Thursday, April 28, 2011
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
A Northern Dusky Salamander, Desmognathus fuscus, peeks at your blogger from the chilled waters of a woodland rill. I had the good fortune to encounter several of these extraordinary, if rather bland-looking salamanders the other day.
The northern in this species' name is apropos. It ranges throughout the New England states, and south along the mountains and west into Ohio. While locally common here, its range includes only eastern and southern Ohio.
Quicksand-colored and unadorned, duskies won't blow your socks off with flashy coloration. The same is not true of some of their mates, such as the Mud and Red salamanders, both of which can occur as companion species with the Dusky Salamander. In fact, both of those bright red species are known from the very springhead where I photographed this animal. Just wasn't my day to find them, but I was quite pleased to find the duskies.
Finding any salamander is always a treat. It's a bit like treasure-hunting, and the quick, casual observer will not be rewarded. One must tun rocks and logs, and in many cases wallow in boot-sucking muck. And to do it right, exercise care. You shouldn't behave as a bull in a china shop, but rather turn the objects slowly and with caution, and replace all just as it was.
Here's a challenge for you photographers. The third iteration of the Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp (OWLS) will feature a salamander. Submissions will be voted upon by a panel of judges, and the winner's shot will grace this beautiful stamp. Stamp proceeds go to fund habitat acquisition, research on rare species, and educational efforts about natural history. Read more about the stamp HERE.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Last Sunday was anything but bright and sunny, but in spite of the overcast conditions butterflies were scudding through the forests of southern Ohio in large numbers. This group of mineral-seeking males - such assemblages are sometimes termed "puddle parties" had congregated on a rural lane in Adams County. Four species are present: Eastern tiger swallowtails, zebra swallowtails, a pipevine swallowtail, and a spicebush swallowtail.
Monday, April 25, 2011
Southern adder's-tongue, Ophioglossum vulgatum. I had the good fortune to stumble into a small colony of these weird little ferns yesterday, in Adams County. The adder's-tongue ferns scarcely resemble their more pinnate, cut and dissected allies, and one could be forgiven for wondering what the heck one of these things is. In Ohio, their closest relatives are the grape ferns in the genus Botrychium, but the adder's-tongues don't look much like those, either.
We've got three species of Ophioglossum: this one, the Northern adder's-tongue, O. pusillum, and the very rare limestone adder's-tongue, O. engelmannii. Both of the other species are listed as endangered in Ohio, with the limestone adder's-tongue found elsewhere in Adams County in a few prairies.
Southern adder's-tongue likes to grow in scruffy haunts such as young woods, field margins and other semi-shaded uninteresting places that people often don't look at very closely. And it's quite easy to walk right by this plant, the eye dismissing it as the young leaf of some young plant still on the rise.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Prime Prairie Warbler habitat - the cedar glades of Adams County, Ohio. Some of the greatest breeding densities of this warbler must occur in this region. I was down there today, and saw or heard dozens. Many other warblers, too: Blue-winged, Nashville, Northern Parula, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, Yellow-throated, Pine, Cerulean, Black-and-white, American Redstart, Worm-eating, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Kentucky, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded, and Yellow-breasted Chat.
You gotta enjoy Prairie Warblers while you can, at least up here near their northern limits. They aren't with us long. The Prairies have just arrived, and are still coming in, and their nesting season will be a frenzied blur. By mid-July many of the males will have departed, and by mid-August nearly all of the rest have left. Most Prairie Warblers probably spend but three months with us, then it's back to the southern wintering grounds: South Florida and the Caribbean.
It's good to be back in warbler prime time.
Friday, April 22, 2011
Today is Earth Day. A day of celebration, to promote awareness of Mothership Earth, ED began in 1970 and has picked up steam ever since. It's now hyped pretty much worldwide, and is often used as a vehicle for various organizations to blow their horns about this or that accomplishment.
