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Showing posts from October, 2010

Milkweed bug transformation

In response to my recent post on freshly transformed Large Milkweed Bugs - photos in that post courtesy Sandy Brown - Rick Nirschl sent along the following photo.

This milkweed bug has just completed molting from its previous instar, and is new and shiny orange-white. His older compadres form a scrum to the left. Rick snapped the photo in 2007 at Maumee Bay State Park near Toledo.

Very cool - thanks, Rick!

Photo by Rick Nirschl

"Halloween" Spider

A colorful female Marbled Orbweaver, Araneus marmoreus, clambers around on a Clearweed nettle. At this time of year, Marbled Orbweavers are one of our most conspicuous spiders. Big and brightly colored, they sport the colors of Halloween, and that color pattern and their conspicuousness in late October causes them to sometimes be called the "Halloween Spider".

For as big and bright as they are, these orbweavers can be quite bashful. We spotted this one on a recent excursion, and of course instantly moved in to make photos. As soon as our party started crowding her, she zipped under a twig and did her best to blend in.
Most spiders are actually pretty mellow, although nearly all do have fangs and can bite if pushed hard enough. This one was remarkably tolerant of our gentle fingertip prods, as we tried to pose her.

As big and plump as this one was, I suspect she is full of eggs. That'd also explain why she was on the prowl during daylight hours - she was probably looking …

"White" Large Milkweed Bug

Just about anyone who spends any time looking at milkweed plants is familiar with the Large Milkweed Bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus. These beautiful insects sport the colors of Halloween, and love to chow down on the leaves of milkweed.

Photo courtesy of Sandy Brown.
However, you may not be familiar with the short-lived ghostly white form that one of these bugs wears just after its final molt. I wasn't, until Sandy Brown sent along these cool photos. A typical adult can be seen amongst the younger nymphs in the top left corner of the photo; in short order, that's what the white bug will resemble.

Photo courtesy of Sandy Brown.
Thanks to Sandy for sharing her images with us!

Woolly-bears: fuzzy forecasters

A "woolly-bear", possibly the most recognized caterpillar in these parts. It's the larva of the Isabella Tiger Moth, Pyrrharctia isabella. Countless thousands of people can instantly recoginze the caterpillar; probably only a minute fraction of a percent could identify the moth.

This has been a boom year for moths and butterflies, and you can count in the woolly-bears. I've already seen scores of them, mostly crossing the roads, and many others are reporting lots of the little tubular fuzzies. Woolly-bears are stricken with a wanderlust in late fall, and that's why we see them roaming far and wide.

A well-known old wive's tale has it that the severity of the coming winter can be forecast by the woolly-bear's stripes. A big wide brown band and it'll be a mild one. Mostly black, and the bear is telling us we're in for a frigid winter. The bear above, being dominated by brown, is indicating an easy winter to come.

We'll see.

A whale of a cat!

I'm not in the habit of blogging about cats, but my recent blog about Norwegian Forest Cats and Maine Coons prompted a great e-mail. My friend Dan Hadley's mother, who lives in San Diego, is owned by an absolutely jaw-droppingly large Maine Coon named Sammy.

Dan was good enough to send along a photo of himself holding Sammy, and I think you'll agree, this is ONE BIG CAT!

A splash of late color

Most of the flowering plants have withered away, with a few notable exceptions. We're getting ready to enter the long months of winter, a period lacking in blooms save the odd weed pushing forth a flower in some sheltered spot. Thus, it was nice to encounter two species of Lobelia looking good the other day; sort of a botanical finale.

Cardinal-flower, Lobelia cardinalis, is in the foreground, and (this wasn't posed) right behind it was Great Blue Lobelia, L. siphilitica. Darn good looking plants, both of them.

Believe it or not, these species somewhat regularly hybridize, or at least there are a number of records of the cross. Enough so that the spawn of these species has a name: Lobelia x speciosa. I've never seen this hybrid, but would like to. Seems like the two in the above photo have had their chance, but we didn't see anything out of the ordinary in the vicinity.

