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Showing posts from February, 2012

A "blue" green snake

Maybe it's due to the upcoming Ohio Amphibian Conference, but I've got herps on the mind. Just in case you weren't aware: "herps" is shorthand for herpetology, the study of amphibians and reptiles. Unfortunately when truncated, herpetology sounds reminiscent of a certain STD. And even when elongated, it don't sound so hot.
Anyway, someone was asking me about rough green snakes, of all things, today. So I dipped into my photo files and was reminded of a few cool images and I don't recall sharing them here before.
An odd looking snake if there ever were one. Spot one of these strange blue-green ribbons while driving along, and you'll surely wonder what the heck it is. What it is, is a rough greensnake, Opeodrys aestivus.

So why so blue? Well, you'd be blue, too, if you had been pancaked on the roadbed by a speeding pick-em-up or whatever it was that got this poor creature.

A photo caveat: I'm not sure whose this is, and the last photo that follows…

Ohio Amphibian Conference, March 10

Saturday, March 10 is the date of the Ohio Amphibian Research & Conservation Conference. I'd say "annual", but it's not - this is only the second one, and it'll be a few years until the next. This intermittent schedule is all the more reason to attend, and learn about various gelatinous beasts.
The conference takes place in the Ohio Department of Transportation's stellar and easy to access conference center at 1980 West Broad Street in Columbus. The cost is only $35 ($20 for students) and includes some enviable perks. One of them is the brand spanking new Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp, which quite appropriately features the visage of a spotted salamander, taken by Ohio's own Nina Harfmann.
Read on for a few teasers...
Sporting a mug only a mother could love is this eastern hellbender, our largest salamander. It also ranks high among our most imperiled animals, and Greg Lipps will elaborate on plans to save our hellbenders.

A bullfrog, the hellbender of the f…

Hummingbird versus eagle

I received an interesting email from Tim Tolford yesterday. He saw that I would be at the Amish Bird Symposium in Adams County this coming Saturday, and that my talk subject is hummingbirds. So, Tim piped along a really cool photo of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird that he caught and banded in 2010. This got me thinking about the tremendous diversity of avifauna, and just how tiny hummingbirds really are.
By the way, the Amish Bird Symposium is always a blast, and you may still be able to get in. CLICK HERE.

An adult Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, floats gracefully overhead. I took this photo in the winter of 2010, in Ohio. So, this is one of the tough northern eagles, and they grow bigger than the wimpy warm weather southern eagles, such as are found in Florida. And, we're going to assume she is a big fat female - girl eagles outweigh the boys by a good margin. I'm pegging her weight at the upper end of the spectrum - 15 pounds.

Contrast that beastly big bird with a Ruby-…

The Art of Nature Interpretation

Gifted interpreters can effectively interface between the natural world, and the significant percentage of the population who know little about natural history. A skilled naturalist can effectively and joyously convey the magic of plants and animals in a way that is sure to capture the interest and imagination of all, and thus create more converts to conservation.

I, personally, have never been employed in the capacity of of a professional naturalist, but my interests and career have placed me in roles where I often lead field trips, or otherwise attempt to communicate about nature. Thus, it has been hugely helpful over the years to have the good fortunate of interacting with people who really know their stuff, and are nearly magical in their ability to share the fascinating mysteries of nature.

It was a treat to recently learn of a new natural history program that is every bit as compelling as Sir David Attenborough's BBC programs. Known as "Nature Walk", Dr. Lennie Pep…

Spring has sprung, botanically speaking

Like some sort of alien claw reaching from the mire, the liver-spotted spathe of a skunk-cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, pops forth. This odd member of the Arum Family (Araceae) is our true harbinger-of-spring; the first of the native wildflowers to burst into bloom.

This place, Kiwanis Park, is one of my local patches. It's less than ten minutes from my dwelling, and when time is limited I sometimes go there to look for photographic subjects. I ALWAYS hit Kiwanis in late February, as the park contains a nice little spring - home to dozens and dozens of skunk-cabbage.

Here is the aforementioned spring. It's just a tiny woodland opening, well under a quarter-acre. Strong subterranean rills burst from the limey banks on the uphill side, keeping the spring perpetually saturated. The rough-stalked bluegrass, Poa trivialis, has already greened, helping to define the wettest areas. This place is a sog-fest, and a visitor better wear Wellies.

In spite of being February 20th - one full m…

It's about time we get to know the gull next door

Jim McCormac/For the Dispatch
The Columbus Dispatch

By Jim McCormac
Sunday, February 19, 2012

Almost everyone can recognize a sea gull. The neatly patterned gray and white birds are fixtures of the seashore.

Perhaps that’s why central Ohioans are surprised to see so many of the feathered scavengers in our landlocked area. Large flocks can be found roosting in mall parking lots, wheeling over rivers and reservoirs, and grabbing rubbish at the landfill.

