Friday, February 25, 2011

The Woodcock is a sign of spring

If it’s Timber Doodle’s you hear, then spring is near.
It’s twilight. You're walking in a field or forest opening, when you hear a buzzing call or "peent" sound. A small bird up ahead is bobbing its head up and down and strutting around. The animal spirals up in the air to a height of more than 200 feet. In less than a minute, it spirals back down to earth, zig-zagging and swooping while making a chirping sound. Once back on the ground, it starts "peenting" again. Say hello to spring and the return of the American woodcock, back from its winter feeding grounds in gulf coast. What you've just witnessed is the male woodcock performing a mating ritual. For many people, spring has truly arrived the first time they hear the distinctive call of the American Woodcock. Birds in general are a good indicator of the changing seasons
The woodcock, also known locally as a “timber doodle” has many other names such as, bogsucker, night partridge, brush snipe, hokumpoke, and becasse. This small bird weighs about 6-7 ounces and its average length is 8-10 inches which includes the 2 ½ inch-long bill. This bill is specially constructed to allow the bird to probe for earthworms, which are its favorite food. The tip is equipped with special cells so that the woodcock can probe easily into soft mud and pick up worms. Sometimes you can tell if a woodcock has visited an area by looking for probe holes close together on the ground.
If you look closer at the woodcock, you might notice it has several other unique features. The bird has a very short neck, and its head is almost upside down when compared to other animals. Its brain actually lies upside down in the bottom of the skull. The woodcock's large eyes are set extremely far back on the head so it can see while feeding face down. The ear holes are below and slightly in front of the eyes instead of behind the eyes as they are in most birds. The woodcock's body is supported by twig like legs with long toes. When flushed, woodcock fly in a "zig-zag" pattern and during their flight, they emit a twittering whistle. This sound is produced by the bird's three outer wing feathers which are stiff and narrow. The woodcock is definitely an unusual bird.
This bird acts the strangest in the spring when the male performs the mating ritual described above. Woodcock breed in March and April throughout most of Ohio and the eastern United States.
Keep your eyes open this spring for the amazing display of the male woodcock. Let the SWCD know by posting a comment here if you're lucky enough to view this spring event.
Joe Lehman
Guernsey SWCD
Wildlife Specialist

Thursday, February 24, 2011

PawPaw (asimina triloba)

Pawpaw is found throughout all of Ohio and most of the Eastern United States except for New England and much of Florida. It is a native understory or woodland edge tree, often found in moist places such as the bottoms of ravines, steep hillsides, and creek banks. One tree often gives rise over the course of decades to a sprawling colony via its root system, which suckers several feet away from the parent tree. This small tree is easily recognized by its large, tropical-looking foliage, and prized for its delicious fruits that mature in late summer. When found in the open, it may reach 25 feet tall and 15 feet wide as an individual tree. As a member of the Annona Family, it is related to other species of Pawpaw as well as other genera in this family (all tropical or subtropical in origin) and distantly related to the Magnolias and Tuliptree.
Planting Requirements - Pawpaw is somewhat exact in its requirements for successful growth. In youth, it requires shady sites in which to become established, as intense sunlight will harm the leaves of young trees.After several years, saplings can grow in partial sun to full sun, where the heaviest fruit crops will be realized and only if a genetically different strain of Pawpaw is planted nearby, for cross-pollination of the perfect flowers. The bottom line is that trees grown from separate seed sources or transplanted from different sites will eventually yield fruits, but those within a single colony will not, as they are all clones that cannot cross-pollinate and yield fruits.
Pawpaw strongly prefers soils of variable pH that are evenly moist but well-drained, deep, and rich (high in organic matter). It will tolerate drier soils with some degree of difficulty. Its root system is very coarse, so bare-root transplants should only be dug while dormant in late winter or early spring, and transplanted immediately to a shady site. Pawpaw grows in full sun as an adult tree, especially with supplemental irrigation, as is found in Pawpaw orchards to full shade (as an understory tree under high-branched large trees), and is found in zones 5 to 8.
Potential Problems - Pawpaw is essentially free from diseases and pests. Its main problems involve re-establishment following transplant shock due to its sparse root system (see notes above) and fruit set as related to self-infertility. Get one or more genetically different pollinator trees.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Time to Dust off Those Bluebird Nestboxes!

