Sunday, September 30, 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 some very interesting birds that we likely wouldn't have nabbed in other habitats.

Here's one of the interesting subjects, at least to a birder. A juvenile Henslow's Sparrow. We caught six of them in all, and at least one or two got away. They bred in this area, and it's likely that the birds that we caught were locally raised. It will be very interesting to see if we can catch them again next year. Henslow's prefer fields with a range of coarse herbaceous vegetation, not just various grasses.

Henslow's Sparrows are striking animals when seen well. They have flattened heads that are a gorgeous shade of greenish-olive, and these juveniles had most feathers broadly fringed in buff. I've been in one a number of Henslow's Sparrow captures over the years and have held many. Ironically, for a bird that is often thought of as the epitome of a secretive shrinking violet, they are savage biters and don't hesitate to nip the hand that holds them. Very little in the way of fear is shown, and this bird just hunkered in this person's hand for nearly a minute, not being held and just checking things out, before deciding to fly off.


Here's one that can and does fool people. We caught two of this species. This is a juvenile. Adult males are simple to recognize. See what you can do with it.

A beautiful warbler, this one. The "masked bandit", an adult male Common Yellowthroat, Geothlypis trichas. They produce the loud witchity-witchity-witchity song one hears in all manner of open scrubby sites and wetlands, and is perhaps our most common breeding warbler.

Although the day started out a bit foggy and with temps in the low 40's, by early afternoon it was in the 70's and a picture-perfect fall Ohio day. There really isn't many finer places to be on fall days like this, when the sky is crystal blue, the concert of autumnal insects is in full chorus, and the air is full of wonderful fall aromas.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

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 and white wedges of a juvenile Sabine's Gull. This species is very pelagic and winters off the coast of South America in the Pacific, although birds from the eastern part of the breeding range winter off Africa. This one has a long ways to go.


Another nice shot by Troy Shively.

And Troy's best effort, a truly great shot of this gorgeous gull. Work certainly gets in the way of things; I would have been over there in a heartbeat to see this animal otherwise. But, it has been there at least three days and that's certainly atypical for this wanderer. Who knows, maybe it'll stay for a while longer and we can all get over to appreciate it.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

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 the forest.

Enter the chestnut blight. First detected in 1904, this Asian fungus attacks chestnuts, which have no natural resistance and quickly perished as the fungus spread through the landscape. By 1950, this magnificent species had disappeared, with the exception of the odd tree, like the one above. Many others persist as root sprouts that arise off old stumps year after year, but after these shoots hit 10 or 15 feet in height they are atacked by the blight and killed back. From left are Cheryl Harner, Jim Decker, and Daniel Boone admiring the jumbo chestnut. And yes, that's really Dan's name.

They got a lot bigger than our fine specimen in the old pre-blight days, though. This whopper was in the southern Appalachians, and the photo is probably from the early 1900's.

A chestnut involucre; the prickly case that holds the fruit. Although this tree bore prolific fruit, all were apparently abortive; not producing nuts apparently because a lack of cross pollination. These "burs" are quite prickly and have been referred to as vegetative procupines. Good protection for the sweet nutlets that normally would have resided within. And those nuts were coveted by many a mammal, from humans to turkeys to squirrels to deer.

This would have been a common scene a century ago in much of the eastern forest in fall - the forest floor littered with spiny chestnut burs. It was a real privilege to get this glimpse into a vanished part of our forest heritage, even if only through this one tree.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

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 "...to 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 don't miss much. Rather tame, they will allow close approach if you are careful in your movements. Then, you can watch the insect tilt its head about as it watches potential prey wing by, waiting for a good victim. When it sees something it likes, the cannibal fly dashes out after it like an F-16 scrambling after enemy aircraft and seizes it in those long legs, wrapping the victim tight and injecting it with its proboscis-like mouthpart.

There is little hope of escape once the prey has been ensnared by those powerful legs reinforced with stiff raptorial spines. Soon, the paralyzing chemicals that the fly injects into the victim's tissue goes to work, and paralyzes it. Acid-like, the toxins break down and liquify the innards of its meal, and eventually the cannibal fly sucks out the contents just as we would tap the sweet liquid of a chocolate milkshake through a drinking straw.

