Skip to main content


Showing posts from November, 2011

Red-headed Meadow Katydid

Your narrator at work in the saw palmetto, photographing one of the coolest insects in the southern pine woods. Shortly into my recent foray into the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, I was distracted by a very distinctive singing insect, the likes of which I had never heard. It was clearly one of the meadow katydids, but this species possessed an incredible booming voice. It sounded like a hopped industrial strength automated lawn sprinkler, and even with the distraction of chortling Red-headed Woodpeckers and the odd squeakabilly Brown-headed Nuthatches piping away, I easily noticed the bug's solos.

Being a bit of a student of these sorts of things, I figured the little singer must be the red-headed meadow katydid, Orchelimum erythrocephalum.

Into the scrub I plunged, and rather quickly hunted down the little fiddler. Bingo! A "life" insect, and one that I had wanted to see ever since crossing the red-headed meadow katydid's path in the lush pages of The Songs of…

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

A beautifully maintained stand of longleaf pine, Pinus palustris, in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, southern Georgia. The scrubby palmlike understory is saw palmetto, Serenoa repens. This habitat is home to the rarest of North American woodpeckers, the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Picoides borealis.

On my recent foray into the Okefenokee, finding Red-cockaded Woodpeckers was high on the list. As a consequence, I spent much time roaming the sandy pine flats. One of the first birds that will greet the pinewoods explorer is this charmer, the Brown-headed Nuthatch, Sitta pusilla. These inquisitive gleaners display great fidelity to one another, and a pair will forage together throughout the year. The birds more or less constantly emit a stream of squeaky chatters, and the notes sound like a dog's squeak toy ball.

A Brown-headed Nuthatch is truly elfin, weighing about ten grams and measuring only 4.5 inches. That's not much larger than a kinglet, and less than half the weight …

Green Lynx Spider

A fiercely protective female green lynx spider, Peucetia viridans, stands guard on her nest. This one had chosen a fruiting cluster of seedbox, Ludwigia alternifolia, in which to weave her saclike structure. The females are big spiders. Her body is nearly an inch in length, and throw in the legspan and you've got an animal that would pretty much cover a silver dollar. You'd notice this thing if you felt the tickle of one crawling up your arm.

We found this spider and several others of its species in a bramble patch in an open longleaf pine flatwoods bordering the Okefenokee Swamp in south Georgia. I had never seen a green lynx spider before, but figured that it must be some type of lynx spider as soon as I clapped eyes on the beast. We've got a much smaller species in Ohio, the common lynx spider, Oxyopes salticus, and it is widespread and often abundant. It too is colorful and has impressively spined legs.

Note all of the spiderlings surrounding mom. If nothing too big and …

Some Okefenokee scenics

Before long, I want to share some up close and personal accounts of some of the interesting critters and plants that I encountered on my recent foray into the Okefenokee Swamp. But whether one knows the names of any of this vast wetland's flora and fauna, they'd certainly be impressed by the scenic grandeur of the place. Following are a few photos of the Okefenokee's picturesque beauty. As always, clicking on a photo will enlarge it.
An Okefenokee skiff. Boats with shallow drafts are essential for navigating the marshes and waterways. A big thanks to guide Jennifer Iona Hogan with Okefenokee Adventures for showing me some off-the-beaten-path places. Look her up and take a tour if you make it to the Okefenokee.

Stately cypress trees draped with Spanish moss create lush walls of vegetation along blackwater canals.

Cypress trees are deciduous conifers, and most have dropped their needles by now. However, in places the trees were still burnt-orange with old needles.

Big skies over…

Into the Okefenokee

I'm just returned from an immersion into one of our country's most iconic wetlands, the sprawling 400,000+ acre Okefenokee Swamp of southern Georgia and northern Florida. An in-depth look into the Okefenokee had long been on my list, and after spending three days exploring its fabulous habitats, I have a much better understanding of this incredible place. As always, many photos were made, and plenty of interesting creatures were found.

The still black waters of the Suwanee Canal are often described as "mysterious". I suppose that's an understandable thought, as one can't see more than a few inches below the surface. As gators, moccasins, and other potentially scary critters lurk in the depths, the Okefenokee waters are indeed mysterious to most.

I was able to penetrate a fair ways into the swamp on a skiff, and see lots of interesting terrain. The Okefenokee is a place of great beauty, its tannin-stained waters refecting the images of golden-needled cypress an…

Okefenokee Swamp

I'm deep in south Georgia, in the heart of Okefenokee Swamp country. Laptop/Internet issues prevent a detailed photo post,  but those will come soon. I'm seeing all manner of cool stuff, and obtaining scads of images. Everything from gators to Red-cockaded Woodpeckers! Posts to follow soon.

Wheel bugs rule!

A wheel bug, Arilus cristatus, in repose. These beneficial native assassin bugs are ten kinds of cool, squared. I always consider it a treat to encounter one, and have shown many people their "life" wheel bug. Invariably, they are impressed. Of course, I would explain the valuable roles that they play in nature, and the incredible mechanics of the beast. These prehistoric-looking insects truly are miniature works of art, and deserve our respect.

Thus, I was mortified when I encountered an alleged "news story" about the fearsome wheel bug. The reporter used bizarre inflammatory rhetoric to describe these small insects, such as "The horrific monster or insect..." I'm not kidding. As he spouted this sort of nonsense, he whipped up some local Pittsburgians into a frenzy of fear over the terrifying wheel bugs. It was as if an army of six-legged Vlad the Impalers had descended upon the bucolic Pennsylvania neighborhood.


