Flora and fauna of the Athens County area, and occasionally habitats outside Ohio. Subject matter will consist of both interpretive material and taxonomic issues in plant and animal identification.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Beaver Creek Fen

After visiting Cedar Bog, I wanted to get exposed to more fen environments. Lynn Holtzman and I decided to make a list of places to visit. Lynn spent a couple decades working in this part of the state, so he knew all the good places to hit. We started at Beaver Creek Wildlife Area. This fen is not as pristine as others in the area. Water levels have been manipulated and Turtlehead, the food plant of the Baltimore Checkerspot Butterfly has virtually disappeared, and Cattail has invaded heavily. Still, there were plenty of interesting things.

One of the first things I saw along the boardwalk was new to me. It reminded me of a Harebell. I knew it couldn't be that, but I was in the right group. This is Marsh Bellflower, Campanula aparinoides. It's a five petaled flower with very thin leaves.

The stems and leaves tend to grow in a ball, and remind me of Spanish Moss.

Growing among the Water Cress along the streams was American Brooklime, Veronica americana. If it looks like a Speedwell, well, it is.

Also common in wetlands are Bur-reeds. These with the large golf ball fruit are Giant Bur-reed, Sparganium eurycarpum, the most widespread species in Ohio.

Great Water Dock, Rumex orbiculatus. Nobody pays much attention to Docks. They are usually considered weedy plants. Remember, this is a wildlife area. These wetlands are important for waterfowl during nesting and migration time.

Ducks go crazy in consuming Dock seeds like this.

Another important food for waterfowl are the seeds of sedges. This is Gray's Sedge, Carex grayi. These 'spiked' sedges remind me of Sweetgum, ball and chain weapons like the mace, or the old WWII underwater mines. Carex intumescens looks similar to this, but is not as widespread in Ohio. Plus the base of each spike or perigynia is not as swollen as these.

Another new one for me was the Sweet-scented Indian Plantain, Hasteola suaveolens. This plant is restricted to aquatic environments, or what is classified as a FAC wetland species. Though similar, it is not the same as the Fen Indian Plantain I posted from Cedar Bog.

The main identification feature on this species are the arrow-head shaped leaves.

A plant I mentioned in the Cedar Bog post, but didn't illustrate is Nannyberry. Viburnum lentago. It prefers moist to wet soil. Viburnums are opposite branched shrubs that provide fruit for birds and other wildlife.

Besides their leaves, Viburnums can be recognized by the buds. The terminals look like spears, and the lateral buds don't protrude outward, but tend to hug the twig. Nannyberry buds range from gray to rusty orange. The leaf petioles are flattened and wing like, with the edges being bumpy or rough to the touch.

This delicate looking plant is common in shallow wetlands. Water Parsnip, Sium suave, looks a lot like other members of the Apiaceae. This one happens to be edible.

The leaflets are once divided and in pairs. Again I refer back to Cedar Bog, and the similar looking Water Hemlock I posted. That has leaves in threes. This one also lacks the purple spotted stem of Poison Hemlock.

I have a bad habit of walking past these and saying "Skullcap", and that's it. I should know better. There are 10 species in Ohio, so let's try and figure this one out. Flowers are solitary or in pairs, medium sized as skullcaps go. Leaves are short and sessile, slightly serrate. That makes it Marsh Skullcap, Scutellaria epilobifolia. (S. galericulata)

As always, not everything that catches my eye are plants. At first I passed this off as the common Pearly Eye. Closer examination finds it to be a much more uncommon species known as the Northern Eyed Brown, Satyrodes eurydice.

What separates this from the similar Pearly Eye and Appalachian Eyed Brown, is the dark line on the hindwing. The brown line is sharply angled near the bottom. It's much more rounded or wavy on the other species. To a lesser extent, the four circular spots in the upper wing are often more distinct as well.

Flying in profusion was one of my favorite Dipterans. The Phantom Crane Fly, Bittacomorpha clavipes. The larvae are orange, and look like a giant rusty maggot with a long breathing snorkel. The adults aren't called the Phantom for nothing. They fly just like this, with their legs spread out. The black and white pattern may be spotted by you easy enough, but within a second they disappear right in front of your face. Oh, they're still there, just very hard to follow.

They are slow fliers that never seem to want to land. I had to crawl through thickets of Rice Cutgrass to find one resting. That plant will tear you up. Five days later the cuts are still covering my arms. Hey, when in the field, you gotta do what you gotta do!

Gallagher Fen

Unlike Beaver Creek, this is a better representative of a less disturbed fen. The limey muddy marl coats the surface along these narrow streams that originate from underground seeps. Gallagher has recently been opened up to the public. We noticed someone had been there just before us. Turns out Bob and Deb from TrekOhio website beat us by 24 hours. To see flowers from all seasons, check out their site, (and their photos are far superior to mine).

