Skip to main content


Showing posts from October, 2015

Cave Salamander

An old springhouse seems to merge with the forest that surrounds it. This isn't any old springhouse, though. Sited in the hills near western Cincinnati, the 166 year old structure is bank vault solid, its thick limestone walls probably destined to last another century and a half, or more. In a minute we'll go through the creaky wooden door at the bottom right, and meet the building's special inhabitants.

FOOTNOTE: Springhouses are usually simple structures, typically made of rock, that were built over springs. Their main purpose was to protect the emergent spring water from debris or contaminants, and exclude animals. As the cool water also keeps the interior of the springhouse at a consistently low temperature, at least when compared to outside air during warm periods, they also served as a mild form of refrigeration for perishables.

I recently received an irresistible invite from herpetologist Jeff Davis, one of the authors of the new Amphibians of Ohio book. Would I lik…

Falling water

Here in Central Ohio, fall is well advanced. The trees are a bit past peak color, although many sugar maples and other of the arboreal torches of autumn are still showstoppers. Today brought a heavy rain, likely the aftermath of Hurricane Patricia, and as I watched the precipitation from my office window this afternoon, Hayden Run Falls popped to mind.

I don't know about you, but I all too often ignore the little honey holes right in my backyard. When field opportunities present themselves, it usually means travel to some far-flung place. There are plenty of sweet little spots close at hand, though, and I'm guilty of all too often ignoring them. Hayden Run and its falls, which is only about ten minutes from where I live, is one such place.

I knew the rain would fuel the falls that caps the end of this lovely little limestone box canyon, so after work I hustled home, grabbed some camera gear, and headed out to do some waterfall-ing.

Just off the parking lot, which is just off …

Turkey Vultures and Tree Swallows on the wing

On October 11, I made an expedition to the St. Marys Fish Hatchery in western Auglaize County, near the eastern shore of Grand Lake St. Marys. The primary purpose was to photograph shorebirds, especially White-rumped Sandpipers. I had success on that score, returning with many nice files of white-rumps and several other species. You can see some of those photos HERE, and HERE.

But life is not just shorebirds, and after I was done shooting those, I set out to walk the entire hatchery and see what the other ponds and wetlands might hold.

One of the drawn-down ponds held the carcasses of a number of sizeable fish, and these tasty sun-baked morsels had not escaped the Turkey Vultures' sharp eyes. Or nostrils. Vultures don't miss a trick. They rank high among the most observant, and intelligent, birds in the world.

Turkey Vultures are conspicuous on the wing, with their six and a half foot wingspans. Despite the birds' massive size, they can be harder to make crisp images of t…

A Wheelbug visits

Well, well, my lucky day! As I arrived home from work and set about wheeling the car into the garage, a peculiar blob on the wall caught my eye. A Wheelbug! This was the second Arilus cristatus that I've seen by my garage door this fall, and I've seen a number of others elsewhere. I suspect these bizarre hemipterans are having a good year. Not one to let a good photo op go to waste, I rushed inside, rigged the macro gear and flash, and rushed back outside to deal with the little (but BIG as bugs go!) animal.

A word of caution for would-be handlers of Wheelbugs. Exercise caution. These are predatory insects, and have quite the powerful tool for dispatching victims. I'm told that the bite of a Wheel Bug is painful indeed, and can take a while to heal. I exercised caution, and carefully moved the insect to a nearby shrub in order to create a better backdrop.

Fortunately, Wheelbugs have rather calm dispositions, and can be worked easily. But I have seen them strike and kill, …

City at night

Click the photo to enlarge, as always
I've become somewhat interested in capturing urban night scenes: the interplay of various lights, and streaming moving lights by the use of SLOW shutter speeds. I've only made a few attempts, and will never make this style of shooting my bread and butter, but no use being a one-trick pony. Trying to become proficient in many styles will probably only make one better at any sort of photographic attempt.

This is a view of downtown Columbus, Ohio, looking from the east. One of the major hurdles to composing large-scale complex images such as this is finding a place to take the photos. Ideally, the photographer will be elevated somewhat, to get above the level of all the street clutter such as signs, traffic lights, parked vehicles, etc. I finally found a decent spot about half a dozen stories up, but even this place has a bit too many distractions in the foreground for my taste, mainly those lofty street lights. I'll be keeping my eye out…

Butterfly another buckeye popular in fall

Butterfly another buckeye popular in fall
Columbus Dispatch
October 18, 2015

Jim McCormac

Anything with buckeye in the name is generally popular in these parts. Thus, the common buckeye (Junonia coenia) should indeed be an esteemed butterfly.

No matter what the name, the buckeye is a beautiful bug. Its wings are like an entomological artist’s canvas, painted by a master. Buckeye-shaped spheres rimmed with ocher and tinged with violet and azure accent a brown and orange backdrop. Dashes, bars and wavy lines create striking points of interest.

A casual observer probably wouldn’t notice the butterfly’s ornate detail. Buckeyes dash low over the ground with great rapidity. On the wing, all ablur, they look like little more than a moth on steroids.

