Brown Russula

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While hiking in Hinckley Reservation, it was hard not to notice this large-capped mushroom that in some cases seemed to be turning itself inside-out.

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Not only is it interesting looking, this organism has a waxy, benzaldehyde odor, kind of like a maraschino cherry.

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These, like many fungi, are mycorrhizal, meaning they have are a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship with plants. The mushroom has fibers that surround a tree rootlets.

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The mushroom fiber’s helps the tree absorb water and nutrients while the tree provides sugars and amino acids to the mushroom. It is estimated that about 85% of plants depend on mycorrhizal relationships with fungi.

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Brown Russula’s 4-inch cap becomes broadly convex or flat, and sometimes even gets a shallow central depression (in this case holding water).

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This was a fun fungi find on a summertime walk through the woods.

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Black Locust

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This tree is native to the eastern United States, but the exact natural range is not accurately known, since it has been cultivated and is currently found across the nation, in each of the 48 continental United States.

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Black Locust Trees feature many oval, bluish-green compound leaves with a contrasting lighter undersides to give this tree a beautiful appearance in the wind and contribute to its grace. The tips of each leaflet may be slightly notched, rounded, or pointed.

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Its sweetly fragrant, pendulous, creamy white flowers in hang clusters. Each cluster can be up to 8 inches long. Here in northeast Ohio, its flowers are produced in late May through June.

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The Black Locust’s fruit is a flat, smooth pea-like pod 2–4 inches long and about a half an inch wide. It usually contains 4-8 seeds.

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The wood is extremely hard, being one of the hardest woods in Northern America. It is very resistant to rot, and durable, making it prized for furniture, flooring, paneling, fence posts, and small watercraft.

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Black Locust can quickly grow to 50 feet tall by 25 feet wide, when found in the open. They are not tolerant of shade. As a grade-schooler we planted these and is was astonishing how fast they grew.

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This is a member of the Bean Family and is related to Redbud, Honeylocust, Kentucky Coffeetree, and Wisteria, as well as other Locust Tree species. Its many interesting characteristics make it a great tree to study.

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Largemouth Bass

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This is an olive-green fish marked by a series of dark, sometimes black, blotches forming a jagged horizontal stripe along each side. Largemouth Bass are the most popular game fish in North America.

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It’s mouth size is legendary and allows it to consume smaller fish, snails, crayfish, frogs, snakes, salamanders, bats, birds, mammals and baby alligators.

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As adults they are tend to be solitary fish and are often the apex predator in their habitat. Largemouth Bass hide in water vegetation or under roots and limbs of sunken trees, and striking out at their prey from the shadows.

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This is an adaptable fish that can live in swamps, ponds, lakes, reservoirs, creeks and large rivers. Their average length is about 18 inches and their lifespan can be more than 10 years.

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This fish is known by a variety of regional names, such as the Widemouth Bass, Bigmouth Bass, Black Bass, Bucketmouth, Largies, Potter’s Fish, Green Bass, Green Trout, Gilsdorf Bass, Oswego Bass and LMB.

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What ever you call them, they are a lot of fun to catch!

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Northern Walkingstick

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While walking on the Buckeye Trail, I came across this very cool insect. Adults are 3 to 3-1/2 inches long and remarkably well camouflaged. They are slender, elongated and resemble a twig.

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Northern Walkingsticks have a wide range, extending down the Atlantic Coast from Alberta, Canada to Northern Florida.

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These creatures feed mainly on the leaves of trees. They are leaf skeletonizers, eating the tissues between the leaf veins before moving on to new leaves.

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There favored habitat is deciduous woodland edges and forests where their preferred food sources (Oak and Hazelnut) are in good supply.

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Northern Walkingsticks have the extraordinary ability to regenerate legs that are lost by attacks from predators. When predators are present, they remain motionless with their legs close to their bodies, thus resembling a stick.

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They tend to lay their eggs in September; they do so, usually from great heights, dropping them down to the leaf litter where they are left to overwinter. The eggs falling from the trees sound like of droplets of rain.

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We often think of strange, exotic-looking insects as creatures inhabiting tropical rainforests, but the Northern Walkingstick graces us with its presence right here in Ohio.

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Bald Eagle

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Ohio’s largest breeding raptor feeds largely on fish. A pair has been nesting near the Cuyahoga River in Cuyahoga Valley National Park for a few years now.

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The Bald Eagle was negatively affected by the use of the pesticide DDT and the numbers of our national symbol dropped severely in the 1950s and 1960s.

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By 1979 Ohio Bald Eagles declined to just four breeding pairs.The elimination of harmful pesticides has caused a dramatic comeback.

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At one time, the word “bald” meant “white,” not hairless. The Bald Eagle is the only eagle unique to North America. Its distinctive brown body and white head and tail make it easy to identify even from a distance.

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During breeding season, the male and female work together to build a nest of sticks, usually located at the top of a tree. The nests can weigh up to a ton and measure up to 8 feet across.

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Once paired, bald eagles remain with each other until one mate dies, then the surviving bird will find another mate.

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Immature birds have mostly dark heads and tails; their brown wings and bodies are mottled with white in varying amounts. Young birds attain adult plumage in about five years.

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The Bald Eagle has been the national emblem of the United States since 1782 and a spiritual symbol for native people for far longer than that. For me it’s always a thrill to see one of these majestic birds when hiking the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath.

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Virginia Waterleaf

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Hiking on the Ohio & Erie Canal towpath trail around this time of year I often encounter this Spring wildflower of low-lying damp woods, stream terraces and floodplains.

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This is a classic northwoods plant, that often look messy, growing in dense clusters of eight to twenty blossoms. This plant grows by both rhizomes (underground stems) and seeds.

