Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Befriending an Eastern Fence Lizard

The other day found your blogger and a few botanical cohorts out and about in Adams county to see what spring bloomers we could muster up as spring continues to unfurl.  In short, there was no disappointment in what we found as the forest and barrens had once again come alive with wildflowers and budding trees and the air aloft with the songs of migrants returned.  The morning dawned clear and warm with temperatures approaching 80 by early afternoon, which led to some active cold-blooded critters in the plentiful sunshine.  None were more memorable than a particular eastern fence lizard (Sceloporus undulatus) I was fortunate enough to get an up close and personal experience with.

Eastern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus undulatus)

Our group was walking down from some remote dolomite limestone barrens along a ridge of exposed bedrock when out of the corner of my eye I detected quick flashes of movement.  Being in such a sun-drenched, rocky environment, I knew the culprit before I could even land eyes on it.  I've seen fence lizards in other southern and southeastern counties before but hands down the best place to get a glimpse of one is in Adams county.

Eastern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus undulatus)

I took a few steps towards the motion and with lightning speed the lizard responded by climbing up a fallen limb to perhaps get a better glance at what may potentially be in pursuit.  Coincidentally, the little lizard had positioned itself perfectly for some photogenic shots and I quickly snapped what I could before it decided to bolt off again. Fortunately, the fellow cooperated stupendously and didn't seem to mind my presence after all and with some speed of my own and admittedly a lot of luck, I managed to pluck it off its perch with it softly but securely in my grip.

Your blogger and a cute fence lizard

it squirmed and resisted for a bit and included some painless bites in a vain attempt to scare its "predator" off for good measure.  Eventually it calmed and I was able to carefully stroke my finger down its head and back in hopes of relaying the message I meant it no harm or ill will.  For some humor, I released the micro-dinosaur on my shoulder to see what response it would have.  I'm certainly not the type to take a selfie, I find photographs are much better without my mug in it but I couldn't resist the chance this time around.

Closer view of an eastern fence lizard on your blogger's arm (photo credit: Daniel Boone)

Once again, it didn't seem to mind me and decided to scurry across my shoulders and up and down my back and arms even as I began to continue my walk through the woods.  The group was equally pleased to get a close and hands on look at such a fleeting critter.  My friend Dan Boone (even semi-regular readers should know him by now) even snapped a photo of myself with my new friend.  The plump fence lizard eventually must have tired of hitching a ride as not soon after the photo above, it scampered down my leg and into the leaf litter to continue on with its day.  I fully doubt if fence lizards have the mental faculties and/or ability to make "friends" but I wouldn't hesitate to give my scaled companion the same label.

Smaller, younger fence lizard
Smaller, younger fence lizard






















That wasn't the first time I've handled these cute herps and I hesitate to think it will be my last.  I managed to catch this smaller fence lizard last autumn while hiking through a similar habitat in Adams county.  Their delicate details and docile demeanor make them one of my favorite animals to have in the hand.  Most people think of the desert or someplace more dry and foreign than Ohio to see lizards but we do have a handful of native species. Alongside the eastern fence lizard, Ohio is also home to the broad-headed skink (Plestiodon laticeps), five-lined skink (P. fasciatus), and little brown skink (Scincella lateralis).  A fifth species in the common wall lizard (Podarcis muralis) occurs as well but as an introduced, non-native species from Europe.

Fence lizards can easily blend in in their rocky habitats

Fence lizards can be sexed by the amount/intensity of metallic blue scales on their stomachs and throats. Males have brightly colored blue ventral badges, especially during courtship and tend to be more reddish brown with darker sides and broken cross bands on their backs.  Females on the other hand have little to no metallic blue coloring on their ventral side and are light grayish brown with more distinct cross-banding on their backs.  The more brightly colored a male is, the more attractive he is likely to be to a mate; the same can be said for females and their blandness.  All that being said, I believe all the fence lizards posted so far have been females for their lack of any real blue coloration.  The lizard from the beginning is definitely colored and banded in a more male fashion but it completely lacked any blue coloration.  For any readers more knowledgeable in the matter feel free to correct my gender assignments.

