A Living Piece of Natural History

by Terri Gorney

Terri Gorney’s family has lived in this area for generations…well over a hundred years. Now one of our most loyal land stewards, she shares some of the history of this magical place, as well as those animals that have crossed her path, during her visits to Forrest Woods.

Forrest Woods is one of those rare natural places in northwest Ohio that contains a remnant of what was once the Great Black Swamp. On a sunny summer day, one can wander into the woods and the tree canopy will block out the sun making the muck under your boots seem darker and the wildflowers seem brighter.

This place is special to me as I have seven generations who have called the Black Swamp home; five of them in Paulding County. The first three generations knew what it was like to live in the Black Swamp, as Paulding County was one of two counties (the other was Wood County) completely covered by the swamp.

In the 1870s and 1880s, the Canadian lumbermen came to clear much of the forests of the county. We can thank the Forrest family for saving some of their land from the same fate.

In 2008, Rob Krain, then the Conservancy land steward, allowed Ray Keck and myself to visit Forrest Woods for the first time. For the past seven years, we have been keeping a record of what we have seen and heard during those visits. We’ve had some incredible experiences with the natural world here. We’ve stood on Forder’s Bridge and watched and heard the ice break up on the Maumee River in February. We’ve heard the spring calls and watched the flights of the male bobolink. We’ve watched a pair of northern mockingbirds with their young and we found a Blandings turtle on a rock in the Maumee River. This place draws us back again and again.

The Marie de Larme Creek flows through the property to the Maumee River. Doug Dunakin, whose family has been in this area since the 1830s, believes that it was a corruption of Maris de L’Orme (Swamp of the Elms) by English speaking settlers. There is an 1813 map that supports this theory along with another early map of neighboring Dekalb County Indiana. Bob Wilder, who lives close to the headwaters of the creek, has stated that there were many elms in their woods that were devastated when the Dutch Elm disease hit.

The creek supports a variety of life. We’ve heard nine species of frogs, including the northern cricket frog that has been a species of concern. We have seen a map turtle, redear sunfish, and mussels. Along its banks nest a variety of birds: yellow-billed cuckoos, indigo buntings, red-headed woodpeckers, green heron, great-crested flycatcher and a number of other species.

Paulding County native Homer Price was an amateur naturalist who lived outside the town of Payne. He kept records on bird nests, dragonflies, and butterflies. In his writing, “The Nesting Birds of Northwestern Ohio,” he studied the birds from 1915-1962. He credits Drs. Milton and Mary Trautman (who wrote the “Birds of Western Lake Erie Documented Observations and Notes 1850-1990”) for urging him to write it and for proof-reading his manuscript. Some of his research was published in the “Ohio Journal of Science” and the AUK (forerunner to the Audubon magazine). Some of his specimens are part of the collection at Ohio State University. It is interesting that some of the species of birds, dragonflies and butterflies that Mr. Price noted almost 70 years ago can be found at Forrest Woods today, such as the Royal River Crusier dragonfly and some of the skippers and swallowtail butterflies. Just as he notes, some years are better years than others for butterflies and dragonflies; 2010 was a good year for both butterflies and dragonflies. In 1921, he found the nest of a green heron and noted they were not as common as they once were in the county. Today, green heron can be seen here during the summer months.

Bobolinks and dickcissels both ground nesting birds, are now spending part of their year at Forrest Woods. Ray Keck, 90, has seen species in the county that he has not seen since the 1920s or 1930s. It gives him pleasure to know that the birds he knew in childhood are back because of habitat restoration. “Build it” and they will come or in this case “rebuild it” and they will find it.

Cheers to the Black Swamp Conservancy for saving this living piece of natural history.