But when one alights to feast on flower nectar — whoa! Game on, and out come the cameras. A more striking lepidopteran subject could hardly be found.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about these flashy insects. But a special award meri…

Shooting shorebirds (with camera)

Fish hatcheries can be birding hotspots, and the St. Marys Fish Hatchery in Auglaize County has been hopping lately. Several of the ponds there have been drawn down to mudflats, attracting lots of shorebirds. I headed over last Sunday to see what I could find, and attempt to make some images. Some of my photos from this foray are in the previous post.

The St. Marys Fish Hatchery lies just a stone's throw from the eastern shore of Grand Lake St. Marys. At the time of its construction as a canal feeder lake in the 1830-40's, this was the largest manmade lake in the world. Unfortunately, its construction drowned what must have been a spectacular wet prairie and swamp forest. But the lake, feeble substitute as it may be for the original prairies and woodlands, quickly turned into a bonanza for water birds. In 1970 Clarence Clark and James Sipe published their Birds of the Lake St. Marys Area, which documented an impressive cast of avifauna. The fish hatchery, which launched opera…

Hunting shorebirds

A Common Buckeye, Junonia coenia, nectars at the flowers of White Heath Aster, Symphyotrichum pilosum. There's nothing "common" about the appearance of this exotic-looking butterfly, and while the plant is abundant and sometimes derided as weedy, it is an important native late-season source of energy for butterflies and other pollinators. I made this image last Sunday at the St. Marys Fish Hatchery in Auglaize County, Ohio.

I haven't been letting grass grow under my feet of late, hence the scarcity of posts. Three recent and highly productive field days resulted in many sightings and images, though. I'm still sorting and cataloguing those, but present a few photos here.

This freshly molted male Red-winged Blackbird, many feathers still fringed with buff, felt the spirit of a late fall Indian Summer day and could not contain himself. I photographed him in the yellow glow of the final minutes before sunset at Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area in Wayne County. He obligi…

Climbing Fern, Lygodium palmatum

Way back on August 13, I made a visit to Vinton County in southeastern Ohio, to visit my friend Ray Showman and his wife, Carol. The primary mission was to deliver a presentation to Carol's garden club, and that task was dealt with. But there was time for a field excursion into Vinton County's wildlands, and Ray and I hit some of the local hotspots.

One organism that I really wanted to revisit was a strange plant known as Climbing Fern, Lygodium palmatum. For as long as I can remember there has been a large station of this plant in a scruffy cutover woods not far outside of McArthur. Ray and I made our way there, and lo and behold - there was the fern. Vegetation succession has eliminated much of it - back when I first became acquainted with this spot the fern clambered over vast expanses, and suggested an out-of-control growth of Japanese Honeysuckle from afar. But the odd tangle of the odd fern persisted here and there.

In the photo above, we see the finely cleft fertile le…

2015 Wetlands Summit: October 17, Dawes Arboretum

Cedar Bog, Champaign County. Perhaps the richest biological diversity in Ohio occurs in the fens of Cedar Bog. Wetlands in general fuel major spikes in biodiversity.
Mark your calendar for Saturday, October 17. That's the date of the Ohio Wetlands Association's annual Wetlands Summit. The event takes place at the beautiful Dawes Arboretum, which is a stone's throw from Newark and easy to reach from nearly anywhere. Complete details and registration information can be found RIGHT HERE.

Ohio has lost about 90% of the wetlands that were here when the first European settlers arrived. Prioritizing their protection, strategizing effective ways to save and restore them, and educating people about wetland values should be of paramount importance. The Ohio Wetlands Association excels at this mission.

A star-studded cast of speakers will make for a very informative and entertaining day, and there should be time to visit some of the wetlands that were restored in recent years in Dawe…

Rare in Ohio, Swainson's Hawk draws a crowd

The famous Holmes County Swainson's Hawk
October 4, 2015

Jim McCormac

On a summer day in 1827, naturalists John Richardson and Thomas Drummond were exploring uncharted territory near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Spying an unfamiliar raptor, Drummond drew a bead with his shotgun and fired. He had collected the first Swainson’s hawk specimen.

Named in honor of scientist/artist William Swainson, the Swainson’s hawk is an animal of great beauty. It’s about the same dimensions as the familiar red-tailed hawk, but it has a slimmer body and longer wings.

The plumage is variable, ranging from very dark forms to much paler types. Most are classified as “light morphs;” the “dark morphs” are scarcer.

The breeding range of Swainson’s hawk encompasses much of western North America, into the southern Canadian prairie provinces. A tiny population in northern Illinois represents the easternmost breeders.

Swainson’s hawks rarely appear in Ohio, and if one does, it will draw great…

Hackberry Emperors, quadrupled

A quartet of Hackberry Emperors, Asterocampa celtis, adorn a tree at Kiwanis Park in Columbus. This little-known park is nestled along one of the wilder sections of the Scioto River in this otherwise urban area, and is one of my honey holes when little time is available.

So it was back on August 2, when only a few hours were available to shoot some images. So off to the nearby Kiwanis Park I went, where something of interest can always be found. I had meant to post these pictures long ago, but they got preempted by this, that, and the other. That happens all of the time. Even one good field trip can produce numerous subjects well worth writing about, and things constantly get sent to the end of the line, often never to see the light of day, at least on this blog.

Anyway, I've long had a soft spot for these beautiful butterflies, and admire their pugnacious mannerisms. Chances are good, if a butterfly boldly lands on you, and stays put, or keeps returning, it is a Hackberry Empero…