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Showing posts from June, 2016

Miscellaneous flora and fauna from recent days

Not much time for long-winded blog posts, so a briefly captioned slideshow ensues. Any one of these photos - all from last weekend - could warrant its own post, and perhaps I'll get around to treating some of these subjects in detail, eventually. For now, though, a hodge-podge of INTERESTING STUFF.

A harlequin-patterned Lark Sparrow forages on rocky ground in the lunar landscape of a long-abandoned limestone quarry in Greene County. This handsome sparrow is at the eastern limits of its breeding range in Ohio, and is very rare here.

Taking a brief pause from its teeter-tottering gait to regard the photographer, this Spotted Sandpiper was one of several nesting along artificial pools in the same quarry as the Lark Sparrow above. The little pink flowers bookending the sandpiper are Branching Centaurium, Centaurium pulchellum, a showy little Eurasian weed.

This close-up of the flower of a Prairie Fringed Orchid, Platanthera leucophaea, reveals Edvard Munch's character in The Screa…

Teeming with rabbits

The golden glow of a June sunset in Muskingum County, Ohio illuminates an adult Eastern Cottontail. This is one of the most abundant Leporids (rabbits) in the Americas, ranging throughout the eastern U.S. and south all the way to northern South America. It was even (quite stupidly) introduced throughout the Caribbean and even in Italy. But probably nowhere are they as plentiful as right here in the heartland of Ohio and the Midwestern U.S.

Life is fraught with peril for bunnies. They are basically saltatorial steaks, and many predators avidly seek them. Here, a kit not long out of the nest secretes itself in dense cover along an open grassy area filled with succulent rabbit fare. This youngster must quickly learn the survival ropes; the mortality rate for cottontails is very high.

For whatever reason, the cottontail population seems to be flourishing this year. On last weekend's trip to Muskingum County, I must have seen nearly two dozen, mostly kits. I've also seen lots else…

Wasp puts on reproductive show in Hocking County preserve

A Xorides stigmapterus wasp lays eggs in a maple.
Wasp puts on reproductive show in Hocking County preserve
Columbus Dispatch NATURE
Jim McCormac June 19, 2016
On May 12, I trekked into a wild area of Hocking County along with top-notch biologists Dave and Laura Hughes, and Joe Moosbrugger. We found scads of interesting flora and fauna.

Trumping all was a 1-inch wasp. As we navigated a steep slope, someone noticed an ornately marked wasp on the bark of a dying sugar maple. Its most distinctive feature was an incredibly long ovipositor.

We had found one of the giant Ichneumon wasps and settled in for a ringside seat to part of its amazing reproductive cycle.

The female wasp somehow divines the location of beetle grubs feeding deep in the wood of trees. She then unfurls an ovipositor that might exceed her body length. The wasp slowly bores deep into the wood until her ovipositor makes contact with the victim.

Once she reaches the grub, she squirts a semi-solid egg down her ovipositor and …

Beech tree killer still unknown, UPDATE

A forest of young American beech, Fagus grandifolia, withering under the attack of an as-yet unknown plant disease. Lake County, Ohio.
Just over two years ago, I wrote about a mysterious affliction that was decimating American beech trees in parts of northeastern Ohio. You can read that post RIGHT HERE. It was brought to my attention by John Pogacnik, biologist with Lake County Metroparks.

Last week, John reported with an update, and the news is not good. Experts remain stymied as to the cause of the affliction, which seems to be spreading. All of the photos, and much of the text (lightly edited) that follows, is from John. Read on, and then see recent photos of affected trees following the text. All photos, I believe, were taken recently in Lake County, Ohio.

"Basically experts have been looking at it for three years now and cannot nail down a cause.  They have studied the roots, leaves, buds, and branches, but cannot find anything.  They see problems, but they appear to be there…

A dangerous flower-stalker

The Amen of Nature is always a flower. --Oliver Wendell Holmes
The ivory flowers of White Milkweed, Asclepias variegata, are irresistible to pollinating insects. And photographers.

I had a great day last Sunday down in Shawnee State Forest, birding with Carl and Karen Winstead. We found many species of birds, with good looks at choice feathered bits such as Cerulean, Kentucky, and Worm-eating warblers. Lots of plants, butterflies, dragonflies and other elements of natural history, too.

After the Winsteads and I parted ways in late afternoon, I took the long way out of the forest, stopping to shoot some interesting subjects, mostly plants and insects. And is often the case when loitering around insect-rich plant life, I was witness to a kill by a spectacular flower-stalking insect that hunts other insects.

