Tuesday, October 6, 2015
One organism that I really wanted to revisit was a strange plant known as Climbing Fern, Lygodium palmatum. For as long as I can remember there has been a large station of this plant in a scruffy cutover woods not far outside of McArthur. Ray and I made our way there, and lo and behold - there was the fern. Vegetation succession has eliminated much of it - back when I first became acquainted with this spot the fern clambered over vast expanses, and suggested an out-of-control growth of Japanese Honeysuckle from afar. But the odd tangle of the odd fern persisted here and there.
In the photo above, we see the finely cleft fertile leaves of Climbing Fern, near the summit of the filamentous vining stems that scramble over other plants. Its support plant - at least one of them - is the noxious Japanese Honeysuckle, and supporting this beautiful fern is one of the better uses that I've seen for that invasive species.
Monday, October 5, 2015
Mark your calendar for Saturday, October 17. That's the date of the Ohio Wetlands Association's annual Wetlands Summit. The event takes place at the beautiful Dawes Arboretum, which is a stone's throw from Newark and easy to reach from nearly anywhere. Complete details and registration information can be found RIGHT HERE.
Ohio has lost about 90% of the wetlands that were here when the first European settlers arrived. Prioritizing their protection, strategizing effective ways to save and restore them, and educating people about wetland values should be of paramount importance. The Ohio Wetlands Association excels at this mission.
A star-studded cast of speakers will make for a very informative and entertaining day, and there should be time to visit some of the wetlands that were restored in recent years in Dawes' property. Some of these wetlands host legions of sparrows in migration, and it's prime time for those beautiful but furtive skulkers, the Nelson's Sparrow and the Le Conte's Sparrow. Bring your binoculars. As an added bonus, the foliage should be awesome - it is fall in Ohio! - and Dawes is loaded with trees of all types.
To register, just CLICK HERE.
Sunday, October 4, 2015
October 4, 2015
On a summer day in 1827, naturalists John Richardson and Thomas Drummond were exploring uncharted territory near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Spying an unfamiliar raptor, Drummond drew a bead with his shotgun and fired. He had collected the first Swainson’s hawk specimen.
Named in honor of scientist/artist William Swainson, the Swainson’s hawk is an animal of great beauty. It’s about the same dimensions as the familiar red-tailed hawk, but it has a slimmer body and longer wings.
The plumage is variable, ranging from very dark forms to much paler types. Most are classified as “light morphs;” the “dark morphs” are scarcer.
The breeding range of Swainson’s hawk encompasses much of western North America, into the southern Canadian prairie provinces. A tiny population in northern Illinois represents the easternmost breeders.
Swainson’s hawks rarely appear in Ohio, and if one does, it will draw great interest.
Most have been fly-overs that didn’t linger. If you weren’t there when the bird winged by, you missed it. I was lucky indeed to be part of Ohio’s first record, on July 1, 1983. A gorgeous Swainson’s hawk flew low over Bruce Peterjohn, Don Tumblin and me as we stood awestruck on a dike near Lake Erie.
Thus, when a Swainson’s hawk appeared in a Holmes County field on Sept. 17, it was big news. This bird was no fly-by, either. It stuck tight for the next five days, spending much time in its favored 6-acre field.
The bird’s unusual site fidelity and lengthy stay made it easy for legions of birders to see.
Hundreds of binocular-toters from all corners of Ohio made the pilgrimage, as did others from surrounding states.
An unaffected celebrity, the hawk utterly ignored visitors. It was entertaining to watch as it raced about snapping up grasshoppers. Otherwise, it perched on a fence post and scanned for bugs.
Swainson’s hawks are notable for being highly insectivorous, except during breeding season when they seek rodent meat for the nestlings.
Adding to the interest was the hawk’s color. It was a dark form. I believe all six or so previous records have been of the more typical light form birds.
Swainson’s hawks are highly migratory, and virtually the entire population shifts to the Pampas region of Argentina for the winter.
That’s more than 6,000 miles — one way! By the time you read this, Holmes County’s avian star will be well on its way to the southern grasslands.
It will join legions of others on the migratory passage.
One of the great hawk-watching spots is Veracruz, Mexico. Up to 1 million Swainson’s hawks have been tallied there in fall migration. Individual flocks can number 10,000 birds.
Major thanks go to Ed Schlabach, the Amish bird-watcher who first confirmed the hawk’s identity. Ed has found many other rarities, including most of Ohio’s other Swainson’s hawk records.
Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month.
