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Acres Land Trust

Information about Acres Land Trust
Notes From the Field
Observations of Regular Visitors to Our Nature Preserves

 
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Observations from the past month of days....

Jennifer and Steve at Glennwood 2/2:  We walked back into the preserve via an easement/old lane.  To our right was a cutbank where we noticed groundhog excavations and red, sandy soil mounded around them.  This red, sandy, well drained soil provides a much drier home to burrowing critters than the other soils here.  We also noticed scat with large bone fragments and concluded that it must have been coyote scat.  A couple of trails head off to the west and toward the bog and the lane ends with a short loop trail amongst upland hardwood forest of oak and hickory.  It's great that this upland forest is protected as it provides a nice contrast to the wooded wetland and bog communities.  We headed down toward the bog via the wooded wetland.  The next trail headed downhill and toward the bog and took us by lycopodium spp. moss and cinquefoil spp.  We took a moment to appreciate the "floating" nature of the bog and then followed the trail around the east side of the bog and through the swampy forest. 

It's apparent from the many toppled trees that shallow-rooted trees are about as tipsy as SUV's!!  Toppled trees, also know as windthrows, create "knolls" and "cradles" where conditions are a little bit dryer and a little bit wetter, respectively, than the surrounding flat wetland surface.   These areas are worth paying attention to as they provide extra habitat diversity and may be home to interesting species of plants, insects, etc.  Jennifer, myself, and Debby Meade visited Glennwood in the springtime once and noticed that wood frogs were breeding and laying eggs in the cradles - which were full of water.  So a tree falls, but a frog benefits.  Here's another shot of a windthrow.  Notice how far, laterally, the roots travel out from the base of the tree and how shallow they are.  Trees generally don't like to send roots down into a saturated soil and, thus, are usually shallowly rooted and relatively more subject to windthrow when growing on wetter sites.  But we can use such things to our advantage to make additional observations of natural things.  At Glennwood, it is easy to observe organic soil materials in these "cradles" where trees were once rooted.  Most organic soils form from slowly decaying grasses and/or trees in a waterlogged environment. Here, in this windthrow cradle, you can see the waterlogged nature of a typical site where organic soils form.  A closer look reveals roots and other, finer organic materials - probably a mixture of downed trees, leaves, grasses, sedges, shrubs, etc.  Indiana's organic soils are much more weathered (due to longer growing season, warmer summer soil temps, etc.) than those further north, therefore, it's not easy to identify the actual plants from which they formed.  Palynologists, though, can take cores of organic soils and reconstruct vegetative history of a site using pollen analysis.  What a fun way to make a living!!

The trail winds around the SE corner of the bog and then make a loop before heading back out the main easement trail.  Along this loop we found one of the most striking examples of fluting of Musclewood bark that we've ever seen.  Our final observation was an unknown fungus.  If anyone knows this one, please share with the rest of us, please.  Another afternoon on the nature trail yielded more observations and sightings than we could have ever anticipated.  We are grateful for special places like Glennwood Preserve.

 

Steve at Fawn River 1/31:  As I readied my gear for a hike at Fawn River Preserve I was surprised to find another hiker pulling into the parking lot.  This preserve is pretty remote and so I was delighted to make the acquaintance of Dick Loney of Ft. Wayne and hike part of the trail w/him.  We walked across the open old-field then into the woods.  In the woods, the main trail traverses a pitted outwash plain.  Formed by sand and gravel deposits deposited by glacial meltwalter stream activity, a pitted outwash plain is pretty flat and has small depressions here and there.  The depressions, I've learned, are voids left by large blocks of ice that were entrained in the meltwater/sediment and then melted - leaving a depressional void.  I tried to get a picture to show one of these depressions. The down and dead trees near the center of the photo are about 10-12 feet lower than the surrounding outwash plain flat summit.  Anyone who visits here will notice these depressions as they are obvious as well as similar to depressional areas on the clayey till plain nearer Ft. Wayne and south.  The main difference - and it is a significant one - is that the depressions on the clayey till plain are often ponded with water in wet time whereas the depressions on an outwash plain are well drained.  Why?  Remember - outwash plains are underlain by excessively drained sand and gravels while till plains are underlain by compact clayey materials.  The former lets water through the latter does not.  So we would expect to find very different vegetation on in these differently depressions.  Keep your eyes out for these differences this coming spring when the herbaceous plants start popping up!

