Monday, June 30, 2014

Mothapalooza invades Burr Oak!

Last weekend saw the massive moth conference, Mothapalooza II, invade Burr Oak State Park in picturesque southeastern Ohio. Possibly somewhat strangely to the lodge's staff, a Bigfoot conference took place here the weekend before. At least we could show them our subjects of interest.

One hundred and fifty participants convened, from ten states and Canada. In this photo, your narrator debriefs with up and coming uber birder Alexandra Forsythe (her website is HERE) and her mother Cheryl. They traveled from Indiana to attend the conference. Alex, who is 15, already possesses awesome field skills. This photo was taken just after a 7:30 am bird walk around the lodge (crazy us; we were up until 2 am mothing!), and we had just escorted 30 other hard cases to look for birds. Alex found us many interesting species, including an eastern kingbird nest with two chicks about ready to fly the coop.

Mothapalooza draws a diverse demographic, including many sharp young naturalists and biologists. It's great to see such interest in natural history among a younger crowd; all too many of these sorts of events tend to be comprised of aging silverbacks such as myself. Nothing wrong with that, but we do need to think about the next crop of conservationists.

I snapped this photo with my iPhone on one of my innumerable trips in and out of the lodge. The parking lots are jammed. All of those cars, excepting the staff, are moth-ers! It was very cool. Everyone you would encounter was there for moths, and it was truly a great crowd. Sometimes events can be a bit low-key, but that wasn't the case here. Dinner, pre and post talks, on the buses, it was always happy chatter. Happy chatter is the earmark of people having a good time, and that's what we hoped for.

Burr Oak State Park is well off the beaten path, but most definitely worth visiting. The lake behind the lodge is beautiful, and the surrounding landscape is heavily wooded and full of flora and fauna. CLICK HERE to learn more about the park and its lodge.

Part of the Mothapalooza team poses post conference. From left (back row), it is Dave Horn, Mary Ann Barnett, Olivia Kittle, Elisabeth Rothschild, Scott Hogsten, and your blogger. Front row, from left, we have Diane Platco-Brooks, Fiona Reid, and Candice Talbot. Missing committee members are Dave Wagner, Tami Gingrich, Amy Mauro, and John Howard.

I could say lots of great things about all of these people, and the numerous other expert moth-ers, van and bus drivers, and volunteers that made Mothapalooza possible, but this would turn into a very LONG blog post. Suffice to say that we were fortunate to have most of THE BEST lepidopterists and naturalists around involved, and that's what makes Mothapalooza such a special event. I do have to single out Mary Ann. She got on board with the concept from the beginning, and has served as our CEO for both Mothapalooza I and II. Without her talents, organizational skills, and hard work, it wouldn't be possible. We are also grateful to the Ohio Division of Wildlife for its support of Mothapalooza and natural history in general, and the Ohio Lepidopterists for their invaluable assistance. Please CLICK HERE for the complete roster of our supporters, all of whom we greatly appreciate! And keep in mind that National Moth Week soon approaches!

An avid group of moth-ers clusters around a sheet late at night, ogling all manner of interesting creatures. Mothapalooza field trips are quite unlike other conferences that I've been part of. We don't head out until dark, and many people did not return to the lodge until 2 or 3 am. We probably had a better shot at seeing the (mythical) Bigfoot than the people at the previous week's conference did!

There were five mothing stations scattered around the area, each rigged with light traps to lure in our targets. A fleet of vans, driven by wonderful volunteers, regularly visited each site, taking people to and fro. Organizing and managing all of that was a major headache, and kudos go to Olivia Kittle and Elisabeth Rothschild for taking all of it on and handling logistics beautifully. We also owe a big debt to moth expert Diane Platco-Brooks, who opened up her property, Brookside Haven, to Mothapaloozians. Diane's place is fabulous and moth-filled, and was the hand's-down favorite site. What a gracious host, to allow two nights of raving moth fanatics to invade and moth until the wee hours!

It wouldn't be much of a Mothapalooza without moths, but we had plenty of those. This was a "life moth" for your narrator and many others. It is a pink-legged tiger moth, Spilosoma latipennis, and a showy creature it is.

We were dazzled by the incredible camouflage of this mottled prominent, Macrurocampa marthesia.It is a lichen mimic, and when at rest on lichen dappled bark the moth essentially becomes invisible.

