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Showing posts from April, 2008

Shawnee Explodes!

With life, as it does every spring. On a recent visit to the sprawling 65,000-acre Shawnee State Forest, spring had returned with a vengeance and eveything from birds to butterflies to plants were there in droves. I can never get enough of this place; it is the closest true wilderness that is accessible to my overly-developed suburbia-dominated landscape of Columbus, Ohio. Here, we've destroyed nearly every natural feature of note. There, next to no development can be found - just massive wild landscapes. Worm-eating Warbler belts out his dry, husky trill with all the vigor of his more tropical-looking brethren, such as Hooded Warblers. Both species were back in abundance. Worm-eaters are more sluggish and methodical than most warblers. They use their relatively heavy spike-like bill to probe through hanging clusters of dead leaves for caterpillars, spiders and the lot. Quite the specialist are they when it comes to feeding habits. I've seen them numerous times in their tropica…

Chub-stickers in Paradise

One of our rarest, most beautiful, and interesting breeding birds occurs in the upscale Columbus neighborhood of Bexley. In the lushly landscaped upscale surroundings of large estate homes with average values hovering in the seven figures, our guys go about their business, producing awkward large-billed youngsters from conspicuous platforms of sticks located directly over quiet Preston Avenue. They've been doing this for seven years or so, and have become avian celebrities.

Today, I became a visiting paparazzi, loitering below and gaping upward to admire these fascinating birds. Draped with my binos and camera, I drew nary a blink or second look from neighbors tending to their tulips or passing by on strolls. The locals have become quite accustomed to our lot, stopping by to gawk at their gorgeous Yellow-crowned Night-Herons.

Columbus has long harbored small breeding colonies of this southern heron, and they've always been, at least most of them, in upscale suburbia nestled amon…

Vegetative Obscurities

On a recent expedition to southern Ohio, we encountered many rare and interesting plants. Not the least of these was a gorgeous, Lilliputian gentian. Pennywort Gentian, Obolaria virginica, is more common than may be thought, but it is easily passed by.

Quite the stunner, eh? A few inches tall constitutes a whopper of a Pennywort Gentian, and some plants barely project out of the duff of last fall's leaf litter. The Gentian family is not a big one in our region, and this is the earliest of their lot to bloom.
Quarter for scale. Truly a micro-gentian, but as almost always the case with the tiny and obscure, upon close scrutiny they reveal their charms.A while back, I blogged about the "discovery" of a new species. Well, we revisited the site where I found Reznicek's Sedge, Carex reznicekii, 16 years ago. And lo and behold, there it was, doing just fine on its dry oak-shaded hillside in Jackson County.


Tuft of Reznicek's Sedge, looking much like a sterile clump of gra…

Hardly a Savage Serpent

Early spring may be the best time of year to be in the hill country of southeastern Ohio. It's a particularly appealing time of year, as memories of ice, cold, and snow are still fresh. Thus, the burst of life is a welcome relief, and a reminder of the age-old turn of seasons.
Pinkish blooms of Redbud, Cercis canadensis, tint roadsides magenta in Shawnee. They are joined by other less conspicuous botanical earlybirds, whose greenish casts nonetheless do much to enliven the landscape. The green mists in this photo are produced by the ripening fruit of Red Elm, Ulmus rubra, and clusters of flowers of Sassafras, Sassafras albidum. Scarcely any foliage has yet emerged, which is fantastic for birders. This situation will change rapidly, and before long our feathered songsters will be enveloped in the jungle-like leaves of the forest, and admiring them will be vastly more difficult. This tree is the first to unfurl its leaves; it is Yellow Buckeye, Aesculus flava. By last Sunday, one of th…

Sharpie = 1 - Cowbird = 0

Sorry for the paucity of posts of late, but Blogger has been acting bonkers lately, at least insofar as my setup goes. I've been on lots of wonderful safaris lately, with many interesting photos of some fascinating flora and fauna, so now that cyber-land once again seems accessible, off we'll go.
Last Saturday, fellow botanists Daniel Boone, Jim Mundy, and Ray Showman set out on a misty day to seek rarities in Jackson, Lawrence, and Vinton counties. And we found plenty. One of the major objectives was locating the two known sites of one of Ohio's rarest plants, the gorgeous yet diminutive Blue Scorpionweed, Phacelia ranunculacea. This species is a southerner at its northern limits on this side of the Ohio River. Showing the vast disparity in the progression of the vernal season, the population in northern Lawrence County was not yet in bloom - not a single flower! - although the plants had emerged and the foliage looked good.

At the other site, the scorpionweed was in full b…

Weekend Birds

I spent Friday and Saturday along the shores of Lake Erie, which always provides interesting birding opportunities in spring. Most of the time involved activities related to Wing Watch, but I was able to get out and explore some local areas like East Harbor State Park and Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. Speaking of Wing Watch, Bill of the Birds was the keynote speaker and wowed everyone with his program. Bill has a new book out, The Young Birder's Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America, and his talk was based on that. You really should hear this program, as Bill has some wonderful thoughts and insights on getting young people out of doors and involved in nature. This should be a chief priority for all of us who are enthusiastic about the environment, no matter what age we are. Bill will also be speaking at the annual OOS conference - details right here.
Following are a few photos of the 80-odd species of birds that we managed to ferret out in our limited time afield on Friday. The d…

Snow Trillium Strikes Again!

A real rite of spring for me, and probably others, is witnessing the flowering of our earliest trillium to bloom, Trillium nivale, the Snow Trillium. Aptly named, it thrusts forth from the ground so early that the plants may occasionally get buried by spring snows. It often blooms in late March, but this year seemed to be about a week later.

Snow Trillium has a real history in Ohio. It was first collected and described to science by the prolific and intrepid pioneer botanist, John Riddell, in 1834 somewhere along the banks of the Scioto River near Columbus. Snow Trillium populations still persist in this area, although it is likely that Riddell's type locality (type localities are sites where a species was first collected and described) has been destroyed.

This sheet contains Riddell's original, or type, collection of Snow Trillium. Although this material, collected in 1834, may be 178 years old it still looks good and is holding up fine. Collections of animals and plants are vi…

Drab (a)? Not really

One of the biggest genera in the mustard world (Brassicaceae) is Draba, or the whitlow-grasses. There are just over 100 species in North America, but nearly all are species of northern tundra habitats and high alpine haunts, or arid places of the western U.S. Here in Ohio, there are only three native species, and all are major rarities. I found all three on my southern Ohio botanical foray last Saturday, and two of them were looking quite nice. The third, Carolina Whitlow-grass, Draba reptans, was not quite ready yet. This is a classic Adams County shortgrass prairie, and the primary habitat that has put this county on the map botanically. These small prairies are on very thin soil over dolomite limestone, and often have Eastern Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana, in and around them. They are far older than the tallgrass prairies of western and northern Ohio, is this region was unaffected by the Wisconsin glaciers of 12,000 years ago. Walking into one of these sites is akin to time-travel…