Monday, March 28, 2011

Scarlet Elf Caps

Scarlet elf caps (Sarcoscypha coccinea) are mushrooms associated with the division Ascomycota collectively known as the cup fungi.  Members of this division are characterized by the presence of an ascus or cup-shaped reproductive structure that produces spores which can be spread by wind.  They are brightly colored ranging from orange to yellow to red and have short, stout bodies.  Elf caps reproduce in early spring and can be found growing in leaf litter on rich wooded hillsides soils. This individual has a reddish-orange ascus and is the diameter of a quarter.  It was growing on a hillside under sugar maple, american elm and basswood trees and appears to be an older specimen. 


Friday, March 25, 2011

Spotted Salamanders

Unlike the majority of salamander species native to the Captina Creek watershed the spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) does not reside in stream habitat, but instead prefers upland vernal pools. Spotted salamanders are members of the mole salamander family along with Jefferson salamanders (Ambystoma jeffersonianum) and the marbled salamanders (Ambystoma opacum) which also occur in eastern Ohio.  Few people ever see mole salamander adults due to their fossorial lifestyles.  Adult spotted salamanders may spend 50 weeks out of a year in an underground burrow emerging breifly only to migrate to pools to breed.  More commonly encountered are the eggs and larvae inhabiting wooded vernal pools located on undisturbed hillsides. Adults emerge with the first warm rains of early spring an migrate en masse to home pools where they will stay for 2-3 weeks.  After breeding the adults will exit pools and return underground in mammal burrows or under large rocks and logs.  Though the spotted salamander probably resides throughout the entire watershed region populations seem most prevelant in western areas.  More sampling needs to be done in eastern tributaries to try to fill in the void.

A cluster of spotted salamander eggs recently deposited in a
small pond in Wayne township.  Females will attach the masses
to underwater vegetation often in large "rafts" similar to those
of the wood frog.

A spotted salamander adult.  Adults range from 6-9" in length
A characteristic shared by the mole salamanders is a thick,
stocky body with pronounced costal grooves on each side. 

A closeup view of a spotted egg mass.  The mass consists of
individual eggs clustered inside of a gelatinous protective
covering.  The mass is spherical in shape as well.

Not the greatest picture due to glare but the white clumps on
the pool bottom may be spermatophores deposited by males
which are then picked up by females using their cloacas.  Once
fertilized internally the eggs are deposited by females on
submerged vegetation. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mountain Chorus Frogs Emerge

The first mountain chorus frogs (Pseudacris brachyphona) of the season were heard chorusing yesterday in a small ephemeral pool in Wayne township.  Mountian chorus frogs are cousins to the more widely distributed spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) and western chorus frog (Pseudacris triseriata) in Ohio and represent a branch of the treefrog community.  Generally speaking their range is restricted to upland slopes of the unglaciated hill country of southeastern Ohio.  Local populations seem to prefer shallow upland pools in ditches, tire ruts and depressions that are not influenced by heavy flows of spring water and are south facing.  Their vocalizations are often compared to the sound made by running a finger down the edge of a fine-toothed comb and have considerable carrying power under the right conditions.  Mountain chorus frogs often use the same breeding pools as wood frogs and american toads.  Thanks to Ted for the opportunity to observe a new population.

Great habitat for mountain chrous frogs congregations in spring.
Runoff has been dammed by a waterbar placed on this hillside
to control erosion.  Shallow pools are preferred as long as they
don't dry out too quickly later in the spring.  Wood frog egg masses
were also observed at this site. 

An adult male mountain chorus frog.  Note the reverse
parenthesis on the back and dark triangle between the eyes.
Their small size cryptic color pattern make them nearly
impossible to locate in pools, even when chorusing.

Side profile of the same male.  Note the light line on the upper
lip.  Believe it or not this guy has a booming voice for his size. 

Can you find the chorus frog against this background?
Most predators can't either - a testament to the
frog's cryptic color pattern and small size.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Eastern Red Spotted Newt

The Eastern Red Spotted Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) has one of the most complex life cycles of any organism in the eastern deciduous forest.  The newt begins life as a larval resident of long-cycle vernal pools and semi-permanent ponds then, after one to two years of growth, takes to land as an immature "eft" for a period  of up to several years.  The eft stage is then followed by a return to the organism's native pool as an aquatic adult where it will spend the rest of its life.  Adult newts have dark brown to olive dorsal base color with bright red spots and a tan to cream ventral color.  Efts are smaller in length than adults with bright to dull orange base color and red dorsal spots. They are most commonly encountered on upland forested slopes following heavy rain events in summer months and can travel considerable distances from home pools.  Time wise, breeding activity of newts aligns with spotted salamanders and wood frogs so now would be a good time to observe.

