March 12, 2013

Finally, a Warm Weekend!

After a (literally) heavy snowfall last week, the weekend was sunny and warm. What a welcome change! A couple of lovely flowers and even a butterfly greeted us as we checked out some Ohio nature preserves.

Miller Nature Sanctuary was our first stop, which is located west of Bainbridge adjacent to the Highlands Nature Sanctuary property, which in turn is part of the Arc of Appalachia Preserve System. The Arc is an amazing collection of natural areas which includes the old Seven Caves property, now part of Highlands Nature Sanctuary. 

Seven Caves was a commercial operation featuring beautiful trails through hardwood forest along Rocky Fork Creek and a series of dolomite caves that were lit up with signs calling various formations names like "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". The caves are now unwired and closed to the public (see the Seven Caves link above), but the botanical treasures and scenic beauty here are just amazing.

I can remember visiting this beautiful property with my dad and sister when I was in high school soon after moving to Ohio and it has been quite gratifying to see it preserved and incorporated in to the Arc.

Anyway, we had a delightful hike and it was punctuated by the appearance of a Mourning Cloak butterfly, a welcome sight for early March! I mentioned in a previous post that we saw a tattered specimen on a warm day in January, but this one was gorgeous:

While it is not a surprise to see this butterfly this early since they overwinter as adults and tend to fly whenever there is a warm winter day, it is always a welcome sight!

Another interesting critter that we saw was this Red Velvet Mite:

Mites are arachnids, as are spiders, but they are usually much smaller than this. Apparently, though, in Asia there are much larger Red Velvet Mites and people extract an oil from them which has been called "Indian Viagra". It pretty much cracks me up to think that it would occur to anyone to use mite oil as an aphrodisiac! Stranger things have been ingested  I suppose (at least I assume that it is ingested--no details were given in this link!).

Our main objective for this weekend was to see one of the very earliest spring wildflowers, Harbinger of Spring, and we were not disappointed. We spotted a few of them at Miller Sanctuary, and we were surprised at how tiny they are--each flower cluster is smaller than a dime!

Another name for this plant is Pepper and Salt. From a distance the anthers look like black specks, but a close look reveals their beautiful purple color.

Miller Sanctuary has a very nice arch in the dolomite rock along the trail

and some pretty waterfalls in tributaries along the Rocky Fork Gorge:

From Miller Sanctuary we drove a few miles to Fort Hill, another part of the Arc of Appalachia, which has a total of 11 miles of trails. This archaeological site is well known for its fabulous spring wildflowers which can best be seen on a fairly challenging four mile hike along the Gorge Trail which follows Baker Fork:

Nothing was in bloom but we were excited to see the leaves of a really cool native plant called the Crane Fly Orchid, which blooms in the summer:

The single leaf, green on top and purple on the underside, persists all winter, enabling the plant to store enough energy to bloom.

We didn't have time to do the entire trail so we turned around here:

This weekend we also visited a few other places, mainly looking for Snow Trillium but we were probably a week or two early for that, and just saw one in bud. Last year flowers bloomed quite a bit earlier than is typical; this appears to be a more normal year.

Caesar Creek State Park and Caesar Creek Gorge State Nature Preserve near Dayton are well worth a visit. One of the coolest things here is that with a free permit, easily obtained at the park's U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Visitor's Center, you can collect awesome 400 million year old Ordovician fossils in the emergency spillway below the dam. For more information and great photos head over to TrekOhio at this link. We skipped the opportunity to fossil hunt (having several stashes of the fossils in our basement already!) and hiked the trail through the nature preserve along Caesar Creek, which was flowing rapidly thanks to the melting snow:

Again, nothing much was in bloom, but this small tree had me scratching my head trying to identify it:

Looking at the leaf scars I could see that they were directly opposite each other on the twigs, which in Ohio narrows things down to maple, ash, dogwood and buckeye ("MAD Buck" is how you can remember that!). The flowers weren't right for maple, and the twigs and buds weren't right for ash and buckeye, but it sure didn't look like any dogwood with which I'm familiar. 

I sent the picture to my ultimate tree authority (thanks, Steve!) who identified it as Corneliancherry Dogwood, which is native to Europe, but which is a really nice ornamental tree thanks to its flowers, bright red fruit and fall color. Legend has it that its dense, hard wood was used to build the Trojan Horse! I don't know how it got to this nature preserve but it certainly was a lovely sight on a late winter day.

Glen Helen, in Yellow Springs, is another preserve with fine hiking trails and wonderful scenery. The rocks here weather into brick-like blocks, producing interesting formations along the edges of the gorge.

After Glen Helen we stopped by John Bryan State Park for a hike along the Little Miami River. 

This will be another prime wildflower spot in few weeks. We did see some tantalizing leaves of the Putty-root Orchid, so we'll be back! 

The limestone rock formations were awesome and I loved the abundance of Walking Fern:

As these ferns grow, the individual fronds become more and more pointy till they may extend 6 inches or more. When they touch another spot on the rock they root and form a new plant, which is one of the more interesting examples of vegetative reproduction in the plant world.

All day we saw a lot of evidence of recent beaver activity:

When we got home, thanks to Daylight Savings Time the sun was still shining and we were greeted by these lovely crocuses, which had burst into bloom while we were gone:

From the end of March through perhaps October, Ohio will be awash in gorgeous wildflowers, butterflies, birds and other critters in one habitat or another. We'll keep you informed so stay tuned to Around the Bend!

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed your descriptions of the nature preserves and your photography (oh, and thanks for the link!). The MAD BUCK mnemonic was new to me, but I liked it and it will help me identify trees.

    I've seen photos of Harbinger of Spring, but I hadn't seen the plant myself, so I didn't know how tiny the flower was.

    Bob and I stopped by Pickerington Pond today to view the heronry. We also saw a osprey in the area. So it was fruitful that way, but the cold started seeping into me after a while. I guess I was rushing the season and should have been wearing a heavier coat. I'm definitely ready for spring.