Let’s Get You Aired Out!

I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently. ~Lewis Carroll

Icicles on my sunroom…pretty…for a short time.

Today was the first in a welcome string of warm days that will help melt the massive amount of snow that has accumulated here over the past two weeks. In fact, the forecast predicts that our temperature will climb above freezing every day for the next two weeks. I could jump for joy!

Some people love snow. I’m not one of them. Sure, I can appreciate the beauty of a fresh snow and the purifying feeling of breathing cold winter air. But I can do that for one or two days and then I’m done for the year. Once the pristine white snow has transformed into dirty ice chunks, I’m so over it.

One of the prairies at Wildwood Metropark, under a cerulean February sky

But despite those feelings, in most winters I manage to get myself outside regularly for birding or walking in the woods. Not so much this year. I partly blame my new jigsaw puzzle obsession, but I’ve settled into a routine of keeping myself busy indoors and not even thinking about venturing outside. But that’s not good for my physical or mental health, so I’m very grateful for this warmup. Today I skipped out early on a Zoom meeting so I could get myself out into the sunshine for a much-needed walk. As an old friend told me once, “Let’s get you aired out!”

I headed a couple miles down the road to my nearest metropark, Wildwood Preserve. This popular Toledo park has many miles of hiking and biking trails. It can get crowded on nice days like today, so I headed into the woods where I knew the trails would still be snow-covered and that would discourage most walkers. And aside from an immortal 20-something who went fearlessly jogging past me in the uneven snow, there was hardly anyone out there. And I had a wonderful time. I walked slowly and stopped often to look for barred owls and pileated woodpeckers. Both of these species nest in this park, so there’s a decent chance of running into them if you spend enough time to listen and look.

I didn’t find either of them today, but I found evidence of the pileated woodpeckers. These freshly-excavated holes appear to be slightly squarish, one of the signatures of a pileated woodpecker. Just a short distance past that first tree, I found some older holes that were definitely made by this species.

Freshly-excavated woodpecker feeding holes
Older pileated woodpecker holes — note the distinctly rectangular shape

In case you’re not familiar with this bird, it’s the largest woodpecker we have in this part of the world, measuring about 16-19″ long. It’s always a treat to see them, or even to hear their distinctive calls echoing through the woods.

This photo is a good comparison of the size of a pileated woodpecker to the white-breasted nuthatch on the other side of the tree. (Taken in my yard in 2014)

Although the pileateds were elusive today, I watched this much smaller female red-bellied woodpecker foraging up and down a tree snag. She was thorough in her inspection of every branch before flying off to try another.

Female red-bellied woodpecker possibly listening to the cawing of some crows nearby

There’s one particular section of this woodland trail that I especially like. As I come around a bend in the path, there’s a nice memorial bench on the right, and a deep ravine on the left. I often sit there just to listen to the rhythms of the woods — branches squeaking as they rub up against each other, tufted titmice calling out ‘peter-peter-peter!,’ and the water gurgling through the ravine.

I do like how shadows are longer at noon in the winter.

Long shadows just after noon today, due to the low angle of the sun in winter.

I came upon this scene, which I imagined to be fluffy snow cushions on tree stump chairs–perhaps in preparation for a meeting of the Woodland Critter Council?

And then a slightly odder sight…

The aftermath of a Saturday night Blue Jay kegger?

And you know I can’t finish without mentioning my first insect sighting of the new year — winter crane flies were out and about too.

My guess is winter crane fly, perhaps genus Trichocera

I’m glad I was able to motivate myself to get outside to enjoy this day. Even though I say I don’t like winter or snow, if I just give it a chance, there’s always something out there to appreciate. If you’re like me, I encourage you to give winter a chance too! #GetOutside #FindingTheJoy

And before I go, I’ll share this video from our Toledo Naturalists’ Association program this week. In 2014 I spent a week birding in Panama, and it was such a great experience that I invited the tour company to do a program for us. I thought it would be a great way to escape the snowy Ohio winter and pretend we were in the warmth of Central America looking at beautiful birds. So we took a one-hour virtual trip to Panama. During the past year I’ve had to overcome my strong reluctance to appear on camera, but I’ve come to terms with it now and think I did just fine. I hope you enjoy it. (Just pretend you don’t notice my pandemic non-haircut, LOL.)

A Familiar Place in the Off Season

This is the time of year when I start to grow impatient with the absence of the insects that occupy my interest in warmer seasons. Sometimes in winter I go to my favorite insect-hunting places and mope around dreaming of that day in the spring when I’ll see my first insect of the year and life will be exciting again.

That’s how I ended up at Wiregrass Metropark today. You may remember that this is the place where I spend a lot of time monitoring dragonflies in the summer. (You can read more about that and see pictures of this place in summer, here.) Today it was only 30 degrees, but I wanted to get some much-needed exercise, so I did three fast laps of the 0.6-mile trail that circles the lake. Well, two fast laps and one slightly slower one with a few stops to take photos. I consider that a good enough winter exercise day, don’t you?

Branches that protrude from the water are favorite perching spots for damselflies in the summer.

The lake is almost completely frozen. I stood staring down through the ice thinking about the dragonfly nymphs that will emerge from the water a few months from now to delight children and adults alike. I can’t wait.

