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Ohio History – Wapakoneta and the Armstrong Air and Space Museum.

August 3, 2019

Two weeks ago was the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing- what an amazing achievement!  I remember that night 50 years ago as a young child, watching the black-and-white broadcast from the moon.  I was a space exploration fan then, and still am all these years later.

Ohio’s own Neil Armstrong was the first person to step on the moon.  He lived in Wapakoneta Ohio, where a museum has been erected in his honor.  Last October, I visited the town and the museum- and this is a good time to look at the photos I took there.



Wapakoneta means ‘white cloth’ in the Shawnee tongue, an indication of its neutral status in the late 18th century.  The Shawnee tribe had moved into the area when the Miami tribe left after their defeat at the hands of George Rogers Clark.  Situated between British Detroit and American Cincinnati, a great council lodge was built here, where the Ohio tribes would meet in opposition to the encroachment of white settlers.  All of this ended after the Battle of Fallen Timbers when most of Ohio became white territory by treaty.  In 1831, most of the Shawnee headed west.

The town was incorporated in 1849 and was a northwest Ohio railway center for agricultural and manufactured goods.  Today, just under 10,000 people call Wapakoneta home.

The town is the county seat for Auglaize County.  Here’s the county courthouse, completed in 1894.


Armstrong Air and Space Museum

Wapakoneta’s most famous son has a museum in town- the Armstrong Air & Space Museum.

Neil Alden Armstrong (August 5, 1930 – August 25, 2012) was an American astronaut and aeronautical engineer who was the first person to walk on the Moon. He was also a naval aviator, test pilot, and university professor.

The museum building itself is an interesting bit of architecture: ‘The museum itself is designed to resemble a futuristic moon base’.

On the grounds there is a memorial to the three American astronaut crews who perished.

Also on the grounds is a jet that Armstrong flew when he was with NASA.

This plaque at the entrance brought to mind that Mr. Armstrong, a private man, was averse to being seen as profiting off of his fame.  He sued his barber who sold his hair clippings for $3,000 to a collector.  The settlement had the barber donate that money to a charity of Armstrong’s choice.

I was unaware that Ohio was home to so many American astronauts!

The museum briefly covered the history of powered flight.  It’s amazing to think that the first airplane flew in 1903 and then 66 years later, humankind walked upon the Moon.

As an aside, there was one of those souvenir coin machines in the lobby.  You insert a penny and it turns it into a enlongated stamped medallion as a souvenir of your visit.  I like these things!

Animals made it into space before humans.

Armstrong was one of the Gemini 8 crew 3 years before he went to the Moon- here’s the actual space capsule.  It looks rather cramped!

Gemini 8 (officially Gemini VIII) was the sixth crewed spaceflight in NASA’s Gemini program, launched March 16, 1966. It was the twelfth crewed American flight and the twenty-second crewed spaceflight of all time. The mission conducted the first docking of two spacecraft in orbit, but suffered the first critical in-space system failure of a U.S. spacecraft which threatened the lives of the astronauts and required an immediate abort of the mission. The crew was returned to Earth safely.

This is Armstrong’s spacesuit he wore aboard Gemini 8.

He was picked for command of Apollo 11- the first Moom landing mission- because of his skillful handling of the Gemini 8 malfunction that could well have ended in death for the crew.

Armstrong flew the X-15 rocket plane as a test pilot.

This Aeronica Champion airplane was the very plane that Neil learned to fly in at age 15.

Unmanned spacecraft paved the way for manned missions.

The Apollo Program put Americans on the Moon, honoring John F. Kennedy’s goal to reach the Moon before 1970.

This flag went to the Moon and back with Apollo 11.

Neil’s Apollo spacesuit.

The entrance to the movie theater has a wild display surrounding you, like an infinite sea of stars in blackness.  It brought on vertigo, like the wild effects at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey!

The 25-minute film was very informative and interesting.



The Lunar Landing Simulator showed how well Neil landed manually after computer malfunctions- he landed with less than 30 seconds of fuel left.  Talk about the Right Stuff!


The Museum was a worthwhile visit.  If you are a space fan, you’ll really enjoy yourself here.

Thank you, Neil Armstrong and all of the people that got us to the Moon!

Ohio History – Zanesville and the National Road Museum.

July 6, 2019

A couple months ago I was spring birding and made a stop in Zanesville Ohio, 50 miles east of Columbus.  Not far from Zanesville was a museum I always wanted to see, and I finally got there.  Here’s some of the highlights of that trip.


