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Showing posts from July, 2014

A white Cardinal-flower

Photo: Bill Fisher
Bill Fisher, Director of the Crawford County Park District, sent along a photo that really grabbed my eye. It is a snow white Cardinal-flower, Lobelia cardinalis, and as can be seen by its normally colored cohorts, this is atypical. Bill made the photo a day or two ago at their Lowe-Volk Park, where it is growing in the "pollination station".

If you're in the area, stop in and see it. Might be a while before you see another. I can't tell you how many hundreds or thousands of these plants that I've seen over the years, but never a white one that I can recall. Such a form is rare, but occurs with enough regularity to have an official designation: Lobelia cardinalis forma alba. It'll be interesting to see if white ones pop up in this patch in future years.

Tiger Beetle larva: Absolutely ferocious!

A pair of Festive Tiger Beetles, Cicindela scutellaris, makes love in the sand. If all goes well, they will spawn some of the most ferocious, nightmarish larvae that ever was.

There are about twenty species of tiger beetles in Ohio, and all of them are formidable hunters. If you have an eye for insects, you've probably seen some. Most common is the Six-spotted Tiger Beetle, Cicindela sexguttata, a glittering emerald-green beetle that frequents paths, woodland openings, gravel lanes, and other open habitats. All of the tiger beetles hunt by sight, as you might have guessed by the giant goggle eyes of the beetles in the photo. One would not want to be a potential victim in a tiger beetle's sights. They are said to be among the fastest land animals, proportionate to their size, their long stiltlike legs capable of propelling the beetle in astonishingly rapid bursts.

One prey is caught, it is sliced and diced with the beetle's long tusklike mandibles. While the adult beetles …

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks!

A small knot of birders takes a break from oohing and aahing over a trio of very rare birds (for Ohio) in the wetland in the backdrop.
Last Friday, I got a phone call from Larry Richardson, the guy in the foreground with the yellow cap. Larry, who is one of Ohio's ace birders, had just discovered three Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Dendrocygna autumnalis, along with Don Keffer (in the red shirt). As good fortune would have it, I was heading to Geauga County the next day to give a talk and lead a walk. Larry and Don had found the ducks at the sprawling Grand River Wildlife Area in Trumbull County, and the site was only about a half-hour from where I was speaking.
So, after the program/hike concluded, I raced over to the ducks and was greeted by Larry soon after arrival.
The 7,500 acre Grand River Wildlife Area is dotted with wetlands. The marsh in this photo is where the whistling-ducks are hanging out. They are actually there, in this photo, but some distance away as you can see…

A MEGA macro lens

Be warned, I have a new lens and things might get weird on here from time to time. Above, the superb Canon MP-E 65 mm f/2.8 macro lens. This is truly one of the most bizarre lenses out there, and it probably isn't for the faint of heart. I went back and forth on getting one of these for the last year, finally bit the bullet, and received mine yesterday. Using it is like shooting images through a microscope. It'll zoom to five times life size, allowing for photography of the tiniest objects imaginable. There is no focus ring - one must just move the camera to and fro until the target comes into focus. Good flash gear is a must. So little light gets through its small opening that the photographer typically must pre-light the scene just to find the subject.

But I knew about all of these quirks going into this, and was prepared. I was down at Wahkeena Nature Preserve in Fairfield County last night, and got ample opportunity to test out the MP-E 65. A few of the inaugural photos f…

Plant hires ant bodyguards

Ah, the beautiful little prairie at work! I've written about this one-third acre transformation of barren turf grass into biodiversity boiling over before, HERE. Today, I trotted outside for a brief 15-20 minute photographic interlude, and was rewarded with something rather cool.

Among the many native plants in our prairie patch, all provided by Ohio Prairie Nursery, is this little gem. It's Partridge Pea, Chamaecrista fasciculata, a showy pinnate-leaved beauty. It is easy to grow, quick to arise, and pleasing to the eye. Insects also find it pleasing to the palette, as we shall see.

The rich lemony blossoms are offset by chocolate-brown stamens dangling from a crimson bulls-eye. An arrangement sure to lure winged pollinators. And any would-be pollinating insect would be wise to arrive by air. Partridge Pea has made a long-term co-evolutionary pact with some serious six-legged tough guys to keep ne'er do wells out of its foliage.