But in the meantime, I thought it would be fun to share some winter photos of the park. And I’ll take this opportunity to share the news that Metroparks Toledo was recently given the 2020 National Gold Medal Award for excellence in parks and recreation management, the most prestigious honor in the parks and recreation industry. When I was deciding where to move during a transitional time in my life a few years ago, the metropark system in Toledo was what convinced me that I could have a great quality of life here. And as I expected, the parks have become a central part of my life. I have to stop myself right now, because I could start going on and on about the different parks and what I love about each one of them. I want to focus on Wiregrass today.

Here’s part of the trail that loops around the lake. My ode monitoring route divides the loop trail into 4 quadrants, and I count everything flying over the lake and across the trail for 12 meters from the lake edge. This portion of the trail is bordered with wildflower meadows containing native plants like boneset, black-eyed susans, cardinal flower, liatris, goldenrods, asters, and much more.

The fluffy seed heads of tall thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana)

There are five fishing platforms built along the west edge of the lake, and a kayak launch and fishing pier on the east side near the parking lot.

This is the smallest of the five fishing platforms. The water should be up to the base of the rocks.
The kayak launch/fishing pier are on the left of this photo.

Last summer’s drought lowered the water level so much that the exposed sandy bottom seemed like a 10-foot wide beach. This made it harder for me to find some of the damselflies, because they like to rest on the vegetation that emerges from the water near the shoreline, but most of that vegetation was absent last summer. I’m really hoping for a wetter spring to bring that water level back up this year. But that larger expanse of sand was prime hunting ground for tiger beetles last summer, and I had fun watching them run-stop-run as they chased their prey.

The south end of the lake is marked with signs that prohibit shoreline access, in an attempt to preserve habitat for the wildlife and rare plants that live here. Most people respect those rules, but one day I had to chase out some teenagers who took their horses in the lake in the protected area. It was all I could do to keep my cool while I tried to educate them about the damage those hooves were doing to the lake edges. They exited the lake but I heard them mocking me as they rode away, and I found out later that these particular kids have been an ongoing problem at Wiregrass. I’m just a volunteer, but I’m very protective of this particular property and don’t hesitate to call the park rangers when I see flagrant rule violations that are damaging the trails or habitats.

This end of the lake is where I find most of the dragonflies and damselflies each summer, probably because it’s the most open part of the shoreline. The north and west sides of the lake have dense tree and shrub growth between the trail and the lake edge, so I’m limited to finding odes resting on the woody vegetation. I’ve enjoyed seeing which species tend to spend time in the different habitats and microclimates around the lake.

Virginia mountain mint seed heads in winter — they still smell great!

For such a small park, Wiregrass Metropark seems to successfully cater to a variety of user groups. In addition to the walking trail, kayak launch, and fishing platforms, there are three primitive campgrounds tucked in the woods surrounding the lake. The paths to the campgrounds are lined with beautiful trillium flowers in early spring.

A primitive campground near the lake
Interesting patterns on the lake ice

The drupes of staghorn sumac feed the birds all winter long.

It was nice to spend some time exploring this familiar place in the off season. I definitely prefer it when there are more visible signs of plant and insect life, but it was nice to not have to share the park with other humans for a change. I saw a couple other people in the distance but didn’t cross paths with anyone, so it was peaceful and quite relaxing.

I find it interesting that we sometimes feel sad that we can’t be with other people, and other times we’re glad nobody else is around. I guess it often comes down to whether or not we have a choice in the matter, right? As with many things in life, if you have control over your situation, it’s easier to accept than if it’s forced upon you. Ah, we’re quite complicated creatures, aren’t we?

Have a great week, and I hope you get out in nature for some fresh air!

Brooding

As the days have ticked away on the countdown to Election Day, I’ve found my mood alternating between an almost breathless panic and an odd calm. I don’t sleep much, and when I do, I have nightmares. It’s unsettling, to say the least. This afternoon, unable to focus on the project I should be working on, I decided to go for a walk to clear my head.

The mood on the prairie at 3:30 this afternoon

I bundled up against the cold wind and headed for the prairie. With my earbuds tucked under my hat, listening to a soothing musical playlist, I quickly got lost in my thoughts. Before I knew it, I’d made several loops around one of my favorite trails. Not ready to come home yet, I stopped for a moment to sit on a bench and contemplate what might happen tomorrow, and how I might cope with each outcome.

I looked up, lifting my hand to shield my eyes from the bright sun, and was struck by the beauty of the clouds. I think this might be what’s called a mackerel sky, and if so, it’s supposed to be followed by changing weather. One can only hope so, at least when it comes to the political climate in this country. I know I’m not alone in being exhausted by the never-ending vitriol and chaos. I long for the days when we could go about our lives without having to worry every day about the next affront to decency and humanity coming from our own government.

Trees reaching for the clouds

We may not know the outcome of the election for days or even weeks, but whatever it is, I hope there will be some way for us to begin healing. I hope our leaders will begin to lift us all up together. I hope we can mend the torn relationships with friends and family.

I hope…because without hope, all is lost.

I leave you with a short video that I’ve titled, hopefully, “The Winds of Change.”