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Showing posts from July, 2017

NATURE: Super-rare orchid a survivor of prairie destruction

One of Ohio's rare prairie fringed orchids

Columbus Dispatch July 30, 2017
NATURE Jim McCormac

“Strike while the iron is hot.” — John Deere So said the famed purveyor of plows, shortly after launching his first chisel plow in 1837. Once agriculturalists got a way to cut the thick sod, they wasted no time converting rich prairie biodiversity to crops. In little more than a century, most of Ohio’s prairie had been plowed. Today, the destruction is nearly total. Of the million acres of original prairie that blanketed Ohio before European settlement, about 99.9 percent has been planted with a botanical triumvirate of beans, corn and wheat. There have been untold losers in the prairie apocalypse. Midwestern prairies harbored some of North America’s richest biodiversity. Legions of plant species flourished in the rich soil. They in turn fostered a bewildering array of insects, which served to fuel scores of higher animals. Many prairie plants are now imperiled. Among the rarest is the prairi…

The gorgeous Purple Fringeless Orchid

Back on July 17, I had an early morning meeting in Athens, Ohio. The meeting was early, because this is a beautiful part of the state that's full of interesting biodiversity, and I wanted time to explore after the work was done. My fellow meeting attendees were amenable to the early morning rendezvous, and I'm grateful as it left plenty of time to explore the outdoors afterwards. While, as always, I was interested in just about everything I could see, there was a primary focus to the field work - locating one of our coolest orchids.
After departing Athens, I headed to neighboring Vinton County, long a favorite of mine among our 88 counties. Vinton County is sparsely populated and mostly wild, and there is always lots of intriguing flora and fauna to be found.

On the way, I noticed a Box Turtle attempting to cross the two-lane state highway I was motoring on. As is often the case when a vehicle goes by, the turtle stopped its SLOW and perilous progress and boxed itself into it…

Hummingbirds and Royal Catchfly

A Ruby-throated Hummingbird plunges its long swordlike bill deep into the corolla of a Royal Catchfly, Silene regia, flower. Hummingbirds are the primary pollinators of this beautiful prairie plant.

I promised in the last post to share a few photos of the fruits of my hummingbird photography labors. Last Thursday, July 20, I was at Huffman Prairie near Dayton, Ohio shortly after dawn. I knew the catchfly would be at peak flowering, and this would mean lots of hummingbirds. There are few if any better situations in which to photograph Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and as that was probably the only day I'd get a crack at this, for this year at least, I wasn't going to waste it.

Botanist Thomas Nuttall, a man who had seen a tremendous spectrum of our flora, called the royal catchfly "one of the most splendid species in existence." Adding to its allure is the fact that Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are its primary pollinator. Standing in a large prairie dotted with the scarl…

Hanging Thief bags wasp!

I visited the famous Huffman Prairie last Thursday, mainly to photograph hummingbirds. The Royal Catchfly, Silene regia, is at peak bloom, and there are many Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. This plant is primarily pollinated by hummingbirds, and I can think of no better setting or situation in which to photograph these tiny birds. I did manage some nice images of hummingbirds face deep in the catchfly flowers, and will perhaps post some of those here later. CLICK HERE, though, and you can see my efforts from last July.

A prairie as rich as Huffman always has legions of INTERESTING THINGS, whether they be floral or faunal in nature. After packing up the big lens, I had a few minutes before I had to leave to go teach a macrophotography course, so I clipped on a macro lens and set out to see what I could find in a short time frame.

I didn't have to wait long. I'd barely got 30 paces from the Jeep when a strangely shaped, largish tan and black blob whirred by. Giving chase, I followed…

Boom in fearsome stag beetles a boon for ecology

A female stag beetle, left, has smaller "horn" than does a male, right
Columbus Dispatch July 16, 2017
NATURE Jim McCormac
The scene has played out scores of times this summer: People are sitting in their yards, a park or anywhere outside, when suddenly a giant buzzing bug whirs in. To the terror of entomophobes, the insect sometimes lands on people. Meet the reddish-brown stag beetle, or “pinching beetle,”Lucanus capreolus. At first blush, an adverse reaction is understandable. A stag beetle is a superficially intimidating insect. It tapes out at about an inch and a half, and that’s not counting the impressive mandibles. The latter are what people notice first. A male stag beetle’s mandibles are a pair of ferocious-looking curved appendages arcing forward from its head. The female’s “horns” are much smaller; the accompanying photo shows both sexes. Although one of these beetles can give a good nip if mishandled, they are not aggressive and do not ordinarily pinch people. Like …

Life in a drainpipe: How to make photographic lemonade from lemons

As always, no shortage of material as I prepare this, my 1,708th blog entry since beginning this blog almost exactly ten years ago. Mothapalooza was held last weekend and it was a smashing success. I want to put up some pics and commentary about that soon, but for now, an adventure from yesterday.