Zanesville is a city in and the county seat of Muskingum County, Ohio, United States. It is located 52 miles (84 km) east of Columbus. The population was 25,487 as of the 2010 census.

Zanesville was named after Ebenezer Zane (1747–1811), who had blazed Zane’s Trace, a pioneer trail from Wheeling, Virginia (now in West Virginia) to Maysville, Kentucky through present-day Ohio. In 1797, he remitted land as payment to his son-in-law, John McIntire (1759–1815), at the point where Zane’s Trace met the Muskingum River. With the assistance of Zane, McIntire platted the town, opened an inn and ferry by 1799. In 1801, Zanesville was officially renamed, formerly Westbourne, the chosen name for the settlement by Zane.

From 1810–1812, the city was the second state capital of Ohio. The National Road courses through Zanesville as U.S. Route 40. The city grew quickly in the 1820s–1850s. In excess of 5,000 Union soldiers, along with hundreds of townsfolk, were stationed in the Zanesville area to protect the city in 1863 during Morgan’s Raid. Novelist Zane Grey, a descendant of the Zane family, was born in the city.

The Muskingum County Courthouse is in Zanesville- I love these old buildings!

The city increased, largely because of factories producing pottery, bricks, glassware, ball-bearings, soap, steel and many other products from the 1880s until the mid-1950s. The city had a booming downtown economy and increase in the northern area of the town. By the 1950s many factories had closed or moved. Pottery, a major industrial employer, slowly waned in demand because of cheaper Asian companies. During the 1950s until the 1980s nearly one-third of the population abandoned the city . By the 1990s the city/county opened industrial parks and several housing developments were built in the northern parts of the city.

The city has two engineering landmarks: the Muskingum River Canal, designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark; and the Zanesville Y-Bridge, the only such structure in the United States in operation. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

A three-way bridge called the “Y-Bridge” spans the confluence of the Licking and the Muskingum rivers. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is one of very few bridges of its type in the United States. The unique shape of a three-way bridge makes it easy to identify from an airplane. Pilot Amelia Earhart described Zanesville, Ohio as “the most recognizable city in the country” because of its Y-shaped bridge. It has been rebuilt numerous times since the 1850s. Visitors to the city are often surprised when they receive directions including the statement, “Drive to the middle of the bridge and turn right.”

The National Road

Driving along US Route 40 that runs east-west through the middle of Ohio you’ll notice some interesting sites.  Historical markers and structures abound- this road has been around a while.  Not far from Zanesville there is a museum that will tell you all you want to know about it.

The National Road & Zane Grey Museum

The National Road (also known as the Cumberland Road) was the first major improved highway in the United States built by the federal government. Built between 1811 and 1837, the 620-mile (1,000 km) road connected the Potomac and Ohio Rivers and was a main transport path to the West for thousands of settlers. When rebuilt in the 1830s, it became the second U.S. road surfaced with the macadam process pioneered by Scotsman John Loudon McAdam.

Construction began heading west in 1811 at Cumberland, Maryland, on the Potomac River. After the Financial Panic of 1837 and the resulting economic depression, congressional funding ran dry and construction was stopped at Vandalia, Illinois, the then capital of the Illinois, 63 miles (101 km) northeast of St. Louis across the Mississippi River.

Today, much of the alignment is followed by U.S. Route 40, with various portions bearing the Alternate U.S. Route 40 designation, or various state-road numbers (such as Maryland Route 144 for several sections between Baltimore and Cumberland).

In 2002, the full road, including extensions east to Baltimore and west to St. Louis, was designated the Historic National Road, an All-American Road.

In Ohio, there were 5-foot-tall stone mile markers on the north side of the National Road every single mile.  I’ve seen several of these markers still there along Route 40 (83 are still in place).  The markers tell you the distance to Cumberland Maryland (the start of the road) and the distance to the nearest towns to the east and west of the marker (larger towns in the area are also noted).  It’s easy to take such markers for granted now, but back in the 19th century there wasn’t a lot of information available for travelers!

We take roads for granted now, but the National Road was the first federal road project in the United States.  In the 18th century, the only way to get from east to the (old) west was via blazed trails and the Ohio River.  Early 19th century canals in Ohio tended to travel north and south, not east and west. The National Road took nearly three decades to build, but it facilitated travel and transportation of goods in a big way.

The museum’s interior was surprisingly full of all sorts of interesting displays.

Jerry L. Thompson was a very enthusiastic volunteer on duty the day I was there- he loved to talk history, and I learned a lot from him.  Thanks, Jerry!