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This plant’s genus, Hydrophyllum, refers to water; its early season leaves often have a bleached appearance as if they’ve been stained by water.The whitish marks on the leaves fade as Summer progresses and by mid-Summer the plant dies back to the ground and is no longer apparent.

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Virginia Waterleaf’s flower color varies from pale pink, to deep purple, to occasionally white. They are small, bell-shaped blossoms borne in clusters with stamens and pistils protruding well out of the flower.

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When young and tender, the leaves are good eating. People still gather wild Virginia Waterleaf for food. It’s other common name, John’s cabbage, also speaks to its tasty nature.

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California Red-sided Garter Snake

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This snake is rivaled only by the San Francisco Garter Snake in color, with its bright red and black bars covering the sides of its body and a distinct turquoise or yellowish dorsal stripe. In Marin and some parts of Sonoma County, it is particularly colorful.

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This subspecies of the common garter is found soley in California, traversing almost the entire state’s coastal region. I have often found it along waterways, where it is wary and hard to catch.

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The California Red-sided Garter Snake utilizes a wide variety of other habitats such as forests, mixed woodlands, grassland, chaparral, farmlands; though it is often found near ponds, marshes or streams.

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This serpent eats a wide variety of prey, including amphibians and their larvae, fish, birds and their eggs, small mammals, reptiles, earthworms, slugs and leeches. It is able to eat adult Pacific Newts, which are deadly to most predators.

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The California Red-sided Garter Snake is most active in the daytime. I often see them sunning themselves along hiking trails. In Summer, it is most active in the morning and late afternoon; in the heat of mid-day, it often remains hidden.

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Like all Garter Snakes native to the United States, this is a livebearer. It mates in the late Winter to early Spring and young are born in Summer to early Fall. Newborns are typically 5-8 inches in length and clutch sizes vary from 8 to 20 offspring.

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Coulter Pine

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While hiking on Mount Hamilton in California, it was impossible not to notice a few impressively-sized pine cones on the ground. The cones were extremely spiny and exuded a sticky substance that was noticeable when they were picked up.

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The Coulter Pine is also known as Big-cone Pine; this species is named after Thomas Coulter, an Irish botanist and physician. Coulter Pine needles occur in bundles of three and are 6 to 12 inches long.

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This tree produces the heaviest cone of any pine tree. Old time lumberjacks called them “widow makers” because the cones occasionally killed loggers when they fell. People are advised to wear hardhats when working in Coulter Pine groves.

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This evergreen is native to the coastal mountains from central California to the Baja peninsula. The tree’s crown is broad, thin and irregular.

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Its bark is dark gray to black, deeply rugged with scaly ridges. It can reach heights of 75 feet with a straight to contorted trunk up to 3 feet in diameter.

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For its flower, male cones are yellow in tight clusters, while female cones dark red-brown. This is a slow growing species, reaching only 20 feet in 20 years. Given the proper conditions, the trees can live up to 100 years.

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Their massive spiny cones, can be as long as 20 inches and weigh more than 10 pounds. This was a neat tree to spend time with on my California visit.


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Pacific Giant Salamander

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While visiting Van Damme State Park in California, I came across one of the world’s largest land-dwelling salamanders, it reaches up to 13 inches in total length. These salamanders have a relatively large head, body and legs. Their smooth skin usually has tan, gold, or grey mottling on top of a dark brown, reddish-brown, or grey background.

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While Pacific Giant Salamanders start their life as entirely aquatic larva, with gills that allow them to breathe under water, most of their time as adults is spent beneath logs, bark or stones, either on a streambed or on land, though they will roam about freely after heavy rains.

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Pacific Giant Salamanders are found in a variety of habitats, but most live in the forest, near cool, clear, mountain streams. Mature and old-growth forests with plenty of litter, downed wood and talus are preferred habitats.

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These robust-skulled amphibians are equipped with blade-like teeth. They are well known for their ability to prey on small salamanders as well as rodents and small snakes.

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While most salamanders are silent, the Pacific Giant Salamander is one of several salamanders that have vocal abilities. When startled, these amphibians may respond with a low-pitched growl or bark. It was rewarding to come across this cool creature.

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Columbian Black-tailed Deer

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I often see this large mammal while visiting California. It is part of a group known as Mule Deer and is indigenous to western North America; Mule Deer are named for their ears, which are large like those of the Mule. They have excellent hearing and eyesight that warns them of approaching dangers.

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Mule Deer are among the most beloved and iconic wildlife of the American West. They are distributed throughout western North America from the coastal islands of Alaska, down the West Coast to southern Baja Mexico.

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These animals live in a broad range of habitats such as forests, prairies, plain, deserts and brushlands. Mountain populations migrate to higher elevation in warmer months, looking for nutrient-rich new-grown grasses, twigs, and shrubs. I see them most often in open grasslands and forest edge ecosystems.

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Columbian Black-tailed Deer are most active in the morning and evening, spending most of the daylight hours bedded down under cover where they are hidden from predators. Mule deer are primarily browsers, with a majority of their diet comprised of forbs (weeds) and browse (leaves and twigs of woody shrubs).

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Like all deer species, they are ruminants which means their stomach has four chambers to help them better digest the food they eat. Although capable of running, mule deer are often seen stotting (also called pronking), in which they spring into the air, lifting all four feet off the ground simultaneously.

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Each Spring, a buck’s antlers start to regrow almost immediately after the old antlers are shed. Shedding typically takes place in mid-February. Here’s a buck sporting new antlers that I saw at Point Reyes National Seashore last month. As the antlers grow, they are covered with velvet, a layer of skin rich with blood vessels and nerves that nourish the bony antlers.

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Coming from an area where White-tailed Deer are common, it’s neat to see their Back-tailed counterpart when visting the West.

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