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Showing posts from September, 2008

Bottled Gentian

Last Friday, prior to the Lake Erie Raptor Symposium described in the preceding post, I had a bit of time to nip into one of Ohio's most spectacular ecosystems, the Oak Openings. I never miss an opportunity to explore this region, and am never disappointed when I do. This whirlwind trip netted many interesting observations, not the least of which were some fine specimens of one of my favorite plants.

Bottled Gentian, Gentiana andrewsii, are outrageous in appearance. They are an indescribably rich cobalt blue, with a flower shape totally out of sorts with nearly all other of our plants. The appearance of these gentians, and most other gentians for that matter, indicate the imminent frost of fall. They are among our latest plants to bloom, not long before short days and cool nights put an end to another season's floral display.
The prairies of the Oak Openings look particularly showy in autumn, when a riot of fall-blooming asters and other late-comers paint the landscape. One must…

Raptor Symposium

We had a whale of a good time this weekend at the OOS/BSBO-sponsored Lake Erie Raptor Symposium, held at Maumee Bay State Park. Major props are due Karen Menard, who conceived the idea for this symposium and was key to pulling it together. As always, a wonderful group of volunteers did all of the heavy lifting and made things happen. These affairs are a ton of work, and all of our paychecks are very small; basically invisible. Thanks to everyone involved, as well as our excellent slate of speakers and field trip leaders.
The lodge stuck this sign out front to welcome us. Helped draw about 140 people into the lodge, but no buteos, accipiters, or caracaras.It was a full house for both daytime and evening festivities. Our Saturday morning speakers did an outstanding job covering the raptors of the western Lake Erie region. First up was Mark Shieldcastle, with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, who gave an excellent overview of Bald Eagles and their recovery. Then came Paul Cypher with a fasci…

Raptor Symposium

This weekend is the Lake Erie Raptor Symposium, hosted by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory and the Ohio Ornithological Society. We've got a full house, looks like the weather should be decent, and there'll be some outstanding speakers, led by raptor guru Brian Wheeler.
We'll also have expeditions to look for real, wild raptors. The last weekend in September is normally peak for diversity of species around the western end of Lake Erie. Judging from hawk-watching reports from Texas, though, most of the Broad-winged Hawks have already moved along. If we see the above species, it'll forever cement this event in people's minds.Likewise, this species would be equally stupendous, but one can hope.A closer look at the goggle-eyed beauty. That will never appear in Ohio. But one should never say never, as they say.This one is a bit more likely - guaranteed, in fact.But probably not this subspecies. This Red-tailed Hawk was photographed last February in San Isidro, Costa Rica.…

A Beetles Fan?

Then you'll like the following bruisers. Nope, we're not talking Ringo, Paul, George, and John - these are the hard-shelled, pincered, scary looking beetles. The antithesis of the Fab Four in the cuteness department. We found them under some logs last Saturday. It wasn't Norwegian Wood, but still offered a hiding spot from Rocky Raccoon.
Handsome little fellows, aren't they? These are known as Horned Passalus, Odontotaenius disjunctus. Another name is Patent Leather Beetle; kind of a good one, that. These were in the midst of rotting wood, where they spend their lives. Supposedly, adults can make up to fourteen distinct sounds by rubbing various body parts together, and will "vocalize" when disturbed. We weren't overly abrasive with these, apparently not enough to stimulate them to call. The brown beetle is a youngster; it will eventually grow into a suit of gloss black like the full adult behind it.Horned Passalus larvae are big white grubs, nestled deep …

A Beautiful Saxifrage

On Saturday's visit to the Strait Creek Prairie preserve in southwestern Pike County, we found ourselves traversing the base of some vertical limestone cliffs. Cloaked in shade and wet with the outflow of seepages, these outcrops proved to be perfect habitat for one of our most interesting saxicoles, or rock-dwelling plants.

Moist limestone cliff face liberally festooned with Sullivantia, Sullivantia sullivantii, a diminutive and showy member of the Saxifrage family. Overall, it is a rather rare and local plant known from only ten states in the midwest. Sullivantia is habitat-restricted, growing only where suitable cliff faces occur. Definitely not a plant you'll find growing along the roadsides and in ditches.

A closer view of the leaves. Shiny green and ornately sculpted with crenate margins, I have noticed that Sullivantia leaves invariably draw the eye of people unfamiliar with the plant, and they quickly ask what it is.By the time we arrived on the scene, the Sullivantia wa…

Camphorweed and salamanders

This may be the world's only blog entry combining the above, but with some 5.3 billion blogs out there anymore, who knows?

No matter, today was a stupendous whirlwind of a field trip. My main target was the plant Camphorweed, Pluchea camphorata. In this quest I was aided by John Howard and Tricia West, without whom finding the plant wouldn't have been possible. John and Tricia work at the sprawling 7,000-acre GE engine testing facility in Adams County, and were able to get me access to the innards of this site. John had discovered the Camphorweed here a few years back. So, along with Janet Creamer, in we went.

