Monday, May 10, 2010

10 - OCVN Week 10

May 5, our last class, arrived. We met at the Montgomery County OSU Extension office in Dayton, near the UD arena. The day was packed with presentations. Each team started out with 15-20 minutes. Julia and I ran into a snag when we prepared to do ours. Clare's computer wouldn't accept our later version of Powerpoint. When Julia uploaded the 2003 version, the program changed our background color and picture size. She came to the rescue and quickly selected a lighter background color and resized the pictures. Then we gave a stellar performance - the best ever. Our presentation was called "Invasion of the Habitat Snatchers." I spoke on callery pear and garlic mustard. Julia covered the European starling and American bullfrog, which is invasive in Texas.

One of my favorite presentations was by Sandy and her partner, talking on edible flowers. Each person in the room got a small container with a picture of a flower on it. You had to say whether it was edible or poisonous. If poisonous, when you opened it there was a jack-in-the-box type creature that made a nasty noise and popped out at you. If the flower was edible, there was a piece of candy inside. I think kids would like this game - us older ones did.

Several presentations ran long and we were soon off schedule. To allow time to do our course evaluations and still leave at 4 pm, Jen, one of our Wright State students, volunteered to be timekeeper. She held up a sign that let the speakers know when they had 5 minutes left. Then she held up a "Time's Up" sign when they reached the 15 minute mark. Several presentations got cut short or had their content shrunk. But we were able to get the gist of things.

While I won't miss the drive to the Dayton area each week, I will miss the instructors, Clare (our moderator), and my classmates. And I'll miss the hikes we took and the many things we learned.

As we filed out of the room for the last time, we were handed a 100 question, take home, multiple-choice test to complete by June 1. On that day we are having a get-together at a park somewhere on the east side of Dayton. The test can be mailed back to the office or given to Clare on that day. I'm looking forward to the gathering. Hopefully my husband, Ralph, will want to come with me.

This day marks the beginning of another chapter in my life. Once I am an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist, I will continue my quest to learn about nature and to give something back to the public - whether it be teaching a class, leading a hike, helping at a state or local park, etc. When I signed up for this program, I heard negative voices in my head - "You're too old... your bad knee will give out on the hikes...what if your heart acts up and you can't breath... they won't want you, you're a liability." Despite these negative voices, I let the courage of my 18-year old niece, who died from leukemia in 2009, inspire me. I decided to take a chance, and it worked. I DID IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'll leave you with these final thoughts...

Friday, April 30, 2010

10 - OCVN Week 9

This week we met at the Aullwood Audubon Nature Center in Englewood, OHio. To get there I took I-75 north to I-70 west to the Englewood exit. I turned north, then east and drove over the Englewood earthen dam. This was built after the 1913 flood to keep the city of Dayton and Englewood protected from future flood damage. Pretty awesome.

The Aullwood center is named after Maria Aull, who donated the land. The National Audubon Society owns the center. They charge a $4 admission but it is well worth it. There are miles of trails and also an organic farm that sells chicken and beef. Tom Hissong, the naturalist working there, presented a program on birds.
We learned about the structure of birds and the importance of birds. However, if you go hiking with me don't expect me to "Name That Bird." There are over 10,000 species.

Tom told us some facts about the cowbird - the so called "lazy" Mom who lays her eggs in other birds' nests. It turns out when the bison still roamed the wild west, the cowbird followed the herd, eating the insect larvae in buffalo patties. But it takes time for a female bird to build a nest, lay eggs, incubate them and hatch the babies. The bison, the cowbirds main food source, wouldn't stay in one place very long. So the female cowbird deposited her eggs in other birds' nests and was content to let these females raise her young so she could move on with the herd. Pretty ingenious, if you ask me. Consider it the first birdy "daycare."