Photo: Ed Lux

We saw much more than moths. This southern flying squirrel caused a stir when it glided down from the trees, landed on Brian Herriott's shoulder, bounced off him and onto a lady standing nearby, then shot back into the trees. Diane Platco-Brooks also had feeding stations stocked with crunchy peanut butter, and her flying squirrels entertained scores of people.

Scott Hogsten found this oddity. It is a wasp mantidfly, Climaciella brunnea, which is sort of a mad scientist melding of a dragonfly and a praying mantis.This species is also an excellent wasp mimic to boot. The reproductive strategy of mantidflies is every bit as bizarre as the insect's appearance, but that story will have to wait until another day.

We also had day field trips to varied habitats. This fine group was part of an excursion led by John Howard and myself which ventured into the Wallace O'Dowd Wildlife Area. There were many highlights, not the least of which was an eye level summer tanager hunting wasps and bees within twenty feet of the group.

We also stumbled into this little Cope's gray treefrog, who remained tucked into its Bhuddalike stance, regarding us with utterly inscrutable eyes. It remained silent, but at night the treefrogs came alive. I made a post about the frogs at Diane's place RIGHT HERE.

It was only fitting that David Wagner's Saturday afternoon field trip group found this extraordinary beast, the paddle caterpillar, Acronicta funeralis. After all, it is prominently featured on the cover of his book the Owlet Caterpillars of Eastern North America. It uses those strange paddle-tipped threadlike structures to flail would-be predatory insects such as ants, flies, or wasps.

Soon, I'll slap up a moth-heavy post. We found legions of ultra-cool moths, and I look forward to sharing some of them.

Thanks to everyone who made Mothapalooza a big success, and traveled from near and far to be a part of it. We are already cooking up plans for Mothapalooza III!

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Mothapalooza begins!

A banded tussock moth, Halysidota tessellaris, sips nectar from a common milkweed plant. I made this image late last night; it was one of a blizzard of moths that we saw.

I've been down in southern Ohio for the past two days, getting ready for an onslaught of 150 moth enthusiasts who are descending on Burr Oak State Park for the weekend. They are coming in for the 2nd Mothapalooza event, which promises to be interesting.

Two nights ago, David Wagner and I were mothing late into the night at another spot in southern Ohio, and had an unbelievably massive incursion of moths into the sheets. It really was mind-boggling, both in terms of diversity and numbers. I can't wait to share some images of that evening, but it'll have to wait until time permits...

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

EPN Breakfast/talk/walk - July 8!

The Environmental Professionals Network (EPN) was launched only a year or so ago, but it has already morphed into a large network of like-minded people who either work in various environmental fields, wish to work in an environmental organization, are students, or just have an interest in the natural sciences. A staple activity of the EPN are its monthly breakfasts, which feature a speaker.
 
I was flattered to be tapped by the EPN's executive director, David Hanselmann, to give July's talk (DETAILS HERE). Normally the EPN meets on Ohio State University's West Campus, but this meeting will be different. We are gathering at the fabulous Grange Insurance Audubon Center along the banks of the Scioto River, just south of downtown Columbus. Following the program, I'll take any interested parties out to look for birds, plants, and any forms of wildlife that we might encounter.
 
This is the little known Trimble Wildlife Area in Athens County (now subsumed into the much more expansive Wally O'Dowd Wildlife Area). Trimble is a treasure trove of native flora, and as you might expect, harbors an abundant and diverse fauna.

The title of my program is:

Plants Make the World Go 'Round: Why We Must Protect Our Native Ecosystems.

I hope to talk about the big picture of how plants foster much of the animal diversity that we see, the changes that have occurred to our landscape since European settlement, and the importance of protecting biodiversity for humankind's sake. Of course, there will be plenty of photos!

Common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, one of our most valuable native plants. It and its other milkweed brethren have recently garnered the limelight, due to extreme drops in monarch butterfly populations. Monarchs require plants in the milkweed family for their host plants (plants that the caterpillars can eat).

Milkweeds do not only host monarchs; they support staggering animal diversity. A good milkweed is a self-standing botanical kingdom populated by legions of insects, both specialists and generalists. This is an orange assassin bug, Pselliopus barberi, hunting for prey on the buds of a common milkweed.

Nearly all native plants have their complement of specialists, sometimes many, sometimes few. This bizarre creature is a butternut woollyworm, Eriocampa juglandis, whose fate is largely tied to that of its host plants, the black walnut and butternut. The filamentous waxy appendages that adorn the insect's caterpillarlike body create the illusion of an unsavory piece of fungus  - possibly a ploy to deter would-be predators.

