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Showing posts from September, 2011

Carolina mantis

A female Carolina mantis, Stagmomantis carolina, stares inquisitively at your blogger. I had the good fortune to find several of these charming native mantids in southern Ohio last weekend.

A short while back, I wrote about the non-native Chinese Mantis, HERE. One tends to see far more of those than the much more diminutive native Carolina mantids. I have heard it postulated that the larger more aggressive introduced mantids will displace their native brethren. Could be; I certainly see few of the Carolinas and scads of the Chinese.

Carolinas are much smaller than the Chinese mantids; perhaps half that size. They're also a pleasing gray color, dusted and dappled with ashy blotching.

Here's a different female Carolina mantis, found the same day as the one in the first photo. It has been my observation that this species tends to be quite arboreal and I've found most of my specimens in the low hanging foliage of trees.

I believe the one above is gravid, judging by her swollen …

Cylindrical objets d' art

I'll get off the catepillar jag after this post, promise! But I've become smitten with everything about caterpillars: their appearance, behavior, interaction with plants and predators, and overall ecological importance. As a field of study, they are exquisite and provide endless intellectual stimulation.
And as a photographic subject, caterpillars are nearly without parallel in the insect world. They embody everything that I like about shooting nature. There is very much the element of the hunt involved, and that requires some fairly detailed knowledge of the quarry. How many caterpillars do you see when you are out hiking about? One must train their eye to find them. Also, objects that are long and cylindrical can be surprisingly hard to photograph well. Some thought must be given to the pose, and the photographer must make the effort to put themselves in odd positions to fire from interesting angles.
Looking straight on at a banded tussock moth caterpillar, Halysidota tessella…

Imperial Moth caterpillar

Last weekend, while in Adams County, a bit of Lepidopteran good fortune came my way. I walked out of the house that I was staying at, drawn by the chips of Blackpoll, Black-throated Green, and other warblers. Glancing up into a stately sugar maple, I spotted a truly spectacular caterpillar.

An enormous imperial moth caterpillar, Eacles imperialis, in its final instar! This thing was nearly the size of a small hotdog! Far too much for those warblers that I was chasing around to handle. Imperial cats are quite distinctive, as they are copiously beset with long silky white hairs, a row of white dots stitches down the sides, and the beast's head is armed with several small yellow horns.

Caterpillars are little more than eating machines, and when one is the size of a full-grown imperial moth caterpillar, they can really suck in the foliage. The mouth on this bruiser is essentially a garbage disposal for leaves. It vaccuums them in at an impressive pace, and equally impressive are the gia…

Trashline Orbweaver

Today dawned cool and crisp, with scattered clounds scudding across a breaking sky. Yes! No rain on the horizon, which means it's a good day to ride the bike to work. So out came the Ducati, its rich silky baritone amplified by a Termiglioni racing exhaust, no doubt delighting all who came within earshot of my commute. There is nothing quite like the deep bassano of an Italian L-twin motorcycle.
Anyway, riding the bike netted me a cool spider. It was the first time I'd had it out in nearly two weeks. When I take the car, I just hit the garage door opener as I near the dwelling and whisk into the bay, closing the door behind me. With the bike, I have to dismount in the driveway and go punch in the keypad code. This simple task put me on proximity to a wall I hadn't scanned in a while, and a very interesting little spider has taken up residence there.
Glancing over at the wall, I noticed what looks to be a linear line of debris dangling from a silken thread. One could be excus…

Black-throated Gray Warbler in Ohio!

Photo: Brian Zwiebel
While down in the deep back country of Adams County last Saturday, I received a phone message from Brian Zwiebel, letting me know that he had found a major rarity for Ohio, a Black-throated Gray Warbler. I wasn't surprised that Brian found such a bird. He is a very sharp field man, and also one of the best bird photographers out there. Check out his work HERE. He was kind enough to share the stunning images in this post.

My problem, in regards to seeing the bird myself, was that Adams County is at the opposite end of the state from Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, where Brian made the find. About 230 miles apart, in fact. But word got out with extreme rapidity, and dozens of birders were able to make the scene and tick the bird for their state lists, and life lists in some cases. This is the 11th or 12th record of Black-throated Gray Warbler in Ohio, so seeing one is not something that one can count on.

Photo: Brian Zwiebel
After spotting the bird, I doubt if Brian y…

Colors of autumn

I'm back, after a weekend of searching far and wide in two of my favorite southern Ohio counties. The cameras saw heavy duty, their memory chips choking on 1,700 images. I saw some cool stuff - some very cool stuff, in fact - and will be posting the best of it later. For now, some colorful images that vividly illustrate that Old Man Winter's clutches are not far off.
An Adams County field turned lemony with the pyramidal sprays of Canada goldenrod, Solidago canadensis, with dashes of white from tall boneset, Eupatorium altissimum.

Damp woods and ditches still sport spikes of great lobelia flowers, Lobelia siphilitica.

Virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, vines, their leaves turned rich red, reclaim a long fallen barn.

The beautiful rose-magenta flowers of creeping aster, Eurybia surculosa, rise from a battered habitat. Despite man's best efforts to eradicate this rarest of Ohio asters, it persists still.

Divergent racemes of whitish fruit thrust from the deep maroon l…

Mantid whacks wasp!

