From extremely cold to extremely warm January sure took us for a ride! See the month below through our lens!
Brown's Lake Bog - January 1st
Ah, our frozen annual new year hike. Besides the group of deer, it was a nice quiet walk in the cold. Lots of snow, lots of lichen, just the way January should be.
Wooster Memorial Park - January 15th
A fresh blanket of snow fell (and was still falling) as we made it out this day. Against the snow you can see the remains of late sturdy plants like the sweet Cicely and beech drops below.
Barnes Preserve - January 17th
Although cold, the clouds parted, the sun came out, and the bird activity sky rocketed (no pun intended). I've almost always had really great luck birding at Barnes Preserve, this trip started with a winter molt red-tailed hawk, then I watched as a harry woodpecker picked apart a praying mantis egg, followed by a slew of different sparrows, cedar waxwings, a robin, a coopers hawk, and ended with a kestrel perched high in a tree!
Browns Lake Bog - January 17th
As the day went on and the sun started to go down, the light became golden across the kettle bog. As I was leaving I took a moment to stand in silence which was interrupted by tiny squeaks from up above - 3 little golden-crowned kinglets flitted high above, sitting for only a brief pause, then off again to another branch.
Farm - January 21st
Visiting my family's farm I came across a great variety of unique lichen!
Funk Bottoms Wildlife Area- January 23rd
The first signs of the Skunk Cabbage!
Johnson Woods - January 26th
A warm spell melted all the snow and made for an unusually nice day. This time of year is great to visit Johnson's Woods, you can really fully see just how large the old oaks are. The warmth also brought out a wide variety of birds - what sounded like a flock of redwing blackbirds (I couldn't see them for a proper ID), a flicker, a pileated woodpecker, and I was graced with hearing the call of a barred owl!
If you catch a glimpse of this little bird, it is a real treat! These tiny round birds are easily identified by their constant movement and the tiny squeaks coming from high in the treetops.
The Golden-crowned kinglet is a native bird to the cold northern forests of Canada, nesting in tiny cup nests attached securely to coniferous trees, but in the winter they can be found all across the US!
The first image is from last year at Barne's Preserve, a flock of golden-crowned kinglets could be found in late winter high up in the treetops just beyond the parking area. The two other images are from just a few weeks ago at Brown's Lake Bog, when out hiking I paused to take in the silence and above me I heard the familiar squeak of the GCK, I looked up and saw 3 or 4 hopping from branch to branch having a great time in the setting sun!
While it's hard to catch a glimpse of the golden-crown for which they're named, just by observing the behaviors - constant movement, size - quite small, and their sounds, you can be pretty sure you've found a GCK!
Lichen, this time of year it's easy to spot against the drab winter sky. But what do you actually know about this unique specimen found on rocks, trees, and other stable surfaces?
What are lichen?
They are symbiotic organisms that are composed of a fungus and a photosynthesizing partner - could be a green algae (85% of lichen), or a cyanobacterium (10% of lichen), or a combination of both (5% of lichens).
Fungi + Algae = Lichen
Fungi + Cyanobacterium = Lichen
Fungi + Algae + Cyanobacterium = Lichen
The symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae and/or cyanobacterium is unique in the way that it's not just beneficial to both partners but both lose their own identity and a new different, dual organism is formed!
There are three different growth forms of lichen
Crustose - Crust-like, tightly attached to that which it's growing on. Has upper surface but no lower surface.
Foliose - Flat and leaf-like. Can be loosely or tightly attached to surface. Has upper and lower surface. (Images above and below are of this form).
Fruticose - Upright and shrubby, but sometimes hang down. Most of these lichen do not have a distinct upper and lower surface, but have an outer surface.
Where do lichen grow?
Lichen can be found on every continent - including areas in the Arctic and Antarctic and can be found on mountain tops.
Lichen are the dominant organism on around 8% of the entire world's land surface... That's HUGE!!!
Lichen and their role in nature.
In Arctic regions they are used as a winter food for grazing animals. In more temperate regions they are used by birds as nesting materials, insects and small invertebrate will use it as shelter. Lichen can also aid in the breakdown of rock into soil. The lichen with the Cyanobacteria can even fix nitrogen and add fertilizer to the ecosystem.
Lichen as air quality indicators.
There are some lichen that are very sensitive to air pollution (sulfur dioxide). These lichen have been widely used as indicators of air quality to study air pollution patterns around cities and industrial areas.
Thankfully, in many developed countries, air quality has improved to the extent that lichen are no longer affected and are returning to areas that had been so polluted the lichen could not grow.
There is so much to learn about lichen, a great resource is the Ohio Moss and Lichen Association (OMLA)'s website found HERE.
They will also be having their Summer Foray at Wooster Memorial Park on June 9th 2018! Event is open to the public.