Black-tailed Gull in Ohio!

Photo: John Pogacnik
A first state record Black-tailed Gull was found this morning by Craig Holt at the harbor at Ashtabula, Ohio on Lake Erie. Word traveled quickly and a number of people were able to get to the site this afternoon and relocate the bird. Thanks to John Pogacnik for the documentary photo, above.

The Black-tailed Gull, Larus crassirostris, is an Asian species that is a very rare vagrant to North America. There are only a few records from the Great Lakes, and as previously mentioned, no priors from Ohio.

I'll be in Ashtabula bright and early tomorrow, and hope to see the animal. More reports/photos may follow.

Carolina Wren with caterpillar

Photo: John Howard
John Howard shared this beautiful photo with me a while back, and I wanted to in turn share it with you. He has caught one of the bird world's premier fuss-budgets, a Carolina Wren, Thryothorus ludovicianus, just after it snagged a fat caterpillar. For this little rotund red-brown ball of feathers, eating that cat will be about like one of us scarfing down a footlong hotdog.

The songs have faded...

I really miss the song of autumn about now. This afternoon, I took a brief wander through the local patch, and heard only the feeble swan songs of Carolina and Allard's ground crickets. These little black crickets are the toughest of our Orthopterans, or singing insects, and we'll hear the odd individual fiddling its wings into early December, if the sun shines brightly enough.
But for the most part, the entomological symphony, that grand wall of sound created by legions of katydids, coneheads, trigs, and crickets is gone. The singers have perished, leaving only their eggs to ride out the winter, and it'll be next summer before their life cycle comes once again to the point of music.
Just two weeks ago, I found myself in some marshy ground on an unseasonably warm day, and the singing insects were going whole hog, every bit as active as a bunch of drunks in a Karaoke bar. This black-legged meadow katydid, Orchelimum nigripes, was especially extroverted so I paused to pay him …

Bug Guide rules!

A tiny European tube wasp, Ancistrocerus gazella, laps nectar from one of the season's last Canada goldenrods. I was out a week ago on a brief photographic interlude, and stumbled across one of these miniature beauties. As is often the case with bugs, I didn't know what it was.

I do know enough about entomology that I realized it was a wasp, and that at least provides a starting point. But just knowing that generality wasn't good enough. I am without doubt a born taxonomist, although I don't say that to mean that I am a good or gifted taxonomist. It's just that I can't stand NOT knowing the name of something. I don't like generic identifications.

Aspiring to know the name of every creature one encounters brings a certain set of problems. Especially in the world of bugs. One would quickly be driven mad, and use every minute of their waking hours, trying to pin names on every insect encountered, at least if you're in the field a lot and looking hard at thi…

Snow Buntings

Resplendent in their rust and cream feathered finery, three Snow Buntings, Plectrophenax nivalis, pose on a piece of Lake Erie driftwood. I encountered these hardy little "sparrows"* a few weekends back, and spent nearly an hour stalking and observing them. This trio was part of a group of a dozen birds, and by moving slowly and cautiously, I was allowed to infiltrate their ranks and make some interesting observations at arm's reach.

*Dammit one thousand times over! The taxonomy of birds is in an ever-increasing state of upheaval, and snow buntings are now no longer placed in the family of true sparrows, the Emberizidae. They, along with the longspurs, have been segregated into the Calcariidae family, or longspur family. I am still referring to snow buntings as sparrows until I come to accept this change.

As is often the case with birds that are habitual ground foragers, Snow Buntings walk, rather than hop. Walking is a more efficient form of locomotion for ground-bound b…


The last dragonflies to be on the wing, at least in appreciable numbers, are the meadowhawks. And of the eight Sympetrum meadowhawk species that have been found in Ohio, the one above is the hardiest of the lot. It is the autumn meadowhawk (formerly yellow-legged meadowhawk), Sympetrum vicinum. I made the photos above and below yesterday while on a lunchtime stroll around the grounds where my office is located.

Male meadowhawks are striking animals. The cherry-red abdomen is a conspicuous feature, but these are small dragonflies and often dart away with such rapidity that an average hiker may not see them well enough to appreciate their fiery tones. Separating the various species can also constitute an issue of identification, especially with the females. Males are easier, and two of the features to look for on autumn meadowhawk is the blood-red face and the pale straw-colored legs.

It's routine to see autumn meadowhawks on the wing in November, and I've even seen them out and …

Interesting Bonaparte's Gull feeding strategy

Five hundred feet over Lake Erie and looking due south to the mouth of the Huron River at Huron, Ohio. I took this photo about two years ago, during a survey flight to document waterbirds on the lake. Nickel Plate Beach, where I made the Bonaparte's Gull photos that accompanied the preceding post, is the snow-covered bare patch on the photo's upper left corner.

A few hours after I made yesterday's blog entry about Bonaparte's Gulls, Doug Overacker made an interesting post on the Ohio Birds Listserv, as follows:

"Julie Karlson and I stopped near the Corps of Engineers Visitor Center at Buck Creek State Park this morning to scan the lake for waterbirds. I started scanning the lake and spotted some Horned Grebes. A Bonaparte's Gull was there with them. I scanned some more and found another Horned Grebe also accompanied by a Bonaparte's Gull. Then I found a Pied-billed Grebe and it was also accompanied by a Bonaparte's Gull. I watched the grebe dive and th…