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Mutualism vs. Parasitoidism: Two interesting examples

A northern mockingbird, seemingly pleased as punch with its ability to mimic kestrels, blue grosbeaks, titmice, cardinals and all manner of other voices, tees up on the flowers of a yucca. He was performing his act in little Sandy Spring Cemetery in southernmost Adams County, Ohio, within sight of the Ohio River.

I was there last weekend not primarily to photograph showboat mockingbirds, but to take part in a seminar on Ohio River sand terraces, put on by the Cincinnati Museum Center's Edge of Appalachia operation and held at the always interesting Edge of Appalachia Preserve. Big thanks to Chris Bedel, preserve director, for including me. My fellow presenter and trip leader was Matt Purtill, an archaeologist and geomorphologist. Matt is an expert on the formation of these "dunes", and full of insight about the Paleo-Indians who first colonized this region. I learned tons from Matt.

Anyway, this part of Adams County and adjacent Shawnee State Forest is an embarrassment …
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Two upcoming photo workshops of interest

A west-central Ohio prairie in its peak splendor, in mid-July. An abundance of interesting photographic opportunities can be found in such a place.

On July 15 - prime time for prairies! - Debbie DiCarlo and I are leading a workshop that will visit a large prairie, and an interesting prairie fen. Subjects will abound, and it will be a particularly good chance to shoot fascinating macro subjects. We've got a few spaces left, and would love to have you. Details and registration info are RIGHT HERE.

We'll see one of the botanical prairie stars, the royal catchfly, Silene regia, but not just any old catchfly. This is a rare salmon-pink form, and it is particularly photogenic.

Here's the typical form of royal catchfly, and these towering members of the pink family should be in peak bloom on July 15. They are ruby-throated hummingbird magnets - the hummers are their primary pollinator - and the prairie we'll visit is loaded with catchflies, and hummingbirds.

Prime time in th…

Common Loon, in portraiture

During our NettieBay Lodge forays in northern Michigan - several recent posts on these -  we usually take the groups onto Lake Nettie via pontoon boat. It's a great way to observe birds and other wildlife. While preparing to debark from the dock on one of these aquatic excursions, on May 30, one of the locally nesting loons approached the boat. These birds can be quite tame, and seem to recognize and accept the boat and its occupants.

The loon eventually approached to within 15 feet of the boat, and I prostrated myself on the deck to get on its level and make these portraits.

A common loon in breeding condition is a thing of avian finery, indeed. Its ruby-red eye cannot be missed, but much more subtle is the tracing of green and purple glossing on the head.

After allowing us to ooh and aah for a while, the loon casually floated off to join its mate. Hopefully they will have another successful breeding season, and introduce some loonlets to the world. Common loons have bred on Lak…

Michigan Natural History Forays! Dates for 2019

A flaming sunset colors the Jack Pine Plains of northern Michigan's Presque Isle County. Kirtland's warblers, among many other avian species, sang Taps while I made this photo.

Another set of Michigan natural history forays is in the books. This was the 9th year in a row that I've led excursions from NettieBay Lodge, and as always we saw LOTS OF STUFF. For the most part, we don't leave sprawling Presque Isle County, which is in the northeast corner of the lower peninsula. The biodiversity is staggering, as the county includes the shores of Lake Huron, sandy jack pine plains, boreal forests, glacial lakes, fens and bogs, and much more. Birds abound, and between the two groups this year, we probably found about 150 species. But there's much more - floral and faunal diversity is incredible, and we try to look at it all.

We've set the dates for next year's forays: Group One: May 20-23. And Group Two: May 25-28.

While scouting about on my own after the last gro…

Spotting of king rail spotlights bird's decline in Ohio

A king rail was recently spotted at Glass Farm on the outskirts of Yellow Springs/Jim McCormac
Columbus Dispatch June 3, 2018
NATURE Jim McCormac
In May 29, 1810, in Kentucky, the great naturalist and birdman John James Audubon encountered a large marsh bird unfamiliar to him. He dubbed it the “fresh water marsh hen,” which would later be formally named the king rail. In Audubon’s day, the king rail was a common to locally abundant bird over much of the eastern U.S. John Bachman, a contemporary of Audubon’s, wrote: “Wherever there are extensive marshes ... I have found so many as 20 pairs breeding within a space having a diameter of 30 yards.” King rails were common nesters in much of northern and western Ohio into the 1930s. Buckeye Lake, 20 miles east of Columbus, once harbored many breeding king rails. The marshy verges of the old canal feeder lake remained wild into the mid-1900s, and the lake was often visited by Milton Trautman. Trautman was Ohio’s John James Audubon, chronicling b…

Golden-winged Warbler, feeding

A male golden-winged warbler, with brilliant golden ingot stamped across his wing, forages in a choke cherry, Prunus virginiana. I made this image and the following ones a few days ago, while in between groups that I'm leading here at NettieBay Lodge in northern Michigan.

These acrobatic little warblers are not too tough to find up here, and seem especially smitten with cherries in the genus Prunus. A feeding bird will quickly flit about leafy boughs, quickly inspecting leaves and often dangling upside down like a chickadee. The primary reason that golden-wings are probably interested in cherries is due to caterpillars. Prunus is well known for the diversity and numbers of caterpillars that feed on the foliage, and the warblers are adept at ferreting them out.

Read on for a pictorial display of golden-winged warbler foraging technique.

I had secreted myself and my large lens as best I could, after hearing a golden-winged warbler's lazy breezy song along a back road in the Pig…

Some birds from the jack pine plains

Today was my "day off" in between leading a pair of trips up here in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan. We're based at NettieBay Lodge, and the area's diversity is staggering. It's only about 20 minutes to huge jack pine plains on the west, and the more boreal habitats along Lake Huron about 20 minutes to the east. All manner of interesting places between, too.

Our first excursion met with much success. Killer looks of many wonderful species, and the sum total bird list was 131 species. Bonuses included a porcupine in a nearby tree, many interesting plants and insects, many species of warblers including golden-winged, Kirtland's, and mourning, and a nice late spring hawk migration along Lake Huron. That included a pair of sharp-shinned and a red-tailed hawk, a peregrine falcon, an osprey, dozens of turkey vultures, five bald eagles, and perhaps 80 broad-winged hawks.

I was up and out at dawn to head over to the jack pines, one of my favorite habitats. …