Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Cedar Bog macro/rare flora and fauna photo workshop!

Debbie DiCarlo and I will be repeating last year's one-day Cedar Bog photo workshop on June 3. This is a Monday, but we chose that day as the center is closed to the public and we'll pretty much have the bog to ourselves. We'll start with a PowerPoint overview of the finer points of macrophotography, then head out of the visitor's center and onto the boardwalk where numerous floral and faunal riches await. Chief among them is the spectacular showy lady's-slipper, Cypripedium reginae, which should be in peak bloom. We'll not only learn more about photographic techniques, but also lots about rare fen habitats and the species that occur in these specialized peatlands. We have space for a few more participants. Read on for a brief blurb about the workshop, and a link to register.

Orchids and More!
June 3, 2019

The amazing Cedar Bog harbors some of the richest botanical diversity in Ohio. There is probably a greater density of rare plants there than any other site in the state. While the name is Cedar “Bog”, this interesting wetland is actually a fen, which is a type of wetland fed by cold artesian springs. A mile long boardwalk traverses the best of Cedar Bog’s 400+ acres, making exploration easy. The botanical highlight will be showy lady’s-slipper, a huge spectacular orchid with pink and white flowers. We will see much more, though: scads of other beautiful plants, many of them rare, unusual dragonflies, butterflies, and interesting birds, all in scenery reminiscent of northern Michigan or Canada. Jim is an expert on “the bog”, having formally studied its flora and published a scientific paper on the plants. This will be an excellent opportunity to learn about the natural history of one of Ohio’s most unusual ecosystems.


Friday, May 10, 2019

Rosy Maple Moth, in hiding

Just returned from a fabulous photography workshop led by Debbie DiCarlo and yours truly, in the New River Gorge area of West Virginia. Our group was wonderful, and we were confronted with numerous excellent photo ops at nearly every turn.

Hard to beat this one for its Seuss-like fantasy, though. A rosy maple moth, Dryocampa rubicunda, hides among fresh red maple samaras (seeds). These moths, when seen in the open, cannot be missed. When among maple samaras, their bold pink and yellow coloration and samara-like shape render them nearly invisible. Hint: lower right corner of the image.

Our workshops produce treasure troves of natural history, and are a great way to learn more about natural history, in addition to honing your photography skills. This year's slate of workshops is RIGHT HERE, and we'd love to have you join our Focus on Photography Facebook page, HERE.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

New River Birding & Nature Festival

Cathedral Falls, Glen Ferris, West Virginia. The waters of Cane Branch tumble 60 feet over a series of cascades, and soon merge with the New River.

As for the past 14 or 15 years, I'm down here in Fayetteville, West Virginia for the New River Birding & Nature Festival. We have a great time, and are dazzled with a stunning array of flora and fauna. The New River and local Appalachian mountains harbor some of eastern North America's richest biodiversity. Field trips are the bread and butter of the event, and organizers Rachel Davis, Keith Richardson, Geoff Heeter and Paul Shaw bring in some of the best guides in the industry (present company possibly excluded).

This gorgeous little bird, clad in ocher earth tones, is one of the area's most coveted species. It is a Swainson's warbler, one of the rarest of our warblers. It occupies visually stunning habitats: mountain streams hemmed in by dense great rhododendron thickets overlain with hemlock and birch overstory. The bird's piercing whistled song slices through the dense vegetation and reveals their presence.

I photographed this animal on our trip today. It was one of 19 species of warblers, which were among the 73 species that we found on this excursion. A personal highlight was the nest of a least flycatcher. The birds, at least the female, was busily constructing it. She had placed the nest right in the fork of a red maple, by the trunk and about 25 feet off the ground. Unless you saw her fly in to it, as sharp-eyed Alma Lowery did, you'd not spot the nest in a million years so well did it blend with the tree.

The festival takes place every spring in late April/early May. If you like birds and nature, you'd love this event. CLICK HERE for the details.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Rosyside Dace, in nuptial colors

From L to R, Phil Melillo, Kelly Capuzzi, John Howard, and your narrator inspect a mess of fish hauled from a small stream in southern Ohio's Scioto County.