When it comes to eating plants, no one does it better than the Lepidoptera: butterflies and moths. This stunning insect is a dark-banded geometer, Ecliptopera atricolorata, and its caterpillars eat... no one seems to know. There are still scores of animals, even beautiful ones such as this, that we know very little about. However you can be reasonably sure that this geometer's caterpillars are eating some sort of native plant, as do the overwhelming majority of Ohio's 3,000 or so other moth species.

Our native habitats have generally fared poorly since Europeans began the colonization of North America. This chestnut-sided warbler is an exception. John James Audubon, in all his wanderings some 200 years ago, only saw this species once. Today, the chestnut-sided warbler is very common, and a birder out in spring migration in Ohio might see dozens. The reason: wholesale land use changes.

Not all birds fared as well as the warbler. This year marks the centennial of the passing of the last passenger pigeon, which was once the most numerous bird on earth. We caused its demise in an incredibly short time. We would be wise to remember the pigeon, as we watch the formerly abundant monarch butterfly apparently floundering.

Anyway, that's a taste of what I hope to touch on in my talk on July 8. All are welcome, and you can get the complete scoop on the event RIGHT HERE.

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Cope's Gray Treefrog

A duo of male Cope's gray treefrogs, Hyla chrysoscelis, sit in a rain barrel. They were doing far more than sitting, actually - they were making a heckuva racket.

I spent much of the weekend in and around Burr Oak State Park in Athens, Morgan, and Perry counties with John Howard and Diane Platco-Brooks. We were there to scout for next weekend's epic moth-fest, Mothapalooza, an event that is drawing 150 people from all around Ohio and points far beyond. We found lots of cool sites and scads of interesting critters. Mothapaloozians are in for a good time.

Friday evening was muggy and wet, following a series of showers. One of our stops featured an insanely loud collection of Cope's gray treefrogs, and I could not resist stalking some of the little amphibious blowhards and making a few images.

We have two species of treefrogs in these parts, and insofar as I know, they appear identical and are visually inseparable. Voice is the key to ID. They're easy to recognize as treefrogs, however. Both have a light patch immediately below the eye, mildly warty skin, and a blotchy lichenlike pattern. They're also hefty; noticeably larger than spring peepers or chorus frogs. CLICK HERE for photos of the other treefrog. Those photos also show the chameleonlike color shift that these frogs are capable of. The frogs in this post are all a nice shade of mossy brownish-green, but if they were to spend enough time on leafy green plant material, chances are they'd shift to a lime-green hue. When on dryer substrates such as oak bark, treefrogs can change to a pearl-gray color.

Cope's gray treefrogs are southerners, occurring roughly in the southern one-quarter of Ohio. The other species, gray treefrog, Hyla versicolor, is found throughout the state and overlaps the Cope's range. However, I don't think I've ever heard the two intermixed and singing in the same locale. We did hear H. versicolor on this trip, but not in close proximity to Cope's.

Close in on a Cope's gray treefrog eye, which is a rather amazingly ornate organ. You can see the reflection of my Canon's twin light flashes in the pupil. If you want to really see amphibians well, go out after dark. They tend to be far easier to approach, especially when in song.

Cope's gray treefrog (and the other one) are tinged with a beautiful shade of lemon-yellow around the bases of the legs. We can also see the powerful suction discs terminating each toe. Treefrogs are excellent climbers and spend much time in trees and shrubs.

Of course, the most conspicuous element of this photo is the enlarged throat sac, as the animal was caught in full trill. It was deafening. It is amazing just how loud such a small amphibian can be. At one point, we spied eight or nine males at once, and all of them were in full song. Apparently, the louder one's song the better. One of the frogs managed to get himself inside a small drainpipe, and was singing from within. That was really LOUD, as if the animal had been wired to a stack of Marshall amps. AC/DC would have been proud of the little fellow.

The song of the Cope's gray treefrog is a short nasal trill, which is distinctly unmusical, at least when heard from a foot away. When the animals are more distant, they sound rather pleasing. The song does carry for quite some distance, and most people notice it but probably not many make the connection with a small frog. As the sound typically comes from trees, it is sometimes assumed that a bird is responsible.

video

Click on the video to hear a pack of Cope's gray treefrogs singing at VERY close range.

