Here in northwest Ohio we’ve been suffering through a drought for many weeks, so it was such a relief when we got a good soaking rain yesterday. And since my weekend plans changed at the last minute, I spent most of yesterday indoors, enjoying a lazy Saturday listening to the thunder and rain. But because of that, I really wanted to do some kind of outdoor activity today. So even though the rain showers continued off and on today, I decided to go explore a new-to-me nature preserve about a half hour drive south of here. And I’m so glad I did — I had a wonderful hike in the rain!
The place is called Collier State Nature Preserve. It’s a beautiful wooded 115 acres bordering the Sandusky River near Tiffin, Ohio. There are lots of pretty nature preserves and metroparks around here, but what made me want to see this place was when I heard that it had HILLS. That’s right, actual changes in elevation, as opposed to almost everywhere else within a couple hours drive here in the flatlands of Ohio. I grew up in southeastern Ohio, in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. Hilly terrain is where I feel most at home, and it’s where I find the most aesthetic appeal too. I haven’t been able to adjust to the endlessly flat scenery that I see in my daily life here — hundreds and hundreds of acres of corn and soybean fields in every direction. It’s not that I haven’t tried to find beauty in the flatness–I really do appreciate how the sunsets are so amazing here where there’s nothing to block the view. But I guess I just have a strong psychological bond to the hills.
So imagine my pleasure as I made the drive down there in the rain today, noticing that the roads were suddenly more hilly and scenic as I approached the preserve. I felt my breath slow and my body relax as I drove the narrow road with tall trees towering overhead on both sides. Because of the rain, everything was so fresh and green too. I just love the deep green of leaves when they’re wet, don’t you?
Also because of the rain, and maybe because of the remote location of this preserve, I was the only person there today. Yep, had the whole place all to myself.
It was pretty dark in the thick woods, so I didn’t manage to get many good pictures of the birds, but I took a few plant and insect pics and came home to identify them. One of the most interesting plants I saw was this one with the white berries. It’s called White Baneberry (Actaea pachypoda)–also known as Doll’s Eyes for obvious reasons–and it’s highly poisonous to humans. But birds can (and do) safely eat the berries.
I should say here that I’m doing my best to gather information about these plants from reliable sources (and provide links for you), but please do not eat anything based on my identification alone. I’m not an expert!
And then there was this other interesting cluster of berries, which I found out is called False Solomon’s Seal (Smilacina racemosa). These berries, however, are safe for humans to eat. These unripe berries are beige speckled with red, but they’ll be solid red when ripe. While researching this plant I discovered the blog of Tara Rose, an urban foraging expert based in Oregon. She’s written a very interesting post about False Solomon’s Seal if you care to pop over there and read it.
I have to admit to being a bit uncomfortable about going to this remote and unknown place alone. I’m always conscious of the potential dangers to a lone woman hiker, and in the past I’ve let that fear keep me from enjoying the outdoors as much as I wanted to. I’m trying to find a balance between responsible caution and confident fearlessness, if that makes sense. Maybe I’m finally at the point where I’m more afraid of missing out on a good experience than I am of the potential for danger.
When I pulled into the isolated parking lot today, this is the trail entrance I saw:
I hesitated for a few seconds and then decided to just go on in. And this is what I saw after I got around the first bend:
And shortly afterwards I came to the wooden stairs that would take me down the steep hill to the river:
It was so liberating to stand there among those giant trees, listening to the gentle sound of rain pattering on the leaves, knowing that I was completely alone. I felt so proud of myself that I took a selfie right then and there:
And here’s a 30-second video so you can hear the rain and birds in the woods:
Oh, I almost forgot a few more of the cool creatures I saw today. I don’t remember ever noticing this wasp before. In fact, when I first started noticing them today, I thought they were a dragonfly or damselfly. But as soon as I got a close look at one, I knew it was a wasp. And after I got home and consulted a field guide, I knew I had an American Pelecinid wasp. This female has such a long abdomen so she can probe in the soil for May beetle grubs and lay her eggs on them. When her larvae hatch, they feed on the beetle grubs as parasites.
You know, the more attention I pay to insects, the more I see how interesting they are. Each species plays a role in the ecosystem, using its unique adaptations to feed and reproduce using the available food sources. I can easily understand why some people decide to become entomologists — what an endlessly fascinating subject to study! It’s a shame so many of us think of insects as “creepy crawlies” or “things to be squashed.”
Speaking of things that some people find “creepy,” here’s a close up of one of those Turkey Vultures from the road after he flew into a tree right beside my car.
I find these birds so interesting, and it’s not often I get such a close view of one. Although a few years ago we had a program at my local Audubon meeting where we got to see a live Turkey Vulture brought in from a wildlife rehab place. This bird sat on the outstretched arm of its handler and spread those giant wings and I was shocked at how incredibly big it was. It’s one thing to read in your field guide that a bird has a 6-foot wingspan, but it’s another thing when you get to see that wingspan from a few yards away and feel the rush of air as it flaps those wings. I’ll never forget that day. In fact, any day that I get to see a bird up close is a privilege. Just as I mentioned about the insects, bird species have unique adaptations for their habitats and food sources too, and learning about them adds dimension to your experience of the world. At least I think it does…but you may still cringe at the sight of a Turkey Vulture….
And finally, no summer nature walk is complete without a butterfly picture, so here’s the beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail I found feeding alongside the road as I left the park.
So, have YOU been outside today?