Friday, September 27, 2013

Some Findings at The Ridges

I went on a hike at The Ridges the other day, which you can read about right here, and came across a few interesting creatures and plants.

This is an Eastern Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis. He was lucky; I didn't see him at first and almost stepped on him. This garter was really cooperative with me. He let me get within 5 inches of his face to take some close ups before he slithered away into the forest. Eastern Garter snakes are very common snakes and if you pay attention you'll probably notice one sometime while out hiking. This one was a smaller one, only about a foot long, but they can reach up to three feet or more. Soon this one will be grouping up with other garters to hibernate for the winter.

Ah! A salamander! I flipped over a log hoping to find one, and sure enough there was. This is a new species for me - the Northern Ravine Salamander, Plethodon electromorphus. This is a relatively "new" species actually. It was separated from the old "Ravine Salamander," P. richmondi, now known as Southern Ravine Salamander, in the last decade or two. Northern Ravines are different from their Southern Ravine cousins in their protein composition and their distribution. As a result, information on them seems rocky. Most of the studies done in the 1900's at some point may have included mixes of both species, or one, or the other, so info on Northern Ravine Salamanders is lacking, to say the least. Now that they know it's a new species maybe new research will start separating our knowledge of the two.

Here's another salamander I came across. This is a shy Northern Dusky Salamander, Desmognathus fuscus. He was in some exposed rocks along a stream and when I looked at him he promptly pulled himself into a little crevice and tried to hide from me. ODNR says they are the most abundant of our salamanders. In the northern parts of their range, like Ohio, they prefer small streams (Like where this one was found), springs, and seepages. Interestingly, this species has an immovable lower jaw and the only way it can open its mouth is to raise its head.

You've might have seen one of these, if you pay attention to tiny critters. This is a Red Velvet Mite, family Trombidiidae. I'm not sure of the species, but it's most likely either a Trombidium sp. or a Allothrombium sp. Red Velvet Mites are actually arachnids, like spiders. Many species are very small, but this one was a bit larger than the ones I normally run across; still very small, but large enough to catch my eye from a few feet away. They won't hurt you, unless you're a small insect, in which case these predators will probably be going after you.

These are the flowers of the White Snake Root, Ageratina altissima. This is a poisonous herb. It contains the toxin tremetol, which can poison humans through an interestingly process. Cows will sometimes eat this plant, and as a result ingest the toxin. This makes the milk and meat of the cow poisonous. Humans would drink the milk, and if they ingested large enough quantities of the toxin, would consequently get tremetol poisoning. Before we knew snake root was the cause, we used to just call the subsequent poisoning "Milk Sickness." Back in the frontier days, it killed thousands of settlers, many of them in the Ohio River Valley. Abraham Lincoln's mom Nancy Hicks was actually a victim of Milk Sickness. Finally, in 1928, the official link between Milk Sickness and White Snake Root was pinned down.

Alright! That's all I have for this post. Stay tuned for another post really soon over a couple of "fuzzy" caterpillars I found on this trip.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Radar Hill and The Ridges

I'm finally back after a few weeks of a hiatus. I moved into Ohio University back in August as a freshmen and only recently brought my camera down. But anyway, I now have material for three posts or more.

This one is on the trail system up at The Ridges in Athens, Athens County, Ohio. Specifically, it's about the Radar Hill trail.

What is The Ridges? Well...

The Ridges Insane Asylum
The Ridges is a large complex owned by Ohio University that is mostly what used to be the Athens Lunatic Asylum. The Athens Lunatic Asylum was opened in 1874 and closed in 1993. This is a nature blog, so I'll only mention this place's history in passing, but if you're interested, SERIOUSLY read up on it. Its history is crazy. Check out Forgotten Ohio's amazing post on it right here! The Wikipedia article is nice too. Nowadays OU utilizes what it can of the buildings. For example, the main part of the hospital - the part in the photo above - is the Kennedy Museum of Art.

Anyway, The Ridges also has a large forested area attached to it with several trails, including a Nature Walk trail, connector trails, the Radar Hill Trail, and more.

The Ridges Hiking
Radar Hill is an incredibly popular destination for OU students and "townies" alike. A short hike of about one mile will take you to the highest point in Athens. The trail starts out in your "typical" southeastern Ohio forest and opens up to a more secondary-growth type of habitat that you can see here. The trail is well-maintained and wide. Radar Hill is that little mound-type hill at the end of the trail in this photo. So, here's how the trail works. If you start at the Hocking River (say if you're a student walking from OU) by Richland Avenue, you follow a brick path up a hill to The Ridges. Then, you climb another hill that takes you to where a water tower is. The path begins by the water tower. You climb up and up until you get on another ridge. You walk along the ridge until you get to the Radar Hill peak, which you also have to climb. It's almost like climbing 4 hills, but it isn't too strenuous, really.

Radar Hill The Ridges
This is the view from atop Radar Hill, looking out the opposite direction the other picture showed. As you can see from the horizon, you can see for miles. Why is it called Radar Hill? Well, in World War II the US Army built a radar station on the hill. OU and the Air Force then took over the radar station and turned it into a defense research facility. Then, NASA contacted OU in the early 60's and had them use the station to help gather info on the moon for the upcoming Apollo missions. By the 70's, the station was abandoned, and now it no longer stands.

Radar Hill The Ridges
Remember, you can always click on the photos in this blog to view a larger version!
Here's the view on the opposite side of the hill. Miles and miles of sight; the rolling Appalachian foothills make up the horizon. As you can see, fall is here, well, at least us birders can see. Fall songbird migration has picked up and is really in full swing. I saw my lifer American Redstart and Blackpoll Warbler at The Ridges a week before these photos were taken. As this photo shows, you can see the trees beginning to change. The temperature has also began cooling (finally!).

Radar Hill Athens
This trail (as far as I am aware) is open all the time, and many people take night hikes. I did one late at night and watched the sun set. As you can see, tt was absolutely spectacular! On the way up, I saw about 15 deer, and these locals seem to have essentially no fear of humans. They just stand there, eating grass, like ten feet from you and don't even bat an eye.

You can also see part of Athens from the peak. This is a zoomed in view to better point it out. At night, it's an amazing view; The light of the town glows in the dark valley as darkness is all around you. If you want better views of town though, check out Witches Hill or Bong Hill, which I will make posts about sometime soon.

That wraps up this post! Keep on the lookout for more posts soon, which will most likely cover salamanders, some caterpillars, nearby Witches and Bong hills, and more! See you soon!