Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Drunkards Walk Through the Field

I was on my way to a field just on the other side of that first row of trees and decided to cut across this field to see what I could find. I wasn’t trying to do a straight row transect. I just wandered around as things caught my eye, making a general progression toward my destination.

This field was last cultivated in 1985 and at the end of 1986 contained a solid stand of Orchardgrass. The dominant grass in this part of the field is now Indiangrass. The Indiangrass is looking a little bit yellow. It’ll green up when things get a little bit warmer. The cool weather we’ve been having is not the best for warm season grasses like Indiangrass.

Here’s a nice clump of Spider Milkweed. Southern Ohio is the northern limit for this plant. There are some nearby Spider Milkweed plants producing seeds that blow in this direction each year. I’m happy to see that some of those seeds are finding a suitable place to grow.

Milkweed seeds can float for a long distance when attached to their cluster of silky hairs. Though, the majority of seeds seem to end up just a few feet from the plant. This seems to be a sound survival strategy. The area around the parent plant is most likely going to be suitable for growing new plants, so those seeds landing close by should have a good chance of surviving. You also have some seeds that travel long distances, thus providing opportunity to colonize new areas and share genetic material with distant populations.

I came across this patch of Dwarf Sumac, Rhus copallinum, in the center of the field. The Sumac covered area is close to a quarter acre in size. It’s possible that all of these plants resulted from the germination of a single seed. Sumacs spread extensively by underground rhizomes and an entire forest of genetic duplicates can develop. These plants can grow to ten or fifteen feet tall, but they were mowed two years ago to keep them from competing too much with the prairie vegetation. You can see a good amount of prairie grass growing in amongst the Sumac.

Dwarf Sumac is also known as Winged Sumac. Note the flattened projections along the midrib of this compound leaf. There is a flower cluster developing at the top of this plant. When the plants are mowed every two or three years, the numbers of flower clusters increases.

This is the Common St. Johnswort, Hypericum perforatum, a non-native plant commonly found in old fields. Notice the tiny dots on the margins of the yellow petals. This plant doesn’t occur in large numbers and doesn’t seem to threaten any of the native vegetation, so I’m not too worried about its presence here.

The ants don’t seem to mind a St. Johnswort growing at the base of their mound. In the time it took me to take two pictures, about three dozen ants climbed on to my shoes. Fortunately they didn’t bite and all ran off when I moved my feet.

Since there are now some good Dragonfly identification guides, I’ve been photographing the different dragonflies I see at Blue Jay Barrens. This guy caught my eye as something I hadn’t seen before and I thought I might be able to add something new to my list.

I couldn‘t find anything that matched the color, but I finally decided I had seen an aged version of this female Widow Skimmer. The wing markings and the body pattern are the same. The old one just seems to have worn off the yellow coloration.

Another box turtle nest lost to predators. I know that some nests are successful, because I see one or two young box turtles each year. It would just be nice to see more.

Here’s the view back along the path I just followed. There’s one of the Spider Milkweed seeds caught in this clump of Indiangrass. I’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see how many chigger bites that little walk cost me.


  1. If you happen upon a nesting turtle, you can protect the nest and give the young a better chance at surviving. Turtle populations are in decline, so this can be a very important and helpful intervention.

    Here's a method:

    Take an old animal cage or bird cage (with the bottom part removed,) tent spikes, and rocks. Place the cage over the site, so that the nest is in the center and won't be damaged by the spikes; spike down all four sides. Then stack rocks around the edges, to discourage predator digging. Place an additional rock on top top of the cage, off to the side to avoid blocking the sun. This creates quite a fortress.

    Toward the end of the incubation period (the end of August or early September,) it is important to remove the rocks so that the hatchlings can escape through the bars. If that is not possible, you can remove the cage altogether, otherwise the little ones could get trapped without access to cover or water. Another option is to wait until they hatch (usually on rainy days in early September). Gather the young, and place them under leaves that lie under low shrubs. They will hunker down and begin their lives in safe cover.

  2. Thanks, Mark. The trick is finding the new nest. I've only managed that one time. If I find another, I'll see if I can protect it.