The centerpiece of the museum is a large detailed 136-foot-long historical diorama showcasing what it was like to be on the National Road in the 19th century.

There were frequent inns along the National Road for travelers to rest and eat at.  Much like canals and railroads, towns and businesses grew up alongside the National Road.  And of course businesses and towns declined as new methods of transportation elsewhere became popular.  Railroads succeeded the National Road as the preeminent way to travel until the highway system was completed by the mid-20th century.

By the way, there was a lot of National Road politics– towns lobbied to be along the route, and Dayton interests even built a counterfeit stretch of National Road so it could get in on the economic boost!

Conestoga Wagons, horse carriages and early automobiles- all seen along the National Road- were on display.

Zane Grey

Also in the museum were displays highlighting the life and work of Zane Grey, a Zanesville native.

Pearl Zane Grey (January 31, 1872 – October 23, 1939) was an American author and dentist best known for his popular adventure novels and stories associated with the Western genre in literature and the arts; he idealized the American frontier. Riders of the Purple Sage (1912) was his best-selling book.

In addition to the commercial success of his printed works, his books have had second lives and continuing influence when adapted as films and television productions. His novels and short stories have been adapted into 112 films, two television episodes, and a television series, Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater.

Grey became one of the first authors to become a millionaire via writing.  Above is a recreation of his study, where he wrote many books.

Local Art Pottery

You can’t study art pottery very long without noticing that many of the great American potteries were in Ohio.  Roseville, McCoy, Hull, and Weller are some of the better known names that came from this region.  Between about 1840 and 1967, Ohio was home to hundreds of potteries, and most of them were located in one of two areas in east Ohio.

…The area around the towns of Roseville, Zanesville, and Crooksville was the other Ohio pottery hotspot.  This southeastern Ohio region is rich in clay, and its pottery history goes all the way back to the Native Americans.  When European settlers came to the area, they set up “bluebird” potteries in their backyards and sheds.  Naturally, there were entrepreneurs who saw the pottery’s profit potential, and an industry was born.  McCoy, Weller, and Roseville were some of the first potteries to establish successful businesses in the area that would eventually be known as the “Pottery Belt” and “Clay Corridor.” 

The World’s Columbian Exposition, which was held in Chicago in 1893, introduced the Arts and Crafts movement to American potters and greatly influenced Ohio’s pottery industry. Potteries began creating art pottery in addition to the utilitarian jugs and crocks they had been producing. After the turn of the century, the art pottery business was booming, and Ohio was a leading producer.

…Most of these companies closed at some point after WWII, when foreign competition entered the American market.  But Ohio remains true to its pottery roots and has many functioning potteries today.

This museum is a great place to learn a ton about Ohio history.  I highly recommend it.  There’s so much to learn about history right in your local area!



Spring Migration – May 2019.

June 1, 2019

For most birders, spring migration is the highlight of the year.  Brightly-colored birds, ready to nest, flood north from southern areas, an exciting end to the cold season.

Spring migration takes place in March, April and May.  March sees Waterfowl on the move heading north and early land bird arrivals such as Eastern Phoebes.  April adds on many more land birds, especially Sparrows heading north.  But it is May that is the jewel in the crown of spring migration.  This is when most Warblers- those colorful neotropical migrants- pass through (and come to stay in) Ohio.  The beginning of May usually sees the leaves on the trees start to come out, and this is where the Warblers look for their meals- insects.

Traditionally, the first 3 weeks of May is the core of my spring migration experience.  By late May, the Warblers are slowing down significantly, and most migrants have migrated.  The leaves and undergrowth are fully deployed in their summerish dense glory, making it hard to see our feathered friends.

So, I thought I’d post what the first 3 weeks of May 2019 were like for me- where I went and what I saw as a birder (not forgetting other sights such as wildflowers).  This is a big post but I wanted to show how big the month of May can be!


May 1st, Indian Lake State Park (Logan Co)

I started off on a hunt for a rare shorebird up at Indian Lake

It’s still the off-season, although by the end of the month there will be a good amount of folks out in the parks

Here was the bird I was looking for- a Piping Plover.  Looking somewhat like the common Semipalmated Plover, this bird is rarer here, and was passing through Ohio on shorebird migration.  Note the blue band on its left leg.  A life list bird for me!

This female House Sparrow was nesting in the top of a restroom building.  May is a big month for birds raising young.


May 4th, Prairie Oaks Metro Park (Franklin Co)

Prairie Oaks Metro Park is one of my favorite places for nature walks- it’s not as busy as some places, being out on the western edge of Franklin County.  It has a variety of environments, and is good-sized: you can walk for miles on the trails.

