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Showing posts from September, 2007

Bird Banding

I got to get afield with a bird banding operation down near Chillicothe yesterday, which is always interesting and educational. This particular operation has been at it for a long time, and is led by Bill Bosstic, Kelley Sieg, and Bob Placier. It's quite different to be able to see small songbirds closeup in the hand. They look much different than when seen through bins from afar, and one can really appreciate the subtle plumage features which, even on the plainest Jane, are quite striking when seen well. We were out at the crack of dawn, setting nets up. Eventually, some 30 people arrived, including a number of Bob and Kelly's students. Quite a learning experience was had by all. This was a type of site that I hadn't been involved with banding before; a large field dominated by Tall Goldenrod, Solidago altissima. Normally I don't think of goldenrod meadows as being overly productive for bird biodiversity, and in general, it wasn't. But, as ye shalt see, we caught s…

Sabine's Gull!

The big news the past few days, for those of you not tied into the Ohio Birds network, is a Sabine's Gull, Xema sabini. This small species ranks high among the world's most beautiful gulls, and is probably my favorite amongst the Larid tribe. It is a major rarity in Ohio with only a few reports a year, and most of those are flybys on Lake Erie on blustery October or early November days. That's how I've seen my two of my Ohio birds. Except for the oddity that overwintered at Cleveland in 1989 and stayed along the lakefront throughout much of the remainder of that year. This one is a juvenile, as are nearly all Ohio birds.
This bird has been present at least since last Tuesday at the fish hatchery on the eastern shore of Grand Lake St. Marys in Auglaize County. Interestingly, it is at least the second record for the lake; another was found near here back on October 20, 1956. Thanks to Troy Shively for being good with the camera and getting these pics.

Unmistakable brown a…

The American Chestnut

This is a sight that was once common as can be, but now an extremely rare part of the landscape. We're looking into the crown of a mature forest, and into the canopy of a mature American Chestnut, Castanea dentata. This is the biggest tree of this now nearly vanished species that I've ever seen, and it's probably one of the largest left anywhere. I was fortunate to get to view this specimen, in an off the beaten path locale in Erie County.

Once covering about 9 million acres of forested lands from the New England states south to Florida and west into the Ohio Valley, an estimated 4 billion American Chestnuts were an integral cog in the eastern deciduous forest. In places, perhaps one in four mature trees of any type were this species. So abundant were they that some woodlands were said to appear snow-capped from afar, due to the prolific white blooms of chestnuts in June. The tree above is big, but chestnuts could get far bigger, rivaling any of the other sylvan giants of t…

Red-footed Cannibal Fly

You won't want to mess with this one. Some of the robber flies are truly beastly-looking insects, and the Red-footed Cannibal Fly, Promachus rufipes, is one of them. Robber flies are highly predatory, and as Kenn Kaufman aptly notes in his book Field Guide to Insects of North America, they are " other insects what falcons are to other birds".

As with so many insects, too little is known of many species' life histories and distribution. I took these photographs in and around prairies in Adams County over the past few weeks, and have seen this species there on several visits. It's the only place that I've noticed them, but perhaps they are more widespread. Whatever the case, the Red-footed Cannibal Fly is an amazing insect. Big, the size of a huge wasp but much more bulked up, they hunt patiently much like flycatchers or some dragonflies. Sitting tight on a prominent perch, the cannibal fly waits for suitable victims to fly by. With eyes like this, they do…

Hairy-necked Tiger Beetle

Sure, I know you've eagerly awaiting info on this stunning beast, but wait! The tiger beetles are really interesting creatures. And many of them seem to be in a state of decline, as a number of species are very habitat-specific and their haunts have suffered. At least nineteen of them in the genus Cicindela are - or were - known from Ohio.

You may know this one, the Six-spotted Tiger Beetle, Cicindela sexguttata, which is common throughout Ohio. If you see an astonishingly rapid, iridescent green beetle shooting along the path ahead of you, it may be this. A close look will reveal six tan spots along the edges of the carapace.This is the beach along the north shore of Kelleys Island, home to one of few populations of the much rarer Hairy-necked Tiger Beetle, Cicindela hirticollis. And this may be the largest group ever assembled that is specifically looking for them. We took a trip over to the island the Friday prior to the big warbler symposium two weekends ago, and Judy Semroc an…

Climbing Fern

Ohio is a good state for Pteridologists - those who study ferns. We have nearly one hundred species, and if you are really into bedeviling yourself with maddening identifications (sometimes), there are many known hybrids.

The following fern isn't hard at all to recognize, although I'd bet few who read this have seen it, at least in Ohio. Climbing Fern, Lygodium palmatum, is one of three species in the Lygodiaceae (Climbing Fern Family). Ours is the only North American native; the other two species are Asian and sparingly introduced in Florida and nearby states.
I stopped by one of the only known Scioto County stations for it last Saturday to get my fix. Climbing Fern is known from only about eleven of our southernmost counties, and it normally is sparing in distribution and low in density. Vinton County, in the vicinity of McArthur, is the Ohio epicenter. There, I have seen it growing so thickly it looks like Japanese Honeysuckle from afar.

