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Showing posts from May, 2013

Pogacnik discovers long lost orchid!

Photo: Gary Meszaros
The beautiful image above, made by Gary Meszaros, is of a place known as Morgan Swamp and was featured in the book that Gary and I collaborated on: Wild Ohio: The Best of Our Natural Heritage. That photo-filled volume covers 40 of Ohio's wildest areas, and Morgan Swamp was a no-brainer for inclusion. Located in the wildlands of Ashtabula County in northeastern Ohio, Morgan Swamp is large and difficult to access potpourri of beaver swamps, alder thickets, and various types of woodland.

Here's a quote from my text: "Morgan Swamp is for the intrepid. The vast, flat terrain pocked with soupy wetlands and tangled vegetation doesn't lend itself to easy navigation, and a compass is required. The effort pays off, though - rare plants hard to find elsewhere in Ohio grow on elevated hummocks and in boggy quagmires. At least 15 state-listed plants have so far been found, and other discoveries await".

Photo: John Pogacnik
The spindly stalks of an …

Depth of field

I don't claim to be a professional photographer, but the photo bug has hit me pretty hard over the past half-dozen years. I've pulled the trigger enough times, with enough cameras, on enough different subjects, and in enough conditions, to learn a few things. One of which is you'll almost always shortchange yourself and under-utilize your camera if you just leave it on full auto mode. At the upcoming Mothapalooza event, John Howard - an absolutely topflight photographer - and I are going to teach a photography seminar. That one will focus on moths, especially, and the use of flash, obviously. Much to the incredulity of all involved in the planning, Mothapalooza is SOLD OUT! 120 people coming to Ohio's Shawnee State Forest for a weekend of learning about and finding moths! Who'd a thunk it? I'll also be conducting another photo seminar, this one more focused on plants, at this July's Midwest Native Plant Conference in Dayton. That event, too, is rapidly fil…

Chickadees nest in drinking fountain

Ah! Here we have the perfect antidote to the creature in the previous post, at least for some of you. While the aforementioned hognosed snake is utterly (and inexplicably) terrifying for some, the following animals strike fear into the hearts of exactly NO ONE. While making a brief stop at a state park on one of my recent NettieBay Lodge trips in northern Michigan, we noticed a pair of Black-capped Chickadees making a nest in an odd place. The wooden post that supports this drinking fountain had a nice round hole just opposite the spigot, and the chickadees were industriously laboring to perfect the hole.

Tame and confiding, as chickadees usually are, I warranted only a brief over-the-shoulder glance. The birds paid our group no mind, and many a photo was taken.

The architectural dimensions of the drinking fountain hole were not acceptable to the birds, and they busily chipped away at the wood to bring the potential home up to spec.

I don't know why the hole was there in the firs…

Cool encounter with an Eastern Hognosed Snake

Yes, this post is about a snake. Time to click on through if you are an ophidiophobe. But remember, the following is just pictures and words. And the protagonist of this tale is utterly harmless, and one of our most interesting reptiles. But if even photos of snakes are too much, exit stage right. A short while ago, I posted about a young Eastern Hognosed Snake, Heterodon platirhinos, from Adams County, Ohio, RIGHT HERE. While that animal was beautifully colored and a handsome beast indeed, it had already been handled and had settled down nicely. The snake that follows was much larger, and put on a heckuva act. Believe it or not, this sandy lane serves as a "major" east-west artery in western Presque Isle County, Michigan. I was traversing it on my first day up in Michigan en route to my birds (and nearly everything else) workshop at NettieBay Lodge. I've had many interesting birds along this route before, such as the hybrid Brewster's Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Gol…

Canada Fly Honeysuckle

I'm back from ten days in northern Michigan's Presque Isle County, and wading through scores of photos. I was up there for the fourth year in a row, leading excursions in partnership with the NettieBay Lodge. Between the two groups (I get a day of rest between), a total of 17 people were along and we saw lots of stuff. Birds are a priority, and we did well, mustering a total of 160 species. Notably, one-quarter of that total was sparrows (13 species) and warblers (27 species). But there is plenty of nonbird stuff to see: Porcupine, Eastern Hognosed Snake, Blanding's Turtle, Snowshoe Hare, and more. And I would not want to forget the plants. Presque Isle County is insanely diverse in habitats, and a botanical wonderland. Following is a cool plant of the North Woods, and a species that an Ohio botanist would be quite pleased to see in the Buckeye State. The low shrubs in the foreground are Canada Fly Honeysuckle, Lonicera canadensis, a plant of cool northern woods. It barel…

Bearberry, Iris, and Sedge

Presque Isle County, Michigan, where I've been for the past eight days, is full of botanical eye candy. It is a botanist's Eden. I've got a lot of photos of interesting plants, and will try to put a few of them on here in the coming days. Below is a trio of my favorites, for starters. Gorgeously blue and impossibly tiny, a pair of Dwarf Lake Iris, Iris lacustris, nestles in a bed of Bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, foliage. The iris is locally abundant along the Lake Huron shoreline, and the Bearberry is nearly everywhere up here. A few clusters of the urnlike Bearberry flowers lurk in the backdrop.

Possibly a plant that only a botanist would love, or at least admire, is this Chestnut Sedge, Carex castanea. Seen well, it is a handsome little plant, and is surrounded by eye-catching flora in the rocky ground in which it grows. The male, or staminate, flowers are at the plant's summit; the female flowers dangle on threadlike pedicels below. The entire affair is only …

Warbler mania along Lake Huron

A beautiful male Blackburnian Warbler works its way through a white cedar on the shore of Lake Huron in Presque Isle County, Michigan. Our group headed afield bright and early this morning to explore the shores of this beautiful Great Lake. In spite of fog and drizzle, coupled with temps in the low 50's, we found scores of birds. Things got hot and heavy at Thompson Harbor State Park, with two major movements of warblers. Lots of diversity and numbers, and after the second encounter with a large mixed flock, we didn't think things could get any better. They did.

