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Showing posts from September, 2012

OOS Annual Meeting

Yesterday morning's sunrise, as observed from the pier at Lakeside, Ohio. Lakeside was home base for the Ohio Ornithological Society's annual meeting, and I was part of the festivities. This was the 7th annual powwow if I've got things straight, and these "meetings" are always a great time. They're meetings only because the official vote on elected officers takes place, but that's a tiny part of the get-together.

The main focus of an OOS meeting is speakers, and field trips. Being along Lake Erie, as we were, shorebirds were the primary theme, but it could just have well been warblers. The songbirding probably eclipsed the shorebirding, but both were good. Our two keynote speakers were Mr. Shorebird himself, Kevin Karlson, and Lukas Padegimas, who gave a great presentation on his work with shorebirds in Alaska last year.

About 150 people convened for this year's meeting, and all of us went out in the field. Field trips have always been a staple of OO…

Meet the Cycnias

Spreading Dogbane, Apocynum androsaemifolium, easily the handsomest of the three dogbanes that occur in Ohio. It's rather local, but widespread, and prefers damp partially shaded sites.

The flowers of Spreading Dogbane are magnificent, at least by dogbane standards. The large whitish corollas are prominently striped with pink, with a prominent outward flare to the corolla lobes.

As with the other dogbanes - and their close allies the milkweeds - Spreading Dogbane has thick milky latex coursing through its veins. Tear a leaf and you'll spark a gusher of the stuff. This latex is fairly nasty, as it is rich in toxic cardiac glycosides. The goo is an effective anti-herbivore defense, and dogbane's chemical arsenal safeguards it from most leaf-noshing caterpillars.

Photo: Alison Hunter/Wiki Commons
But not all herbivores are repelled by dogbane toxins. If you ever encounter a pale brown caterpillar that looks like an escapee from a box of pipecleaners, and it's snacking on …

A very urban viceroy

This gorgeous and productive little wetland graces the grounds where my office building sits, and the elfin marsh spikes the biodiversity of our urban oasis in a major way. Our complex is located in a very urban area of Columbus, with little in the way of natural features close at hand. Thus, our big splotch of greenery serves as a bit of a trap for migrants, whether they be birds, butterflies, or other insects. The total bird list is nearly 140 species, and the wetland has lured such goodies as Black-crowned Night-Heron, Sora, Virginia Rail and much more.

Plenty of interesting animals breed on site as well, in part due to the botanical diversity. The wetland is hemmed in by a variety of wetland plants, including black willow, Salix nigra, sandbar willow, S. interior, and eastern cottonwoods, Populus deltoides. I single these three species out as they are germane to this story.

Every time I find myself walking by the wetland, I make a quick search of the willow foliage. My quest? The…

Tomato killer meets its match

Photo: Wikipedia Commons
Ah, the tomato. A much beloved fruit, although many enthusiasts of Lycopersicon esculentus might give it a second thought if they knew that it is spawn of the nightshade family (Solanaceae), which contains many very poisonous species. But there's obviously no issues with eating the ripe plump succulent fruit, or our world's population would not be what it is. You'll not want to graze on the foliage, however, as it contains small amounts of various toxins, true to the tomato's nightshade heritage.

There is one very prominent tomato foliage feeder, much to the dismay of hard-working tomato growers. It is the larva of one of our flashiest moths, the Carolina sphinx, Manduca sexta. Its caterpillars are also quite showy, although their good looks don't often win them a pass from peeved tomatoists. Nor from a very deadly parasitoid wasp.

One of my co-workers mentioned that she had plenty of tobacco hornworms noshing on her tomato crop, and that m…

Winter finch predictions!

The always eagerly anticipated Ron Pittaway report on the state of the boreal forest's various fruit crops, and his attendant predictions as to what might happen in regards to winter finch movements, arrived today. Ron is with the Ontario Field Naturalists, and he employs a small army of observers to provide him data on the cone and other fruit crops around eastern Canada. Many birders and biologists look forward to the annual Pittawayian Prognostications, as Ron is often pretty well spot on in foretelling the movements of boreal birds.

The forecast is promising. Ron believes that we'll see good southward flights of redpolls, Purple Finch, and as is already happening, Red Crossbill. Birders in Ohio will likely find themselves lurking around cemeteries with lots of mature conifers this winter. Who knows, we may even get a Bohemian Waxwing or Pine Grosbeak this winter.

MINOR GRIPE: The Pittaway forecast - and many other reporters - constantly refer to a lack of cone or other frui…

Canada goldenrod: harbinger of winter

Our most conspicuous member of the Asteraceae, bar none, is now thoroughly coloring the meadows golden. Canada goldenrod, Solidago canadensis, is sometimes maligned as a "weed", but only by those who don't know its charms. Or its ecological value. Few of our native plants produce the abundant contributions to the food web that this goldenrod does.

A classic fall scene in Ohio. Old fields gilded in yellow, punctuated with the white bursts of boneset and shocking bolts of purple courtesy of New England aster, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae. Insect enthusiasts know to enter the goldenrod fields and search the panicles of showy lemon blooms to find all manner of six-legged wonders. More importantly, myriad predators also hunt goldenrod patches, contributing to an ever upwards spiraling web of life.

One downside, at least for the winter-phobic, is that the golden fields of Solidago will soon give way to frosty nights and Old Man Winter. Goldenrods are the growing season's …

The transformation of an urban wasteland

The Grange Insurance Audubon Center, which smacks right up against downtown Columbus, Ohio, takes shape. I made this photo on December 3, 2008, when the center was under construction. It was officially dedicated on August 3, 2009 and is now a vibrant center that hosts lots of events and provides outreach within the urban core of Columbus.

