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Showing posts from August, 2010

One cool cat

Our butterflies fall into two groups: butterflies (duh!) and skippers. The former includes all of the big, showy and easily recognizable species such as the Monarch, various swallowtails, sulphurs, Red-spotted Purple, etc.

It's the skippers that tend to vex people setting out to learn our lepidopterans. Skippers are small and often inconspicuously brown, often behave more mothlike than butterflylike, and the species can be confusingly similar.

Not so the bold and pugnacious Silver-spotted Skipper, seen above nectaring on Swamp Thistle, Cirsium muticum. A jumbo in the world of skippers, the flashy Silver-spot is probably the first skipper many people learn, and the most widely recognized of its ilk.

Well, the Silver-spotted Skipper and every other butterfly and moth was a caterpillar before they transformed into the beautiful and much more obvious flying machines that we see flitting about. Voracious plant-eating machines, these cats are adept at hiding and not often seen. It behoov…

Southern Monkshood

I've never wanted for blog material. The following recounts an adventure of a few weekends past, in which I managed to relocate one of the rarest, coolest plants in Ohio. Yesterday, a crew of botanists and myself discovered a very different type of rare plant in a totally dissimilar habitat. Common denominator? Both are very hard to get to. A good rule of thumb for finding rare plants: Take the path of GREATEST resistance. I'll try and get to the other story soon.

Morning mist trails over pristine Scioto Brush Creek in southern Ohio. This stream is, arguably, the finest waterway left in Ohio, from a biological perspective. Not only is its watershed still forested and intact, thus keeping the water quality high, its path is an ancient one. Apparently carved by scouring associated with the prehistoric Teays River, the Scioto Brush Creek was a conduit for Appalachian plants to migrate northward. There are several plants that grow along its banks found nowhere else north of the Ohi…

Polyphemus moth

A few weeks ago, I made a trip over to the famous West Jefferson McDonald's. Famous, that is, among the moth-seeking crowd. While those who covet french fries and Big Macs obviously frequent the place, there is a regular contingent who make visits after nightfall, looking for jumbo fliers.

Located right along the banks of Little Darby Creek, there is scads of good habitat in close proximity to this particular Golden Arches. Couple that with the brilliant high-mounted lights that bathe the parking lot in bluish illumination after dark, and you've got a veritable pot at the end of the rainbow for those who want to find the nighttime lepidoptera.

The West Jeff Mickey D's really draws the giant moths: a variety of sphinxes, Lunas, Royal Walnut Moth, Imperial Moth, and many more. There is even a record for the gargantuan Black Witch, a rare wanderer from the tropics. Late June through July seem a bit better for numbers and diversity, but I did manage one noteworthy bruiser of a m…

Blue-winged Wasp

Blue-winged Wasp, Scolia dubia

Nectar-seeking Blue-winged Wasps are one to watch for right now, especially on goldenrods. These are cool, distinctive and beneficial wasps. The oval-shaped yellow marks on the burnt-orange abdomen is distinctive.

This species preys on the grubs of various scarab beetles, and allegedly goes after the grubs of Japanese Beetles. The female wasp is an adept burrower, and tunnels down into grass and other vegetation in pursuit of their prey. Once a beetle grub is located, the wasp stings it into submission, administering a neurotoxin, and lays an egg in the victim.

Apparently female Blue-winged Wasps on a hunting spree go a bit mad, attacking and stinging all of the beetle grubs that they run across, and not necessarily laying eggs on all of them. But, as some of these beetles are pests of people's beloved turf grass, the wasps should be viewed in a friendly light. As should anything that takes out Japanese Beetles.

Rough Greensnake

Last Friday night, I led a nighttime singing insect walk at Buzzard Roost Preserve in Chillicothe. This is a fabulous natural area, sporting some 1,200 acres of varied habitats. We always see interesting things here, and this walk started out with a bang. As I neared the preserve, I began to notice hundreds - thousands, probably - of Common Green Darner dragonflies in a massive feeding swarm along Polk Hollow Road. When I arrived at the parking lot, above, there were dozens of darners hunting here, too. This has apparently been an exceptional late summer for migrant dragonfly hordes.

