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Showing posts from July, 2009

A Very Fine Fen

Along with a few others, I recently had the opportunity to visit one of Ohio's best remaining fens, in west-central Ohio. This one isn't open to the public without a permit; the habitats are just too sensitive for unregulated traffic. But as always, I took my trusty Panasonic along for the ride, and following is a brief pictorial travelogue of our foray.

The view into the fen, from a high and dry glacial esker that abuts the wetland. This is one of Ohio's more breathtaking pieces of scenery, and this vista is jam-packed with interesting biodiversity.

The dry gravelly slopes are populated with scattered jumbo Bur Oaks, Quercus macrocarpa, underlain by a stunning show of prairie wildflowers.

Strong artesian springs burst from the toe of the slope, forming the fen. Fens are highly alkaline wetlands with strong sheet water movement, and permanently icy root zone temperatures. Couple those factors with the high alkalinity and we've got an environment that only specialized f…

Pinky the Katydid: June ? - July 29, 2009 RIP

A great many people were indoctrinated to the charms of the katydid world via "Pinky", the beautiful creature above. A very rare pink color morph, she was exposed to probably over 200,000 people in various media, and many through direct contact as she was exhibited here and there. Today would have been her first day at the Ohio State Fair and had she made that gig and lasted for the fair's duration, tens of thousands more would have come to know her.

But it was not to be. We knew that a parasitoid of some sort was at work, and its larva was within Pinky. Today, when I arrived at the office and went to check on her, she was lying on the terrarium floor, expired.

Tragic is this may be, it opens up another learning opportunity, this time into a little known, horrifying, but pervasive part of nature. WARNING: some of the shots that follow are graphic autopsy photos of the pinkster being subjected to CSI-like study. But it is just a bug, and they aren't THAT graphic!


More gigs for the Pink Katydid

I finally had the opportunity to work with the now famous pink Amblycorypha katydid known as "Pinky", and get some respectable images. Scroll back to a few earlier posts that I made if you want to learn more about it. Above, our star poses on the leaf of a native agrimony, Agrimonia gryposepala, which provides a nice backdrop for her nearly preposterous pinkishness. Little did Jan Kennedy know, I suspect, what a sensation this bug would become when she found it in a meadow at Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area.

Wil Hershberger, world class authority on singing insects and the Orthoptera, and a heckuva nice guy should you ever get the opportunity to meet him. He and Lang Elliot produced the book The Songs of Insects, and it is sensational, as is the CD of sounds that is included. Look closely on his hand and you'll see our pink protagonist, hanging with the Man himself.
Despite many years of active field work and specific searches for all of eastern North America's singing…

Pinky goes Global

You may remember the bizarre flaming pink katydid that I blogged about recently. Well, I hope this chirper doesn't get too big for her britches, given all of the attention she's getting. The katydid just returned from the Midwest Native Plant Conference in Dayton, where she was fawned over by perhaps 200 people over the weekend.
Tomorrow, she's going to be interviewed and filmed for a TV program, and possibly by a local TV station. Wil Hershberger, co-author along with Lang Elliot of the fantastic book The Songs of Insects, will be visiting my office to photograph "Pinky", as she's come to be known.
And last Friday, the Columbus Dispatch newspaper plastered a big bright photo of Pinky across the front page of the Metro section, accompanied by a wonderful article written by Erin Dostal. The pink katydid has turned out to be a great ambassador for nature, and is undoubtedly stimulating lots of people to think about the wonders of the natural world. I would say th…

Moths flashing danger

The dark of night is underrated for fun in the field. It's black out there, true, and harder to see stuff. But there are ways around that; they're called flashlights. I think many people may shy away from roaming about after dark because people generally have an inherent fear of a night unlit by lots of artificial candlepower. Scratches, wheezes, snuffling and shuffling, and the occasional roar or howl build in our minds until they become the bogeyman or perhaps Bigfoot himself.

One way around the fear factor is to go out in bunches, as in the photo above. This was our nocturnal foray last Saturday night, as part of the same workshop that produced the incredible pink katydid. Led by Dr. Dave Horn - center, facing camera, white short - our primary quarry were moths. Some success was met with.

What a beauty! We were thrilled to dredge up this Virgin Tiger Moth, Grammia virgo. There are several species in this neck of the woods, and perhaps you've seen one. They are quite dis…

Pinkishly Outrageous!

