Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

September 20, 2007

A Wandering Naturalist

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 11:39 am

The Wandering Naturalist

 For the next few weeks you’ll be hearing from me while I am on the road.  Some might call this jaunt a vacation, but a naturalist vacation is usually a busman’s holiday. I’ll continue to do what I always do and see what the regional scene offers.  My ability to check in will depend on our ability to connect to a local internet server from time to time, since we are camping on this trip.  My blogs will be short and (hopefully) sweet and will be based on a series of photos. Think of these sessions as a series of postcards sent home by your wandering naturalist.

 Hi Ho from the Hockhocking Hills

 Our first destination was the Hocking Hills region of southern Ohio. A good afternoon and evening of nature study turned up a nice variety of sights and sounds. I can send you a few of the sights, but will have to leave the hooting Barred Owl, calling Pileated Woodpecker, and the Blue Jay mimicking the call of the Red-shouldered Hawk to your imagination.

   Ca Aw Aw

  Take a look at this Crow track neatly impressed in the dusty clay at our campsite.  Since this region is named after the Wyandot Indian name of Hockhocking, it is fitting to address the crow by its Wyandot name of Ca Aw Aw (after the bird’s call). The track itself is about 2 ¼ inch long and clearly shows the “three toes forward and one back” arrangement. Note how two of the forward toes are side by side while the third is angled away. We don’t get a chance to see bird tracks that often, so it’s good to examine one every now and then. These birds were frequent daytime visitors to the vacated camp sites and their marks were nearly as common as those left by the raccoons that pay nightly visits.

Look at me – I’m hiding

    The small river flowing through Hocking Hills State Park was largely dried up. Since the bottom consists of time worn bedrock, the only remaining water exists where the flowing element has carved out pockets over eons of time.  In these isolated pools, creek chubs, snails, aquatic insects, and frogs awaiting the return of the rains.

  A sizable Green Frog leapt to the safety of one of the deeper sanctuaries upon my approach.  In usual circumstances, frogs swim to the bottom leaf layer and hide out under their protective shelter.  They can remain under for a very long time, if necessary, since they can breathe through their skin. In this case, there were no bottom leaves to hide under, but the frog adopted the usual pose anyway. Here we see her spread eagled on the rock bottom some 12 inches under the water, but don’t let her know that!

Liver What?

  Behold the Liverwort.  This primitive plant clings to the surface of the rock where shade and dripping water keeps it eternally moist. The name recalls the ancient system of naming plants after the part of the body they are supposed to heal.  As you’d guess, this determination was arrived at by looking at the plant’s general appearance.  This one looks something like a liver, so…..  Yes, there is a bit of circular reasoning here, but I can’t do anything about it now.  The “wort” part of the name is old English for “plant.” Take a good close look anyway and don’t be tempted to eat it.

Pretty Nut

  Here is a somewhat useless “art” shot, but I wanted to take a shot of the White Oak Acorn in order to highlight its yellow hue.  I placed it on a background of gnarled Hemlock roots with an elm leaf and some purple sand from the nearby cliff.  Voila! A simple acorn becomes art.

Cliff Notes

  The deep ravines and overhang shelters that typify the Hocking Hills recall a time when things were much cooler than they are now.  During the last Ice Age, starting over 1 million years ago, northern plants such as the Hemlock, White Pine and Yellow Birch were forced to seek refuge south and beyond the reach of the great ice sheets.  The glaciers never made it down to southern Ohio. The ice retreated some 14,000 years ago and most of these plants followed the sheet north. A few remnants of these northern trees remained in the south, however, where high altitude or cool microclimates (such as here) favored their growth.  Here is a Yellow Birch clinging to the side of one of the cliffs – illustrating the sheer tenacity of such an organism to take root without the benefit of soil, or gravity.

Black Tiger

   There is nothing quite as stunning as a Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly.  Their bright yellow and black striping gives them a distinctive and instantly recognizable appearance. Take a look here and here, and you’ll see the all-black version of this swallowtail. Black Tigers are quite common, but are easy to confuse with the smaller Black Swallowtail. Closer examination will reveal the shadowy stripe marks on the ashy black wings when the sun hits them just right. This individual was showing the effects of a rough summer- having lost her “tails” and a goodly portion of her hind wings. She was in no mood to pause very long for a portrait either.

A Phasinating Phasmid

  Walking Sticks are closely related to grasshoppers, but really don’t look like them. Grouped in a related cluster of clever twig mimicking insects called the Phasmids, these stick bugs make a living by not being seen. Even their own cousins would as likely use them as a perch as invite them to the family barbeques. Here’s one that greeted me this morning (look here and here).  His cover was completely blown because he froze in place on the side of a white restroom building.  Later, when I placed him on a ripe Sassafras leaf, he stubbornly maintained his pose.  Perhaps he and the previously mentioned Green Frog are related?


  1. The Phasmid Study Group has a new website (see link) with lots of interesting information on phasmids.

    Comment by Ed Baker — January 24, 2008 @ 10:10 am

  2. The Phasmid Study Group (PSG) has a new website (see link) with lots of interesting information on phasmids.

    Comment by Ed Baker — January 24, 2008 @ 10:11 am

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