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Friday, June 20, 2014

A wild iris

Iris, Most Beautiful Flower
 
Iris, most beautiful flower,
Symbol of life, love, and light;
Found by the brook, and the meadow,
Or lofty, on arable height.
You come in such glorious colors,
In hues, the rainbow surpass;
The chart of color portrays you,
In petal, or veins, of your class.
You bloom with the first in Winter,
With the last, in the Fall, you still show;
You steal the full beauty of Springtime,
With your fragrance and sharp color glow.
Your form and beauty of flower,
An artist's desire of full worth;
So Iris, we love you and crown you,
MOST BEAUTIFUL FLOWER ON EARTH!

Edith Buckner Edwards
 

I don't know if I could fully concur with Ms. Edwards' "most beautiful flower" sentiments, but the genus Iris will certainly place on the podium. Irises are indeed stunning, and the species above is especially noteworthy. It is the leafy blue flag, Iris brevicaulis, which is listed as a threatened species in Ohio.

Last weekend, Daniel Boone and I made a trip into some swampy river bottom habitats in western Ohio, and one of our rewards was this plant. The iris was a "life plant" for Boone, who ticks off flora like birders list birds. A major difference is that Boone's year lists are far larger than most birders, totalling well over a thousand species.

In spite of all his travels, and all of the plants that Dan has seen, the leafy blue flag had evaded his net. Not only did we fix that situation, but went on to find many other botanical highlights in habitats largely shunned by explorers, at least in summer's heat (and clouds of mosquitoes). I'll hope to put the full pictorial story of our trek up here soon.

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

A "life" snake!!! And more snakes!

I've got a lot of friends who are really good amateur herpetologists, and they're a lot of fun to get afield with. This is one of them - Josh Dyer, who works for the Crawford County Park District. As fortune would have it, I had to speak to a teacher's workshop last Tuesday morning in Bucyrus. Part of the agenda involved an afternoon field trip, so of course I arranged for our group to connect with Josh and have a hike around one of the park district's properties. We had a blast, spending several hours in the 90 degree heat traipsing around and finding all manner of interesting flora and fauna. But it was snakes that ruled the day.

QUICK ASIDE: The Crawford County Park District is one of Ohio's jewels when it comes to conservation and outdoor education. The organization owns many interesting properties, and puts on a full agenda of excellent programming. To learn more about CCPD, CLICK HERE.

Josh took us to a "secret" meadow where he has long monitored the local snake population. One of the big problems with keeping tabs on snakes is that most of them are so darn secretive. It takes special search techniques to ferret out snakes, but the herpetologist does have a trick or two up his/her sleeve.

An easy way to lure snakes in is to simply place sheets of tin or wood on the ground. The reptiles will often find them to be good, dark, and warm hiding spots and develop a habit of secreting themselves under the sheets. It's one of these "tins" that Josh has flipped up in the first photo, and in the shot above he has a pair of female common gartersnakes, Thamnophis sirtalis, that he just grabbed from under another sheet.

The common gartersnake (syn: eastern gartersnake) is perhaps our most common and widespread snake in Ohio. We caught about 20 of them on this day, all or nearly all of which were female. Here, the snake flicks its beautiful orange and black tongue at the photographer. It is collecting detailed information about its surroundings with that tongue - CLICK HERE for an interesting article about snake tongues and how they work.

Although gartersnakes are completely harmless, they do have a good built-in repellant. When seized, a snake will typically let loose with a load of "musk" - a whitish malodorous paste. After an afternoon of handling numerous gartersnakes, an accumulation of musk has dried to form an ill-scented crust on Josh's arm.

I was quite pleased to see this gorgeous eastern milksnake, Lampropeltus triangulum. Milksnakes are highly beneficial, eating numerous rodents and other lesser animals. These snakes do have a propensity for hunting in and around sheds, barns and other outbuildings, and this behavior often brings them into contact with ignorant humans who kill them. I receive numerous emails every year of decapitated milksnakes from people wanting an identification. They often think it was a venomous copperhead.

Milksnakes are accomplished climbers, if they choose. We placed this one on the trunk of a massive bur oak, and it easily traversed the vertical bark-face. This animal was about 2.5 feet in length; they can exceed four feet.

Note the triangular dark patch atop the head - the source of the specific epithet triangulum (I presume). Milksnakes have a stunning pattern of alternating bands, and a fresh animal that has just shed its skin is striking indeed. The common name milksnake stems from their habitat of frequenting barns with plenty of rodents. This led to an old wive's tale that the snakes were there to tap the udders of cows and drain the milk. In reality, they are doing the farmer a service by taking out, or at least thinning, the barn's population of mice. Being a constrictor, a milksnake wraps its victim in several coils of its body, and exerts enough pressure to stop breathing and suffocate the prey, which is then swallowed whole.

