Thursday, May 31, 2012
I spent some time yesterday meeting with Dave Horn, who is an entomologist and expert on moths. We're working on a project involving moths, and the resulting publication should be pretty cool. As an offshoot of the meeting, I learned a ton of new info about moths from Dave.
Dennis Profant for giving me the correct ID of this little beauty - it is snout moth, and most likely Hypena palparia - not a horrid zale, as I thought.
I had a stack of "mystery moth" photos that I've taken over the years, and Dave was able to quickly pin names on nearly all of them. I enjoy the process of running down identifications of unknown organisms, but it is a lot faster and easier to trip the camera's shutter at a much speedier clip than one can sit down and try to identify everything. Thus, the mysteries can accumulate.
Moths are very cool, and I've found myself becoming increasingly interested in them. These largely nocturnal fliers become quite addictive, actually, once one begins to really investigate them.
Villa Nova in Worthington, Ohio, with several colleagues from work. The restaurant's front wall, right behind the sign post, became a place of great interest for our party upon exiting the joint.
Or those colors may be there for some entirely different reason.
After the photo session, the leopard moth was placed in a good hiding spot among the vegetation, in a spot vastly preferable to the Villa Nova's stark wall.
The caterpillars are polyphagous, which means they'll eat a great variety of different plant species. They've been recorded dining on everything from sunflowers to maples to violets to willows. As so many of its host plants are widespread and abundant, it means that you might luck into one a giant leopard moth nearly anywhere - even on the wall of your favorite Italian restaurant.
One of the highlights of exploring Presque Isle County, Michigan, where I do my now annual NettieBay field expeditions, is the sparrow diversity. Sparrows all too often get short shrift, and are sometimes bemoaned as "LBJ's" (little brown jobs) that are tough to identify. They're really not great identification challenges, though, and under careful inspection all of them are quite showy in an understated way. Sparrows also don't generally get their due when it comes to the big picture ecological services that they provide.
We had a total of 12 species of sparrows in Presque Isle County this time around, and I managed photos of a few species.
ASIDE: I once read where some time management expert said a person should only spend an hour a day dealing with personal email. I wish. After ten days away, and almost no dealing with such correspondence, I returned to a boatload of messages. If you read this, and sent me something, and I haven't responded, sorry. I'll do my best to to reply, eventually.
The Savannah Sparrow is named for the city in Georgia where the type (first) specimen was taken. But the species has an enormous distribution, occurring over nearly the entire North American continent. Something like 17 subspecies are currently recognized, and proposals have been made to split a few of the "groups" into separate species. While Savannah Sparrows are not long distance migrants, migrate they do and in big numbers. I was once with some banders that caught something like 80 of them in a small Ohio wetland in October, in one morning.
Note the dominant grassy-looking vegetation that extends nearly from the water's edge to the gravelly dune at the right edge of the photo. It's an interesting plant species, and factors into the important role that Savannah Sparrows play ecologically. That swath of lakefront land between the water and the dune is a brutal place to grow. Ferocious storms crop up along the Great Lakes with regularity, and storm-driven waves batter the lakeshore. Most plants cannot deal with such an environment.
Foraging Savannah Sparrows in migration undoubtedly consume the fruit of Garber's sedge and other plants that occur along shorelines. The actual seed of a sedge is termed an achene, and they are hard and bony, and concealed within that fleshy-looking fruit. Perfect for surviving the ride through a sparrow's digestive tract, and many of the achenes no doubt eventually emerge intact from the sparrow's posterior end and often probably far distances from where the bird ate the fruit.
Over the LONG haul, which is how we really ought to look at nature and the environment, sparrows such as the Savannah play a major role in the dispersal of plants. Certain plants, such as the Garber's sedge, are probably intimately linked to certain birds such as the Savannah Sparrow and depend upon these feathered couriers to transport their seeds to new sites, thus starting new plant colonies.
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
If you live in Ohio, and are a birder, you undoubtedly know all about the Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas II. For six years, ending last season, the Atlas organizers toiled to see that every nook and cranny of the Buckeye State was thoroughly canvassed for nesting birds. Many of the readers of this blog have contributed data towards this effort, yours truly included.
Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas II was preceded by the inaugural statewide census, which collected data from 1982-87. That initial effort makes Atlas II all the more important, as we have a three decade old benchmark to compare the current state of affairs. Of course, distilling and publishing the vast reams of data generated by Atlas II requires publication of a book, and I know it'll be cool. But books, they are not inexpensive to make...
That's where your help can work wonders. Buy a bird! The atlas chieftains have cooked up a great scheme to help raise the necessary funds to publish a richly detailed chronicle of the breeding birds of the great state of Ohio.
