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Showing posts from August, 2009


Meetings are always a bit of a chore. One way to make up for the work aspect of such drudgery is to hold said meeting in the midst of beautiful surroundings. And that's what some of us did a week ago, when we convened to sketch out an upcoming conference. Randy Lakes was good enough to host us at his Adams County property, and plenty of good stuff lurked right outside the cabin door. The field above held some Rattlesnake-master, Eryngium yuccifolium, and numerous other botanical goodies.

We were pleased to find the meadows full of these orchids, looking like floriferous confections. It is a Slender Lady's-tresses, Spiranthes lacera. They're not rare, but uncommon might fit, and this species has probably been recorded from one-third of Ohio's counties. Many orchids have boom years, and bust years, and it must have been boomtime in Adams County as we saw dozens of lady's-tresses.

Orchids in the genus Spiranthes are very distinctive as a group, but pinning a specific …

Pinky II (Pepto) goes on exhibit

The newest pink katydid, which goes by the name of "Pepto", is now a ward of the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) in Columbus, Ohio. We took her down there Friday, introduced her to the staff, and gave a briefing on what little we knew about the care and maintenance of pink katydids. We also armed them with lots of good info about katydids and singing insects.

I really hope that Pepto lives a good, long life. In the realm of a katydid, that might be another month or two. For the brief period that I had her in my care, she was eating like a horse, a good sign to be sure. Pepto is especially fond of sunflower petals and leaves of plants in the rose family - not difficult fodder to obtain.

The entrance to COSI, in downtown Columbus. If you've not been here, it's well worth the visit. Scads of kids of all ages stream through the doors every day, and for as long as Pepto lasts, a great many of them will ooh and aah over her. The COSI staff have prepared a nicely decor…

Pinky Rides Again!

You may remember "Pinky", the charming fuchsia-colored katydid that made the pages of this blog back in July, here, here, and here. Not only was Pinky blogged about, the Internet went viral with pinkness as she was twittered and facebooked about, and ultimately featured in a number of newspaper articles. Several thousand people probably saw her image and read about her.

Well, it paid off, as last Tuesday I got a call from Angela Johnson, proprietor of A Natural Place in the Hocking Hills. Angela's daughter had found another pink katydid, and they had remembered the newspaper articles about Pinky. In a fortuitous twist, I had to give a talk in Athens the following day, and the Johnson's place was just off the route that I had to take to get there.

They were good enough to hand the beast over to me, and I am doing my best to provide luxuriant accommodations for Pinky II. This one is another female bush katydid, apparently of the genus Amblycorypha. Pinky I, you may recal…

Red-footed Cannibal Fly

A bumble bee, genus Bombus. Mild-mannered but large and somewhat intimidating, most critters give them a wide berth. They can sting, you know. So, for the most part these big fuzzy bees bumble about the flower patch with impunity, not probably giving a lot of thought to danger. After all, who is going to tussle with one of these black and yellow behemoths?

This. It's a Red-footed Cannibal Fly, Promachus hinei, and there are few insects higher up on the predator chain. As you can see, it has captured a bumble bee and is enjoying the fruits of its kill. If these things ever evolve to the size of Trumpeter Swans, I pity the humanoids that walk the earth in that grim future landscape.

The consumate killer, this robber fly misses nothing and seemingly can take out nearly any other insect. I once saw an amazing photo of one that had captured an Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly. Well, pondhawks are pretty much the goshawks of the dragonfly world, routinely snagging and eating other dragonflies…

Striped Gophers

While on the road to Chillicothe last Saturday, I succumbed to the irrestistable temptation to stop by and see a colony of Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels that has long been a fixture in a place right off U.S. 23. It was bright and warm, and I knew the little prairie dogs would be in full whirl, digging, tussling, eating, and lazing about.

Just south of Circleville lay the former Pickaway Plains prairie, and the best place to get an idea of what this place must have once looked like is to stop by Charlie's Pond and vicinity. Prairie remnants persist here and there, but a few years ago one of the landowners - who deserves a medal - put about 1,000 acres into prairie grasses, primarily Big Bluestem, Andropogon gerardii. It is impressive.

The tall grasses stretch to the horizon in the above shot, but it's the cropped short grass of the roadsides where Spermophilus tridecemlineatus hangs out. Drive these roads on a warm summer day and keep an eye sharp, and you'll see 'em.

Calico Bird

Harlequin-patterned and ornate, Ruddy Turnstones rank high among my favorite shorebirds. They are also nice in that turnstones offer up no identification problems, something that cannot be said of some of their brethren. In fact, I saw the subjects of this blog while chasing a sandpiper that was reported as a Little Stint, at Conneaut Harbor, Ohio. As more details, and especially some exceptional photos, have emerged it has become apparent that the stint was actually a bright juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper. Oh well, these things happen and stints/peeps are among the more challenging groups of birds to sort out.

Gorgeous adult Ruddy Turnstone roots about the mud of Conneaut Harbor. Tame and confiding, turnstones often allow close approach. Breeding as they do in the highest reaches of the Arctic, they're probably not very familiar with people and may view us as large, strange, lumbering oddities rather than threats.

