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Showing posts from January, 2010

Gone? But not forgotten

With some 1,850 native plant species in Ohio, there are plenty of mysteries. Many plants are poorly known, even some of the common ones; get into the realm of the rare and sometimes hardly anyone seems to know anything. The species that follows ranks high in the botanical mystery world.

While researching gnatcatcher and hummingbird nests at the Ohio State University's Museum of Biological Diversity today, I had occasion to pull this sheet from the herbarium. It is perhaps the last specimen collected in Ohio of an enigmatic plant called Waterplantain Spearwort, Ranunculus ambigens. Dave Spooner took it nearly 29 years ago, in Scioto County. There are a number of other Ohio records, but most are far older than this one.

Waterplantain Spearwort is NOT a shrinking violet. Large and lanky, the plant sports rather showy and conspicuous white flowers, and a robust specimen might be two feet in height. This species first got on my radar screen when my co-authors and I were researching our…

Owls and Ears

I was wading through photos today, working on an upcoming talk, and came across a cool picture. I've probably shared it here sometime in the past, but maybe you haven't seen it.


Long-eared Owl, Asio otus. Or perhaps this individual ought to be called a "Lop-eared Owl". I came across this individual roosting in some white pines, and had spotted him from afar. Thus, I was able to get relatively close before he seemed to become aware of my presence.

Note how his ears are drooping like a basset hound! That's not the typical posture that we humans observe long-ears in. He seemed to become wise to me just seconds before I shot the photo; not long after he snapped to attention.

Photo courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology Birds of North America Online.

Long-eared Owl, alert posture. Those "ears" aren't actually ears at all. They are ornaments that help disguise the bird, as when fully erect these appendages help the bird blend with its brushy surroundings and app…

Bald-faced Hornet

Bald-faced Hornet nest, photo by Jim McCormac

The Columbus Dispatch
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Jim McCormac
Hornets OK unless you're yellow jacket

Winter is a good time to see interesting things that were concealed by summer’s dense cloak of leaves. One of the more conspicuous sights is large papery piƱata-like nests that hang from branches.

Many people comment on them, believing they are looking at “honey bee” nests. Not even close. The architects that crafted the football-shaped orbs are related to bees, but otherwise the similarities are few. These engineering marvels are the handiwork of bald-faced hornets, Dolichovespula maculata. Comparing one of these to a honey bee is akin to contrasting Clint Eastwood and Richard Simmons.

You are no doubt familiar with those nasty ill-tempered yellow jackets that swarm your pop can and wreak havoc at picnics. As anyone who has been on the receiving end of their sting knows, the black and yellow beasts pack a punch. They’re intimidating enough to s…

Waterfowl Symposium!

Late winter and early spring have become a real goldrush of interesting conferences. From time to time, I want to plug some of these events, as anyone interested in natural history should enjoy them.

First, another shout-out about the upcoming Waterfowl Symposium sponsored by the Ohio Ornithological Society and Columbus Audubon. This event features a raft of great speakers, interesting field trip sites, and a special Friday night performance by the Swinging Orangatangs, fronted by Bill Thompson and Julie Zickefoose.

All the details can be found HERE, or just click on the logo below.

Wilds Winter Extravaganza: Part II

To the delight of most, and no doubt to the consternation of others, Ohio Ornithological Society forays often incorporate elements of natural history other than birds. Birds always take precedence, but we believe the feathered crowd is but part of a larger and more complex ecological web, and when the opportunity arises to share bigger pictures we like to take advantage.

In the photos below, you'll see a living, breathing, snorting much bigger picture in the flesh. WARNING: A cuteness overload advisory bulletin must be issued at this point. Should you be put off by chubby little 300 lb. infants with horns, go away now.

Your narrator flirts with death. Posing by one of the world's most dangerous beasts, a Southern White Rhinoceros. Those thick steel bars are no match for such a brute; had I made one misstep the animal would have been all over me.

Yeah, whatever.

This is the newest addition to the Wilds' family, three month old Anan, weighing in at a svelte 300 pounds. She tip…

Wilds Winter Extravaganza: Part I

Last Saturday marked the fifth annual Ohio Ornithological Society's "Winter Raptor Extravaganza". I'm not sure how the event evolved that name, but we'll go with it. As with all four prior WRP's, this one was a great time, and I've got enough material that I'm going to toss it up in two posts.

Early morning at the rendezvous point. Last year, it was 12 BELOW ZERO when we met. This year proved to be much balmier, with a high of 52. That's a temperature differential of 64 degrees from last year to this! That's Ohio weather for ya!

We had 150 in attendance this year; the ceiling for what we can accommodate. There were 199 requests, and we wish we could fit everyone in, but lunchtime meeting space and field trip logistics won't allow for any more. And speaking of logistics, major props to Marc Nolls, the OOS board member who spearheads this whole thing. Everything always works like a well-oiled machine, and that's because of Marc. We're…

A bizarre tale of twitchers and shags

The following article appeared in Wednesday's Angling Times, a publication for fishermen in the United Kingdom. It's a strange amd interesting read, and reveals a clash of cultures not seen in these parts, at least at this level. Read on...

