Friday, April 29, 2011

Spring Flowers Part III

Continuing with Part III of common spring wildflowers inhabiting the Captina Creek watershed.  Cool damp conditions are slowing progression of herbaceous plants on the forest floor.  The overstory canopy is beginning to fill in, but is being slowed as well by the weather conditions.

Blue phlox favors roadsides cutting through forests and
exposed sunny banks.  Color ranges from deep purple
to bluish white.  Often found growing with trilliums,
wild geraniums and larkspur.

Dutchmens breeches.  Favors deep rich soils on shady
wooded hillsides.  Can sometimes carpet an entire slope
if conditions are favorable.

A mix of wild geraniums (light purple) and larkspur (dark purple).
Unlike dutchmens breeches, these wildflowers prefer sunny
south-facing wooded slopes with sometimes shallow soils.
Of the two, wild geraniums seem to be more prevalent
around the watershed - possibly a testament to their

Wild mint prior to flowering.  Prefers shady wooded slopes
with rich moist soils.  Leaves have a very aromatic scent.
Flowers are small and white and clustered near the base of

Virginia bluebells, another inhabitant of rich moist wooded
slopes.  Tends to grow in clusters of several dozen plants
per patch.  Also, has large fleshy leaves for an early spring
flower with smooth margins

Common wood sorrel.  A small flowering plant that is easily
overlooked.  Grows on wooded banks above streams and in
other moist areas.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Spring Flowers Part II

The second installment of common spring wildflowers currently flowering in eastern Ohio.  It's been a cool damp spring so far which has delayed the development of certain species.

Bloodroot, named for bright red pigments stored in
underground rhizomes which nourish the plant as it flowers.  The
flower of bloodroot precedes leaf development which
can be seen at the base of the stalk.  Energy made in the
leaf throughout the growing season will be stored in the
rhizome and used to fuel next year's flowering. 

A species of saxifrage.  No more than two inches tall these tiny
plants favor soils around shale and siltstone outcrops on
steep wooded hillsides.

A cluster of trout lillies.  Note the shiny, mottled  appearance
of the leaves.

The flower of twinleaf somewhat resembles that of bloodroot
but there are distinct differences in the leaves.  Twinleaf
leaves have two adjacent lobes per stalk with smooth margins.
Also I have found that twinleaf seams to prefer cooler shady
wooded slopes while bloodroot prefers sunny well exposed

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Vernal Pool Restoration Update

You may recall that last November, four vernal pools were restored and a field choked with invasive autumn olive and multiflora rosebush was cleared on a section of private property in Goshen Township.  This morning I had a chance to check on the progress of the reclaimed site and have to say things are looking good.

Vernal pool 4 in November 2010.

The same pool now viewed from the opposite end.  Of all the
restored pools this one most closely resembles a permanent
pond and is two to three feet in depth.

Pool 1 before.

Pool one now.  It will be interesting to see how much water is
retained once the heavy rainfall of late decreases.   There is
a strong current moving through all of the pools right now.

To everyone's surprise  clusters of what appear to be spotted
salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) eggs appearing already.
These eggs were probably deposited in late March.

Pool 3 - Perfect amphibian habitat, this pool is only a foot
deep at most and very broad with good access to afternoon

Evidence of recent heavy rainfall.  The dam head of this pool
has been washed out.  I think this is an improvement because
the pool was too deep to begin with.  If a pool becomes too deep
the water will have trouble heating thus slowing growth
of amphibian and macroinvertebrate larvae.  A silt bar formed from
erosion behind the main dam head now retains the pool at a
shallower depth.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Spring Flowers Part I

Recent rains have brought the forest floor to life in the Captina Creek watershed bolstering plant growth which has blanketed the ground in a carpet of green.  Early herbaceous plants are trying to quickly cycle before the forest canopy closes later in May blocking the majority of sunlight from reaching the ground.  Below is Part I of a who's who list of the early spring bloomers I have witnessed so far.  The nice thing about these species is that they are widely occuring so anyone with access to a small woodlot can enjoy, but act fast because these plants don't flower for long.

Small but colorful, bluets occur in clusters of 10-20 stems per
bunch.  Prefers open pastures and meadows.

Rue anemone poking out of the leaf litter.  Stalks are
usually 4-5" in height.

The tiny but common spring beauty.  Flowers range from white
to shades of pink and purple.  The root or corm of the plant
is edible but given its tiny size, probably not worth the time
to collect and process. 

Another common inhabitant - the trout lily.  Favors wooded
slopes with rich soils and has a mottled green leaf with a shiny
smooth appearance.  Leaves tend to lay close to the ground
with only the flowering stalk raising above the forest floor. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pickerel Frogs

Pickerel frogs (Rana palustris) are early season inhabitants of cool bottomland ponds, long-cycle vernal pools and quiet pools along slow moving streams often emerging after wood frog activity ceases in late March.  Though their ranges overlap in eastern Ohio competition rarely occurs due to preference for differing habitat, with wood frogs favoring warmer upland mid-cycle vernal pools.  One of the more colorful anurans in eastern Ohio, pickerel frogs sport a copper base with chocolate parallel squares dorsally and a bright yellow wash on the underside of each leg.  Male vocalizations are likened to rubbing a wet hand over a balloon and have little carrying power.  Pickerel frogs are known for their tendency to stray large distances from water in the summer months often appearing in backyards, upland wooded slopes and damp fields. 

Adult pickerel frog.  In some cases the dorsal chocolate blotches
blend together appearing as parallel lines.  Northern leopard
frogs (Rana pipiens) somewhat resemble pickerel frogs except
they have less dorsal blotching that is more circular than
rectangular and more green integrated into the base color.  
Leopard frgs are rarely encountered in the watershed area.

A pickerel frog egg mass.  The mass structure closely resembles
that of the wood frog however I have noted individual cells in
wood frog masses appear overall larger in diameter than pickerel
frog.  Another characterstic to consider is habitat when
distinguishing between the two as discusssed above. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

American Toads

There may not be a more familiar amphibian by sight than the homely American toad (Bufo americanus).  Easily identified by its stout body, warty skin with large parotoid glands on the rear of the head and speckled underside the American toad is a staple of vernal and ephemeral pools statewide.  So adaptable is this amphibian that extensive surveying would probably reveal specimens from the majority of sections of each township in the watershed area. 

The American toad has an advantage over other amphibians in its ability to adapt to a variety of environmental conditions such as increased pollution, development and agriculture.  Adults often wander into suburbia and may breed in backyard birdbaths and ornamental watergardens as long as vehicle traffic (a major threat to migrating adults) is not too extensive.  Adults usually emerge with the first 70+ degree weather of early April and chorus into mid-May.   Male vocalizations are in the form of a high-pitched trill lasting 10-20 seconds and a shorter territorial chirping emitted between competing individuals in a pool.  Large evening choruses are one of the most pleasant signs of spring in eastern Ohio.  Eighty degree temperatures this past Sunday followed by a mild rainy Monday night brought out toads in large numbers.  Look for chorusing males or strings of eggs in local vernal pools and roadside ditches.  American toads seem to prefer (but are not limited to) similar habitat to mountain chorus frogs and wood frogs.

American toads in amplexus.  Fertilization of eggs occurs
externally.  Males are generally smaller in size than females
and have enlarged thumbs on their forelimbs during the spring
for easier grasping.  Eggs are deposited by females in long
strings and can number in the thousands in larger pools. 

Males will aggressively compete for anything that resembles a
female in a pool, even a piece of carpet!  The forelimb grip of
a male is surpisingly strong considering their size.  As in wood
frogs coloration varies widely ranging from tan to olive to maroon.