December 21, 2013

Late Fall at Buzzards Roost

Back in November we did another good winter hike in an area that was completely new to us. This was the 1300-acre Earl H. Barnhart Buzzards Roost Nature Preserve in Ross County near Chillicothe. This hike was particularly interesting to me since I went to high school in Chillicothe and had no idea that this natural area was so close. That, of course, was a very long time ago and it was private property then but I've remained unfamiliar with it until just a few weeks ago.

The Paint Creek Gorge is at the heart of this preserve, and the surrounding cliffs are quite dramatic:

Here is a view of Paint Creek in the valley below:

We hiked two trails at the preserve, starting with the South Point Lookout trail. It took us by an abandoned cabin; I loved playing in an old cabin in the woods behind our house when I was a child in Pennsylvania so I always take note of structures like this:

The area is known for its spring wildflowers, which of course were long gone by the time we visited. We saw hints of what is to come, though, including leaves of the cranefly orchid

and the puttyroot orchid.

Here is a spot where a buck scraped the ground to indicate its territory:

After lunch we went back to the preserve and did its other hike, the Hoggard Trail. We were fortunate to be accompanied by Joe Letsche, who is the naturalist at Buzzard's Roost. He is also a herpetologist and quite knowledgeable about animal tracks so it was great fun to hear what he had to say. We hiked back to a small pool that in the past has hosted marbled salamanders, one of the most attractive of Ohio's amphibians.

Readers might remember a post about several of Ohio's salamanders in early April. Those animals tend to do their courtship, mating and egg laying in the very early spring, in what are called vernal pools. These pools dry in the summer and fit the salamanders' needs because they don't support fish that would prey on their young.

Black with intricate white markings, the marbled salamander is an exception to that pattern. These animals breed in the fall, generally not in, but near vernal pools. The eggs are laid in a spot that will soon be inundated and the larvae overwinter in the pond and become adults in the spring. Meanwhile, after breeding the adults find shelter for the winter, generally in an old mouse burrow or other protected place.

So on our hike, we arrived at the woodland pool

and Joe used a net to explore the leaf litter in the pool to see if he could find any salamander larvae. It didn't take long! Clearly this was a very active marbled salamander breeding location. Here is one of the larvae, which was about an inch long:

This salamander is uncommon and its populations are widely scattered throughout the state. Most people, even those who spend a lot of time outdoors, have never seen it so it was great fun to get to see even its larval form.

Joe spent some time looking for any adults that might still be hanging around the pool, but didn't find any.

For more information about Buzzard's Roost and photos of it during the summer, check out the TrekOhio post here.


  1. How lovely -- thanks for posting this reminder of the world before snowfall. That's quite an unusual cabin with that big overhanging area. I fondly remember the cabin remains down the hill from our Mayfair house. I have a vague memory of a story of how a Bible had been saved in a shelf built into the chimney. We never found it and I have no idea where that story came from. I wonder who built that cabin. Our "woods" was made into a park after we left Mt. Lebanon but I wonder if anyone knows its history. I also have memories of a cabin near the Glenview Drive house in New Kensington that I thought was built by Johnny Appleseed. Am I inventing this out of my murky memory of that early time? I don't know.

  2. Thanks for your comment! I have no idea about a cabin near Glenview Drive! All I remember about that house is knocking down the Christmas tree. I've looked for info about what is now Bird Park in Mt. Lebanon and there isn't much about its history. There is a FB group called Mt. Lebanon Nature Conservancy--a group of volunteers that removes invasives, conducts species inventories and does education programs. Much of their work is in Bird Park.