Monday, February 25, 2013

Some Plants from Blackhand Gorge

This is a sort of second part to the first Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve post. I stumbled across a few plants that caught my eye on the trip, and took a few shots.

One of my favorite plants, the Diphasiastrum digitatum, also known as Running Pine, Southern Running Pine, Groundcedar, Fan Clubmoss, and a whole range of other common names. This species of Diphasiastrum is the most common in North America. Running Pine used to be harvested as Christmas greenery, and due to its slow growth rate, the populations plummeted. They've rebounded, and now they cover the forest floor in some places. I know that AW Marion State Park in Pickaway County and Davis Memorial SNP in Adams County have large populations, as well as the population at Blackhand Gorge.

Here is a small view of the population at Blackhand. They produce spore-bearing strobili that run higher than the main plant, but there are known in this photo. These strobili look like one central stalk that split into 3-6 upright stalks at the end that are brown on the ends.

This pine-tree-like plant is Huperzia lucidula, or more commonly known as Shining Clubmoss. If you noticed, the previous plant, Running Pine, was also a clubmoss. Clubmosses are known as fern allies, and they are similar in structure to the earliest vascular plants too!

Here's another shot showing some of the Shining Clubmoss jutting out of the hillside leading toward the Licking River. Also, as you can see, there's a few fern fronds here. Now, I am not a botanist, but after researching some and talking to a few other people, we've come to the conclusion that this is Dryopteris marginalis, more commonly known as Marginal Wood Fern. Marginal Wood Ferns are evergreen ferns, and they like cool, slightly acidic soil.

Next, onto this interesting clump of moss. This is a Dicranum moss, most likely
Dicranum scoparium because of its curved leaves. Dicranum scoparium is also known as the Broom Moss or Windswept Moss because of its leaves. I personally love mosses and different looking ones like this always raise my curiosity even more.

Definitely not the best photo, it was more of a snapshot (That ended up blown-out), so excuse that. Anyway, as you can see, a covering of green reed-like plants takes center stage. These plants were kind of going everywhere, which leads me to think this was flooded recently, pushing the normally straight-upright plants aside. So what is this plant?

Here's a close up of the plant. It's a Equisetum hyemale, or Rough Horsetail as we would call it. You might have seen it before, especially if you've been to Clear Creek Metro Park, where it populates the creekside. I've also found it at AW Marion SP along Hargus Creek. Rough Horsetail is found all over North America and is a member of the Horsetail, or Equisetum, genus, which is a "living fossil." In fact, Equisetum plants have been around since the late Paleozoic era, which is pre-dinosaur times. Fast-forwarding to the 2000's, Rough Horsetail is also known as Scouring Rush. Why? Well, the rough bristles on the plant have resulted in its being used as a pot-cleaner, sandpaper, and to shape the reeds of instruments.

I'm very new to plants (I'm a birder mainly), so if I've made a mistake anywhere, please do not hesitate to correct me. Thanks!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Blackhand Gorge and Dawes Arboretum

Monday, which was Presidents' Day, I was able to go on a short day trip since I was out of school.

So, I left Pickaway County for Licking County, specifically for Dawes Arboretum and Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve.

I admit, I didn't get too many photos at Dawes. It was really cold, and I was busy moving and did not really want to stop and get photos. Anyway, here's a scene in the forest at Dawes. A light covering of snow was still on the ground. Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and White-Breasted Nuthatches called from the trees.

We came across a family of White-Tailed deer, including a few young ones. Even though I see deer a lot, it's still a treat to see them.

Dawes Arboretum was spectacular. It was the first time I had ever been there. Dawes Arboretum was established in 1929 by the namesake Beman Dawes and his wife. Nowadays, it has different sections dedicated to everything from Japanese Gardens, to one of the world's largest collections of Holly, to wetlands, to one of the northernmost populations of native Bald-cypress swamps in North America, and a lot more. There are miles of trails and over 5,000 different types of woody plants. It really is an amazing place, and I will have to go back in Spring and Summer.

