Saturday, October 25, 2014
I do think I know the name of this blood-orange beauty. It is Russula emetica, and that scientific epithetic should tell you all you need to know about its edibility. Emetic comes from the Greek word emetikos, which means vomiting. My identification may well be incorrect; apparently Russula mushrooms are many, with lots of look-alikes. Let me know if you know better.
Not exactly the sort of fungus one is apt to put on the pizza.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Kent Bog is a local (and state) treasure, and is heavily used by the people of Kent and surrounding areas.That such a place would survive in a rather heavily developed area is a bit of a miracle. I believe local support for the bog's well being has warded off one or two development schemes that would have taken place on its margins. If you get the chance, visit Kent Bog. Directions and other details are RIGHT HERE.
As fate would have it, the day that I visited was wet. Very wet. Rolling waves of showers washed over nearly all day, punctuated by brief respites from the rain. I'm certainly not going to melt, but camera gear does not like being drenched. Nonetheless, I and my camera made the trek through the bog, and managed to come away with a few images.
A couple of hundred miles to the north, Tamarack becomes extremely common but in Ohio it is limited to the relatively few bogs that remain. At some point in its distant past, Kent Bog was an open lake. It was created by a giant ice block calved from the retreating Wisconsin Glacier about 12,000 years ago. Plants more or less immediately began the process of colonizing the cold wet soil and mire left in the glacier's wake. Kettle lakes initially were ringed with plant life, including Tamarack. Over time, the plants grew out into the lake, and ultimately flora completely fills the lake - the natural fate that most Ohio bogs have experienced. Kent Bog has no open water remaining, and its thick cloak of Tamarack is essentially its last hurrah. Eventually the bog will transform into a deciduous swamp woods dominated by maple and other softwoods.
Kent Bog will be looking exceptionally showy for the next few weeks, but it looks great at any season. I hope you find the time to visit and experience one of our few remaining bogs.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
In the photo above, we're looking off the massive bluffs of Hach-Otis State Nature Preserve. Fall color was nearing peak. I only regret that it was a rainy, overcast day. A bright blue sky day would have made the leaf color sizzle, but one takes what one gets.
If you would like a suggestion for a last hurrah fall field trip, I'd suggest Shawnee this weekend. The leaf color should be outstanding, and as you shall see if you forge on with this post, there are other interesting things to observe.
To pursue Buck Moths, you've got to head afield late, after most moths are done for the year. They begin flying in mid-October or thereabouts, and can be found into November.
Buck Moths do have the good manners to fly during the day, which makes finding them fairly easy. Slowly cruising the forest roads of Shawnee is probably the easiest way to find them. Wait until you spot a moth winging by, park, and start chasing. Problem is, most of the moths that you see will be males in rabid pursuit of females. They rarely stop in their relentless tracking of pheromones, and all too often shoot by and off into the woods never to be seen again.
Here we can see the exceptionally well-furred abdomen of a male Buck Moth. We know it is a male by the bright orange tassel adorning the tip of the abdomen. When captured, the moth will wag and curl the abdomen, and that behavior along with the bright colors may be intimidating to potential predators.
It isn't every fall that I can get out and pursue big Buck Moths, but fall isn't quite the same without such a Lepidopteran hunt. Thanks to Grace for helping to wrangle the moths, and for participating in the hunt.
Sunday, October 19, 2014
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
October 19, 2014
Fall’s frosty days are here, and colder weather and shorter days have muted autumn’s spectacular wildflowers.
Some flowers persist in a losing battle with Old Man Winter. The riotous bouquet of asters, colored in blue, white and purple, struggle mightily to hold on. Their rich hues are punctuated by lemony goldenrod flowers, another of winter’s botanical deniers.
None of fall’s holdouts compare, however, to the king of autumn flowers: the fringed gentian.
On Oct. 5, a date that seems too late for wildflower hunting, I visited a rich fen in Ross County. After a short trek through pasture and scruffy woods, we burst into a wet meadow browned with sedges. Breezy gusts showered leaves from the surrounding trees, and nippy air called for warm jackets.
In spite of the late date, we were greeted by one of Ohio’s most spectacular wildflower displays. Sprinkled among the senescent grasses and sedges were thousands of fringed gentians, just hitting their stride. Like cobalt bursts of botanical fireworks, their gorgeous blue flowers glittered throughout the meadow.