In August, the dominant plant of this fen is Cut-leaved Prairie Dock, Silphium terebinthinaceum var. pinnatifidum.

What gives it the variety name is the appearance of the leaves. Rather than being a single broad leaf, it is cut or dissected into many parts. Some leave it as a variety, while others elevate it to a distinct species.

Orange Coneflower, Rudbeckia fulgida. Some people call this a type of Black-eyed Susan, as they do with many species of Rudbeckia. I don't like using the same common name over again, so I stick with Orange. The flowers are never really orange, but yellow orange. Some varieties show more orange around the center disc.

The key feature to look for are the leaves. Black-eyed Susan R. hirta, has elongate leaves that are very soft or fuzzy. Orange Coneflower has shorter, more rounded leaves, and feel more rough or sandpapery. Black-eyed Susan tends to be a spring to early summer bloomer.

This particular fen variety is sullivantii. Thanks to Andrew Gibson for that addition. Andy was going to be our guide for the day, but he got called away to another location. Because of that, we decided to skip Prairie Road Fen, which is accessible by permit only.

Though not in bloom yet, these short clasping leaves make Stiff GoldenrodOligoneuron rigidum, easy to identify. Riddell's Goldenrod, Ohio Goldenrod, Nodding Wild Onion, Tall Larkspur, and the plants above are more typical of drier sites. Gallagher is technically known as a prairie-fen. To paraphrase Guy Denny, the water is so cold and calcareous, the plants don't really derive any nutrients from it. So it's like they were living on a dry prairie anyway.

As I mentioned, we were just a bit early for the Goldenrod blooms. Most of those ready to come out had the spreading plume-like inflorescence. This one plant, blooming in a narrow spike, looks like Solidago uliginosa, the Bog Goldenrod. They are a wetland species, and it also occurs in the three counties around this site.

Another fen indicator is this small blue flower, Kalm's Lobelia, Lobelia kalmii. It looks similar to Spiked and other species, but many of the lobelias are habitat specific.

While walking the boardwalk, there were a lot of these damselflies. I was confused as to which species it was.

Most damselflies that are that bright blue in the front, usually have blue or some other colorful spots on the abdomen. That's true with the males at least, and that's where the problem comes in. This is a brightly colored female. Most female damselflies are rather dull. Turns out this is a Blue-tipped Dancer, Argia tibialis.

Two things to look for. The broad black shoulder stripe splits near the wings and forms a blue triangle. Secondly, the very last abdominal segment is light brown, not black.

The trail leading back to the fen is a wooded area full of Oak and Hackberry. It came as no surprise to see plenty of the Hackberry Butterflies, Asterocamps celtis.

Along that same trail was this Beggar-tick in full bloom. No bright yellow rays like the ones you see in ditches. I'm always on the lookout for species in this group. It's Bidens vulgata, recognized by the 15 leafy bracts behind the center disc. They average 13-18 bracts. The other non-rayed species have far fewer.

Back on the fen, I noticed this little caterpillar chewing away on the willows. When they are in an early instar like this, it's hard to tell what species it is. The humped back, saddle pattern, and two tentacles protruding from the rear, make it one of the Prominent moths.

Looking on other willows, I found a more mature one. These humpbacked caterpillars with the tentacles in the back are either Furcula or Cerura moths. I believe it's the Black-etched Prominent, Cerura scitiscripta. The markings on the back can be purple, green, or brownish-orange.

Here's a picture of it rearing up its head in a defensive manner, trying to look intimidating with those false black eyes.

Like a blanket of snow in the middle of August. In the meadow between the forest and fen edge was a large patch of Thoroughwort or Boneset.

Those two common names are applied to a lot of closely related species that have these white flower tops. You have to look at the leaves to differentiate between them.

The leaves have no petiole, so they are sessile. The leaves are not perfoliate on the center stem either. They are elongate and coarsely toothed. That 'leaves' Upland Thoroughwort, Eupatorium sessilifolium. While not a fen associate, any new species to my list is worth noting. I hope between Cedar Bog, Beaver Creek, and Gallagher, you can see the importance of preserving fen habitats. Visit them in spring, summer, and fall to capture their real diversity.

This is sort of a P.S. I threw in. Growing among the thoroughwort was a plant I took for a Gentian, but the fruit is all wrong. That led me to the Horse-gentian group Triosteum. Question, does this fruit turn orange? If so, does one consider these leaves truly perfoliate? That would make it Tinker's-weed. If those leaves do not qualify as perfoliate, then it's T. aurantiacum, Wild Coffee. The leaves are at least clasping. Somebody make up my mind.