The Red-footed Cannibal Flies are watching, always watching. I'll tell you this, if I were some small and relatively defenseless bug, I would not want to bumble into the sights of this thing. Species in the robber fly family are some of the world's fiercest insects, and larger species have even been known to take down hummingbirds, allegedly.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

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 and Larry Rosche quickly found the beetles; a new station for them, I believe.


A Hairy-necked Tiger Beetle racing along the beach. Extraordinarily wary for an insect, some patiance is required for a close approach. Around here at least, this species seems to need largely unmolested sands of Lake Erie beaches. Intense use by people undoubtedly drive it out, and that's been the fate of most Ohio beaches.


Two days later, while leading a field trip to the beach at Sheldon Marsh as part of the warbler symposium, Ben Warner and I found some Hairy-necks there. Ben, amazingly, was able to snag one. After study and photos, it was released unharmed. Sorry about the blurriness of the shot; nonstop rain that day and I couldn't keep the camera lens dry. Still, you can see the ornate markings on the upper wings that characterize tiger beetles. They can be quite difficult to spot against the sand, though.

Voracious predators, as you might deduce from the large pincers. They in turn are preyed upon by many other insects. Tiger beetles warrant monitoring, as many species seem especially vulnerable to habitat degradation.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

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 roadbank, in this case, cleared for a powerline right-of-way. The fern thickly festoons the vegetation, clambering up stems and forming a ground cover. It prefers acidic soils.



A closeup of the leaves, which are strongly dimorphic. The sterile pinnae (leaves) are palm or hand-shaped; the fertile pinnae are many forked and much more delicate.

A closer view of the sterile pinnae. This is quite a showy fern, with it's long-creeping wiry brown stems and lush, tropical-looking foliage.


In close on the fertile pinnae, which somewhat resemble the sterile leaves, just on a minute scale. The little whitish bumps on the segments of the leaves are the sori, or cases which hold the spores. As with all of our ferns, the tiny spores are windborn and can be transported great distances. I have heard that any sizeable air sample taken nearly anywhere in the world is likely to contain fern spores.

Climbing Fern is an exceptionally beautiful species, and forms luxuriant beds. It would be a natural for those interested in growing native species. I've not seen it in cultivation, but perhaps it is somewhere. The two Asian species are; escaping from cultivation is how they became established in Florida.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

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; something to be alert to if you are in their woods. An assessment of a snake's age can be ascertained by the rattles, but not with complete accuracy. This one had apparently lost a few segments.

Here's the little guys; only a few weeks old. There are five of them in this shot; they soon dispersed and started heading off in the direction of mom. Their den was not far off. Timber Rattlesnake young are born live, and these were already about a foot in length.

I know not everyone likes animals like this, and many absolutely despise snakes. Nonetheless, the Timber Rattlesnake is a fading part of Ohio's wilderness, and we should be glad that there are places left that still support them. Not only that, but we should protect Timber Rattlesnakes and their habitat with diligence. Even though you may not like these snakes, the bounty of other biodiversity that comes with forests that supports them is staggering.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Guest Blog

I was given the opportunity to write a guest blog for my friend Bill Thompson's site while he roams the jungles of Peru. Check it out.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

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 pattern and brilliantly vivid colors almost defy the imagination. These aren't rare, either - watch leafhoppers closely and sooner or later you'll see one. They are also known as Red-banded Leafhoppers, a more sober and perhaps descriptively accurate moniker, but not as colorful.

This family of Hemipterans is enormous, perhaps 2,500 species or so just in the U.S. About 20,000 species have been described worldwide to date; twice as many species as birds. Leafhoppers are like tightly coiled Slinkies ready to be released. Spook one and they burst away in an incredible jump that must be equivalent to many, many times what the world's best humanoid jumper could do. Leafhoppers feed on plant sap by inserting their mouth parts into plant tissue, and some species can be serious pests. Some are thought to be major vectors for the spread of various plant pathogens. That's the downside and probably relatively few of them cause problems. Species like the Candy-striped Leafhopper add yet another interesting and underappreciated element to our biodiversity.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