Angling Times
Steve Partner: The dark heart of twitching
By Steve Partner

General News

13 January 2010 09:29


It's a story that I guarantee will ignite fury in every angler from Exeter to Elgin. And if it doesn't you've neither a sense of justice nor fair play. For the sake of those who missed it, let me relate the facts. No conjecture, no spin, no bias. Just the cold, clear and precise detail.

Malcolm Rigby, under instruction from St Helens Angling Association, visited Carr Mill Dam to legally shoot a single cormorant in accordance with a licence the club had obtained from the government.

Having successfully completed the task, the 63-year-old was returning to his car via the public path that surrounds the venue. It was at this point he…

Fish Crow - next Ohio species

Fish Crow, Corvus ossifragus, cavorting at Cape May, New Jersey. If my hand were forced, and I absolutely had to lay odds on the next new species of bird to turn up in Ohio, my money would be on this nasal-sounding beast.

In fact, it seems rather remarkable we've not yet had Fish Crow in the state. They're on a tear, and turning up all around us Buckeyes - we are nearly hemmed on by the clever shoreline-dwelling critters.

A map, as is plain to see. But not just any map - this is a map of the Fish Crow's turf, courtesy the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It's a nice map, and depicts the U-shaped distribution that characterizes a huge number of coastal plain animals and plants. Atlantic seaboard, down along the Gulf, and a hard right northward up the great Mississippi Valley. There we are, the hapless and fishcrowless Buckeyes, stuck kind of right in the middle. Fish Crows are on either side of us. But not here. Not yet. 2010 could be the year that all changes, though.
Actuall…

Merlin makes the paper

The Columbus Dispatch has a long history of writing about nature and the environment. In fact, the newspaper runs what must be one of the longest running natural history columns of any newspaper.

Venerable naturalist Edward S. Thomas, a lawyer turned biologist, began a column in the Dispatch in March of 1922. Ed's first work appeared on March 5, 1922, and was entitled "Our Birds". This inaugural work laid down Ed's style: science made interesting, facts distilled into language that anyone could understand, all woven together in Ed's colorful, almost poetically descriptive prose. He went on to write over 3,000 more columns in a remarkable display of longevity spanning 59 years.

Ed's interests were broad indeed. Nothing in nature escaped his notice, and he became an acknowledged expert in a great many facets of the natural sciences. I was 18 when Ed wrote his last column, on rare winter birds. But I'd been reading Ed's column faithfully for many years, as…

"White" Hawk

Thanks to Russ Reynolds for sharing these photos of a striking leucistic Red-tailed Hawk that has been hanging out in the Lima, Ohio area. This one is an exceptional example of an abnormally pigmented red-tail; it is almost entirely white.

I guarantee this bird attracts its fair share of attention. Leucistic raptors, especially ones that are this conspicuous, sometimes become local celebrities. Since they can live for a long time, such birds might haunt an area for years.
Thanks again to Russ for the shots! I also want to mention that Russ' photo of a Baltimore Oriole was selected for the inaugural Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp, which will debut in March. Funds from stamp sales will go to support habitat acquisition and restoration, research, rare species conservation, and more.

I miss plants

It is 19 degrees with light misting snow right now in Columbus, Ohio. Everything is blanketed in white. Nary a shade of green to be seen in the out of doors - other than some conifers - and it's about this time of year that I always start to miss the flora.

While going through scads of photos the other day researching a project, this one caught my eye. Perhaps because it is the antithesis of the season we are now snowed into. I snapped this shot of Swamp Rose, Rosa palustris, on July 1st - another universe from this time of year, botanically speaking.

We have five species of native roses in Ohio, and they all look good. But Swamp Rose may lead the pack in sheer showiness. Just don't try crashing through the stuff. The dense shrubs are heavily armed with stiff downward-curved thorns, and you'll get cut to ribbons for your transgression.

Purple Fringed Orchid, Platanthera psycodes, one of Ohio's 46 native orchids and one of the rarest. I just became aware of this find a m…

Red-shouldered Hawk

Happy New Year's, everyone! I want to thank everyone who visits this blog. I've been at this, in one form or another, for a long time - before the term "blog" had been coined. My blog is - for me, anyway - a good place to share some of what I know or am learning about natural history. There is NEVER a shortage of material - if time permitted I could put something up here every day.

I'm also fortunate that a fair number of people stop by to read this blog. Over the past month, people have surfed in from 73 countries and every U.S. state except Wyoming. C'mon, Mr. Cheney, point that browser this way!

Anyway, whether I ever hear from you or not, I'm glad you find this corner of the blogosphere interesting enough to check out.

Now, I know a number of regular visitors hail from places that rarely if ever see snow, and temperatures seldom drop low enough to raise even a goosebump. The next few photos are for you.

Saturday, January 1st, the Wilds, Muskingum County,…