Next, I went to nearby Blackhand SNP.

This is Blackhand Rock. You might have heard of Blackhand Sandstone, which is the type of sandstone common throughout this area of Eastern Ohio, including the Hocking Hills, here, and so on. It's so called because of what used to be on this rock. The first settlers in this area came across a large petroglyph of a black hand on this cliff side and named it Blackhand Gorge. The petroglyph was Native American in origin (possibly giving directions to nearby Flint Ridge), and sadly it was blasted away when the Ohio and Erie Canal was being built in this area around 1828. The cliffs and rocks were impassible, so the Licking River, which is the river seen here, had to be used to continue through this area. The rocks along the river had to be blasted to make the river wide enough.

This, which I encountered by the Blackhand Rock along the paved biking trail, confused me at first. Later, I learned its origin. This odd, cut path through the hillside is called the "Deep Cut," and it's aptly named. It is 60 some feet high and 700 feet long. It was carved in 1850 and served as a path for the Central Ohio Railroad, which later became the much-more well known Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. 1958 brought this railway to an end as the creation of Dillon Dam required these tracks be abandoned for another nearby route.

There are a few trail options here, including the paved Blackhand Gorge Trail, and the dirt (or in my case mud) Quarry Rim Trail. Here is a photo of part of the old quarry, with the subsequent quarry lake created, as seen from the Quarry Rim Trail. This quarry used to serve as the source of sandstone for nearby Newark, Ohio. The trail winds up from the gorge to the tops of the hills, giving breathtaking views of the sheer cliffs created from years of blasting. It would be amazing to come back in the summer and see what bird species can be found here. All I came across (without really looking) on this trip was a Pileated Woodpecker (the largest species of woodpecker in North America), a Belted Kingfisher, and a few Carolina Chickadees.

This was a common sight all along the Blackhand Gorge Trail. Water from groundwater seepage, gullies, and springs had frozen, covering the hillsides in miniature frozen waterfalls of sorts.

In the end, this was an awesome trip, and I highly recommend going to see these places if you haven't already. Dawes Arboretum is incredibly educational and Blackhand Gorge SNP is steeped in history.

Another post will be coming up soon about some of the plants and animals seen on the trip, so stay tuned!

Edit: Here's the post about some of the plants I encountered!

And one last, not-exactly-nature, thing. The famous Longaberger headquarters outside of Newark. Definitely not what you expect to come across when you're heading down the highway!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Hargus Trip and ROSS'S GOOSE!

So I headed out to AW Marion State Park in Pickaway County today. To the locals, such as myself, it's simply known as "Hargus Lake" or, even more simply, "Hargus," after the name of the lake that is the main attraction there.

So I got out, walked up and saw this chaotic and noisy scene:

This was just a sliver of the lake, but it had the highest concentration of birds. That thin line out there, was mostly Canada Geese...but...

Excuse the awful photo; he was far off.
What's that?!? A Snow Goose? Wait a minute... looks a little strange for a Snow Goose... It must be a, no way, a Ross's Goose! Yes, this little guy, with its stocky, short neck, its black tipped wings, and the tiny orange beak, is a Ross's Goose. Ross's Geese are rare in Ohio but turn up every year, mainly in large groups of Canada Geese in the winter, such as this one. This one was a "lifer" for me.

Ross's Geese migration routes are well outside of Ohio. They migrate mainly through the Great Plains and Western Portions of the US. However, just like the Snow Goose, a few stray into Ohio. This is due to a recent trend of expanding eastward over the last few decades. They breed in the arctic Tundra and winter in the south in fields and wetlands.

This male Downy Woodpecker (The head had a red dot, distinguishing it as a male) was drilling away on a small branch, and stopped momentarily to inspect yours truly. He then went back to drilling, and allowed me to come within eight or so feet of him, allowing me very close looks. Notice the short beak as compared to the head, which, along with its small size (about 6.5 inches long), help distinguish it from the very similar, and larger, Hairy Woodpecker.