Wintercress is a prominent spring wildflower, one of three common yellow plants you can run across this season in Ohio.

Here’s a Buckeye- Ohio’s state tree- blooming.

Red-Winged Blackbirds are on territory, singing their ‘gurgle-ee’ song.  They often chase other birds away from their territory.

Another bird often seen hanging around this month are Brown-Headed Cowbirds.  These parasitic birds lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, allowing others to raise their young.

This is a Warbling Vireo, not much to look at but a vigorous singer that sounds a bit like a tape recorder sped up and running in reverse.

A pair of Tree Swallows at a nesting box.

A male Orchard Oriole keeps an eye out while his mate searches for nesting material.

A female American Redstart- a fairly common Warbler seen during migration.

A male Common Yellowthroat- one of the most common Warblers that nests in Ohio.  It likes fields with shrubs and nearby trees.

A male Yellow Warbler.  Another very common Warbler that nests in Ohio, it likes shrubby areas near water, and Prairie Oaks has plenty of both.  I blogged about the Yellow Warbler frenzy at Prairie Oaks 5 years ago.

I spotted this broken Robin egg.  There’s a lot of nesting going on.

This Robin wasn’t far off.  When you see birds carrying food, they are most likely feeding their young.

I ran across a Killdeer, central Ohio’s most common shorebird.  They love grassy and gravelly areas.

This bird is pretending to be injured to lure me away from their nest.  I blogged about a similar incident years ago.

Can you spot the nest?

Here’s a close-up of the 4 eggs neatly placed together on a gravelly area.  Killdeer place them upon a sparse nest of sticks and grass.  When the young are born, they quickly are up and running.


May 5th, Blendon Woods Metro Park (Franklin Co)

Blendon Woods Metro Park is a very popular birding spot in Franklin County.  The park isn’t the biggest, but it draws in a great amount of Warblers and other birds during migrations.  Plus it is well-known for its substantial Wild Turkey flock.  It is a must-visit park in May.

Here’s one of the many Wild Turkeys.  They get along with people well enough.  I blogged about an encounter with them 7 years ago.

Blendon Woods contains Walden Pond within its boundaries, a fine place to see water-friendly birds such as this Great Egret.  There are 2 bird blind cottages to see them from.

This Gray Catbird sings vigorously from a bushy area.  I see perhaps the same bird every year in the same place…I’ll have to blog about that one day.

And now, a few of the Warblers seen…

A male Black-Throated Blue Warbler singing

A Black And White Warbler

A male Blackburnian Warbler in all his glory.

May has a profusion of bushes blooming, such as this Elderberry.  More about it here.

Butterweed is a common May plant in wet fields.  Whole fields of it sometimes takes one’s breath away.

Chipmunks were common in the May woods.  Sometimes they hold very still, allowing a decent picture 🙂

A young-bird encounter- 2 juvenile Carolina Wrens beg for food from a parent.  These birds are quite loud for their tiny size.  Young birds can often be identified by their colorful mouths- this triggers a parents’ instinct to feed them when they open wide.


May 5th, Dillon State Park (Muskingum Co)

A birding buddy and I overnighted at Dillon State Park at a cabin.  The great thing about the cabin area is that it was surrounded by woodland, so we could birdwatch right from our deck!

A male Eastern Towhee

A Red-Eyed Vireo

A Hooded Warbler singing

This patch of Bluets grew next to our cabin.


May 6th, Blackhand Gorge state Nature Preserve (Licking Co)

Blackhand Gorge is another well-visited birding hotspot, east of Columbus.

The name “Blackhand” originated from a dark, hand-shaped Indian petroglyph that was engraved on the face of a massive sandstone cliff along the north side of the river. The engraving was destroyed in 1828 when canal builders dynamited the cliff face, during construction of the Ohio-Erie Canal, which runs through the gorge. Sections of the canal towpaths and canal locks may be seen from the trails along the river.

There’s a lot of interesting sandstone geology in the area.  A railroad cut was blasted through this area in 1851.

Cerulean Warblers sang in the forest.

White-Eyed Vireos, with their striking songs and white eyes, liked the area.

Quite a few Acadian Flycatchers- another forest bird- were around.  They chased each other through the forest.

This Yellow-Throated Vireo came down for a good look at us birders.


May 7th & 8th, Buck Creek State Park (Clark Co)

One of my favorite state parks is Buck Creek, near Springfield.  It has a large reservoir, miles of roads through woods, recreational areas, cabins and campgrounds, even a beach.  The Visitors Center (run by the US Army Corps of Engineers) is worth a stop- one of the staff members is a birder and likes to talk birds.

