help people recognize and appreciate the flowers, pollinators and birds which might be found there.Partridge Pea

Partridge Pea

Passion Flower

Passion Flower

Tiger Swallowtail on Joe Pye

 

Tiger Swallowtail on Joe Pye Weed

Milkweed Beetle on PosSince CMNP is a certified Monarch Way Station, we plant lots of milkweed, for the monarchs and other insects such as this milkweed beetle. The meadows beyond the Frog Pond don’t have a name yet, but those 25 acres add to the diversity of the Nature Preserve.Wingstem with Ant

Wingstem

Big Bluestem Gray SkyNative grasses provide many benefits, such as shelter and nutrition to wildlife and birds, which non-native grass and crops do not. Native bunch grasses grow upright with spaces between each bunch. This growth form makes them ideal wildlife habitat —providing protective cover, quality nesting areas, and open travel lanes. In addition, once established, these grasses are more nutritious for wildlife than nonnative grasses such as fescue.  Animals commonly found in such communities include quail, deer, rabbit, turkey, migratory songbirds, and small mammals such as voles and mice. The rabbits and small mammals in turn attract larger predators such as fox, coyote, and raptors.

Song of the Cicada

Cicada Shell on milkweed 2In the dog days of summer, when you start sweating before you even step out the door, your ears are assailed by loud noises coming from the trees above. Looking for monarch caterpillars you may instead find multitudes of these empty brown shells of the annual cicadas, which have grown to adulthood so they they sing all day to attract a mate. When young cicada nymphs hatch from their eggs, they dig themselves into the ground to suck the liquids of plant roots. They spend several early life stages in these underground burrows before surfacing as adults. The process varies in length but often takes a number of years. Cicada AnnualCicadas are also famous for their penchant for disappearing entirely for many years, only to reappear in force at a regular interval. There are some 3,000 cicada species, but only some share this behavior (the 17-year cicada is an example). Others are called annuals because, although individuals have multi-year lifecycles, some adults appear every year. The dog day cicada, for example, emerges each year in mid-summer.Another CicadaPeriodical cicadas emerge in specific locations once every 17 years in the northern part of their range, and once every 13 years in the southern part. Different groups called “broods” emerge somewhere in the eastern United States almost every spring. Massive brood emergence is believed to overwhelm predators, which are mostly birds. This ensures that enough survivors will be left behind to reproduce.CicadaPeriodical cicadas have black bodies, red eyes, and red-orange wing veins in two pairs of clear wings that are held roof-like over the abdomen. These clumsy fliers often stay in the upper canopy of trees while they are active from late April thru June. Encounters with periodical cicadas can be unnerving to some but these insects cannot sting and do not harm humans, livestock, and pets. Periodical cicadas do not create destructive plagues, as some locusts (which are actually grasshoppers) do, though tens or hundreds of thousands of insects may crowd into a single acre. Large swarms can overwhelm and damage young trees by feeding and laying eggs, but older trees usually escape without serious damage.

Dragons and Damsels

Frog Pond in Summer

It’s officially summer now, and the weather is summer hot, hot, hot. But if you go out in the morning, and stay in the shade, you can still have a great time walking around the Nature Preserve without melting. The Frog Pond is a favorite of all our visitors. No matter how quietly you try to approach, the little frogs will hear you and leap into the pond with a loud EEP!

Widow Skimmer

Sit on one of the swings for a while and watch for the dragons who live in the pond. The dragonflies, that is! Dragonflies start their lives as eggs in the pond, and hatch into little nymphs, which bear no resemblance at all to their adult form. A nymph looks like a little alien creature. It hasn’t grown its wings yet and has what looks like a crusty hump hanging onto its back. Dragonfly nymphs live in the water while they grow and develop into dragonflies. This portion of the dragonfly life cycle can take up to four years to complete, and if the nymph cycle is completed in the beginning of the wintertime, it will remain in the water until spring when it is warm enough to come out. Dragonfly nymphs live in ponds or marshy areas because the waters are calmer than in a stream or river. Sometimes they can be found in the calmer backwaters of rivers, too. Dragonfly nymphs may eat smaller dragonfly nymphs as they develop, and they love to eat little tadpoles in the spring.

Reelfoot Eastern Pondhawk - female

A dragonfly’s eyes have about 30,000 lenses and a dragonfly can see all the way around it, but they don’t see details very well. A human eye only has one lens and sees better than a dragonfly, but only to the front and side of them.