Anyway, our primary purpose was to learn about the Orthopterans - the primary group of "singing" insects. We saw some and heard hundreds, representing many species. This is a female meadow katydid; note her long sword-like ovipositor. We heard several species of meadow katydids, and their relatives the Greater and Lesser Anglewings, Common True Katytdid, and Round-tipped Conehead, among others.

Snout on camera

A bold and pugnacious American Snout lands on one of our Amorpha Borer expedition member's thumb last Sunday. These snouts are quite feisty for a butterfly. We believe they may have been employed by the Amorpha Borer beetles as lepidopteran thugs in an attempt to scare us off. It didn't work.

I've heard of getting close to your subject but this is ridiculous.
American Snouts invade Ohio from the south in varying numbers each year, and there have been lots around this season. They are quite the oddity, what with that incredibly long proboscis.
Goofy as the snout may be, they are always a pleasure to see.

Ohio River buttonweeds

A view of the banks of the Ohio River from a lofty perspective. This is the site of the great Amorpha Borer Expedition covered in the last post, the marina at Shawnee State Park in Scioto County, Ohio. The host plant of that most gorgeous of beetles, False Indigo, Amorpha fruticosa, reaches the northern limits of its natural range along the Ohio River. So too, I suspect, does the Amorpha Borer beetle.

They aren't unique. A whole host of animals and plants run up against their northward limits in the Ohio River Valley. There are probably two primary reasons. One, the climate. The valley of the mighty Ohio has its own microclimate, remaining warmer on average than even just a short distance north, over the first set of hills. Two, the river serves as a migratory corridor, and flora and fauna have dispersed along the stream for many thousands of years. Many of them need the regular flood-scouring disturbance cycles that are associated with large rivers, and thus must grow or live wit…

The Great Borer Expedition

The marina at Shawnee State Park, Scioto County, Ohio. May not look like the most exotic locale in the world, but as we shall see, there are some very interesting critters to be found here. This is Ohio's Deep South; as far as one can move towards the equator and not dip their toes into the Ohio River. In fact, the marina is on our mightiest stream; the one that separates us from neighboring Kentucky. And a number of plants and animals reach the northern limits of their ranges in the Ohio River Valley.

Last year, John Howard and I were exploring here when we encountered one of the most magnificent beetles I had ever laid eyes on. John, who lives in the area and explores Ohio River habitats all of the time, had only seen it once, a few years prior. He took photos, but was unable to pin a name on the beast as it wasn't in any of his books or easily findable on Internet resources. Finally, I posted one of my photos to and was rewarded with a quick reply - Amorpha Bo…

Kites, untethered

The following photos are courtesy of Dane Adams, and he took them yesterday at the "Kite Day" covered in the previous post. I really appreciate his graciousness in allowing me to reproduce them here. Dane is a fabulous photographer, and these are great photos. Enjoy!

Adult Mississippi Kite, resplendent in tones of black, gray, and white. The bird is strikingly beautiful to us; it is a cicada's worst nightmare.

One of the two juvenile kites produced from the Hide-A-Way Hills nest.

A doting parent lands with a chitinous buzzing morsel of cicada to feed to little beggar.
Thanks again, Dane!

Kite day - success!

The scene shortly after 9 am this morning in Hide-A-Way Hills, Hocking County. This was the site of Ohio's first ever Mississippi Kite Day, and from 9 am until noon the good people of this private, gated resort allowed birders to enter and meet what are rapidly becoming their most famous residents.

Many thanks go out to Elizabeth vanBalen Delphia for finding and bringing the birds to light, then serving as the host for the 60+ birders who came to visit this morning. She and her husband Michael were exceedingly patient and gracious hosts, visiting with everyone and guiding people to the best spots. I also want to thank the management of Hide-A-Way Hills for tolerating this rather out-of-the-ordinary invasion of the human kind. The security staff was great, as everyone else down there has been.

Finally, as is nearly always the case, all of the birders that visited, from as far away as Michigan, were great. Many a life bird was notched and lots of fantastic photos were made. Photograp…