Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Walk on the Wildflower Side

"Does anyone know where I can go to see Lady's Slippers? I've never seen them, and would like to," I asked in the lunchroom at the Falls of the Ohio. "Sure," Richard replied, "I'm taking a trip there next week. Want to come?" I jumped at the opportunity to go flowering with some of the best naturalists I know at the Park.
We drove to Washington County, Indiana, where we explored Cave River Valley and Henderson Park, neither of which I had ever heard of before. The day was long but definitely worth the trip, as we saw lots of firsts!
Sometimes there was a trail, but otherwise we just tramped up and down steep muddy hills. "Do you know the way back to the car?" I asked Richard.
Oh, yes, we found lovely Lady's Slippers, and I was so excited! This one was glad to see us too. See her smiling? And the fragrence... magnificent!
"What does this look like?" Richard asked. "Well, the leaves look like a dogwood to me," I replied hesitantly, expecting it to be something exotic. It turns out to be a Gray Dogwood. Notice that the flower looks nothing like we expect in a Dogwood.
"Here's a Hoary Puccoon..." A what?? Spell that for me please. The name was given by Native Americans to plants that made a yellow or red dye. We saw no Trilliums until the end of the day. After we waded through the creek, we found a Prairie Trillium and this lovely Drooping Trillium.
At one point the air was filled with happy birdsong, coming from a Rose Breasted Grosbeak, and this Scarlet Tanager. The Tanager was interested in the bugs on a branch, and chowed down while I took a few pictures. Wood Thrushes serenaded us all morning.
From our position deep in the valley, we had a terrific view of the blue blue sky, framed by lighted green and shadowed green trees along the hills.
We hiked to the mouth of a cave with a stream flowing forth, then down the stream and up to the top of the ridge. I've never seen so many Green Violets in one place before. From the same spot atop the ridge we could hear water flowing from caves on each side forming two different creeks. Not too surprising since Washington County is in karst (or cave) country. The fields along the road were dotted by sink holes. Another area was called the Glade. Because of the particularly poor and rocky soil, Indiana forest plants don't do well, but prairie flowers and grasses thrive. Shooting Stars popped up everywhere, as well as this Star Grass and one called Blue-eyed Grass. We'll have to come back later in the summer when the prairie flower are all blooming.
A hillside of oak trees were home for Squaw Root, which parasitize oak trees. Richard also specializes in tree identification, and he stumped us all with different examples of white and black oak leaves. Apparently oak leaves change shapes and sizes as the tree matures. Sounds like trying to keep track of gulls that change colors each year until maturity. He said that some large oaks in another park we know can produce ten thousand times more acorns than the good sized trees we saw today.
Little critters lived in the creeks and leaf litter. I think someone stepped on this salamander, as his tail looks wounded. When we reached out to check, he scurried into the leaves again, so I guess he'll recover. Once we saw the fuzzy ear tips of a fox kit, spying on us from behind a log. When he noticed we'd seen him, he scurried back into his burrow.
Since we were in the neighborhood, we asked Gabby (our GPS) to take us to an Amish business nearby to order a new porch swing, and enjoyed the rolling countryside, often filled with Butter Weed in the fields. On the way home, we stopped at Huber Winery to stock up. Altogether, this has been a terrific day. A little raccoon was in our backyard this week, eating sunflower seeds below the bird feeders, and I couldn't resist adding him to this post. Next Monday we are heading to NW Ohio for warblers at Crane Creek. Yippee! Hope I get great photos and actually see the warblers, unlike the guy singing Trees, Trees, Murmuring Trees in our backyard this morning.

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