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Showing posts from April, 2011

False Garlic

The verdant landscapes of spring, along a rural Adams County roadside. But wait! What's that mist of white flowers creating a drift along the verge?

This one is worth stopping for. It's False Garlic, Nothoscordum bivalve, an Ohio threatened plant. While it acts rather weedy, False Garlic occurs only in a limited area of southernmost Ohio, primarily in Adams County. Start moving south, and the plant becomes abundant. I once drove to Texas at this time of year, and False Garlic became a prolific roadside - dare I say - "weed" in many areas.

Up close and personal, we can clearly see that this species is in the lily family (Liliaceae) with its six-parted flowers. False Garlic greatly resembles some of the wild onions in the genus Allium, but with the possible exception of Nodding Wild Onion, A. cernuum, those species do not have nearly as showy flowers. Also, had I plunked down in a patch of true onions to make some photos, as I did here, the powerful, pungent aroma of o…

Northern Dusky Salamander

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, casu…

Butterflies and native plants

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.

The odd fleshy flowers of a pawpaw, Asimina triloba. The flowers burst before the leaves unfurl, and it's easy to miss them. The blooms like like little galls at a quick glance.

Where I was exploring, the pawpaws were abundant and so were zebra swallowtails. No coincidence there; the pawpaw is the host plant for this gorgeous butterfly. There are two, perhaps sometimes three, annual broods of zebra swallowtails in these parts, and the batches look different. The spring form, such as the one above, are smaller than those from later broods. Th…

An odd fern

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 e…

Prairie Warbler

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.

Males are quite dist…

Earth Day, warts and all

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 a…

Some cute, and not so cute, flies

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.

Many flowerflies mimic the bad guys. They resemble - sometimes to an eerie degree - wasps, bees, hornets, etc. But you can tell they are flies by the huge eyes, greatly r…

Purple wood sedge

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 di…

A most handsome blister beetle

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 sourc…

Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel

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…

Some more plants of spring

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.
This plant is living proof that one should take time to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. It's a spring-beauty, Claytonia virginica, one of our most abundant and widespread wildflowers of spring. It's easy to get jaded by such common tripe, and fail to pay them the heed that they deserve.

Tiny, impossibly delicate falcate orangetip butterfli…