A typical Climbing Fern site - an open …

Timber Rattlers

Few animals are as symbolic of wilderness in Ohio as the Timber Rattlesnake, Crotalus horridus. Once, this snake ranged widely across the state, but now it is restricted to a few areas of southeastern Ohio where extensive, remote forests still occur.

I got the opportunity to go along this weekend with herpetologist Doug Wynn, and help release some young snakes and their mother. Doug collects data on Timber Rattlesnakes, and tracks a number of individuals to keep tabs on populations. Mamma snake. She was a big bruiser. I've now gotten to see about 15 of these magnificent animals in the wild, and not a single one of them has ever rattled. They are incredibly docile and non-reactionary. Nonetheless, only a fool would attempt to handle one without training or get too close. And most people certainly wouldn't want to; they are fairly intimidating.

The business end, forked tongue and all. You can see the facial pits, and the cat-like pupil.

The rattle. They make a dry rapid buzzy sound;…

Candy-striped Leafhopper

Last Sunday, a group of nineteen warbler enthusiasts ventured into the rainy landscape of Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve on the field portion of the Fall Warbler Symposium. The birds were fantastic. We had nineteen species of warblers, including a Golden-winged Warbler which is always a treat.
But we saw other things, too. Including some interesting insects. Tiger beetles on the beach, some nice butterflies, and Ben Warner actually managed to capture a Black-legged Meadow Katydid that I heard singing. Most interesting of all, to me at least, was the following insect.
Nothing much going in this photo - just looks like a rather bad shot of Climbing False Buckwheat, Polygonum scandens, a common vine. Look closely on the top of the leaf, just below the vining stem.

It's a Candy-striped Leafhopper, Graphocephala coccinea. This is truly an outrageous creature, although one has to look close to get the full impact. About 20 of them could probably fit comfortably on a quarter. The patt…

Shorebirds: They Never Cease to Amaze!

Godwit makes huge Pacific flight
By Kim Griggs Wellington, New Zealand

E7 - a champion of the avian worldIt's official - the godwit makes the longest non-stop migratory flight in the world.
A bird has been tracked from its Southern Hemisphere summertime home in New Zealand to its breeding ground in Alaska - and back again.
The bar-tailed godwit, a female known as E7, landed this past weekend after taking just over eight days to fly 11,500km from Alaska to New Zealand.
Unlike seabirds, which feed and rest on long journeys, godwits just keep going.
The migrant champion was one of 13 satellite-tagged bar-tails (Limosa lapponica baueri) that left New Zealand at the beginning of the year.
Tag bonus
E7 set her first record on the way north, when she flew non-stop for 10,200km (6,340 miles) to Yalu Jiang in China. She then flew a further 5,000km (3,000 miles) to the godwit breeding grounds in Alaska. And on the way back to New Zealand, her tag still working, E7 set another record (7,150 miles).

Fall Warbler Symposium

We had a blast last weekend at the above-named conference devoted to one of our most interesting groups of birds. About 230 people showed up from all over the place - Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, California, and probably other far-flung places. In addition to the Ohio Ornithological Society, I really want to thank our partners, the Black Swamp Bird Observatory and the Toledo Naturalists' Association.
If you've never been to one of these affairs, you really must. We try and bring in the most knowledgeable and entertaining speakers that we can find, and provide not only a good time for all, but an excellent educational opportunity. Plus, you'll get to meet birders who share your passion from all over, including many whose names you may recognize from the Ohio Birding Listserve.

The next big OOS event is an important one, probably more so than any other conference we've done. The Ohio Bird Conservation Symposium will be held December 1st at Deer Creek Re…

Two to Watch...

The Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas II is in full swing, and now through its second year of data collection. Three more field seasons await, and much more information will come in, but some possible trends are showing up already. One fascinating and very useful feature of the website is the ability to pull up maps that show all of the records for a species, and also maps that show what records the first atlas (1982-87) produced. Go here to jump to their results page.

I've lamented the apparent decline of American Kestrels before. I travel far and wide all the time, all over Ohio, and have been for a long time. I surely see less of these beautiful little falcons, and common sense says there would be less, given all of the development and bird-unfriendly farming practices. Plus, they need suitable cavities in which to nest and that further compounds troubles in the world of the kestrel.
Here's the distribution map of American Kestrel resulting from data collected from 1982-87 and publish…

Two Cool Asters

Early September in Shawnee State Forest offers Asteraceae galore; the various diverse members of the sunflower family. This group is huge and includes a fantastic array of species from tiny to huge. It can be a tough bunch to master, partly because there are so many species, and also because lots of species look alike.
I saw scores of different species in this family over the weekend in Shawnee, and wanted to share two especially noteworthy species. The striking Golden-aster, Chrysopsis mariana. This is not a true aster; hence the hyphenated common name. Chrysopsis is closely related to the goldenrods, and is rather rare and local in Ohio. It is found sparingly in about seven couties in the southernmost regions of the state.
I don't know if this one is on the radar screens of the gardening crowd but if it isn't, it should be. Golden-aster is extraordinarily showy and grows in some pretty rough stuff, substrate-wise. This group was on a barren rocky bank that's dry as a bone.