A fringed gentian blossom almost defies adequate description. It’s as if the petals have been spun from silk dyed the richest royal blue. The mythical seamstress craftily allowed the petals’ edges to tatter and fray, creating a look of artful sloppy elegance.
Gentians are named for King Gentius, a ruler of ancient Illyria (which included Albania, Greece and Macedonia). According to the Roman naturalist Pliny, Gentius first discovered the purported medicinal properties of this family.
The gentians constitute a big family, with some 1,600 species worldwide; Ohio is home to only 14 of them. Among their rank, the fringed gentians rule.
The species written about here is the western fringed gentian (Gentianopsis virgata). The eastern fringed gentian is similar; in fact, some botanists haggle about the plants’ uniqueness. Both are beautiful.
Fringed gentian is rare in Ohio. It was once found in 26 counties; today, the plants occur in perhaps half of them.
This species is picky about its haunts, growing only in boggy peatlands. A 1992 study published in The Ohio Journal of Science showed that 98 percent of Ohio’s peatlands have been destroyed since European settlement. Development of land for agricultural purposes was the major culprit.
The fringed gentian is a stunning icon of habitats that we have largely erased. Many of its associates have also become rare. The flowers of blue silk should serve as a reminder to protect what we still have.
Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a biweekly column for The Dispatch. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.blogspot.com.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
They're also fish eaters, and finicky about the water quality of the streams that they nest along. Cut the buffering forests and fill the stream with sediment, and the mergansers vanish. Otherwise pollute their streams and damage the aquatic food chain, and it's curtains for the fish ducks. Common Mergansers make a good barometer of the health of the streams, rivers, and lakes where they breed.
I was surprised to see this merganser where it was, as I didn't know that they bred in the area. But to see one of these ducks on such a small stream, even this late in the season, might be an indicator of local nesting.
Here's a map depicting the North America distribution of Common Merganser. As is evident, they breed in a broad northerly swath, and northern Ohio is at the southernmost latitude for eastern nesters. West Virginia isn't even shown in the breeding range.
The map needs updated, but it would have been accurate not so long ago. During the first West Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas, which took place from 1984 to 1989, no evidence of nesting Common Mergansers was found in the Mountaineer State. Fast forward to Atlas II, which began in 2009 and concluded at the end of this year's field season. The merganser's status had changed dramatically, and for the better. The ducks were found in 68 blocks, mostly in the eastern half of the state, and nesting was confirmed in 35 of them. A positive environmental story in an age of all too common gloom and doom.
Common Mergansers undoubtedly bred historically in much of West Virginia. Rampant logging and the attendant degradation of streams probably pushed them out for decades, just as it did here in Ohio. As forests have recovered and the aquatic health of forest streams improved, the ducks have made a comeback.
Saturday, October 11, 2014
I've written about the larvae of the Green Lacewing, Leucochrysa pavida, before, but never with (what I felt) were adequate photographs. These little creatures are very hard to image. They're small, mostly covered up, and when they expose themselves they're generally on the move.
It was time to figure out how to overcome the photographic challenges. I'm involved in a project that features an essay about lacewing larvae, and a good photo was a must. Lacewing larvae of the type shown below are not rare, but can be a challenge to locate for reasons that will soon be obvious. I asked Chris Bedel, Director of the Edge of Appalachia Preserve, if he might keep an eye out for lacewing larvae and capture me some livestock if he found any. Chris did, and I was able to set up a shoot under more controlled conditions than one would find outside, on the trunk of a tree. My rig was the Canon 5D Mark III with the twin-lite flash setup rigged to the spectacular MP-E 65 mega-macro lens. Still wasn't easy, and I probably shot off a hundred shots to get a few keepers.
The end result is a lichen Ghillie Suit. The insect moves with a halting stumble-step that might remind a birder of the curious mincing paces of an American Woodcock. Looking up under the costume, as here, we see that the lichens conceal a formidable predator. Check those mandibles!
Lacewing larvae of many species prey on aphids, and this one is no exception. Its only problem is that ants often guard arboreal aphid colonies, as the ants get a reward of nutrient-rich aphid honeydew for their troubles. Ants are extremely good at warding off threats to their charges; entomological pit bulls, you might say. The lacewing larva gets around this problem by means of its camouflaged suit. It moves right into aphid colonies, fooling the ant guards with its outstanding disguise. Other potential victims are no doubt fooled as well. Who would notice that the little lichen clump was slowly moving their way?