Male fence lizard showing off darkened throat

This particular fence lizard nicely exhibits the dark blue coloration on his throat and stomach (out-of-view).  I wish the lighting was better in this photograph to show off just how vibrant and spectacular their metallic blue badges really are.

Had botany never really fully sank its teeth into me and infected me to my core with its endless fascination and interest, I would have put my money on going down the path of a herpetologist.  Reptiles and amphibians have always fascinated me and to this day hold a special place in my heart.  The time of the lizard may have ended well over 60 million years ago but it's wonderful to see their micro-sized relations exist today and add a well-needed and deserved part in the diversity of our endlessly enchanting planet.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Early Spring on Daughmer Savanna

Of all the natural landscapes and ecosystems Ohio had to offer around the time of European settlement, none have seen the same systematic destruction and removal quite like our prairies.  Over 99% of Ohio's indigenous tall grass prairie has succumbed to the activities of man or the inevitable march of natural succession.  You thought over 90% of our state's wetlands being lost was bad, the prairies have statistically had it worse.  Originally representing nearly 5% of Ohio's vegetation at the time of settlement, these open, grass-dominated ecosystems are relatively new to Ohio from a geologic viewpoint and came into existence around 4000-8000 years ago during a shift to a warmer, drier climate.  This change disrupted and discouraged reforestation's northward advancement post-Wisconsin glaciation and allowed the western tall grass prairie to migrate east through Illinois, Indiana and into Ohio.  Gradually the climate returned to a more cool and wet cycle and forestation picked back up as the prairies were invaded and recolonized by the trees.

Considering how fast open grassland can revert to shrubs-saplings and on into young forest, we have to thank in large part the Native American tribes that lived in western/northern Ohio for keeping our prairies around.  They played a huge role in maintaining these grassland habitats with their frequent use of fire.  They realized wild game was more attracted to the lush new-growth of burned areas and the open environment made hunting them easier and more successful.  This led to a consistent fire regime that kept the woody invaders at bay and a key aspect to their livelihoods healthy and intact.  Naturally-occurring fires from the likes of lightning strikes did occur historically but hardly at the same interval and efficiency as the native people's.  Without their influence, I highly doubt any substantial tracts of prairie would have persisted up until the time of settlement.  I can only imagine what it must have been like to gaze out at an almost never-ending expanse of grasses and the occasional tree with herds of grazers like bison and elk spread out across its vastness, let alone seeing a hot and intense prairie fire speed across the ground with flames licking 15-20 feet into the sky.  Sigh...too many invaluable things have been lost to the sands of time.

The first pioneers found these open tracts of tall warm season grasses, occasional oaks and hickories, and colorful summer wildflowers to be quite formidable and were initially ignored for their lack of trees.  The early thought was any land that didn't support forest was infertile and not worth the time or effort to farm.  If only that assumption had never been questioned.  Once that mindset was reversed and the prairie's deep, rich black soil was bitten into by the steel plow and drained with tile, it wasn't long before it had all but disappeared and turned into modern prairie monocultures of corn, soybeans, and wheat.

Botanists Rick Gardner and Dan Boone walking through Daughmer Prairie in early spring

However, that less than 1% of indigenous prairie hanging around is still out there and few, if any place(s) are better and more representative than Daughmer Prairie Savanna state nature preserve in Crawford county. Daughmer occurs in the former grandeur of the Sandusky Plains that once sprawled out over 200,000 acres in north-central Ohio. Only 70 or so acres of the Sandusky Plains remain and nearly half of its vestiges reside in Daughmer Prairie.