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).
"We were pretty impressed when she did 10,200km on the way north," says Massey University ecologist Phil Battley. "And the fact that she can now do 11,500km... it's just so far up from what we used to believe 10 years ago when we were thinking a five or 6,000km flight was extremely long. Here we've doubled it," adds the New Zealand coordinator of what is an international study.
For researchers, tracking the second leg of E7's journey was a bonus - her implanted satellite tag kept working well past its expected cut-off date.
"If you're trying to confirm how far birds fly and whether they are making stop-offs, it's only now with the technology being small enough, you can do this remotely. Otherwise we'd still be using educated guess work," Dr Battley says.
And that means the researchers now know that the godwits really are the champions of avian migration. Unlike seabirds, which feed and rest on their long journeys or swifts which feed in flight, the godwits make their long journeys without feeding or drinking.
Plump up
Next year, Dr Battley hopes to implant satellite tags into larger male godwits (this year the males had external satellite tags attached) to check that the male birds follow the same path as the females.

Scientists now have real data on these long distance fliersMeantime any chicks E7 would have produced during her two months in Alaska will be getting ready to leave the Yukon Delta in a few weeks as the first young godwits usually arrive in New Zealand early next month.
"Some might fly down in flocks with adults but other ones will fly down without any adults involved at all which is pretty amazing," says Dr Battley. "They're only two months old and here they are about to fly from Alaska to New Zealand."
And their mum? "She'll be eating lots at the moment and probably resting up; and she'll go back to her main routines. Then, come about February next year or January, she'll start moulting into her breeding plumage and getting fat again.
"Then it will all start again."
The New Zealand godwit tracking effort is part of the broader Pacific Shorebird Migration Program, a joint initiative between the US Geological Survey and PRBO Conservation Science.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

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 Resort, just south of Columbus. The focus is on something that should be at the top of all of our priorities: protecting birds and their habitats. I hope to see you there.

Following are some pictorial highlights of last weekend's conference...

It was a packed house in the Danbury High School auditorium, which proved to be an excellent locale for conferences like this. We were only seconds from great birding places along the shores of Lake Erie. A HUGE thanks to Lakeside, which hosted us and was incredibly helpful. The OOS is planning on bringing the Midwest Birding Symposium here in 2009, and you'll be hearing lots about that before too long. At the lectern is Dana Bollin, who did an outstanding job of running the show.

Before Saturday's conference, intrepid birders gathered for early morning field trips. We ALWAYS make field work a big part of these conferences, even though it makes the logistical headaches much bigger. Phil Chaon, Karen Menard and I led this trip in some abandoned quarries on Marblehead. We had at least 100 individual warblers, most flying over in the early morning hours as they came in off Lake Erie. We weren't standing there very long when a Merlin flew over our heads, giving everyone great looks and providing a great lifer for a number of folks.
On a pre-conference field trip to Kelleys Island, we were able to introduce birding phenom Jon Dunn to the joys of Fox Snakes, which I believe was a life snake for him. This beautiful reptile only occurs in a limited area around Lake Erie, and is one of the most localized snakes in eastern North America. Although big, they are very docile and never bite.

Dr. Elliot Tramer was our first speaker, and gave an outstanding presentation on warblers in their Central American wintering grounds. Elliot has spent much time in Costa Rica studying them, and gave the crowd a big picture view of a group of birds we often think of as "ours", when warblers actually spend more time in the tropics.

Next came Bill Evans, guru of the night calls and founder of Old Bird, Inc.. Bill gave a fascinating program, punctuated with sounds, of the various calls that warblers give as they pass overhead in the dark. He did a great job of presenting the mysteries of migration and the strides that we've made in understanding bird movements.

Lunch was like being back in school again. In fact, we were - the first time I've eaten lunch in a high school cafeteria (actually gymnasium) since my days at Worthington H.S. several years ago :-)

