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Showing posts from May, 2011

A very urban Blackpoll Warbler

Lovely landscape - we've got a Taco Bell, a dumpster for the refuse, and a McDonalds in the backdrop. After being gone for a big chunk of the last month, I found myself homebound last weekend, playing catchup. And when such is the situation, I make a habit of early morning runs to that McD's for a jot or two of their delectable (to me, anyway) java.

I was there last Sunday morning, and was pleased to hear the thin piping lisps of a male Blackpoll Warbler filtering down from the tops of those ornamental locust trees. But not that surprised - I often hear Blackpolls, Tennessee Warblers and other long distance Neotropical migrant warblers in such places. But lo and behold, when I went back for more coffee (no McMuffins, I swear!) yesterday, the Blackpoll was in the same spot, still singing away. So I ran home, grabbed my lens, and went back to try for a photo.

Well, it isn't much of a photo, but after a bit of stalking I managed to locate the neat black-and-white bird with the…


While leading expeditions in Presque Isle County, Michigan recently, we encountered quite a few species of mammals. Not the least of which was the North American porcupine, Erethizon dorsatum. Everyone knows what a porcupine is, but not too many will get as up close and personal with the prickly beasts as we're about to.
While heading back to NettieBay Lodge in the van one evening, shortly after dusk, we spied a porcupine shuffling across the road. STOP! I shouted, and leapt from the vehicle for a better look. Porkies aren't going to win any ribbons in the 40 yard dash, and we quickly moved in on the lumbering rodent. While porcupines are quite low key and not intimidated by much, we were a little over the top for this one, and it headed for the nearest balsam fir. The bristly charmer clambered slowly up the fir, offering us great looks. It was a good-sized porky, perhaps tipping the scales at 20 pounds or more. Its whitened quills are obvious, and it is these dangerous modif…

Birds of Presque Isle County, Michigan

A group of birders explores one of the many wetlands that dot Presque Isle County, Michigan. This county is in the extreme northeastern corner of the lower peninsula, and is without doubt one of the most scenic locales in eastern North America. The county is full of biodiversity, lying at the interface of northern boreal forests, southern deciduous woodlands, and massive Lake Huron defining its eastern border. CLICK HERE and scroll down to episode #5 to hear a story that I penned about Presque Isle for Bird Watcher's Digest.
I first visited this area last year, to lead a birding trip for NettieBay Lodge. Not fully knowing what to expect, I was utterly blown away by the incredible bird diversity, not to mention all kinds of amazing flora. Apparently word got around, as this year we had enough interest to fill two back to back trips of ten people each, with a good number already signed on for next year's forays, which will also be limited to ten people each. The dates of next yea…

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing, victim of a window strike, Franklin County, Ohio, May 27, 2011. My brother Mike tipped me to this waxwing, which had struck the building in which he works, and I took the opportunity to make some photos of the unfortunate waxwing. Scores of birds are killed in building collisions each year.
We always experience a late pulse of migrant Cedar Waxwings towards May's end, and flocks frequent the ornamental trees around the buildings where I work, picking over remnant fruits from the previous season. This birds lacks the telltale "wax wings"; the shiny reddish feather tips on the wings which gives the species its name. This means it is a first-year bird - it takes Cedar Waxwings two years to develop their namesake field mark.

The trademark dipped in yellow ink tail, up close. Waxwings are without doubt among our most suave and dapper animals. They give the appearance of impeccable grooming and classy dress, and possess a manners and a civility far beyond most ot…

Dwarf lake iris

Dwarf lake iris, Iris lacustris, photographed yesterday along gravelly shorelines of Lake Huron in Presque Isle County, Michigan. This elfin beauty is but one of many species of interesting plants that we are encountering on our forays as part of the NettieBay Lodge birding & botany expeditions.

More to follow...


Bear Den Lake, Presque Isle County, Michigan. On a nice day such as this, the glacial kettle looks like a bowl of clouds, rimmed by pine, spruce, tamarack, and birch.

Mark Schuler and Nina Harfmann watch a pair of Common Loons, who in turn are watching them. Every decent-sized lake up here - and there are many - has its pair of nesting loons. And loons are quite diligent about monitoring the activities of interlopers. We merely strolled to the lakeshore, and this pair of loons, who were floating along the distant shore, immediately began paddling our way. They came within 20-30 feet of us, peering intently at the two-legged curiosities, before resuming fishing activities.

I'm up here leading birding/natural history outings for NettieBay Lodge, and we've had two awesome back to back days. We've probably found about 125 species of birds so far, many of them nesting. Highlight today: Least Bittern, which is listed as threatened in Michigan.

Much more to follow, as time permits.…

Northern Michigan

Kirtland's Warbler, male, northern Michigan, today.
I'm up in Presque Isle County, in the northeastern corner of Michigan's lower peninsula. This is a truly magical place, and in two days we've seen 110 species of birds, and many other cool animals. In a nocturnal foray this evening, we surprised a big porcupine, and I've got some great photos of that prickly beast.

We've also got out own private stash of Kirtland's Warblers, and these big sluggish warblers are ridicuously tame.

Much more to come, including lots of interesting photos. Not much time to blog, though, but I'll try to toss some tidbits out there over the next week...