The photos that accompany this post were taken in late March of 2012 during a visit by your blogger and good friends in Ohio's Division of Natural Areas and Preserves' chief botanist Rick Gardner and the oft-mentioned and brilliant Daniel Boone.  Spring came fast and early that year and I recall this day, despite the chilled and gloomy look of the landscape, being in the 80s and a sweat-inducer, which is something I was certainly not used to so early in the season.  The darkened skies may be still and silent in the photos but lightning and thunder was discharged out of the swirling and churning blackness during our foray into the savanna and it made for a very memorable and electric experience.

Early spring on Daughmer Prairie Savanna as a line of thunderstorms move in.

Daughmer isn't what you would label as a true-blue tall grass prairie ecosystem but rather a prairie savanna due to its host of numerous bur oak trees.  Savannas existed at the tension zones between the prairie and recolonizing forest as well as in areas where fire did enough to drive off most woody/shrubby invaders but left some of the more fire-resistant trees behind to grow and mature.  The bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) is the classic and quintessential tree of Ohio's prairies and savannas with white oak (Q. alba), post oak (Q. stellata) and shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) the other common denizens.  In wet-saturated areas you might see more swamp white oak (Q. bicolor) while in the sandier, more xeric and acidic savanna (e.g. the Oak Openings) black oak (Q. velutina) dominate.

Dan standing with a mighty bur oak

Some of Daughmer Savanna's bur oaks approach and exceed three and four feet in diameter and have been aged to over 250 years old.  A few more than likely experienced a trial by fire as saplings during the last waning rounds of burns set by the Native Americans before their removal and/or demise at the hands of European settlement. Bur oak's thick, rigid bark can stand up to the fast but intensely hot grassland fires and often times boast scars as proof of their tenacity and brawn.  Without any significant competition from neighboring trees, oaks on the savannas grew stout and sprawled their limbs outward in a wide sweeping fashion, their leaves' photosynthesis factories humming along at peak.  Standing under these behemoths with the summer sun streaming through the emerald canopies and the robust scent of earth on the air is as refreshing a moment as exists in the natural world.

Seasonal wetlands and prairie potholes occur in parts of Daughmer and only add to the diversity of the site.

Despite looking and more-or-less being flat and unchanging as can be, Daughmer has a surprising variance in its hydrology.  On the more dry and well-drained soils you find a typical mixture of warm-season grasses such as big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) mixed with forbs and sedges such as the rare Eleocharis compressa and Carex bicknellii.  Moving into more moist-wet prairie finds an association of prairie cordgrass (Spartina pectinata) or bluejoint (Calamogrostis canadensis) and muhly-grass (Muhlenbergia mexicana) pocketed with seasonal wetland sedge meadows and small prairie pothole marshes.  Looking out across its landscape and you wouldn't think a place with "only grass" could be home to such a diversity of plant and animal life.

Rick standing in the shadows of the approaching storm

Prairie savanna is not only incredibly rare in the state of Ohio but is considered a globally rare community as well, which makes protecting these places all the more important.  Thankfully, the Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves recently purchased this plot of land to give it a much more secure and bright future.  Daughmer's soils have never been plowed and remain a virgin of its steel to this day, but was used extensively for grazing cattle and sheep in the past.  This led to an extirpation of many summer wildflower species and opened the door for non-native invasives like teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) to establish but was a small price to pay for keeping this gem around and impressively intact otherwise.

Daughmer was recently dedicated as a state nature preserve and is open to the public year-round.  I encourage anyone with an interest in our natural history and a desire for a small glimpse back into the past to pay it a visit regardless of the time of year.  You can find directions to the preserve HERE.

A point worth mentioning here is that when the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves bought this land, the money used was solely from DNAP's donated income tax check-off funds.  In other words, you, the citizens and nature-caring/conscious/loving/appreciating/etc. people of Ohio all came together to make this possible.  Since its inception in 1983, over $16 million dollars have been donated and used to protect our state's natural treasures!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Earth Laughs in Flowers

Ah, spring is finally upon us once more with its flush of life coming back into the world.  The last breath of winter's chill has finally withdrawn from our weary landscape, chased off by the sun's waxing strength and presence.  It has been a bit of a slow start to the season this time around but that has done little to quell the anticipation and excitement in your blogger for the reemergence of his wildflower friends.  Months of frozen daydreams and faithful patience have melted into reality and not a day too soon.