Its time already to clean and repair nestboxes on your Bluebird trail, or to build or purchase new nestboxes and get them installed and ready for their occupants. Bluebirds are already in our area, searching out safe nesting sites in preparation for spring.
When it comes to attracting bluebirds, offering housing is the key. Bluebirds need to nest in a cavity, relying on tree cavities and old fence posts in the wild. When natural nesting sites are scarce, bluebirds will readily use manmade bluebird houses built to correct dimensions. The hole needs to be 1.5 inches to exclude starlings. Avoid the use of perches on the box, as they attract sparrows. Adding a predator guard will help to foil raccoons and cats, making it harder for them to reach through the opening to snag baby birds. Mount your bluebird boxes on a fence post or pole no higher than five feet from the ground. The opening should be facing the southeast, away from prevailing winds. Providing nesting materials is a strong factor in attracting nesting bluebirds since collecting nesting materials can take hundreds of trips. Bluebirds like soft grasses and fragrant pine needles as nesting material. The female builds a neat, cup-shaped nest of grass. Provide these nesting materials in an empty suet cage, or simply gather bunches of material and situate in the fork of a tree.
Bluebirds prefer to live in open grassy areas near a park, golf course, meadow, pasture, or even cemetery. Bluebirds eat large quantities of insects; in fact 60-80% of their diet is insects. They like to perch on fence posts or small trees and swoop down to eat insects in the grass. Make sure you have an open, grassy area in your yard with perching space to attract them. Limit your use of chemicals and pesticides to provide insects like beetles, grasshoppers and caterpillars that bluebirds love to eat.
Have your Bluebird boxes out early in the spring, as they begin to nest as soon as the end of March. Clean the box out after each brood fledges to encourage a second nesting that year. Each box should be spaced 100-200 yards apart to best attract Bluebirds. Placing the box too close to brush or shrubs will encourage its use by wrens.
Another way to make your backyard habitat more attractive is to offer water sources. Bluebirds can be drawn to a backyard birdbath or ground level water source with lots of nearby perching space.
Bluebirds enjoy the berries and fruits of wild grapes, currants, dogwood, red cedar, sumac, bayberry, Virginia creeper, deciduous hollies, blackberry, raspberry, juniper, pokeweed, mistletoe, blueberry, hackberry, euonymus and elderberry. Planting scattered fruit and berry trees, mixed with open lawn creates a desirable habitat for attracting Bluebirds.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Chestnut Oaks on our tree sale list

Chestnut Oak (Quercus prinus)

Chestnut Oak, so named due to the resemblance of its leaves to the American Chestnut, is also called Rock Oak, Rock Chestnut Oak, or Mountain Oak, as it is often found in dry, rocky soils at the tops of hilly ridges.

In Ohio, it is confined to the eastern half of the state, mostly in the Appalachian highlands. Nationally, it ranges on either side of a line from southern Maine to western Tennessee, encompassing the greater Appalachian area. It survives where other trees do not, in areas of dry, barren soils (often a companion to Scarlet Oak and Black Oak in these environments). Its dark green leathery leaves, large acorns, stout twigs, thick bark with triangular ridges, and jagged winter outline give it an exceptionally bold texture. It may reach 60 feet tall and 50 feet wide when located in the open. As a member of the White Oak group and the Beech Family, it is related to the Beeches, Chestnuts, and other Oaks.

Planting Requirements - Chestnut Oak achieves its greatest growth on moist, well-drained soils of acidic pH. However, it is usually found growing in poor, rocky, sterile, dry soils of acidic pH where it can compete with the tough site conditions and win. It also adapts to soils of neutral or alkaline pH. It thrives in full sun to partial sun (but is shade tolerant in youth), and is found in zones 4 to 8.

Potential Problems - Chestnut Oak is amazingly free of major pest and disease problems, a testament to superior genetics in all aspects of its growth cycle. However, it may on occasion be subject to the usual array of pests and pathogens that can affect many Oaks.

The deadline to order trees is March 18th. You can download a flyer from the Tree Sale page.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sassafras (sassafras albidum)

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
A deciduous tree from the Laurel Family (Lauraceae)
Sassafras is native to the entire eastern half of the United States, including all of Ohio. However, it is most frequent in the acidic soils of southeastern Ohio, and predominates in more southern states with warmer winters; in both habitats, it invades fence rows, abandoned fields, and sprouts up around old barns.
Sassafras is a rapidly growing colonizer, and forms thickets primarily by root sprouts several feet away from the parent plant. Straight-trunked saplings may be repeatedly cut every few years to use as primitive stakes (as is done with some forms of bamboo).
Oil of Sassafras can be distilled from the trunk bark or roots for use in perfuming soaps, while Sassafras tea is made by boiling the bark of roots.
This tree can reach a height of 50 feet tall by 30 feet wide when found in the open. Its brittle green twigs have a spicy aroma when rubbed or crushed, as one would expect from a member of the Laurel Family, which includes the closely related Spicebushes.
Planting Requirements - Sassafras prefers moist, well-drained, acidic, deep soils of average quality, but adapts to soils that are neutral in pH and dry. In alkaline soils, it tends to become slightly chlorotic. It thrives in full sun to partial sun, and is found in zones 4 to 9.
Potential Problems - Sassafras can have several diseases and pests, but these are usually minor or cosmetic in nature. More common problems are moderate chlorosis in high pH soils, and brittle twigs and branchlets that break off under high winds or ice loads, usually on old trees that become more gnarled with age.