Tom took us on a hike and we saw a yellow throated vireo (which made a sound like E -8), a blue grey gnatcatcher (spee,spee, spee), a Carolina wren (teakettle teakettle teakettle), bluebird (my very first sighting), and a Northern Parula warbler (the smallest of all the warblers.) It was certainly exciting for me to see something besides a robin, cardinal, and tufted titmouse.

In the afternoon we had a Powerpoint presentation on insects. Then another hike, which I missed because I had to leave early. Next week is our last class. Time really does fly. Speaking of flying, the spring migration of birds is underway. I never really paid attention to this phenomenon before. But now that I know better, I plan to be at Birdathon in Shawnee Lookout Park and Spring Grove Cemetery on May 8. We expect to see many different kinds of warblers. (I'll use the hours toward my 40 hours of volunteer service I must do this year.) Then on May 15 I'll be working at the Queen City Bird Festival in Hueston Woods State Park. Another fun event. Till next week, go to the woods and check out some birds!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

10 - OCVN Week 8

AWESOME!!! That's the only word I can use to describe week eight's OCVN class at the Germantown Metroparks Nature Center. Bob Henn, author of Wildflowers of Ohio, spoke to us in the morning. He gave us each a lily and we pulled off the petals and sepals - yes, three of those petals were really sepals. Then we learned about sex - the reproductive system of flowers. We examined the pistil which is made up of the ovary, the style and the "sticky" stigma on the top. The stigma receives the pollen so you want something that the pollen will adhere to. Bob was great at giving us ways to remember all the terminology.

After learning about flower parts Bob showed us some pictures of wildflowers. Then we took a hike outside.
He actually dug up a bloodroot and cut into the root to show us how "red" it is and where the flower gets its name. We also found a deer carcass and we examined this, playing CSI. Bob autographed copies of his book.

After lunch, Doug, the naturalist working there, spoke to us about fossils. Then we took a hike and went down to the riverbed. The creek was full of fossils. I found a horned coral and a brachiopod (clamlike structure) that was fully intact. Many of the rocks only contained the bottom shell of the clam imprinted into the rock. So I felt lucky to have a complete one.

Doug also told us about all the teaching aids available at Germantown Nature Center. These nature kits (on insects, butterflies, mammals, trees, etc) are free (with a small deposit) and can be used with grade school kids of all ages. It's good to know where to find teaching aids.

Doug was great at showing us how to build rapport with a group. When our day was almost finished he asked us to stand in a circle and say one thing that we really liked about the day. I said I liked seeing the red striped salamander that Nina found in the creek. Some people were grateful for the beautiful day and Doug, our teacher. I went home with many happy memories.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

10- OCVN Week 7

This week we met at John Bryan State Park in Yellow Springs at the lodge. Greg Schumacher, ODNR geologist, presented a powerpoint show, talking to us about the glaciers that formed Ohio (other than the south east which is unglaciated). We learned words like karst, sedementary, Tennessee glacier period, moraines, kettle lakes, glacial till, etc.

One interesting activity we did outside involved a yardstick (with line markings across it) and a plastic dinosaur. Greg explained that the ice age in Ohio was relatively recent, a mere 16,000 years ago, which was represented by lines near the end of the yardstick. The other end of the yardstick represented 3 million years ago. Carrying his plastic dinosaur, Greg walked 20 steps into the past, set the dinousaur down, and said this spot represents the age of the dinosaurs, the jurassic period. It was a cool way to get kids to realize how long ago the dinosaurs actually lived.
Greg then presented each of us naturalists in training with a kit of different rocks and minerals, which will come in handy if we ever lead a geology program. These kits are free for groups from ODNR, put together by the inmates at the Ohio Correctional Institution.

After lunch we learned how to read a topographic map. We took a hike and explored some rock formations (slumps) in the park.

Then we crossed a bridge over the Little Miami River and hiked up into a small gorge.