These little gray birds that acrobatically fly from tree to feeder and back again may be small in size but they are large in voice!
Found in the eastern to midwestern US, these birds are often found flocking with chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers - often around feeders. If larger seeds like sunflower seeds are put out, they will grab individual seeds and fly back to a safe branch to shell and eat the seed and make their way back, often disturbing and butting in front of the other birds. While their flight is fluttery, they tend to remain level in flight, compared to the undulation of the goldfinches.
They nest in natural tree holes, often in cavities left by woodpeckers, lining the inner cup of their nest with hair - sometimes plucked directly from living animals (such as raccoons, opossums, squirrels, pets, and even humans)!
The easiest song to identify them by is the "Peter Peter Peter Peter" song.
Another is the buzzy nasally electronic question (I can't even begin to mimic) call (3rd option down on the link below).
To hear the different songs and calls of the titmouse, visit the link HERE
As a spirit animal, the titmouse brings a fearless attitude, the power of voice, control of ego, and not allowing praise to go to your head.
These beautiful silky masked birds can be found year round in our state. In the winter they're easy to find - traveling in large flocks gathering in orchards and other areas with fruit trees and shrubs.
The term waxwing comes from the waxy red secretions on the tips of the secondaries, probably to entice a mate. Cedar comes from their appetite for cedar berries in the winter.
Eating as many berries as they do, they can become intoxicated after eating too many fermented or overly ripe berries.
Cedar Waxwings are sometimes found with orange instead of yellow tail tips. This began in the 1960s and is a result of the birds eating the non-native species of honeysuckle. The red pigment is picked up from the berries, and if the waxwing eats enough of them while growing tail feathers the tip will be orange!
In the summer, these birds can be found zipping over ponds eating insects and dragonflies.
When courting, waxwings will pass fruit back and forth until at last the female eats the fruit.
Symbolically the waxwing reminds us to share, is there something you need to share with another, something you need to pass along for the well-being of a friend? A strong sense of community is vital to helping each other survive.
I found my first Skunk Cabbage rising up from the cold, cold ground today!
Beginning in late winter, the skunk cabbage is the first life to emerge from the cold snow covered ground. Through its rapid growth, its cellular respiration actually melts the snow around it reaching up to 60 degrees Fahrenheit!
The first wildflower of the year!
The American Robin, yes, this harbinger of spring can actually be found here all year round.
It's an interesting story... Most are familiar with the robin in the spring - as the ground thaws and the earth wakes up with the rains, you can find them hopping around lawns happily gathering worms and insects (they opt for insects over worms). Then fall comes and these birds slowly begin to change their diets to one more fruit and berry based. Once winter is upon us and food is scarce, you can find robins letting their territorial guards down to flock together in orchards and other areas with high fruit concentration. Yes, some migrate south for the winter but that is more due to a lack of food supply than the cold. Then spring comes around, the flocks of fruit enjoying robins split up, everyone goes back to their territories (backyards, parks, etc) and mating season gets underway.
The Northern Mockingbird can be found keeping watch over berry bushes in the winter. A highly territorial bird, it will chase off robins, cedar waxwings, and starlings who come too close to its bush or tree.
Their grey bodies and long tails make this bird easy to distinguish from similar sized birds (roughly just under robin size). When in flight this bird has large white stripes under each wing and on either side of the tail. These patterns make for a beautiful display when the bird chases off others in their territory.
The most definable trait of the mockingbird is its range of songs. In a lifetime this single bird can learn up to 200 different songs. Sometimes singing up to 50 in a single day (during mating season).
From February through August, they are most vocal, singing through the day and into the night. Most unmated males will sing through the night, most commonly during a full moon, in the hopes of attracting a mate.
In ancient cultures mockingbirds are very important birds. To the Hopi and Pueblo tribes it was the mockingbird who first taught people to speak. Southeast Indian tribes believe it is a symbol of intelligence.
It is said the mockingbird as a totem can teach many things - the power of song and voice, waking up your life's purpose and inner talents, giving the strength to move forward towards your life's purpose fearlessly.
As per tradition, Noah and I welcomed the new year by taking a hike - after filling up on sauerkraut and sausage of corse! With the high in the single digits, windchill below zero, and snowy icy back roads to all of our favorite spots we decided the bog would make for a lovely start to the new year, and with all the trees perhaps it would be insulated enough to cut back on some of the wind.
The drive there takes us past some of my favorite vistas, with the addition of snow and a very fine mist of fog it was like being in a painting, the rolling hills covered in snow, divided by fence rows, edged by trees, with the occasional cow/sheep/horse looming near the barns. Rt 3 between Wooster & Craigton use to be my drive home, and in all those many years I never tired of the view just north of the intersection of 3 and Jefferson. From there you can look out for miles over rolling farmland, the sun rising over the highest point in Wayne Co, the fog would linger among the hills... that view still stirs up something deep within my soul.