The Sassafras is among several varieties which will be offered in the 2011 Tree Sale held by the Guernsey Soil & Water Conservation District. Also on the sale list are; White Pine, Kentucky Coffeetree, Eastern Redcedar, Chestnut Oak, Paw Paw, Persimmon, Tuliptree, 2 blueberry varieties, and the Navaho thornless blackberry. For more information and to receive a 2011 Tree Sale order blank, please call 740-432-5624.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

EEEEKKKK!!!!!! Snow Fleas ???

Snow has fleas? Most of us don’t notice snow fleas. These little creatures are really very common and right under our feet. How do you find snow fleas? On a warm, sunny, winter day, take a look at the base of a tree where the snow is melted down to expose leaves, or where the snow is shallow. You will find sprinkled on the ground what looks like “pepper” on the snow. Those tiny black spots are snow fleas. Once you have spotted them, look closely to see what they’re up to.

Snow fleas are tiny insects that come out on warm sunny days to eat plant decay and sap from trees. These insects hop around on the surface of the snow acting like fleas, and that’s how they get their name. Snow fleas are not actually fleas at all, they are an arthropod called Collembola or springtails to the layperson. Springtails are about a 1/8 of an inch in length and have a specialized catapult system to move them from spot to spot. These insects have two “tails” on their rear ends that are tucked up under their belly. The “tails” are held in place with tiny hooks. When the snow flea want to move, they just release the “tails” which strike the snow surface and send them flying into the air. Snow fleas have no control of their flight or direction, so unfortunately for them they frequently land in the same spot or just a few inches away.
Snow fleas are not just winter critters, these insects can be found at all times of the year in the forest. They live in the leaf litter stuck to leaves or on the soil, munching on decaying vegetation. These little guys also live on the surface of ponds, but you would need to look closely because they blend in well and are very small.
The next time you’re out hiking in the snow covered woods, or just walking around your back yard, look and see if you can spot these spring – loaded springtails, commonly called “Snow Fleas.”

Joe Lehman
Wildlife Specialist

Friday, February 4, 2011

Community Resource Day

Look for the district at the Chamber of Commerce' Community Resource Day on February 17th. This event is held at the Cambridge City Park armory, 1101 McFarland Drive, from 3PM to 7PM. There will be agencies from the area at this event, both explaining the services they provide, and the opportunities for volunteerism.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Contractor Workshop planned

Wednesday, February 16th is a breakfast meeting for area contractors, held at April's Country Kitchen, 640 Heller Drive in Newcomerstown. There is no registration fee, but the buffet is $5.99 including drinks. The meeting is from 7:30 to 11:30, and requires reservations.

This workshop is of importance to anyone who installs or is interested in installing practices funded by USDA Farm Bill programs. Topics include; tiling installation, hydric soils, wetland regulations,a review of USDA payment process, Best Management Practices (BMP) review, and how to use OUPS, the Ohio Utilities Protection Service.

Please make your reservations by Feb 14th by calling the office at 740-432-5624.

Kentucky Coffee Tree on list of seedlings for sale

Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus)
A deciduous tree from the Bean Family (Fabaceae)
Kentucky Coffeetree, easily recognized in summer by its huge compound leaves, and in winter by its bold outline, is present throughout much of Ohio, but is primarily found in the western half of the state, where the soils are more alkaline. Thick fruit pods containing large seeds (or beans) are found only on female trees, and often hang on during winter. Pioneers in Kentucky and elsewhere used the beans as a coffee substitute (hence the common name), and Native Americans roasted the beans for food.
A native of the Midwestern United States, the slow-growing Kentucky Coffeetree reaches 80 feet tall and 50 feet wide when found in the open, with an upright, irregular, and thin appearance in youth, becoming dense and symmetrical with age. As a member of the Bean Family, it is related to many other representative species, including Redbud, Honeylocust, Black Locust, and Wisteria, among others.
Planting Requirements - Kentucky Coffeetree prefers deep, moist, alkaline soils, but thrives almost anywhere it is planted, except for permanently wet soils. It is extremely tolerant to many stresses (including heat, drought, poor soils, compacted soils, high pH soils, occasional brief flooding, and air pollution), and has been extensively planted in parks along the East Coast, thus extending its geographic range. It grows in full sun to partial sun, and is found in zones 4 to 8.
Potential Problems - Kentucky Coffeetree offers no significant disease or pest problems, and should be more widely planted in open spaces that can afford its large size and beauty at maturity. Since it does not fruit at an early age, determination of gender may take a number of years, since the seedless males offer less of a cleanup problem due to the absence of fallen fruit pods and seeds. In youth, the appearance of this tree often lacks grace, especially in winter, with the little-branched winter outline being especially coarse (Gymnocladus translates as "naked branch").
The Kentucky Coffeetree is among several varieties which will be offered in the 2011 Tree Sale held by the Guernsey Soil & Water Conservation District. Also on the sale list are; White Pine, Eastern Red Cedar, Chestnut Oak, Tulip Poplar, Paw Paw, Persimmon, Sassafras, 2 blueberry varieties, and the Navaho thornless blackberry. For more information and to receive a 2011 Tree Sale order blank, please call 740-432-5624.