Rebecca Thomas - Nature Notes column head format newest

Surrounded by Pike State Forest, Pike Lake State Park in Bainbridge has 587 acres of forest with a small lake to explore. You can picnic here. Bring your camper or rent a cabin from April to October. A disc golf course and playgrounds are available. You can hunt in the state forest and fish in the lake with a license. Some might not think that a rainy day hike would be a good idea. The woods act like an umbrella if the rain is not too heavy. Going outside in different weather conditions provides an opportunity to see different things.

This park offers several trails for hiking. Greenbrier Trail, near the Nature Center, is about 0.5 miles and the only one unfamiliar to me. The 0.5 mile CCC Trail is an easy, level hike following the creek. The 0.5 mile Lake Rim Trail goes around Pike Lake as its name indicates. Some stairways and boardwalks along this trail make it possible to go this way. Mitchell Ridge Trail, 1.5 miles in length, is the hardest due to the rise in elevation. The 1.2 mile Wildcat Hollow Trail off Egypt Hollow Road, marked with lavender blazes, is also steep.

You can access the Wildcat Hollow Trail by taking the CCC trailhead. It ties into the Wildcat Hollow one. Signage and a map make it easy to find your way. On a late May day, this well-marked trail had numerous green leaves on trees, plants, shrubs, and vines. We heard bird song overheard, and sharp eyes found sights of interest. The largeflower valerian first caught my eye. This native wildflower grows in nutrient-rich habitats, and it is abundant in Pike Lake's wooded areas. Different mushrooms grow on rotting logs and from the ground. The primary decomposers in a forest, Ohio has at least 2,000 types of wild mushrooms. Our state also has a club, The Ohio Mushroom Society, for the novice or more serious enthusiasts. New York, interrupted, and maiden hair ferns grew along with the common Christmas fern. A land snail in shell glided along the trail on its muscular foot. Light green bellwort and cohosh fruit, not yet ripe, appeared. A Tulip Tree Beauty moth's larva stood still as a statue, well camouflaged on a green branch. At the end, we came out of the woods on the other side of Pike Lake Road from the campground. It was a short walk back to the parking lot on Egypt Hollow Road near the CCC trailhead.

NN10 - Male Zabulon Skipper

Male Zabulon Skipper

On the homefront in late spring, the hustle and bustle of nature flourishes. A male Zabulon Skipper, Zabby for short, parked atop a T-post and later on a sunny Hickory leaf. What was he doing? He was guarding his territory and waiting for a potential mate. Various spiders are spinning their webs. Not all spiders use that method to catch prey. Three kinds of sawfly larvae devour leaves on our property. Do not be fooled by these caterpillar mimics. Insects have six legs. Caterpillars and sawfly larvae have more. The usual six true legs and several false or prolegs. They will lose the latter when they change to their adult form. The number of letters in the word 'sawfly' can help you remember that they have six or more pairs of prolegs. Caterpillars have a mere five. Flies abound and will only increase in numbers during the summer - robber, golden snipe, flower flies, and many more. It is no wonder. They rank second overall in the total number of insect species. The buzzworthy Brood X cicadas may not have taken over Pike County, but I have seen a few cicada sheds. These very well may be four-year early Brood XIV. According to the USDA's map of Active Periodical Cicada Broods of the United States, we should expect most of that brood to emerge in 2025. Pearl Crescent (PC) and Northern Pearly Eye butterflies have joined Least and Sachem Skippers in flight. PCs prefer full sun. Satyrs like the Northern Pearly Eye like woods and shade. The orange Least is Ohio's smallest skipper. The Sachem has a chevron on its closed wings.

NN10 - male Sawfly larva

Sawfly larva (Tribe Blennocampini)

In the plant department, the box elder's seeds hang down in rows. They greatly resemble maple seeds and should since they are a species of maple. Preferring a riparian location, ours dwells in a low area feeding into a ravine where water collects when rain is plentiful. Black walnut catkins also hang down in abundance. The male pollen feature of this plant will facilitate the nuts that later grow, a type of fruit. Long-lasting oxeye daisies stand upright in many places. Like dandelions, colonists brought both flowers, native to Europe, here years ago. An insect new to me this year is plant bugs. So far, I have seen three species. Finding more would not surprise me. Also known as leaf bugs, these animals fall into the category of true bugs. No, not all insects are bugs as many people think. It is not surprising that I have not noticed them before. Insects outnumber every other type of animal on earth en masse. They also tend to be small.

NN10 - Bluebird fledglings

Eastern Bluebird nestlings

The breeding birds work hard to ensure that their offspring will succeed. Our bluebird parents often feed their five young that are now over a week old. When I checked the box several days ago, the bottom part of the nest had an active ants' nest in it. That was not going to work. After removing the ants and their nest, I used dry, cut grass on the ground from mowing to form a new nest for those eggs. One nest box shelters five Tree Swallow eggs which should hatch soon. Another harbors three eggs of the same kind. On a light fixture in the lean-to of our barn, the Barn Swallows are raising a family. Last year, they did not nest here. Their return is a delight.

NN10 - Adult male house finch with fledglings

Adult male House Finch with fledglings

At the feeders, the House Finch parents feed their fledglings. The babies flutter their wings to get attention. Then they open their beaks wide and accept the food that the parent offers. Soon they will learn to eat on their own. It is fun to watch. A Juvenile Red-bellied Woodpecker has been revealing himself . No red feathers appear on that head at all. It is grayish instead. Blue Jays, Red-winged Blackbirds, White-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmouse, Chipping and Song Sparrows, Mourning Doves, American Goldfinches, and Northern Cardinals continue to come to the feeders.

Even with some much-needed rain and a few cool days, summer is almost here. Nature continues to thrive. It gives us more to learn, more to know, and more to do. Rabbits, opossums, deer, raccoons, smaller rodents, turtles, and snakes are out. At night, we listen to the sound of the whippoorwill, crickets, and frogs. Each day, week, month, and year gives us an opportunity. The outdoor landscape is ever-changing. Nothing stays the same.

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