Opal Ashcraft’s “Pal Book”

An Ohio Spring means so many things to so many different people, but one thing that means a lot to Ohioans whether veteran bird watchers or casual nature lovers is the returning of the sights and sounds of our bird populations. Across our great state a multitudinous variety of birds will be found celebrating, nesting and hatching as the warm weather graces our state. Others, however, just make a pit stop in there spring journey north.

“Ohio Memory” has in its archives a one of a kind item that chronicles one years’ worth of bird watching, it is known as “Pal Book” and was kept by Opal Ashcraft who lived in Mercer County. She kept the birding memoir for her birding pal, Arlene Keunkel in Knox County (hence the title “Pal Book”). The “Pal Book” dates from December to December 1949-50. It appears as black three-ring binder, but inside reveals itself to be a treasure box of love—love of birds and friendship. The pages contain not only journal entries, but color pencil drawings, photographic snap shots, news paper and various clippings, pressed flowers and even bird feathers.

Opal collects all of this to chronicle the birds she hears and sees in Fort Recovery, her rural home, in addition to what she observers in her travels to the surrounding communities.

Opal’s reporting on April rub-crowned kinglets, nuthatches, juncos, blue jays, red-winged blackbirds, starlings, herons, meadowlarks, field sparrows, and flickers—to name a few. Opal also writes often of a friend “Pete”. He is a woodpecker who made a home of a garden post in Opal’s yards and she writes fondly of his life and loves throughout the seasons.

The “Pal Book” chronicles with the same depth of devotion and love the stories of her farm, family the community and her friends. She speaks of books she is reading and makes beautiful observations and sketches of nature in general.

The Cicadas Are Coming! The Cicadas Are Coming!

Almost like something out of a horror movie, they wait beneath trees, underground where we won’t see them, waiting for the perfect spring night to emerge. Furthermore, they arrive by the billions by swarm. Their unique sound can be chilling when they sing in harmony.

The emergence of Cicadas is an essential part of our culture in Ohio, especially the arrival of seventeen-year swarms. Such a swarm is expected to bloom in some Ohio counties this spring. Once the soil eight inches underground comes up to sixty-four degrees Fahrenheit, the cicadas (also known as locusts) will come out of hiding after seventeen years of waiting.

If you never seen them arrive in mass, don’t worry. Despite there size and startling appearance they don’t bite or sting and after waiting seventeen years to say hello, they’ll only be around about six weeks.

The so-called “Brood VII” cicadas (or known to most as seventeen-year cicadas) will arrive by the billions this spring in western Pennsylvania, the northern tip of West Virginia and the eastern edge of Ohio. While it is common to see hundreds or thousands of cicadas any spring in our part of the country, this brood hasn’t emerged since 2002. The last time Ohio saw a swarm of this magnitude was in 2016 when Brood V emerged and took over much of Ohio, as well as parts of New York, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Brood VIII is expected in Ohio by the middle of May and the hot spots are thought to be Ashtabula, Columbiana and Mahoning counties.


Think Spring in Ohio

With the recent warm weather it is hard not to start to think about spring and do we dare, summer? We all know there is inevitably going to be more winter weather in store for us as it is only mid-March. But, maybe by looking ahead to some long term weather forecasts we will have something to look forward to. Let us keep things positive!

Today the Weather Channel released a story telling us that there is likely to be a return to very cold weather in region of the country—below freezing at night and possibly during the day. However, the Farmer’s Almanac has some positive predictions.

For the Lower Lakes Region—think Cleveland to Toledo, upper Ohio—the Almanac predicted temperatures 5 degrees below average for March, but 5 degrees above average for April saying: “April and May will be warmer than normal, with near-normal rainfall.” Sounds like those folks will get a chance to thaw out plenty.

For the Ohio Valley, mid to lower Ohio, temperature predictions for March and April were about the same and the Almanac had this to say about spring 2015: “April and May will be warmer and slightly drier than normal.”

Of both regions, the Almanac predicts hotter than average summer temperatures. Looks like all Ohioans will have a nice warm spring to look forward to!


Spring is Sweet in Ohio

When I think of March in Ohio maple syrup isn’t something that naturally comes to mind. However, it is just about that time of year that many Ohio-based syrup manufacturers begin gearing up for Maple Season. Most of them have been tapping trees since February.

The tradition goes back to the Native Americans. Early settlers observed that they would collect the sap and boil it down in hollowed out logs using hot stones to heat the sap . The science behind making maple syrup hasn’t changed much over the years.

Syrup can be made from any kind of maple; however the Sugar Maple is prized for its high sugar content. Small holes are drilled into the maple, usually about three, and the sap is collected in buckets and can then be rendered down into a variety of sugary, maple-y products.

The tapping doesn’t harm the trees as long as the number of taps is appropriate to the size and health of the plant.

Unlike its high fructose corn syrup based cousins, consuming real maple syrup may even include health benefits! The Ohio Maple Producers Association considers maple syrup is a “super food,” containing antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

You can find out more about maple syrup production in Ohio and information about visiting a maple product producer near you at their website.

~ Jody Victor