Nearing the west edge of the preserve, we kicked up about 6 dear and a red tailed hawk.  The hawk was feeding on a opossum carcass.  I had seen this carcass intact a few weeks ago but now it had become a meal and part of the cycle of nature.  When I took Ornithology about 15 years ago I was taught that"raptors won't eat carrion".  Well, as Bob Dylan would say, " Times, they are a-changin' "  !!

From here, Dick and I made the little loop down off the terrace to the Fawn River floodplain.  First we noticed some sign of beaver across the river.  Then we took photos a couple of photos for posterity. 

We parted ways here - Dick heading back out the main trail and myself heading along the "bluff" trail.  The view from atop the outwash plain summit is sublime. 

Having hiked all the trails I headed back the way I'd come, enjoying the nice hardwood forest, woodpeckers pecking and the knowledge that ACRES member near and far have protected all that lives here. 

Steve at Fawn River 1/18:  This preserve near Greenfield Mills in LaGrange County is AWESOME and deserves a visit by anyone able to get up there.  It's on the IN-MI state line, so it's a little of a drive but it's well worth the trip.  A visit to Fawn River preserve can be combined with a stop at Rinkels Mill, which is a historic grain mill that still grinds various flours.  You can buy flour, pancake mixes, etc. and take a tour of the mill.

Anyway, back to the preserve.  I forgot my camera so I have no photos but I'll just say that this 138 acres preserve is so remote that, other than toll road noise, it has a quasi-wilderness feel.  The trail begins in a recovering old-field then takes an extensive route through upland dry woods.  I say "dry woods" because this region is underlain by thick deposits of sand and gravel - so this makes anything on "high ground" very well drained and thus, if wooded, it will be a dry woods.  The dry woods here has mainly white oak, black oak, hickory, tulip, ash, etc. and some fine "timber" quality trees.  Thanks goodness it's now protected from the chainsaw!

At the west end of the preserve the trail ends up at the edge of the Fawn River. I kicked up 6 turkey and as many deer at this place and that, coupled with the fast flowing and clear river, made me feel quite remote and peaceful.  The trails heads back the way I  came but follows the floodplain. Here the floodplain is peat soil and we all can expect some interesting wildflowers come spring.  It's interesting here because of the quick change from very well drained sandy soil to WET boggy soils along the  river.  Should make for some very  interesting wandering and observing this  coming spring, summer and fall.

Fawn River preserve is quite different from most of the preserves closer to Ft. Wayne - mainly because of the very different soil conditions (sandy, well drained) on the higher elevations and the more northerly (lake effect) local climate.  You can see more examples of the sort of stuff on Pigeon River Fish and Wildlife Area but the nicer (relatively undisturbed) areas are very hard to find.  A trip to Fawn River preserve can easily be combined w/a stop or 2 in some of the other great ACRES preserves in LaGrange/Steuben counties. 

Brad at Wing Haven 1/18:  They say that birds can sense incoming storm fronts based on the change in air pressure.  If so, it sure showed yesterday, as hoards of birds flocked to the Wing Haven feeders to stock up.  Among the usual chickadees, titmice, and juncos was a lone female Purple Finch and a Brown Creeper.  Two Pileated Woodpeckers continue to search the big trees behind the cabin in search of pupating insects.

 

This morning's snow created a beautiful winter wonderland landscape outside.  About two inches coated everything in sight.  The prairie struggled to hold the weight of the snow, and even human structures like the log barn look stunning! 

 

Mother Nature's clean slate of snow give evidence to early morning wanderings of some of Wing Haven's animals.  Deer made themselves known this morning while traversing the lawn, fields, and woodlands nearby.