I've been looking forward to making this post, ever since I laid eyes on the remarkable, shocking beast that follows. Be prepared, and be assured that the images that follow are not faked in any way, shape, or form! If this was April 1 no one would ever believe me!

Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, Wyandot County. Legendary among Ohio's birders for the wintering concentrations of raptors, and big migrations of waterfowl that pass through.

But Killdeer is prairie - the biggest and best remaining chunk of the formerly vast Sandusky Plains wet prairie that sprawled over parts of Hardin, Marion, and Wyandot counties. Nearly all has been turned by the plow and now sports lush stands of beans, corn, and wheat.

Killdeer is still full of prairie plants, and a wealth of interesting fauna.

Because of its diversity, we chose Killdeer Plains for an interesting workshop that was held over the weekend past. In partnership with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, the Licking County chapter of the Ohio…

Sibley at Midwest Birding Symposium!

That's David Sibley, surrounded by woody plants. Dave. Ya know him, ya love him, ya got his book. When it launched in 2000, his Sibley Guide to Birds caused a firestorm in the birding world not seen since Roger Tory slapped down some arrows, pointed them at key field marks, and inked them all into his now legendary field guide. Sibley's guide is now indispensable to birders of all stripes, and is remarkable in its scope.

Adorned with a lovely Red-tailed Hawk, the now famous Sibley guide. Many of the people reading this have it, I'll bet, and many reading this have probably consulted their Sibley within the last few days, I'll bet.
Well, many birds spend much time in trees, and this ecological relationship has not eluded David Sibley. And unbeknownst to many, he has spent the last seven or eight years laboring away on the dendrological counterpart to his bird guide: the Sibley Guide to Trees. And, MAKE NOTE, just a few weeks after the book hits the shelves, David is comin…

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail, Tachopteryx thoreyi. This is a humdinger of a dragonfly, sure to inflame the passions of any odonate enthusiast, or send bug-haters into a mad gallop, screaming wildly in terror. Kelley Williams-Sieg and I were driving down a rural lane in backwater Ross County last Sunday, when Kelly tipped me to a big dragon cruising the roadside ditch. "Whoa!" I braked hard, we leapt out, and there it was, this magnificent black and gray beast.

In the video above, I talk a bit about petaltail's habitat requirements, which are quite specific. They need sepage outflows of ground water within wooded habitats, a prime reason they are not common and widespread. Found in only 19 of Ohio's 88 counties, and few and far between where they do occur. Had this petaltail been less than a mile down the road, it would have been a Vinton County record.

At the end of the video, I also make a behaviorial comment and prediction.

And sure enough, with no goading at all, the Gray Petalta…


While exploring the deep woods of Tar Hollow State Forest the other day, I came across both representatives of one of our more bizarre plant families. Both species are below.

Like ghostly skeletal fingers, the aging stems of Indian-pipe, Monotropa uniflora, claw from the humus of a rich woodland. Parasitic, this species and all members of the Monotropaceae lack chlorophyll, giving them this distinctive and decidedly unhealthy look.

Although a bit past peak, it is still easy to see how Indian-pipe came by its specific epithet, uniflora: one-flowered. Indian-pipes have devolved the need to produce chlorophyll. They tap into the mycelia of fungi, and uptake nutrients from the vast web of subterranean fungi that underlies everything that we haven't destroyed. The fungi in turn are interrelated with forest trees, once again underlining the expansive and peculiar ecological web that we scarcely understand.

I was especially excited to come across this one, the other species in the Indian-p…

Hooded Warbler

It's time for a bird on this blog, and today's featured feathered creature is a doozy. Of the 38 species of warblers that breed east of the Mississippi, few can compare to the Hooded Warbler in pure pizzaz. I suspect Hoodeds rank high in the overall stats of people's favorite warblers, and with good reason.

Today, I had the opportunity to spend about five hours tromping some rugged forested terrain in southeast Ohio with Kelly Williams-Sieg, who is studying several species of forest birds as part of PhD program research at Ohio University. We found plenty of Hooded Warblers, one of her target species. Part of Kelley's work involves close study of foraging birds in an effort to determine energy expenditure as it relates to feeding, so we were watching these gold and black stunners closely, and had some outstanding observations.

Beautiful male Hooded Warbler, photo courtesy Jim Paris and Flickr. Few birds get birders excited like Hooded Warblers; just watch the crowd rea…