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Showing posts from August, 2017

Caterpillar season is upon us!

Well, caterpillar season is really year 'round, but in terms of mature specimens and conspicuousness, late summer and fall are best. I've been afield a lot of late, and have been seeing plenty of the tubular crowd. The following pictorial display is of specimens that I've seen and photographed in the past week, mostly in southern Ohio's Adams and Scioto counties. The variation in caterpillars is mind-blowing, as is their appearances.

FINDING CATERPILLARS: When I share photos such as these on social media, someone(s) will invariably ask how to find caterpillars. Because, for the most part - even though there are probably well over 2,000 species in Ohio - they are out of sight and out of mind. The biggest thing one must do is venture out after dark. Most caterpillars become active under cover of darkness; an evolutionary response to bird predators and various predatory insects that are mostly diurnal, no doubt. During the day, most caterpillars secrete themselves exceptio…

Least Bittern

A richly vegetated marsh in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park near Akron, home to a celebrity avian family in weeks past. I apologize for the rather poor photo above, but this is what one gets when shooting landscapes in harsh midday sun without a filter. I meant to shoot some lay of the land images upon first arrival not long after dawn, but became engaged with shooting birds right off the bat.

For weeks, reports had been circulating of an especially cooperative clan of Least Bitterns in this place. North America's smallest heron is not an especially easy bird to find in these parts - listed as threatened in Ohio - and even less easy to photograph, at least well. Being a fan of herons in general and Least Bitterns in particular, I finally made the pilgrimage on August 21.

It didn't take long to find the birds. A pair of adults successfully raised four (so reported, I only saw two) offspring. At the risk of redundancy, the little leasts were quite talkative, and their coocooi…

Photo Workshop - Lake Erie, September 20-22

Once again, award-winning photographer David FitzSimmons and I will be teaching a multi-day photography workshop along the shores of Lake Erie, at one of the showiest times of year. We'll be based at Lakeside, a quaint village on the Marblehead Peninsula. There's plenty of subject matter right outside the door, but we'll travel to local hotspots for birds, sunsets, sunrises, lighthouses, scenery, rare plants including the fringed gentian, and much more. It'll be a great hands-on immersion in a variety of photographic techniques, interspersed with some indoors lectures. All skill levels are welcome!

There's still some spaces, and if you register by September 1, there's a $30.00 discount. For all of the details and registration, CLICK HERE.

The amazing Green Heron

An adult Green Heron stands on a boardwalk railing at a marsh in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, yesterday. He flew in and landed about 20 feet away from where I was standing.

Maybe it's just good luck, but I seem to have seen many more Green Herons this summer than usual. Just about everywhere I go, there they are. I'm not complaining, these pint-sized waders punch way over their weight in terms of beauty and interest.

This is the same bird as in the previous photo, but in much better light and far more natural habitat. In the preceding shot, the light was terrible - here, the sunlight is coming over my shoulder during the golden glow of early morning. Thanks to the heron for being so cooperative.

Ever since I was a little kid, I've been captivated by Green Herons, even when they were known by the overly hyphenated name of Green-backed Heron. Not only are they showy, but their behavior is interesting. Like many herons, this species is slow and methodical, patiently st…

Nature: Female hummingbird an impressive homemaker

A female ruby-throated hummingbird feeding its chick in Montgomery County.
Columbus Dispatch August 20, 2017
Jim McCormac

“Achieving gender equality requires the engagement of women and men, girls and boys. It is everyone’s responsibility.” — Ban Ki-moon

The former secretary-general of the United Nations might not think much of male hummingbirds: The boys are a disengaged group.

Of the 16 species of hummingbirds that breed in the U.S., only the ruby-throated hummingbird nests east of the Mississippi River. The speedy sprites are well-known, even to people only casually interested in birds.

The hummingbird relationship serves as a prime example of one in which the female does all the heavy lifting.

The penny-weight males return from the tropics in April, many of them having negotiated a 500-mile flight over the Gulf of Mexico. Upon their return to northern nesting grounds, the males stake a claim on suitable nesting spots.

Females return about a week later. When one enters a male’s …

Cardinal-flower, rare in white, and pollinating swallowtails

The brilliant red flowers of Cardinal-flower, Lobelia cardinalis, form a conspicuous spike that just can't be missed. This is one of the flashiest plants of late summer and fall. I've seen plants that regularly attain heights of four feet, and the occasional giant that towers to over six feet. Its favored haunts are the rich alluvial soils of floodplain terraces, sometimes in fairly heavy shade but usually doing best where much sunlight reaches the plants for a good chunk of the day.

