Sunday, May 16, 2010

Macro and micro in the Oak Openings

The scene yesterday along Krause Rd, just west of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. We were looking for very distant Upland Sandpipers. At times, the best birding locales were absolute gridlock. That's fun for a while, but I desperately needed a break from the mobs today.

Wild Lupine, Lupinus perennis, paints a sandy oak openings. This rare - for Ohio - member of the pea family is the host plant for the endangered Karner Blue butterfly.

So, it was off to the Oak Openings west of Toledo. These ancient dunes harbor some of the most interesting flora and fauna to be found anywhere in the Great Lakes region. And there are far fewer people.

There are lots of tiny and obscure rarities to be found in the Oak Openings. This is one of them, and it may suggest a dandelion to you. And it is the Dwarf Dandelion, Krigia virginica, a threatened species in Ohio. A lover of open sands, it thrives in the Oak Openings but few other places in this state. A big one might stand a few inches in height, but masses such as above tend to draw even the eye of the botanically disinclined.

While exploring the sandy barrens along Girdham Road, we were whooped at by this Great Crested Flycatcher. These cinnamon, gray, and lemon flycatchers are the only of their ilk to nest in cavities in the eastern U.S. They have the potential for a long life - one banded bird was found again, 14 years later.

I was accompanied by two guys who had never seen a Lark Sparrow, which is one of the rarest breeding birds in Ohio. There are perhaps a few dozen pairs nesting in the Oak Openings, and they represent the easternmost breeding population. Big and showy, Lark Sparrows are relative extroverts in a family of skulkers. We had a pair nearly at our feet, completely ignoring us while they gathered nesting material.

The bird above is surrounded by clumps of a rather rare native grass - Starved Panic Grass, Panicum depauperatum. This is the same genus of grass that gives us millet, and I noticed the sparrows were gobbling its fruit.

I was excited to find this plant, although I suspect few others will be. While poking about on the sparsely vegetated fringes of some dunes, I noticed this tiny "weed" scattered here and there. It is Western Hairy Purslane Speedwell, Veronica peregrina var. xalapensis. Now that's a mouthful for a three-inch tall plant - about 20 syllables between common and scientific name! Ack!
I had never seen this variety before, but remember Dr. Tom Cooperrider mentioning that it should be found in Ohio, years ago. So I've always given a bit more than a casual glance to purslane speedwells, especially in sandy habitats. Variety xalapense is named for Xalapa, Mexico, and is much more common to the west. I don't know its status in Ohio, or what if any prior records might exist.

The typical variety of Purslane Speedwell is ubiquitous and widespread - I'm sure you've stepped on some plants at some point. After hearing an Alder Flycatcher sing while driving another road, we stopped and I noticed a patch of the common form of this speedwell growing in some roadside gravel. Sorry for the less than stellar photo - raging wind gusts - but you can see how smooth it is, quite unlike the copiously hairy variety in the preceding photos.

So, lots of good birds and an interesting new speedwell. Not a bad day.

1 comment:

rebeccainthewoods said...

I've only been to Oak Openings once, but I loved it. It was a field trip for a botany class I took in college, and I remember being shocked that there was a place in Ohio where prickly pear could be found in the wild (and I'm a lifelong Buckeye!). I also remember there being tons of Red-headed Woodpeckers, though I was only peripherally aware of the birds, being more focused on the plants.