All manner of plants have long been used medicinally, and still are. Often, their names - especially …

Buck Moth!

About this time of year, when the foliage turns color and leaves begin to fall, and temperatures plummet, one of our most extraordinary moths begins to fly. By now, most leps - butterflies and moths - are spent, their numbers and diversity way down from summer's peak.

A recent foray into Shawnee State Forest with John Howard and Janet Creamer - meeting up with Dave Riepenhoff in the forest - had a primary objective: Buck Moth!

An unseasonably warm day did bring out plenty of late season butterflies, soon to give their last gasps. This lovely dove-gray critter is a Gray Hairstreak, Strymon melinus, sipping nectar from our most common aster, White Heath Aster, Symphyotrichum pilosum.

We were fortunate indeed to stumble into a Red-banded Hairstreak, Calycopis cecrops, looking remarkably fresh for this late in the game.

But this was our primary target: Buck Moth, Hemileuca maia. Once you've seen one of these pied brutes, you'll want to see another. We saw several dozen today, …

World's longest cat!

Stewie, a Maine Coon Cat now officially annointed as "World's Longest Cat" by the Guiness Book of World Records, is going viral on the Internet. Stewie, who hails from Reno, Nevada, is indisputably a feline whopper, at 48 and one-half inches in length. Main Coons are known for their large size, and great dispositions.

When I saw the photos of Stewie, I was struck by his similarity to my cat, Oscar, above. Oscar is a Norwegian Forest Cat, and this breed is thought by some authorities to be the originator of the Maine Coon. Forests Cats have a long and interesting history. They apparently evolved from cats brought to northern Europe several thousand years ago, developing physical characteristics that would enable them to withstand long, cold, snowy winters.
Forest Cats - "skoggcats" - have incredibly luxuriant coats. The dense and woolly underfur is cloaked in long, non-tangling silken guard hairs, and the pelage is longer on the cat's lower side - the better…

Belted Kingfisher: An Antisocial Hammerhead

Belted Kingfisher, male. He sports but one band of blue.

I was thinking about one of my favorite birds today, the Belted Kingfisher. That's because I penned an article about these raucous fish-eaters for a monthly column that I write for my employer, the Ohio Division of Wildlife. You can read the piece below. Speaking of the Division of Wildlife, we're now on Facebook, and the odds are good that you are, too. If so, look us up and "like" us. There's lots of good stuff there.

On Ohio’s Wild Side: Belted Kingfisher: An Antisocial Hammerhead

For photos and archived articles, visit

Many a streamside stroller has had their contemplative immersion in nature shattered by a sudden eruption of loud machine gun-like rattling. There’s nothing like an irate belted kingfisher to dismember the tranquility of a peaceful riparian forest.

Kingfishers are virulently antisocial, and the pair only comes together for as long as it takes to mate, create a nest site, and ra…

Hawk Mountain: 1954

A few weeks back, I made a series of posts about Hawk Mountain, the iconic raptor-watching sanctuary in eastern Pennsylvania. This prompted a wonderful note from Dr. Bernie Master of Worthington, Ohio, and I've copied his message in its entirety below. His note got me to thinking about the impact that the Mountain has certainly had on several generations of budding conservationists since its founding in 1934. Bernie was only 13 when he visited in 1954, the year that the photos that follow were made. He was already well on the path to a life-long fascination with natural history, but I suspect the visit to Hawk Mountain only reinforced his interests.

Countless kids have visited Hawk Mountain, and a great many of them must have been infused with curiosity about the natural world on its summit. It's hard not to be, when a Peregrine Falcon strafes by a stone's throw away, or a testosterone-filled Sharp-shinned Hawk swipes at a comparatively sluggish Red-tailed Hawk right overhe…

Leopard Slug

A Leopard Slug, Limax maximus, cavorts in the musky soils found under a long dormant board. These things are huge, and it was a thrill of sorts to uncover one during a field trip to Cleveland's Dike 14 the weekend before last. I must caution, this beast is a jarring contrast to the Chimney Swifts that I just wrote about in the previous post, which were zipping and chittering high overhead when this brutish slug was uncovered. The swift represents aerial supremacy and unbounded freedom; the slug is sluggish and earthbound as an earthworm.