Thursday, October 1, 2015
So it was back on August 2, when only a few hours were available to shoot some images. So off to the nearby Kiwanis Park I went, where something of interest can always be found. I had meant to post these pictures long ago, but they got preempted by this, that, and the other. That happens all of the time. Even one good field trip can produce numerous subjects well worth writing about, and things constantly get sent to the end of the line, often never to see the light of day, at least on this blog.
Anyway, I've long had a soft spot for these beautiful butterflies, and admire their pugnacious mannerisms. Chances are good, if a butterfly boldly lands on you, and stays put, or keeps returning, it is a Hackberry Emperor. I have a number of shots of them perched on people's hats, shoulders, noses, whatever.
It's a well-named butterfly, too. The caterpillars eat hackberry foliage. Hence the scientific epithet of the animal's formal name: Asterocampa celtis. Celtis is the genus of hackberry trees. Kiwanis Park has many such trees, and the namesake butterfly isn't hard to find. The Emperor part of the name comes, I suppose, from their habit of regally using people or other animals as their thrones (but I don't know this for sure and feel too lazy to attempt to find out right now).
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
The Ohio State University Museum of Biological Diversity is a treasure trove of fascinating subjects. It houses one of the world’s premier insect collections, a vast store of plant specimens from around the globe, a world class archive of bird and other nature sound recordings, and much more. Museum curators have started an interesting blog that showcases their research and collections. It is well worth bookmarking, and reading. Here’s the link: https://u.osu.edu/biomuseum/
Monday, September 28, 2015
I haven't let much grass grow under my feet of late. I took much of last week off work to help conduct a photo workshop with David FitzSimmons, then it was off to Shawnee State Park at the opposite end of the state to meet with the Mothapalooza planning committee. Long days and not much sleep, but a lot of fun. Following is a small selection of photos from these excursions.
To get the silky quality with the waves, I used a very slow shutter speed, 1/8 of a second. The camera was tripod-mounted of course - hand-holding would not allow for a sharp image at such a sluggish shutter speed.
Shawnee State Forest. After the Mothapalooza planning committee meeting - yes, this strange but wonderful event will be back at Shawnee in 2016! - we headed afield for a bit. And saw many interesting things, but unfortunately for the others, I found this gem on my way out of the forest, after we all went our separate ways. It is the state-endangered Sampson's Snakeroot, Gentiana villosa. Not quite as flashy as the previous gentian, but it has its charms. More 7D Mark II/100mm macro work here, with settings of f/16; 1/250; ISO 100. A big part of making decent images of stuff like this is getting the flash intensity right, and that's what I tend to play with the most.
I'll be back.
Sunday, September 27, 2015
September 27, 2015
Scotsman John Hunter was an inveterate explorer and officer in Great Britain’s Royal Navy. A natural scholar, Hunter was sent to then largely unknown Australia in 1788. He spent much of the next 12 years there. In 1798, he was made privy to the discovery of a bizarre Australian mammal and promptly sent a specimen to the British Museum.
Curator George Shaw, upon examining the specimen, felt it might be a hoax, as did several of his contemporaries. Their skepticism was understandable. The duck-billed platypus looks like a hodgepodge of various animals sewn together — a seemingly impossible anomaly.
The mantidfly is an entomological counterpart to the platypus. The bugs look like the work of a mad scientist. It’s as if the wings of a dragonfly were bolted to a wasp’s body, and a long skeletal neck was welded to the front. Capping the latter is a small head dominated by huge jewellike eyes. Powerful forelegs are armed with stiff spines, and the creature is held erect by long spindly legs. The mantidfly shown above is Dicromantispa interrupta, one of five species found in Ohio.
If one didn’t know better, he might think the mantidfly is the product of an ornate prank.
Adult mantidflies are predatory, stalking other insects and seizing them with their praying mantislike forelegs. The larvae also are predatory, with a life cycle almost too freakish to believe.
Female mantidflies lay up to 1,000 tiny eggs on the lower surfaces of leaves. The eggs dangle from threads. She places the egg cluster in an area frequented by spiders.
The tiny, freshly emerged larvae are capable of crawling and leaping. When a spider passes by, they attempt to jump aboard. If successful, the mantidfly larva nestles into a crevice and commences to feed on the spider’s hemolymph for sustenance.
Their primary purpose is to hitch a ride to the spider’s nest. If a male spider is boarded, the mantidfly larva will cross over to the female spider when the spiders come together to mate. When the female spider deposits her eggs, the larva debarks and attaches to an egg. It feeds on the contents of the egg via specialized mandibles.
Once the larva matures, it forms a cocoon and pupates within the husk of the spider egg. Later, it morphs into the strange-looking adult mantidfly.
Mantidflies are rare — and with such a life cycle, it’s easy to see why.
Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.blogspot.com