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Showing posts from November, 2010

Birding hotspots to ice over

Warm water releases from Cleveland's Lakefront Power Plant prevents winter ice-up in a localized area, attracting scads of birds within a stone's throw of birders. This plant, at East 72nd Street in Cleveland, has long attracted birders from all over Ohio and even beyond.

As a byproduct of plant operations, hot water is released into Lake Erie, and in winters when Lake Erie glazes over, this open lead is an oasis for gulls and ducks. This made for an excellent opportunity to study interesting gulls such as Thayer's, Iceland, Glaucous and others at nearly arm's length.

A similar situation occurs a bit further east along Lake Erie, at the Eastlake Power Plant.

But no more, at least for this winter and probably several to come. Citing lessened demand for power and a slow economy, FirstEnergy Corps - owner of the plants - has opted to shut them down for the winter. Some birders are irked, and I suppose that's understandable, as birding these places was a highlight of th…

A quick stroll through Gross Woods

While not much of a place in the size department, 49-acre Gross Woods State Nature Preserve provides a nice snapshot into the past and a time when woodlands such as this one stretched for miles. I found myself in west-central Ohio today, and stopped in to visit this Shelby County gem.

A boardwalk loops through the property, and offers easy - and dry - access. Doesn't look too wet now, I know, but come back in spring and these woods will be swampy as can be. Full of interesting amphibians, too.

I was here mainly to admire sylvan giants such as this massive White Oak, Quercus alba. When acquired as a nature preserve about 30 years ago, Gross Woods was full of monster timber. Several hurricane-force wind storms since then have dropped a number of the largest trees, but there are still plenty of sky-scraping whoppers to admire.

A massive Swamp White Oak, Quercus bicolor, soars skyward, its bark plated with thick ridges. The bicolor of the scientific name stems from the leaves, which …

Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America

The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America: A review

The Stokes Guide to the Birds of North America
Donald & Lillian Stokes
Little, Brown & Company
791 pages
Includes CD with 600+ songs and calls

I rarely use posts on this blog as a way to promote anything other than natural history in its purest sense: plants, animals, perhaps a bit of geology, and the wonderful ecosystems that they form. It’s not that the opportunities aren’t there. I routinely get requests to plug this or that, and sometimes do, but not very often other than events that I think readers might enjoy and will help to get people outdoors.

Thus, when a publicist for Little, Brown and Company sent me an e-mail asking if I’d be interested in a copy of the brand spanking new Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, I ignored it. After all, they wanted a review, but of course didn’t say it had to be a good one. A few weeks later, I ran across someone who had an advance copy and was very impressed w…

Sabine's Gull visits Ohio

Sabine's Gull is one of the most beautiful and graceful of the gulls; a far cry from the french fry-seeking plunderers of McDonald's scraps that some of their larger brethren are.

Kenn Kaufman found an exceptionally cooperative first-year (first-cycle for those of you that follow the nomenclature of the hour) Sabine's Gull last Sunday, November 21st, at Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area along western Lake Erie. We see only a few Sabine's Gulls a year in Ohio, and virtually all of them are briefly glimpsed flybys out over Lake Erie on blustery fall days.

This bird is unusual in that it is sticking tight to the same spot where Kenn found it, allowing many a birder to relocate it. Matt Valencic was there yesterday, and kindly allowed me to share his amazing shots of this Sabine's Gull.

Photo courtesy of Matt Valencic
When at rest on the water, this 1st-year Sabine's Gull stands out from the nearby Bonaparte's Gulls by its brown back.

Photo courtesy of Matt Valencic
In fl…

UPDATE: Why you should not attack a boxelder bug if you are a green anole

Janet Creamer (you should read her blog; it's great) did a bit of sleuthing into Boxelder Bugs - my recent post on this insect RIGHT HERE - and came up with the following:

I was curious about what made them taste bad, too, since they eat stuff in the maple family. Not sure how it is made, but basically they squirt out a foul smelling substance made mainly from 84% beta-pinene (think pine-sol) and 15% limonene (think lemon juice). I guess if I was sprayed in the face with pine-sol and lemon juice, I would decide to eat something else, too. The abstract is below:

Monoterpene hydrocarbons may serve as antipredation defensive compounds in Boisea trivittata, the boxelder bug.
Palazzo MC, Setzer WN.

Department of Chemistry, University of Alabama in Huntsville, Huntsville, Alabama 35899, USA.

Boxelder bugs, Boisea trivittata, are deterred from predation by green anoles (Anolis carolinensis). Hydrodistillation and GC-MS analysis reveals B. trivittata to contain the volatile monoterpene…

Boxelder Bug

The Boxelder Bug, Boisea trivittata, a rather good-looking bug if I do say so myself. I found myself along the municipal pier at Huron, Ohio, the other day and ran into a boatload of the little critters.

I will wager that I was one of few people there that day who appreciated the beauty of these neat little bugs with their nifty orange and black pattern and beady blood-red eyes. This type of bold advertisement color patterning is known as (word of the day) APOSEMATIC. Aposematism is all about predator deterrence - warning off the bad guys with a caution sign before they attempt to eat you. Many animals employ bright colors to let the world know of their dangers: poison dart frogs, coral snakes, insects that eat toxic plants such as milkweeds, etc.
I'm not sure what nasty juices create toxicity in Boxelder Bugs, but apparently they are foul to eat.