A pair of adult newts doing the "hula dance".  Males (on top)
will grasp females and present a wiggling motion.  If the female
is impressed, the male will then deposit a spermatophore in front
of her on the pool floor which she can then decide to pick up
thus completing fertilization internally.  This female looks
like a recent metamorph due to her orangish base color
which will darken with age.

Long-cycle pools and ponds can have large populations
of newts.  Seven adults occupy roughly two square feet
of pool bottom in this photo.
An older eft found under a rock ledge.  Note the orangish base
color and red spots.  Recently metamorphosed efts often appear
much brighter orange.  A good time to find efts is during heavy
rains that follow dry spans in summer months. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Wood Frog Activity Peaks

Amazingly, wood frog (Rana sylvatica) activity in vernal pools is nearly finished in southeastern Belmont County for this season.  Breeding populations have vanished almost as quickly as they appeared a little over a week ago.  Wood frogs are notorious for arriving poolside in large numbers on short notice, then disappearing shortly thereafter into upland forests to forage for the remainder of the growing season.  With such a short window of pool time, witnessing a peaking chorus requires observation of key environmental conditions and a little experience.  Next up in local vernal pools is the more familiar spring peeper (Psuedacris crucifer) which was heard chorusing throughout the southern end of the county last night.

A chorusing male wood frog in a vernal pool.  Males will float
in a section of pool as they call females.  This pool contained
five chorusing males but the presence of several egg masses
suggests peak breeding occurred last weekend.  Vocalizations
sound like ducks and have little carrying power.  Note the
"robber's mask" passing through the eye and paired dorso-
lateral folds on the back. 

These guys are hard to sneak up on in broad daylight!  Another
male in the same pool.  Note the bars on the hind legs.  This
guy is getting ready to head for cover.

Wood frogs exhibit much variability in color which is not a good
characterisitic for identification.  This is the tan phase which
blends in well with clay soils.  In pools with little vegetative
cover, individuals will try to burrow into the muddy bottom
face-first to escape detection.  Not sure how well this works
to fool snakes and other predators.

More wood frog egg masses.  Amplexed pairs will lay masses
communally which conserves heat thereby accelerating
development.  These guys are in a race against time to complete
metamorphasis into froglets before the pool dries out in early July.
Rate of development is largely dependent on water temperature.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Spring Unofficially Begins

The first wood frog (Rana sylvatica) activity of the season was observed this past Saturday at a small wooded pool in Mead Township as temperatures climbed into the low 60's.  The arrival of wood frogs is usually a good indication of winter's demise along with bluebirds, coltsfoot and red-winged blackbirds.  The next 60 degree day could bring out the first chorus frogs (peepers).  Wood frogs can be tricky to locate due to their weak vocalizations which are barely audible 100 ft from pools in quietest conditions.  Breezy conditions like those of this past Saturday can easily drown out a chorus at short distances.  Wood frogs are notorious for being the first frogs to breed in late winter in eastern Ohio often arriving poolside by the dozens then disappearing into the surrounding woods before most other species begin chorusing.  A large pool with a good population can yield 20-30 clutches of eggs per season with 300-500 eggs per clutch.

A globular mass of wood frog eggs deposited
in the shallow end of a wooded pool.  The mass
is approximately fist-sized and appears to be a
few days old due to its swollen appearance. 

Another mass from the same pool that was deposited more
recently.  As the eggs enter the water they begin to swell
from about the size of a quarter to fist size in a couple of days.
Larvae will hatch in 1-2 weeks depending on water temperature.
Amplexed pairs will choose the warmest areas of the pool to
deposit eggs which is usually in a shallow area exposed to the
A photo from a previous post of an adult wood frog for reference.
Wood frogs appear in a variety of earth tone colors from
dark brown to tan to grayish but all have a dark band passing
through each eye (robber's mask), parallel dorsal folds and
distinct banding on each leg.  Adults range from 2-2.5 inches
from snout to vent in length.

Monday, March 14, 2011

River Flood Recap

Following a week of two heavy rain events on saturated grounds the Ohio River crested Saturday evening at Powhatan Point at 38.5 feet, 1.5 ft. above flood stage.  Minor flooding was observed in low-lying areas near the mouth of Captina Creek.  A calmer weather pattern is forecast for this week with a warming trend towards weeks end.  Below are some photos taken Saturday afternoon preceding the crest. 