Ballooning spiders

Fear not, ye arachnophobes. The subject of this entry is indeed about spiders, but the star of the show is about as cute as a spider can get. And you'll want to know what we're about to learn...

On my recent West Virginia foray, we were strolling down a seldom-used lane, when a bright yellow object caught our eye. It was a goldenrod crab spider, Misumena vatia, on top of a post! Not only that, she - it is a girl - was acting extraordinarily goofy. The spider would stilt up as high as she could go on her legs, weave back and forth, jig side to side, and otherwise engage in what appeared to be spider break-dancing.

Click the pic for expansion, and you can see two columns of silk issuing from her spinnerets. This is an important point, as we set about determining what this non-web-making spider is doing.

So fixated was our spider on her task that she even rejected what would seem to me to be a perfectly scrumptious meal. This little caterpillar climbed rapidly up the post and dire…

Efts on the march

A red eft flares like a torch from an emerald carpet of moss. I was in the mountains of southern West Virginia the other day, and off and on showers moistened everything. The dampness was much to the efts' liking, and we saw many.

Red efts are the juvenile stage of the red-spotted newt, Notophthalmus viridescens. They are our most conspicuous salamander, at least in wooded areas, thanks to their penchant for boldly strolling the woodlands during broad daylight.

An eft has little to fear from predators. Their brilliant coloration is classic aposematic warning - the day-glo orange shouts I AM POISONOUS! And that they are. Apparently the nasty chemical that efts are infused with is tetrodotoxin, and you'll want to avoid it. Ingestion results in severe nerve damage and possible death. This is the same stuff that is in highly poisonous pufferfish, and it is claimed that tetrodotoxin is ten times more toxic than potassium cyanide.

So, the little eft thus boldly strolls the forest floo…

An unusual "quadrillium"

A standout in a family of stunning plants, a gorgeous painted trillium, Trillium undulatum, glistens from a shady copse. A recent expedition into some high Appalachian mountains in southern West Virginia netted many interesting finds, including this species of trillium. If you live in Ohio, good luck finding painted trillium. It barely nips into the extreme northeastern corner of the state, and its endangered status in Ohio is warranted. Venture into the mountains of the Mountaineer State and painted trillium can be frequent in some areas.

The genus name Trillium stems from the latin tres, which means three. An apropos name indeed, as most trilliums come completely assembled in groups of threes: leaves, sepals, petals.

But few rules are hard and fast, and trilliums are known for breaking their normal mathematical code of tres. I was delighted to stumble into a small number of these four-petaled painted trilliums, growing amidst a colony of normal plants. While such "quadrilliums&q…

A fine showing of orioles

I love John Pogacnik's bird reports from his "yard". Those of you who follow the Ohio Birds Listserv will certainly know of the man via his regular reporting. And those of you who have been longtime active birders in these parts probably know the man himself.

Anyway, John lives in a house that offers sweeping vistas of Lake Erie, east of Cleveland. He's done much to enhance his terrestrial patch, too, by installing numerous feeders, boxes, likeable plant material, etc. All of this diversity of habitat, much of it visible from his sunroom, has allowed John to accumulate what must easily be the wildest - and probably largest - yard list in the state of Ohio. Bet you don't have Black-legged Kittiwake, King Eider, or Purple Sandpiper on your "yard list"!

So, I open one of John's missives last Tuesday to see a yard report that was massive even by Pogacnikian standards. Try this on: 240 Pine Siskins; 200 Baltimore Orioles, including 21 on the feeders simult…

The cherry millipede

While down in West Virginia, I had the good fortune to stumble into these Sigmoria millipedes, caught in flagrante delicto. We are always assured of seeing a few of these large, colorful millipedes during the New River Birding & Nature Festival, as they thrive in the rich woodlands where we spend much time.

They are often referred to as almond, or cherry, millipedes. The reason? Pick one up and give it a shake inside your balled up fist. The millipede will exude a very pleasant aroma, quite reminiscent of one of the aforementioned fruits. People always react favorably to this fragrance. It apparently is the result of the animal releasing benzaldehyde when under duress, possibly as a form of predator deterrence.

Sigmoria millipedes are rather tanklike in that they are heavily armored with thick scutes, or plates. When bothered, the millipede typically curls into a fetal ball, thus presenting a formidable wall to predators and protecting its more vulnerable undercarriage.

Millipedes a…

Promethea moth

Ouch. Fun as the New River Birding & Nature Festival was, I apparently picked up some bug, and went down like a ton of bricks today. Some sort of cold/flu. After a pleasant foray this morning helping Bernie Master lead around docents and trustees of the Columbus Zoo, I stopped home for meds and food, and literally collapsed. May it pass quickly...

Anyway, maybe a bit of blogging therapy will help, and I am hopeful that this subject will atone for the last bit of scatness.

A somewhat weatherbeaten but still beautiful Promethea moth, Callosamia promethea, rests on the side of the main house at Opossum Creek Resort. Prometheas are silkmoths, and nearly all of their tribe are showy eyecatchers. This one is a female; the gals are larger and more ornate in color and pattern.

From the looks of that swollen abdomen, I'd say that this moth is gravid - full of eggs. Prometheas and their silkmoth kin are stunning but incredibly short-lived. They lack mouthparts, and thus don't feed. R…