Skip to main content


Showing posts from March, 2017

Autumn Coralroot, a most curious little orchid

As always, I have far more material than time to post it here. While curating photos today, and making sure everything is properly catalogued and safely stored, I ran across photos from a fabulous field trip from last fall. On October 8, 2016, I met John Howard in an obscure part of Pike State Forest, Pike County, Ohio, to look at some interesting habitats. There were low-lying seep-fed fenlike wetlands, and drier prairie-ish openings. As always, we found much biodiversity. At one point, John mentioned having seen a population of an odd little orchid nearby years ago, and we thought it would be worthwhile to try and relocate them. Some images follow...
John led us to a dry, undistinguished woods on a ridgetop - the sort of place that would be easy to pass by. For the most part, the timber was young second-growth, and much of the forest floor was carpeted with Ground-cedar, Diphasiastrum digitatum, a colonial fern that does well in woodlands that have a history of heavy disturbance. Y…

Spring wildflowers erupt!

I have been remiss in posting about one of the best parts of spring - the eruption of the earliest spring wildflowers. There are many signs of winter's thaw each year, but none pronounce the passing of cold and ice and the onset of spring as enthusiastically as do colorful wildflowers. Each year, or nearly so, I make a peregrination to a few special hotspots in Adams County, to steep bluffs that overlook the Ohio River. Here, spring arrives far earlier than it does to points even a few miles away - far earlier than northern lands such as Columbus, or Cleveland.
So, on March 5 I made the trek southward, and was rewarded by the spectacle of a dozen or so wildflower species peeking from the ground - the first scouts in what will later become a botanical avalanche of flora.
Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica, were just starting to unfurl. One might argue that newly emerged plants, such as this one, are the showiest. The pink buds are punctuated by the first bright blue flowers. …

Fairy shrimp wait for wet springs to hatch

A male fairy shrimp
Columbus Dispatch March 19, 2017
Jim McCormac

On Independence Day in 1972, Harold von Braunhut was awarded a patent for "Sea-Monkeys." They already had become the stuff of legend; he had been selling the seemingly magical creatures under that name for a decade.

One need only buy a packet of eggs, add water andvoila, soon Sea-Monkeys will be swimming around the aquarium. They are actually a type of brine shrimp, and the eggs are in a state of cryptobiosis, a dormancy broken by moisture. A wild Ohio counterpart of Sea-Monkeys are fairy shrimp. These small crustaceans also burst to life when they hit water, but their aquariums are vernal pools. Vernal pools are small, highly specialized wetlands that normally only hold water seasonally. Fueled by snowmelt and spring rains, they peak from late February into May and have largely dried out by summer's onset. During their brief saturation, vernal pools become nurseries for an astonishing array of life. Yo…

Program next Wednesday night, March 15

I'm giving a program next Wednesday evening at the Happy Days Lodge in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, for the Cuyahoga Valley Photographic Society. This is on the north side of Akron, and not too far south of Cleveland. Show begins at 7 pm, it's free, and all are welcome.

The talk is a photo-rich ramble entitled " A Romp Through Ohio's Flora and Fauna", which showcases the great natural diversity of our state, and features both well known and nearly unknown organisms. With an overarching message of conservation, of course. I've only given this talk once, but it seemed to go over well, and I look forward to running through it again - probably with some updated material.

Details can be found RIGHT HERE.

Salamanders and shrimp

A male Fairy Shrimp,  Eubranchipus vernalis, one of the stranger inhabitants of eastern vernal pools.
Last night was reasonably warm and rainy - a perfect night to seek salamanders and other early breeding amphibians. So, I joined Laura Hughes to head to southeastern Ohio and interesting amphibian habitats. We were specifically seeking the rare (for Ohio) Eastern Spadefoot Toad, but no luck on that. We think it's probably still a bit early for the toad, but will be back to try again.
Laura knew of a fabulous vernal pool in the nearby Zaleski State Forest, and off we went to have a look. Immediately upon wading in, we saw scads and scads of Eastern Fairy Shrimp, such as above. These are amazing little creatures that are obligate denizens of vernal pools. By capturing some and placing them in small containers with clear water, I was able to make some images. As it was raining pretty hard nearly the entire time we were at the pool, I wasn't going to take my camera rig out in the…

Male hooded merganser puts on show when courting

A male hooded merganser
Columbus Dispatch
March 5, 2017
Jim McCormac

Signs of spring start materializing come mid-February, especially in mild winters like this one. Our first "wildflower," skunk cabbage, bursts from spring-fed mires. Buds begin to pop on elms and maples.

The earliest bees and flies appear, ready to tap nectar from pioneering spring flowers, such as harbinger-of-spring. Skunks become active, as your nose might have told you. And early birds become obvious: turkey vultures soaring overhead, killdeer yelling in the fields, and red-winged blackbirds teed up on shrubs. As Mark Twain said, "It's spring fever. That is what the name of it is." And nothing expresses the testosterone-fueled vernal rush of hormones like male ducks. By this time of year, drakes are busily courting seemingly oblivious hens. I recently visited a local patch new to me: Char-Mar Ridge Park, part of the Preservation Parks of Delaware County holdings. The centerpiece of the …

More Florida birds

Well, back in Ohio, where the temperature will drop into the 20's F tonight, and the wind is howling. A far cry from southern Georgia and southwest Florida, where I spent the last eight days. It was pretty much a gonzo, dawn to dusk everyday, birding/photographing expedition, and a highly productive one at that. It'll take a while to sort out many thousands of photos.

The trip was not without challenges. I made my first trip into the Withlacoochee State Forest, a place known for its Bachman's Sparrows and Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, among many other species. I found both, but also learned the perils of navigating the forest without benefit of four-wheel drive. My first day, I managed to stick my car but good in an undetectable soft sandy spot on a very remote forest road. That took about three hours to resolve. Also, the two days that I poked around the Withlacoochee were plagued by overcast skies and off and on rain, which made sharp, crisp photos a near impossibility. None…