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Showing posts from March, 2013

Finally, up comes the flora

Yesterday dawned bright and clear, with temperatures soaring into the low 60's. After this interminably long winter, with well below average temperatures and above average snowfall, it was quite nice to finally see the first botanical sparks of spring popping to life. So it was a treat to connect with John Howard, Susan Nash, and Daniel Boone and go exploring some of Adams County's best habitats, such as this prairie opening.

Daniel Boone poses by a White Cedar, Thuja occidentalis, that is probably far older than its size would suggest. Growth comes slow in a rocky opening such as this, and the tree is probably in excess of a century in age. Hard to see in the photo, but Dan's left hand touches a small Dwarf Hackberry, Celtis tenuifolia - just one of many rare plants that occur in habitats such as this.

Until this trip, I had seen only a handful of "wildflowers" in bloom in my tundra-like neck of the woods, and nearly all of those were weedy nonnatives. That cha…

A snow white Turkey Vulture!

Photo: Kathi Groves
Imagine peering up into the clear blue ether, and seeing this giant white bird wafting over. You'd do a double take, and a birder would slam on the brakes and hop out for a better look. That's what Kathi Groves did yesterday as she cruised up Frederick Pike in Montgomery County, just north of Interstate 70 near Dayton.

Fortunately, she had a camera handy and the presence of mind to snap a few photos. Bev & Ed Neubauer suggested that she send them along to me, and I'm glad that Kathi did because now I can share them with you.

Photo: Kathi Groves
The Turkey Vultures are in full migration mode right now, and it's commonplace to see them drifting high overhead. But most of these dark undertakers of the bird world don't look anything like this! Kathi's vulture is leucistic, and highly so. This genetic anomaly causes melanins, or dark pigments, to be washed out and pale. Most typically leucism manifests itself in a "piebald" pattern -…

Ohio Botanical Symposium approaches!

A whole lotta plugs for various events on this here blog of late, I know. But late winter and early spring have become conference season in Ohio, it seems, and many of these events are well worth a pitch. The Ohio Botanical Symposium is one of them. This will be the 13th year for the symposium, and it's grown like a weed. Your narrator pitched the idea for the symposium back in 1999, when I worked as a botanist for the ODNR's Division of Natural Areas. We started small - about 35 people in a classroom at the Ohio State University. The last go-round saw about 450 people, and the symposium has long since moved to much plusher digs. So mark your calendar for Friday, April 5th, and check in HERE to register. The venue is the beautiful Villa Milano in Columbus. Following is a summary of the agenda, spiced with a few showy photos. It's a great slate of speakers and topics, any one of which is worth the price of admission. Rob Naczi will be in the house and delivering the keynot…

Feral cats and birds: the "debate" can be brutal

The issue of feral cats - house cats gone wild - has simmered for years. Occasional events trigger seismic eruptions in the "debate" between the pro-cat and anti-cat camps. In fairness, it should be noted that many of the so-called "anti-catters" are certainly not anti-cat. Many are like myself - I own three cats, all of which needed homes, and I have been smitten with felines since I was a tot. And mine DO NOT go outdoors. But I, like scores of others who might be labeled "anti-cat", recognize the massive problems caused by ferals. Conversely, many of the pro-catters also see the need to reduce the populations of cats gone wild, recognizing the damage that they do to native populations of birds and other animals. Many of us would like to see humane and sensible solutions adopted to reduce the millions of feral cats in this country.

The latest major flare-up in the cat wars occurred recently, when longtime writer and conservationist Ted Williams penned an…

Gray Squirrels also come in black

Back on March 8, I found myself at Tom Ruggles' place in Zanesville, attempting to observe and photograph Jeffrey, his spectacular yellow Northern Cardinal. You can see photos and read about this amazing bird HERE. As is often the case while watching feeders, we were routinely distracted by marauding squirrels. On this day, however, we found ourselves rather charmed by their antics, and I was thoroughly smitten by certain of these bushy-tailed rodents. We noticed this pair of Gray Squirrels, Sciurus carolinensis, way out in the back part of the lot. I'm assuming this is an amorous pair filled with the seasonal lust of spring. They remained 20 feet up this tree, nearly nose to nose, for quite some time. A lesser male, presumably, watches wistfully from the tree to the left.

After a bit, the two squirrels sidled up side by side, possibly communicating telepathically (for all I know). They also remained like this for some time. Assuming the male was charming enough, the end resu…

Mothapalooza updates!