Looking north toward Cove Road from the beginning of SR 148.
The entire floodplain of Captina is submerged.  If you weren't
from the area you may mistake this as the Ohio River itself.
Looking downstream from the Steinersville bridge toward
Clair-Mar golf course.
West greens of Clair-Mar.
Clair-Mar golf course
A gauge of water depths.  This sycamore tree is on the original
creek bank.  It is submerged in at least 8-10' of water.
At 1:00pm Saturday the creek was encroaching on the SR 7
bridge and the edge of SR 148 in the foreground. 
Water street along Captina in Powhatan is aptly named!
The Powhatan marina viewed from Water Street. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Next Captina Creek Watershed Stakeholders Group meeting set

The next public watershed stakeholders meeting is set for Monday March 21st 6:30 pm at the Municipal Building in Shadyside, Ohio.  The focus of this meeting will be on identifying solutions for known impairments in the Captina Creek watershed region.  Public participation is encouraged.  The municipal building is located at 50 E. 39th Street in Shadyside.

River Flood Update

Two soaking rain events over the past six days have depsosited over three inches of rainfall in the watershed area causing most streams to rise to bank full levels.  Prior to this week, melting snowfall in mid-February combined with late February rainfall primed soils in the Ohio Valley for river flooding.  River flooding is different from flash flooding in that it develops slowly and only affects floodplain near stream confluences with the Ohio River.  Because of its low-lying elevation, Powhatan Point routinely experiences river flooding in areas close to the mouth of Captina Creek.  According to the hydrograph issued by the NWS at 8 am this morning the Ohio River is expected to crest at Powhatan Point below major flood stage at 40.9ft (flood stage 37ft.).   At a level of 40 ft. the SR 7 bridge crossing Captina Creek begins to submerge disrupting a major travel artery along the Ohio River.  *If the current predicted crest holds, this would be the fifth highest river crest in recorded history at Powhatan Point.  Monitor updated forecasts on the crest by clicking on the NWS advanced hydrologic prediction link on the right side of the page.

*Edit:  After doing a little research on record crests of the Ohio River at Powhatan, I began to realize the NWS top five on the advanced hydrologic prediction page for Powhatan is not accurate. For a better perspective on the matter click Wheeling Hydrograph Data and scroll down on the left side of the page.

  The latest predicted crest for the Ohio River at Powhatan Point
is 40.9 ft. just below major flood status but nowhere close
to the all-time record set in the great 1936 flood. 
*Interestingly, the next four highest crests after 1936 have
all occurred in the last fifteen years.  (See edit above)
Note: kcfs=kilo cubic feet/second!!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Late Winter Flowering Plants

Warmer days with longer photoperiods are starting to bring about changes to the forest floor, especially on south facing slopes.  Perennial wildflowers are beginning to emerge below the leaf litter as tiny leafless shoots.  Most persons who frequent the woods of eastern Ohio have witnessed showy herbaceous spring foliage displays consisting of trillium, fire pink, larkspur, bloodroot and numerouos other species.  However, there are a few species of wildflower that appear before the main color event of spring.  These early bloomers often flower before the first official day of spring and take advantage of abundant sunlight reaching the forest floor that will be greatly reduced when the majority of mid-spring foliage emerges.

Hepatica (Hepatica americana) is a resident of deciduous forests that goes largely unnoticed due to its size and early flowering period.  In most cases flowering stalks of this plant only reach 2-3" barely enough to poke out of dense leaf litter on the forest floor.  The tiny flowers can range in color from purple to blue to white and consist of six petals and a yellowish pistil surrounded by numerous yellow stamens.  Leaf margins can be either pointed or rounded.

Another early bloomer in eastern Ohio is the non-native Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara).  A native to northern Europe, this small wildflower was brought to America by European settlers and over time has naturally integrated into the landscape.  Coltsfoot is abundant along roadsides, in waste areas and on south facing rocky slopes and resembles a dandelion with a thick stalk.  The flower is the first part of the plant to emerge with leaves following after blooming.  Coltsfoot can spread quickly by way of creeping underground rhizomes and by seeds that are dispersed by wind.

Coltsfoot on a well exposed south facing slope.  Note the lack
of any leaves which will emerge after the flowers mature.  Seems
to prefer dry, rocky soils.

Hepatica blooming in the final week of winter, 2004.
Look for this perennial on sunny slopes that are
moist with a good layer of topsoil

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Spring Not Far Off

Sunday's unexpected 60 degree warmth hinted that spring is not that far off.  Male bluedirds were observed singing on the margins of two fields and shoots of the usual early spring flowers are begining to emerge from the soil.  No wood frogs or chorus frogs were observed at a reliable vernal pool suggesting that wintry weather may not be done just yet.  Seasonal temperatures are forecast for this week with a gradual warmup toward the weekend.  The next sixty degree day could signal the mass emergence of early season  frogs and Ambystoma salamanders, especially if the warmth is accompanied by heavy rains as was the case Sunday night.  Some species to keep an eye out for over the next couple of weeks:
eastern bluebird
wood frog
spring peeper
spotted salamander
jefferson salamander
round-lobed hepatica
rue anemone
cut leaf toothwort
skunk cabbage