An ant (I don't know the species) clam…

A trip to the prairies (or what's left of them)

A summer would be incomplete without a visit to the scraps of remaining prairie west of Columbus. A few sites like the above, tiny 1/2 acre Bigelow Cemetery, are all that remain of the formerly vast Darby Plains, which covered some 385 square miles. My generation must make do with postage stamp-sized museum pieces. Once Deere unleashed his chisel plow, game over for the prairies. What was once a botanical wonderland full of an incredible floristic diversity, with attendant abundant animal life, has been pulverized by the plow. Over 99% of Ohio's original prairie has been converted to the Big Three: corn, soybeans, and wheat.

I still greatly appreciate what we have left. Bigelow Cemetery, which dodged the plow as burial grounds are sacred, and the cemetery was established before farmers had gotten around to plowing up all of Madison County, was looking good. I was there yesterday, and reveled in the mid-July explosion of prairie plants.

Purple and Gray-headed coneflowers, Wild Ber…

Lesser Grapevine Looper

A Lesser Grapevine Looper, Eulithis diversilineata, rests under your narrator's porch lights.

I found myself chained to my desk today, writing, writing, writing. Come nightfall, I took a break to see if any interesting lepidopterans had stopped in at the porch lights. Sure enough, the little oddity above was camped out on the wall. I was quite pleased, and rushed to get the camera. Lesser Grapevine Loopers are common, but I had no good photos of one, and here was the opportunity to remedy that!

Note the bizarrely curled abdomen, a very distinctive posture in this species. I suppose it is some sort of disruptive camouflage, perhaps making the resting moth appear more like a leaf with attached petiole. It certainly makes the moth an interesting photographic subject, if you ask me.

Shooting moths at night is always a challenge. Flash is essential, and it must be set properly for best results. For these shots, I used my Canon 5D Mark III, set on full manual, with the following settin…

A Wood Frog, in the woods

A Wood Frog, Lithobates sylvatica, peeks from a leafy shelter in a Geauga County woodland. These small frogs are conspicuous in early spring, when mating orgies occur in vernal pools. The males belt out their ducklike quacks, which can be heard for considerable distances.

As spring progresses, and rolls into summer, the frogs become much less conspicuous. One occasionally encounters a Wood Frog by sheer happenstance, as we did in this case.

I dropped to the leaf litter, to see if the little frog would allow me better views, and photos. It did, and we can see the ornate detail that makes the Wood Frog one of our handsomest amphibians.

A prairie comes to life

This is the approximate view from my office, in a very urban part of Columbus, Ohio. In 2012, this lush growth of wildflowers was barren mowed lawn, largely lacking in life. BORING, and not at all environmentally friendly.

I approached the powers-that-be, and cajoled them into allowing us to work with Bob Kehres and Ohio Prairie Nursery to plant the one-third acre grass-scape to prairie. We did so in May 2013, and Voila! I took the photo above today, of the prairie in its second growing season. An incredible transformation has taken place, and the prairie will only grow better with age, like a fine wine.

I try to take a few minutes to stroll the prairie, camera in tow, at least once a week. I'm very interesting in documenting the profusion of life that has resulted from removing a lawn monoculture, and replacing it with numerous species of plants that are (mostly) indigenous to this area.

The cast of new characters is already lengthy: moths, butterflies, hemipterans, beetles, bee…

Butterfly Workshop recap

Yesterday, the Midwest Native Plant Society hosted a Butterfly Workshop in this building - the Caesar Creek Visitor Center, owned and managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The facility is a fabulous venue for hosting such events, and is convenient to Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus and lots of other places. We had about 105 attendees, mostly from Ohio, but also Indiana, Florida, and Kentucky. Major thanks go to the Army Corps for making the building available for such events, and to ranger Kim Baker for acting as our host. Linda Romine, also with the Corps, was also a great help.

The Midwest Native Plant Society was formed to run our upcoming Midwest Native Plant Conference, now in its sixth year. We try to put on one or two other special events annually under the MNPS banner, and the Butterfly Workshop was one of those.

Lunchtime at the workshop. We fairly well filled the place. The Caesar Creek Visitor Center is perfect for hosting such events. This capacious conference room ca…