Sunday, July 18, 2010

Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalists

I just returned from a very intense weekend-long immersion in biology. The Ohio Division of Wildlife partnered for the second year with a group called the Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalists (OCVN) to put on a workshop that covers a variety of natural history subjects. As last year, we chose Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area in north-central Ohio as the venue. Killdeer is a nearly 9,000 acre remnant of the Sandusky Plains, one of Ohio's largest wet prairie complexes. The place abounds with biodiversity, and I'll share a bit of what we found over the next few posts.

Thanks to Rae Johnson with the Licking County OCVN Chapter for spearheading the event, and everyone who graciously volunteers to help. We had 36 attendees, a perfect number as our formula involves lectures from experts coupled with field trips. Divided into four groups, it's only 9 per field trip and that's a perfect size for teaching. The mornings are devoted to lectures, and the afternoons to field work. The four focus areas this year were beetles, birds, botany, and butterflies.

Fortunately for us, the weather cooperated and it was bright and sunny. A bit hot, yes, but everyone managed well.

Bob Placier of Hocking College - blue shirt, facing away - teaches us about birds inside the Killdeer Plains Sportsman's Center. This is a great place to do this, as the center sits smack dab in the middle of a mammoth prairie. A couple Sedge Wrens were singing right outside the doors, and Bob got his groups many other species on the field trips - everything from Orchard Oriole to Bald Eagle. At one point I was standing in a site where I could hear - simultaneously! - Sedge, Marsh, House, and Carolina wrens.

George Keeney of Ohio State University - center, yellow cap - taught a course on beetles. This was easily the most eye-opening facet of the workshop for me, as I knew little about beetles. The diversity and abundance of these insects is staggering - beetles may comprise as many as 25% of ALL animals on Planet Earth! They are everywhere, and many species are very showy and all of them are interesting in one way or another. One thing we quickly learned is that to thoroughly sample beetles, a researcher must engage in rather unorthodox behavior.

Here, George pokes at a beyond ripe roadkill Raccoon. Lots of really good stuff in there, from a beetle perspective. Beetles, along with flies, play a major role in decomposition, and if you really want to know what is out and about, you'll have to do things like this. Luckily for my group, we visited the raccoon after lunch.

Retired medical pathologist and naturalist extraordinaire Jim Davidson - far right, white shirt - led the butterfly course. Jim has been into the Lepidoptera for a long time, and is phenomenal at finding good stuff. Of course, it helps when you are exploring prairies filled with a bonanza of flowering plants.

One of the prairie patches we hit up for butterflies was jammed with Dense Blazing-star, Liatris pycnostachya, in peak bloom. This place was full of bugs, and I'm sure Greg Cornett - hat and big lens - got plenty of awesome photos.

Dave Brandenburg, botanist for the Dawes Arboretum, taught the botany course. They don't come any more enthusiatic or knowledgeable than Dave, and he was totally in his element showing attendees the prairie flora.

Dave is also the author of the just-released National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Wildflowers of North America. This is THE book to have if you are interested in plants. It is a benchmark for how these sorts of guides should be done. HERE IS A LINK to a review that I wrote of Dave's guide. I highly recommend it.

Culver's-root, Veronicastrum virginicum, just one of scores of noteworthy plants that we found.

The Tabanus horseflies were not uncommon, and they pack a whallop. But, when seen like this there is a decidedly pleasing aspect to the flesh-piercing little brutes. One of the great things about the OCVN crowd and everyone else who attends this workshop is that they like pretty much everything. So, if we are looking for Lepidoptera and some interesting amphibian or whatever happens by, it is quite alright to get momentarily sidetracked.

Even the horseflies better keep those rainbow-colored eyes peeled for these things. This is a mating pair of robber flies, possibly in the genus Promachus. Robber flies are fascinating and diverse, ranging from tiny Holcocephalus flies not much larger than big gnats, up to the size of this one, which was nearly two inches in length. One thing they've all got in common is that they are highly predatorial - the Peregrine Falcons of the fly world. I photographed a Red-footed Cannibal Fly last year just after it took down one of those large fuzzy bumblebees.

Well, a siesta is much deserved and needed, but I'll slap some other cool stuff from the Killdeer weekend up here later.


Heather said...

'Twas a great weekend at Killdeer, to be sure. Love your photo of the horsefly - sorry I wouldn't let one take a bite out of my face for you, though! Actually, I thought it was a bit odd that they didn't really seem to be interested in us at all. I expected to be bitten, but was never even harassed by one. I can only guess that the female horseflies were not around yet (I remember Jim Davidson talked about how male butterflies show up before the females... maybe it's the same for horseflies?). Still gathering my thoughts for blog posts...

Jim McCormac said...

Glad you enjoyed the weekend, Heather. And could be that there is a sweetness factor involved with horsefly bites - I was bitten multiple times :-)


David said...

I remember being bitten by a horse fly as a kid, I still remember how much they hurt...but, I've never seen one looking almost cute in your photo. It has a puppy dog look to it!