The death-dealing mandibles at the right are what the creature uses to seize its prey, which will then be punctured by the mouthparts and sucked dry. Radiating around its body are long struts capped with stiff hairlike bristles. These serve to support the lichen "house" on its back.
If all goes well for the lacewing larva, it will eventually morph into a small but beautiful winged insect with gossamer net-veined wings that is extremely different than the animal seen here. If you search enough lichen-spackled tree trunks and limbs, eventually you'll make the acquaintance of one of these things.
Nature truly is amazing.
Thanks to Chris Bedel for his help in securing these lichen-lions!
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
The Big Sit! is an effort to tally as many bird species as possible within 24 hours, from the confines of an officially designated 17-foot diameter circle. The Big Sit! concept was formalized by the New Haven (Connecticut) Bird Club in 1993, and later Bird Watcher's Digest stepped in to provide sponsorship. I wrote in more detail about Big Sits in last Sunday's Columbus Dispatch, RIGHT HERE.
Big Sits are a lot of fun, and tax all of a birder's identification skills. They can also be used as an interesting way to raise funds for worthy causes. The Big Sit! occurs this coming weekend, October 11th & 12th, and well over 150 circles will be formed and sat in all across the States and beyond.
Fast forward and the time is nearly upon us. Along with Bill Heck, Columbus Audubon's immediate past president, ace birder Steve Landes (he found the recent mega-rarity Reddish Egret [CLICK HERE]), Suzan Jervey, and probably others, I'll be up on that roof A LOT come this Sunday, October 12th. You're free to join us for as little or as long as you wish, if you want to get in some sedentary birding. Our circle will be on the highest point of the roof, all the way to the back right in the photo. We (at least Bill and I, for starts) will take up position just after midnight this Sunday, and stay there (breaks are permitted!) well into the following evening. If it is a clear calm night, it's amazing how many species can be detected after dark by their calls.
Progress updates will be posted to the Grange Insurance Audubon Center's website, RIGHT HERE. As we tick new species, Jeff Yost and crew will post them to the site, along with information about the species.
Finally, we hope to raise a few bucks to support the center and its mission. A common way of donating to Big Sits is via a per-species pledge. Maybe it's $5.00 a species, $1.00 a species, or even a quarter a species. Every contribution is appreciated! If you would like to help fund our mission (madness), please visit the Grange Insurance Audubon Center website RIGHT HERE.
If you want more details about the Big Sit! or would like to come up on the roof for a bit, please email me at: jimmccormac35 AT gmail.com
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Earlier this fall, I wrote (with some excitement) about finally finding one of our strangest caterpillars, the Harris's Three-spot, Harrisimemna trisignata. That post, with photos, is RIGHT HERE. It describes the odd behavior of the caterpillar, and the equally strange appearance of the moth that it morphs into.
That's right, the life cycle of this weird caterpillar gets even weirder. When it nears the end of the line for the caterpillar stage,the caterpillar bores a chamber into solid wood. We probably found this one not too long after it began digging, and at this point its chamber is deep enough to fit half its body in. The hole is being drilled into the untreated pine of a boardwalk railing.
Rachel, whose office is in nearby Fayetteville, went back two days later to see what the tunnel looked like. It was done, and expertly sealed. While the entrance looks to be solidly plugged with wood, the cap is actually a thin veneer of silk produced by the caterpillar. Remember, the moth must somehow escape the tunnel late next spring, and apparently it can punch its way through this silk operculum. The silken cover disguises the pupatorium entrance well, and few if any creatures would probably pay it any mind.
David Wagner, in his ground-breaking book Caterpillars of Eastern North America, notes that Harris's Three-spot caterpillars consume a great many species of common woody plants. Yet the caterpillars/moths seem rare. In spite of years of searching, it wasn't until this year that I finally found this species. Many caterpillar hunters that I know have never seen one. I think the creation of its pupal chamber may be the species' Achilles heel. Spending two nights making the chamber leaves the caterpillar quite vulnerable to predators, and it seems likely that many would be picked off at this stage. However, if the caterpillar successfully completes the burrow and seals itself in, it is probably as safe as a caterpillar can be.