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I stay in one particular cabin that has the best view of the reservoir.

I chatted a bit with a lady mushroomer- she’d found some impressive specimens in the area.

Spring Beauties, a classic spring ephemeral, like some shade.  Read more about them in an old blog post.

This Black-Throated Green Warbler posed nicely for me.

Tennessee Warblers sang loudly…

…while Blackpoll Warblers made very soft high-pitched calls.

This male Rose-Breasted Grosbeak sang in a tree, not overly concerned about me taking pictures of him.

Baltimore Orioles were numerous, collecting nesting material and squabbling with each other.

This Eastern Phoebe was near my cabin- they love nesting on human structures.  Here’s a post I did about them long ago.

Some of the deer near my cabin seemed curious about me.

This Raccoon was trying to grab something in a hole in a tree, probably bird eggs

A cat hung out in the cabin area- it ignored me but finally began meowing at me afterI talked to it for a while.  My guess is that somebody was feeding it!

I saw many nesting birds, such as this Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher and others


May 11th, Howard Marsh MetroPark (Lucas Co)

I went up to Lake Erie during Big Birding Week.  Howard Marsh Metropark is a great place to find a variety of birds, including rarities.

A buddy and I went up during the Biggest Week in American Birding.

This park has a small resident population of Horned Larks that you can get fairly close to.  It’s hard to get them to pose for pictures like this elsewhere (at least in my experience).

A highlight of this visit was getting great pictures of one of the 3 Yellow-Headed Blackbirds in the park.  These birds are rare enough in Ohio, much more common out west, but they were associating with a large flock of Red-Winged Blackbirds and were singing.  Top males have a harem of females.  Their song is not pleasing to the ear, but they are gorgeous birds!

Another bird highlight was this Black-Necked Stilt feeding in the marsh.  This bird is rare in Ohio, being typically found along either coast or out west.  They are very territorial when nesting, and have even been known to strike at people with their legs from behind the intruding human.  They are also gorgeous!


May 11th, Magee Marsh Boardwalk (Lucas Co)

Magee Marsh Boardwalk is the mecca of Ohio birders (and one of the most visited birding places in the eastern US).  I’ve blogged about a visit I made there 2 years ago.

It’s fun looking at the many vehicles in the parking lot.

The boardwalk is crowded this season.  This male Red-Winged Blackbird walked down the boardwalk in between all of the birders!  What the heck was that about?

And now, on to the Warblers- I got some good photos this visit-

A male Magnolia Warbler

A singing Northern Parula Warbler

A Chestnut-Sided Warbler

A Yellow Warbler collecting nesting material

A singing Bay-Breasted Warbler, always good to get a solid picture of them

A male Cape May Warbler who posed for us for nearly a minute!

A male Yellow-Rumped Warbler

While not a Warbler, this male Scarlet Tanager was just as beautiful.


May 14th, Tecumseh Trail (Clark Co)

The Tecumseh Trail is in New Carlisle Ohio, west of Springfield.  It is host to a rare Warbler this May.

Birders went off the main trail a small ways on an animal path in the Honeysuckle bushes, looking for the bird…

…a Swainson’s Warbler.  This bird was somewhat hard to see, singing in the brush and from hidden perches.  As far as I know, it is still there singing- perhaps trying to set up territory?  Another life list bird for me.

Within sight of the Swainson’s Warbler was a Red-Shouldered Hawk nest in a large Sycamore Tree.

I spotted this patch of Wild Columbine along the trail- gorgeous and uncommon wildflowers!

A Great Crested Flycatcher flew across the path.  This trail is a good birding spot!


May 16th, Little Darby Preserve (Madison Co)

This remote hidden gem of a nature preserve is west of Columbus in the county I grew up in.  It has plenty of fields, dense brushy areas, and woodland along Little Darby Creek’s shores.  I talked to a maintenance guy mowing the paths and he agrees that there’s not lots of people visiting, but that’s fine- nature flourishes there.

A female Summer Tanager searches for insects- she has a very robust bill.  Her male counterpart is completely red.

A Willow Flycatcher sings from the top of a bush out in a field.  This is perfect habitat for them.

Red Admiral butterflies were a common sight.

Fleabane is a common May plant- I blogged about them years ago.

Sweet Cicely is a woodland wildflower that blooms mostly in the month of May.

Virginia Waterleaf is another May flower seen in moist woods.

Wild Geraniums are late spring woodland wildflowers, sort of the last of the spring ephemerals.