Steve and Jennifer at Tel-Hy 1/12:  It was the first visit for both of us and we were treated to the splendor of beautiful weather and a grand preserve.  The dramatic landforms at Tel-hy are a result of deep incision of the Wabash River into the glacial till plain that dominates this area.  We left the parking lot with binoculars in hand and strolled through weedy old-field and into a fine example of hardwood forest.  In the old-field we saw a flock of about 20 tree sparrows presumably taking advantage of the mild weather to stock up on additional fuel.  Surely they know that winter is not over despite the spring-like temperatures.  Soon after entering the mature forest, the trail heads down – and I mean DOWN – toward the river.  Geologists call this steep slope an escarpment and it represents the erosion surface created by the river as it cut into the till plain.  In any event, it’s one heck of a steep trail and provides expansive views of the river valley below.  About half way down the escarpment we noticed A LOT of bird droppings (scat) over a large area.  We concluded that it was likely a flock of crows (a.k.a. – a murder of crows) roosting in the towering tree tops above.  Not many other birds of such a large size (i.e. – that can produced so much scat) are as gregarious as crows.  Once at the base of the escarpment we noticed a small gravel bar and ventured briefly onto it where we found numerous remains of small fish.  It appeared that these fish became stranded in depressional areas on this bar after a flooding event.  All of the fish were partially eaten and most had the head detached from the body.  We wondered if they were fed upon by raccoons. Mink? Raptors? Hmmmm

Also on the gravel bar, and actually hanging out over the rushing river, was a paper wasp nest.  What could be the advantage of such a precarious site?   Surely this nest would be quite inaccessible to predators such as raccoon.

 

Next we followed the trail as it wandered along the river and enjoyed the towering tulip, ash, sycamore and other common trees.  One advantage to appreciating common things is the increased likelihood of noticing uncommon things.  Such was the case as we came across the tallest, straightest and largest diameter honey locust tree that either of us has ever seen!  Honey locust is not a common canopy tree in mature forests around here.  It’s more common in fencerows and other open areas.  But nature never fails to confound our attempts to keep her rigidly classified, and thank goodness for that.  We never cease to be amazed by the beauty of lichens.  This one is a Foliose lichen.  Lichens are mutualistic which means they are the product of a symbiotic relationship of a fungus and an algae.  The fungus provides the physical structure while the algae produces food.  People who study the effects of pollutions use lichens as indicators as they are sensitive to its effects.

 

The trail then led us back up the escarpment, onto the till plain and then followed the edge of the bluff looking over the river valley.  From here the view was incredible in and of itself but we were further treated by the positive sighting of a bald eagle.  The large raptor soared and circled out over the river valley and in our direct line-of-site.  We wondered if this was the bird whose food scraps we have seen down on the gravel bar. 

 

We marveled at our luck – standing in the midst of this beautiful landscape, home to incredible forests, inhabited by soaring eagles.  And it is now protected for all time by all of us ACRES members!   What a way to end such a beautiful day!  Thanks to all who have made this experience possible.

Steve at Culp 1/11:  Culp preserve is a rare protected jewel - rare in NW LaGrange County.  I stopped by today and took a quick hike.  The warmer weather kept the birds active and I was treated to chickadees, downy woodpeckers, hairy wood peckers, red bellied woodpeckers, nuthatches, cardinals, blue jays, red tailed hawk and a flock of sparrows (field sparrow or tree sparrow). 

A fairly rare (in my experience) tree occurs here at Culp.  I'd appreciate verification if anyone gets up that way soon but I think Pin Cherry grows here and there!!  I'll get some photos next time.

I've included a photo of a small tree with an excavation that appears to reflect that of pileated woodpecker!!  Maybe someone will be lucky enough to get an actual sighting?

Culp is definitely worth a visit (and return visits!)

Jennifer and Steve at Little Cedar Creek 1/5:  This was our first visit to Little Cedar Creek Wildlife Sanctuary.  Upon reflection, we both feel that this place is INCREDIBLE!!  Is has complex geology which has allowed a wide variety of soils to form on distinct landforms.  Of course, this all leads to varied and interesting plant communities!!!  Here's a few things that we noted:

White patch disease (Aleurodiscus oakii) on white oak trees.  This disease causes outer bark to slough off, revealing a lighter and smoother inner bark.  The inner, living, parts of the tree are not effected.