His head was traveling so fast, it blurred, even with a shutter speed on the quicker side. His red patch is slightly visible on this photo. Downy Woodpeckers are known for being very calm around humans, and if you approach carefully and quietly, you will be rewarded with really good looks at this very common woodpecker.

One last photo. A "Snowbird," or more commonly known as a Dark-Eyed Junco. These small sparrows move down into Ohio during the winter, and are very common yard birds. Here was one that popped out for a few seconds after I heard their distinctive trill coming from the ground below. I did a few seconds of "pishing" and the curious Junco flew above to inspect the scene. Dark-Eyed Juncos have many subspecies, and this one is the Slate-Colored type, which is by far the most common type in Ohio. A more rarer type to show up in Ohio is the Oregon type, which has rufous coloring on its sides. There have been many reported around Ohio this winter, including a few in Columbus.

Other species: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Ruddy Duck, Mallard, Redhead, Ring-Billed Gull, Turkey Vulture, and European Starling.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Summer Throwback in the Hocking Hills Pt. 2

Here's Part 2 of the Hocking Hills throwback. (Part 1 is here.)

Ash Cave as the sun quickly falls. Ash Cave is the largest recess cave in all of Ohio, and as you can tell from this photo, it is absolutely huge. The Eastern Hemlock trees on the left cut off another portion of the "cave," so this isn't even the whole thing. Ash Cave is so called because of the large piles of ashes found by explorers and settlers. These ashes were, according to the most popular theory, left over ashes from Native American Indian campfires from years and years of buildup. In fact, Ash Cave and the surrounding area is rich in Indian history. This site was also used for camp and township meetings as of more recently when European settlers were moving into the area. Ash Cave was also the site of Sunday church services, with the large Pulpit Rock at the head of the service.

Another view of Ash Cave.
Ash Cave is about 700 feet long, 100 feet deep, and 90 feet tall. Depending on how wet it's been, there's normally a small waterfall and pool from Queer Creek as it falls over the rim.

This is Upper Falls of the Old Man's Cave area. A little hazy, isn't it? Well, during the day this was taken, the gorge was filled with fog. It was really cool to watch form. We started off entering Old Man's Cave while it was clear, but a quick shower followed by periods of mist and drizzle filled the gorge with fog that lasted a few hours. Anyway, on this day, the "falls" were nothing more than a little trickle. Not very breathtaking, but still beautiful.

Ah, this is a bit better. I took this back in 2011, and the waterfall was flowing strong. Regardless, the whole gorge is interesting whether the waterfalls are filled out or not.

This is a common sight through all of the gorges. This photo was taken at Old Man's Cave too. These large boulders dot the creek. Years of erosion ate away at the cliff sides and large "slump rocks" fell into the gorge. These boulders were taken over by moss, trees, and ferns over the years, as you can see in this photo. Slowly, these plants will break down the boulders, but none of us will be alive to see that erosion process finished.

When I took a closer look at these boulders, I found...

Ah! A millepede! Narceus americanus to be more precise. These millepedes are some of the largest ones in Ohio, along with Sigmoria millepedes (Black and yellow millepedes which smell like cherries if you pick them up and give them a tiny shake). In fact, these millepedes can get a few inches long, and as big around as a dime or so. They are harmless detritivores that can be quite common in the Appalachian area of Ohio. 

Another common sight in Ohio Appalachia is honeycomb weathering on cliffsides. Normally, this type of weathering is found along coasts where the salt aides in the weathering. Obviously, the oceans are far from Ohio, so this weathering happens another way. Water seeps through the rocks and brings along some minerals which are harder than the blackhand sandstone and are more weather-resistant. As the sandstone is weathered, these mineral deposits, such as iron deposits, are left.