May 22nd, Kiwanis Riverway Park (Franklin Co)

Kiwanis Park is a local haunt of mine, a hidden gem of a place that I’ve blogged about before.  It was a fitting place to wrap up the month’s birdapalooza.

A Starling parent is ready to feed this juvenile.  Starlings like to nest in tree holes.

Up above, a Turkey Vulture soars.

A Northern Flicker

A young Cardinal hiding in thickets.  These birds are secretive and don’t like to show themselves.

Dame’s Rocket, the last of the common spring flowers to bloom.  Of course I’ve blogged about it before.

Vines such as this Wild Grape were swiftly increasing.  By now the foliage is very summer-like.

This Canada Warbler peeking at me in the trees was a fitting end to the late May warbler season.  This species tends to migrate late, and its appearance means that the May Warbler show is drawing to a close.

I hope you enjoyed some of the results of my hectic month!


Nature In Your Yard – Fodder Plants.

May 4, 2019

White / Alsike / Red Clover

Black Medick

Birdsfoot Trefoil


Back before World War II, you expected to see a certain variety of plants on your lawn.

You’ll certainly recognize Clover, which grows on quite a few lawns worldwide.  It is mostly looked upon as a troublesome weed today.  But decades ago, Clover seed was actually mixed in with lawn grass seed.

How did we get here?

Before World War II, things looked more…natural, I guess you could say.  Since then, the growth of chemical herbicides has enabled many a homeowner to take up the Quest For The Perfect Lawn.  The perfect lawn being one that only has one type of grass upon it, which looks pleasant.

But there was a reason why fodder plants were so widespread in the past.  Two big reasons, actually.

The Benefits of Lawn Weeds provided me with a good amount of the following information.

1) Fodder plants feed livestock and pollinators

Fodder, a type of animal feed, is any agricultural foodstuff used specifically to feed domesticated livestock, such as cattle, rabbits, sheep, horses, chickens and pigs. “Fodder” refers particularly to food given to the animals (including plants cut and carried to them), rather than that which they forage for themselves (called forage). Fodder is also called provender and includes hay, straw, silage, compressed and pelleted feeds, oils and mixed rations, and sprouted grains and legumes (such as bean sprouts, fresh malt, or spent malt).

Before farms were something far away from most people, they covered much of the land.  Feeding farm animals with inexpensive drought-tolerant plants was just common sense.  Fodder plants such as Clover spread over most of the world for this reason.  A side-benefit of them is that they help keep the soil from eroding.

Pollinators such as bees use fodder plants as a source of nectar.  There is so much Clover that it is a significant source of reliable food for them.

2) Fodder plants add nutrients to the soil

These plants not only feed our livestock, but fertilize the soil by themselves.  This is a very important process that enriches the soil so that everything has more nutrients to grow better.  This process is called nitrogen fixing.

Nitrogen-fixing plants are those whose roots are colonized by certain bacteria that extract nitrogen from the air and convert or “fix” it into a form required for their growth. When the bacteria are done with this nitrogen, it becomes available to the plants, themselves. It is an example of a symbiotic relationship (between plant and bacteria), and the name for the process is “nitrogen fixation.”

Landscapers, gardeners, and farmers value nitrogen-fixing plants for their ability to contribute an essential plant nutrient (namely, nitrogen) to the soil. Nitrogen is one of “the big three,” being the “N” in NPK, the three letters that form a virtual stamp of approval for a complete fertilizer…By exploiting the process of nitrogen fixation, you can obtain this plant nutrient for your soil without resorting to chemical fertilizers.

So, have a little more respect for these very useful weeds!

Here are some common fodder plants I see here in Ohio.

White Clover

This is n abundant fodder plant, famous for its 3-leaved ‘shamrock’ clusters.  Probably the most common ‘weed’ on your lawn (after Dandelions).  It is very hardy and has been described as the most important forage legume of temperate zones worldwide.  Boiled, it’s even good for salads.

Red Clover

Red Clover is a taller and larger plant than its white cousin.  Its 3-leaved clusters have a distinctive light pattern upon them.  It’s acceptable to many gardeners as an ornamental plant, and is used in traditional medicine.  I often see them along paths in warmer weather.

Alsike Clover

Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, mistook Alsike Clover as a hybrid between White and Red Clover.  It isn’t, but it surely looks like it- pinkish and taller than White Clover.  It can often be seen in fields and waste areas.

