Manatees at Wakulla State Park, Florida

While attending the recent Natural Areas Conference in Tallahassee, Florida, naturalist William Hudson and I took a little side trip to Leon Sinks, and then to Wakulla State Park.  Wakulla Springs is the largest and deepest spring in the world, with a flow rate of something like 400,000 gallons per minute of water coming up from the aquifer and creating a river.

The landscape in the park is pristine.  It has never been logged or abused.  There is great wildlife and plant diversity.  If you have seen the old Tarzan movies, or The Creature from the Black Lagoon, you know what Wakulla looks and sounds like.

The only disappointment is the aquifer has become nutrient enriched due to land use and wastewater.  The nutrients cause the spring to be green and less clear.  The water used to be crystal clear and you could see in further, but even now it is a wonderful sight to behold. While we were there, we took a little boat ride ($8 per person) and explored the river a bit.

While on the boat, we observed numerous large and small alligators, including the ones pictured here.

Alligators at Wakulla Springs

Alligators at Wakulla Springs

There were also scores of  Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus), Grebes, Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga), Ibis…well, you get the point.  It was just great. But the coolest thing of all was that there were manatees everywhere.  We got up close, but none of my pictures really captured the grace of the creatures.  I was able to capture some video from a deck above the spring itself.  Ignore the audio, which is just Bill and I having random conversation, but here are two video clips of the Sea Cows playing in the spring.

 

In search of the elusive Massasauga Rattlesnake

The federal candidate species Massasauga Rattlesnake

A rare Massasauga Rattlesnake found during a scientific survey in northern Ohio

Working with conservationists, biologists, naturalists and other Nature-loving folks has lots of advantages.  A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be invited to attend a small expedition to count and measure Massasauga Rattlesnakes (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus) in northeast Ohio.  Because these snakes are a candidate for the federal endangered species list, you can’t just go out and catch them.  You have to have a permit.  So, it was a real treat to get invited along on this little excursion into the wild.

These small rattlesnakes are reclusive and generally hang out in wet meadows and forest edges near wet meadows or old fields.  They do not move far, so the populations of Massasaugas are fairly localized.  That means that if you wipe out the hibernation habitat for these snakes, they will not persist in the area, and rattlesnakes from other populations are not likely to immigrate to fill the void.

According to Herpetologist Greg Lipps, gravid (pregnant) females do not go more than 40 meters from their hibernation spot.  That means that if you find a gravid female like the one in the photo above, you are in the breeding habitat for the Massasauga.  These areas are key for conservation.

There aren’t many of these snakes left, and there aren’t many places where they still thrive.  Conserving the right habitat in the right places is critical to the future of these snakes in Ohio. Greg helps groups like Western Reserve land Conservancy and agencies like the Ohio Department of Natural Resources inventory and understand these fascinating creatures.  Much of the habitat preserved for the Massasauga recently by these groups has been due to Greg’s scientific pursuits.  He tags the snakes with small electronic tags, takes blood samples, weighs them,  and replaces them in the exact spot they were collected from.  His data and knowledge have substantially advanced efforts to understand the populations, ecology, and habitat needs of the snake.  We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to be in the field with such a great herpetologist.

Here’s a video of the trip, including Greg and Western Reserve Land Conservancy Field Director Brett Rodstrom talking about the snakes.  You can catch me at 1:22 on the video munching on a snack and admitting that “I’m a little afraid…”

I might have been a little afraid, but I can’t imagine a greater experience…seeking out a rare venomous snake in northern Ohio.  How wild is that?

 

Beavers construct ideal habitats for bats

“Forest that was both flooded and subjected to beaver logging supported the highest bat activity”- via BBC – Earth News – European beavers construct ideal habitats for bats.

A swimming beaver by naturalist William Hudson

A swimming beaver by naturalist William Hudson

In a paper published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research, it is shown that reintroduction of beaver is associated with significantly higher amounts of bat activity. Pretty interesting fact. It makes sense.

What is most interesting about this to me is the concept that if you modify one part of a system, other parts are also impacted. Sometimes this is intentional, like in the case of thinning cuts designed to increase timber production. other times this can be an unintentional side effect, like using DDT then finding out that it harms the reproduction of Eagles.

The cascading effects of our activities are far-reaching and difficult to predict with any degree of certainty. When beaver were over-harvested and eliminated from our area, did that also create a dip in the bat population over time? Does a decrease in bat activity change the population of flying insects? Probably.

What do the now more numerous bugs eat? What impacts flow from that? How do we know?