We saw trillium, trout lily, water leaves, and many other wildflowers along the way. It was tough getting up the last few feet of the climb. But I made it. After taking some pictures we headed back down. We crossed the bridge and took another trail, more flat and along the river, back into the parking lot. There were many red cedars in the picnic area. This park is perhaps the most beautiful park we have been in so far. I would like to return one day, bring my bike, ride on the bike trail in Yellow Springs, then hike/lunch in the park. A wonderful adventure to dream about!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

10 - OCVN Week 6

Ahhhh - finally some danger and excitement! Chris Bauer from the Greater Cincinnati Herpetological Society spoke to us at the Caesar Creek State Park day lodge on snakes and reptiles. But Chris did more than just tell - he showed - bringing several of his friends with him.
We petted a black rat snake and had to guess which frog was the bullfrog and which was the green frog (both looked green).
Turns out the green frog has a ridge line across the side of his body. We even got to meet some bad boys - the garter snakes. Yes, according to Chris they can bite when handled or spray their musky oil on a handler's body. Chris was hoping to get sprayed so we could smell the musk, but these two garter snakes were friendly, neither biting nor spraying.

According to Chris there are NO COTTONMOUTHS (water mocassins) in Ohio,unless someone brings them into the state as an exotic pet. We do have copperheads and Chris brought a small female out of a sytrofoam box using a pole that had a hook on the end. The copperhead was very well behaved, barely moving, just hanging coiled up from the hook. We didn't pet this one. We learned that all the poisonous snakes in Ohio are pit vipers. If biten, go to the hospital, don't attempt first aid, because it is ineffective against their bites (timber rattlesnake and masssasauga).

After the talk and live show we went outside and walked down the steep muddy trail behind the lodge to Caesar Creek lake.
Logs were overturned and rocks lifted, looking for frogs and salamanders. Not many were found. Then we had lunch and drove to the Caesar Creek nature center for our afternoon program.

Erin and Aaron, the two naturalists who work at the center, taught us about aquatic habitats - rivers, lakes, ponds, wetlands and ditches - while we sat on picnic tables outside. Conveniently, a pond sits adjacent to the picnic area. We actually re-enacted the pond program that the naturalists present to grade school kids. We were given sheets with pictures of macro invertebrates that live in a pond. Each person took a butterfly type net and several people had jugs filled with water. We dipped our nets into the pond and then dumped the more interesting contents into the jugs.

After pulling up twigs and nothing but water at one location, I moved to the other side of the pond. I saw Julia, my presentation partner, had some tadpoles in her jug. She told me to stir my net around the leaves and mud on the edge of the water. I did this and WOW - I caught a frog! How lucky that I was standing next to a frog expert. She said I had an American toad. He was brown with warts all over his back. His tadpoles looked like small, thin, black pieces of paper an eighth of an inch wide and a quarter inch long. I eventually put my toad back in the water. While I was standing on that side of the pond a classmate pointed out the sound of a spring peeper in the woods - it sounded just like a little bird going "Peep, Peep, Peep." But a peeper is a tiny frog.

Everyone took their jugs or the contents of their nets back to a table with four pans of water. We dumped our pond findings in the pans. Then we identified what we had - snails, water spiders, tadpoles, mayfly nymphs, stone fly nymphs, water penny larvae and dragonfly. Based on the aquatic life living in the pond, we determined this pond was fairly clean. However, you could see an invasive plant growing on both ends of the pond - the nasty yellow flag iris. Once this plant takes over, the pond will be starved for oxygen and the pollution lever will rise.

After our pond exercise, we took a tour of the nature center. I petted a corn snake, which I learned are very docile and make excellent pets. A chocolate rabbit and some mice live at the center. There were plants growing, a nice rock collection, and a stuffed deer, owl and several other animals. We ended the day playing a game outside.