Black Medick

There’s those 3-leaved clusters again, but the blooms are very small and yellow.  Look closely in grassy areas with poor soils, and you’ll often see these tiny flowers.  It’s easy to miss, but there’s a good amount of it around.

Birdsfoot Trefoil

This plant is from the Pea Family, unlike the Clover Family plants we’ve seen so far.  It has 5-leaved clusters, though only 3 of the leaves are prominent, earning it the ‘trefoil’ name.  This invasive species is a favorite of honeybees and its curiously-shaped flowers are pleasing to look at, which earned it the name of Butter And Eggs in Britain.  I see it along roads and paths out in open areas.  I don’t think of it as a weed at all!


This legume plant is a very popular fodder plant today, having been used as animal feed since the ancient Greeks (often in the form of hay).  Its deep root system helps discourage erosion as well as fertilizing the soil with nitrogen.  And I think we can all agree it is pleasant to look at.  It too has 3-leaved clusters.  You can see whole fields of it planted as a crop, but I usually see it here and there in waste areas and along sunny fields.

Northwest Ohio Tour – Fort Defiance, the Maumee River, and Fallen Timbers.

April 6, 2019

Fort Defiance Park

The Maumee River

Battle of Fallen Timbers Monument

Last autumn, I spent a few days traveling around northwest Ohio.  I was seeking out birding spots and historical sites, playing the tourist from Columbus.  I had a good time- here’s some of what I saw.

I stayed a couple nights at a small cabin at Grand Lake Saint Mary’s State Park in western Ohio.  This was my base of operations for traveling through northwest Ohio up towards Michigan.

Grand Lake St. Marys State Park is a public recreation area located on 13,500-acre Grand Lake in Mercer and Auglaize counties, Ohio.  Grand Lake is the largest inland lake in Ohio in terms of area, but is very shallow, with an average depth of only 5 to 7 feet. The state park is open for year-round recreation, including boating, fishing, swimming and hunting. The park consists of the lake and park facilities scattered all around the shore intermingled with private property and a facility operated by Wright State University.  It is west of St. Marys, and south-east of Celina.

Northwest Ohio contains a lot of flat cropland- this is the till plains (and lake plains) region of the state.  Western Ohio is largely farmland, while eastern Ohio has a good amount of forested hills.

As always, I enjoy the backroads and visiting small town Ohio.  I spent a lot of time on Route 127, which went south-north through the area I was visiting.

Here’s Paulding County’s courthouse.  I’m going to do a post on Ohio’s county courthouses some day- they are excellent studies of 19th-century architecture.

Occasional industrial facilities dotted the rural flatlands.  Lima’s oil refinery was of particular interest.

Paulding and Wan Wert Counties had large wind farms out amidst the farmlands.  It’s hard to get a feel for how tall the wind turbines are without being directly under them.

Halloween was on the way, and occasional houses were well-decorated to suit the season.

This Red-Tailed Hawk perched on a power line.  I was in full birding mode!

I stopped at a few reservoirs along the way, looking for waterfowl and shorebirds.

One of the highlight stops for birds was the Black Swamp Nature Center in Paulding County.  I saw some Yellow-Rumped Warblers and Rusty Blackbirds there.

Up in the very northwest corner of Ohio is Williams County.  I visited George Bible Park there, and noted that the trees were more colorful there than the trees in central Ohio at that time.

Fort Defiance Park

One of the highlights history-wise of my trip was a visit to Fort Defiance Park in Defiance, Ohio.  As you can see in the above pictures, only the fort’s earthworks are visible now, but the park has lots of signage to give you information about the site.

If you remember my post about historic Fort Recovery Ohio, you’ll be familiar with the earlier part of the story of Fort Defiance.  General Wayne and his Legion of the United States, flush from victory at Fort Recovery, moved up towards the Native American stronghold area near the British Fort Detroit in 1794.  He built Fort Defiance at the confluence of the Maumee and Auglaize Rivers.  He used Fort Defiance as the jumping-off point for the decisive Battle of Fallen Timbers further north, which was the battle that claimed the Old Northwest Territory for the fledgling United States.

There are plaques at every location in the fort where a room or feature used to be.  I was glad to see this documentation, it made the fort more real for me.  I was slightly surprised that the fort was as small as it was.

Here’s where the Maumee and the Auglaize Rivers meet- at the heights where Fort Defiance was built.  It is a solid strategic location for defense and control of movement and trade.  The Ohio Territory wouldn’t become a state for another 9 years.

The inscribed stone above is a bit hard to read, but it commemorates the Native American Peoples and the herds of buffalo that originally lived in the area.