I have seen nearly every native plant - and most non-natives - in Ohio, and it gnaws at me if one has evaded my list. Thus, it was a treat to finally see this rather robust member of the Asteraceae. It grows in a rather plain-looking site - certainly not a place that would visually grab your eye. The handful of plants that sprang up this year grow along the edge of a seaso…

Black-horned Tree Cricket

I have become smitten with "singing" insects. Much of this interest was stimulated by the fabulous book The Singing Life of Insects, by Lang Elliot and Wil Hershberger. This is one of the finest volumes on natural history, bar none. I highly recommend it and if you get a chance to pick one up, please do.

Learning about singing insects is interesting and useful on several fronts. One, the collective symphonies produced by various insects, especially at night, are among nature's most pleasing sounds. Two, it is always nice to know what organism makes what sound when one is outdoors. Three, most of these insects are visually beautiful, and knowing their sounds allows one to better track them down for a look. Four, and something that all birders should take note of, is that they provide outstanding practice for our ears. The insect chorus comes on and starts to hit its colective stride after the birds have largely ceased singing. Moving one's ear over to learning insects …

It Won't Kill You - Promise!

A coworker brought recently brought in a real horrorshow of an insect, a bug that is sure to turn the stomach of an entomophobe. This is the sort of flying terror that has sane people running around in a crouch, screaming and waving their hands wildly about in blind efforts to ward the beast off.

Every once and again, one of these wasps with the prodigious "stinger" enters a garage or house, and to many inhabitants, it's presence is worse than if a Grizzly Bear knocked its way in. All becomes chaos, until some superhero plucks up the courage to swat it into oblivion.

But, as is so often the case, all is not as it seems.

Let's take a look at this thing.
An Ichneumon wasp, Megarhyssa macrura. Swatted into oblivion, but at least the body was preserved so that we can learn about it. You can readily see why someone with no knowledge of these things would get riled up at the sight of that "stinger". In this case, it tapes out to nearly 3 1/2 inches long! Except, it i…

Stork leads to Find

Wow! The gales roared through this area Sunday, the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. The power is still off around here, and AEP is saying it might be five days or so before it's restored. I've never seen so much downed Silver Maple and Bradford Pears in my life. Some one million customers are in the dark in the Columbus area. I'm one of 'em; occasional wireless interludes allow Internet access. I'm going to get behind on e-mails, that's for sure :-)
Anyway, before the crazy winds set in Sunday afternoon, Sherri Velliquette and I made a return trip to Coshocton County and Tyson Road, site of the now-famous Wood Storks. They weren't there, having long since flown the coop, but all of those great wetlands along this seldom-traveled gravel country lane still looked great.
When I first traveled over there on a whirlwind visit to see those spectacular birds, I was struck by all of the outstanding habitat along Wills Creek. There are numerous seeps emanating from the ba…


Seems to be have been a good season for Green Herons. Reports have abounded, and I've seen many this year in my wanderings. That's good. Nice to know this interesting little heron is seemingly holding its own.

Green Herons are one of my favorite birds. Discovering one is always a treat. Sometimes it is of a distant high-flyer, straight-lining it to some farflung destination. In flight, they suggest crows but have a different look due the thick scrunched up neck and a somewhat different wingbeat cadence. You can tell 'em a mile off and dazzle your friends with one of these extreme calls from afar.

Or you might be lurking about some shrubby wetland or wooded stream corridor, when suddenly KYOW! A Green Heron bursts forth from hiding, delivering its telltale piercingly metallic call.

Young Green Heron, showing the extensive neck streaking characteristic of juveniles. Photo taken at Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve.

As often as not, Green Herons will give you a visual interpret…

Jasper's critters

During last weekend's botanical blitz of Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Area in Indiana, we saw lots of critters: birds, bugs, spiders, etc. I bet there are a lot of interesting finds to be made yet over there. Below are two - one common, one, well, I don't know...

Very freshly emerged Black Saddlebags, Tramea lacerata. These big dragonflies were a dime a dozen in the Jasper wetlands, and I saw many freshly emerged ones like the one above. In this state, they are referred to as tenerals, which means they are not fully developed. You can see the exsuvia, or old husk of the larval stage just above the saddlebag's eyes. It amazes me that such a big, differently shaped creature emerges from that alienlike pod. It can take a while for a dragonfly to free itself from the larval case, and this one has probably only been out a few hours, at best. It is still in the process of pumping fluid to its extremities to harden them up. Teneral dragonflies are quite vulnerable to predators at this …

Look closely...

Black Oaks are beautiful trees. And this shot, if I do say so myself, is a rather crisp image of the dark, deeply fissured and rugged bark of Quercus velutina. This is a tree that withstands the ages. Black Oaks favor rough, nutrient-deficient soils, and often occur in habitats where scorched earth policies rule, at least in the olden days. Prairie wildfires were essential in maintaining midwestern savanna habitats that this this thick-barked oak thrives in. Its outer husk is tough enough to ward off the conflagrations that would kill lesser timber, thus perpetuating oak dominance. A Black Oak of this size has been around a long time, and seen a lot. Who knows how many species of birds have graced its boughs. How many pounds of lichens have lived and died on the robust trunk. Kilos and kilos of acorns have fed dozens and dozens of squirrels, deer, and other critters. Yep, untold scores of other plants and animals have consorted with this giant over the decades; it has played a vital …