Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Daughmer Savanna

Last Friday morning, on my way up to Lakeside and the OOS annual meeting, I stopped in southern Crawford County for a look at Daughmer Savanna. Securing this rare ecosystem - probably the best representative of an oak savanna remaining in Ohio - was probably the greatest conservation coup of the last year, in my state. Kudos to the Crawford County Park District and all who worked to pull Daughmer from the sharp-edged blade of the plow.
A photo from that Friday morning visit. The skies were leaden and gray - not ideal conditions for making landscape photos. In the foreground is a wet sedge meadow, one of several tiny potholes that dot the 34-acre prairie remnant. Giant Bur Oaks, Quercus macrocarpa, provide the backdrop.

What a difference a sunny blue-sky day with the morning sun at your back can make! I wasn't happy with Friday's images, so I stopped again on Sunday morning, on my way back to Columbus. This photo was made in nearly the same spot as the previous, but things look much rosier. A mixture of Wheat Sedge, Carex atherodes, and Hairy-fruited Sedge, C. trichocarpa, fill the photo's lower lefthand corner. The shrubs are Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis, and they frame the soggiest part of the wetland. The behemoth oaks look far nicer than they do in the previous image.

These small wetlands add tremendously to the biodiversity of the savanna. Many interesting plants flourish in the hydric soils, which in turn spikes animal diversity. This would be a really good spot to look for migrant Nelson's Sparrows and Le Conte's Sparrows right about now.

The stars of Daughmer Savanna are the oaks. Most are Bur Oaks, a classic tree of the midwest prairie. Some of the giants here are in excess of 250 years of age. A savanna is a very open forest ecosystem with an interrupted canopy. Since much of the forest floor is exposed to sunlight, prairie plants flourish below.

NOTE: "Savanna" is the proper name for these plant communities. "Savannah", among other things, refers to the city in Georgia, which probably derived its name from the Shawnee Indians. These peoples were variously known as "Savano", Savana", "Savannah" as well as other names, and once lived in the vicinity of Georgia's Savannah River.

Old-growth Bur Oaks, such as occur at Daughmer, are impressive indeed. This old veteran has seen a lot of changes over its two century plus life, and has easily withstood the ravages of lightning strikes and scores of prairie fires. It was there when the first European settlers punched into the 300 square mile Sandusky Plains, and watched over the transformation of the prairie from a landscape of indescribable diversity to a monoculture of beans, corn, and wheat. How this incalculably tiny sliver of the once vast Sandusky Plains prairie managed to escape the plow is almost unfathomable. Virtually the entire ecosystem has fallen to Deere's sod-cutting invention.

The large acorns of Bur Oak are distinctive, with their heavily fringed caps. It's a boom mast year, and acorns littered the ground in profusion. The acorn cornucopia was much appreciated by the Red-headed Woodpeckers, which chuckled and chattered away for the entirety of my visit.

Carolina (pictured) and Allard's Ground Crickets droned away from the understory duff. The fast (Carolina) and slower (Allard's) trills of these tiny crickets is a classic symphony of fall. They are the latest of the crickets to sing, and for those who lament the passing of autumn to winter, the chorus of these crickets is a melancholy dirge.

If you're prone to venturing off trail and into the "weeds", you know this plant or its allies. It's Small-flowered Agrimony, Agrimonia parviflora. Those bristly little fruit on their strongly articulated pedicels readily snap off, and coat your jeans. Note the stiff hairs that adorn each fruit, each tipped with a fish hook claw. Many an outdoorsperson has vigorously brushed and brushed in an attempt to shed unwanted agrimony burs. There is method to the plant's annoying madness - such fruit have evolved an efficient method for mammalian dispersal.

A site as lushly endowed with vegetable matter as Daughmer will have scores of important insects, of every stripe. I was fortunate to encounter this Monarch chrysalis as I slowly stalked a singing Black-horned Tree Cricket in a goldenrod patch. The savanna is an oasis for migratory insects such as this butterfly, which if all goes well will end up in central Mexico for the winter.

Mexico is a long ways from the flatlands of Crawford County, Ohio, and it's nothing short of a miracle that Monarchs using the prairie as a way station or nursery can fly that far. But I saw a bird at Daughmer that beats that journey by a long shot. A number of Blackpoll Warblers, drab in their fall coats of olive-green, foraged in the oaks. These small songbirds will travel all the way to the Amazonian basin - some 3,500 miles south of Daughmer Savanna. The legions of caterpillars spawned on the oaks' foliage fatten the birds and make such long hauls possible.

New England Aster, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, is nearing peak bloom and brightens the otherwise senescing prairie. It may be common, but is nearly nonpareil in the looks department. A Cucumber Beetle finds the flowers as alluring as we do.

Daughmer Savanna is a living museum; a place that is all too rare these days. I wish every Ohioan would, or could, go see it. A personal connection with such places might make us less apt to thoughtlessly destroy the bits and pieces of our remaining natural heritage. Just CLICK HERE and you'll find the way to this magnificent savanna and its towering oaks that are older than you, manyfold.



Sharkbytes said...

I haven't been there. Looks great.

white azalea said...
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Bob Morris said...

I am very impressed by your interest in this natural world. Thank you for the pictures and commentary. I would like to visit this place.