I was there yesterday to present a program as part of a dragonfly workshop - just one example of the varied events that take place at GIAC.

This Google Earth map is a few years old, and shows some of the former uses of the Whittier Street Peninsula, where the GIAC is located. The big parking lots are part of the former City of Columbus Impoundment Facility; many an irate driver had to to make the pilgrimage here to retrieve a misparked vehicle. The impound lot is gone now, moved to a new locale on the south side. Franklin County Metro Parks owns and manages much of the peninsula as the Scioto Audubon Metro Park, and has made great strides in improvi…

Invasion of the Japanese burrowing cricket

A Japanese burrowing cricket, Velarifictorus micado, emerges from the plantain leaves long enough to allow your narrator a photo. The big field cricket-sized animals typically remain well hidden in mulch, cracks in the soil, or other nooks and crevices.

About three years ago, I began to hear an unfamiliar cricket here and there around my hometown of Columbus, Ohio. It didn't take too much sleuthing to determine that the singer was a nonnative Orthopteran - the Japanese burrowing cricket. Their deep rich (for a cricket) series of chirps are distinctive, and always given from the ground. This cricket is strictly terrestrial.

In the three or so years since first identifying this species, they've gone fairly haywire. I now hear Japanese burrowing crickets nearly everywhere I go, including places where I know they weren't present just a year or so ago. I think I heard my first one at the office complex where I work last year; now they are everywhere and I might hear a half-doz…

Making more music-makers

A Davis's tree cricket, Oecanthus exclamationis, in between fiddles. This little fellow is a contributor to the great musical backdrop of late summer and fall, courtesy of the Orthopteran symphony. Most tree crickets produce long droning trills, and as there are generally many of them in close proximity, tree crickets are major contributors to the sounds of the night.

The males are singing to attract mates, just as songbirds do. Tree crickets and other Orthopterans have their "ears" or hearing organs located just below the "knee" on the foreleg. This odd placement allows the ears to be about as far apart as possible, and that allows the animal to more accurately triangulate on sounds. And in the case of females, to better locate singing studs such as the guy above.

Ah! His melodious charms have worked! He's successfully wooed a mate, and she has joined him on the leaf. That's the female on top, which may seem to be an odd position. They are engaged in

Superfly, and an even cooler cat

Life has been especially busy of late, but I've been seeking interesting flora and fauna between speaking gigs, writing, and work with modest success. I love football, and like to catch as many Ohio State games as possible, which is maybe half of them if I'm lucky. Yesterday was one of those football Saturdays when I was in town, so I headed up to watch the game with my parents, at their wonderfully wildscaped home in Worthington.
At the half, I trotted out to the backyard, where interesting animals can nearly always be found. Fortunately, I had the Canon T3i in tow, as I spotted the following beast, straight out of BizzaroWorld.
A picture-winged fly, Delphinia picta, regards your narrator with its inscrutable visage. As I passed near the metal hull of the home's air conditioning unit, I noticed an oddly shaped small insect sitting on it, seemingly unconcerned about being exposed. My first impression, from afar, was of some sort of predator. It actually resembled a large …

Insect sings like a frog

An oblong-winged katydid, Amblycorypha oblongifolia, shouts his song to the night.

I was tasked with leading a nocturnal foray last Friday night in Ohio's northeasternmost county, Ashtabula. Insects, of course, were a dominant part of the evening's festivities. Many in the group were birders, and I always enjoy sharing the songs of insects with birdwatchers who may not be in tune with the Orthopteran symphony.

Most, or at least many, birders strive to improve their ability to recognize bird calls. It isn't always easy, depending upon the amount of tin in your ear, but the dividends of improved bird call recognition are enormous - you'll find WAY more birds. Come late summer, though, the level of songbird song drops way off. What's an aspiring song-learner to do, short of pulling out the tapes for practice?

Turn your ear to the bugs! The Orthopterans - crickets, coneheads, katydids and the like - start to come on strong about the same time that bird song falls off …

Ohio Sustainable Landscape Symposium

Ohio Sustainable Landscape Symposium
September 15, 2012 8:30am-4pm
The Dawes Arboretum, Licking County, Ohio

Learn about the benefits of native plants, their importance to the green industry, and practical approaches to sustainable landscaping. Discover new ways to integrate sustainable “green” ideas into widespread traditional practices. From the keynote address to the 20-minute talks to the garden tour, spend the day at this exciting symposium exploring a world of native plants that are both beautiful and ecologically important!

Featured speaker Allan M. Armitage is one of the world’s most distinguished horticulturists and a professor at the University of Georgia, Athens, where he conducts research on new garden plants and runs the university’s Horticulture Gardens. Charming and lively as well as highly knowledgeable, Dr. Armitage is in constant demand as a speaker and has lectured worldwide.

Hosted by The Dawes Arboretum, in partnership with Licking County Master Gardeners


Lights Out for Birds

Photo: Ohio Bird Conservation Initiative Indigo Bunting, tower-killed in downtown Columbus, Ohio
Turning out skyscraper lights saves migrating songbirdsColumbus Dispatch

Sunday September 2, 2012
Jim McCormac

More than 420 species of birds have been found in Ohio, but most aren’t permanent residents. More than 300 species show up annually; the rest are rarities with few recorded sightings. This core group of 315 or so species is of greatest conservation concern within Ohio. These are the species that breed here or depend on Ohio’s habitats as way stations on much longer journeys.
Our annual avian visitors include 125 species strictly passing through the Buckeye State. About 170 species nest here but spend the rest of the year elsewhere. By far the smallest core group of Ohio’s birds is the permanent residents. Only about 22 species are largely nonmigratory and with us year-round. This latter group includes familiar feeder birds such as the Carolina chickadee, downy woodpecker and wh…