May 1, 2014

Spring in Ohio's Adams County

Spring has always been a quite a whirlwind for us in Ohio, thanks to our desire to see all the returning warblers and other birds as migration progresses. Now that we have become just as enthusiastic about discovering wildflowers and butterflies that appear as winter finally recedes, things have become even more hectic, but in a very good way!

Last week we set out to the south to check out spring in southern Ohio, and then headed for Great Smoky Mountain National Park. What a great place! And it deserves a blog post of its own so stay tuned. From there we spent some time with friends at Cumberland Falls State Park in Kentucky and had a great time birding, hiking and botanizing. Friday found us back in Ohio to attend the Ohio Ornithological Society's (OOS) 10th anniversary conference. The meeting itself was at Shawnee State Park in Scioto County, but we spent much of our time in adjacent Adams County, which is one of the most biologically diverse counties anywhere.

Adams County is quite interesting botanically because it has both forested slopes and bluffs and open cedar barrens over limestone bedrock. Many of these areas are now nature preserves and have trails that give access to hikers.

Early in our trip we stopped at a preserve right north of the Ohio River called The Ohio River Bluffs. Owned by the Arc of Appalachia, an excellent land conservation organization, it features amazing displays of woodland wildflowers throughout the spring. Our hike around the preserve featured slopes absolutely covered by dwarf larkspur and Virginia bluebells:

Pictures can't really do this place justice--it was fantastic.

On our way to the conference we also stopped by Whipple State Nature Preserve, which is also just north of the Ohio River in Adams County. Among many other wildflowers it had incredible displays of celandine poppy

and lots of red drooping trillium (Trillium flexipes):

We had never been to Whipple before and it was amazing. All sorts of interesting rock formations added lots of interest, including this slump rock that was covered by a delicate wildflower called miterwort:

One of our field trip destinations with our OOS group was a cedar barren in Adams County. These are fascinating and rare habitats that occur on very thin soils underlain by limestone. We visited another one of these glades after the conference and I want to share some of what we saw at these unusual destinations.

Often called "pocket prairies", the Adams County cedar barrens support some of the rarest plants in Ohio and few if any non-native invasive species. In late summer they will support colorful blooming plants such as prairie dock, blazing star, purple coneflower, orange milkweed and many others, as well as native grasses such as Indian grass and big bluestem. We have visited these areas often at that time of year, but we were curious to see what they looked like in the spring. 

Here is an overview of one of the prairies that we visited:

Grasses dominate the open area, which is surrounded by forest supporting woody species such as red cedar, redbud, dogwood and tuliptree. Red cedar is one of the first trees to gain a foothold in these prairie areas and it hosts some interesting animals including this prairie warbler which spent most of the day belting out its ascending call:

That is a sound that we wouldn't hear during a late summer visit! Now these warblers have just returned from the south, are proclaiming their territories and attracting mates. They are also found in small pines but seem to do quite well in the woody, partially open areas with red cedar in Adams County.

Red cedar is a host plant for one of Ohio's most beautiful butterflies, the tiny juniper hairstreak:

As I've mentioned before, hairstreaks have antennae-like projections on their hindwings that fool potential preditors into attacking the butterfly on its wings. As can be seen in the inset photo, even when part of a wing is missing the hairstreak can still survive.

Spring also brings some colorful wildflowers to the cedar barrens, such as this hoary puccoon

and this paintbrush.

We saw lots of butterflies taking advantage of the sunny day, including the lovely gemmed satyr that was in the forest edges

and several black swallowtails.

I nearly fell over when I looked at this picture and realized that it was decent, because this zebra swallowtail was constantly in motion laying her eggs on the very tender new leaves of the pawpaw trees in the forest near the cedar glade. She seemed to be laying them singly, and barely stopped during the process. It fascinates me that butterflies know to lay their eggs in the perfect spot for the young caterpillars to feed. 

Several of these cedar barrens have been preserved by a collaboration between the Cincinnati Museum Center and the Ohio Chapter of the Nature Conservancy. This amazing partnership has preserved 16,000 acres in Adams County as the Richard and Lucile Durrell Edge of Appalachia Preserve SystemChaparral Prairie State Nature Preserve and Adams Lake State Park are other places at which visitors can see the pocket prairie habitat.

One of the last stops on our OOS field trip was a cliff along the Ohio River that is the northern limit of a plant called cross vine. This is the only place it occurs in Ohio and its blooms are truly stunning:

It climbs up sheer cliffs with tendrils that take advantage of any slight crack or depression in the rock:

Visiting Adams County's nature preserves was a wonderful part of our fun weekend at the OOS conference at Shawnee State Park. Many thanks to the organizers and field trip leaders for a job well done!


  1. An excellent post! It was wonderful to see some Adams County specialities through your eyes.

  2. I want to go hiking with you and Bill! These photos take my breath away.

  3. Terrific Deb! You really got some great photos. :)

  4. Your photos are terrific and after some recent trips to Adams County it is very fun to read the tale of another traveler, to see what was there, in another season. Thank you so much for sharing. Love the photo of the warbler.