Tuesday, November 29, 2011
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.
The Songs of Insects. In this dorsal, or top view, the animal may not look like much, but just you wait.
I was instantly smitten with these red-headed meadow katydids, and hunted up and photographed several of them. The six-legged extroverts are not hard to find, once one is tuned in to their melody. LISTEN HERE. The singing males, such as above, typically mount the highest leafy perch available, and belt their song out to the masses. You could easily hear a singer from 75 feet away.
I would like to know more of the variation in the red-headed meadow katydid. The Okefenokee insects appear more colorful and boldly marked than most of the images that I've seen, and the eyes seem more strongly blue. But the song is spot on with all of the recordings that I've heard.
As I write this entry, the temperature outside is in the low 30's, and there are intermittent snow flurries. I wish I were back in Georgia's piney flatwoods, where the red-headed meadow katydid song resonates!
Sunday, November 27, 2011
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 of a White-breasted Nuthatch.
Another interesting aspect of RCW nest cavities is the birds' propensity for drilling sap wells around the cavity's perimeter. By doing so, the woodpeckers trigger a sheet flow of gummy, sticky sap all around the nest site. The likely theory for this is that the tarry sap impedes the ability of predators such as high-climbing rat snakes to gain access to the hole. Plenty of viscous white pine sap is evident in the photo above.
The Red-cockaded Woodpecker was listed as an endangered species in 1970; thus it was among the first group of animals to gain protection under the federal Endangered Species Act with its passage in 1973. At that time, fewer than 10,000 RCW's existed. With protection of its habitat and management techniques, the woodpecker population has grown by one-third. That's still precious few birds. I certainly hope this iconic bird of the southern pinewoods never goes the way of its larger cousin, the now extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker.
Friday, November 25, 2011
Thursday, November 24, 2011
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 and blue skies. Excepting the occasional boatload of touristos traveling down the canal, there are no people and the swamp is far from the hubbub of highways and towns.
Okefenokee is a Choctaw word meaning "quivering earth", and it isn't hard to see why it's called that when walking across the soggy quaking peat. I saw some great plants out in the prairies, including a fabulous botanical carnivore.
I'll be back soon with some closer views of some of the Okefenokee's extraordinary flora and fauna.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
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.
Friday, November 18, 2011
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.
WATCH THIS SILLY VIDEO HERE. Then, on behalf of wheel bugs everywhere, I would encourage you to leave a comment on their website that protests this ridiculous bit of "journalism", and stick in a good word for the bug!
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
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.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Monday, November 14, 2011
This black-legged meadow katydid was really going at it, and was not much bothered by your narrator sticking a brightly flashing Nikon in its grill. The paler brown region on the katydid's back is its stridulatory region of the wings, and he was rapidly rubbing them as I took the photo. As were scores of others. That day, October 30, was the last day that I heard a full-bore salvo of insect song.
Click the short video above, and you can hear the meadow katydid for yourself. We'll have to make due with such digital fare for some time, I'm afraid, if its katydids we wish to hear. July is a long ways off.
Sunday, November 13, 2011
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.
I was particularly curious about this micro-wasp for two reasons: it was striking in appearance; and it was a species that I was pretty sure I hadn't yet come across. So, after obtaining these so-so images - but they do show diagnostic characters - I set out to name it. Fortunately, I soon stumbled into THIS PAPER, which does an admirable job of delineating our vespid wasps. Largely by matching photos, I came up with an identity of Ancistrocerus gazella.
However, the wasp world is enormous, and there are plenty of look-alike species. Also, in this case, I could find no reference to this introduced species of wasp as being recorded from Ohio. So, where to turn for expert input?
This website is certainly the most comprehensive and awesome library of insect information on the Internet. Legions of experts and specialists routinely lurk there, and they are often quick to pin names on photographs of mystery bugs that are submitted. I uploaded my wasp photos, asking for a confirmation of my identification, and eventually Richard Vernier chimed in and reported that it was indeed the European tube wasp, Ancistrocerus gazella. Excellent!
Insects rank high on the list of animals that people wish to name. It's a vast and confusing world, and pinning a tag on that strange beetle that was in your basement can be tough. A trip to Bug Guide can help solve the mystery.
By the way, if anyone knows the status of the European tube wasp in Ohio, please let me know.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
*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 Snow Buntings are quite fond of foraging along Great Lakes beaches when they make their wintertime peregrinations down to our latitude, they certainly consume a lot of purple sand grass fruit as well as the seeds of other beach plants. And thus, these beautiful sparrows undoubtedly become important agents of dispersal for these plants. A percentage of plant fruit will pass through a bird's digestive tract intact and be expelled, possibly a far distance from where the fruit was eaten. Over the long haul, it is probably birds that are responsible for many plant species' distribution. I believe that sparrows, in particular, are important agents of dispersal for numerous grasses and sedges. I wrote about another likely case of interesting Snow Bunting seed dispersal RIGHT HERE.