We shouldn't fool ourselves too badly, though. The human species has a LONG way to go before we achieve anything approaching true environmental awareness. Or any sense of a long term big picture when it comes to ourselves, our role on earth, and our incredible, unprecedented ability to manipulate our environment. And by extension, the environment of every other organism on the planet.
GREEN is not building a more environmentally friendly Walmart. At best, that's damage mitigation. True green is conserving our natural habitats, and trying to live in balance with Nature.
Southern West Virginia. These Appalachian mountains harbor some of the richest diversity of life on earth. Their rich forests attempt to atone for our excesses by sequestering carbon, a byproduct of the ever-increasing need to provide energy for our growing world community. By just being there, these woodlands provide habitat for thousands of species of plants, mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, insects of every stripe, and things that we don't yet even know about.
But fuel is required to feed our mechanized society, and this is one of the ways that we get it. The above shot shows an active mountaintop removal, in which places such as shown in the first photo are leveled to expose underlying coal seams. The depth of destruction is mind-boggling, and it's stupefying to realize that a species so collectively brilliant - us - could be so incomparably stupid. For a very short term gain, we have wrought a scorched earth change that will be with our planet for thousands of years, probably. From an indescribably lush and diverse forest to a lunar landscape, practically overnight.
The pressures to enagage in crimes such as mountaintop removal won't vanish anytime soon. In 2006, world consumption of coal was about 6.75 billion (BILLION) tons of coal. By 2030 our use is projected to rise to a staggering 10 billion tons, an increase of 48%. If we let that happen, you can expect to see many more fabulous mountains lopped off and planted to exotic grasses. There is no mitigation for this sort of thing.
This crew is reveling over warblers in a big West Virginia woodland. I know, because I was there. On that same trip, we also thrilled to red trilliums, pipevine swallowtails, sharp-shinned hawks, tulip trees, the nest of a Black-and-white Warbler, greenshield lichens, and more other stuff than you could shake a stick at. Earth Day organizers would have been proud of us.
Parts of this very mountain, with its richness of life and endless intellectual stimulations, is scheduled for a life-ending double-whammy: a scalping of its timber, then pulverization by mountaintop removal. Hasn't happened yet, but many of its sister mountains have fallen.
Remember, the people that allow this sort of thing to happen have no knowledge of, or interest in, such places. They should be made to sit in the front of the Earth Day 101 class.
Just as all other animals on earth have a finite carrying capacity, so too do we. This chart shows the astronomical rise in the human population, with the huge spurt coming with the so-called Neolithic Revolution - the modernization of agriculture. Now, at least for a while, we have the ability to feed what many experts believe to be far more people than the planet can sustain in the longterm. And the pressures to provide for all of our wants and needs will only continue to skyrocket as well.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
I must confess to being a closet fly enthusiast. Until recent years, I never gave them much thought nor paid them much mind. Probably, like so many others, I labored under numerous misconceptions: they're ugly, dirty, trash-seeking, and boring.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The Fly World is filled with diversity and and fascinating behavior. They're endless fodder for intellectual stimulation, and make for beautiful macro photography subjects. On a recent trip to Shawnee State Forest, I turned my lens to a few flies...
A tiny flowerfly, its eyes endlessly deep pools of blood-red, wallows in a sea of buttercup nectar. This one was small enough to be measured in millimeters, like a robust gnat. A great number of fly species are vital pollinators of our flora, possibly THE biggest group of pollinators.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
There are precious few people who write about sedges. That's because there aren't many people who know anything about them. Even many an experienced botanist shuns sedges, as there are so many and sometimes it seems that they all look alike. If one looks at sheer numbers, the sedges do present a stiff learning curve. In Ohio, over 160 species in just one genus - Carex - have been found.
Despite the relative lack of interest in sedges, this group plays a very important role in ecology. They stabilize soil and streambanks, form large animal-rich colonies, provide food, and not least, offer enriched aesthetics in our various habitats.
Below is some photos and info on one of our showiest woodland sedges.