Amid the rain showers and intermittent sunshine of the past week, I made time to get out and about to see what early bloomers were up and ready to get reacquainted with my camera lens.  I was not disappointed in my endeavor as spring's early bounty of wildflowers was well underway in the right spots.

Harbinger-of-Spring (Erigenia bulbosa)

Harbinger-of-spring (Erigenia bulbosa) is one of the first out of the gate each March and makes for a charming if not dainty discovery in its rich mesic woodland home.

Snow Trillium (Trillium nivale)
Snow Trillium (Trillium nivale)






















Spring has not truly arrived for this botanist until he's laid eyes on the ephemeral snow trillium (Trillium nivale). Its beauty is nigh on unrivaled and seems an appropriate choice to help pack away the winter blues.

Round-lobed Hepatica (Anemone acutiloba)

Round-lobed hepatica (Anemone acutiloba) comes in a wide variety of color forms; from pure white to electric blue and everything in-between.  This patch happened to be a soft, yet striking shade of lavender.

Goldenstar Lily (Erythronium rostratum)
Goldenstar Lily (Erythronium rostratum)






















The goldenstar lily (Erythronium rostratum) is as beautiful as it is rare; which is to say "very" on both accounts. Only known from two populations in extreme southern Ohio, this seemingly auriferous wildflower only unfurls its tepals in the most abundant of sunshine.

Fibrous-rooted Sedge (Carex communis)

Those with a keen and careful eye might notice some of the woodland sedges coming to life this time of year, like the early-blooming fibrous-rooted sedge (Carex communis).  Their flowering culms have a beauty all their own, as long as you don't compare them to things like the aforementioned goldenstar lilies.

White Trout-lily (Erythronium albidum)
White Trout-lily (Erythronium albidum)






















I'm not sure what aspect of the white trout-lily (Erythronium albidum) I find more pleasing and visually-appealing: their drooping, delicate cream flowers or their thick, leathery leaves reminiscent of trout skin.  Perhaps it's just easiest to admit the whole plant is spectacular.

Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginica)

They may be a dime a dozen in just about any forested landscape or fallow lawn but what would spring really be without a carpet of spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) fully opened under a sunny and blue April sky.

Leatherwood (Dirca palustris)
Leatherwood (Dirca palustris)






















As a purveyor in the botanically unique and unusual, few early bloomers come close to the leatherwood (Dirca palustris) in that respect.  This small shrub's fuzzy buds quickly swell come spring before peeling ack to reveal its clusters of trumpet-shaped flowers.

Pennywort (Obolaria virginica

The fleshy, succulent-like pennywort (Obolaria virginica) is an inconspicuous denizen of the forest floor and easily blends in among the residual leaf litter.  Its flowers can range from a purplish-blue to creamy white and are not what you'd first think of for a member of the gentian family (Gentianaceae).

Wild Leeks (Allium tricoccum)
Wild Leeks (Allium tricoccum)






















One of the most auspicious signs of spring is the mass emergence of wild leek (Allium tricoccum) leaves in rich woodlands throughout the state.  They won't flower until later in the summer under the shadows of a fully leafed out canopy but their fresh leaves can add some zest to any meal or act as a snack on the go, if you like onions that is.

