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Showing posts from April, 2013

West Virginia birding

A stunning male Luna moth, Actias luna, rests on a wall near the New River in Fayetteville, West Virginia, early this morning.

I'm down here for the week, leading field trips for the New River Birding & Nature Festival, as I've done for about eight years running. It's a fabulous area, full of stunning scenery, fantastic birds, and all manner of interesting flora and fauna. Even though birds are the focus, it's hard for me to focus on them for photography, as I've generally got my hands full with other things.

We see a lot of birds, though. Today's foray, which traversed a gorgeous mountain and ended up along the wild Gauley River, netted our participants all kinds of feathered goodies. Worm-eating Warbler teed up and singing. A half-dozen Cerulean Warblers, most heard, one seen. A bunch of other warblers. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Scarlet Tanagers. Four species of hawks. Up close and personal with Yellow-throated Vireos. And much more.

The Mountaineer St…

Falcate Orangetip

Tearing goofily around the woods in pursuit of small butterflies hardly seems to be an activity befitting grown men. But sometimes I can't help myself, and succumb to the allure of charming little animals such as the Falcate Orangetip, Anthocharis midea.

There! See? An orangetip rests on the oak leaf litter, right in the middle of the photograph. Such a view is typical of this species. Sharp-eyed and leery, the orangetips are quick to take wing when approached, and in the blink of an eye will be hundreds of feet away.

Ah! We crop our way in to the little beast, and can now admire the fabulous coloration of this male. The orange-yellow wing tips are diagnostic - quite unlike any of our other butterflies. Falcate Orangetips are tiny little insects, noticeably smaller than the familiar Cabbage White of towns, gardens and nearly everywhere open. Unlike Cabbage Whites, the orangetips are very much butterflies of the forest, seldom straying far from the cover of timber. They fly but fo…

A few flowers of spring

I seldom ignore the wildflowers. They, in all of their colorful, ephemeral glory, usher in spring like no others. Following is a brief sampling of shots taken on recent expeditions. In the interest of time, or lack thereof, I shall just offer brief captions, and you may make what you will of them. An elfin hummock of Bluets, Houstonia caerulea, brightens a rough embankment.

A Sessile Trillium, Trillium sessile, ekes out space on a rich hillside carpeted with other wildflowers. This plant is sometimes known as "Toadshade".

The pale lavender blooms of Long-spurred Violets, Viola rostrata, are adorned with baseball bat-like extensions. Look for them along streams and lush wooded terraces.

A tsunami of Pussy-toes, Anennaria plantaginifolia, washes down a barren slope. Later, beautiful American Lady butterflies may lay their eggs on the foliage.

Without doubt, one of the showiest woodland wildflowers is the Greek Valerian, Polemonium reptans. This is the variety villosum, which …

A dash of newt, spotted in red

The tranquil, forest buffered waters of one of several small lakes within Shawnee State Forest. This lake, and the others, plays host to scores of one of our most interesting salamanders. I visited this site last Sunday with John Howard and Mary Ann Barnett and we, quite naturally, spent some time working with these animals, and documenting them on our pixel-making machines.

A Red-spotted Newt, Notophthalmus viridescens, poses nicely on a log (with a little direction from the paparazzi). This animal is probably at least three years old, and could be much older than that. Newts operate in quite the opposite way of most salamanders, which are strictly aquatic when immature, and become landlubbers when adulthood is attained.

In their juvenile stage, which can last several years, Red-spotted Newts look very different than this, and are known as Red Efts. You can see photos and read about efts RIGHT HERE. When the brightly colored eft matures and transforms to an adult newt, it slips into…

An amazing field of purple

Well, well - rejoice! Another "Earth Day" has fallen upon us like a crashing meteor of discarded plastics, and... Wait! I promise not to express cynicism about this day, and all of the environmental posturing that ensues, like I did HERE. Just remember, every day is Earth Day on this here blog! While traveling down U.S. Route 52 in southern Ohio during yesterday's epic field trip into the hill country, I was nearly struck dumb by a field of purple. I had to wheel the car around, and visit this spectacularly colorful meadow! It's not that the brightly hued plants were a mystery in need of solving - I knew their identity at 60 mph with a fraction of a glance.

Our botanical protagonist is the lovely Common Blue Violet, Viola sororia. This is the same species that comes up in your yard, too, although probably not in these numbers. The violet is more native here than you or I, and in this case is easily holding its own against the VERY nonnative turf grass. Go, violets!

Unpredictable April

A massive front rolls through, just after dawn this morning at Glacier Ridge Metropark in northwestern Franklin County, Ohio. It was a wintry mid-30's and light snow when I hopped in my car just before daybreak to go check a few local patches. The day broke blue and beautiful once the storm passed, but temps never rose above the mid-40's. Just a few days ago, temperatures were in the 70's and 80's. Such yo-yo weather is typical of Ohio in spring.