A Silver-spotted Skipper, Epargyreus clarus, taps nectar from the small blossoms of Spiked Lobelia, Lobelia spicata. These large, easily identified skippers are quite common in Shawn…

Wild Lupines

Colorful clumps of Wild Lupine, Lupinus perennis, dot a recently burned oak savanna at The Nature Conservancy'sKitty Todd Preserve in the Oak Openings west of Toledo. This well-managed tract is one of the best places to get a flavor for one of the Midwest's most unusual habitats, and its rare denizens. I was there back on May 14, and made these photos during that foray.

Bright blue jolts of lupine flowers enliven a sand blowout at Toledo Metroparks' massive Oak Openings Metropark. Lupine, at least this species, grows best in dry sandy substrates. The Oak Openings has plenty of sand. This elliptically shaped region encompasses the old beaches and dunes of pre-glacial Lake Erie, dating from a time when the lake sprawled much further inland than it currently does.

Lupine is a rarity in Ohio, and nearly all populations occur within the Oak Openings. Hit the right spot, and there can be a lotta lupine, creating spectacular blue clumps and besting any ornamental plant in the lo…

The amazing Canon 5DS-R

The amazing new Canon 5DS-R, which was released about one year ago. I had been paying close attention to this camera, as my trusty 5D Mark III was going on three years old, and had lived a hard life. It was getting near time to replace it, and I was seeing stunning results that some nature and wildlife photographers were getting with the 5DS-R, most notably Artie Morris. So, last April I rented one and took it with me to Kansas to shoot prairie-chickens. That's all it took. I was sold and traded in the old workhorse 5D Mark III (120,000 shutter actuations), and got my own 5DS-R almost immediately after returning from that trip.

I've lived with this camera for nearly two months now, and love it. Probably the most noteworthy thing about the camera is its enormous resolution: a whopping 50 megapixels! At first, I thought this might be hype, an arms race of oneupsmanship with Nikon, to best their 36 megapixel D800. I've come to the conclusion that enormous megapixelism isn…

A positive note about flies

In my warm-season wanderings, I notice flies. Lots of flies, everywhere, in all sizes, shapes, and forms. Mostly doing interesting things, and more often than not, very valuable things.
Flies get a bad rap. Ask your average person what comes to mind when "fly" is mentioned, and it'll usually be some variation of "yuck". What a huge injustice to the massive order Diptera, which is estimated to include one million species. It is only a tiny thimbleful of fly species that cause the all-important Homo sapiens issues - the overwhelming majority are beautiful insects that play essential roles in ecosystems, and mostly go unnoticed.
As I've been working through photo edits from recent excursions, I came across a few fly photos that show a trio of examples of fly coolness and value.
One of the most beautiful wildflowers of the North Country is Bird's-eye Primrose, Primula mistassinica. It grows in profusion on cold, gravelly shores of lakes Huron and Michigan …

Long-lived Blanding's turtle threatened by loss of habitat

Blanding's turtles wander a bit, making their conservation more complicated.
Columbus Dispatch June 5, 2016
NATURE Jim McCormac
The average American lifespan is 79 years. One of our coolest reptiles can best that. A cautious Blanding’s turtle can live to the age of 80, or older. Blanding’s turtle is, insofar as turtles go, a gem. A lunker can reach ten inches in length. The high domed shell suggests the shape of a German WW II army helmet. This carapace is blue-back, and adorned with fine yellow stippling.

This turtle’s most distinctive feature is its lemon-yellow throat and chin. They are highly aquatic, agile swimmers capable of capturing live fish. A Blanding’s turtle might be thought of as a leaky box turtle. Its lower shell – the plastron – is hinged and can be folded up to seal off the head. But the plastron doesn’t form the drum tight seal of its smaller relative.

Amorous turtles mate in April and May, and commence the busi…

Showy Lady's-slipper alert!

I (quite fortuitously!) had business at Cedar Bog today, and it just so happened to coincide with the blooming of what many would argue is North America's most spectacular orchid, the Showy Lady's-slipper, Cypripedium reginae. Needless to say, some effort was made to create imagery of these botanical wonders, and some results are printed here.

As spectacular as the lady's-slippers looked today, they'll look even better in a day or two, as many flowers were still in bud. And the plants should be remain looking good for another week or so, but this weekend will be the weekend to visit.

Now who would NOT want to see a botanical spectacle such as this?! Some of the older plants produce so many flowers that they resemble an orchidiferous shrub. Showy Lady's-slipper is listed as threatened in Ohio, and there are only about four or five populations in the state. Cedar Bog hosts the most plants, and they are also the most easily accessible ones.

I've written about Ced…