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Showing posts from February, 2008

Fantastic Flora

For those with a botanical bent, Costa Rica is a land of constant discovery. I'm sure there are many species of vascular plants there that have yet to be discovered. But the learning curve to get to where one might be able to find something undescribed is a steep one, and mastering all of the known flora is no small feat. I certainly don't pretend to be anywhere near that point.
But I do enjoy searching, and learning.
Not only are many of the plants interesting in appearance, some have very interesting habits. One might think of the jungle as a botanical New York City. Many want to live there, and there is little room for expansion. So, one must grow up, since there is no room to grow out. The tiers of plant communities - and consequently animals - is altitudinally oriented in the jungle. I want to share one of the more fascinating plants, when it comes to eking - or is it bulldozing? - out a niche.
But first, an orchid. Costa Rica has lots of them. Some 1,200 species, I have rea…

New Species Discovered

Even in a populous, well-explored state like Ohio, new species lurk. While unearthing anything new to science is always exciting, these new discoveries usually aren't shockingly abrupt finds, like, say, a red, yellow and orange macaw found hiding in the depths of an Ohio forest. No, they are typically evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

One of the most recently described new sedges fits the mold for recent finds. And it's one we have in Ohio, although apparently quite rare here. Usually, some authority who has made a study of a group of poorly known and often difficult to identify group of organisms makes the find. As they become more familiar with the group that they are studying, the researcher begins to see differences among species that aren't well explained. Further work sometimes reveals that these different entities are in fact very different, and consistently so. After much work to document this, sometimes we end up with newly described species that were hiding …

Flora-Quest 2008

Last year, several of us got together and devised an event to showcase the flora (and fauna) of Shawnee State Forest and vicinity, one of the most beautiful locales in the eastern U.S. We held it in early May, when the woodlands are carpeted with scores of beautiful spring wildflowers, and to many, Shawnee is at its finest. We had a smashing good time, and couldn't wait to repeat it.
Thus, on the weekend of May 2 - 4, we'll once again hold Flora-Quest. Just as before, many of the state's best botanists have come together to help lead trips through this wilderness, and help attendees see and learn about the interesting plants of the region, both common and rare. We've also added trips to the nearby, sprawling Edge of Appalachia preserve - truly one of the gems of Ohio's natural areas.
Each night features stellar presentations by expert presenters, and there will be a special program on orchids on Saturday. For more details and registration information, go right here.

Three-fifths of Aythya

We have three regularly occurring "Bay Ducks"; divers in the genus Aythya. All are common, at least locally and seasonally, and are Redhead, Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, and Lesser Scaup. Within the next few weeks, they'll be flooding through Ohio as ice-out takes place and they hurry northward. Excepting the two scaup, males in this group are a snap to ID. Even the male scaup aren't ordinarily too bad, if decent looks can be had. Females can be a bit tougher, though. And again, the two scaup can cause some consternation. Thus, the following photo, which I've sliced and diced a few ways, is very instructive. Nonda Surrat, who lives near Buckeye Lake and birds often near that reservoir, sent me this amazing photo.
Nonda took this shot recently at Hebron Fish Hatchery. It is, from left to right, a drake Ring-necked Duck, a hen Greater Scaup, and a hen Lesser Scaup. Arranged perfectly in a row; quite remarkable! We'll go in for a closer look. Cropped…

Killdeer Plains

A group of about 40 toured the 8,600+ acre Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area today, courtesy of organizers Cheryl Harner and Marc Nolls, respectively representing Greater Mohican Audubon and Greater Akron Audubon. The Ohio Ornithological Society also lent a hand.

It was a great trip with lots of good birds, and a number of unmistakable avian signs of spring. Killdeer were winging overhead, and small flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds were about. Lots of Northern Pintail, the most aggressive of the dabblers when it comes to northward migration. A few dozen Tundra Swan were about, and tons of Mallards and American Black Ducks. A smattering of several other species of waterfowl, but the ponds and wetlands up that way are still mostly locked in solid with ice. As that starts to thaw, the floodgates of waterfowl migration will be released.
Amongst the thousands of Canada Geese, we came up with nine Greater White-fronted Geese - always a treat to see "speckle-bellies" in Ohio.
A rule to li…

Prong-billed Barbet

One of the more interesting birds that I encountered on my recent Costa Rica trip were Prong-billed Barbets, Semnornis frantzii. They rather resemble some sort of grosbeak, but are actually quite closely related to toucans.

Prong-billed Barbets occur somewhat sparingly and sporadically on both slopes of Costa Rica; the Caribbean and Pacific. They are found at middle elevation forests, and the birds in the following photos were found on the Caribbean side. Other than Costa Rica, this species occurs only in western Panama.

Tame and confiding, the barbets were very approachable and at times seemed rather curious about us humanoids. Outside of the breeding season, they are gregarious and we saw as many as six or eight together. I was occasionally able to get within 15 feet or so, and watch them as they went about their business of gorging on various tropical fruits, and no doubt eventually dispersing the seeds.

Beautiful Prong-billed Barbet watches me watching him, at Bosque de Paz, Costa Ri…

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

One of Ohio's most beautiful herons is also one of our rarest. The number of breeding pairs of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons in the state could probably be counted with the fingers of both hands, with change to spare. This southern wader is at its extreme northern limits here, and while we're probably not finding all of the nesters, it is without doubt quite the rarity.

The most famous of the Ohio Nyctanassa violacea are the Bexley nesters. These birds have their nests in the large boughs of mammoth sycamores shading a side street in upscale Bexley, a posh neighborhood on the east side of Columbus. Hundreds of birders have been to visit.

I was going to post some pictures of the fascinating Prong-billed Barbets that I encountered in Costa Rica, but then my friend Marty Sedluk sent along some of the results of his photographic work with the Bexley herons from last summer. Thus, the barbets have been temporarily preempted. Marty is taking some amazing natural history photos, and when…

Pura Vida!

Just back from an action-filled ten day romp through Costa Rica. There, it was sunny and warm and filled with flora and fauna of nearly every size, shape, and hue. Here, I'm listening to the winter Ohio winds howl and try to push 20 degree air into cracks and crevices in the house. It's good to be back? In between dealing with all of the stuff that piles up after nearly two weeks away, I'm sorting through and labeling hundreds of "keeper" photos. That's out of perhaps 3,000 pics snapped. My retention rate isn't good, but that's the great thing about digital - bad photographers like me can just keep snapping until one works out. This trip was awesome in the extreme, and that's in no small part because of our Costa Rican guide, Noel Urena. He is easily one of the best birders in the country, and likely all of Central America. I like to think I have somewhat sharp eyes conditioned over a few decades of bird-seeking, but the jungle search-image is vastl…