It’s hard to believe that there were such things as wolves, elk and buffalo in Ohio at least up until the early 1800s.  It is also amazing to think that White-Tailed Deer were once nearly hunted to extinction in the early 1900s.

Here’s an example of wildlife living in the park today- a black squirrel (a recessive coloration of an Eastern Gray Squirrel).  There is a theory that all Gray Squirrels used to be black when forests covered most of Ohio centuries ago, and that their current gray coloration is more adaptive to the current environment.  I mentioned this in my post about black squirrels years ago.

Defiance’s Public Library sits next to the park- it’s a nice building in its own right.


Maumee River

A nice view of the Maumee from Fort Defiance.

The Maumee River gets its name from the Miami tribe of  Native Americans; the river used to be known as the Miami River for that same reason.  Pronunciations by the settlers of Native American words was usually a bit off.

A view of the river a few miles away from Defiance.

The Maumee River is the largest watershed of any river feeding the Great Lakes, traveling through the breadbasket of Ohio from its origins around Fort Wayne Indiana.  From Fort Defiance, I followed the river up towards its terminus in Lake Erie.

Here’s the Weir Rapids area of the Maumee.  One can imagine the canoes of Native Americans, French Woodsrunners, and British and American traders plying this area like they did for centuries.

Ring-Billed Gulls and Dunlin shorebirds hung out in the shallows.

Much of the area of the Maumee watershed used to be the Great Black Swamp, a large area of glacially-fed wetlands in northwest Ohio.  It was drained by the late 19th century and provides rich agricultural soil.  This ended the serious problems with malaria the area had had for thousands of years.


Battle of Fallen Timbers Monument

As the Maumee River gets close to Lake Erie in the greater Toledo area, there is the Battle of Fallen Timbers Monument, recognizing General Wayne’s greatest victory over the Native American Confederacy led by Blue Jacket and Little Turtle.  This decisive victory by the forces of the young United States opened up the Ohio Territory and ultimately the Old Northwest Territory to American settlement.

The park is long but fairly narrow.  From the parking lot you walk towards a cluster of plaques, monuments and statuary.

The Battle was at a place called Fallen Timbers, where a tornado had jumbled up many fallen trees.  A description of the battle can be found in the book Autumn of the Black Snake: The Creation of the US Army and the Invasion that Opened the West by William Hogeland.  The battlefield is a quarter of a mile north from the monument.

The statue shows General Wayne with a frontiersman and a Native American.

Turkey Foot Rock was the location where Me-sa-sa, an Ottawa Indian chief, died during the Battle of Fallen Timbers.

Me-sa-sa was one of the principal leaders of the Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers on August 20, 1794. General Anthony Wayne and his Army of the Northwest marched against Indian forces in northwestern Ohio along the Maumee River. The Indians prepared to attack him in an area known as Fallen Timbers. It was a place where a tornado had knocked down many trees, and the natives intended to use the fallen trees for protection. Although the Indians used the fallen trees for cover, Wayne’s men quickly drove the Indians from the battlefield. As the Indians were retreating, legend has it that Chief Me-sa-sa jumped on top of a boulder at the base of Presque Isle Hill, hoping to rally his forces. At the time of the battle, the rock was supposedly more than five feet in length and at least three feet high. According to surviving accounts, Me-sa-sa was immediately shot and died next to the boulder. His attempts to rally the Indians failed. The white Americans had thirty-three men killed and roughly one hundred wounded, while the Indians lost approximately twice that number. The fight became known as the Battle of Fallen Timbers.

Following the battle, the boulder where Me-sa-sa was shot become a shrine in his memory. Locals routinely found offerings, such as beef, corn, and trinkets, on the boulder. Indians had left these offerings to honor their deceased chief. The boulder became known as Turkey Foot Rock. It remains unclear why the rock was named Turkey Foot Rock. One possible explanation is that whites called Me-sa-sa Turkey Foot. A second explanation is that the rock had carvings on it in the shape of a turkey’s foot. Some accounts claim that these carvings existed on the rock before Me-sa-sa’s death, while others claim that Indians made these carvings to honor the deceased chief. The boulder and some of the carvings is still visible today at the site of the Battle of Fallen Timbers.

A Fox Squirrel watched me closely from a nearby park bench.

Autumn wildflowers- Calico Asters- were blooming.

I walked across a pedestrian bridge over a highway just to the north and looked at some of the land that the Battle of Fallen Timbers was actually fought upon.

Eventually it was over the river and through the woods back to the cabin.  I visited a couple other places that will have to be given their own blog posts eventually.  Stay tuned!