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Showing posts from January, 2014

Mothapalooza - registration is open!

A Rosy Maple Moth, Dryocampa rubicunda, glares menacingly at your narrator. Well, at least as menacingly as a pink and yellow critter can manage.

Last year, we launched the inaugural Mothapalooza, and it was an unmitigated success if I do say so myself. The idea was hatched by several of us while doing field work in the summer of 2012, and we fully expected to atttract a few dozen hardcore moth'ers to the conference. Well, were we ever surprised when we finally had to close registration after 140 people signed on. That conference was held at Shawnee State Park in Scioto County, and CLICK HERE for a recap.

By popular demand, Mothapalooza II was plotted and is now open for registration - CLICK HERE to enlist. The 2014 iteration will be held at the beautiful Burr Oak State Park Lodge in Morgan County, which was recently renovated and is stunning. I will warn you - get your tickets soon! We just opened the event for registration Tuesday, and already have at least 50 registrants and w…

Snow Rollers! Snow Rollers!

Just when you think you've seen it all...

Yesterday, while heading out to lunch, I passed as usual a small lake near my office. Glancing over at its smooth, snow-covered surface, I did a double-take. What in the bejeesus were all of those lumps dotting the otherwise unbroken plain?! It looked like kids had gone haywire, tossing giant marshmallows onto the snow.

As I progressed with my short drive to retrieve lunch, I noticed more of the snowy marshmallows anywhere there was a smooth unbroken surface of any size: lawns, roadsides, parking lots, etc.

I'm no stranger to the outdoors, and might even make a claim of being a keen observer of natural history phenomenon, but these miniature round haybales of snow were a new one on me. Upon return to my office and access to The Google and other online resources, it didn't take long to figure out what these circular lumps of frozen water were.

Snow Rollers!

By now, I was desperately wanting to make photos of this ephemeral phenomeno…

The wacky world of mimicry

A showy Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, nectars in a patch of Shale-barren Aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium.

This morning, in a fevered bid to conjure warmer times, I posted a photo of an Orange-patched Smoky Moth, and lamented the seemingly unending Arctic air mass that has cloaked our state. It didn't work; the temperature is hovering near 0 F as I write this piece. On the up side, the frigid temperatures and a proper mixture of snow underlain with ice have spawned an absolutely remarkable bounty of a very odd snow formation. I will photograph some of these snowy artworks tomorrow, and post about it here.

Anyway, that Orange-patched Smoky Moth got me thinking about mimicry. The Monarch above was long considered a consummate example of Batesian mimicry. This form of flattery is quite pragmatic. Named for its describer, English naturalist Henry Walter Bates, Batesian mimicry refers to a (more or less) harmless or nontoxic organism that mimics the appearance of a toxic or …

Arctic Ohio

A Great Blue Heron hunts in temperatures that hover around 0 F. Note the ice forming on its plumes. Ohio and the Midwest has been in the midst of a cold snap the likes of which we have not seen for some time. As I write, the temperature is about 14 F and dropping. We could see wind chills hitting 20 below within the next 24 hours or so.

Frigid temps have been par for the course this winter, and I do not speak in a vacuum when I say I'm tired of it.

I, and many others I'm sure, long for the return of warm temperatures and the bursting forth of flowering plants and all that they bring. Such as this Orange-patched Smoky Moth, Pyromorpha dimidiata, nectaring on Dogbane, Apocynum cannabinum.

The cold and snow of winter is a necessary part of the shift of seasons; a forced dormancy before the resurgence of spring. But it does grow old after a while.

Bowling Green talk tonight CANCELLED

I know that at least a few people who regularly read this were thinking of going to my program in Bowling Green tonight, hence this notice. Wood County and surrounding counties are under snow emergencies, and we just decided this morning to pull the plug. Strong winds and drifting snows have made travel unadvisable, and some people probably can't even get out of their driveways.

CLICK HERE for a brief plug about the talk, which will be rescheduled, probably for some time within the month. Scheduling things can always be a dicey business in wintertime Ohio. Usually it works out, but every now and then the heavy hand of Mother Nature intercedes and reminds us who is boss.

Native wasp attacks emerald ash borer

A while back, I wrote HERE about the apparent spike in at least some woodpecker populations. It seems that the feathered hammerheads have found the juicy grubs of the invasive emerald ash borer, Agrilus planipennis, to their liking. Can't beat that - any native predators rising up to attack and hopefully repel the incredibly destructive nonnative borer can only be a good thing.

Yesterday, I was going through reams of photos in my Hymenoptera (ants, bees, sawflies, wasps) folder looking for images for a new project. Filed away was this image of a small but stunning braconid wasp. I had taken it last August in Athens County, Ohio. At the time, I had determined its identity as Atanycolus cappaerti (no known common name, to me), and forgot about it. Since the new project - more on that later - is all about bees and wasps, I delved deeper into this little beast.

Wasps in the Braconidae family - which is immense, with some 17,000 species so far described - are parasitoids. I've wri…

Kittiwake thrills crowd, nearly gets whacked!

Ah, downtown Cleveland in mid-winter. If you like birds, it is a destination point. Here, a freighter steams out of port off Wendy Park and into icy Lake Erie. Legions of gulls, roiled aloft by the ship's passage, create a cloud. Gulls are a big part of the allure. Amongst the throngs of Herring and Ring-billed Gulls are rarer species, and picking through the masses to find them is actually fun for some of us.