It won't be too much longer before the newly minted spring season speeds up and gets into full swing with dozens more wildflowers coming into existence and dazzling the landscape with their diverse colors, shapes, and beauty once more.  That being said I hope to be there to capture it in the wild and replicate it on your computer monitors for your enjoyment.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Surprise Snow at Fort Hill State Memorial

This past Sunday saw your blogger and a few botanical buddies in Dan Boone, Duane Hook, and Solomon Gamboa (be sure to click Solomon's name and check out his own fantastic blog!) have an early morning rendezvous at Fort Hill State Memorial in the unglaciated foothills of southern Highland county.  With the weather forecast calling for mostly clear skies and temperatures in the fifties, we all went to bed the night before with dreams of a prototypical early spring foray into the spectacular mature mixed mesophytic forests, monstrous trees, and limestone gorge of arguably our state's finest natural area.  Instead my accompaniment and I awoke and arrived to a surprise late season snowfall that left a couple inches covering the ground and just about every branch, limb and twig.

Friends Dan Boone, Duane Hook, and Solomon Gamboa walking past some impressive tuliptrees atop the fort's plateau

After the long and arduous winter Mother Nature has taken its sweet time waking up from, it didn't come as much of a surprise we'd see the white stuff again.  We couldn't complain too much though as the surrounding scenery was accented so perfectly with the fresh powder.  Little did we know just how memorable and one-of-a-kind these particular couple inches of snow would end up being.

Expansive wetland and buttonbush swamp atop the fort's plateau (photo credit: Duane Hook)

Fort Hill's significance not only lies in its diverse and intact ecosystems but in its natural history as well.  Over 2,000 years ago a culture of Native Americans known today as the Hopewell constructed massive earthworks throughout this region of the state in the forms of mounds, geometric shapes, and hilltop earthworks.  These ancient peoples utilized Fort Hill's naturally-occurring flat ridge top and enclosed/encircled the rim with an earthen wall ranging from 6 to 15 feet in height and 30 feet wide at its base.  Its circumference measures an impressive 8,600+ feet; that's over a mile and half and must have taken a long, long time to form with such limited tools.

Enormous old-growth tuliptree
old-growth beech, tuliptree, and red oak






















We decided to get our blood pumping early and tackle the lung-buster of a jaunt to the top of the ridge some 400+ feet higher in elevation.  All along the upper slopes of the ridge and rim is an impressive display of old-growth tree specimens like red, white, and chestnut oaks; tuliptree; ash; and beech.  Photos on your computer screen could never even come close to relating the immensity and awe of some of the individual trees and deserve the respect of a physical visit.

Looking through the trees from the upper slopes of Fort Hill and out across the glaciated till plains

Fort Hill sits at the very edge of the Wisconsin glacier's southernmost advancement and as a result supplies some pretty spectacular views from its summit and upper slopes.  This particular view through the trees shows the flattened landscape of the till plains to the north and west.  Even 2,000 years later it's not hard to fathom what the indigenous cultures saw in Fort Hill in its intrinsic beauty and location.

White oaks among the snow
Early spring winter wonderland






















Our path along the upper stretches of the ridge eventually found us entering a corridor of forest that experienced an unbelievable combination of atmospheric conditions unlike anything I'd ever seen before, at least to such an eloquent extent.

Dan standing in a dreamscape world of snow and ice

Here it was nearly the last day of March with our mission to find some early spring wildflowers finally unfurling their much anticipated petals and you'd have sworn it was still ice-locked January.  Friends and acquaintances who know Dan personally will also know he's not the biggest fan of snow, especially after the winter Ohio just crawled out of but not even he could argue with the beauty and unbelievable artistic design of it all.

video

Even more so than the photos of leviathan tree specimens, the video above pales in comparison to the sight and experiences of the landscape itself but it's certainly better than leaving it purely up to your imagination. For some reason the quality of the video plummets once you enlarge the window so I would suggest keeping it at the size presented on the blog for the best results even if the frame is rather small.

Wild turkey tracks
Perfectly accumulated snow






















From the telltale sign of the unblemished snow on the trail and landscape, we were the first people to venture into Fort Hill that morning but we were far from the only signs of life.  Turkey tracks dotted the landscape in some parts with their signature three-toed footprints.

Duane walking towards the light...

