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Showing posts from April, 2010

Muddlety stuff

Yesterday, our particular little expedition - part of the New River Birding & Nature Festival - went to a boondock place we call Muddlety. Lots of neat stuff was seen, both big and small.

Lest I forget, I really want to offer up a thousand thanks to the organizers of this fine event. It's a personal highlight of the year and this corner of West Virginia ranks high among the world's coolest places. Major kudos to Dave and Lynne Pollard, Geoff Heeter, Keith Richardson, and everyone who pulls the NRBNF together. Maybe YOU can make it next year.

Looming large above the lesser members of the forest canopy is one of Muddlety's most famous residents. It is a gargantuan Tulip Tree, Liriodendron tulipifera, the largest in all of West Virginia.

We of course stopped by to pay homage. This is a big tree.

Your narrator and five friends ring the tree, sort of hug it if you will. I guess this makes us tree-huggers, but we do show the girth of this giant. It's hard to imagine a tim…

An imcomparable orchid

While pursuing Ovenbirds, Scarlet Tanagers, and Hooded Warblers in a beautiful patch of West Virginia woodland this morning, one of our party glanced into the shadows and spotted a majestic wildflower. We were very pleased by this distraction, and many photos were made of a truly fine specimen of one of our most interesting orchids.

Showy Orchis, Galearis spectabilis, fairly glows from the dim shadows cast by towering hemlocks. Once seen, the plant grabs the eye, but it is quite easy to pass right by these little orchids. A big one - and this specimen was a whopper - might tower six inches skyward.

The leaves are large and greasy-looking, and have a look to them that makes you want to rub them between your fingers. I have, and they feel pretty neat. Like so many of its orchidaceous brethren, Showy Orchis most always occur in areas that are subject to occasional disturbance. This plant was growing in a small ditch along a gravel drive.

The genus name Galearis is derived from the Greek w…

Sugar Creek Mountain

Today, our group wound our way up to the summit of Sugar Creek Mountain via a twisty, steep-sided narrow road. Spending a leisurely several hours working our way back down, we saw lots of great birds, and other interesting flora and fauna.

All the participants at the New River Birding Festival rendezvous at 6 am for a wonderful breakfast, prepared and eaten out of doors. Not far from our meeting spot is a latrine - probably one of the more heavily scrutinized outhouses in the eastern U.S. Lights illuminate the little building all night, and by morning moths aplenty have gathered on its walls. The Rosy Maple Moth, Dryocampa rubicunda, is always a crowd-pleaser.

We did well with the birds this morning. Great looks were had of Worm-eating, Cerulean, Black-throated Green, Hooded, Yellow-throated, and Black-and-white warblers, Northern Parula, American Redstart, and many other songbirds. Here, the group takes turns admiring a cooperative Great Crested Flycatcher through my scope.

Great Cr…

More West Virginia

Some of the New River Birding Festival crowd, scoping out the goodies right outside the main cabin at Opossum Creek Resort. This is not only one of the most biologically rich places in the eastern U.S., the viewscapes are fabulous at every turn. Today was misty and wet but never oppressive, and we saw lots of birds. The weather is to take a turn for the brighter, and we expect dry and bright for the remainder of the week.

Festival staple and hummingbird guru supreme Bill Hilton. Bill sets up his banding operation, captures interesting birds, and thrills the onlookers with up close and personal experiences of species such as Brown Thrasher, White-throated Sparrow, Indigo Bunting and many others.

Bill is one of only 152 licensed hummingbird banders in the U.S., and he successfully plied his trade today. We had just watched this male Ruby-throated Hummingbird through a scope for ten minutes as it loafed on a high branch. Then, off it buzzed, and BINGO - right into Bill's cleverly de…

West Virginia

Dusk sets on the New River Gorge, Fayetteville, West Virginia. This is one of my favorite places, anywhere, and I'm here all week to lead field trips for the New River Birding Festival. I'll be tossing highlights out into the blogosphere throughout the week, and there'll be plenty of interesting stuff to report. If you haven't made this event, consider putting it on next year's agenda.

The famous Route 19 bridge over the New River, the 2nd longest steel arch bridge in the world. This area is full of scenic wonders, although most of them are natural. More to come...

American Goldfinch

I led a bird walk today, and some of the participants were very new to birds and birding. We saw many interesting species: Pileated Woodpecker, Cooper's Hawks displaying, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers constructing a nest, Ruby-crowned Kinglets flashing their topknots, etc.

Winner of the ooh and aah factor award?

It may have been this species, the American Goldfinch.

Few of our breeding birds in Ohio are as magnificent as a male goldfinch wearing his springtime finery. Coupled with their uplifting, undeniably cheery song, this is certainly a bird worthy of oohs and aahs.
It's easy to get jaded by repetition, and I've probably seen countless thousands of goldfinches. I hope they never lose their lustre, for me.
These photos were taken this afternoon in Worthington, Ohio.