All in all, our best day yet, in my opinion!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

10 - OCVN Week 5

Today we met at the Grant Nature Nook on McEwen Road in Centerville. The most dangerous part of the day was navigating the traffic and orange barrels on I-75 north between Rt 129 and Rt 63. But I survived the construction and make the drive in about an hour from Fairfield. (Another problem was Google directions - they told me to turn right on McEwen from Rt. 725 but the correct turn was left. Luckily I called the Centerville PD last week to confirm the directions. So I knew the correct way to go.)

Grant Nature Nook is the most beautiful building we have met in thus far. There are skylights and picture windows around three sides of the room. While Kristen Marks presented her Powerpoint show on Program Planning, we could watch the birds outside at the bird feeder. In the corners of the room, the top shelves contained a coyote, blue heron, young red-tailed hawk, and numerous other animals that had been stuffed and preserved by a taxidermist. A huge 65 pound beaver occupied the corner near the door. Looking up, four colorful banners, prints of Charlie Harper art work, hung from the ceiling around the center of the room. Beautiful and inspiring!

Kristen's presentation was informative. But the best part - we went outside and hiked on the nature trail near the creek. We heard a rattle, then saw a kingfisher.
We also observed the leaves and buds of many wildflowers - sensile trillium, trout lily, spring beauty, salt and pepper (harbinger of spring), toothwart, bloodroot, ramp (wild onion).

The dense leaf matter in the woods provided a rich growing environment for these precious little flowers. Unfortunately we also saw garlic mustard, winged euonymous and bush honeysuckle. After the hike we ate lunch outside, sitting on benches and basking in the sun.

Stan Gerht from OSU presented the afternoon program - a powerpoint show on mammals. After giving us an overview of the history of the earth's creatures, he focused on mammals of Ohio. His specialty is bats and we learned quite a bit about these guys. He passed around skins of the red and grey fox as well as skulls of squirrel, mice, rabbitts, vole, beaver, raccoon, coyotes, otter, weasel -to name a few.

We learned many interesting facts today. Take this little quiz to see how much you already know. When did mammals first appear on earth? What is the biggest mammal? What animal makes up 50% of all mammals? What mammal lays eggs? What bat is the largest?

Answers: 300 million years; blue whale; rodents; platypus; hoary. If you got all these correct, you are smarter than me. Maybe you should be in the OCVN program.

At 4:10 pm I got in my car and merged into rush hour traffic going south on I-75 from Dayton. I survived the speeders, cell phone users, narrow lanes, tired cranky drivers, and other road hazards. I feel relieved to be home. Come back for week six of 10.

Monday, March 22, 2010

10 - OCVN Week 4

Week 4 we met at Buck Creek State Park in Springfield - nice name but we didn't really get to see much of the park. For the classroom part of the day Marne Titchenell from OSU presented a powerpoint show with color pictures on The Wonderful World of Relationships. We learned what "ecology" means, and the difference between abiotic,biotic, and symbiotic relationships. Ha! Who ever knew there were so many "otics." I enjoyed learning about the food chain and seeing the nice pictures of animals.

Joe Bonnell presented a powerpoint show on Ecosystems and Ecoregions. His pictures didn't have the nice color that Marne's show had. But he did have good content- covering ecosystem interactions, factors affecting the distribution of plants and animals, unique ecosystems in Ohio, ecoregions, and ecosystem services.

After lunch Melissa Moser, ODNR ecologist, talked to us about Stewardship - another interesting powerpoint presentation. What would we do without computers?

At the end of the day we drove to a fen, which was a mile away. What is a fen you ask? I asked the same thing. The dictionary says a bog/marsh. However, I learned that the difference is that a fen has running water whereas a marsh has stagnant water. The McClarren fen we visited has underground aquifers feeding it. We were also told that Massasauga rattlesnakes lived in the area. (I wasn't about to look under any rocks or step off the wood plank trail.) The snake is one of two rattlers in Ohio, the other being the timber rattlesnake. We didn't really see much growing at the fen except for skunk cabbage.
But, it gave us an opportunity to get out of the classroom and into the world of nature.