Word has been circulating about great shorebird habitat developing in the easternmost big impoundment at Big Island Wildlife Area in Marion County, so I finally made it there late yesterday to check things out. The reports were not exaggerated; plenty of mudflats and shallow water bode well for waders. We're early in the fall migration for shorebirds - yes, fall migration in mid-July! - and there weren't a lot of birds. Killdeer were most common, probably mostly birds that bred somewhere in the general region. Others included Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpiper, Least and Semipalmated sandpipers, and Solitary and Stilt sandpipers. Most of these birds have already been to the Arctic…

Macrophotography workshop: July 20 in Delaware County, Ohio

A Tuliptree Silkmoth, Callosamia angulifera, peeks from behind a leaf, as seen last Saturday night in Scioto County, Ohio.
I'm giving a free macrophotography workshop on Thursday, July 20, at the Stratford Ecological Center near Delaware, Ohio. It's part of their local camera club's regular series, but guests are welcome. Please just RSVP to me at jimmccormac35 AT if you wish to come. It starts at 1 pm, and to kick things off I'll give a PowerPoint primer about macro work. Following that, we'll head right outside the building where subjects galore should be found, and try our hand at photographing wee things. We'll try to wrap things up around 3 pm. More details about Stratford Ecological Center can be found RIGHT HERE.

A creative blur of the small flowers of Bluehearts, Buchnera americana, made last Saturday in Adams County, Ohio.

Fireworks as Art

Fireworks - two nights in a row! Read the previous post to see images from last night's extravagant Red, White & Boom fireworks production in Columbus - the largest such display in Ohio. Tonight, it was Dublin's turn, and as the launch site is only a few miles from my place, I went on over to see what I could do, and experiment with a new (to me) technique.

The Dublin celebration included a performance by Peter "Do You Feel Like We Do" Frampton, and the area was packed. I thought I had a good, largely people-free locale to shoot from, but when the fireworks started, I found that a number of large trees were blocking too much of the view. So, it was to an unplanned Plan B, and I ended up finding a good spot to jam the Jeep in, jump out, and start shooting with about 1/3rd of the show left.

All the tips I offered in the last post applied tonight, with one exception. I used a different technique that might be termed "focus distortion". The lens of choice w…

Happy 4th of July fireworks!

Last night was Columbus, Ohio's major fireworks extravaganza - Red, White & Boom. This is the largest fireworks display in the state, and RWB's 37th year. I was there, and managed a number of satisfactory images.

If you're into fireworks, just scroll through the post and enjoy. Remember, as always you can click the photo to see an enlarged version.

If you're into photography, I've prefaced this post with some fireworks photography tips. Each of the images is captioned with the metadata for the photo, too.

As we all know, fireworks are amazing light shows of color and shape. It's natural to want to record them on pixels; keep a permanent memory of a very ephemeral festival of light. Shooting quality images of fireworks isn't too difficult, but it's a technical enough challenge to make blunders easy to commit, and crisp well-exposed images are quite rewarding. I know that most people who read this blog know me as a photographer of most things natural …

Nature: Sandpipers are flying machines

An upland sandpiper alights on a telephone pole in rural Ashtabula County.
Columbus Dispatch July 2, 2017
NATURE Jim McCormac
No Ohio-breeding bird migrates farther than upland sandpipers. These long-winged shorebirds breed in hayfields, meadows, prairies and other open places. That stands in contrast to most shorebirds, which choose to breed in wetland habitats. Upland sandpipers also winter in wide-open country — but at the other end of the world. Most “uppies” migrate to southern South America, with some birds making it as far as Buenos Aires, Argentina. That’s almost 6,000 miles south of Ashtabula County, where I took the accompanying photo. I recently spent time observing a family unit of upland sandpipers frequenting farmland in Ohio’s largest county, in the northeastern corner of the state. Shortly after arriving, I saw one of the birds fly to the top of a telephone pole, where it watched over its domain. For the next several hours, the uppies put on quite a show, flying about and…