Snowy Owl Irruption

The Snowy Owl is one species of bird most people don’t think they will ever have the chance of seeing unless they trek to the far reaches of the Arctic. While it is true they live in the northern parts of Canada, Alaska, and Eurasia, occasionally during winters there is an “irruption” of snowy owls. And irruption is when a species if found for some portion of the year outside of its natural habitat range.

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Male snowy owl. Image from rtpi.org.

During the winter of 2013-2014, an irruption of snowy owls occurred and is considered to be the larges in Ohio in recorded history. What causes this irruption? The snowy owl’s main food source, the lemming (a small rodent found in the Arctic), had low population numbers all of 2013. With lemmings being scarce, snowy owls and other arctic birds fly farther south than they normally would in search of food.

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A lemming. Image from wikipedia.

Already this winter, a few snowy owls have been spotted in the Cleveland area and along Lake Erie. If you keep your eye out for one, you may spot a once in a lifetime bird!

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Female snowy owl in flight. Image from gifts.worldwildlife.org.

The Timber Rattlesnake

Driving along Route 33 from Columbus to Athens, or vice versa, drivers may notice the 8-foot tall deer fence running along the highway. What drivers may not notice, however, is a shorter fence, only about a foot tall. What could that fence possibly be for? The answer is: endangered Timber Rattlesnakes, who make their home in the forested parts of only 8 counties in Southern Ohio. Athens County is one of them, and Route 33 runs through the Wayne National Forest in Athens County.

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The beautiful Timber Rattlesnake. Image from ohiodnr.gov.

Timber Rattlesnakes are common in the Southern United States, with their range extending up through the Appalachian Mountains. However, they are considered endangered in Ohio, since they are only found in 8 counties. Timber Rattlesnakes are very venomous, but rarely attack humans. They are shy, and will more often than not slither away before you even notice its presence.

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The range of the Timber Rattlesnake in Ohio. Image from ohiodnr.gov.

Timber Rattlesnakes are a beautiful yellowish brown with dark brown to black crossbands. They mainly eat mice, squirrels, and chipmunks, and are a woodland species.

The fence along Route 33 cost $10 million, but according to the Ohio Department of Transportation, the money is well spent. The Wayne National Forest said it’s either build the fence with the new highway, or don’t build at all.

Next time you take a walk in the Wayne National Forest or anywhere in Southern Ohio, be on the lookout for the Timber Rattlesnake!

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Large Timber Rattlesnake in Ohio. They can grow to be 6 feet long!

The Emerald Necklace

If you are from Northeast Ohio, chances are you have visited a part of the Emerald Necklace, otherwise known as the Cleveland Metroparks. The metroparks were formed in 1917, the oldest park system in Ohio, with the idea that the Cleveland area would be in need of open and green space in the future. This idea, credited to William Stinchcomb, has thrived since its inception and today we have over 21,000 acres of parkland for visitors to explore.

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Map of Cleveland Metroparks. Image from hikingohioparks.com

The parks include, Bedford, Brecksville, Hinckley, Mill Stream, Lakefront, Rocky River, West Creek, and several other reservations. Each park is unique in the activities offered. All of the parks have hiking trails, and most have biking, horse trails, and picnic and barbeque areas. There are eight golf courses and one zoo, which is located within the city of Cleveland. The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is the largest Zoo in Ohio, with a land area of 183 acres and over 600 species of animals.

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Bengal tiger rests in the snow at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Image from examiner.com.

Next time you’re up in the Northeast Ohio region, stop by one of the Cleveland Metroparks and enjoy nature!

For more information, visit clevelandmetroparks.com.

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South Chagrin Reservation. Image from wikipediea

The Elusive Bobcat

Here at Ohio University, the word “bobcat” is everywhere. However, not many students or staff ever see a real bobcat in their years spent at OU. Why not? The bobcat is a shy animal. It is the most common wildcat in North America, yet it is rarely seen due to its smaller size (between 10 and 30 pounds, about twice the size of a common house cat), and its elusive nature.