A dry sun-soaked roadbank high on a ridge in Shawnee State Forest. The roadsides, which mimic natural blow-down openings in the forest, harbor all manner of interesting plants. But exposure means everything. A south-facing exposure that is often baked and sere harbors an entirely different set of flora than does a cool, shady and much moister north-facing bank. The one above sports a profusion of birdfoot violet, Viola pedata, and also is home to sedges such as oak sedge, Carex albicans, and clustered sedge, C. umbellata.
Not yet quite mature, this slender spike holds the sedge's fruit, which are known as perigynia. The perigynia are slender and ellipsoid, and spaced rather widely. Each holds a small bony seed called an achene, which will later drop to the soil. Many fruits of sedges are probably carted off by ants; these insects are probably important dispersers of woodland sedges.
If you are at Flora-Quest and on one of my trips, you'll probably get to see the beautiful purple wood sedge firsthand.
Monday, April 18, 2011
I spent all of yesterday plumbing the depths of southern Ohio's Shawnee State Forest, unfettered by schedules, people, or things. Well, one thing - my new Nikon D-7000. This was the first day that I've had to really fool around with this camera and its 105 mm macro lens. I am but an inexperienced piker with this setup, but the camera with that lens is amazing! I hope to progressively get better with it, and start to learn more about using flash and other tricks.
Anyway, Shawnee was great as always and I saw scads of interesting stuff. I did spend a lot of time looking at and photographing insect pollinators, mostly the often colorful flower flies that so ably mimic bad guys such as wasps and bees. More on those in a later post, if I get to them, but for now it's a beetle. And what a beetle! Early-blooming wildflowers, such as this pussy-toes, Antennaria plantaginifolia, which sometimes goes by the odd name of "woman's tobacco", are very important nectar sources for vernal insects. Pussy-toes, which in this species typically form sizeable colonies, are good for finding lots of interesting bugs. Those are bluets, Houstonia caerulea, in the backdrop - another good nectar source.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
On my way back from southern Ohio today, I stopped in at a remnant of the former Pickaway Plains prairie. Being that it was a reasonably warm and sunny day, I knew that I would encounter Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, Spermophilus tridecemlineatus. Wow! For such little beasts, they've been saddled with an incredible, multi-syllabic moniker. Between the common and scientific names, that's -count 'em - sixteen syllables!
Anyway, 13-lines are really cool and I stop to reacqaint myself with them each year. As you can see from the habitat shot above, they like open landscapes. The mowed verges of this country road is a favored locale. Sharp little cookies that they are, and with nothing to block their views, sneaking up on the squirrels is essentially impossible, but I know of two strategies that allow one to get in reasonably close proximity. 13LGS's are voracious tunnelers, and that's one of the reasons they're so tough to approach. The animals seldom stray far from one of their burrow entrances, and if spooked they go subterranean in a flash. This animal is the easternmost prairie dog, and like its western counterparts, 13-lines excavate massive warrens of tunnels and chambers. When not above ground foraging on succulent vegetable matter, they're down under, partying and doing whatever it is that 13LGS's do.
One thing that they do well is hibernate. These furry Rip Van Winkles hit the hay in September/October, and don't surface again until early April. As mammalian indicators of spring go, they'd probably be far better barometers than that fat Pennsylvanian woodchuck. Okay, as I said, I know of two ways to approach these wary little animals in their wide open stomping grounds. One, watch which burrow the animal disappears into, and go lay prostrate in the grass ten or fifteen feet away. That's what I'm doing here, and the squirrel has just poked his head from the hole and is eyeing me with great suspicion.
Saturday, April 16, 2011
I found a bit of time to stop in at a Jackson County woodland the other day, and take a few photos of early spring wildflowers. The vernal season is, without doubt, the most ephemeral. Many spring wildflowers last but a day or so, and in general the flowering periods for spring species is greatly compressed and flies by with great rapidity. Get out there now. A fiddlehead of a Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides, unfurls. When young ferns are at this stage, it's no mystery why they are called fiddleheads. By today, it's probably mostly expanded into the broad green blade that is such a familiar sight in Ohio woodlands.