And a surprise find for me and my hiking partner! I heard a strange whistling near a creekside along the Grandma Gatewood Trail (which connects Old Man's Cave to Cedar Falls and Ash Cave) which I'm pretty sure was a Red-Shouldered Hawk. It sounded very agitated and I set out to find it. Instead, I found the source of the agitation, a Barred Owl! It was far off enough to where my 200mm lens couldn't get close enough, so I had to zoom in on the resulting image (hence the bad quality).

A minute after I found it, a British family on vacation passed by on the trail. I called them down and asked if they were interested in seeing an owl, and they jumped on the offer. They got really good looks after the owl took flight, leaving the grandpa to grandkids, along with me, in awe at the impressive bird.

That's another thing about the Hocking Hills. You never know who you're going to meet there. While most visitors are Ohioans, it is still a tourist spot, and on this trip I met people from Britain, along with hearing Spanish and a few Asian languages around me over the course of the four days. The Hocking Hills area of Ohio is a treasure for us Ohioans, along with every other person, and we should actively work to conserve it for future generations.

Summer Throwback in the Hocking Hills Pt. 1

Ohio has been experiencing an actual winter this year it appears, instead of the mild winters we've been having, such as last year. So, in attempt to bring some warmth to your frigid days, here's a throwback to the summer:

I went camping this past June for four days in the Hocking Hills, which many Ohioans are familiar with. If you're not, GO! Seriously, it's beautiful, it's varied, and it offers miles of amazing hiking. Of course, you have some choices. There's the main part: Hocking Hills State Park. It's broken down into five sections: Old Man's Cave, Ash Cave, Cedar Falls, Rock House, and Cantwell Cliffs. Then there's Conkles Hollow State Nature Preserve tucked away in the center of the SP. On top of those, there are other places nearby, like Clear Creek Metro Park, Lake Logan State Park, and Wayne National Forest.

I stayed at the campgrounds at Old Man's Cave which was situated between the namesake Old Man's Cave area and Rose Lake.

I woke up the first morning at daybreak and walked the quarter mile or so from the campgrounds down to Rose Lake. The sunlight was just breaking over the trees and light fog was rolling off the lake, as seen in the photo. This photo was taken on the dam. The lake is popular for fishing, but I was all alone this morning. There's a trail that goes around the lake, and it is worth the time to hike. There's also a marshy area right out of site at the far end of the lake.

This large dragonfly was perched right by the Gorge Trail at Conkles Hollow SNP. This particular species is a Gray Petaltail. It really blends in with the tree, doesn't it? Well, the Gray Petaltail is a forest dwelling dragonfly, and its camouflage is perfect. This one was basking in a little clearing of sun, and didn't mind me at all. In fact, these guys are known for being very cooperative with people wanting a better look! Gray Petaltail distribution in Ohio is very spotty. They inhabit areas near seeps that are located in forests that also have sunny areas. They are only recorded in 19 of the 88 counties, and so I was happy to find this one.

Another interesting insect find was this guy. He was on our tent, and man, was he strange! This tiny little guy is a White-Marked Tussock Moth caterpillar. Word of caution for those who come across these guys: touching the hairs results in an allergic reaction for many people, so look, but don't touch! Interestingly, the female adult moths are wingless and as a result flightless. Not what you think of when moths come to mind, is it? These can also be pests when located in high numbers, but this is the only one I saw the whole trip.

And what camping trip isn't complete without a visit from the other resident campers? I slept outside one night and I was rewarded with closeup looks of the local raccoons. Lots and lots of local raccoons. Let me stress that part. They never really came close to me or bothered me, but just foraged around the site for food. Can't blame them though, we humans bring in so much food and many times we leave at least some of it out when we camp. These guys learn that they can get an easy meal, and voila, raccoons are suddenly your camping neighbors. Their antics were quite fun to watch!

Other critters we came in contact with included a few Leopard Moths, a Box Turtle with a death wish, many many Black-Throated Green Warblers, and tons of thrushes, both Wood and Hermit.

This is just Part 1 of this summer throwback! The next part will be coming up very soon...

Edit: Part 2 is here!