The "leopard" modifer is apropos; the creature is certainly spotted and dashed, but otherwise is about as far removed from the jumbo cats as is possible in the animal world. And I'm not sure the "leopard" word alone adequately atones for the "slug", as most people have a poor reaction to the latter word. I propose renaming Limax maximus the Pleasing Leopard Slug.

I am a keen observer of how people react to things …

Chimey Swifts

A squadron of Chimney Swifts rockets overhead. These interesting birds are far more at home on the wing than they are grounded. In fact, a Chimney Swift cannot perch, at least in a conventional manner. Their genus name is Chaetura, and that means "bristle tail". Stiff spiky feather shafts project from their tail feathers, and the birds use them to prop themselves upright against the roughened inner wall of a chimney, or hollow tree.

During last weekend's excursions into Dike 14 (see this post), our groups were dumbstruck by the sheer numbers of swifts coursing overhead. I attempted many photos, and had I been alone I would have spent far more time tying to make photographs of the little feathered rockets. It isn't easy - these scimitar-shaped missiles move FAST, even when they appear to be loafing.

Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, that human aeronautical engineering has yet devised comes close to matching the aerial prowess of a swift. Note the wing to body ratio of the …

Mud Salamander

Midland Mud Salamander, Pseudotriton montanus diastictus. Photo by John Howard.
This special treat comes to us courtesy my friend John Howard of Adams County, a naturalist extraordinaire. Probably no one knows more about the natural history of Adams and Scioto counties - Ohio's most biodiverse region - than does John. He routinely makes great finds, and is always a hoot to get out in the field with.

John recently found a new site for the rare Mud Salamander in southern Ohio's sprawling, 65,000 acre Shawnee State Forest. As you can see from the photo, these viscous little beasts are quite the charmers. Too bad they mostly remain out of sight, buried in gelatinous mire under rocks in springy outflows.

Mud Salamanders resemble the more common Red Salamander, Pseudotriton ruber, but notice the dark iris and relative lack of black spotting in John's photo. Reds are more heavily speckled and have a yellowish iris.

This species is known from only a few counties in southernmost Ohio,…

Dike 14: a regional treasure

Like a giant vegetated boot, 88-acres of habitat known as Dike 14 juts into the waters of Lake Erie off the Cleveland shoreline. While utterly artificial - the place was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to accommodate dredge spoil - Dike 14 has become an Important Bird Area in a very real sense.

My history with the place goes back to its beginnings in the early 1980's. Then, Dike 14 was known as Gordon Park, and was new and raw. Dredge spoil spewed from the pipes, a thick soupy-brown milk shake-like goop, and consolidated in the open bowl of the impoundment. And created outstanding shorebird habitat. I saw my first Ohio Piping Plover here, and along with many others was ecstatic to see a beautiful Sharp-tailed Sandpiper in the Dike in 1984 - Ohio's first.

Common but nonetheless a show-stopper, the purple blooms of New England Aster, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, create a nice frontispiece for the scrublands of Dike 14. Beyond lies the marina where Ohio's first and…

Atop Hawk Mountain

In my last post, we left off partway up the trail to the summit of Hawk Mountain, high in the Kittatinny Ridges of Pennsylvania. Well, we're almost there, our goal being the fabled North Lookout, the best place to watch for raptors drifting south along the crests of the mountain.

Your blogger in repose, staring up at hawks passing overhead. The trick here is to find the softest available rocks, fluff them up a bit, and settle in. The view from North Lookout is stunning, and one can see for seventeen miles on a clear day.

You'll have plenty of company atop Hawk Mountain. Drawn by the allure of birds of prey, hundreds of spectators descend on the place on fall days. There are people of every stripe and ability, from hotshot birders that can ID distant specks, to those that didn't know of the existence of a Sharp-shinned Hawk prior to their visit.
Note the pole thrusting skyward in the upper right corner of the photo.

That mast supports Bubo plasticus, a fake Great Horned Owl…