.......and Reflections

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Middle of Nowhwere, Somewhere in Trumbull County, Ohio

This is a story about a monumental movement to save special and precious places that most everyone would not even consider. I was invited (or maybe I invited myself????) to join Dave Hochadel on a visit to a place that is now conserved by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History (CMNH). This place is is very close to where I live.

Dave Hochadel is someone I met birding in Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area last year. I already knew of him but he had no idea who I was. Dave has been on the Ohio Bird Record Committee and was most recently the Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas Coordinator for Trumbull County. I am beginning to appreciate this man that practices citizen Science.

Dave is a very intelligent man with a wide range of interests including playing good old Rock and Roll. I haven't yet heard his music but if it is anything like his field studies it will be darned good music. Dave has studied some science but worked a long career with the U.S. Postal Service. He has built a great natural history knowledge base from field experience and studying breeding birds.

This piece of property of about 290 acres has long been privately owned and was a piece of land that fit into a matrix of habitats in Northern Trumbull County that are unique to the County and scarce in all of Ohio. It's natural value is in the unique boggy wetlands that inhabit this property. These boggy areas harbor unique flora and fauna that often contain plants and animals that are rare and often endangered. It is a remnant of Ohio's glaciated past but it is a small parcel that if presreved would reduce Ohio's declining natural heritage and over-all natural diversity.

Dave is a volunteer for the CMNH and is continuing the process of documenting and organizing the parcel's natural characteristics that will be archived by the Museum. Cataloging and documenting nature in any area using scientific parameters is no simple task. It requires hard work, discipline, and structure as well as a broad knowledge of plants and animals and topographic and geographic influences. In short volunteers just have to endure, heat, cold, wind, rain, mosquitoes, ticks, mud, swamps, and sometimes rookies like me.....for ths sake of science.

So I documented a few things of interest in our couple of hours in the field. There were many Wood Frogs. This is an amphibian that is a signature of northerly habitats. Common Whitetail Dragonflies often inhabit swampy areas within woodlands. We were looking generally at the areas birds and looking specifically for reported nesting Northern Waterthrushes which we did not find on this trip.

The serendipitous discovery of the day was a Veery nest. This is a nest that is built on the ground, usually at the base of a small bush. They are nearly impossible to spot (no surprise there!). But because the survey of the property is devoid of trails, the process is a bit like bush whacking. As we made our way to the major bog, Dave flushed a Veery from the ground very near his feet. And sure enough there was a little, well constructed nest with 3 blue eggs inside. Dave went back the next day hoping that the nest would have a fourth egg and it surely did. So we didn't disturb the egg laying process with our disturbance. His comment was "fortunately none of the eggs were Cowbirds". Cowbirds are a common parasite of songbird nests that lay one big egg in a cluster of the hosts. As the babies hatch the bigger cowbird baby gets all the food and the host babies perish.

Dave later showed me territory surveys he had documented of Prothonotary Warblers nesting over several years at Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area. Tromping through the muck several times a year for several consecutive years is no picnic. He is a better man than I! But the information gleaned from field studies like Dave's is our baseline information on the present state of a habitat or natural area. Continued scientific assessments document change and eventually insight into the health of a given area.

One has to stop and reflect on the effort of conservancies like the CMNH, to land owners that want save their property for posterity, for committed volunteers like Dave Hochadel, and processes that allow all of us to win in the end.

As Director of the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center I was always quick to point out that natural history education is only as sound as the science behind it. Now that I've walked with Dave in a swampy woods in my neighborhood I have even a better appreciation of conservation. I tip my hat to CMNH, to citizen science, and to conservationists for preserving  a little Middle of Nowhere right in our own back yards.

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