Monday, December 28, 2009

Some winter oddities

It was a whirlwind weekend of Christmas Bird Counting. First, it was off to Portsmouth and the magnificent Shawnee State Forest to participate in the Portsmouth CBC along with some friends. That was Saturday; Sunday was the Cincinnati CBC were I was able to connect with a number of Cinci-area birders and help scrape up some decent stuff. Four Cackling Geese were nice finds on the latter count. These pint-sized geese are the Mini-Me's of the Canada Goose world; elfin in the extreme.

Shawnee produced some nice finds, too, not all of which had feathers. A few of those are below.

Foreboding terrain, a reverting few decade old clearcut is tangled with young saplings, down trees, and thorny greenbrier. Tough going for humanoids, but the favorite haunt for that most tasty of birds, the Ruffed Grouse. We had stopped along a forest road, and soon heard the whuf-whuf-whuf-whuf of a male grouse drumming. To me, they rather sound like a distant lawn mower firing up, but in a VERY deep pitch. One almost FEELS the grouse; the wing-induced thumps seem to resonate in the core of your being.

Our "singer" was on a distant slope, out of reach, but the gnarly tangles in the above photo looked too good to resist so I darted in to try and kick out some of the secretive partridge. Grouse, if you are unfamiliar with their wily ways, love to hide in places that would turn back a coon hound. And, speed is NOT of the essence if you wish to find them. Step lively and move in a straight line, and they're liable to just sit tight and you'll cruise right past. Walk slowly and erratically, with plenty of short stops, and they get nervous. Many times I've had birds whirl from nearby cover just as soon as I started walking again after a brief pause. Anyway, no luck finding any other than the drumming bird this day.

Not far off, sharp-eyed Jenny Richards put us on to a patch of a most unusual fern; only the second population that I've seen in Scioto County. There are three species of ferns in this picture, all still green as a fresh Christmas tree. In fact, one of them is the Cristmas Fern, Polystichum acrostichoides, allegedly named because it is still green at yule time. Fronds may be seen in the foreground, by that log.

The emerald patch in the backdrop is Ground-pine, Lycopodium digitatum, a very primitive plant whose ancestors were trampled by dinosaurs. But it wasn't this common tripe that caught our eye...

It was this - the exotic Climbing Fern, Lygodium palmatum. A representative of a large tropical fern family, this species is the only one that makes it as far north as Ohio, and it is quite local here. As the specific epithet palmatum suggests, the leaves are hand-shaped, and they are tethered to spindly brownish stems that clamber up and over vegetation. A very handsome fern, and more people should attempt to grow it. If draped appropriately, it forms very lush, interesting cloaks of greenery. Should you have old refrigerators, abandoned jalopies, discarded toilets, or other sundry detritus laying around the yard, Climbing Fern might do well to mask it.

It goes without saying that the patch of lush greenery on the far side of that "crick" gave us pause, and we stopped for a look. It is the bamboo of the north; Cane, Arundinaria gigantea, a large colony-forming grass that is now an enigma north of the Ohio River. It is/was undoubtedly native along the Ohio River and immediate environs in southern Ohio, but no one can say with certainty that any of the known patches are there of their own accord. People plant the stuff, and it can persist for a long time.

But in and around Shawnee, there are colonies like the one above, far off the beaten path and in perfect habitat. My suspicion is that at least some of the boondock-dwelling Shawnee cane is wild, but hard and fast proof is lacking. This is the stuff that Swainson's Warblers use as nesting habitat in some areas.

Two incredibly common but highly important native plants share a common fencerow. Brown tufts of faded Canada Goldenrod, Solidago canadensis, drained of their chlorophyll, create texture by an old fence post festooned with Poison Ivy, Toxicodendron radicans.

Many species of seed-eating birds make great use of goldenrods, and old fields thick with the stuff often have plenty of sparrows. American Tree Sparrows, down from the tundra, love to swing like little acrobats from goldenrod heads, piggishly plucking the abundant fruit.

The frugivorous set - berry-eating birds - absolutely love Poison Ivy berries. We had a number of Yellow-rumped Warblers on the Cincinnati count, and all were around berry-laden ivy vines. I watched these toughest of warblers plucking the fruit of the vine like nine year olds plopped down in an M & M bush.

What?! A quick glance at my car's thermometer showed a cool 42 degrees, and a double take confirmed that the squiggle on the country lane was indeed a Woolly-bear! A quick stop and out we jumped, to inspect this hardy larva, which was speeding to points unknown. Woolly-bears are the larval stage of the Isabella Tiger Moth, Pyrrharctia isabella, and they are well known for cool weather wanderings. But this was REALLY cool, and I wonder what the lowest temperature might be in which these plump setae-covered beasts can still achieve mobility.

Thanks to everyone, if you are reading, who took me along on the CBC's this weekend!

1 comment:

Scott Pendleton said...

It is January 7 and 22 degrees in Cadiz, Ohio. There was a wooly bear in my parking lot this morning and it is still moving slowly along! Scott Pendleton