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Showing posts from July, 2010

Lament for the prairies

A luxuriant stand of Prairie-dock, Silphium terebinthinaceum, shoots skyward in Marion County’s Caledonia Prairie. These massive sunflowers can reach ten feet in height, or more.

The accidental savior of this prairie remnant can be seen in the background. When railroad tracks were laid through the prairie, their rights-of way often protected the prairie vegetation. Caledonia Prairie, which is perhaps a mile long and 50-60 feet wide, is one of few surviving pieces of the great Sandusky Plains, a prairie complex that once sprawled over some 200,000 acres.

Brilliant purple wands of Spiked Blazing-star, Liatris spicata, blanket a section of Caledonia Prairie. Botanical cotton candy for butterflies and other insects, blazing-star is but one of many showy and valuable prairie forbs. On the other side of the road is the modern prairie: soybeans. The decline in biodiversity from one side of the country lane to the other is nearly incalculable, and makes for an utterly striking contrast.

A map of…

Fireweed and St. John's-worts

BRIEF NOTE: I know that at least a few people who read this blog have been trying to contact me via the phone, and I am not answering. That's because the battery in my Palm Centro went kaput. I've been to four Sprint stores in the past two days, and not a one has been able to produce a battery. Plenty of pressure to get a new phone, but the battery would take a few days to get. So, I have tossed Sprint into the abyss. At best, this provider was mediocre and their customer service is generally terrible. I took the plunge, switched to AT&T, and ordered a new Droid Incredible. This is a very cool device, and I have no doubt that AT&T will be much more consumer-friendly than Sprint. Cheaper, too. But the Droid won't arrive until next Tuesday, and I am just going to be blissfully phoneless until then.

On my recent trip to West Virginia's Cranberry Glades Botanical Area, deep in the mountains of the Monongahela National Forest, I saw many interesting plants. Includin…

An amazing transformation

While down in West Virginia this weekend, I had occasion to visit the above outhouse on Saturday night. Now, that sounds really weird, I know. But, my purposes were noble - this structure, which is on the upper rim of the New River gorge in a small park called Burnwood, is famous for the moths that it attracts. That light remains on all night, and there is almost always something cool that has flown in and landed on the wall.

The field trips for the New River Birding and Nature Festival gather at Burnwood, and we always check the outhouse first thing in the morning. Lunas and many other cool moths are often found, and this may be the most heavily scrutinized john in the Mountaineer State.

While the outhouse was not as dense with moths as it is in spring, I wasn't disappointed. This is a Hog Sphinx, Darapsa myron, the larvae of which feed on Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, and other members of the grape family.

This one is even cooler. It is a Small-eyed Sphinx, Paon…

Two summer jewels

I spent a long weekend in southern West Virginia, visiting some of my favorite places. This is the region where the New River Birding and Nature Festival takes place every year. I made a series of posts about this spring's festival, starting HERE. I understand people are already signing on for next spring's event, so get in early. That festival takes place at the peak of spring, but they could just as easily put one on in mid-summer. I was able to find many birds still singing, and the plants - and various bugs - are outrageous.

A robust Cardinal-flower, Lobelia cardinalis, grows in a damp roadside swale near Babcock State Park. There were many plants, and the swallowtails - Pipevines and Eastern Tigers - were swarming the plants.

A beautiful and relatively easily grown native plant. Not only is Cardinal-flower electric red, it has the added appeal of being a butterfly magnet.

I've found Cardinal-flower to be a surprisingly hard plant to take a great photo of. Not just goo…

Black-and-yellow Mud Dauber

Black-and-yellow Mud Dauber, Sceliphron caementarium, hunting the leaves of Prairie Cord Grass, Spartina pectinata.

I had the great fortune to cross paths with one of our most spectacular wasps the other day. Black-and yellow Mud Daubers are big, charismatic, and incredibly showy. And total bad**ses to boot!

Many people know the mud daubers by their distinctive adobe nests plastered under eaves and elsewhere on buildings, bridges and other structures. Far fewer probably get to - or want to! - observe them hunting. But hunt they do, at least the females, and that's what the one above is doing. I apologize for the somewhat fuzzy photos, but when in pursuit of prey, mud daubers are in constant motion and it is work to hang with them and get a perfect shot.

This is a striking insect, with its gloss-black abdomen and thorax set off by bright yellow legs and hash marks on the thorax. The bulbous abdomen is connected to the rest of the insect by an impossibly slender petiolate extension; t…

Two weird moths and an even weirder looper

I spent today conducting breeding bird atlas work in the hinterlands of west-central Ohio; probably the last day of the season for atlassing. At first light, there's lots of singing and I found many things, but activity tapers off rapidly as morning progresses.

Luckily for me, the area I am working on harbors several of the best remaining remnants of the formerly vast Darby Plains prairie. So as the heat of the day set in, I visited two of these sites and found numerous interesting things and made quite a few photos.

Milford Center Prairie is an old railroad right-of-way, now used by Dayton Power & Light to support transmission lines. Railroads often protect the best surviving prairie, as the rights-of-way were never plowed, and they are kept free of woody plants that would eventually overshadow the sun-loving prairie plants.
To me, visiting these prairie scraps brings mixed emotions. On the one hand, I revel in the explosion of biodiversity that erupts in these botanical hotsp…