Thursday, December 25, 2014
The images were made at the Wilds back in November. The vulture was quite cooperative, but I was using the car as a blind and shooting out the window. Had I been on foot, the vulture would not have let me get near this close. I like the "bokeh" effect of the shots. Bokeh is modified from the Japanese word boke, which basically means blur, and refers to the quality of an image's background.
In the case of these images, the pleasing (to me, at least) gray-green background is the aggregate of fields of browning fescue grasses, interspersed with occasional autumn-olive shrubs. The images were made with Canon's 500mm f/4 II, with 1.4 teleconverter, which makes for a focal length of 700mm. The depth of field with this setup is quite shallow, hence the pleasing bokeh.
Note the massive nostril. Vultures find their food by sense of smell, and they're quite accomplished in the olfactory department. Even malodorous carcasses that are hidden from view are unerringly keyed in on.
All or nearly all vultures in my central Ohio neck of the woods have fled south for the winter. But it won't be long and they'll be returning in force. The Turkey Vulture is an early harbinger-of-spring, riding back into town on the first mild winds of late February, their appearance a precursor of an ever-increasing cascade of vernal migrants.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
A recent project had me going through scads of photos, and in the process I came across a number of landscape images. Some of which I really like, and maybe you will, too. Some of these photos have made their way to this blog in the past; others, not. As always, you can click on the photo to enlarge it.
When I noticed the spectacular interplay of water, light, and birds, my camera was mounted on a tripod and rigged with the 500mm telephoto. I rushed to change over to the Tamron 70-200mm, and in the five or so minutes when things looked like this, clicked off dozens of images. The waves and position of the gulls would change by the second, and I was trying to get shots as dramatic as possible, especially trying for images that captured massive eruptions of water as a wave collided with the breakwall. It isn't often that one lucks into such a dramatic scene, and it was well worth dealing with the tough weather to experience this. For this shot, it was the 5D with aforementioned 70-200 lens set to a 95mm focal length, f/7.1, 1/320, and ISO 2000.
Saturday, December 13, 2014
In 1928, Dutch Elm Disease was first detected in North America, and it spread like wildfire. It is caused by three species of microfungi, two of which afflict trees on this continent. The fungi is spread by a trio of bark beetles. Once a tree is infected, the tree attempts to thwart the spread of the invader by plugging its xylem channels, which transport various nutrients and water throughout the plant. This ultimately fails, and the elm dies. Trees usually succumb before reaching the size of the specimen in this photo, which I found last Thursday at Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area. Most large elms that I see are isolated like this one is; it may be more difficult for the vector beetles to reach them.
There is no question that Baltimore Orioles have a propensity for siting their nests in the boughs of American Elms. Before Dutch Elm Disease appeared on the continent and laid waste to our elms, this tree was commonly used as a street tree. Avenues and boulevards would be lined with elms, their overarching branches connecting to form a shady arbor over the roadway. Numerous accounts describe the colorful orioles that graced the elms, delighting people with their musical flutelike whistling and brilliant splashes of orange. A paper entitled The Nesting Habits of the Baltimore Oriole appeared in a 1930 issue (vol. 42:4) of the Wilson Bulletin. In it, the author describes nine nests that occurred along a street in Sigourney, Iowa in the summer of 1927 (pre-DED). Eight of the nests were located in American Elms. Such pro-elm favoritism was probably the rule in midwestern towns and cities prior to DED.
Why the orioles' preference for elms? Probably for safety's sake. The spindly, drooping ultimate branches of elms prohibit access to many predators. A raccoon would certainly never make it to a nest such as shown in my photo. Nor would that most effective of avian nest predators, the black ratsnake, I would guess. Fortunately orioles have proven to be adaptive, and have jumped the arboreal ship to other trees for nesting purposes. A favorite is the Eastern Cottonwood, Populus deltoides.
No dummies, most of our Baltimore Orioles are now in the tropics of Central America where they will ride out the winter. Come late April, their cheery whistles will once again ring from the Ohio treetops, every bit the harbinger-of-spring.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
Red-headed Woodpeckers cache food, and they were industriously wedging acorns into nooks and crannies of various granary trees. Assuming the birds can remember their locations, and I'm sure they do, for the most part, these acorns will be welcome foodstuff during bleak winter weather.
Monday, December 8, 2014
You can probably file the following video under strange things almost no one ever gets to see.
The beloved Striped Skunk, those handsome if not occasionally malodorous black and white beasts, are well known for their digging propensities. If skunks are about, and hungry, it is common to see the aftermath of their hunting: small divots pawed into the ground where the animals have dug out tasty beetle grubs or other fare.
But a skunk is not a one-trick pony when it comes to feeding skills. They'll take about anything they can find, and that includes eggs. If, for instance, a skunk stumbles into a turkey nest, it'll likely grab the eggs, or at least one of them.
However, a skunk with fresh egg soon finds itself with a dilemma. How does a four-pawed animal crack the shell. View on...
The Hughes - David and Laura - consistently outdo themselves in capturing outstanding trail cam videography. I've featured their work here many times; type "Hughes" into the blog's search box in the upper left corner of the page and you'll find plenty of examples.
In this case, they've left some old guinea fowl eggs along the game trail, to see what might take the bait. A skunk ambles along, seizes an egg, and begins playing the part of an NFL center with it. This is apparently a known behavior for Striped Skunks - hurling hard-shelled food backwards between their legs. The animal would normally fling the item into a path of great resistance, such as a rock or tree trunk, in an effort to smash the object open. The subject of this film doesn't have a good smashing surface close at hand, but that doesn't stop it from hiking its egg.