To them, the winter beaches of a place such as Lake Erie represents a balmy Floridian vacation.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
It's routine to see autumn meadowhawks on the wing in November, and I've even seen them out and about on cool blustery days with temperatures in the 50's. Yesterday and today was nice, sunny, and in the 60's and the meadowhawks were quite active.
There is a small pond not far from where I observed this blue-faced meadowhawk, and perhaps they use it as breeding habitat. Or it could be that blue-faced meadowhawks wander as do some of the other dragonfly species, and this individual had come from some distance away. Green Lawn Cemetery is an oasis of greenery in a sea of heavily urbanized cityscape, and attracts large numbers of migrant birds and other flighted organisms.
Ohio Odonata Society. Records in RED are pre-1950 reports, as is the case with Franklin County, which is where I made the photo above. So unless I've muffed the identification, there is now a modern record of blue-faced meadowhawk for Franklin County.
Monday, November 7, 2011
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 the gull flew. Soon the grebe came up and the gull landed right next to it. Again the grebe dove and the gull flew only to land next to the grebe when it came up. It repeated this one more time while I watched. My guess is that if any of the grebes came up with a small fish the gull would try to claim it. Are there any other explanations?"
Doug's observation is an interesting one, and a phenomenon that I have observed dozens of times. During our Lake Erie surveys, we would fly at an altitude of 200 feet, and follow rigid transect lines that criss-cross the lake. Such a perspective offers a magnificent study of huge swaths of Lake Erie, and a unique angle on its bird life. During late fall surveys, we would encounter as many as several hundred loons resting or feeding far out on the lake. It wasn't long before we noticed that actively diving and feeding Common Loons would usually be attended by small squadrons of Bonaparte's Gulls, anywhere from a few birds to a dozen or more. Indeed, we quickly learned that we could spot feeding loons from far away by the concentrated little clouds of Bonaparte's Gulls. This was most helpful as things happen quickly in a fast-moving airplane and the gulls put us on alert to be prepared for loons.
What sort of action? Gulls are well known kleptoparasites, a term that refers to thievery. It is applied to gulls, jaegers, and other creatures that routinely steal food from another animal. We've probably all seen gulls harassing some hapless tern until it disgorges its catch, which the gull then snaps up and swallows. That's kleptoparasitism.
When we first observed the loon-Bonaparte's Gull interaction, we assumed we were witnessing a case of kleptoparasitism. The loon would surface, and the gulls would attempt to snatch its fish away. Except that it became apparent that the gulls never made contact with the loon - and a Common Loon outweighs a Bonaparte's Gull by 21 times. Rather, the surfacing of the loon would send the pack of gulls into a frenzy and they would alight and dip at the water's surface in the immediate vicinity of the just-surfaced loon.
I plumbed the literature to see if anything had been published specific to commensalism involving Bonaparte's Gulls and loons or other diving waterbirds, and sure enough, there are a few snippets of information out there. The Birds of North America account of Bonaparte's Gull has this to say:
"Also forage in association with Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) and Red-breasted Mergansers (Stedman and Stedman 1989), Common Loons (Gavia immer; Svingen 1999, JB), Double-crested Cormorants (JB, MG), Horned Grebes (Podiceps auritus; Dusi 1968), Red-necked Grebes (P. grisegena; Svingen 1999), and Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis; Cruickshank and Cruickshank 1958). Bonaparte’s Gull often hovers over the feeding mergansers, cormorants, or grebes, dipping into the water to obtain small items, such as fish, forced up by the diving birds; also swims with loons and grebes, picking up small items from the surface. Feeding with these species is a form of social parasitism." (Burger, Joanna and Michael Gochfeld. 2002. Bonaparte's Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/634)
A brief note from The Auk, Vol. 85: 1, 1968 is entitled Feeding interaction between Bonaparte's Gulls and Horned Grebes. It reads as follows:
Several times between 19 and 28 December 1966 at West Panama City Beach, Bay County, Florida, my wife and I saw Bonaparte's Gulls (Larus philadelphia) and Horned Grebes (Colymbus auritus) feeding together, the gulls eating food the grebes brought to the surface. The grebes fed leisurely about 150 feet offshore, usually in groups of three to six. Two to three times as many immature and adult Bonaparte's Gulls usually fed with them. As the grebes dived, the gulls swam or flew above them. When a grebe surfaced, a gull was usually at the spot for any bits of food it could salvage. We observed no physical contact between birds during these encounters. Neither A. C. Bent (U.S. Natl. Mus., Bull. 107, pp. 23-25, 1919, and Bull. 113, pp. 177-179, 1921) nor R. S. Palmer (Handbook of North American birds, vol. 1, New Haven, Yale Univ. Press, 1962; see p. 79) mention such associations between these species or between either of these species and other species.--Julian L. Dusi, Department of Zoology, Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.