Our group shelters under the eaves of a building at 40 Mile Point, north of Rogers City. We stopped here to eat lunch. Soon after spreading the food out on a picnic table and digging into the goodies, Deb Marsh exclaimed "Canada Warbler!". Glancing over at a lakeside shrub revealed the bird, and we abandoned our lunches to wander over for a better view. Upon rounding the corner of a building, we quickly saw …

Photographing loons

A post or so back, I shared some photos of Common Loons nesting in a beautiful lake in northern Michigan. That prompted some notes from persons interested in loons and their conservation, wondering about how the photos were obtained.

I don't blame them. One of the threats that loons face is encroachment by photographers trying to get as close as possible to frame-fill their point & shoot cameras, or whatever it is they're using. Here's how mine were obtained. The above photo was made with my 17 x 40 wide angle lens, mounted to my Canon 5D Mark III full frame SLR. In the photo the loon and her nest are visible as a white speck on the front of the island. We're using a silent electric trolling motor on the pontoon boat so as not to create disruptive noise.

Time for the Sigma 150 x 500 telephoto lens. Zoomed fully, the lens transforms that speck into an obvious loon. The late day sun, from behind, creates excellent light on the subject and nice crisp images. Later, u…

Snowshoe Hare!

A Snowshoe Hare, Lepus americanus, regards your narrator, possibly with a mix of curiosity and distrust. I encountered this bunny yesterday while exploring a remote area of the Lake Huron shoreline, in Michigan's Presque Isle County. I was by myself, and my primary goal was to photograph various boreal plants, and elfin butterflies. Thus, and perhaps foolishly, I had only the 100 mm macro lens bolted to the Canon - traveling light. So, when I rounded a corner and saw the hare far ahead, I thought my chances of photographing the animal were slim to none. One has to be within 20 feet or so to manage a workable image with that lens.

So, I did my best to commune with the rabbit. Telegraphing pleasant thoughts in its direction, I began indian-stepping his way: back corner of the heel down, then slowly lower the rest of the foot. Little to no footfall noise. I had about 100 feet to get within range. Remarkably, the bunny sat tight and allowed me to get within 20 feet.

Note its large ea…

Nettie Lake's loons

This is part of the viewscape from the cabin where I'm staying, at NettieBay Lodge. That tiny island in Lake Nettie - the house hasn't been used for some time - is smack in the midst of a large, beautiful glacial kettle lake. Most of our forays take us much further afield, but when in residence at the lodge there is plenty to see. Wilson's Snipe nest along the north end, and can be heard delivering their aerial coutship winnowing. Kingfishers, Spotted Sandpipers, Osprey, Bald Eagle and plenty of others are regular fixtures.

The undisputed avian rulers of Lake Nettie are the Common Loons. Look closely under the conifer on the left side of the island, and you'll see a loon on its nest. A pair has nested in that spot for decades, probably - as long as anyone can remember. It must be a great location, as each year's offspring (loons normally have two) make it to the flighted stage, and eventually migrate from the lake.

The Schulers, masters of NettieBay Lodge, take go…

Northern Michigan

A massive fen buffers a wild portion of the Lake Huron shoreline in Michigan's Presque Isle County. Once again, I am up in the northeast corner of the Lower Peninsula, in one of the state's most diverse counties and enjoying myself immensely. This is my fourth year up here, leading trips in collaboration with NettieBay Lodge.

Like everywhere else, spring is late to arrive, but that means that we've caught the peak of some early bloomers, such as this stunning Bird's-eye Primrose, Primula mistassinica. This diminutive wildflower grows in cold calcareous gravels of the Lake Huron shoreline, in association with other interesting flora.

The birds have been beyond fabulous, and I've seen nearly 140 species since my arrival last Wednesday. There'll be plenty more to come, too. Today, our group caught a fabulous group of migrant warblers; at one point six species shared the crown of a Red Pine, creating a scene right out of a plate from a field guide.

Above, one of L…

New River Birding & Nature Festival

Although it's now a few weeks past, I want to make one more pictorial post about the New River Birding & Nature Festival. I've been traveling down to lead trips and otherwise help out with this event for seven or eight years now, and it is an annual highlight. The festival is centered on the mighty New River, near the town of Fayetteville, West Virginia. This area is one of the most scenic places in North America. It is also a treasure trove of biodiversity, including "special" birds such as Cerulean Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Swainson's Warbler, and a bit to the south and high in the mountains, breeding Red Crossbills. The boys - and girl - haven't yet posted the dates of next year's festival, but it'll be at the tail end of April, into early May. Check their website HERE. You'll get a flavor for the event, along with some photos. We'd love to see you there in 2014! The mill at Babcock State Park is picturesque indeed. Not only that…

A pictorial trip along the "Bird Trail"

A snippet of the parking lot at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, on the shores of western Lake Erie. This site is world famous among birders, and with good cause. It is a premier stopover area for scores of neotropical songbirds in migration. In the peak month of spring migration, something like 100,000 people will visit. I was there yesterday, and managed a few photos, which follow...

You can find nearly every state's license plate in the parking lots at some time or another. Including some good ones. "Twitcher" is a British term for one who chases birds.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife owns and manages Magee Marsh, and the mile long boardwalk and the 37-acre swamp woods through which it passes. This boardwalk has long been known as the "Bird Trail", even before there was a boardwalk.

The Division of Wildlife also owns the 2,200 surrounding acres, which holds one of the finest marshes on Lake Erie. The parking lots and beach were once a state park, called Crane Creek…