Nature’s Serenade

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Lisa Rainsong, a Cleveland Museum of Natural History volunteer from Cleveland Heights, records sounds made by insects, amphibians and birds.

By Ed Runyan


Musician and college professor Lisa Rainsong of Cleveland Heights says her relationship with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History is helping her “teach people to be more mindful of the first musicians — insects, amphibians and birds.”

The museum owns three preserves in Trumbull County — two in Mesopotamia Township covering 265 acres and one in Bristol Township called the Sparks Preserve that takes in 293 acres. It’s near the intersection of Downs and Bristol-Champion Townline roads.

Among the things Rainsong does while visiting the museum’s 40 preservation areas covering 5,262 acres is record the sounds of nature and write field reports about them.

An avid birder who teaches music theory at the Cleveland Institute of Music, she’s inspired by the natural areas she visits across Northeast Ohio as a volunteer museum tour guide. She was so inspired several years ago by the sounds of nature in the museum’s Grand River Terraces nature preserve in Ashtabula County near Rock Creek that she wrote classical music for flute and piano about it.

“Nobody paid me to do that. ... I decided to do that on my own,” she said.

The museum has now applied to acquire 88 more acres in Bristol Township using money from the Clean Ohio Conservation Fund, a program paid for and approved by Ohio voters. Trumbull County officials also acquired hundreds of acres of preservation land using Clean Ohio funds and placed them in the MetroParks system.

What Rainsong appreciates about the museum’s land-conservation effort is that it preserves the “best of the best” of Ohio’s natural areas — the best hardwood forest, Lake Erie island, marsh, swamp and glacial wetland.

“These are the habitat that are still intact,” she said.

The museum, which focuses on scientific research, conservation and education, began to acquire natural areas in 1956.

David Kriska, biodiversity coordinator for the museum, said staff members organize field trips to the properties to allow a team of experts, many of them volunteers, to survey for rare plant and animal species and to give tours to museum members and others.

The museum organized a trip to Grove’s Woods in Mesopotamia Township two weeks ago. That area has “huge trees” and attracted visitors from as far away as Wadsworth and Huron, Kriska said.

The other Mesopotamia property is known as Chamberlin Forest, donated by a museum trustee. It is described as having a “spectacular display of wildflowers, including acres of squirrel corn and hillsides covered with white trillium. It is one of several museum preserves where a breeding population of pickerel frogs has been documented.”

The museum organized a trip to the Spokane Swamp property in Bristol Township last March and carried out a land survey. The museum is still in the process of acquiring that land.

“There were salamanders there migrating,” Kriska said. “One time per year for a few weeks they come out of their hibernation and go to these shallow pools, so people see these things you normally don’t see.”

In September 2011, the museum had about 10 people come to the Sparks Property for a nature hike. Some of the people involved were affiliated with the museum, some from the Bristol Township area. The tour was advertised in the Bristolville area several months in advance as being open to the public.

When the museum acquired the 293-acre Sparks Preserve at a cost of $733,912 in 2009, Kriska described it as wet woods that look very much like they did in the 1700s.

“This is one of the finest examples of swamp forest in the Grand River Lowlands,” Kriska said, adding that the site would allow the museum to protect 10 rare animal species, such as bobcats, trumpeter swans and snowshoe hares, and six or so rare plants, such as northern rose azaleas.

The museum tries to establish a relationship with the people living near the properties, such as hunters, who report information back to the museum on what they have observed on the properties, Kriska said.

Sometimes local people help pull invasive plants from the property to help the museum preserve rare species on the grounds.

Invasive species are plants not native to North America. “They spread rapidly and destroy native habitats,” Kriska said. “Some kill native butterflies, for instance.”

The museum website says its 40 preservation sites protect 115 endangered, threatened or rare plant species and 107 state-listed or rare fauna and “provide critical habitat for migratory and rare nesting birds.

“Together, they represent the remarkable biological diversity that was once widespread throughout the region,” the museum says.

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