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Females give birth to one to six kittens each spring. They stay with their mother for almost a year where they learn to hunt. Image from wildlifehotline.com

The spots and patterns on the bobcat’s coat also help it blend in with its habitat – from dense forests to mountain ranges to semi-desert brush land. It’s range is the largest of any North American wildcat. Bobcats live throughout North America except for parts of the mid-west. This is due to the trapping and fur industry in the 1900’s.

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Image from fullwallpaper.tk.

Ohio University’s mascot, Rufus, was named after the scientific name for the bobcat, Lynx Rufus. A bobcat makes a good mascot: although they are small, bobcats are fierce and can take down large prey such as deer and domestic sheep or hogs. The stalk their prey, then spring upon them by jumping as far as 10 feet!

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Rufus stalking and pouncing on a much larger prey.

Wayne’s Wildlife World

The Wayne National Forest in Southeast Ohio is home to many species of wildlife. The Forest is located on three sections of land, one north of Athens, one north of Marietta, and the other north of Ironton, in the southern-most point of the state. If you haven’t been out to Ohio’s only National Forest, now is a great time to get out and explore.

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Several signs stating “Entering Wayne National Forest: US Department of Agriculture” are located on major roads and walkways. Image from buckeyeforestcouncil.org.

There are over 300 miles of trails visitors can use to hike, mountain bike, horseback ride, or ATV ride. Visitors are allowed to fish, with a fishing license, in any of the lakes, streams, and ponds within the Forest. The Wayne National Forest website states there are “45 species of mammals, 158 bird species, 28 reptilian, 29 amphibian, and 87 fish”. Chances are, visitors will have luck spotting some wildlife.

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The three locations of the Wayne National Forest. Image from fs.usda.gov.

The Patriotic Turkey

The Bald Eagle is a symbol of American freedom and patriotism. It was voted as the American emblem on June 20, 1782. Often shown with the American flag in the background, the Bald Eagle (also known as the white-headed eagle) is shown to be a courageous bird, fighting for freedom. It was voted for because of the Eagle’s majestic looks, strength, and it was believed to only be found on the North American continent. However, according to a few people in history, the Eagle was the wrong choice.

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Patriotic Bald Eagle (HaliaeetusĀ leechcephalus), a symbol of our freedom. Image from mercurynews.com.

The most famous of the disagreements was Benjamin Franklin, who let everyone know his opinion. He claimed the Eagle had bad moral character, as it is often lazy and will steal fish from other birds. He stated that the turkey would better suit America’s character. Imagine, such a silly looking (often “ugly”) bird being shown as regal and majestic with the American flag proudly flying behind it! If you had to chose between the regal Bald Eagle or honest turkey, which would you choose?

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Who says the turkey isn’t patriotic? Image from fineartamerica.com.

All information taken from baldeagleinfo.com.

The American Chestnut Tree

Two hundred years ago, the landscape of America looked very different than it does today. The forests covering the Appalachian Mountains consisted of over 200 billion acres, and 1/4th of the trees were American Chestnuts. The trees were late blooming, frost resistant, and the single most important food source for wildlife, from birds to squirrels to bears. The fruit of the tree resemble a buckeye, although smaller and more oval in shape. They are encased in a spiny burr that drops to the ground near the first fall frost.

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Chestnut leaves and fruit (nuts). Image from acf.org.

Today, only a few mature chestnut trees survive. This is due to the Chestnut blight, a fungal disease brought over from Asia in the early 20th century. The Chinese Chestnut is resistant to the disease, but the native American Chestnuts are not. Now however, researchers have spent years developing a disease-resistant American Chestnut tree by “backcrossing” native trees with the Chinese trees.

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American Chestnut trees in the early 20th century.

On October 25, 2014, 90 volunteers gathered in the Wayne National Forest to plant 750 of these disease-resistant saplings. Hopefully, these trees will mature and help restore the broken forest ecosystems. The American Chestnut Foundation organized the event, and their goal is to restore the forests of the Eastern U.S. back to the thriving ecosystems they used to be. For more information about the volunteer project, visitĀ http://www.ohio.edu/compass/stories/14-15/10/american-chestnut-tree-planting.cfm.

For more information about the American Chestnut Foundation, visit afc.org.

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Range of the American Chestnut before the invasion of the Chestnut blight. Image from acf.org