This mud-encrusted head belongs to a Box turtle; one of the first to emerge this spring. I spotted him on 3/27, an earlier date than most of the previous seven year’s first Box turtle observations. But what exactly is he emerging from? Hint – it’s not hibernation. Read More
Spring is happening and the forest is getting noisy again. Birds are staking out nesting territories, yelling their songs at competitors and potential mates. But a huge number of tiny creatures are still sleeping, in one form or another. And before the birds can get on with it, the insects must awake. These buzzing, humming, flying, crawling hordes are some of the most vital strands in the forest’s food web.
As I recently wrote (10/30 Fall and Rise) nearly all the old ash trees of this forest are dying or dead, due to infestations of the Emerald ash borer. Pieces of them – from giant limbs to little crumbs, will be raining down onto the forest floor for at least another decade. Besides the obvious hazard to those of us who spend a lot of time in the forest, there are some unique opportunities…
…to see life forms that usually are happy to stay well above our heads. Several newly fallen chunks of ash lay on the trail yesterday, encrusted with foliose lichens in delicate shades of pale green. The very frilly Ruffle lichen was particularly interesting to see, since it doesn’t commonly grow near ground level. They all appeared to have been thriving prior to their fall, likely due to increased light levels as their tree declined. As you may know, lichens are actually a cohabitation of fungi and algae. They inhabit an amazing diversity of habitats, from barren rocky mountaintops to drippy rain forests to deserts.
To answer the question of how they manage to disperse themselves to such varied locales, lichens can reproduce asexually by shedding specialized specks of combined algal cells and fungal filaments. They can also just break into tiny bits when dried out – so either a windy day or a birds foot would suffice to get them into the treetops.
These fallen lichens are out of luck – stuck on the ground, they’re unlikely to travel anywhere but into a deer’s stomach. But who knows? If not annihilated by the powerful ruminant digestive system, perhaps they’ll be dispersed again throughout the forest.
Poor Gammarus is not the most well known of creatures. This tiny aquatic invertebrate spends its life crawling along the bottom of streams and ponds, eating leaf litter, algae and critters smaller than itself. Only by chance did I discover these tiny shrimplike animals living in two of this forest’s spring fed streams, and though I’d seen small clusters of them when lifting sticks or debris, they didn’t seem very abundant. But then I got lucky…
What do Coyotes eat in January? Once again, our little urban fragment has provided some surprising insights. It began with a scat (animal poop), that reliable source of information on mammal diets. And there wasn’t just one, but in true coyote style, a whole series of them, placed at strategic intervals on the trail. The first was just below the front parking area, less than 200 feet from the Louisville Nature Center front door. Though there’s nothing unique about urban coyotes anymore, the strikingly uniform contents of these scats tell an interesting story. Read More
Sometimes the simplest posts are the hardest to write. What began as a short and sweet look back at the year has, just from thinking on it, morphed into something more. As I stared at the images for this post, two questions came into my mind. Why is this little forest fragment even here. And what if it were not? Read More
As the spring and early summer heavy rains gave way to heat and drought, Box turtles were a little less active. On 7/30 I encountered this large male, one of the most strikingly patterned turtles I’ve ever observed. He was near the edge of the preserve and a busy road, and unfortunately rather boxed in (excuse the pun) between the road, the deeply channelized creek and open, mowed parkland. It leads me to wonder how he came to be in this little island of habitat – is it part of his home range or did he come here seeking a mate? If he wandered in from the forest, he had to clamber down a very steep bank, swim the creek, and climb back up the equally steep far bank. Read More
As birdwatchers know, being inside a car is one of the best ways to get up close to birds. And luckily I didn’t jump right out of mine after parking at the Louisville Nature Center last week. Leaning over to rummage for gloves, I caught a glimpse of quick movement – and there she was on the trail sign with a just-caught mouse. Read More
Now that the last Box turtle has gone underground, it’s time to update my turtle data book. It’s a project I started in 2013, when it became clear there were quite a few boxies in this forest. It was just a couple years since we began major invasive plant removal, and I was spending a good part of every day working in the forest. In the most favorable areas, such as low moist sites near water, I was encountering a really surprising number of Box turtles. Considering this is a bottomland littered with fallen trees and stumps, the habitat should be excellent. But is this the only reason for the abundance of boxies? It occurred to me there is another important factor. This little 80 acre fragment is bordered on two sides by a deeply channelized creek, and buffered on a third side by a large park. Though completely surrounded by the city, the box turtles here are relatively sheltered from one of their greatest threats – cars. Read More
Another tree is dropping out of this little ecosystem. Though ash trees (genus Fraxinus) will still grow from seed and become saplings, nearly all older trees here will die and fall within the next ten years. In health, before the Emerald ash borer (EAB) arrived, they likely accounted for 40% of the canopy. As with the American chestnut and the American elm, the disappearance of these pillars of the community will have a profound effect on eastern forests. Read More