Saturday, June 28, 2008

OYBC Visits Cedar Bog

Members of the Ohio Young Birders Club traveled to one of Ohio's premier natural areas today, the famed "Cedar Swamp" near Urbana in Champaign County. Cedar Bog State Memorial is one of Ohio's most significant - and famous - wetlands, as it harbors an incredible concentration of rare species.

Fifteen of us descended on the site this morning, and headed off along the boardwalk to see what we could see. Although the boardwalk loop is maybe a mile in length, we took three and a half hours making our way around. One can't step two paces without seeing something worthy of study at Cedar Bog.

The birds were pretty good. We had great looks at a cooperative Yellow-breasted Chat, and a pair of Alder Flycatchers allowed us nice views. The latter is quite rare in central Ohio as a breeder. At one point, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak teed up beautifully where everyone could admire it, and sang his whistled slurry song. Plenty of other stuff too, but of all things, a chickadee made the headlines. Cedar Bog is well south of the typical range of Black-capped Chickadee, yet there one was, singing away and offering up husky chik-a-dee calls. I've only had Carolina Chickadee here in the past, and that's what would be expected. This one will be worth following up on, and if time permits I may go back and see if I can learn more.

Our group in the field, smack in the middle of Ohio's only White Cedar Swamp. Many a slap was heard today - the sounds of mosquitoes being pulverized. The drawback to exploring interesting wetlands is sometimes the biting insect factor, but it's a relatively small price to pay.
The group in one of the fen meadows. These open meadows are where the richest floristic diversity and greatest concentration of rare species in Ohio occurs. And where we spent most of our time. This spot, in particular, produced lots of goodies.

This is one of the oddities being admired by the group in the last photo. Round-leaved Sundews, Drosera rotundifolia, are carnivorous plants. Their tiny leaves are beset with sticky hairs, each tipped with what looks like a tasty dew-drop. It isn't; rather, the "dew-drop" is the botanical counterpart of Elmer's Glue. Bugs are snared fast, and eventually digested by the plant. No wonder we were looking at this thing. Good they aren't the size of redwood trees. We'd all be in trouble.

We had missed the Showy Lady's-slipper spectacle by about a week or so; they had all pretty much passed out of flower. Excellent compensation was provided by these Grass-pink orchids, Calopogon tuberosus. The meadows were copiously dotted with their bright pink blooms.

Other rare plants abounded. Here are two - one showy, one not. As is often the case, the non-showy one is probably far more important in this habitat than the beauty, if such comparisons should be made. The white-flowered species on the right is False Asphodel, Triantha glutinosa, a threatened species in the lily family. It is sparingly scattered about the fen meadows, and its scientific epithet, glutinosa, bears noting. That word means "sticky", and that it is. The upper reaches of asphodel stems are quite gluey, and one can found small insects stuck dead to the plants. The beginnings of carnivory? Hmmm...

The much less showy plant on the left is Walking Spikerush, Eleocharis rostellata. It is the dominant sedge within the Cedar Bog meadows, carpeting the wetlands with lush, dense cover. Most of what is visible in the backdrop is this species. Everything from Spotted Turtles to Massasauga rattlesnakes to endangered dragonflies hides within Walking Spikerush beds. The name? Because as shoots grow and elongate, the tips eventually arc over and touch the soil. This stimulates roots to form at the point of touch down, and new shoots emerge and repeat the performance. Thus, the plant "walks" about to spread itself. So successful is this mode of reproduction that little energy has to be put into the production of flowers and fruit.

Insects were fantastic, as well. Some were obvious and in our face, like these Red Milkweed Beetles, Tetraopes tetrapthalmus. They were all over the patches of Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca. Quite a showy member of the longhorned beetle family, but probably not the most tasty morsels running around out there, not that you'd be inclined to pop one in your mouth. Milkweeds have toxins that no doubt permeate these beetles, and they are telling us to back off with their bright colors and bold behavior.

The dragons were dazzling. We had a few of the big boys, and BY FAR the best find was a striking Comet Darner, Anax longipes, spotted by Ethan Kistler. It gave the group a show, and everyone was stunned by this bright red giant. As near as I can tell, this is a county record and there are farily few records of Comet Darner anywhere in this region. But it was mostly the micro-dragons that ruled today - damselflies, dancers, and sprites. Above is an endangered male Seepage Dancer, Argia bipunctulata. These tiny hunters lurk low amongst the sedges, but we saw plenty, in fact, far more than I have ever seen before at Cedar Bog. We also saw Sedge Sprites, Nehalennia irene, which are even smaller. It's a good thing for close focusing binoculars. Perhaps best of all were two or three gorgeous male Elfin Skimmers, Nannothemis bella, endangered and the smallest dragonfly in North America.

If you know of a young person interested in birds, or nature in general, consider enrolling them in the Ohio Young Birders Club. Interesting field trips like this one are commonplace. Also, even if you are beyond the ages of 12 to 18, as I barely am, become a supporting member. For those of us interested in perpetuating a legacy of conservation, so that future generations will be interested in nature and work to protect it, there is little more of importance that we can do than to work to encourage young people to become involved. Just go right here for more details.

All in all, an outstanding field day, and I appreciate everyone coming along, and the Ohio Young Birders Club for getting me out in the field.

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1 comment:

Mr. Ney said...

Jim,

You can also add Neoconocephalus lyristes to the list of rare insects found in Cedar Bog, 7 individuals collected this September. Thanks for your help. I look forward to more field work in Ohio in the near future.

Gideon Ney