Even more interesting than the typical rich red form of Cardinal-flower is the far scarcer white-flowered type, which has been described as forma alba. I've only seen this variant in nature a handful of times, so when Dave Riepenhoff tipped me to a colony in Scioto County, Ohio, I was pleased indeed, especially as I had a trip planned to that area a few days later.

It wasn't hard to spot the plants. I rounded a slight bend in the road, which followed a small creek, and saw dozens of typic…

A swallowtail butterfly magnet

A massive clump of Hollow-stemmed Joe-pye, Eutrochium fistulosum (nee Eupatorium), bursts forth from the moist soil along a small creek in Shawnee State Forest. Some Cardinal-flowers, Lobelia cardinalis, glow like beacons in the shadows. The joe-pyes often attract commentary from botanists and non-botanists alike, due to their stature. The species above can tower 10 feet or more in height.

There are three species of joe-pye in Ohio: the one above, the similar Purple Joe-pye, E. purpureum, and the much shorter flat-topped Spotted Joe-pye, E. maculatum. The latter is largely restricted to high quality wetlands and is the least likely to be encountered. The other two are the conspicuous giants of moist woodland borders, bottomlands, low-lying ditches and thickets, etc. Purple Joe-pye has the broadest distribution, having been recorded in the majority of Ohio's 88 counties. Hollow-stemmed Joe-pye is largely restricted to the eastern half of the state. All of them are botanical goldmi…

"The Prairie Peninsula" showcases Midwest prairies

Columbus Dispatch August 6, 2017
NATURE Jim McCormac
In last week’s column on a rare Ohio orchid, I lamented the nearly complete destruction of the state’s prairie. The day after that column published, I received a brand new book: “The Prairie Peninsula” by Gary Meszaros and Guy L. Denny.
The title comes from a description that Ohio State University ecologist Edgar Transeau coined for a landmark paper in 1935. His premise was that the expansive prairies of the Great Plains progressively diminished eastward, terminating in a pointed “peninsula” that covered parts of Indiana and Ohio.
Although natural succession had allowed forests to reclaim prairie, scattered remnants persisted well to the east of the major prairie states of Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and surrounding states, Transeau said.

In their new book, Meszaros and Denny showcase the treasured prairie remnants that survive in Ohio and other Midwestern states, which have lost around 99 percent of their pre-settlement prairies — and …

Triangle-bearing Orbweaver

I spent much of yesterday at a place that I've often written about - Cedar Bog, the legendary natural area in Champaign County, Ohio. While I often visit for photographic purposes, yesterday was "work". At the request of Erika Galentin of the Herbal Academy, I was there to help with production of a video about pollinators, along with videographer Ryan Gebura. We spent five hours covering a mile of boardwalk, finding many interesting things along the way and frequently pausing to film narrated vignettes of some aspect of flora and fauna. I do not envy Ryan has task of having to distill all of that material into an hour video!

One of the cool things we stumbled into was a Triangle-bearing Orbweaver, Verrucosa arenata. These charismatic little spiders are quite showy in certain lights and angles; in others, they are a mimic of something quite unpalatable, as we shall see.

I saw this splotch on a ninebark leaf some ways down the trail, and from afar it looked astonishingly l…

An odd turtle, and interesting dragonfly shot

A massive Spiny Softshell Turtle, Apalone spinifera, hauls out on a floating log. Of Ohio's dozen or so turtle species, the softshells are my favorites (there is another species, the rarer and more range-restricted Smooth Softshell, A. mutica).

Yesterday, I was hiking through Eastwood Metropark in Dayton, lugging my tripod-mounted telephoto rig, having just photographed an active Ruby-throated Hummingbird nest deep in the park (thanks for the help, Dean Porter!). As I neared some backwater lagoons, I noticed two large turtles basking on an old log. Knowing something of turtles and their habits, I immediately veered away and began using obstructive brush to mask my movements. By doing so, I was able to get fairly close to the wary reptiles. As good fortune would have it, one of the turtles was the animal above, and the other was a Common Map Turtle, Graptemys geographica. Both of these species are very wary and will escape into the depths at the slightest disturbance.

I worked my …