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Ohio Trees – Buckeye.

November 2, 2019
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Buckeye Tree

The Buckeye Tree, also known as the Ohio Buckeye or the American Buckeye, is so identified with the state of Ohio that it is the official state tree.  This makes it the most ‘Ohioan’ of all the trees appearing in the state.

The Buckeye Tree will always be associated with Ohio because the Ohio Territory was the first area to be settled after the Revolutionary War. When these early settlers arrived here, one of the things they first noticed were the buckeye trees.

Some might think the Buckeye tree is only found in Ohio. This is mostly true, but it is found elsewhere, just not in as great of numbers as here. This was particularly true back in the days when explorers, surveyors and settlers were first arriving here.

Buckeyes prefer moist, well-drained soils to grow in.  They often grow in the understory of a woodland, enjoying partial sunlight.

Buckeye tree leaves are what naturalists call ‘palmately compound’, meaning a cluster of leaflets growing from a single point at the end of a stalk.  In the case of the Buckeye, there are 5 glossy leaflets growing in such clusters.

Buckeye leaves show up early in the spring, and their clusters are distinctive.

Spring also brings the distinctive yellow-green flowers of the tree.

The fruit of the tree shows itself in the summer.  Growing singly or in clusters, it encases the Buckeye that all Ohioans recognize-

This is the classic Buckeye.

The name for the tree originates from the seed the tree produces each fall. It is a glossy dark brown color that resembles the eyes of deer, hence the “buck” eye.

The term buckeye is an Anglicized form of an Indian term for the nuts. They called them “HETUCK” which meant “eye of the buck” because of the resemblance in color and shape between the brown nut and the eye of a large deer.

Although the Buckeye nut is inedible to humans, squirrels eat them.  In pioneer times, the nuts were thought to bring good fortune and were perceived to cure minor ailments.  Perhaps this has something to do with why Buckeye wood was once used for artificial limbs.

The nuts are also the inspiration for buckeye candy, consisting of peanut butter fudge balls dipped in chocolate 🙂

The bark of the tree is also rather distinctive, only gaining a fissured bark appearance (typical of such trees as Oaks and Walnuts) as the tree ages.

Overall, the Buckeye Tree stands out in the midst of other trees for the various reasons pointed out.  It does seem to suffer significantly from such disorders as leaf blotch and leaf scorch, similar to other related trees in the Horsechestnut family.

Source: Wikipedia

One occasionally sees commercial varieties of the Buckeye Tree on front lawns, undoubtedly popular with Ohio State University fans, since ‘OSU Buckeyes’ are the mascots of the university.  ‘Buckeye’ is a proud moniker for Ohioans now, although in the 19th century it originated as a term of derision, similar to calling someone a ‘hayseed’.  I’ll take the proud version current today!


October 5, 2019

There’s a certain behavior in birds that seems surprising when you first see it- smaller birds ganging up on larger birds.  This is called ‘mobbing’.

Here’s an example.  A few years ago I saw a group of Blue Jays gathered around a Red-Tailed Hawk squawking at it noisily.  Normally, these Blue Jays may be the target of such a Hawk, as in ‘dinner’.  But the Blue Jays had gathered around this Hawk and made a big racket.  The Hawk eventually left.

Here’s a definition of mobbing from Wikipedia:

Mobbing in animals is an antipredator adaptation in which individuals of prey species mob a predator by cooperatively attacking or harassing it, usually to protect their offspring. A simple definition of mobbing is an assemblage of individuals around a potentially dangerous predator. This is most frequently seen in birds, though it is also known to occur in many other animals such as the meerkat, and some bovines. While mobbing has evolved independently in many species, it only tends to be present in those whose young are frequently preyed upon. This behavior may complement cryptic adaptations in the offspring themselves, such as camouflage and hiding. Mobbing calls may be used to summon nearby individuals to cooperate in the attack.

Mobbing appears to be a defense strategy against predators to get them to leave the area to reduce risk.

Here’s another Red-Tailed Hawk being mobbed by a group of Crows who have landed near it in the same tree and are raising a ruckus by cawing loudly.  This alerts other birds- potential prey of the Hawk- that there is danger about, and where that danger is.  This makes it very difficult for the predator to hunt successfully.

Here an Eastern Kingbird nearly lands on the back of yet another Red-Tailed Hawk while pecking at it in flight!

You would think that the mobbing birds might be at risk from the predator they are mobbing.  But normally, predators such as Hawks and Owls need to get the drop on their prey by speed and stealth, hitting an unsuspecting target from a blind side.  So when they are clearly in sight of their potential prey, those prey birds are at much less risk.  You see this with Squirrels as well- Squirrels can run rings around a Hawk as long as they see it- if they don’t see it, Hawks can get the drop on them and hit them like a thunderbolt.  I’ve seen this with my own eyes.

In this photo I took at Kiwanis Riverway Park, a Robin and a Red-Winged Blackbird join forces to mob a Hawk.  This is another feature of mobbing- birds of different species often join together in mobbing a potential predator.  I’ve seen tiny Chickadees join in a mobbing by larger birds such as Blue Jays and Crows.  This seems to be a strong behavioral response- that birds frequently will come flying when they hear another bird squawking at a predator.  If all birds join in, everyone is safer in the long run.

