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Showing posts from March, 2012


Shawnee State Forest, photo taken from the summit of the Copperhead Lookout Fire Tower, last Sunday.

If you've tagged along with this blog much, or for very long, you'll likely have noticed that I spend a fair bit of time in southern Ohio's Shawnee State Forest. There's a good reason that I'm drawn to the area. Shawnee harbors some of the richest biodiversity to be found anywhere in the Midwest, and roaming its 65,000 acres is always rewarding. Add in the sprawling Edge of Appalachia preserve and its 15,000 acres - a stone's throw to the west - and we've got a massive wilderness full of diverse flora and fauna.

I will heartily recommend a great way to learn about this region, whether you are a first timer or have made many visits: Flora-Quest. Now in its sixth year, "F-Q" takes place from May 4th thru 6th, and is centered at the wonderful Shawnee Lodge and Conference Center smack in the middle of the forest.

Redbud, Cercis canadensis. A common tree…

Black racer!

Photo: John Howard
A black racer, Coluber constrictor, rears up to investigate the photographer. While exploring remote roads in Shawnee State Forest last Sunday, I was cruising down a lane when, out of the corner of my eye, I spied a serpentine shape rise from the roadside grass. Racer! I whacked the brakes and tossed the car to the roadside. Leaping from the vehicle, I ran back to the spot where I had seen the snake. There was no longer a snake in the grass, but I quickly heard a rustling of leaves on the steep wooded slope on the other side of the road. Somehow that racer had shot across the road and twenty feet up the hill in a matter of seconds.

Such speed isn't that surprising if you're familiar with these scaley beasts. None of our snakes move with such rapidity, and a racer at full slither is an impressive sight. I shot up the hill after the snake, in the hopes of getting photos. It was an impressive specimen; certainly over four feet in length. The snake was well awar…

Hummingbird progress

I saw an email today from Bill Hilton in South Carolina, reporting his first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the year from Hilton Pond. This bird was one day later than Bill's earliest record, and pretty much right on schedule for that part of the country. Bill, by the way, is one of the country's premier hummingbird researchers, and you should check out his wonderful website HERE.

This prompted me to check the eBird data chest to see their map of the hummers' northward progression.

Here it is, showing hummingbirds starting to penetrate to the latitude of Tennessee, with one southern Indiana record. Still a ways from Ohio, although we did have one credible report from an experienced observer a few days ago. Insofar as I am aware, that would best the previous early Ohio record by over two weeks. I do think hummers may appear here a bit earlier than normal, and we should start to see some more reports within ten days or so.

You may recall that I recently blogged about a site tha…

Great Blue Heron nesting colony

Great Blue Heron rookery, southern Delaware County, Ohio. I made this image on March 20, 2011.

Doral Chenoweth, photographer/videographer with the Columbus Dispatch, made a neat little video of the Great Blue Heron nesting colony pictured above. He tapped your blogger for the voice-over, and did a great job of assembling the piece. CLICK HERE to watch the vid.

This rookery is easily seen from Taggart Road on the east side of the Olentangy River, just south of Hyatts Road, in Delaware County.

The weed everyone's asking about

Four times in the last week, people have asked me to identify a particular weed. By the third time, I knew the answer before seeing the plant. So, I figured I would share the plant here, because there are certainly others who are wondering about this little botanical invader and maybe this post will help.

When today's email, with photos, came in, I decided I had better make a few images of the offending plant of my own. So I waltzed on out the door of my office building and into this slightly weedy flowerbed twenty feet away.

Within seconds, I had found examples of the weed du jour: hairy bittercress, Cardamine hirsuta. It's not a big thing - the little basal rosette of leaves isn't even as big around as your palm, and the flowering stems only rise six inches or so. While not on the size scale of kudzu or bush honeysuckle, hairy bittercress can be prolific and sometimes dominates yards and gardens. Thus, it becomes offensive to those who wish a manicured landscape.

Hairy bit…

Amphibians on the march

Last night was plenty warm and lots of wet, so I headed over to a favorite amphibian hotspot not far west of Columbus. Lots of animals were on the prowl, moving overland to breeding pools. In just two hours, and covering only a short stretch of road, I saw scores of frogs and toads, and a surprising number of Ambystoma salamanders. Sorry for the smudgy spots on some photos - they're caused by rain drops on my lens. Try as I might, it was impossible to keep the camera totally dry. It was truly a dark and stormy night, after all.
A male spring peeper, Pseudacris crucifer, makes himself known. Scores of the quarter-sized amphibious blowhards were singing in this vernal pool, and the shrill high-pitched peeps are nearly ear-splitting when one is up close and personal. From my experience, the best way to study frogs is to get in the pools with them at night when they are vocalizing.

