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Showing posts from October, 2017

Park in Delaware's backyard abounds with birds, beauty

Shale Hollow Park, part of Preservation Parks of Delaware County/Jim McCormac
Columbus Dispatch October 29, 2017
Jim McCormac

When I was a kid, my parents regularly packaged my brothers and me into the car and up Route 23 we went to Delaware. My grandparents lived there, and from our Worthington home it was a scenic 20-minute ride through the countryside.

Now, the northern reaches of Columbus nearly commingle with Delaware. There are few wild places left along the corridor.

In 2014, Preservation Parks of Delaware County acquired a surviving gem halfway between Columbus and Delaware just west of Route 23. On a recent glorious October day, I met Delaware County resident and spider expert Rich Bradley at Shale Hollow Park.

It wasn’t my first visit. I’d ventured there in the early ’80s, when then-landowner Ed Postle hosted a wintering northern saw-whet owl. I made another visit 15 years or so ago, when efforts to acquire the property were starting.

Now, fortunately, the 211-acre park …

Hudsonian Godwit, Franklin's Gull, and going facedown in the sand

A pair of Hudsonian Godwits rocket by at Maumee Bay State Park, hard on the shore of Lake Erie just east of Toledo. I visited this spot last Wednesday, with the big sandpiper being a primary target. Uber-birder, photographer, and all-around naturalist Rick Nirschl had been reporting godwits from the area for a few days, along with many other interesting species. Besides, I just don't get into that neck of the woods nearly often enough, and there are always interesting finds to be made. So, in the golden light of late day, I connected with local photographer and naturalist Kim Smith (see her blog HERE) and set out in search of robust sandpipers.

As always, click the image to enlarge
A Dunlin tends to its plumage. The chunky little sandpiper is in basic (winter) plumage. It's quite the different looking beast after molting into alternate (breeding) plumage. Then, it transforms into a coat of rusty-red above, and rich black below. It was once known as the "Red-backed Sandpip…

The Milky Way

As always, click on the photo to enlarge. If you're bored, try to count all of the stars.
The cloudy band of stars known as the Milky Way cuts diagonally across this exposure. I made the image a week ago in a remote southern Ohio forest, where light pollution is minimal. In much of the state, light pollution from towns and cities is now too intense to see many celestial objects. At this locale, on this night, the stars were visible to a degree I've seldom seen in Ohio, at least in a long time. As Carl Sagan would have said, there were "billions and billions" of stars. He wouldn't have been exaggerating. The Milky Way - our solar system - is thought to contain as many as 400 billion stars.

A cooperative Eastern Screech-Owl (with comments on low-light photography)

f/4, 1/100th, ISO 400, + 1/3rd exposure compensation
An Eastern Screech-Owl peers from its roosting hole - a cavity in a gnarled box-elder. I made this image and those that follow yesterday at a local park. James Muller, a sharp birder and regular at this place, was making the rounds the other day when he heard agitated chickadees and other songbirds mobbing something. Astutely, he sought out the source of their angst and found the owl.

Screech-owls tend towards the tame, but this one takes the cake. It could care less about people watching and photographing from the trail, which is only about 25 feet or so away. As we represent neither food nor foe, the owl would rarely even cast a glance our way. Fortunately, the owl has been spending a fair bit of time sitting at the cavity entrance during the day, allowing its admirers to fawn over it.

I saw an opportunity to make some images of one of my favorite species, and headed over as soon as time permitted. Making nice clean images of the …

A visit to a fen

Ohio Goldenrod, Solidago ohioensis, brightens a largely senescent prairie fen on an early October day. The goldenrod is well named. It was discovered and described to science from a prairie near Dayton in the 1830's.

The photo above is perfectly level, I can assure you. Pressurized artesian ground water provides hydrology for this place, and the main meadow is somewhat dome-shaped, thus the sloping meadow.

PHOTO TIP: Many cameras have a built-in level, and this tool is useful in framing landscape compositions shot from a tripod. That's how I know the above image is level. I use mine all the time. With Canon cameras, just tap your "info" button until the level appears on the camera's back screen (usually two taps). A horizontal line will appear across the screen. When it's red, the image is not level. Just adjust the camera until the line turns green, and you're level.

A photographer friend and I visited this fen in northern Ross County, Ohio, last Sunday.…

White-haired Goldenrod, Solidago albopilosa, a major rarity back from the brink

A large sandstone overhand forms an impressive cliff deep in the Red River Gorge of Kentucky, part of the Daniel Boone National Forest. This is a beautiful area, full of stunning scenery and interesting flora and fauna.

I made my first foray here in the early 1990's. It was a one-day whirlwind trip to study one of the rarest goldenrods known, the White-haired Goldenrod, Solidago albopilosa. At that time, the plant had just been listed as Federally Threatened - among the rarest of the rare. Thus, some research money was available to study this poorly known plant, and I was along with a researcher who was contracted to do work with the goldenrod. That day sped by, and I had long wanted to return and spend more time in the gorge.

Fast forward to fall 2013 and a return trip. This expedition was a bit late for seeing the goldenrod at peak bloom, and the mission targets were different, mostly nocturnal creatures. We scored big on all fronts, and it made me want to return again. After a…

Nature: Wasp turns caterpillars into zombified protectors

A Glyptapanteles wasp cocoon guarded by a parasitized saddled prominent caterpillar
Columbus Dispatch October 1, 2017
Jim McCormac

George Romero, who died in July, made some of the greatest horror flicks ever. He is especially known for his films about zombie apocalypses, such as “Night of the Living Dead.”

I don’t know if Romero knew anything about the subject of this column, but I’m sure he would have been intrigued.

During a nocturnal field trip in southern Ohio’s Scioto County in August, my group noticed an odd thing. Plastered to a tree branch was a strange, fluffy cocoonlike object. Perched atop was a saddled prominent caterpillar, a type of moth larva.

Upon closer inspection, I realized what we were seeing: a zombie caterpillar, rewired and forced to act as guardian of its killers.

If you were a being that reincarnates, choosing a caterpillar for your rebirth would be a bad idea. You could take myriad forms, as there are more than 2,000 species of moths and a bit more than…