Mothapalooza is a field trip-based celebration of moths the likes of which the world has never seen! Well, I don't really know if that's a fact, but it is going to be an awesome extravaganza, of that I can assure you. We entered into the hatching and planning of this event with a slight bit of trepidation, not absolutely knowing if there would be enough moth enthusiasts to draw much of a crowd. Our fears have already been largely allayed. Even though Mothapalooza doesn't take place until the distant weekend of June 14-16, 70 people have already signed on. We can only accommodate about 120 folks, so register soon. Obviously, moths will be a huge part of the aptly named Mothapalooza, but there's more, much more. The conference is based at the lodge in Shawnee State Park, which is surrounded by 60,000+ acres of state forest. A crow's caw to the west is the 15,000 acre Edge of Appalachia Preserve. We'll be exploring throughout this incredibly rich region, which is …

Salamanders sluggish this spring

A gorgeous vernal pool at Stratford Ecological Center in Delaware County, Ohio stands ready to receive its annual deposit of salamanders. But the salamanders have been slow to come. I was at this pool last night, hoping to see a barrage of amphibians trucking through the woods and into the pool's placid waters, but the invasion never materialized. As was the case the only other time I've been out salamandering this spring, the evening started off looking good: decently warm, and plenty wet. But come nightfall, temperatures rapidly plummeted and before long had dipped to the low 40's. That's a bit chilly even for hardy hypothermia-defying salamanders.

I carefully slogged around the pool's margins, and saw no spermatophores (the male salamander's sperm packets), or egg masses. There were probably were some, but nothing like there should be had the salamanders arrived in full force. I think they'll get to the vernal pools eventually, but this spring's cra…

Ruffed Grouse, strutting his stuff!

The following photos and video come courtesy of John Howard. John lives in southern Ohio's Adams County, and is a naturalist's naturalist. Many of the interesting finds and stories that I have shared on this blog from that part of the world, and there have been many, have been in the company of John. He's shown me many a new plant and animal over the years. Anyway, the other day John was out and about in the backwoods of Adams County when he happened onto a Ruffed Grouse, Bonasa umbellus. Grouse have declined markedly in much of Ohio, but in some areas of Adams County and neighboring Scioto County, they can still be locally common. Starting about now, one often hears the deep hollow drumming made by displaying males rapidly beating their wings. This sound starts slowly and accelerates, and always reminds me of a lawn mower being fired up. However, male grouse do much more than drum when the testosterone gets flowing, as we shall see.
Photo: John Howard
A Ruffed Grouse in t…

Birding Optics & Gear Expo: March 23 & 24

Be there or be square! The first ever Birding Optics & Gear Expo takes place Saturday and Sunday, March 23 and 24 right smack in the middle of Ohio, in Columbus. The experts at Bird Watcher's Digest are behind this, so you know it'll be good. These are the people who orchestrate America's best birding event, the Midwest Birding Symposium, after all!

All of the big optics companies will be on hand: Leica, Zeiss, Swarovski, Vortex, Celestron, and more. I am especially pleased that Midwest Photo Exchange will be in the house. They've got the coolest camera shop around, and that's where I get all of my photographic gear. They are a treasure trove of everything photographic, and the employees know everything there is to know, it seems, about photography.

Photo courtesy
The venue is the sleek and slick Grange Insurance Audubon Center, just south of downtown Columbus. It's worth the trip just to see this place!

"Test driving" optics before …

Bobcat versus Raccoons, with bonus Gray Fox in catnip

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - the Hughes are trail cam masters, and they're doing amazing things with their candid cameras. If you've checked this blog with any frequency, you've probably seen some of the fabulous cam work by Laura and David, which they've been kind enough to allow me to share. Some recent examples are HERE, and HERE.
Laura just sent along their latest film-making endeavors, which feature a Mexican standoff between a tough Bobcat and two marauding Raccoons. It's pretty cool stuff, and she upped the ante by tossing in a neat video of a Gray Fox tumbling around in some fresh catnip.
I'm always flabbergasted by the amazing critters that the Hughes manage to find via their cams. This isn't luck - they know animal signs, and place the cameras in the right places. And remote and sparsely populated Monroe County, where they make these vids, abounds with wildlife. Of course, a little bait doesn't hurt, either. I've g…