A young American bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus, hops his way across the road. On a good migratory nigh…

Hummingbirds: early to return, or not?

A gorgeous male Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Archilochus colubris, held by Bill Hilton. Bill caught this bird on April 28, 2010 in West Virginia at a banding demonstration for attendees of the New River Birding & Nature Festival. Its arrival in West Virginia was right on schedule. Male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds show up in this region around mid to late April, preceding the arrival of the females by eight days or so.

A friend forwarded me this map today, from the website Judging by all of the records on this map, there are plenty of contributors providing their hummingbird sightings, and the map purports to show the phenology, or timing, of hummingbird migration as the birds move north in their seasonal occupation of eastern North America.

But WAIT! I know it’s been an exceptionally warm spring, and some flora and fauna are well advanced beyond what would be the case in a “normal” year, but WOW! The map shows hummingbirds as far north as central New York, Mi…

A wildflower montage

Last Saturday, I made an extended foray into the depths of Adams County in southernmost Ohio. My primary mission: wildflowers. As the days become longer, the increasing sunlight gradually warms the woodland soil until a critical mass is reached. When the humus reaches a suitable temperature, the woodland wildflowers begin their eruption. For many, me possibly included, the explosion of a staggering diversity of spring wildflowers marks one of the great passages of the seasons. It is a spectacle not to be missed.
Spring has indisputably sprung early this year, and I was astonished by the numbers and variety of plants that were already in full bloom. Following are some of the botanical objets de' art.
A woody harbinger of spring, the pale lemony blossoms of spicebush, Lindera benzoin, were out in profusion. Later, after leafout, beautiful spicebush swallowtail butterflies will deposit tiny jeweled eggs on their namesake plant's' foliage, which in  turn will hatch curious snake…

Pink grasshopper update

Back on March 12, I reported on a peculiar pink grasshopper found by Kristen Lauer. See that post HERE. From Kristen's photos, it appeared that the animal was a first stage instar; the earliest phase of growth. Grasshoppers, depending upon the species, apparently have between four and six instars, or growth stages. Their development is a simple metamorphosis - the young insects look essentially just like the adults, only smaller, and the wings are not fully developed. With each molt, the young grasshopper becomes larger and more developed.
Anyway, I encouraged Kristen to keep the animal and stoke its appetite with iceberg lettuce or other tasty fare. She's done an admirable job of raising the little pink hopper, and sent along the following photos today.
Photo: Kristen Lauer
As we can see, the insect has retained its pinkness following its first molt in captivity. It is now a bit bigger, wings are more fully developed, and it may even be a shade pinker.
My original post stimulated…

Golden Eagle attempts to whack Wild Turkey!

Of the estimated 20,000 or so Golden Eagles breeding in North America, only a small number occur in the east. Tennessee and a few other states, I believe, have attempted hacking eagles into seemingly suitable mountain habitats, with unknown results. Whether reintroduction programs have helped or not, it does seem that the breeding population of Golden Eagles in eastern mountain states is increasing.

Researchers in Tennessee have been studying eagles in the Volunteer State, and one of their strategies is to place trail cams near deer carcasses, the camera's unblinking eye trained on the carrion. Occasionally the cams produce spectacular results, as when a juvenile Golden Eagle attempted to take out a Wild Turkey:

That is one lucky turkey, and she may have set a world record land speed for the species in fleeing the eagle. To read the article about the resurgence of Golden Eagles in Tennessee, CLICK HERE.

They're watching

Yesterday was an absolutely delightful early spring day. Almost summery, really, with temperatures hitting 75 degrees in the southernmost reaches of Ohio. And that's where I went, hopping in the car at Oh-dark-30 and making the two hour drive to Adams and Scioto counties. These two counties harbor some of the greatest botanical diversity to be found north of the Ohio River, and with the unnaturally balmy weather of late, plants have been in eruption mode.
I spent about nine hours in the field, and located scores of wildflowers, including some of our rarest species. My camera's clicker was busy recording nearly 1,000 images, some of which were keepers. I'll share some of those later.
It seems that most of my field work anymore is in the company of others, which I greatly enjoy. I learn a lot from being with people who know more than I do, and getting another's perspective is always enriching. But I still love solo days, such as yesterday. Without any sort of distraction, …