Think about your everyday activities and what they may impact. Go outside and observe Nature. Think about why a plant or animal is in the place where you observe it. There is usually a reason. Things are not random in Nature. There is an underling logic to the apparent chaos. It is just so complicated it is hard to ferret out the exact connections.

Just because it is hard to see the connections does not mean they don’t exist. Think about it, observe Nature, and think about it some more.

 

Winter Tracking Practice

January is a great time of year to brush up on the Daniel Boone-esque skill of tracking animals. Better yet, it is a great time to expose your children to the wonders of Nature-sleuthing. The white snow picks up every trace of passing mammals. A little detective work might lead you to a great discovery. Go out to the backyard or a local park and see if you can tell who has been there, where they went, and perhaps even why and how quickly they were moving.

Studying the signs of animals in snow can be translated into a summertime activity as well. But, why wait until then? Check out these resources on tracking, then either get outside on your own, or attend an event like the one detailed below.

Read more about following animal tracks in winter at neoNaturalist.com.

Get some on the ground experience by attending the following Western Reserve Land Conservancy event: KIDS IN THE SNOW.

The event will be held on Sunday, January 23, 2011 from 0:00 a.m.- 1:00 p.m. (The following isA copied from the Western Reserve Land Conservancy Web Page)

Wear your hats, mittens and boots and bundle up for a fun wintertime gathering with Western Reserve Land Conservancy. Children, parents and grandparents can learn about wild life tracks and tracking in the winter landscape. Discover the snow stories of our furry friends. Then warm up with cookies and hot chocolate in the Great Blue Heron Lodge! Feel free to bring a lunch to enjoy as you warm up in the lodge after the hike.
In the event of no snow, we will have an indoor presentation with a power point, and animal examples.

Directions
The Rookery (Geauga County Park)
10110 Cedar Road, Munson Township, Ohio

Geauga Park District’s Rookery Park

 

Hoot and Harvest Festival

On Saturday, October 10, 2009, Western Reserve Land Conservancy’s Medina Summit Chapter will hold its annual harvest festival to celebrate fall and the last year’s land conservation accomplishments.

There will be pumpkins on hand for children to paint and decorate, hayrides, a campfire(with s’mores), face-painting, live music, and an after-dark owl walk.

The Medina Raptor Center will also present a program featuring live owls, giving festival-goers a chance to learn about these fascinating creatures of the night.

A harvest dinner will include hot dogs, beer, hot chocolate, macaroni and cheese, white chicken chili and cornbread.

Bring your kids and friends and enjoy an evening of fellowship and dun while you hear about the Conservancy’s amazing accomplishments.

DATE
Saturday, October 10, 2009

TIME
5:00 – 8:00 p.m.

LOCATION
Hill’n Dale Club
3605 Poe Road
Montville Township, Ohio.

MORE
Tickets are $12 for adults
$6 for children ages 4-12
and free for those 3 and under.

RSVP
by October 2, 2009 to Gina Pausch at gpausch@wrlc.cc or 440-729-9621.

 

Portage Park District Programs connect people to Nature!

Pre-registration Needed for Annual Bat Program

Come and learn about the secret lives of bats at the Portage Park District annual bat program on Friday August 14 at 8:45pm. We will meet at the Headwater’s Trail parking lot at the Rt. 700 trailhead in Hiram. Jessica Hickey from Davey Resources will demonstrate bat survey techniques and equipment, as well as share little known facts about these nocturnal creatures! Pre-registration is necessary. Please call the Park District office at 330-297-7728 or email dalber@portageparkdistrict.org to pre-register. For information, please visit www.portageparkdistrict.org.

Butterfly and Dragonfly Survey

Members of the North American Butterfly Association and Portage Park District staff and volunteers will be fluttering through the field and forest on Saturday, August 15 for the annual Butterfly and Dragonfly survey at Towner’s Woods Park in Franklin Township. The Park District is honored to have Judy Semroc as a guide for this activity, who, along with Larry Rosche and Linda Gilbert, have recently written a new book, the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Northeast Ohio, second edition. It is the comprehensive guide for species occurring in Ohio. Copies of the book are available for sale ($26.88, which includes tax) at www.ddneo.info.

Towner’s Woods is located at 2296 Ravenna Road, Franklin Township Directions: From SR 43, turn east onto Ravenna Rd., go 2 miles to the park entrance. short hike begins at 10:00 am, followed by a trail and field survey for these beautiful and delicate creatures. It is recommended that participants bring water to drink and wear closed toe shoes and comfortable clothing. Pants are recommended for the more adventurous, who may venture off the trails into the field areas.
For information, please visit www.portageparkdistrict.org. or call (330) 297-7728.