Friday, March 30, 2012

Winter Wren

The sugar maples (Acer saccharum) are leafing out and the winter wrens are singing!  Colored pencil.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Two of my favorite spring images - leatherwood (Dirca palustris) in flower and a magnolia warbler!  Colored pencil.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Spring Sketches

Yesterday while spraying invasive lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) I saw my first jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) breaking through the leaves.  Here is a sketch of a jack from April 18th 2010 – almost a month later than the one I saw yesterday. 

Trout lily (Erythronium americanum) was in flower here last week saw my first one on March 23 – here is a sketchbook painting of one from last year on April 26 – more than a month difference.

I was in Illinois a few weeks ago and on March 15th I saw Dutchman’s britches (Dicentra cucullaria) and toadshade trillium (Trillium recurvatum) in flower – this sketch was done on April 8th 2010 a solid 3 weeks later compared to this year.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Early Spring

Spring is upon us and based on the flowers of leatherwood it is 26 days earlier than last year and 11 days earlier than 2010. I was back in Illinois again this past weekend and the vast majority of spring ephemeral plants were up and flowering. Here is a drawing of some of the action this time of year and a few snapshots of the drawing in progress.  I still plan to add some more dark leaves around the bases of the plants.  Colored pencil.

Pin Oak

The pin oak (Quercus palustris) in our front yard is breaking bud!

Monday, March 12, 2012


I was back in Illinois this past weekend and took a bit of time to walk down to the local heron rookery.  One year I counted around 120 nests in this location – on Friday there were fewer but I counted at least 50 active nests.  I didn’t sketch on Friday but here is a sketch from last month when I saw my first northeastern Ohio great blue heron of 2012.  

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Ransacked by a Rafter of Turkeys

Last week on February 27th I noticed that almost all of the skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) in the fen had been ransacked by a rafter of wild turkeys. In all cases the tops of the cabbage flowers were simply ripped off or ripped open but all parts and pieces appeared to be present – the turkeys were not eating the skunk cabbage – so what were they up to?

It is well documented that the inside of a skunk cabbage flower is stinky and can be as much as 36 degrees warmer than the outside temperature, often melting the snow around it. The temperature difference creates a nice toasty sauna-like atmosphere for potential pollinators. I imagine a bunch of early emerging insects crowding in to the warm and stinky skunk cabbage saloon to get a bite to eat and stay dry on cold February and March nights not realizing that the local turkeys know right where they are. Tired of a winter diet of nuts and soft body insects the turkeys probably have a hankering for something warm and crunchy.

I can’t find anything online about turkey destroying skunk cabbage in search of insects, but I have to think that is what they are up to – I hope it is not just a bunch of young Jakes being teenagers.

Leaf Scars of Mockernut Hickory

One thing that I find interesting about winter twigs are leaf scars; in some species they are incredibly consistant while in others such as mockernut hickory (Carya abla) they are extrememly variable.  Here I illustrated 3 lateral buds and their associated leaf scars as well as outlines showing the variety of shapes of leaf scars that were on this one twig.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Alternate Leaf Dogwood in Winter

Alternate-leaf dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) is a less than common native shrub or small tree in this area of Ohio.  I see C.alternifolia in both floodplains and along headwater streams and 9 times out of 10 my first impression is that it is a young sassafras tree.  On older twigs it can be hard to see that the leaf scars are alternate - they appear bunched even whorled sometimes however if you find a young fast growing twig it is clear that the tree is alternate.  You will almost always notice that one of the lower branches will be dead or will have dead twigs - they will stand out as a bright orange branch.

young twig

old twig and dead twig

Two Common Invasive Species

Unfortunately there are a bunch of non-native invasive plant species that are impacting our natural areas – two of the more common ones are garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus).  I recently gave a talk about invasives management at the Ohio Invasive Plant Council Annual Meeting – here are a few pages from my notebook that I scanned for the presentation and the take home message for each.

This is a sketch of garlic mustard that has been cut off near the ground and left in the woods (a technique that is approved for management of large nasty monocultures of garlic mustard).  I think of this as a reduction not a control – the cut plants will often times have enough stored energy to re-flower and produce seed.  Similarly the cut stalks have enough energy to mature the young seed pods (seliques) and produce seed.  Take home message is that it is always best to pull these plants by their roods and get them out of your woods!

This watercolor sketch is of glossy buckthorn in a wetland – once these things grow too large to hand-pull the best management becomes cut and treat (with herbicide).  I tried to illustrate that once the plant is cut only a small window (5 minutes or so) exists in which an herbicide treatment is effective.  Oftentimes people call and want to know how to kill buckthorn and/or other woody invasive species on their own property – the vast majority of them are doing everything right except that they are treating with herbicide beyond the 5 minute window.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Sketching in Nature

Earlier in the week Kate from the Sketching in Nature blog invited me to become one of their “correspondents” – I was very excited and gladly accepted the invitation. The Sketching in Nature group is composed of nature artists and sketchers from all over the world – it is a great place to spend some time looking at natural history from around the globe and you can start right here.
If you came from Sketching in Nature - thanks for visiting, but you have already seen this and can skip to the next post.

Here is a page from my notebook from earlier in the week - a little look at some of the botanical activity where I stopped for lunch on Tuesday. Lunch was adjacent to a slip above the East Branch of the Chagrin River and the first thing to catch my eye were the undersides of hundreds of round-leaved ragwort (Packera obovata), a brilliant violet anytime of year but especially striking in February. Next I noticed some young sedges their exposed roots barely clinging to the eroding slope. Carex (sedges) is a difficult genus to master, but in this part of the world there are only a few sedges with leaves this wide and the pale bases of the leaves give this one away as C. platyphylla. Much more common here, and abundant to my right on the wooded hillside, is C. plantaginea it is given away by the red/maroon bases of leaves.  By the way, C. plantaginea has some very striking flowers for a sedge - check them out in the top right corner of this journal post. And making their 2012 debut all over the hillside is wild leak aka ramps (Allium tricoccum) a solid two weeks ahead of schedule based on my notes. As always a great day to be in the woods!