Alex Palmer's Natural History Notes and Thoughts

Thoughts and reflections on various social and environmental issues, as well as naturalist observations from the great outdoors.

Natural History Notes: Hopewell Mounds

I went for  an evening walk, around 6pm on March 22, 2011, at the Hopewell Mounds Group of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park.  The weather has humid, with about 75% cloud cover and a temperature around 65ºF.  The wind was from the West, with a light breeze of around 5 mph.  The weather the past 24 hours had temperatures ranging from 45-75ºF and intermittent showers and thunderstorms.   I walked the entire length of the hiking trail, starting from the parking lot going Northwest, and then headed back to the parking lot going east on the bike trail, with some backtracking in between (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Map and route of my evening walk.

The habitat, or structure of the plants and soil in the area, ranged from a mesic hardwood forest (mainly points E and F in Figure 1) to shrubby old fields and meadows (points A, B, C, and D).  I also observed some areas along fallow pasture and hayfields (point G and areas along the south line of my route).

That evening there was lots of bird activity.  The weather had finally calmed down from the numerous showers and storms that had marched through the area within the past few days.  Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) were active around their nest boxes, or human-constructed birdhouses, with some of the birds catching insects over the open meadows and fields (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Bluebird nest box. These artificial housing structures closely mimic natural tree cavities into which bluebirds traditionally build their nests.

About 2 miles up the trail (point F) going west from the parking lot (point A), white trout lily (Erythronium albidum) was in bloom in the interior parts of the semi-mature mesic woodland area (Photo A).

Photo A: A middle-moisture soil (or mesic) forest typical of the one in the Northwest corner of my route map in Figure 1. This photo was taken nearby at Great Seal State Park, Ohio, during the same season.

Also in this area was another early spring ephemeral wildflower.  These wildflowers emerge early in the spring, before the leaves have come out on the overlying trees, and then die back for the rest of the year after their flowers have bloomed and have been pollinated by bees.  Not so ironically, the other spring ephemeral wildflower I encountered is titled as the Harbinger-of-Spring (Erigenia bulbosa).

Near the meadow and shrubby fields along the west side of my route (south of point F in Figure 1), as well along the section of my route between the parking lot (A) and point B, I heard and saw Eastern Meadowlarks singing.  These birds are typical of grassland areas, which are prominent in this park (Photo B).

Photo B: Meadow and grassland around the park.

In the more semi-shrubby areas shown like the area shown in Photo C and located just to the north and northwest of the parking lot, male eastern towhees (Pipilo erythrophthalmus),  a vibrant and melodic songbird, were performing their mating calls and scraping the soil underneath the honeysuckle bushes (possibly for food, but perhaps other reasons.

Photo C: The shrubby areas located mainly 400-1000 feet northwest of the parking lot.

Robins, red-winged blackbirds, and grackles squawked and fluttered all along the short grassy areas of the fallowed pastures near the treeline (Photo D), and numerous downy woodpeckers and northern flickers hammered their bills (beaks) on hollowed logs and dead tree snags.

Photo D: Near the edge of the open grassy field and the start of the meadow and tree line.

In various ponds approximately 1 mile from the parking lot going west (mainly around point D in Figure 1), there were a series of seasonal ponds where frogs and toads sing their mating calls and engage in copulation after hibernating from a long cold winter nearly frozen in the bottom muck.  Photo E shows the shallow, wet depressions (puddles) in the flat parts of the meadow area in the park.  I actually only heard the frogs and toads, as they are quite elusive at this time of year.  I heard the ping-ping call of the Northern Spring Peeper and the drawn-out guttural ‘song’ of the American Toad.


Photo E: Ephemeral (seasonal) pond in and among the meadow grasses just to the north of my east-to-west portion of my hike.

Finally, the refreshing air of this park allowed for numerous lichens, or closely interacting colonies of fungus and algae, to color the otherwise barren early spring trees between the shrubby areas near the edge of the forest near point E of Figure 1.

I concluded my walk back at the parking lot (point A), and headed out just before sundown.


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