Probably 98 percent of central Ohio gulls are ring-billed gulls, with a smattering of larger herring gulls mixed in.

Several species can seem to be present in a flock, as some birds are brown while others are clean gray and white.

These different forms represent different ages. It takes a ring-billed gull three years to reach adulthood; a herring gull, four years. They begin life cloaked in dingy brown and each year molt into progressively tidier white and gray plumage.

Dismissing this interesting group of birds as sea gulls does t…

White-winged Crossbills

A young White-winged Crossbill, Loxia leucoptera, poses at arm's length in an Eastern hemlock that is festooned with cones. The bird still shows the heavy blurry streaking of a juvenile.

I was up in the Toledo area last Saturday, to meet with photographer Brian Zwiebel about a project that we are collaborating on. Brian lives but 25 minutes from Woodlawn Cemetery on Central Avenue in Toledo. Woodlawn is legendary for attracting winter finches, and this year there has been a pack of up to 100 White-winged Crossbills present. We really wanted to observe and photograph the x-bills, so after our work was done, off we went.

Woodlawn's 160 acres is heavily populated with magnificent trees, including many stately cone-bearing conifers and fruit-laden alders and sweetgum. Thus, its attraction for seed-eating winter finches. By the way, this photo was taken with my Droid smart phone. The cameras in these latest generation phones are becoming insanely good, especially for landscape scene…

Wildlife Diversity Conference - March 7!

Wednesday, March 7th marks the date of the 28th annual Wildlife Diversity Conference, and you won't want to miss it. This conference started in a small way, with 40 enthusiasts coming together to learn more about Ohio's wild critters. Last year, there were nearly 1,000 attendees. Sponsored by the Ohio Division of Wildlife, the Wildlife Diversity Conference brings together not only a diversity of natural history topics that are presented by leading experts, but the event attracts a great blend of people who share an interest in the natural world. The array of vendors and displays is staggering, and worth the price of admission alone. You'll depart with a bagful of cool free swag.
The conference always has a theme, and this year it is "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" (with apologies to Senor Eastwood). Subjects this year include freshwater mussels, earthworms, the results of a landmark two-year Lake Erie aerial waterbird survey, crayfish, wetland restoration, and …

Northern Gannet

 Photo: Dane Adams
One of the birds that I saw on my recent trip to New Jersey's Barnegat Light was the Northern Gannet, Morus bassanus. These giant boobies were regularly flying by and hunting some distance offshore, but none came close enough for my somewhat meager 300 mm lens.

Dane Adams, whose beautiful photos have graced this blog on numerous occasions, happened to be at a coastal Florida locale about the same time that I was in NJ. He too was intrigued by these massive seabirds and as you can see, managed some fabulous shots.

Photo: Dane Adams
An adult gannet is a thing of beauty; a massive white beast with wings dipped in black ink and a head of peachy-brown. While they appear lumbering and ungainly when perched, once airborn the gannet transforms to an aeronautical marvel. The birds in Dane's photos are at least five years old. Youngsters are completely clad in dark chocolate-brown spangled with flecks of white; it takes them from four to five years to complete cast off…

Edward G. Voss, 1929 - 2012

Ed Voss, left, receives a much-deserved honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Denison University, in 2003.

The botany world lost one of its brightest minds today with the passing of Edward G. Voss. Ed was known far and wide, throughout North America and beyond, due to his prolific accomplishments and long history of activity in the botany world.

Voss was born in Delaware, Ohio and went on to earn his bachelor's degree in biology from Denison in 1950, then he was off to the University of Michigan where he obtained his masters one year later, and then his Ph.D in botany in 1954. Ed never left the U of M, formally joining its staff in 1956, and remaining until his retirement in 1996. Even after that, he maintained an office in the University's herbarium and remained active and engaged.

Like all great botanists, Ed was a consummate field man and spent 35 summers teaching students about plants at the University of Michigan's Pellston Field Station in northern Michigan. Scores…

Barnegat Light, New Jersey

The legendary lighthouse that gives Barnegat Light, New Jersey its name. This special place on the Mid-Atlantic coast is an outstanding birding hotspot. Barnegat is especially well known for its wintering population of Harlequin Ducks, featured in the previous post.

Last Saturday, February 4th, 2012, I met up with fellow blogger Amy Gaberlein of Cape May, New Jersey - a fairly well known spot two hours downcoast - and spent a few hours walking the breakwall at Barnegat. Following is a briefly captioned pictorial stroll featuring some of the fascinating birds that one can expect to see.

One must watch their footing when walking the breakwall. A misstep could leave a careless birder wedged tightly in a fissure. It has happened before. The lighthouse, way off yonder, is the starting point of this trek. At this point I am near the small signal tower at the end of the wall. I spent a long time perched at the very end of this rocky wall, taking in the sights and sounds of the sea. I could ha…