Our hike started out under a uniformly gray and overcast sky but was quickly overrun with abundant sunshine that reflected off the snow in a brilliant fashion.  All four of us commented and agreed that none had ever seen an event or look quite like this before.  The surprises and rewards nature gives those who take the time to immerse themselves in her splendor is what has us come back time and time again.  By the time we were done with our four plus mile walkabout in the early afternoon, the temps had warmed into the upper forties and melted all the accumulated snow off the tree trunks and limbs and the most sun-exposed slopes.  In the few short hours this magical paradise of snow and ice existed, the four of us ended up being the only people to experience it and experience it we did.  I think I can speak for all of us that it will be something to fondly look back on for years and years to come.

Briar patch and snow equals art
What a brilliant blue sky!






















It's amazing how something as trivial as snow could turn a typically intimidating and immense brier patch of greenbrier (Smilax rotundifolia) into one of the most artistic designs and patterns I've ever personally witnessed. No flake was wasted as each one solidly stuck exactly where it fell and built up to create such splendid ice crystal sculptures.  Almost equally pleasing was the contrast of the sharp blue sky and the dazzling white virgin snow.

Limestone gorge along Baker Fork (photo credit: Duane Hook)

The ever-warming temperatures accelerated the steady drip-drip-drip of melting snow on top of our heads as we made our way out of the winter wonderland utopia and down into the limestone gorge of Baker Fork, a tributary of nearby Ohio Brush Creek.  The gorge's sheer dolomite cliff faces and bluffs are home to an assortment of rare and unusual plant species such as Sullivant's coolwort (Sullivantia sullivantii), Canada yew (Taxus canadensis), snow trillium (Trillium nivale), and the incredibly rare Canby's mountain-lover (Paxistima canbyi).

Stunted and gnarled red cedars and chinkapin oaks lining the rim and gorge's walls

Upon receding into the gorge's depths the soils turn to a sweet alkaline composition and allow for calcareous appreciating species like chinkapin oak, blue ash, and red cedar to dominate.  Some of the stunted and gnarled chinkapin oaks that cling to existence along the dolomite bluffs and cliff faces hardly look their age as trees only six to seven inches in diameter have been aged to a couple centuries old.

Canby's mountain-lover (Paxistima canbyi)
Thick, leathery, evergreen leaves of the Paxistima






















Fort Hill's most precious and rare botanical treasure also occurs on the thin-soild limestone bluffs of the gorge as the state endangered and uber-rarity Canby's mountain-lover (Paxistima canbyi).  This unusual member of the bittersweet family (Celastraceae) came to Ohio via the ancient northwest-flowing Teays River millions of years ago before its demise prior to the glacial events of the Pleistocene's ice ages.  The evergreen, trailing sub-shrub has continued to persist in relic tributary valleys of the Teays to this day where it's only known to occur here at Fort Hill and in a similar limestone bluff situation along another tributary of Ohio Brush Creek on the Edge of Appalachia further south.  Both populations are clonal colonies of great age and with any luck will continue to persist for the foreseeable future.

Your blogger photographing some snow-covered snow trillium along the gorge's bluffs  (photo credit: Duane Hook)

One of the biggest targets of our visit and hike was to see the early blooming and dainty snow trillium (Trillium nivale) known to grow in select spots along the gorge's bluffs.  True to their name, we found them in full flower despite the couple inches of overnight snow accumulated on top of them.

Snow trillium in the snow
Snow trillium (Trillium nivale)






















Countless millennia of evolution and adaptation has allowed these charming and tiny wildflowers to survive spring's unpredictable weather and late blasts of snow and low temperatures.  If a couple inches were to truly do them any harm these wonders would have disappeared eons ago and not lasted to our present day and be able to lift the spirits of a weary, winter-logged botanist.

Wild leek (Allium tricoccum) emerging from their winter slumber

If snow trillium was a treat for the eyes, then the tender, freshly-emerged wild leek (Allium tricoccum) leaves were the equivalence for our noses and taste buds.  They didn't seem to mind the temporary return of winter and hopefully didn't mind a few tiresome hikers nibbling at their tastiness either.