Prairie Warbler. Opening bids start at $50.00 - chump change for the good that your financial support will do. By successfully bidding on a species, your name will be linked with that species as a sponsor, and perhaps more importantly you'll be helping to enable publication of the Atlas book. Throw down on this Prairie Warbler RIGHT HERE!
Summer Tanager has sparked a minor bidding war. Four bidders have run its price up to $250.00, thus far. One up all of them - do I hear $300.00?
Savannah Sparrow. I changed that - it's mine so far, with an opener of $50.00. Hey, take me out if you can! I've got a bid in on another species, but I'm not saying which. One bidding war is enough. Of course, you may see my other bird should you scroll through the species, as bidders and their bid are listed.
Monday, May 28, 2012
Everyone loves a warbler. These colorful sprites are, to many, the avian highlight of spring. I am not impervious to their charms, and one of the great things about visiting northern Michigan's Presque Isle County is the numbers and diversity of warblers. During the nine days I was there, my groups and I tallied 25 species, nearly all of them breeders.
Following are a few shots that I managed to click off, all with my new Nikon Coolpix P5100. When leading groups or otherwise engaged, I like having a higher end "bridge" point and shoot around my neck. Toting the SLR and its accouterments just isn't practical in such situations. The P5100, by the way, is AWESOME! It has an incredible 42x zoom that actually holds up well at its higher ranges, and the camera does well with macro, landscapes, and video. Hard to beat if you're looking for a versatile non-SLR camera (no connections with Nikon, me!).
The classic Chestnut-sided Warbler song ends with an emphatic "swee-swee-CHU!" Such typical songs are easily recognized, but these warblers also deliver soft jumbled whisper songs that can be impossible to separate from alternate Yellow Warbler songs.
We had an interesting experience with this bird. It was singing and foraging near our group, allowing for great looks and we were enjoying the opportunity to admire the bird at close range. Suddenly it came down low into the boughs of a spruce - 15 feet from the group - and settled in for a nap. For at least five minutes it remained stone still, and shuttered its eyes. When nap time was done, it shook itself awake and resumed activities.
Although sometimes termed jack pine "barrens", these forests are anything but stark. The botanical diversity in the herbaceous layer is great, and includes many interesting plants. The plant diversity, in turn, spawns scores of insects, which become bird food. Other avian species that share the Kirtland's jack pine habitat include Clay-colored and Vesper sparrows; Hermit Thrush; Upland Sandpiper; Nashville Warbler; Brown Thrasher; and others. I was pleased to find a territorial Palm Warbler in the habitat in the photo above. This species is expanding its range into stunted jack pine forests in the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan.
Magee Marsh Wildlife Area a week or so ago. I've seen this photo several places, and apologize for not being sure of who the photographer is, although I think it may be Gunnar Engblom. Hopefully Gunnar - or whoever took it - will not mind me sharing it here.
There are only 3,600 or so Kirtland's Warblers on earth, and their charisma is evident by this photo. It's as if the bird was a powerful magnet and all of these people had iron in their binoculars. In spite of the horde, the Kirtland's Warbler probably wasn't intimidated in the least, as they are by nature tame and confiding. I'm sure many birders got their life Kirtland's Warbler here, and I'm glad for that.
Still, I'd much rather savor the birds in the lonely jack pines, with no one else around.
Sunday, May 27, 2012
It turned out to be a northeastern pine sawyer, Monochamus notatus, which is a wood-borer that specializes in conifers. While this insect can be very common, one doesn't often see them, or at least I don't. So, we took the opportunity to make some photos.
Saturday, May 26, 2012
Finally, after nine days on the road, I find myself back in Ohio. The time away was well spent; I was exploring what may be the most beautiful and most biodiverse county in Michigan's lower peninsula, Presque Isle. Following are a few pictorial highlights.
This was the third year that I've led birding/botany/natural history forays in Presque Isle County, and I've learned many of its interesting nooks and crannies along the way. Our adventures are based out of NettieBay Lodge, and we'll be doing it again in May 2013. If you're interested, send Jackie a note at NettieBay, or ring her up at 989-734-4688.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
We've been exploring far and wide in the incredibly diverse habitats found within Presque Isle County. This may be the most varied of lower peninsula counties - it has it all. Beaches, alvars, and fens along the Lake Huron coast; cold spruce bogs; dry jack pine forests; cedar swamps; marshes and much more.
The slippers in this photo are especially noteworthy as they are two "doubles" growing side by side. Most yellow lady's-slippers sport but a single blossom; every now and then one is found with two flowers. I don't think I've ever run across two side by side doubles, and needless to say, many photos of this photogenic pair were made.