Along with over 20 other birders, I spent Friday and Saturday in far-flung Columbiana County, which borders Pennsylvania in eastern Ohio. This is one of the most beautiful counties in the state, and probably ranks high among the least known. Rich in natural resources, Columbiana County is also filled with gorgeous scenery that is quite unlike much of the rest of Ohio.
A big thanks to Jim Dolan, Jim Kerr, and everyone else who had a hand in organizing this event and making everyone feel welcome. And they arranged a successful mission. At last tally, 113 species of birds had been detected, including some really good stuff like Alder Flycatcher, Least Bittern, and various rare boreal warblers. Bittersweet indeed was Aaron Boone and Jim Dolan's discovery of Black-throated Blue Warblers, apparently territorial breeders. This species is on the decline as a nester in the Appalachians, and would qualify as a mega-rarity as a breeding Ohio bird. There are but two 1930's-era nesting records. Aaron and Jim's discovery, upon checking the GPS, turned out to be 100 yards or so into Pennsylvania. Nonetheless, tantalizing close and a great discovery. Who knows, more field work might yet turn them up on the right side of the border.
A scenic vista into the centerpiece of Columbiana County, the valley of Little Beaver Creek. Perhaps Ohio's most pristine stream, the watershed is mostly carpeted in rich forest. Streamside habitats are filled with diverse habitats and an abundance of interesting breeding birds.
The swiftly flowing waters of Little Beaver are a favorite of fly fisherman, and birds that eat fish and are even better fishermen.
Common Merganser family on Little Beaver Creek, last Saturday. This excellent photo was taken by Jim Dolan, and reveals six nearly grown youngsters with the adult female. That's mom nearest the camera. Jim and other area birders discovered Common Mergansers along the stream about five years ago, and have since documented nesting on a number of occasions. At least four family units were found this weekend, and that's with only checking maybe half of the suitable habitat. Interested parties have put up suitable nest boxes - yes, these jumbo ducks actually nest in cavities - with the hopes of bolstering the population. Little Beaver is the only river in Ohio that supports a breeding population of "sawbills"; a true testimony to the wild nature of the area.
One of the large, interesting wetlands that we surveyed. This one had a territorial Alder Flycatcher. Other similar area wetlands had Virginia Rails, Common Moorhens, Marsh Wrens, and other nice birds.
Needless to say, we were routinely distracted by other critters. Our group found a colony of Baltimore Checkerspots, Euphydryas phaeton, in the wetland shown above. This species is not particularly common, and discovery of new populations is always noteworthy. Added to the luster of discovery is the butterfly's appearance. It is a real showstopper, one of the best looking species in North America. But, Ohio has scores of other interesting and beautiful butterflies. If you would like to see plenty of them, and participate in field trips with some of the most knowledgeable butterfly experts around, be sure to check out the APPALACHIAN BUTTERFLY CONFERENCE. It takes place in another beautiful Appalachian Ohio county, Scioto, which harbors the massive Shawnee State Forest.
We also found one of the caterpillars, a large mature specimen. Young checkerspot caterpillars occupy a bagworm-like nest of woven silk placed in their primary host plant, Turtlehead, Chelone glabra. As they grow through successive instars, becoming increasingly larger, they eventually leave the nest and strike out on their own. This caterpillar was feeding voraciously on the leaves of Tatarian Honeysuckle, Lonicera tatarica, a non-native invasive nasty. I've not seen that plant mentioned anywhere as a larval food plant, but I hope the checkerspots eat them all.
We did manage to see many excellent native plant species, too, including these stunning Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia, in full bloom. This small, gnarled shrub is a member of the heath family, along with rhododendrons. Like the latter, the flowers are stunning.
Not only are Mountain Laurel flowers exceptionally showy, they also reveal one of the plant world's neater tactics for ensuring cross pollination. Upon expansion, each of the flower's ten stamens is tucked into a little divot in the flower corolla. You can see this in the photo above. The stamen tips are anchored where the little dark dots are, their anthers firmly held in place and the stamen under tension. The best analogy for this is a mousetrap. When a bee or other pollinator comes along and lands on the flower, it trips the stamens which snap loose and violently blast the pollen all over the hapless bug. The next flower that it visits will receive a fresh dose of pollen, ideally from another plant, which the insect will inadvertently deposit on the stigma as it seeks nectar. And likely get blasted once again by the tripwire-like stamens. In the above photo, none of the stamens have yet been released and you can see how they are bowed and under pressure.
Thanks again to everyone up in Columbiana County and vicinity for your gracious hospitality, and for showing us some of the more interesting locales. Best of all, we added a heap of data for the Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas II. Remember, each and every observation that you make will be useful for the Atlas, and please get involved. This is the most important project involving Ohio's bird life that has been undertaken since the last survey over 20 yeara ago, and we need your help. Go to the OBBA II website for more details.