Yes! This, bar none, was the find of the day! Josh flipped a tin to reveal a smooth greensnake, Opheodrys vernalis! The assembled teachers must have thought we were a bit touched in the head, as we whooped it up upon seeing this exotic rarity. I had long thirsted for a smooth greensnake, but they're not easy to find, at least without a special effort. Indeed, the day the we found this animal, the Ohio Division of Wildlife announced that its status had been changed from Species of Concern (a "watch list" category) to Endangered.

There is another much more common albeit range-limited greensnake in Ohio, the rough greensnake, Opheodrys aestivus. I've seen those many times, and once wrote about them RIGHT HERE.

Smooth greensnakes once occurred in 22 or 23 Ohio counties, but are probably only extant in four or so today. The remaining animals are strongly associated with prairie remnants, and surely would have been far more common prior to settlement, when prairies covered some 5% of Ohio.

These are exceedingly gentle and beautiful little animals. The stunning lime-green upper surface allows them to blend well with grasses or the foliage of low shrubs and trees. The smooth greensnake only reaches a maximum length of one and a half feet or so. Nonetheless, the little charmers are death on insects, which make up their primary prey.

Seen well, the scale pattern of a smooth greensnake is a true work of art and would be at home on a gallery wall. The deep green scales are trimmed with hyaline (translucent) margins and pinstriped with a lemon colored band. This photo illustrates why it is called a "smooth" greensnake - the scales are flat and unblemished by corrugations or ridges. In the rough greensnake - which can attain lengths of 2.5 feet, much larger than this species - the scales are keeled; a small ridge runs down their center.

As you may recall from art class, yellow and blue makes green. Greensnake scales are comprised of the former two colors, leading to the beautiful green animals that we ooh and aah over. In this shot, we can see a few scales where the blue pigment is bleeding through. When a greensnake dies, the weaker yellow pigments rapidly deteriorate, creating a dead bluesnake. CLICK HERE for a post with photos of a blue greensnake.

While not as arboreal as their rough greensnake counterparts, smooth greensnakes can and do climb well. Here, our subject poses in a bur oak sapling.

I really appreciate Josh working with us on this field trip; I think everyone (sans two, perhaps) were absolutely thrilled to see this greensnake, and were nearly as interested in the other snakes that we saw. For me, it was especially enjoyable to see a new reptile, and one that I've long coveted.

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Bugs in the Bog

Yesterday dawned clear and crisp; a picture-perfect early summer day. A good day indeed to head to one of my favorite natural areas, the legendary Cedar Bog near Urbana, Ohio. I was there to give a lecture on entomology, specifically about the "bugs" of Cedar Bog. The best part of the day was the special off-the-boardwalk field trips before and after the talk.

Venturing off the mile-long boardwalk that bisects Cedar Bog's fen meadows and various other habitats is strictly taboo. Only permitted researchers or others affiliated with the bog may do so, and even then off boardwalk travels are rare. Our groups consisted of noteworthy supporters of the bog, and we wanted to thank them for their contributions with a special trip.

One of our groups deep within the bog (which of course is really a fen), in a very special meadow. I should say that, even though venturing far off the boardwalk was a treat for these folks, most people probably wouldn't want to do this. The ground is spongy, and a misstep can land one in boot-sucking quagmires. There is a lot of dense brush to push through, the humidity is intense, and ticks, mosquitoes  and other pests can abound.

But by braving all of that, we got to see a lot of interesting flora and fauna. This particular meadow is distinguished by the presence of one of Ohio's rarest plants, the prairie valerian, Valeriana ciliata. I wrote a bit more about this plant RIGHT HERE.

Try as we might, we could not completely ignore the non six-legged crowd. This is an adult five-lined skink, Eumeces fasciatus, and many people first learn that lizards do indeed occur in Ohio by spotting one of these along Cedar Bog's boardwalk.

If you are smaller than the owner of this eye, you would not want to get caught in its harsh unblinking gaze.

The previous multi-faceted eye doesn't miss a trick, and it belongs to this utterly ferocious beast. This is a large robberfly, Laphria thoracica, that is an excellent bumblebee mimic.They sit atop leaves, and wait for potential victims to fly by. The fly then scrambles out, and envelops the lesser insect with its legs, then stabs it with a proboscis that resembles a hypodermic needle. Chemicals are injected that liquefy the victim's innards, which the robberfly then sucks out via its proboscis.