By the time we returned back to the parking lot most of the snow had melted away and left a scene far different than we arrived to four or five hours earlier.  It was hard to believe we were in the same spot but that's the nature of the season's last ephemeral snows.  I, for one am in no rush for any more frozen precipitation and look forward to spring continuing to unfold.

A special thanks to my friend Duane who kindly lent me a camera battery when mine was discovered to be dead (always check your charge the night before no matter how sure you are that you're ok) and also for generously letting me use a few of his excellent photographs in this post!  Thanks, Duane!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

OOS 10th Anniversary Conference in Shawnee State Forest

Spring has finally arrived and it's never too early (or late) to begin planning out how you want to spend it!  If you regularly read this blog then you have surely noticed how much time I spend in the hills and hollers of Ohio's southern-most counties of Adams and Scioto and it's no coincidence.  These two counties combine to be one of, if not the most biologically diverse area in our state and harbor many rare species of flora and fauna within.  From the limestone outcrops and cedar glades of the Edge of Appalachia preserve system to the continuous rolling forests of nearby Shawnee State Forest, you never know know what is in store for your eyes, ears, and cameras.

Shawnee State Forest in spring's full bloom

To coincide with extreme southern Ohio's dizzying diversity of plant and animal life come spring, the Ohio Ornithological Society has decided to return to the depths of Shawnee for its 10th annual conference on the weekend of April 25-27.  This phenomenal event draws birders, naturalists, and outdoor enthusiasts from all over the state and beyond to experience the luscious landscape of Shawnee and the Edge flush with returning migrating birds and spring wildflowers.  If the sound of this happens to peak your interest, and I think it might if you're still reading up to this point, then I suggest checking things out HERE and marking your calendars for the last weekend in April!

Prairie Warbler, just one of around 20 species of warbler in the area

Normally this time of year would have me plugging and encouraging readers to check out the acclaimed annual spring wildflower event Flora-Quest that takes place in Shawnee and on the Edge.  Due to the near simultaneous nature of the OOS event, Flora-Quest is doing something a bit different this May on the complete other end of state up along Lake Erie.  You can find more information HERE.

That being said, I am very happy and pleased to say that I will be reprising my role as a field trip leader/guide (usually for Flora-Quest) for the OOS event instead! My group will be out and about deep in the forests of Shawnee to see what birds and botany we can stir up.  No worries, while I know my birds better than most folks might assume a plant-geek would, we will have an accomplished and knowledgeable birder on hand in co-leader/guide Andy Jones.  To see an agenda for the programs and field trips click HERE.

Spring wildflowers waking up in a hanging prairie on the Edge

Hopefully we will see warmer temperatures finally arrive and stick around all April in order to have the typical menagerie of spring wildflowers coloring up the area's forests and prairies.  The combined botanical diversity of the Edge and Shawnee results in well over 1,000 native plant species and some plant assemblages seen nowhere else in the entire state.  The birding is on par with the plants too as over 100 species are known to nest here with rarities and curiosities like the Kentucky, Cerulean, and Worm-eating warbler, Chuck-will's-widow, blue grosbeak, red-headed woodpecker, and wild turkey calling the undulating hills of the "Little Smokies" home.

Fragrant blooms of a wild plum (Prunus spp.)

The conference is a wonderful collaboration on many people's parts from the field trips to the programs and presentations that go on throughout the weekend.  Honestly, the best thing about these kinds of events are the friends, camaraderie, and memories made over weekend with 200+ like-minded people who have a thirst and passion for the natural world.  I am looking forward to catching up with old friends and meeting new faces alike and encourage any of my readers to seek me out and personally introduce yourself!

Having done Flora-Quest for three consecutive years and spent countless days exploring the region from spring to fall, I think I can say with some authority just how mesmerizing this area of the state truly is.  I could not encourage anyone more to check out the event and website and seriously consider making yourself a participating member of what is sure to be one of the best weekends this spring!