One of my passions in life is the animal kingdom. When I turned 14 I volunteered at an animal shelter for a summer. At the age of 15 I began working at our local zoo and stayed there well after graduating from college. Now I’m in the veterinary field, so given my history, I think it’s safe to say I’ve organized my career around animals.
Given my love of animals, whenever I’m out on a trail I feel a sense of elation when I stumble upon some form of wildlife. When we set out early for our hike around Clear Creek Metro Park a few weeks ago, our main purpose in arriving when the park opened was in hopes of seeing animals that hadn’t been scared away by other hikers. In addition to this, the early morning temps would be cooler, which is more appealing to wildlife.
We weren’t disappointed and here is a round up of what we saw:
Common snapping turtle
I’ve loved turtles of any variety since I was in elementary school and watched sea turtles lay eggs on the beach in Florida. That was over 20 years ago. You can imagine my excitement as we pulled into the parking lot and in front of us was a mound of dirt with a turtle perched in the middle. What an amazing way to start our hike!
When laying eggs, most turtles go into a trance. This particular turtle didn’t move her head as I walked around her, which caused me to wonder if I was observing the beginning or end of the egg laying process. Trance or no trance, I wanted to keep my distance, so I used the zoom with these photos.
I love this photo because of the sunlight falling on her eye not to mention the great view of her muscular legs!
More than a few times we had to do some acrobatics in order to avoid stepping on these toads. You can see how well they camouflaged with the forest. We simply wouldn’t see them unless they moved. And they tended to move seconds before we were going to step on them. Thankfully they were looking out for their own survival otherwise they would have been squished.
They also had no cares about being photographed. We could get impressively close to these bumpy amphibians.
American Giant Millipede
My husband noticed this interesting arthropod crawling on the trail. This is not an animal I see in the garden or in our suburban parks, so I was thrilled to observe it for a while. This specimen was around 4-5 inches long. I’ve always found millipedes cute because of their round heads and antennae.
Leconte’s Haploa, in the Tiger moth family
We moved out of the forest and into a prairie for part of our hike. With so many flowers in bloom we encountered lots of moths and butterflies. How beautiful is the moth above! So striking with its high contract markings. It also reminds me of a Rorschach test. What do you see in the inkblot? I see a cow skull.
Meadow Fritillary Butterfly
These two butterflies were having a grand time navigating around the paparazzi. They would fly in front of my camera then fly back to a flower only to land for a short time – enough time for me to position the camera – only to then fly across the trail to another flower. Sigh.
Pretty? Yes. Challenging? Yes. Worth it? It was approaching 90 degrees and we were in full sunlight, so the answer is up for debate.
Though raccoons are so common around cities, it is still a fun surprise when I see one in a forest. We heard a large rustling in the underbrush and figured an animal far larger than a squirrel was causing the commotion. We waited a few moments to see this little face pop out from behind the tree.
They are so adorable and this one was ready for bed. It slowly made its way up the tree looking for a nice place to snooze.
Northern Dusky Salamander
My husband loves looking for salamanders and if we find a stream bed on a trail, he will turn over a few rocks in search of the little amphibians. During all of our 10 mile hike, we found only one salamander. We were careful not to disturb it too much beyond invading its privacy for a time. After we were done, we carefully re-assembled the rock house the salamander was hiding inside.
The camera struggled to find the little animal and nearly refused to focus. Finally one photo worked out. That’s proof of excellent camouflage!
Tree trunk chewed by beavers
We descended into the wetland area and felt as though we were moving into a prehistoric time period. Between the ferns and those large-leafed water plants, I wouldn’t have been shocked to see a few dinosaurs cross our path.
And with my love for Jurassic Park, I would not have minded except for, you know, if they were carnivorous dinosaurs.
Do you see the pine tree that was chopped down by beavers? Impressive. They are industrious little mammals. (This is why they were my college’s mascot – the industrious and hardworking beaver. Truly.)
There is a Sandpiper in the above photo, but without knowing where to look, I can’t imagine it would be noticeable.
See how cute it is? It was happy to walk along the bank in search of bugs. It found quite a few bugs too.
Missing picture: Vulture in an old barn
This was the tail end of our journey (pun not intended) and we were exhausted. If you had read my prior post about this hike, you’ll know that I was hallucinating (yes, a bit of hyperbole) and my husband was rationing the water (not hyperbole). We stumbled upon an old barn and despite feeling desperate to GET TO THE CAR, I really didn’t want to miss seeing something interesting.
The Cemetery Ridge Trail has an 1800’s renovated barn that you can explore. As we read the informational sign, we heard something jumping around inside. Of course my first thought was, “A barn owl!”
I have yet to see one in the wild, but have worked with one at the zoo. They are beautiful and this would be the perfect place to find one. Excitedly, we rounded to the open door of the barn and were greeted with low growls. Once our eyes adjusted, it was obvious this was not a barn owl growling at us but rather an unhappy vulture. Not only was it growling, it also began hopping towards us on the rafters.
Here’s a fun fact that my husband and I knew as we stared at this agitated creature: Vultures will defend themselves by regurgitating on you – as in, they’ll empty the contents of their past, putrid meal on you. Umm, no, thank you.
Given that we weren’t close to this vulture – at least 20 feet away – we were fairly safe, but I did not like it closing that distance with each successive rafter it mounted. We backed up; it stopped its approach. The growling didn’t cease though, so we knew we needed to get out its line of sight. We walked the long way around the barn and could hear it jumping from rafter to rafter following our path around the barn. It continued to growl and encourage us on our way. We obeyed with haste.
We ended up back on Cemetery Ridge Trail unscathed, but also without a picture. I’ll let you imagine the scene, if you’re ok with that, because it just wasn’t worth the risk.
It didn’t take much longer before we arrived back at the parking lot. We checked to see if the snapping turtle was in place. She was long gone (it was in the mid-90’s, so who could blame her), but she did leave a hill of dirt covering her eggs.
Ohio’s safari’s offer less animals that could eat you (aside from a tick that jumped on my husband’s leg in the forest, which he thankfully noticed 1 second after it landed on him), but a great amount of diversity. We went to see animals and we found them – success!