Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Everyone loves Pumpkin...

Volunteering at Shawnee State Park in Southeastern Ohio
Part of our volunteer work at Shawnee State Park was working at the Nature Center from noon to 3:00. What a wonderful place. Jenny has turned the cozy A-Frame building into Nature Learning Central. She has books, posters, activities, frogs, bugs, bird nests, and snakes! All but two of her snakes are native to Ohio. One that isn't native is Pumpkin, the albino corn snake. Corn snakes are close relatives to Black Rat Snakes, which are native to Ohio, and therefore shares his digs with Steve, the Black Rat Snake (more on that sweety later).

Look at that beautiful red albino eye. If you look closely, you can see his pupil is round. A round pupil lets you know he is not a venomous snake. Venomous Snakes, such as the Timber Rattlesnake, Northern Copperhead, or Eastern Massasauga, have elliptical pupils. That's the sort of helpful information you learn when you visit Jenny's snakes!

...before working with Jenny at the nature center I wasn't a particularly "snakey" kind of girl, but after learning about all of our native snakes and handling all the sweeties at the nature center, I think I actually might fall into the "snakey" category now. I had no idea going into the week how much I would learn to love and appreciate snakes, and how much I would learn about them.

Matthew Riccetti at the Shawnee State Park Nature Center. Matt and other volunteers take the snakes out to play in the rain.
Anna, Kayla and Matty and I each took a snake out to play in the rain. The snakes love feeling the rain falling on them as much as we did. It was hot out, and the rain felt great. Pumpkin was content to rest on Matty's shoulders.

Matthew Riccetti at the Shawnee State Park Nature Center
...sometimes Pumpkin would just curl up and go to sleep in your arms. Here he's resting around Matty's neck, curled in around his shirt.

Matthew Riccetti at the Shawnee State Park Nature Center
Pumpkin is a corn snake, and corn snakes are constrictors, but they eat rodents and lizards and other small things, so we didn't have to worry about him trying to constrict around our necks. If you look in the background, you can see posters of birds and butterflies. Jenny's walls are covered with information on the natural world. Kids love it there!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Trailblazing the Look-out Trail at Shawnee State Park

Volunteering at Shawnee State Park
Matty and I are home again, and we miss the beauty and quiet of Shawnee State Park. It was so easy to slip into the pace of nature there. Our room looked out into deep woods, and the dining room looked out on wooded mountains and Turkey Creek Lake far below. I don’t think we realized how much we had settled into the comfort of the mountains until our return ride. As Route 32 started to dump into I-275, we could feel the solitude and greenness sliding off. It was a strange sensation, and we both felt it. The speed required to merge onto the highway in the late evening traffic shattered the tranquility that was still following us. We were happy to be on the last leg of the trip because we missed Rick and Bip and knew we would see them in about 45 minutes, but at the same time, we were sad to feel the peace and heaviness of the forest and its trees fading away. We had just spent a very special week surrounded by nature and nature people, and we didn’t like the way I-275 felt.

The last two days of our stay we had been totally isolated from the outside world. A fire in Friendship wiped out the landlines to the lodge and the WIFI so we had no way to communicate with the outside world. No Internet, no phone messages, no emails, just lush green forest, birds, running water, and tons and tons of butterflies. Our cell phones had not worked since we first crossed into Scioto county, so we had already abandoned that form of communication, and the remaining two forms were just frosting on the cake. The last two days of isolation were almost a gift. Without outside distractions we slipped even deeper into the rhythms of the mountains…birdsong, rain dripping from wet, shiny green leaves to the dark, decayed leaf litter of the forest floor, creeks—cold and clear on their endless run down the mountains, babbling and rushing over rocks covered in fossils 350 million years old…sensations and sounds, smells and color, and all ours without interruption.

Trailblazing the Look-out Trail
I wanted to post every night, but that didn't happen. The second evening I was exhausted and then we had WIFI loss, so I had to save everything up. Besides working in the nature center, our first job was trailblazing the Look-out Trail. Hikers were getting lost on the trail, and Jenny needed us to trim it back and paint arrows on trees to guide the hikers along. What a fun job!! We worked like crazy, but I think all the hard trail work kept me from gaining weight. A gourmet cook at the lodge did a great job concocting irresistible desserts, such as peanut butter and chocolate pie. He was also able to cook salt free for me (I have Meniere's Disease--an inner ear disorder that restricts the amount of salt I can have in my diet). I fell prey to the chocolate peanut butter pie twice, but all that climbing and chopping burnt enough calories to counteract the evils of the sugar.

When we finished working at the nature center two other volunteers, Anna and Kayla, offered to trail blaze with us. Yeah!! We were so happy--if two is good, four is better! We immediately set off for the trail. Look-out Trail is a two-mile loop on the outskirts of Roosevelt Lake. The evening before Matty and I hiked the trail in the rain to see if we could figure it out and not get lost. Using Jenny's instructions and a map, we succeeded. We had a blast climbing and hiking around in the rain (a little slippery here and there, and at one point we both went ankle deep in mud, but it all added to the adventure, and we loved it.) Since Matty and I were sure of the trail, all four of us got right to work.

Anna paints the first arrow.
Matty and Kayla would carve away the bark in the shape of an arrow, being careful not to carve down into the cambium. Once the bark was removed, Anna and I would paint pink arrows on the tree. Aren't they can't miss those hot-pink arrows! We didn't paint too many, just every now and then at turning points and other key spots. If you ever walk the trail, let me know if saw the arrows!

Matthew Riccetti trailblazing at Shawnee State Park.

Matty and Kayla carving out arrows (on on each side of the tree because you can follow the trail from either direction). It was really hot and the humidity was crazy. We were soaked with sweat.

