Feb 23, 2006

Prairie Thaw: A Late Winter Visit To Irwin Nature Preserve

Left: View of the sedge meadow from the observation deck; all photos by historymike

(Toledo, OH) With the sun out and temperatures in the 40s I decided to pay a visit to one of my favorite outdoor haunts - the Irwin Prairie, part of the state nature preserve system.

Irwin Preserve is one of the last natural prairies in the area, and this 187-acre park is a peaceful reminder of what Northwest Ohio once looked like before the nineteenth century. Outcroppings of prairie like this were like oases in this swampy region.

Portions of the preserve are swamp and marsh, remnants of the Great Black Swamp that once dominated the area.

Left: Iced-over swampland in Irwin Prairie

There is a boardwalk that traverses through the preserve for pedestrians; it is a 1-1/4 mile loop trail beginning at the Bancroft Street parking lot. The posted signs remind parkgoers to remain on the boardwalk, but given the marshy conditions throughout, most visitors will heed this advice.

The DNR website for the preserve indicates a number of rare animals have been reported from Irwin Prairie, including sedge wrens, Bell's vireo, the least bittern, the golden-winged warbler, spotted and blandings turtles and the purplish copper butterfly.

I heard a hawk, but the only bird that came near me was a small warbler. After eyeing me for a few minutes, he apparently decided I was not going to provide him with anything resembling a meal, and he flew off.

If other animals were present, they were ensconced in burrows or nests. Unlike me they were not deceived by the appearance of the sun; the winds in the prairie blow much harder than they do in my West Toledo neighborhood, and it was not long before I regretted leaving behing my hat and gloves.

The path winds through several dense swamp forests. Some of the trees in the preserve tower above the others, and likely date back 150-200 years.

Howling through the trees the wind made a lonesome moaning sound, and I had a few moments of apprehension even though it was broad daylight. I was only a few miles from the modern world, and yet I could just as easily have been light years away from the nearest human being.

I suspect that Irwin Prairie would be positively creepy at nighttime.

This is part of a continuing series in which I profile area nature preserves.


liberal_dem said...

Thank goodness a few people were insightful enough to preserve a few bits of nature around our area before the bulldozers took over. Nice photos and write-up.

Lisa Renee said...

Nice pictures Mike, my favorite metropark is Wildwood.


historymike said...

Thanks, guys! This area has some tremendous wildlife areas that are often ignored.

Do said...

Thanks for the re-enforcement of the idea that spring is on its' way! :) In the spring there are plenty of birds out on the prairie. And lots of cameras!

Ptelea said...

Nice job Mike. I'm jealous, I would love to have an assignment like this!

historymike said...

Coming from you that is quite a compliment, Ptelea!

If you have not visited , I urge you to spend a few minutes there. She has some incredible photos, and manages to get some of the most inspiring sunsets!

(historymike is awed by sunrises and sunsets, and must have been a priest in some sort of sun-worshipping society in a previous life)

McCaskey said...

Very nice piece, HM, and with all the turmoil going on in today's world, a refreshing distraction.

liberal_dem said...

One of the reasons that Irwin Prairie was 'saved' from the bulldozers is because it is a bog and some years ago, developers did not want to invest in the drainage/drying of such land.

Today, however, the technology exists which can 'transform' such areas easily into clonic beige condos.

Although there are wetlands restriction laws, they have been recently watered down [no pun intended] to aid the developers in their quest for more housing developments. Today these people can drain a huge area and build, but can set up a 'similar' environment in another area to compensate for the 'loss.'

It sounds very Republicanesque to me although I do not know the legislators that pushed this legislation through.

Stephanie said...

Locally, in Wisconsin, they're re-building prairie in school areas. It's interesting to see. Haven't figured out the whole picture thing yet though, sorry.

liberal_dem said...

...they're re-building prairie in school areas.

Anthony Wayne High School has a very active environmental activist in teacher Tom Kemp who is preserving a section of Swan Creek with his students so that they can understand the concept of eco habitats more clearly.

His is the only project that i know but, hopefully, there are others.