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Showing posts from October, 2007

Buck Moth

I was down in Shawnee State Forest today, which is not a bad place for a meeting. Afterwards, we noticed a few species of Lepidoptera on the wing, as afternoon temperatures rose into the 60's. Especially nice was a beautiful Sleepy Orange and even better were two Dainty Sulphurs. Both butterflies are rather rare migrants into Ohio from the south. Dainty Sulphurs are indeed minute; about as big as your thumbnail.

Most obvious were the Buck Moths, though. These interesting and large day-flying moths are boldly patterned in black and white, and are probably often thought to be rarer than they really are. Buck Moths don't emerge until mid-October or so, and are often seen into November on even moderately warm and sunny days. They are also forest moths whose caterpillars feed primarily on oaks, and adults can easily be missed as they flutter through the understory amongst falling leaves and dappled fall sunlight. We probably saw ten or so today; the most I've seen in a day.
Buck …

Last of the Dragons

Insect enthusiasts will soon have to go into hibernation, or turn their interests elsewhere for a while. Finally, the temperatures are steadily falling, as they should, and putting an end to the year's crop of bugs. I got out with John Pogacnik last Thursday, and he showed me some of the interesting wetland development projects that Lake County Metroparks are undertaking. You've got to hunt and peck, but some dragonflies could still be found.
This is what the woods look like now. Carpets of freshly fallen leaves, and the damp musty smell of decomposing vegetation.Wandering Glider, Pantala flavescens. We found a number of these, although most were flushed from the grasses and sedges. When I took this, it was only about 60 degrees; a bit cool for aerial acrobatics. This species is highly migratory, and it would be interesting to know where it might end up.
We had several Autumn Meadowhawks, Sympetrum vicinum. This species - formerly known as Yellow-legged Meadowhawk - is one of th…

Le Conte's as Art

Now check this out. Bob Royse went up to Funk Bottoms today, to witness the pack of Le Conte's Sparrows for himself. And he took along his camera. Bob, who plays English Horn/Oboe for the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, is also an accomplished bird photographer. Visit his website to see many more images like the one below.
While most of us are grappling with the vegetation and retiring habits of the bird, just managing decent looks if we're lucky, Bob gets this shot. This is probably the most striking image of Le Conte's Sparrow that I've seen. The gorgeous, intricate details of the plumage become apparent here in a way that is quite difficult to observe in the field. The somewhat whimsical shape of the bird is obvious, too; a rotund, big-headed sparrow that almost looks spherical. Look at the size of the feet; a wonderful adaptation for hopping about in soft, mucky soils. To me, the bill looks rather small on this species, suggesting perhaps a sparrow that eats more grass…

Le Conte's Sparrows

Today was one of those remarkable fall days in the Midwest. Indian Summerish; cool in the morning and warming into the 70's in the afternoon. Skies as blue as possible, and the smell of senescent vegetation everywhere. In places, the maples, particularly the reds and sugars, were ablaze in vivid hues of orange and red. So, well before first light, Tom Bain, Cheryl Harner and I packed up our gear and headed north to Funk Bottoms Wildlife Area in Wayne County, famous of late due to an abundance of Le Conte's Sparrows. These furtive skulkers are one of our smallest sparrows and normally quite difficult to find around here. They are certainly more common than is suspected, and most undoubtedly go undetected. As birders learn more about the habitats they like, more seem to be turning up.

As always, Funk produced other interesting observations. While slogging through the mire sparrow-searching, we kicked up at least 30 Wilson's Snipe, for instance. Snipe are another good example …

Yellow Rail

Calls from Lisa Fosco of the Ohio Wildlife Center are always exciting. This is one of the higher volume rehab places in the state, and they sometimes get in some very interesting birds. You may remember that Lisa and the center took in a Yellow Rail that had been injured in Licking County about this time last year.

Well, Lisa rang me up the other day to report they had received yet another Yellow Rail. This one apparently hit a window, and was found dazed and confused in a Columbus shopping center on October 12th. While few Ohio birders have this one on their state list, Yellow Rails are more common in migration than generally believed, no doubt, but it's a shame when one turns up like this. The bird is still quite alive and very frisky, but successfully working with high-strung animals like this is challenging and not always successful. I commend Lisa and the center for their efforts; for instance, the rail must regularly be force-fed as it won't feed itself, and other high-ma…

Sparrow Madness

Sparrows are much in the news the past week, as the chocolate and ochre masses sneak their way south, lurking in thickets, wetlands, and grasslands. I witnessed probably the largest fallous of White-throated Sparrows I'd ever seen last Thursday along Lake Erie, and other observers elsewhere along the lake reported big numbers. This is peak time for numbers and diversity, and THE time to find rarer skulksters like Le Conte's and Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows. The latter two are more common than we think, and as birders learn how and where to find them, more are turning up.
Today dawned bright, beautiful, and cold - the first frost I've seen this fall. I was down around Deer Creek Wildlife Area at the crack of morning's first light, meeting up with banders Bill Bosstic, Kelly Sieg, Bob Placier and others in an effort to capture and band sparrows. Like us, birds have to warm up and get active, and things started rather slowly. By the end of the morning, though, we'…

Micro-rarities of the Sand

I found myself in the Oak Openings the other day, right in the epicenter of Ohio's rare plant Utopia. Lucas County - county seat, Toledo - contains nearly all of what's left of this amazing ecosystem, which is defined by sand. The origins of this giant sandbox stem to the days of pre-glacial Lake Warren, which was Lake Erie in a much larger tub. The old beach ridges and dunes still remain, far from today's lake, and form an odd habitat that is home to an awesome number of rarities.
Lucas County has had more rare plants documented within its relatively small boundaries than any other Ohio county. If you know plants, in some places you can literally toss a stick, and then go find a half-dozen state-listed plants within 20 feet of it. I visited a recent acquisition by Toledo Metroparks, which owns the lion's share of outstanding Oak Openings remnants. And there, I was excited to find a few interesting plants - not things that you'll see just anywhere. No pansy, this one.…

Goldenrod Gall Fly

You've seen 'em, if you've spent anytime at all walking through old fields. I'm talking about those round growths that form on the stems of goldenrod; kind of looks like the plant tried to swallow an apple and it lodged halfway down the stem. This growth, called a gall, is formed by a highly specialized insect called the Goldenrod Gall Fly, Eurosta solidaginis. Solidago is the genus of goldenrods, as recognized in the specific epithet of the fly's scientific name.

But it's just not any of the 25 species of goldenrods recorded from Ohio that will do; the fly is quite specific in its demands. The host plant must be Tall Goldenrod, Solidago altissima, a very abundant and widespread plant, and along with Canada Goldenrod, S. canadensis, the goldenrod of old fields. These two species of goldenrods have variously been lumped and split, so similar are they, and I've always leaned towards lumping them. But, recently recognized evidence suggests that they truly are g…

Birds of a Feather

I just finished reading a great book; one I'd highly recommend. It is Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding, by Scott Weidensaul. No laboring your way through this one, it is one of the most readable books I've picked up for some time. Scott is an outstanding writer by any measure, and in the natural history department, there may be no one better at putting pen to paper right now.
Scott is an extraordinary researcher and naturalist, and this book is absolutely full of the fine detail that lets the reader know he didn't just whip the book out on a whim; serious study went into all of the varied elements that are incorporated within. In an eggshell, Wiedensaul traces the history of ornithology on this continent, beginning with the rough and tumble frontier days of Wilson and Audubon. If you think nasty politics is a modern invention, read about the Wilsonians and their vitriole directed towards good ole John James Audubon.
He takes us on a journey that nearly all b…