Steve and Jennifer at Vandolah 1/3:  Attempts at vigorous exercise were continually thwarted (as usual!) by various interesting nature sightings:)  On the trail that runs north and south along the high tension power line right-of-way, we noticed a grouping of conifers among the brushy recovering old-field.  Always trying to stay fresh on our tree I.D., we approached the grouping and quickly noticed 2 quick and easy signs for white pine: fine, "wispy" needles and branches arranged in strict whorls on the trunk.  Much like with attempts at tax evasion, one thing leads to quite another, and our initial curiosity led us to something we would have not otherwise seen.  The bark of at least one of the pine trees had been heavily assaulted by a deer's antlers and the soil surface at the base of the tree had been denuded by a deer's hooves!  These signs seemed pretty fresh so, apparently, the deer are still, shall we say, "interested" in each other!!

Shortly after the main north-south trail enters the woods it splits.  The left branch stays level, the right branch goes downhill.  Not far downhill along the right branch, and on our right, we noticed a small tree that was bristling with BIG thorns.  You've surely seen this tree many times in the city as it is often planted as a street tree. But don't be fooled - this urban version is a cultivar - it has been altered to NOT have thorns (probably a good idea for safety reasons).  Anyway, the native version of the honey locust does have thorns, as the photo shows -lots of them - and they are long and very sharp.  Probably not a good sledding hill!!

So we descended the hill and skirted the floodplain margin and, just before we came to the place in the trail that heads back up to the top of the bluff, we saw a HUGE burl on a sugar maple tree!  A burl, I've read, is a protrusion or expansion on a trees trunk that is caused by atypical cell division.  Some of you may realize that woodworkers love these - they bolt them to a lathe and turn them into beautiful bowls and such.  The interesting patterns in the woods, which arises from the unusual cell division, make for intricate patterns in a turned piece!!

Once back atop the bluff we took a break and looked out over the wetland area below.  Vandolah preserves some pretty incredible geology and plant communities!!!!  The trail follows this bluff edge through some mature forest (mainly on the steep slope) and then heads back into brushy, recovering cropland.  We found our old friend, honey locust, again and some of its fruit - large, flat and curling bean-like pods.  These had been apparently fed upon by some sort of rodent (squirrel maybe??). 

So went another hike - full of fun, learning and that ever-so-elusive-commodity: exercise:

Steve and Jennifer at Fogwell Forest 1/2: Though yearning for heaps of snow, found the dampness and warmth more indicative of spring!  But nature always has our best interests in mind.....we no more than got started on our walk when we came upon a regurgitated owl pellet.  We made note of some of the components of the waste from the owls' meal.   Like the typical waste pellet, it contained lots of hair and bones but also some claws.  We wondered, "mole??".  Our answer was no more than 100 feet down the trail!!  We found the severed head and some entrails of a mouse (white footed or deer mouse)!!  Jennifer made me aware that owls may regurgitate near the kill site so, using our powers of deduction, we concluded that the material in the pellet was formerly attached to this mouse head!!  BUT, later, when we were home, we ruminated upon this and consulted an animal signs authority who documents that owls normally swallow prey whole while hawks tend to rip at them before eating.  We retracted our initial conclusion and now believe that the severed head has no relation to the contents of the owl pellet but, rather, was evidence of a hawk making a meal of a mouse.  Either way, very interesting!  We were seeing either the whole story of one meal or part of a story of two meals!! 

Animal signs are abundant this time of year.  Or maybe we just notice them more because we are not as distracted by wildflowers and other, more showy, things of the growing season??   Anyway, we came across a large basswood tree with it's characteristic profusion of basal shoots.  On one of the basal shoots was a recent antler rub.  We'd expect to see fewer and fewer of these as mating season ends and the antlers start to drop!!  

Our final observation of note for this outing was a blue ash sapling.  We took a photos of a twig to illustrate that this species has "winged" twigs and opposite branching.  Because the twigs are "winged" they appear to be square (in cross section).  This is most likely the origin of the second part of it's Latin name: "quadrangulata".