Ah, the harbor at Conneaut is not exactly pristine wilderness. Po…

Caspian Tern

Today, Bernie Master and I made a marathon expedition to Conneaut, Ohio, to try and find the Little Stint that was found there yesterday by Craig Holt. For those of you that may not know the place, Conneaut is as far into the northeastern corner of the state as one can get, blocked in by Lake Erie on the north and Pennsylvania on the east.

We didn't see the stint - it apparently was a one-day wonder as so many of the birds at Conneaut are - but we did see lots of other interesting species. The sand flats in the harbor allow for great, up close study of shorebirds and I got a lot of nice photos and decent video of a variety of things.

The stint would be a state record, and one of very few records - maybe the first from the Great Lakes? - away from the coasts. Would have been great to see it, but misses come with the turf when chasing rarities.

A small mob scans the swales at Conneaut, hoping that the stint magically reappears. It didn't but we had fun watching Ruddy Turnstones, S…

Yellow Warbler

High time a bird showed up here; I was thinking I'd have to change the blog's name to Ohio Insects and Biodiversity. And we'll go with a charmer, a warbler that ranks high among many birder's favorites, I am sure.

One of the "problems" of being an inveterate traveler that nearly always has a camera slung around his neck is that finding blog material is never a problem. In fact, I can never put anywhere near all the stuff that I, at least, find cool on here. I took the following shots back on May 23 at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, and have intended to stick 'em up here ever since.

Luminescent lemon beacon of a bird, a male Yellow Warbler takes a breather in between spirited renditions of Sweet Sweet Sweet I'm So Sweet songs. Although this, along with the Common Yellowthroat, is Ohio's most common and widespread breeding warbler, it is still a fascinating bird. This one is perched in a fine specimen of Sandbar Willow, Salix exigua, and Yellow Warblers …

Candy-striped Leafhopper

I went over to Miami County today on a whirlwind afternoon visit to a place called Greenville Falls. Located just west of Covington, at a point where Greenville Creek cascades over a gorgeous series of limestone shelves, the scenery alone is worth the visit.

But for those of a botanical bent, it's the sheer 30-40 foot limestone cliffs that form the north side of the creek that are the attraction. The cliffs weep, constantly moisturized by water jetted from a perched aquifer, and harbor Ohio's only hanging fen. This plant community is most unusual and very showy, and the main reason I went. I'll try and share the place with you later, when there's a bit more time.

But for now, a bug that I saw in the surrounding fields.

I meet the inscrutable gaze of a Candy-striped Leafhopper, Graphocephala coccinea. Diminutive in the extreme, ten could probably have a party on your thumbnail. They're common, just easy to miss.

But you don't want to miss anything that looks like …

Sawfly and yellowjacket

It's been a whirl of things entomological lately, and I'm going to continue that trend with two more fascinating beasts. One of them, you know and probably fear. The other is a puzzler at first and makes for a good learning experience.

As an aside, if you enjoy the outdoors and like to spend time in the field, start looking at insects if you don't already. As mid-summer rolls into early autumn, the bugs increasingly proliferate and their variety is staggering. Many are beautiful, and they all have fascinating life histories. Besides, insects are the fuel that makes much of the songbird world go 'round, and one can only get a better grasp of the feathered crowd by knowing more about their food!

Last Sunday, Kelly Williams-Sieg and I ventured into Scioto Trail State Forest, and the very first stop proved to be quite productive. Upon exiting the vehicle, we quickly noticed that a nearby stand of Gray Dogwood, Cornus racemosa, was under siege by beautiful white and yellow &…

New to Science, Part II

Prepare yourself to enter the wonderful world of sedges, reader, a land shunned even by many a botanist. I know that the avid sedgaholics who follow this blog - both of them - eagerly await the following, though.

Sedges get an undeserved bad rap. Part of this stems from their sheer numbers: there are over 160 species in the genus Carex alone recorded from Ohio. Factor in Eleocharis, Schoenoplectus, Scirpus, Cyperus and the various other sedge genera and that's a lot of stuff to learn. But in my view, if one really wants to understand ecosystems to the fullest extent possible, a good knowledge of the flora is essential. The plants are driving most of the other, animal life forms found in any locale.

And sedges are VERY good barometers of habitat. Many species are quite specific to certain environmental niches, and can reveal much about the quality of the habitat that one is assessing. Plus, many of these sedges are just beautiful, and well worth more than a passing glance.

This one m…

New to Science?

In my last post, about the spider-killing wasp, I mentioned the botanical foray that Rick Gardner, Ray Showman and I made last Sunday. We found many interesting things beyond that wasp, some we knew we'd see, others were new discoveries. The site that we explored was put on the botanical map earlier this year by Rick, who is botanist for ODNR's Division of Natural Areas. The fact that he found the place that we'll soon be trekking into via this blog is VERY impressive. Not only is it WAY off the beaten path, Rick is one of few botanists in the state who would have recognized some of the plants that we'll be visiting.

Ray Showman is author of the book Macrolichens of Ohio, the state's leading expert on lichens, and an all around great botanist. I've spent plenty of time in the field with these guys, and it is always a treat and I come away knowing much more than when we started.

We found a fascinating hybrid sedge - hybrid plants often look better than do the pare…