BONUS: A Virginia Opossum enters the scene towards the video's end, and almost gets whacked by one of the skunk's errant egg hikes.
Great stuff, and thanks to Laura for sending along the video and allowing me to share.
Friday, December 5, 2014
Not to burst any bubbles, or cast aspersions on any of the Woolly-bear festivals that have sprung up (one in Vermilion, Ohio - the "Woollybear Festival" - began in 1973), but there is no credibility to the caterpillars' role as weather forecaster. The widths of the colored bands are unrelated to future weather. Their size is much more aligned with their age. Caterpillars grow through various stages, each termed an instar. Five instars/stages is a common number of growth phases for most of our caterpillars. As they grow, and shed their "skin" between instars, caterpillars often change appearance markedly. In the case of the Woolly-bear, the black bands widen with age, and thus older caterpillars are darker. Dark old specimens might lead one to believe a brutal winter is on tap.
For reasons unknown, Woolly-bear caterpillars are inveterate wanderers in fall and early winter. It doesn't seem to make much sense, as these caterpillars can eat an enormous variety of very common plant life, so there would seem to be little reason to risk the numerous threats that come with roaming far and wide. But nomads they are, and they know better than we what they are supposed to be doing.
Thursday, December 4, 2014
I was down here recently for a meeting, and we allowed enough time to tour some of the sights. Spring Grove is the largest cemetery in Ohio, at over 700 acres, and it is probably considered as much park as cemetery. It harks back to the olden days, when cemeteries were used for picnics, weddings, and nice oases free from the hustle and bustle of the city.
But thanks to our guides, we were able to navigate directly to some of the cemetery's highlights, including the massive white oak, Quercus alba, in this photo. It utterly dwarfs our group. The tree is several hundred years old. Although it is not the state champion (largest of its species), Spring Grove does boast an incredible 19 state champs, some native trees, some not.
Your narrator at the final resting place of two of Ohio's most accomplished biologists, the Braun sisters, Annette and Lucy. I had only visited Spring Grove a few times prior, and never had had time to track this spot down. This time, we knew right where to go and made the pilgrimage to the Braun's final resting spot a priority. Quite fittingly, their graves lie in the shadow of that massive oak in the previous photo.
Although purely coincidental, I am sure, the look and placement of the tombstones mirrors the sisters' real life relationship. By all accounts, Lucy was more forceful and dominant, while Annette was laid back and soft-spoken. Lucy's headstone is bolder, and placed just ahead of Annette's paler, less conspicuous marker.
Emma Lucy Braun, 1889-1971. She was, without doubt, one of Ohio's - and North America's - preeminent botanists. Lucy began operating at a time when women scarcely had a toehold in the biological sciences, and their involvement was not often encouraged. None of this would have mattered a whit to Lucy, with her forceful personality, and I'm quite sure she would have been successful at whatever she had put her considerable mind to.
Lucy had many publications and other accomplishments to her credit, but this book is undoubtedly her most famous work. Deciduous Forests of Eastern North America was published in 1950 and instantly became the gold standard of eastern forest ecology. It remains highly relevant to this day.
Lucy Braun wrote three other books, and at published at least 180 papers and articles over her career. But probably first and foremost, she was a FIELD biologist - something that unfortunately is becoming a lost art these days. She reveled in exploring the wilds, finding and learning plants, and attempting to figure out the big picture. That's why her magnum opus, the Deciduous Forests of Eastern North America, is such a standout. In it, Lucy adroitly synthesized all of her years of field work and knowledge into a coherent dissection of a big and complicated subject.
Along the way, she discovered a number of new plants or varieties thereof, with perhaps the most famous being the rockhouse white snakeroot, Ageratina luciae-brauniae. B.E. Wofford, who elevated this taxon to species level in 1976 - other botanists had probably incorrectly treated it as a variety of another species - left no doubt about who deserved credit for the species' discovery with his choice of scientific epithet.
The gorgeous plant in this photo is greek valerian, Polemonium reptans L. var. villosum E.L. Braun. Lucy first recognized this distinctive variety and published it, hence her authorship behind the varietal name. Braun's greek valerian is a rather rare and local plant in Ohio, but it can easily be found in Shawnee State Forest, which is where I made this photograph.
Amazingly, Annette was probably even more productive than her dynamo sister, although she sometimes gets lost in Lucy's large shadow. Annette often accompanied Lucy on her field trips, and many of those were to the prairies of Adams County, Ohio, which is a biological wonderland. Annette's thing was moths, specifically the microlepidopterans (really little moths!). Her accomplishments in this little studied realm were staggering. Annette described some 335 moth species to science, and published scores of scientific papers, including four major monographs. In the world of lepidoptera, she was a true giant.
I made this image of this tiny caterpillar in one of Lucy and Annette's beloved Adams County prairies back on July 25, 2012, and the obscure larva ties together the two sister's interests nicely. The animal is known as Ethmia longimaculella, and it is in a group of moths that was of great interest to Annette. The caterpillar feeds on a plant that surely caught Lucy's eye, the false gromwell, Onosmodium molle, which for us in Ohio at least, is a rather rare prairie inhabitant. Lucy would have examined the plant, while Annette studied its larval predators.