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Lilypad Forktails appearing everywhere!

I had a meeting yesterday morning with MaLisa Spring, coordinator of the Ohio Dragonfly Survey, and entomologist Dave McShaffrey of Marietta College, coauthor of the book The Dragonflies and Damselflies of Ohio. We convened at a beautiful park just south of Lancaster known as Alley Park. There is lots of interesting habitat in the vicinity, and we hoped to get afield for a bit following our meeting and search for dragonflies.
The weather put somewhat of a damper on field plans, with intermittent mild showers keeping the dragons largely under wraps. These insects are creatures of the sun, and magically disappear when the sun fades. Fortunately, there were periods of bright overcast and no rain and at such points we had some success.
A prince baskettail, Epitheca princeps, rockets along the shoreline of Lake Loretta in Alley Park. Both Dave and I expended scads of pixels and collectively hundreds of shots trying to photographically nail this animal. This was my only decent shot. There …
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Bokeh: Photographic background blur

A gorgeous Halloween pennant, Celithemis eponina, tees up on a conspicuous snag. These colorful dragonflies are often easy to approach, fairly common, and irresistible photo subjects. I made this image yesterday in Erie County, Ohio, while surveying for the Ohio Dragonfly Survey. All that is required for the survey is an identifiable photo, but if the subject cooperates as did this pennant, I invariably try and create the best image that I can.

This photo was made with my current favorite dragonfly rig, the Canon 5D IV and Canon's amazing 300mm f/4 telephoto lens. I sandwich a 25mm extension tube between camera and lens to allow for closer focusing. A 600 speedlite provides nice fill flash. Typical camera settings, and those used for this image, are f/16, ISO 200, 1/200. For the other dragonfly photo below, I changed to f/10 but all else remained the same.

BOKEH: A Japanese word meaning "blur", and when applied to photography it refers to the quality of the out of focus …

Autumn's Asters weekend: Shawnee State Forest, September 14 - 16

The beautiful stiff-leaved aster, Ionactis linariifolius, one of myriad members of the aster family that is found in Shawnee State Forest and vicinity.
I have been remiss in plugging what promises to be a wonderful conference in one of the showiest regions of Ohio. On the weekend of September 14-16, the Midwest Native Plant Society is hosting Autumn's Asters (GO HERE for details), an event geared towards the diverse and beautiful aster family. This is the 2nd largest plant family in Ohio (only eclipsed by the sedge family), and includes many familiar groups of plants such as asters, goldenrods, and sunflowers. In Shawnee State Forest, where this event takes place, the aster family IS the largest family of plants.

There will be field trips to interesting locales to see interesting plants, and of course and as always, we will see lots of other subjects. Mid-September is near peak for southbound songbird migration in this area, and there should be warblers galore. Butterflies will s…

Nature: Birders thrilled to see Mississippi kites flying in Ohio

A young Mississippi kite flexes its wings in its nest in Ross County/Jim McCormac
Columbus Dispatch August 5, 2018
Jim McCormac

The summer of 2007 brought exciting news to Ohio’s bird watchers. Birder Rick Perkins had discovered Mississippi kites frequenting a Hocking County golf course. He was there to play a round of golf, and scored an exceptional birdie.

Mississippi kites were then considered rare vagrants to Ohio, and they didn’t usually stick around. If you weren’t there when the kite appeared, you missed it.

The kites Perkins saw at the golf course did linger, and became so reliable that people could visit and expect to see the birds.

As the summer went on, it became clear that the flyweight raptors had a nest nearby. Attempts to find it were unsuccessful, but in late summer a juvenile kite appeared. The begging youngster sat atop tall snags and was stuffed with cicadas and dragonflies by its parents.

The still downy youngster was obviously raised locally — the first docume…

Monarch from egg to butterfly: A pictorial transformation

One of the world's most iconic butterflies, the monarch, Danaus plexippus. These conspicuous insects are revered by large numbers of people, and recent conservation efforts to help declining populations of the migratory eastern populations seem to be bearing fruit. Scores of people are helping by either planting milkweed, or raising and releasing butterflies. Loss of habitat and host plants is a huge factor in the monarch's decline, with increasingly environmentally-unfriendly agricultural practices probably playing the largest role.

The butterfly in this photo is seeking nectar at swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, which is also a favored host plant. Monarchs will lay eggs on nearly all of Ohio's 15 species in the milkweed subfamily, though.

Butterflies have a four-part life cycle, and phase one of the monarch's begins with a tiny egg deposited on the underside of a host plant's leaf. I shot this egg last weekend in Greene County, Ohio. A female was ovipositing…

Rare flowering plant finds safe haven in southern Ohio

Sullivant's coolwort was discovered in 1839 in Highland County
Columbus Dispatch July 29, 2018
NATURE Jim McCormac
In 1795, Lucas Sullivant was contracted by the Commonwealth of Virginia to survey land along the Scioto River in what’s now Franklin County and vicinity. Following that task, he took a hiatus in Kentucky but returned in 1797 and platted out Franklinton.Sullivant’s settlement would become Columbus, and his name is immortalized by the busy West Side avenue that bears his name. Lucas and his wife Sarah had the first of their four children on Jan. 15, 1803 — just a month before President Thomas Jefferson signed papers recognizing Ohio’s constitution and boundaries. Their first child was William Starling Sullivant, and he would go on to achieve great things in the natural sciences.

William was born into a still wild frontier, at a time when new species of plants regularly turned up. He turned into quite the botanist, avidly exploring various habitats around his central Ohio h…

The Gannets of Bonaventure Island

The village of Percé, on Québec's Gaspé Peninsula, as seen from the mountains above town. The large rock monolith arising from the Gulf of St. Lawrence, just right of the largest spruce tree, is Percé Rock. Laying low on the horizon, shrouded in fog, is Bonaventure Island. Tens of thousands of seabirds nest on these massive rocks, most notably enormous numbers of northern gannets.

To get to Bonaventure Island, one takes a boat that leaves on multiple times each day from the main pier in Percé. It isn't a long ride, but you'll see scores of birds, a number of seals (harbor and gray), and possibly minke whales. The birds steal the show, though. Fast-flying squadrons of alcids constantly rocket past: razorbills, common murres, and black guillemots. Get lucky and you might see one of the few Atlantic puffins that breeds on Bonaventure. Scads of black-legged kittiwakes waft by, and occasionally flocks of large chunky common eiders pass by low over the waves. Huge great black-b…