Halloween Pennant 2

A bee flaps its wings about 300 times per second, but a dragonfly flaps its wings at only about 30 beats per second. In fact, dragonflies have two sets of wings so they don’t have to beat them as much to fly. That sounds like dragonflies are slow, but just try to photograph one in flight, and you will learn how fast they really are!

Ebony Neon Damselfly Male

Walk on down into Little Huckleberry Creek, and you will find lots of Ebony Jewelwing damselflies flitting on the green leaves along the creek. The male’s tail glows bright blue-green in the sun. Dragonflies have much larger eyes than damselflies, with the eyes taking up most of the head as they wrap around from the side to the front of the face. The eyes of a damselfly are large, but there is always a gap of space between them. Dragonflies have bulkier bodies than damselflies, with a shorter, thicker appearance. Damselflies have a body made like the narrowest of twigs, whereas dragonflies have a bit of heft.

Ebony Neon Damselfly Female

The female Jewelwing is not so shiny, but she has small white dots on the tips of her wings. Both dragonflies and damselflies have two sets of wings, however they have different shapes. Dragonflies have hind wings that broaden at the base, and which makes them larger than the front set of wings. Damselflies have wings that are the same size and shape for both sets, and they also taper down as they join the body, becoming quite narrow as they connect.  Dragonflies hold their wings out perpendicular to their bodies when resting, like an airplane. Damselflies fold their wings up and hold them together across the top of their backs. We can always find fun new things to learn about nature at the Nature Preserve.

Orange Orioles

Baltimore OrioleOne of the most brilliantly colored songbirds in the east, flaming orange and black, the Baltimore Oriole shares the heraldic colors of the coat of arms of 17th-century Lord Baltimore. Widespread east of the Great Plains, Baltimore Orioles are often very common in open woods and groves in summer.  Listen for the melodic whistles of the male. You can whistle back and sometimes they will come to investigate you.Oriole NestThe nest site is in tall deciduous tree, placed near end of slender drooping branch, usually 20-30′ above the ground but can be 6-60′ up or higher. The nest (built by female, sometimes with help from male) is a hanging pouch, with its rim firmly attached to a branch and closely covered by leaves, making it very difficult to see from the ground. Nest is tightly woven of plant fibers, strips of bark, grapevines, grass, yarn, string, Spanish moss, and sometimes fishing line, then lined with fine grass, plant down, or hair.Female Oriole eating jellyOne doesn’t often see the more yellow colored female, but we have one here at the Nature Preserve that comes to eat jelly placed in a small container outside the office window. Orioles eat beetles, grasshoppers, spiders, and fruit, such as mulberries and wild black cherries. Orioles are also attracted to oranges, which you can cut in half and set out where they can peck at the juice and pulp. Oriole taller than youThis is the time of year when most birds establish their territories, find a mate, lay eggs, and raise young. To ensure success, they defend their territory aggressively, and will attack and try to drive away any bird they view as a possible competitor or a threat to their young. When they see their own reflection in your window, they assume they’re seeing a competitor and attack the image. Both males and females will react to mirror reflections.

When Is It Really Spring?

Early Spring Blue SkyHow do you know when it’s really Spring? Everyone has their favorite signs. Even though the trees are still bare, it may be Spring because the grass starts to turn green and the sky is so blue.Spicebush BlossomsAt the Nature Preserve, we look for the spicebush to bloom. In the summer, this nondescript bush just blends in with everything else, but in early Spring the delicate green blossoms catch your eye and attract early insects.Frog Pond Reflections

Turtle ReflectionsThe Frog Pond comes back to life and our Red Eared Sliders and Painted Turtles climb out of their winter burrows to enjoy the warm sunshine. The water level in the pond is high and covers their favorite basking logs, so they sit in the grass instead.Tree Swallow Red Winged Blackbird on Post Bluebird FemaleThe birds start singing and looking for a good nesting site. Our Bluebirds have been here all winter, but the Tree Swallows and Red Winged Blackbirds have arrived from their wintering grounds. Meadowlark on Post 950pxThe Meadowlark surveys his territory for rivals in the meadow, singing at the top of his voice.Toothwort  Rue AnemoneAnd, of course, the Spring wildflowers sprout up along Little Huckleberry Creek. Stroll along the path every 2 or 3 days to see the changes. And be sure to look down, since many of these flowers are quite small!New Wildflower SignsBe sure to join Executive Director Tavia Cathcart-Brown on Saturday, April 16, for our Spring Wildflower Walk at 10 am. She will point out our beautiful flowers in the Woodland Garden and along Little Huckleberry Creek, and you will learn more than you ever thought about wildflowers!