Brutish clam-cracker

On a recent foray into the depths of southernmost Ohio's Adams County, Randy Lakes took me to see a wooded hillside carpeted with a fantastic array of spring flora. While I was busily photographing trillium, cohosh, and other botanical gems, Randy called out "turtle!" And lo and behold, basking on a limestone slab far below the country lane that we were strolling along, was an armor-plated whopper.

We had stumbled across a Map Turtle, Graptemys geographica, lolling about in the sunshine on a rock along Ohio Brush Creek. Even though Randy and I were a good 100+ feet away and high above the river, the turtle was fully aware of us and watching warily. Knowing something about these turtles and their behavior, I advised a slow, stealthy advance in order to procure photos, the wildflowers now forgotten.

Map Turtles love to sun themselves, but usually do so right at the edge of a rock; thus they can quickly drop into the water and vanish should a threat appear. Believe it or not,…

Artful camouflage

Find the moth! It's right there, in the exact center of the photo. In a recent foray in southern Ohio, we flushed a decent-sized brownish moth, and I tracked its course. When it lit on the bark of a nearby tree, it was rendered nearly invisible.

This is major camo. The moth in question is one of the myriad Geometrid moths; this particular one is called the Tulip Tree Beauty, Epimecis hortaria. They are bark mimics, and obviously blend well with woody substrates.
A closer look. The photo is sharp; clear as a bell and frame-filling. Nevertheless, the moth is still hard to differentiate from the bark.

Ohio has an estimated 2,500 species of moths, and that's enough to provide a real challenge for those wanting to learn a new group. Most are nocturnal and obscure, but often beautiful and interesting upon inspection.

Carpenter Bees

A conspicuous insect of spring is the Eastern Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa virginica. People often comment on the behavior of the seemingly aggressive males as they guard nests. Carpenter bees are bumblebee look-alikes, and they're big and create a loud ominous buzz. Have no fear - males have no stinger and can't stick you.

I took this photo last year in Columbus. Note the nearly entirely black, shiny abdomen. Bumblebees (Bombus ssp.) have lots of yellow on the abdomen, which is mostly hairy. This individual was attempting to short-circuit normal pollination procedure, and eat through the base of this mint. Flowers with long corolla tubes can be difficult or impossible for the bee to access the pollen, so they eat their way in.

This shot is from last weekend, in Adams County. Note the male's whitish face, another field mark that distinguishes it from bumblebees, which have black faces. Look at the shape of this thing - it's like a tiny beer barrel with wings! No wonder the a…

Painted Hickory Borer

It's not often that one gets a "life bug" while in their office, but it happened to me today. Colleagues at work know that I'm interested in a wide sphere of things in natural history, and routinely deliver specimens of flora and fauna, curious as to their identity. I appreciate their curiosity, because I always learn a lot from identifying mysteries, too.

I had stepped away from the office briefly, and upon returning noticed a thick glass jar sitting on my desk. "Ah, a bug of some sort!" thought I, seeing a small moving shape through the opaque glass. Unscrewing the lid brought clarity to the situation, and I quickly realized there were two gorgeous Painted Hickory Borers, Megacyllene caryae, within the jar! I'm no Eric Eaton, and the reason that I knew its identity so quickly is because this was a bug high on my most wanted list.

A type of long-horned beetle, the Painted Hickory Borer is a stunner. And a bit of a mystery. In all of my poking about I ha…

More spring flora

I hope you don't mind a few more plants. Spring wildflowers, to me, are one of Nature's greatest artistic expressions. They come in a dazzling variety of form and color, and are all the more enchanting due to their ephemeral lives. As a photographer - an admittedly amateur one - I find them irresistable subjects for my lens.

Pussy-toes, Antennaria plantaginifolia. This odd member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae) forms colonies on dry banks and other sunny well-drained sites.

While not wildflowers, ferns reappear with them, unrolling from the rhizomes like one of those paper party whistles. For a few days, they are "fiddleheads", and many species are edible at this stage. This is a young Lady Fern, Athyrium filix-femina.

Barb Stigler acts as a size scale for last year's stalk of an American Columbo, Frasera caroliniensis. This jumbo gentian can reach eight feet in height; the stalk held by Barb extends to the top of the photo.

This year's crop of American …

Some spring flora

Last Saturday, a group of us got together to explore Adams County, one of Ohio's most floristically rich areas. This early spring pilgrimage is becoming a tradition; John Howard and I have led these small forays for two years now, and a mid-summer outing the year prior to those.

Most of the participants are active in a group called The Wild Ones, whose mission is to promote the conservation and use of native plants. A noble mission to be sure, and you can learn more about them here and here.

Like people have for many thousands of years, we were out to bask in the riches of early spring, and take note of the myriad proofs that winter's icy hand has finally thawed.

The group photo above was taken in an Adams County cedar glade prairie, one of our rarest habitats. And the little gem above is one of our rarer plants, the Wedge-leaved Whitlow-grass, Draba cuneifolia. It is largely confined to these postage stamp-sized prairies, and one might walk right by and never notice the tiny m…