Skip to main content


Showing posts from July, 2015

Song Sparrow, preening

A beautiful Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia. A very successful songbird, Song Sparrows can be found in all manner of places throughout their expansive range. For many readers, this will be one of the first birds that one hears upon exiting the abode in the morning. Yet they occur in the wildest of places, and every sort of situation in between.

I've got plenty of Song Sparrows around me, and common as they may be, I seldom overlook the shy little songsters. Back on May 15, I only had a few hours to get out and so I went over to a nearby park with plenty of biodiversity. As I stood quietly along the boardwalk, the melodious little animal featured in these photos hopped to a nearby branch, and engaged in a vigorous bout of preening.

Although he was only about 25 feet away, the sparrow ignored me and set about cleaning and straightening his feathers.

Preening in songbirds, as you may have noticed, is often accompanied with ferocious spasms of shaking. The reason for the intensity of…

Swallowtails key to azalea pollination

A Spicebush Swallowtail, Papilio troilus, pulls nectar from the blossom of a Pinxter-flower azalea, Rhododendron periclymenoides. A rival flutters in from the left, and it displaced the other butterfly a second later.

I made this image back on May 15 in Shawnee State Forest, Scioto County, Ohio. The azaleas were in full bloom, and offered irresistible photo subjects. It didn't take long to see that swallowtail butterflies were drawn to the blossoms in large numbers, and soon those became the target of my lens.

Pinxter-flower is a rare plant in Ohio, with an official designation of threatened. Just to roil the botanical waters a bit, there is a very similar species, the so-called Roseshell Azalea, Rhododendron prinophyllum. The latter differs in its shorter stamens and pubescent undersurfaces of the leaves. At one time they were lumped (rightly so?) as varieties under one species, Rhododendron nudiflorum.

The blurry taxonomy of this beautiful azalea is not the point here, anyway. …

Midwest Native Plant Conference 2015

The crowd at last weekend's Midwest Native Plant Conference gathers for Friday night's keynote, Don Leopold. This was the 7th year for the conference; the 6th at Bergamo Center on the grounds of Mount St. John in Dayton, Ohio. It sells out every year, and this year it took only about 30 days after registration opened to fill all 175 slots.

The conference is a boatload of work, and the planning committee deserves kudos. They are: Karen Arnett, Yvonne Cecil, Yvonne Dunphe, Judy Ganance, Ann Geise, Teri Gilligan, Scott Hogsten, Ned Keller, Randy Lakes, Diana Malas, Jim McCormac, Kathy McDonald, Cathy Plum and Debi Wolterman. A special thanks to our partners, Marianist Environmental Education Center (MEEC) for assisting us in hosting this event: Don Geiger, Leanne Jablonski, Michele Banker and Tara Poling.

We try to bring in the best speakers possible, and this year the cast was exceptional. They were: Kenn Kaufman, Don Leopold, John Magee, Michele Banker, Cheryl Harner, Erika Ga…

PSA: Hickory Tussock Moth caterpillar

I interrupt the irregularly unscheduled programming of this blog to offer up a Public Service Announcement about a caterpillar that has been generating lots of questions and comments of late.

The fuzzy bag of goo in question is, as shown above, the caterpillar of the Hickory Tussock Moth (HTM), Lophocampa caryae. I've received more than a few queries about these hirsute white cats, and so have many others. Perhaps you've seen one or many yourself this summer.

While the HTM caterpillars are often seen alone and on the march, they are sometimes found twisting in the breeze, suspended by a silken belay line suspended from the overarching foliage. This probably happens when some leaf-going threat startles the cat and it drops from the leaves, catching itself in midair with its strand of silk. Or perhaps it is just (literally) hanging out. Some caterpillars avoid potential predators amongst the leaves by whiling away the time dangling aloft.

When seen marching across the ground, s…

Brutal thunderstorm, and hummingbird photobomb

A palette of color, courtesy of some Grade A prairie plants, stretches as far as the eye can see at Prairie Oaks Metro Park in Madison County, Ohio. Franklin County Metro Parks has long been on a mission to restore big chunks of the former Darby Plains prairie, and their successes are there for all to see. We're fortunate indeed to have such a fine parks system in Central Ohio; a park system that thinks as much of native flora and fauna and natural ecosystems as it does ball fields, playgrounds, etc.

I was on a photographic mission in the prairies and fens west of Columbus today, and managed many keeper images of a wide-ranging cast of subjects. The scene above was a no-brainer; anyone armed with a camera would have stopped for photos. However, as I took the image above, to my back was a great prairie thunderstorm rolling in from the west. Shortly after making the image, I was forced into the car and beat a retreat to the building that's visible in the backdrop of this photo.

A truly Regal Fritillary

Ominous skies boil over the prairies of western Indiana. It didn't take a meteorologist to predict an imminent monsoon, and sure enough, the skies soon let loose.

I finally made a long overdue trip to Kankakee Sands in Newton County, Indiana, to see one of the Midwest's most notable prairie restoration projects. This site is only about an hour south of Chicago, and my friend and Chicagoan Joyce Pontius bopped down to join me, and we were to meet up with Mike Homoya and Roger Hedge of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Mike and Roger wisely decided to cancel, as they had a long drive and the day looked like a complete washout.

But as fate would have it, the weather soon cleared and conditions became fine for exploration. Warm weather and mostly clear skies were essential ingredients for finding my primary target. More on that in a minute.

This region once was covered by a marsh so vast it was known as the "Everglades of the North". Tens of thousands of acre…

A potpourri of recent observations

Precious little time to post, so here's some varied eye candy from two recent trips, with little commentary.

Juvenile Grasshopper Sparrow, Ammodramus  savannarum. Tri-Valley Wildlife Area, Muskingum County, Ohio. Canon 5D Mark III with 500mm f/4 II + 1.4 teleconverter (700 mm focal length); f/7.1; 1/800 sec; ISO 250; no flash.

White form of Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca forma leucantha, Tri-Valley Wildlife Area, Muskingum County, Ohio. Canon 5D Mark III with 100 mm macro; f/4.5; 1/640 sec.; ISO 50; no flash.

Henslow's Sparrow, Ammodramus henslowii, Tri-Valley Wildlife Area, Muskingum County, Ohio. Canon 5D Mark III with 500mm f/4 II + 1.4 teleconverter (700 mm focal length); f/8; 1/1000 sec; ISO 200; no flash.

Halloween Pennant, Celithemis eponina, Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, Wyandot County, Ohio. Canon 5D Mark III with 180mm macro f/3.5 lens; f/11; 1/200 sec.; ISO 100; flash.

Bronze Copper, Lycaena hyllus, Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, Wyandot County, Ohio. Canon 5D …

Photography Workshop: September 23-25

Everyone likes to make nice photos, and nearly everyone has a camera these days. Even the simplest point & shoots are complex enough that many owners don't take advantage of nearly all of the tools embedded in the camera. Learning what makes the camera tick, and how to best exploit its assets, will allow the user to create much better images.

I'm pleased to be joining two truly outstanding photographers, David FitzSimmons and Art Weber, in conducting a photography workshop this fall: September 23-25 at Lakeside Chautauqua on Ohio's Marblehead Peninsula. Lakeside is well-named - it sits on the picturesque shoreline of Lake Erie. Those of you who attended one of the last four Midwest Birding Symposiums will no doubt have fond memories of Lakeside.

We'll cover lots of different subject material: landscapes, all manner of wildlife photography, macro work, flash photography, composition and more. Part of the time will be spent indoors going over techniques, equipment, …