Almost as if on cue, this enormous gray petaltail, Tachopteryx thoreyi, appeared in one of the meadows. Petaltails are our most primitive dragonfly, and are brutish animals. They'll capture and eat dragonflies up to their own size, including other petaltails. They seem especially fond of bagging swallowtail butterflies. Shortly after I made this photo, the petaltail shot over and landed on my arm, giving the group a great look. You can find a more detailed post about these fascinating dragonflies RIGHT HERE.

Every meadow had its complement of painted skimmers, Libellula semifasciata. It must be a good year for these stunning dragonflies. I've never seen so many in a single year, and have seen many other reports of them from around the state.

We were quite excited to find a brown spiketail, Cordulegaster bilineata, and the animal had the good manners to pose obligingly. At one point, it slowly hovered and flew right among the group, offering stunning looks. All too often with big dragonflies, one is left with far less than satisfactory looks and no photo opportunities. We saw at least a half-dozen massive swamp darners - proportionately probably our largest dragonflies - but none of them cooperated for photos or close looks.

This female violet dancer, Argia fumipennis, is making mincemeat of a victim. You can see the shiny wing of its prey, which might be some type of winged ant.

The meadows were awash with this interesting moth, the Le Conte's haploa, Haploa leconteii.They look rather butterflylike when in flight, and make no great effort to hide themselves when they alight.

We encountered a sapling that was covered with these interesting insects. They are treehoppers, in the nymph stage. A greenish-white freshly molted nymph is in the center of the photo. I found these treehoppers to be quite showy with their chestnut eyes, stegosaurus spines along the back, and odd little hornlike helmets. I don't know the species, but many treehoppers take on the appearance of thorns or other plant parts, which helps them blend in when at rest. They tap sap from their host plants, and treehopper colonies are often attended by ants, which feed on the honeydew secreted by the treehoppers.

As the sun faded to the west towards the day's end, it cast perfect light to reflect the shadows of water striders in Cedar Run. The crystal clear water of the small creek allows the shadow of the strider to be seen on the stream bottom. Water striders (this one is probably in the genus Gerris) do not break the water's surface, but their feet create hydrological "divots" on the water's surface. It's these divots that we're seeing reflected by the shadows, with the insect's slender ellipsoid body in the center.

All in all, an excellent day at Cedar Bog, filled with interesting finds. If you haven't visited Cedar Bog, please do. CLICK HERE for details.

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Friday, June 13, 2014

British Soldier lichens

This is jack pine country. The Grayling sands of Michigan's northern lower peninsula harbor large stands of the gnarly black-trunked pine, and at this locale there are hundreds and hundreds of acres of Pinus banksiana between five and twenty years of age. Such a habitat interests birders greatly, as this is the home of one of the rarest of the rare, the Kirtland's warbler, Setophaga kirtlandii.

I always come here when leading my mid to late May field trips that launch from NettieBay Lodge. Everyone revels in the ambiance of the wide open spaces filled with stunted pines and overtopped by Big Sky. The rich reverb song of the "jack pine warbler" rings out, and many other avian musicians contribute to the soundscape. The guttural croaks of common ravens. Ethereal whistles created by courting upland sandpipers drift down from the ether. The lovely flutelike melodies of hermit thrushes - yes, they breed in this stuff! - issue from the pines. Sparrows cannot be missed: song, vesper, field, clay-colored, Lincoln's, chipping, and from older tracts of pines, white-throated sparrows whistle their mournful tunes.

Not a bad place to be, if you are into birds.

There is far more than birds in the jack pine plains, though. Last year I had noticed stump after stump that was liberally encrusted with one of our showiest lichens, and I resolved to photograph them this year.

This is about a lush a display of British soldier lichen as a lichenologist could ever ask for. I am decidedly NOT a lichenologist, but that in no way dims my admiration of this scarlet-topped combo of an alga and a fungus.

I believe this species is Cladonia cristatella, but don't hit me with a bat if I'm mistaken. There are, I think, some other Cladonia lichens that appear quite similar. No matter what you call it, this lichen is a certified showstopper, and it was a treat to see stump after stump capped with the stuff.

Lichens are composites of two separate organisms - an alga (or cyanobacteria) and a fungus. Collectively they join in a mutualistic relationship and live together as one. The lichen's name is derived from the fungal species, which in this case (if I am correct with the identification) is Cladonia cristatella. The algal component is Trebouxia erici. The common name stems from the brilliant red fruiting bodies, or apothecia, which resemble the red caps that British troops wore during the American Revolution.

Not too many lichens can lay claim to this level of showiness.

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