A bit of cold and snow didn't deter this freshly arrived House Wren. He probably just got in yesterday or the day before, and is busily proclaiming his turf. From here through May, almost every day will bring a new buffet of neotropical migrants, and migration will reach a crescendo in the first and second week of May. Dust off your binoculars, and get out there!

Mountain Chorus Frog

The timing of my trip into Shawnee State Forest last weekend was perfect for catching the short-lived eruption of breeding Mountain Chorus Frogs, Pseudacris brachyphona. This species is far more limited in its distribution in Ohio than is the more familiar Western Chorus Frog, P. triseriata, which occurs nearly statewide. The latter makes a characteristic grating rasp, often said to resemble the sound of a fingernail run down the teeth of a comb.

Mountain Chorus Frogs make more of a short bleating trill - faster and higher-pitched than the Westerns. They also occur in heavily wooded areas and are limited to the unglaciated hill country of southeastern Ohio. I've never heard Mountains and Westerns together, and doubt that their paths would typically cross given the differences in habitat.

The above photo shows a typical Mountain Chorus Frog breeding pond. These frogs are prone to selecting tiny ephemeral pools, often little more than water-filled tire ruts in some cases.

As I crui…

Eastern Red Bat!

An exceptionally serendipitous mammalian find came my way today, in an unlikely place. I had to visit the heart of the sprawling campus of Ohio State University, to speak to Angelika Nelson's ornithology class at Jennings Hall. That was fun, and I got to pontificate about wood-warblers - thanks for having me, Angelika! On the short walk back to the parking garage following the lecture, a very interesting animal turned up and caused an unexpected delay in my schedule. I had turned the corner behind Jennings Hall, and was walking towards the parking garage, when I spotted an out-of-place blotch on the building in the foreground. We're looking west down 12th Avenue, and that's part of the OSU medical complex on the left. The parking garage where my car was entombed was just down this street.

Anyway, look closely at the second whitish cement rectangle from the ground on the building in the foreground. To me, it stuck out like a sore thumb, and I knew what I was in for.

A bat!…

Encounter with a Black Widow!

Last Sunday, I headed off to Shawnee State Forest in southern Ohio to do some major exploring, and photography. This was a solo trip, which is a nice thing to do on occasion, as I can click off serious volleys with the camera without irking anyone. As always happens on such forays, I found plenty of interest - more material than I'll ever get around to blogging, probably. But there were a few serendipitous standout finds, and the one that follows was the King of Finds on this day. ALERT: This post does involve a spider, for you arachnophobes. But please, have no fear and read on anyway. Pictures don't bite, and this beast, beyond any shadow of a doubt, is one of the coolest looking spiders out there. The Jetta perches at the entrance to a closed forest road deep within Shawnee. Quick sidebar on the car. This is the second Volkswagen Jetta TDI that I've had, and I want to briefly trumpet the virtues of this vehicle, especially as I suspect many people who read this blog are…

An avalanche of wildflowers!

It's been a long cold winter, and I for one grew quite weary of snow and cold. But rest assured, spring has sprung and I have proof-positive photos. Last Sunday saw me in southernmost Ohio, along the Ohio River, where spring arrives considerably earlier than, say, Cleveland. Enjoy, and if you live in points north, take hope. Spring is rolling your way. Ohio's woodlands are increasingly blushed with green, causing some to remark on the embryonic leafout of certain trees as they cast an eye over forestscapes. At least as of yet, it isn't newly emergent leaves that are causing the flush of green - it's the collective flowers of blooming Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum. The individual flowers dangle on lengthy pedicels, as if attached to strings controlled by a marionette hidden in the buds.

This beautiful treelet is a sure sign of spring, and a welcome sight for sore eyes. Serviceberry, Amelanchier arborea, is just hitting its stride. It's one of the first woody plants i…

Yellow Jessamine

Beautiful lianas of lemony-yellow flowers are sure to attract the attention of travelers through the Carolinas and elsewhere in the southeast. This plant is the state wildflower of South Carolina: Yellow Jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens, sometimes known as Carolina Jasmine. I saw it blooming in profusion on my recent trip to South Carolina, and had to stop to make some images.

The largish tubular flowers suggest Trumpet-creeper, Campsis radicans, or to my eye, something in the Figwort Family (Scrophulariaceae). But the plant belongs to the Logania family (Loganiaceae), which is closely allied to the Figwort Family, and the plant does indeed sometimes go by the name "trumpetflower".

Note the long corolla tube, which sits in a cup of pointed pale green sepals. The anthers are held on long filaments, and extend to the summit of the corolla tube. These blossoms are sweetly fragrant, but very poisonous. All parts of the plant are said to be infused with strychnine alkaloids, es…