Ouch!!! This job is not for sissies! Kayla slipped with the knife and cut her thumb. I thought she she needed to go home to get it bandaged up, but Kayla was too brave for that.

...she took off her shoe, pulled off her sock, and wrapped it around her thumb! What a woman! It soaked through for a while, but eventually slowed. (Anna emailed me that Kayla's thumb is all right...she didn't need stitches, just a bandage and a healthy application of antibiotic salve...)

...since this tree was already marked up with hearts and initials, we thought it was a good tree to put the arrows on. Matty found out its bark was really hard...

...eventually he gave up and Anna took over. She was able to finish carving out the triangle. I think at this point a guy we met early on came back down the trail by retracing his steps. He had gotten lost and decided he would be safe rather than sorry by heading back the same way he came. Of course we all laughed and told him to try the trail the next day because all the bright pink arrows would be up, and he wouldn't get lost!

...wherever we looked, beauty was there. This Luna moth was just hanging out on the tree not know how beautiful it was. I've never seen so many incredible moths. They were all huge and colorful, and butterflies were everywhere.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Volunteering at Shawnee State Park

Matty and I are in for a big adventure this week. We are staying at Shawnee State Park in southeastern Ohio for a working vacation. We arrived yesterday and are volunteering all week...and we're doing real stuff too!! I hope to post something every night with highlights of what we accomplished that day. Today we worked at the Nature Center and played with snakes. Matty helped little kids learn how to hold the snakes, and I took photos. There is so much to write about, but it will have to wait. I'm exhausted. We are working with Jenny Richards, the most amazing naturalist ever! More to come on Jenny and Shawnee...and all the cool things you can do when you're a volunteer.

Mr. King was super sweet. He is a Black King Snake. We took him out in the rain to play, and he was in 7th Heaven. He looked very fetching on the wet railing.

Mr. King is just one of many snakes we worked with today. They were all cool, and they all loved to be held...and they all had amazing tongues!

...raindrops were falling on Mr. King's head...and mine, and Matty's...

The Nature Center at Shawnee State Park where Matthew Riccetti and Kelly Riccetti volunteered.
Jenny's Nature Center in the rain. There is sooooo much to say about all the naturalist programs Jenny runs at Shawnee. It's an amazing place...

Shawnee State Park is in Scioto county in Ohio. It is in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains and is beautiful. The park is 1,095 acres and is part of the 63,000-acre Shawnee State Forest. much more to come...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Black-bellied Plover sans the black belly...

Birding Longboat Key, FloridaBack in March, when this photo was taken, this Black-bellied Plover was still in his non-breeding plumage. His black belly doesn't show up until he molts into his summer breeding plumage. He nests all the way up in the arctic, so I don't think I'll be seeing that black belly any time soon...

...this fellow was foraging with a small flock of Willets. He was off on his own, yet at the same time, he was very much part of the Willets' flock. I enjoyed watching him peck out his dinner. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds's site, the Black-bellied Plover is the only American plover with a hind toe. It's very small. If you look closely in the second photo, you can just make it out.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Dare-to-be-Different Bird

Birding Longboat Key, Florida
When my brother and I were growing up, my mom had a poster in our kitchen that read “Dare to be Different!” The entire poster was covered in neat stacks of red apples with one green apple tucked in on the left-hand side. I used to love that poster and it always stuck in my mind, so when I saw this Black Skimmer walking down the beach with his tiny little feet and massively long lower mandible, it's no wonder “Dare to be Different” popped to mind.

Black Skimmers are the only bird in North America with a lower mandible that is longer than its upper mandible.

...from the side his bill looks big and clunky, but head on it's razor thin--perfect for slicing through the water as he skims the surface for fish. When a fish touches the skimmer's bill, he automatically clamps down, capturing his prey.

...that's one different-looking bird.

...I love that look.

I saw this flock of Black Skimmers on March 17, 2010 while walking the beach with Laure Ferlita. I remember it was St. Patty's Day and we were both wearing green. Laure is a blogger friend, artist, and water color teacher from Tampa. We had a great time talking and walking the beach, and we also had a yummy lunch at an outdoor beachfront cafe. If you’re thinking about a water color class, she’s a great teacher, visit her at her blog Painted Thoughts.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Remember that bird painting challenge I'm working on?

...apparently I forgot about it, but I'm back on track with paintbrush in hand. It seems lately I've done everything but paint birds. We were on vacation on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina for two weeks, and that was wonderful. I visited Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge a lot and have tons of photos. The rookery was a lot different this year compared to last year, and I saw a few new birds there this year too. My poor Cincinnati birds are going to feel left out because I'll probably go straight from posting Florida birds to South Carolina birds...

Before I get to the photos, here are my catching-up-to-the-challenge paintings. They are very fast sketches, and I think I had better get used to painting fast if I want to have any hope of making 100 in a year. I should be a bit beyond 50 now, but I'm only at 37!

Painting 37 - Eastern Towhee

Painting 36 - Eastern Towhee in Orange
This one was fun. I just wanted to create a flat form
with color. I normally pay attention to detail, but I wanted
to leave that style behind for a while...

Painting 35 - Willet in the Gulf

Painting 34 - Eastern Kingbird in the High Meadow
(From the High Meadow at Voice of America Park)

Painting 33 - Prothonotary Warbler painting study
This was a five-minute value study for an earlier painting. After I figured out how to work out the real painting, I tossed this on the floor and forgot about it. A couple of days later I saw it on the floor and picked it up and scribbled over the top of it with pastels and charcoal, really grinding the pigment into the paper. Then I stuck it under the faucet and doused it with water, washing a lot of the pigment off and soaking the paper completely--I have no idea why. It ended with an old-fashioned fabric feel that I liked, so I decided to use it in the challenge.