Following lunch was Kenn Kaufman, always a treat. He gave a very creative look at John James Audubon and his work with warblers. One of the great things about Kenn is his imagination. He comes up with subjects and angles that no one else would think of, and creates fascinating talks, books, articles, etc.
Last speaker of the day was Jon Dunn, aka "Mr. Warbler". Jon is author of A Field Guide to Warblers of North America, among many other noteworthy accomplishments. He presented an overview of eastern warblers in fall plumage and how to ID them. Jon's talk was a big help to many in understanding a group of birds often largely wrongly thought of as "confusing".
That evening, the group gathered at one of Lakeside's fine lodges and enjoyed an excelent banquet. Our emcee was the inimitable Bill Thompson III, who warmed the crowd with a sing-along. Anyone who has been to a BT3-emceed affair knows he's good at this.
Our evening keynote speaker was Victor Emanuel, founder of VENT, one of the biggest and most respected tour companies in the world. Victor hadn't been to Ohio since 1965, and we were thrilled he'd come to be with us. His talk was more of a reminiscence about warblers from the perspective of one who has watched birds for a long time and is utterly passionate about them. Victor's global travels give him a perspective that few have, and that came out in his outstanding talk.
Sunday was field trip day, and my group went to Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve. My co-leaders were Paula Lozano and Ben Warner, and we had superb birding at this under-appreciated locale. At least 17 species of warblers wre seen, many in big numbers. The above is not a warbler. It is a bizarre-acting immature Green Heron sitting on phone wires. Warblers are too hard to get good photos of; this is the best that I could do. Wish I had gotten a pic of the Golden-winged Warbler we found, though!
In all, I've heard of at least 20 species of warblers that were found by all of the groups that were out in the field, with big numbers of many species. Lots of other interesting birds as well. Thanks to all who came, and special thanks to everyone that volunteered their time to make this a successful conference!

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Thursday, September 6, 2007

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 published from the first atlas. They are everywhere, as you can see. Every county, and about 90% of the 800 some formally sampled priority blocks.






Here's what atlasers have found thus far - the past two seasons. Not good. I know there is still three seasons to go, but a few points are worth consideration. One, there are probably more birders out there turning in data than there was the first go-round, and two, kestrels are very obvious birds. They sit out in the open on telephone wires, and hover like little helicopters over fields. They're easy to find. I hope many more dots sprinkle this map after next summer.



Here's the second bird to think about. Whip-poor-will. Above is the map from Atlas I, when it was found in 187 blocks. Whips are birds of scruffy second-growth woods, and that habitat is most plentiful in the rough topography of the unglaciated southeastern portion of Ohio.

Here's the current situation. This does bear out anecdotal reports that I've often heard in recent years, "where did the Whip-poor-wills go?" Maybe we just haven't made a strong enough push on nocturnal species in the atlas yet, but I don't think that's the whole story. No nighttime bird is easier to find than a whip if one is around and singing it's loud, impossible to mistake and incessantly repetitive song. Two likely factors at work to cause declines in this nightjar are the maturation of Ohio's forests to stages where the habitat is no longer suitable for Whip-poor-wills, and possibly on a localized level, spraying for gypsy moths. Pesticides used for the latter are not selective and kill most of the moths, and whips eat lots of moths.

One thing to think about in both these cases that is somewhat philosophical: neither bird would have been in Ohio in most of the areas where they now occur prior to European settlement. Then, the landscape was mostly cloaked in old-growth woodlands not suitable for either kestrel or whip. We created their habitat. And now it looks like we are taking it away.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

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.


A great whopping rarity, this one. It's Creeping Aster, Eurybia surculosa. This is the only known Ohio site, and it is essentially one big clone covering a few dozen square feet. The common name stems from its habitat of spreading via rhizomes. The colonies push forth lots of strap-like basal leaves - slightly reminiscent of small trout-lily (Erythronium) leaves, but few flowering stems. This is a typical strategy of plants that spread primarily by roots; little energy is put into producing flowers. This colony is high and dry on a ridgetop, growing amongst Pitch Pine, Pinus rigida.

Another excellent candidate for the nursery trade. I'm guessing that most nurseries simply aren't aware of some of these beautiful native species that are quite hardy and should grow easily. It'd be nice if they would quit selling all of the nasty invasives and invest more effort into producing native plants for the trade. Creeping Aster is diminutive; this flowering stem is perhaps eight inches tall. The overall effect of a colony is striking, though, with the abundant basal leaves interspersed with occasional flowering stalks. This day, the sun was glaring and made photos a bit tough. The flower color is a rich pinkish-purple and the disk corolla (center) is bright yellow.
This colony was discovered about eight years by Daniel Boone, an outstanding field botanist from Cincinnati. Prior to that there was only one collection in Ohio, from 1954 and also from Scioto County. It is possible that Boone relocated the original population nearly 50 years later. Whatever the case, this remains our only know Creeping Aster population and it is also the only one north of the Ohio River. Another species in a long list of Shawnee State Forest mega-rarities.

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