I was up in Cleveland two weekends ago, and my first port of call was the legendary power plant at East 72nd Street. That's the plant on the left; the busy State Route 2/90 expressway is between the plant and your picture-taking narrator, and Lake Erie is on the right. The plant pumps warm water into the lake, and thus keeps a patch open and ice-free. The unfrozen oasis often lures mobs of gulls and other interesting waterbirds.

Note the plant's large stack - the farthest to the left.

Peregrine Falcons often roost on the aforementioned stack, and here we have one ro…

A much reviled bug

An entomophobe I am not, but I utterly despise this bug. It is the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, Halyomorpha halys, and you may also know the ugly pest. These flattened wretched annoyances have a real knack for entering homes, seemingly being able to pass through the thinnest of slits. Come fall, in they come, and into hiding they go. Periodically, all winter long, the warmth of the home's innards coupled with lights will draw them out of wherever they lurk. My house is relatively new and nearly tight as a drum, or so I thought. Nonetheless, I find one of these stinkbugs nearly every day. I have no idea where they're roosting - maybe the attic, since the majority that I find are upstairs.

When a BMSB enters the room, there really is no rest until it is dispatched. They're big enough that you'll not be at peace knowing it is crawling about, and when they fly, the loud irritating drone is sure to make you ill at ease. Watch 'em when you grab 'em - squeeze too tigh…

Golden eagles a rare, beautiful sight

Photo: Fred Rau
COLUMBUS DISPATCH January 19, 2014
Nature Jim McCormac
The untamable ferocity of birds of prey is awe-inspiring. In a field crowded with formidable predators, the golden eagle rules.

A golden eagle is daunting. Females are larger than males, and a hefty specimen can weigh 14 pounds and have a wingspan longer than 7 feet. Golden feathers cap the crown and nape, making identification easy if the bird is seen.

It takes five years for a golden eagle to reach maturity, and first-year birds have prominent white splashes at the base of the tail and on the underwings. They become increasingly dark with age. The oldest known wild eagle reached 23 years; one in captivity lived to 46.

As befits their size, golden eagles capture prey off limits to lesser raptors. Rabbits are a dietary staple, but much larger fare is sometimes caught. They sometimes take bobcats, coyotes, herons, turkeys and even young white-tailed deer. In days of yore, when falconry was an entitlement of nobility, th…

Wildlife Diversity Conference: March 12!

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Ohio Wildlife Diversity Conference, and this is an event you won't want to miss. From humble beginnings, the conference has morphed into a 1,000 attendee celebration of Ohio's rich natural heritage. There are always interesting talks, and this year's slate looks to be one of the most interesting in quite some time.

Mark your calendar for Wednesday, March 12th. The conference is held at the Aladdin Shriner's Center on the east side of Columbus, and it's a snap to get to. The cavernous interior has one of the best audio-visual setups going, with a topnotch professional sound system and three huge screens. There is vendors and exhibitors galore, and a whole lot of like-minded people.

On to the talks:


The inimitable David FitzSimmons is the keynote, talking about wildlife photography. Dave's an awesome lensman, and his book Curious Critters, attests to his innovative skills. I've heard Dave talk a number of times, and…

Opossum in the window!

I walked into my office - pictured - around 8 am this morning, as usual. A visitor awaited, but I didn't see it right away. As is my custom, I stumbled to my desk and dug into emails and the other stuff that awaits each morning. Around 9 am, I got a phone call and as is often the case when I'm on the phone, I stand up and scan the grounds from the window. As soon as I glanced out the window today, it was WHOA! What a fine marsupial in my tree!

In the photo above, look out the window to the right of the monitor on my mini-fridge, and just up and left of the picture of the red 1992 Ferrari 512 TR (not the first time I've used one of these Italian supercars in relation to a mammal, SEE HERE). A Virginia Opossum, Didelphis virginiana, resting in my crabapple tree!

Look closely on the lefthand limb of the crabapple on the right, and you'll see my (that's right, MY) opossum basking on his branch. He's (could be a girl, I dunno) sitting about three or four feet from …

Wild Ohio program in Bowling Green

Sometime in 2007, I decided to do a book that highlighted Ohio's natural heritage: The best of the best of our wild places. I wanted it to be heavy on imagery, as pictures can speak a thousand words. With that in mind, I approached photographer Gary Meszaros, one of the best lensmen/naturalists in the business. To my delight, Gary agreed to the collaboration, and in June of 2009 our book was released.

It features 40 of the creme de la creme of Ohio's natural areas. Each site is accompanied by descriptive text, and includes several of Gary's stunning images. In total, the book includes a vast array of flora and fauna found in Ohio, including scads of little known and very rare species. We were pleased with the end product, and Kent State University Press's expert layout and design. The book's artistic director chose the Luna for the cover, which was a beautiful idea.

On Saturday, January 25th, I'll be giving a program that follows the book for the Bowling Green…

Bird food: It doesn't just come in bags

A wintry day along a Hocking County backroad, last Saturday, January 4th. Jeff White - standing by the car - and I were down in southeastern Ohio to cover my section of the Hocking Hills Christmas Bird Count. I've been birding this piece of turf for a number of years now, and it always produces interesting birding.

I have heard more reports of "missing" birds at feeders this winter than in any previous year, at least that I can recall. So much so that I've kept a folder of such complaints, in case some disease or other culprit comes to light. But in general, my answer is that birds are co-evolved with native food crops, and have been for FAR longer than they've had benefit of relatively new food sources provided by people and their feeders. If natural food crops are available, many birds will forsake your handouts in favor of nutritious native fare. At least, I believe that is usually the case. If it is a boom year for certain natural food crops, the species tha…