 

American Chestnut Trees

American Chestnut leaf nuts

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.

American Chestnut Gian

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.

American Chestnut Range Map

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.

Why Leaves Change Color

Oak Leaves Backlit 950px

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.

Orange-tipped Maple Tree
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.

Tulip Poplar Tree

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.


 

Monarch Mania

Female Full Display

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?

Caterpillar under leaves

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.

Monarch Nursery

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.

Dark Chrysalis Gold Dots

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.

Emerald Ash Borer

Ash Trees Dying
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.

EAB Map 2015
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.

Ash Leaf Compound
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.
Emeral AshBorer
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.

Ash Borer Holes
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.

 

Luv at the Frog Pond

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.

Tiger Swallowtail Female

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.

Amberwing Dragonfly 2

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.

Green Heron Long Neck Closeup

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!

Blue Moon

Blue Moon

“Blue Moon, You saw me standing alone…”

“Once in a Blue Moon”

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.

Family Campout

Setting Up Camp
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.Breakfast for 40

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.
Dark Clouds over Meadow

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.

Birds Nest Fungi
Birds Nest Fungi

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.

Blue Dasher Dragonfly
Blue Dasher Dragonfly

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.

Common Milkweed
Common Milkweed

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.

Passion Flower
Passion Flower

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 Coneflower
Purple Coneflower

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.

Purple Martin Female
Purple Martin Removing Fecal Sac

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.

Tree Swallow
Tree Swallow

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.
Dawn Shadows through Fence

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.
Dawn Shadows

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.Daddy Longles

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!

Scary Shelf Clouds

Shelf Cloud 2

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.

Shelf Cloud 3

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.

Shelf Cloud 4

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.

Shelf Cloud 1

“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.

Birds in the Grasslands

Red-winged Blackbird calling on pokeweed
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?

Red-winged Blackbird Female 2
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!

Purple Martin - long wings
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.

Purple Martin Female in Nest Box
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.

Meadowlark in Green Grass Singing
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!

 

Blooms in the Grasslands

Meadowlark Meadow Wildflowers and Grasses
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.

Yellow Goatsbeard Seedhead
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.

Yellow Goatsbeard Closeup 2
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.

Wild Onion Blossom
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 Ultra-closeup
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.

Oxeye Daisy Ultra Closeup
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.

Spiderwort and Penstemon
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!

Mid-May at the Nature Preserve

Mahan Manor Shady Swing
Relaxing view from Mahan Manors Front Porch

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!

Starling Parent Flying to Nest Box Hole
Starling Parent with food for chicks
Red Buckeye Blossom
Red Buckeye Blossom
Royal Fern by Waterfall
Royal Fern
Spiderwort
Spiderwort
Milkweed Ready to Bloom
Milkweed ready to bloom
Wild Bergamot
Wild Bergamot
Water Lilies Woodland Garden
Water Lilies
Bronze-headed Skink
Bronze-headed Skink
Chickadee on Nest
Mama Chickadee sitting on eggs

Split Rail Fence

Come again soon!

What Makes a Waterfall?

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.

Cumberland Falls from below

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.

Waterfall Formation 2

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 from behind

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!

Turtles in the Pond

Painted and Red-eared SlidersOn 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.

Red eared Slider on logThe 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.

Turtles climb on logThese 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.

Turtles - how did you get up there

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.

Painted Turtle on LogEastern 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.

Painted Turtule DuoThe 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.

 

Hidden Spring Wildflowers

Woodland Garden - brown and bare
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?

White Troutlily Fairy
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.

White Troutlily Star
When the sun comes out, the blossoms will point up, inviting any passing pollinators to stop by for a visit.

Twinleaf in Bloom
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.

Dutchmans Breeches
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 and Bee Closeup
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.

Trillium Duo
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!

Black Vultures: Cleanup Birds

Black Vultures at Carcass
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.

Black Vulture Sunning
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 Fighting over Carcass
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.

Black Vulture Pair
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!

Spring is a State of Mind

Harbinger of Spring
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.

Painted and Red-eared Sliders
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.

American Robin
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.

Hidden Spring
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!

Duck Box on Frog Pong
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.

Blue Sky
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!

How Many Days Till Spring?

Mahan Manor in SnowWell, 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.Black Vultures in Flight 3 JanThink 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.

Snowman by OfficeSomeone 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.

Snowy Picnic AreaI 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!

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