Requiring a bit of a respite from various desk-bound tasks this afternoon, I wandered out to our "weedy" little patch by the office. I snatched the Panasonic from the car's trunk first, just in case. It wasn't long before I heard the rapid guttural chirps of multiple Japanese burrowing crickets, Velarifictorus micado, out back of the building. Aha! thought I - I shall finally photo-document this ever-increasing invader. I first started hearing these Asian crickets about three years ago, and now hear them everywhere. In fact, one sings nightly from a crevice under my back porch steps. Getting a photo of one is a bit like playing whac-a-mole. I prod the partially concealed little singer to coax him from his burrow. He briefly pops up, I ready the camera, the cricket goes subterranean, I prod with twig again, Up, Down, me never fast enough with the camera's trigger.
Tiring of the cricket's game, I wandered into the goldenrods seeking easier fare.
We have a nice pa…

Midwest Birding Symposium recap

I spent last Thursday through Sunday in idyllic Lakeside, Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie and was joined by nearly 1,000 other folks for much of that time. We were there for the Midwest Birding Symposium, which for the fourth time MBS bedded down in Lakeside (1997, 1999, 2009, 2011).
I've been to many a birding festival/symposium/conference but MBS rules the roost in sheer grandeur and attention to detail. There is really nothing quite like it, and I wanted to share some thoughts on the MBS just past.
I owe a BIG THANK YOU to Nina Harfmann of Nature Remains, who kindly lent me ALL photos used in this post. I took none. That's right - zilch. I was so busy leading field excursions, emceeing talks and ribbon-cuttings, giving a program, and catching up with dozens of people from all over the place that I never produced a camera at the event itself. But Nina takes fine photos, and she photo-documented the whole affair.
Lakeside is a tranquil gated community on the Marblehead Peninsula…

Singing Bird Pistols

Following a feverish bidding war between two high-end collectors, the above pair of singing bird pistols recently sold at a Christie's auction for the mind-numbing price of $5.8 million. This is apparently the only matched set of these odd antiquities still known to exist, and very few were ever made to begin with.

The craftmanship of these 200+ year old works of art is incredible. Rather than firing bullets, the guns "shoot" a miniature singing bird. I can almost see why someone might be inspired to pay the price of a large mansion with a garage full of Ferraris for these "singing bird pistols". CLICK HERE for an amazing video about these curiosities, their history and operation.

Black-horned Tree Cricket, Oecanthus nigricornis

Just back from the Midwest Birding Symposium and what a time that was! Everyone involved pulled out all the stops and created the best MBS ever. I was so busy with leading trips, giving a talk, introducing speakers, and visiting with dozens of friends that I never even cracked a camera case. Thus, I am relying on the generosity of other photogs that were there, and am hopeful that people such as Nina and Ernie can provide me with a few of their stellar images. I'll offer an MBS recap here, later.
On my way back from Lakeside, it was impossible not to stop at the fabulous Castalia Prairie for a few hours. There, on a picture-perfect September day, I found many interesting things and made lots of photos. I was fortunate in being able to track down one of our most charismatic little singers, and would like to share this tiny beast with you.
As soon as I exited my vehicle, I heard the sonorous droning trills of one of our showiest orthopterans, the black-horned tree cricket, Oecanthus n…


First off, I know that many people who regularly scan this blog will be up at Midwest Birding Symposium this weekend. I look forward to seeing everyone. My talk is Saturday at 2 pm in Hoover Auditorium, and is entitled Birders Going Beyond Birds. I've had a lot of fun putting that together, and weaving together a tale of things great and small, birds, people, conservation, and how the pieces interconnect. It'll have a lot of the elements that you see in this blog.
Gary Meszaros kindly sent along this gorgeous photo of one of the oddest and most storied plants in the eastern United States. Read on...
Photo: Gary Meszaros
During a recent trip to a botanical garden, Gary snapped this beautiful image of Franklinia alatamaha, or just Franklinia, for short. It is a captivating plant, with showy, pleasantly aromatic flowers that bloom in fall. The foliage turns to a bright crimson about now, often forming a striking backdrop to the snowy blossoms. Franklinia belongs to the small (in No…

Devil's Dipstick

While on a recent excursion through some Hocking County forests, our crew stumbled onto one of the stranger fungi to be found: a stinkhorn. This particular beauty is sometimes known as the Devil's dipstick. More formally it is Mutinus elegans, a member of the family Phallaceae. A rather suggestive name, the latter, but even in this fading specimen it isn't hard to see how the family got its name.

Mutinus elegans has the distinction of being - probably - the first species of fungi named in the New World. A Brit, John Banister, described it in 1679 and the missionary Banister may have been suitably horrified at what this oddity seems to suggest. However, history does not record his reaction to the bizarre fungus.

As we approached the stinkhorn, I noticed a scurrying movement in the shadows below. A bit of rustling around and we spooked out an American carrion beetle, Necrophila americana. The gelatinous spores of stinkhorns smell foul, like overripe meat, and the malodorous scent …

A blue buckeye

No, I'm not talking about a disgruntled Ohio State Buckeye fan. Or an abnormally pigmented nut from a tree. The subject is the common buckeye, Junonia coenia, one of our showier butterflies. Buckeyes wander northward in late summer and fall, and we get variable numbers of them in Ohio from year to year. Last year was a boom year; this season has brought another bumper crop. If you watch butterflies at all, you're no doubt familiar with this ornately marked species.
But you may not be familiar with blue ones. I wasn't. Brad Deering kindly shared the following photo of a luxuriantly colored specimen that he found yesterday in central Ohio.
Photo: Brad Deering
Our colorful buckeye in repose and upstaging a normally colored buckeye. Quite the showstopper, eh? Buckeyes often have a bluish wash on the forewing, near those two orange bars, but nothing to the extent of this specimen. I imagine this individual is merely an exceptional example of blue pigment gone a bit wild.

In a quic…