But I digress.
Arriving at the bog parking in the pull-off covered in snow. I parked at an angle feeling smart, I won't start off this new year by getting stuck (thank you 4wd)! We get out and bundle up, wrapping scarves around our faces fighting off the sharp cold stinging our eyes and noses. Once thoroughly bundled we headed through the snow, boots crunching at each step. The distant kame covered in snow rising up from the field like a mosquito bite in the summer. It has always looked out of place, a perfectly shaped mound plopped right in the middle of the smooth glaciated land, as alien as it feels, it still has been there longer than we have and it will be long after we're all gone. Stepping onto the boardwalk my boots added a creaky-squeak to the crunching snow soundtrack, the snow squeezing between the frozen boards and my boots. We followed the tracks of the brave two or three others who ventured out in the snow before us. Although the cold drew awareness to every tiny crack in our clothing where the layers gave way when we did, we stopped from time to time, ceasing the creaking from our boots to listen to the total silence of a snow covered forest. The birds were silent, the wind was still, the road - generally quiet as many back roads are - was extra quiet, maybe one car drove by our whole time out there. It was the kind of silence that creates a ringing to ears that aren't accustomed to such levels of quiet. I removed the scarf from my face breathing in the silence and the cold crisp air, like breathing in new life, a new start, a new year. Like nature uses the winter to reset its cycles, its rhythms, I too felt - as the cold filled my lungs - that it had been too long since winter had come. As the prospect of renewal filled me we heard twigs snap, looking up from the boardwalk towards the looping trail hill we watched as 7 deer, young and old, became aware of our presence and single file bounded from the hill down to the valley where the trees meet the field and out of sight. We ventured on. Upon reaching the clearing of the boardwalk where the trees open to the sphagnum mounds, we realized we stopped following the tracks of other people and have instead been following those of the deer who have taken to use the boardwalk as a safe way to traverse the bog while nibbling the cranberry twigs and sphagnum moss in hopes to find some nourishment remaining. Eventually the deer tracks veered off through the poison sumac and we were left to lay the first tracks in the snow. There's something wonderful about being the first. Sure, it's a boardwalk and it's been trekked over many times, but laying the first tracks in the fresh snow I feel a sense of discovery, like my tracks say 'follow along this way, there's great things to learn just ahead' no-one has seen this exact view before, and never will again, it is just for us.
Walking back we turn off to take the loop trail through the woods where just a few minutes ago we had watched the deer run. Zig-zagging across the trail it was apparent the deer had well worn paths they rarely diverted from - just as we do - but it made me think about why we follow trails, roads, paths, everyone together going the same ways, why we don't meander aimlessly (more often). The explanations are vast and very interesting but I'm not going to get into that now, but I do highly recommend the book "On Trails" by Robert Moor - it goes into the subject in great detail - a very interesting read and it looks at trails from deer paths to college campuses to hiking trails to highways, explains the evolution of trails(cutting paths from the planned paths), trail leaders (sheep), so much more, check it out.
The familiar journey around trees, shrubs, up hill, down hill, looking over distant farmland always feels new under snow cover, trees are accented harder, their shapes large and elaborate. The lichen growing on the trees provide the only color to be seen - the dusty blue green to deep green to orange.
We finish the loop and creak back onto the boardwalk, back up the hill, and to the car. Unwrapping my scarf, I take another deep breath of the fresh new year's air and I think about all the things that will be possible after this period of rest ends.
We take off easily from the parking pull-off and head on into the new year.
"He who has begun has half done.
Dare to be wise; begin!"
- Horace 65-8 B.C.
As we begin this new year, I dig through my reference books looking for a quotation to inspire, to set a mood for the new year, to send us off on a euphoric high of inspiration with which we'll continuously strive for throughout the year. As I travel through time, via quotations from great people, I observe through the millennia, man has not changed. not. one. bit.
This sounds a bit distressing I know, we as a society feel as if we've come great strides, we're a more civilized people, we have better technologies; we may have different tools but deep down we have the same yearnings, the same delusions of grandeur, still striving for love, money, power.
But wait, with this knowledge comes freedom. You are not revolutionary, you are not embarking on some new way of existence, you simply are - and with being you are completely free to be as you choose, you are free to be yourself 100%.
This year I hope for you as well as myself to take this knowledge and be completely authentic, to not worry about society's ideas of achievement but to strive towards a personal satisfaction in being true to yourself, being the best version of yourself, setting your own moral standard and holding yourself accountable. At the end of the day it's you you have to answer to.
Whatever you do this year I hope you do it truly and honestly and that it makes your soul sing!
Hello 2018, let's begin!
Since 2015 we have been exploring and sharing all the amazing things we’ve found in nature.
Emily is an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist who is most often found out in the woods.