Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Wild Ones in Adams County

There are few better places in Ohio to be during mid-summer dog-days than the prairies of Adams County. These tiny ancient openings abound with life, and an incredible diversity of flora splashes every color of the rainbow across the barrens. Perhaps because of ample rain earlier in the season, the prairies look about as good as I've ever seen them. Prairie-dock carpeted many areas, sending luminiscent yellow beacon flowers high into the air, pulling in scads of butterflies. Blazing-stars (Liatris) of four species striped the landscape in swaths of purple, and if there is a crack cocaine for butterflies, it's this stuff.

Yesterday was hot, but nearly picture-perfect for exploring prairies, and John Howard and I met 20 members of the Greater Cincinnati Wild Ones and guests for a field trip ably put together by Kathy McDonald. The prairies certainly didn't disappoint and we saw far more plants and animals than could ever be touched on in less than a telephone book-sized blog.

I figured it would be a good day when one of the first birds that I heard upon arrival at our first destination, Adams Lake Prairie, was a Blue Grosbeak. We later found another, and most of the group got good looks at the latter bird, an immature male. Blue Grosbeaks are really on the upswing in Ohio. I remember long ago when Adams County was THE PLACE to go find them; few were known elsewhere in Ohio. The bird list for the day was pretty good, and ample evidence of breeding for many species was noted. American Goldfinches were still building nests!
Our Motley Crue amongst the botanical splendor of Adams Lake Prairie State Nature Preserve. Small but spectacular, fire management by the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves has helped the prairie flourish.

The lushness of Adams Lake Prairie, 2008. Although the opening is small, it is packed with all manner of interesting and rare flora and fauna. The loop trail around the prairie is only a 1/4 mile or so in length; we spent two hours traversing it.

One couldn't help to notice all types of interesting insects in the process of admiring the flora. This odd-looking plant is Rattlesnake-master, Eryngium yuccifolium, a bizarre member of the Parsley Family (Apiaceae). It's white button-like flower clusters were everywhere yesterday, one of the best showings of this rarity in memory. Here, a Red-banded Hairstreak nectars along with some unidentified wasps. Note all of the other Rattlesnake-master in the background. In the olden days, it was thought that a poultice made of this plant, applied to the bite of a rattlesnake, would mitigate the effects of the snake's venom, hence the name.
After lunch, it was on to Chaparral Prairie State Nature Preserve, another gem amongst Adams County prairies. It was here that we saw the semi-obliging Blue Grosbeak, and an Indigo Bunting gave our crowd extraordinary views by the parking lot. Some had not seen this splashy, tropical-looking bunting before, and Indigos are always crowd-pleasers. We saw lots of great plants at Chaparral, including the threatened Pink Milkwort, Polygala incarnata. Above is Bluehearts, Buchnera americana, another threatened rarity of Adams County.

This Hoary Edge put on quite a show, guarding a patch of Prairie-dock, Silphium terebinthinaceum. Here he sits on the buds of a plant, five or six feet in the air. The Edge allowed close approach, and we were able to get our lens within a foot or so. This does not seem to be a very common butterfly in Ohio, and was a "lifer" for many.

Finally, it was on the legendary Lynx Prairie, made famous by pioneering ecological studies by Ohio botanist Lucy Braun. This was the first acquisition by the Ohio Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, in 1959, and one of the state's foremost naturalists, Paul Knoop, also owns part of Lynx. We could have spent all day here, so much is there to see. Above, Red Cedars, Juniperus virginiana, dot a typical Lynx shortgrass prairie. The butterflies were insane here, and we saw lots of rare flora, including the odd American Aloe, Manfreda virginica, the only eastern species of a large group of western aloes.

The botanical climax, at least for me, was the discovery of seven plants of this very rare orchid. Crested Coral-root, Hexalectris spicata, is only known from a handful of Adams County sites, and is very easy to miss. All of the ones we found, excepting the above, were still young and in bud. The names stems from the root structures, which are coral-like and enwrapped in mycorrhizal fungi with which the orchid has a poorly understood symbiosis. Some years, the coral-roots remain dormant under the ground, In others, especially wet years, they burst forth and produce flowering stalks. We felt very fortunate to see this magnificent specimen.
All in all, a great day afield with lots of good companions.

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3 comments:

Jana said...

Wow! Outstanding blog entry. What a lucky group. Wish I coulda been there.

Ann Boltz said...

The day was a thrill! It was my first time ever on a prairie walk and the land was teaming with energy and life.

Ann Boltz said...

My first walk ever on a praire. It was thrilling, alive with all kinds of life. Jim was amzing!