This past weekend I kept up my end of that bargain by surrounding myself with 35 other Ohio Certified Volunteer Natruralists and 4 expert guides at Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area in Wyandot and Marion Counties. We split our time between presentations and field work, spending 2 hours in the field to each hour of classroom-style background presentations. The topics covered were plants, birds, beetles and butterflies.
Out in the field learning about plants from expert David Brandenburg (2nd from right).
Here in Ohio we are very lucky to have wonderful and talented experts in a wide variety of natural history topics who are willing to share what they know with those of us who still have a lot to learn. David Brandenburg is the staff botanist at the Dawes Arboretum, and previously worked as a field botanist for the ODNR Division of Natural Areas and Preserves. In April of this year his book, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Wildflowers of North America, was published. The layout is unique in that plants are grouped by family rather than by color, and range maps are included along with color plates and descriptions. I find the grouping by family to be especially helpful since I am finally getting a grasp on what types of flowers belong to what families - I would prefer to narrow a flower down to a particular family right off the bat rather than flipping through endless white flower color plates, for example. Needless to say, I was very excited to purchase my own autographed copy directly from David himself.
Bob Placier lives in my neck of the woods and is an instructor of various natural science courses at nearby Hocking College. He talked to us about birds, but he also he also teaches about ecology, conservation biology and environmental science. Bob is a licensed bird bander and is a board member of the Ohio Ornithological society. I hope to spend some of my volunteer hours in October and November working with Bob and his team when they conduct banding and research on Northern Saw-Whet Owls.
George Keeney opened up the world of beetles to many of us. He manages the Insectary at Ohio State University, and is a research associate at the Department of Entomology at the university. He has played an important role in the recent reintroduction of the federally endangered American burying beetle in such southeast Ohio forests as Wayne National Forest, Zaleski State Forest and Waterloo Wildlife Area and Research Station. He told us a number of anecdotes that illustrated that researching and collecting beetles is not a glamorous job, but definitely one that is never boring (one such story involved exploding fermented raw chicken!).
Jim Davidson was our butterfly expert, and he went "old school" on us by using a slide projector to illustrate his presentation. In this age of PowerPoint talks, it was a bit refreshing to see the slides. Jim is a retired pathologist, and is the current vice president of the Ohio Lepidopterists. We learned that the Franklin County Metroparks now owns one of his former properties and that this site is specifically protected as a butterfly preserve, one of few sites like it anywhere. Jim sure knows his butterflies, and is able to identify many of them by sight from quite a distance. (I will admit, though, to being distracted greatly by the birds during our butterfly walk... no disrespect to Jim.)
Jim McCormac, with whom many of you are probably already familiar, talked to us about a successful wetland restoration project that is located just a bit northwest of Killdeer Plains. The wetland has seen a dramatic increase in biological diversity since it was completed in 2005, and he showed us how many of the species that either breed or migrate through this wetland connect a small 500-acre portion of Ohio to points north in Canada and to locations almost to the southern tip of South America. Jim also took us out for a night walk and helped us make some sense of all the singing insects.
When you attend workshops like this, you don't have to worry about looking silly when you tuck your pants into your socks in an effort to keep ticks at bay because everyone else is doing it, too. And you don't feel at all odd for foraging for deer dung or a raccoon carcass in search of beetles because that's what you're there for! Only the most hardy (or foolish) nature lovers would offer themselves to the mosquitoes and deer flies (because you can't possibly douse every square inch with enough bug spray to deter them) in order to attend a night "prowl" to bear witness to the vast array of night-singing insects and frogs. We were all in it together, and I must admit the the sense of community that was present at this event was just as wonderful as all the knowledge gleaned. I had a chance to see some friends from the blogosphere as well as a number of my classmates from the Hocking Hills region OCVN.
I should also mention that Rae Johnson and the Licking County OCVN were amazing hosts to us all, and I have to thank them for putting on such an amazing weekend! Next up I'll show you how we went from classroom to field with plants.