Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A hodgepodge of vernal biodiversity

It was a well-traveled weekend just past for your narrator. The planning committee for the annual Midwest Native Plant Conference, of which I am a member, met on Saturday at Cedar Bog. This will be the 8th year for the conference, and it's proven to be popular, selling out in all years but the first. This year, it was filled within ten days of opening registration. You can read about the conference HERE, and perhaps plan on attending the 2017 event.

The reason we meet at places like Cedar Bog is so that we can have an interesting field trip after the meeting. Following are a few snapshots from our journey into the fen.

I find this dilapidated red barn an irresistible subject, especially as it is color-complimented by the reddish-maroon stems of red-osier dogwood. This shot was clicked off from a fairly great distance with my Canon 100-400mm telephoto at full zoom. I hope the Cedar Bog managers allow it to remain standing until it crumples on its own.

Even though I've been in the "bog" dozens and dozens of times, it never loses its allure. I know that, without exception, when I enter the site I will see COOL THINGS. Doesn't matter the season, or the weather. About a mile of planking spans many of the most interesting habitats.

And here we have it - Exhibit A of COOL THINGS on this day. Sharp-eyed Debi Wolterman was the first to notice one of these caterpillars, and we eventually found perhaps two dozen. Almost all of them were noshing on the newly emergent leaves of golden ragwort, Packera aurea, a common spring wildflower. Air temperature: low 40's F.

Thanks to Brian Menker, I have an identification. I thought that the cats might be those of the Smeared Dagger Moth, Acronicta oblinita, but Brian correctly pegged them as LeConte's Haploa, Haploa lecontei. That makes much more sense, as I see lots of the adult moths here later in the year. But the caterpillar is a new one for me. As I said, always lots of cool stuff at Cedar Bog.

Sunday it was off earlier than early to be in southernmost Ohio at first light. First stop was a place in Brown County that I hadn't been to in 15-20 years, Indian Creek Wildlife Area. A fellow photographer was with me, and we found a sweet hiding hole in the edge of a marsh and managed some decent images.

Here a pair of stunning drake Blue-winged Teal float in tranquil waters in the beautiful golden light of early morning.

Fraternizing with the blue-wings were the even smaller Green-winged Teal. I was pleased when a pair lined up in this way, with the hen front and center. Everyone (almost) wants to shoot the gaudy drakes and pays scant attention to the muted hens. I am trying not to be completely guilty of such avian sexism and find myself shooting more hens. Although, the light is making the drake's colors fairly explode and it isn't hard to see why he might be the center of attention.

On the shrubby verges of the wetland were several territorial Field Sparrows, and it was of course necessary to pay these handsome sparrows some mind. This particular animal was especially cooperative. One wants a singing shot, naturally, with throat feathers apuff and head thrown back. It was quite easy to know when he would sing, and be ready for it. Another male was singing in the distance, and immediately after that bird would sing, this one would deliver its silvery cascade of trilled notes. That's counter-singing - males talking back and forth, letting each other know the boundaries of the invisible fence that separates their turfs.

At one point I spotted this Giant Leopard Moth, Hypercompe scribonia, caterpillar high-tailing it across a country lane. I slammed on the brakes and we jumped out to investigate the bristly tube of goo. I removed him from the roadbed and placed him on a soft bed of moss. The caterpillar immediately began tunneling into its depths, perhaps to escape the 44 F temperature.

I have been remiss in not featuring more pixie cup lichens on this blog, something that I'm sure has had you scratching your head. So, here we go. This one, I believe, is the Pebbled Pixie Cup, Cladonia pyxidata, but I gladly stand correction from those more knowledgeable. While these tiny lichens of dry soil do resemble elfin goblets, to me they look like crusty golf tees.

The aforementioned pixie cups were growing with this amazing plant, the Trailing Arbutus, Epigaea repens. These odd little heaths are one of the first wildflowers of spring. The leathery oval leaves overwinter, and always look liver-spotted and beaten by the time the blossoms appear.

Sunday was a cool day, with temperatures unable to eclipse 50 F. The coolness kept some wildflowers at bay, although they were trying hard to push their petals apart. This is Hepatica, Hepatica nobilis, petals still folded together. Lest some botanist take me to task for the name, I am a lumper in this instance. Many feel that there are two species, the Round-lobed Hepatica, Hepatica americana, and Sharp-lobed Hepatica, H. acutiloba. Were you in the splitter's camp, this would be the Round-lobed Hepatica.

A Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, springs from the soil. The leaf still enwraps the stem, and the flower has yet to open. It would have opened the following day, and the petals would have shed shortly thereafter. Bloodroot is one of only two native species in the Papaveraceae, or Poppy Family, in Ohio.

A steep bluff overlooking the Ohio River in Adams County was already bursting with wildflowers, including the Dwarf Larkspur, Delphinium tricorne. The flowers are fantastic photo subjects, with their witch's hat shape and stunning magenta coloration.

The ever-popular Dutchman's-breeches, Dicentra cucullaria, a true harbinger-of-spring. We saw lots, but it'll be another week or so before it hits its peak.

Finally, one of our major botanical targets and it was in peak bloom. This is the tiny Snow Trillium, Trillium nivale, a rather rare species that is the first of the trilliums to rear its head in spring. It grows where limestone rock is at the surface, and is quite scattered in distribution. It's well named - spring snow squalls often blanket the flowers. Although I've seen Snow Trillium many times now, rare would be the spring that I failed to make a pilgrimage to see it.

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