Here is why we saw so many of the bugs along the pier. All of those trees along the left are Box-elder, Acer negundo. It is a type of m…

Fox Squirrel

Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger, Lorain County, Ohio.
Now this is a darn good looking squirrel. I had the good fortune to have one of these orange-colored beauties race right across my path the other day, and then offer himself up for photo ops.

Fox Squirrels are in acorn heaven this fall. With the massive mast crop, they are racing hither and yon, gorging themselves on nuts and fattening to elephantine proportions. They're big to start with. A whopper can easily tip the scales to a kilo! That's right - over two pounds!

Sometimes dubbed "stump-eared squirrels", Fox Squirrels are the largest of the tree squirrels in North America and dwarf our other, somewhat similar species, the Eastern Gray Squirrel, S. carolinensis, of which a large one might weigh a bit more than half of what a fox does.

Fox Squirrels prefer open landscapes with scattered trees and woodlots, while the Grays favor denser more contiguous woodlands. They've undoubtedly become far more common in…

Tundra Swans

East Sandusky Bay Metropark, Erie County, Ohio. This vast expanse of deepwater marsh lies in the shadow of the giant coasters at nearby Cedar Point Amusement Park. Nonetheless, this sheltered Lake Erie coastal wetland serves as an important refuge for migrant birds.

I was there late this afternoon, to enjoy the spectacle of approximately 1,500 Tundra Swans. The above photo shows but a small smattering of the birds that were present. Even though they were probably one-half mile off, their loud war-whoops could easily be heard. Few sights are as soul-stirring and emblematic of North America's wilds as is a huge flock of these spectacular, highly migratory swans.

Sullivant's Milkweed

Sullivant's Milkweed, Asclepias sullivantii, photographed last July at Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area in north-central Ohio. Killdeer Plains is legendary among birders for its raptors and other interesting birds, but the 9,000+ acre area also supports some of the best surviving prairie vegetation of the formerly vast Sandusky Plains prairie. This prairie heritage is one of the reasons the place is so good for birds.

Of the 13 species of Asclepias milkweed found in Ohio, Sullivant's Milkweed is my favorite. It really is showy, with luxuriant domes of rose-pink flowers that are considerably brighter than the somewhat similar and far more widespread Common Milkweed, A. syriaca. This plant speaks to our prairie past, too - it is essentially an obligate prairie plant, and is not found outside former prairie regions. Thus, it serves as a relict of our past; a botanical epitaph of the vast, incredibly diverse prairies that once blanketed some 5% of Ohio. This milkweed was originally …

A REALLY big grass!

A seemingly innocuous roadside within Shawnee State Forest in southern Ohio's Scioto County. However, a very special and extremely rare plant occurs on this dry bank; the only known station for it in the state. I was here a few weeks back, and we made a point of stopping to investigate this plant and see how it was doing.

The slender bamboo-like canes in the foreground are our rarity, an enormous native grass known as Silver Plume Grass, Saccharum alopecuroides.

Your blogger provides some scale to the plants, which tower over my head. John Howard, who was with me and took this photo, counted about 32 flowering culms (stalks), I believe. That's it; all of the majestic Silver Plume Grass that we know of in the entire state. This species is at its extreme northern limits at this very site, and the Shawnee population is one few of that occurs north of the Ohio River.

One would be excused for blowing this one off as some sort of ornamental garden grass that jumped the garden fence…

Southern Two-lined Salamander

Slender as a whip, a seemingly delicate Southern Two-lined Salamander, Eurycea cirrigera, stares into the maw of my Panasonic. Not long ago, I was with some friends in a large southern Ohio forest, and we found ourselves turning rocks and logs in a quest for salamanders. Every time I engage in such activities, a thought often flashes through my mind: "I am acting like a little kid". So what. I hope I never tire of log-flipping for amphibians.

That day, we didn't find very many salamanders - the rare Mud Salamander, Pseudotriton montanus, was our primary target - but as always, it was nice to run across several fine specimens of the above. Two-lined Salamanders occur most commonly along small streams and rivulets in wooded habitats, and can often be quite abundant.
We have both Southern Two-lined Salamanders and Northern Two-lined Salamanders, Eurycea bislineata, in Ohio. They are essentially identical, differing only in subtle markings and a difference in the number of c…

Poisonous plants

Cedar Bog State Memorial in Champaign County, one of Ohio's most iconic natural areas and a must-see place. I was there briefly on Sunday. It's well past the growing season, but I love to visit all manner of habitats at all seasons. That's how one gets a real feel for plants in all of the various stages of development, and post-mortem stages.

Besides, latest fall and early winter paints places heavy in ochre and sepia; quite attractive and an important reminder of the cycles of life and death. One of the aspects of living in the midst of the great eastern deciduous forest is the prominent change of seasons; something I'd dearly miss if I lived somewhere else.

In spite of the lateness of season, there was still greenery to be found. This stuff looked fresh, and if you ate everything in this photo, you'd possibly be killed, dead. The plant is Poison-hemlock, Conium maculatum, and it is the juices of this highly toxic parsley that Socrates was forced to drink as punis…