Speaking of Red-Winged Blackbirds, they are legendary in their aggressive actions against other birds in their nesting territories.  They chase just about anything away- they’ve even hovered a short distance above me clacking up a storm as I’ve walked on a path near their territory.  Here a Red-Wing chases away a Turkey Vulture.  This behavior is between mobbing and just sheer aggression to keep any and everything else away from their young.

Here an American Kestrel (Sparrowhawk) is being chased by a Baltimore Oriole during nesting season.  Kestrels are strong fliers, but this Oriole (one of a pair) flew at it until it was far away from its territory.

A Cooper’s Hawk swoops at yet another Red-Tailed Hawk to drive it away from its territory.  They were no doubt competitors for local prey.  Other bird species joined in!

Birding tip: when you hear multiple species of birds squawking loudly in a small area, look for a predator that they may be mobbing, such as a Hawk or Owl.

Mobbing is often studied by ornithologists (bird scientists).  Apparently mobbing is more common during nesting season, when young offspring are more at risk.  One paper even suggested that mobbing behavior by male birds demonstrates their fitness to potential female mates who are watching.

Keep your eyes and ears peeled for mobbing!

Darby Wetlands Update.

September 7, 2019

Darby Wetlands

Back in 2011- wow, has it been that long ago?- I posted Autumn at the Darby Wetlands, a look at a new area at Battelle-Darby Metro Park that was being turned into a tallgrass prairie area and wetlands.  West central Ohio had been a prairie area for thousands of years until settlers turned it into farmland.  Now, there is an interest by the Metro Parks system of central Ohio in returning areas of their parks back into prairie.  I blogged about this in a post called The Life, Death, and Rebirth of Ohio’s Prairies.  Now, Prairie Season shows off the efforts of Metro Parks in central Ohio.

Since I posted about the brand-new Darby Wetlands area in 2011, things have changed.  I thought I’d revisit the area in this post and see the changes that have happened.

Back in 2011, the wetlands and tallgrass prairie here were just getting under way.

Contrast this look with recent photos:

Years later, Bluestem Grass (classic tallgrass prairie grass) and Cattails have flourished.  Weedy waste plants such as Horseweed have been replaced by classic prairie growth, and the ponds have seen plenty of aquatic plants take root.

Big Bluestem is a hardy prairie grass that can reach a height of 10 feet.  It’s roots can go down into the soil as deep as 10 feet, too.  It enjoys full sun, is drought-resistant and can be used for livestock fodder or hay.

Arrowroot is one example of aquatic wildflowers that grow in the wetlands.

Cattails are perhaps the most common plant in wetlands and along the edges of ponds.  They take root in shallow water and grow so densely that they crowd out any competitor plants.  They store lots of food energy and grow rapidly.

This is the result of large areas of Cattails- Muskrats and their lodges.  Last year, a very wet year, I counted over 130 lodges on Teal Pond (the main wetlands pond).  Their numbers are down significantly this year, the Muskrats having cleared out a good amount of the Cattails on the east side of the pond.  They chew on Cattails and store the shoots for the winter.  I blogged about Muskrats back in 2012.

American Bullfrogs are very numerous in the wetlands ponds.  They attract waterfowl, shorebirds and other wildlife who feed upon them.

Dragonflies are also seasonally numerous in the wetlands.

Speaking of birds, let’s take a look at some birds often seen at the Darby Wetlands…

In the spring and summer, Common Yellowthroats frequent the prairie and wetlands foliage.

Song Sparrows are common year-round in the wetlands area.

Swamp Sparrows are another common sparrow species here.  You can see less common sparrows such as Savannah, Nelson’s, even a rare Le Conte’s on occasion.  Henslow’s Sparrows can be found in the breeding season in the prairie grass.

Red-Winged Blackbirds are abundant in the wetlands.  I play a game where when I see Cattails I look for Red-Wings and most of the time I find them.  I’ve been at the wetlands near sunset and see huge amounts of blackbirds settling in for the night all around me.

Here’s a Great Egret next to a Pied-Billed Grebe- both common wetlands visitors.  Grebes raise families in the cattails next to the water.

Great Blue and Green (pictured) Herons stalk the ponds looking for plentiful food.

The Wetlands attracts rare birds such as this Little Blue Heron.  The past 9 years has seen many new birds attracted to this newly restored environment.  It’s exciting for birders!


Virginia Rails and Soras- secretive marsh birds- weave in and out of the edges of the Cattails.  You can hear them call from cover much easier than you can see them.

This is a Common Gallinule adult followed by a young bird raised right there in the wetlands.

Ducks, such as this immature male Wood Duck, frequent the wetlands ponds.  Other ducks commonly seen include Mallards, Blue-Winged Teal, and Northern Shovelers.  American Coot are often seen, too.

Killdeer- Ohio’s most common shorebird- are very common in the wetlands, sounding off with their loud ‘kill-deer’ call.

Migrating shorebirds frequently stop by the wetlands to feed.  Here’s a Lesser Yellowlegs…

…a Semipalmated Sandpiper…

…and a Pectoral Sandpiper.  These birds are showing up in greater numbers than ever now that they have such a friendly environment to visit.

Overall, the turning of former farmland into a prairie and wetlands area has gone very well and has reaped big rewards for the environment and wildlife, not to mention birders and naturalists.  The Metro Parks system deserves a big thumbs up for this effort to bring back these scarce natural habitats.



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!