Last Tuesday was an epic ichthyological day, at least as far as I was concerned. Fish-hunting is something I'm lucky to get in on once or twice a year, and these aquatic forays are always fruitful, and highly educational. And when I say fish-hunting, this isn't bluegills with doughballs or bass with rod and reel. We're nearly always after far more obscure species than that, and the target this day is a fish known to very few.

Our guides were aquatic biologists Kelly Capuzzi and Laura Hughes. You've seen Laura's name in posts here many times, if you are a regular reader. Kelly works with stream surveys and fish routinely as part of her job with the Ohio EPA. And man, does she know the scaly crowd. Back in my early days with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to spend untold hours afield conducting fish surveys with Dan Rice (who wrote this NEW BOOK) and Ted Cavender. Both of those guys are ichthyological legends, and I never failed to be awed at how they could glance through a seine full of similar minnows and shiners and quickly call out the different species. Deja vu set in after watching Kelly and Laura do the same.

The stream in the first image is a big one, considering the habitat of our primary quarry on this day. We didn't find it in there, but did produce some interesting species including this rainbow darter, Etheostoma caeruleum. It is a male resplendent in its nuptial colors - a gaudy dress it'll only hold for a brief few weeks during the courtship and mating period. Hard as it may be to believe that such an exotic looking creature occupies Ohio streams, rainbow darters are pretty common statewide. It epitomizes the wonders of conducting subsurface aquatic explorations. Streams are full of fascinating creatures, but one must dive in to observe them.

We also hauled up several central stoneroller minnows, Campostoma anomalum. This is a male in breeding condition, flushed with peachy-orange and head beset with pointy tubercles. Apparently this "fish acne" helps male stonerollers win the girl. This fish has big lips. The lower lip is modified into a stiff cartilaginous ridge that it uses to rasp algae from rocks. Stonerollers are very common throughout Ohio, and one of relatively few fish species that tolerates heavy phosphorus loading. This common agricultural pollutant promotes the growth of algae - not good news for most things - but the hardy stonerollers capitalize and make lemonade from lemons.

Ah! This much smaller headwater stream holds today's primary target, which we'll soon get to. One could easily bound across this stream in places, and it's so small that the flow dries to a trickle in the heat of summer. Deeper pools like the one at the bend of the stream in this photo are critical in providing refugia for fish during low water flow. Dense forests along the stream's course ensure a lack of siltation and high water quality.

We were understandably pleased to find several orangethroat darters, Etheostoma spectabile. Here we have a pair - male above, female partially concealed in the rock cobble. The male is in its nuptial finery and we can see the namesake orange throat. Orangethroats are headwater stream specialists and normally occupy tiny streamlets such as this one.

Darters are icing on the cake, but today was principally a dace safari. Dace are small members of the cyprinid family, which includes carp, chubs, dace, minnows and shiners. The five Ohio dace species all inhabit small headwaters streams such as the one in the previous photo. Three species occur in the stream section in the image, or very nearby. This one is a female southern redbelly dace, Chrosomus erythrogaster.

This is a male western blacknose dace, Rhinichthys obtusus, its lateral band infused with rusty orange as it is during breeding season.

Finally, the main target, a long-coveted "life fish" for your narrator, and a stunning creature, the rosyside dace, Clinostomus funduloides. Rosyside dace have a very limited distribution in a handful of stream systems in just four southern counties: Adams, Jackson, Pike and Scioto. They were once thought to be much rarer, but heavy sampling of their (at the time) understudied habitat by the aforementioned Dan Rice and colleagues revealed the rosysides to be more plentiful than thought.

Kelly noted their resemblance to salmon, and I couldn't agree more. Elfin salmonlets. A big one is only a few inches long. These two males are still in breeding condition and it isn't hard to see where their common name is derived.

There are about 62,000 river miles in Ohio. Big rivers like the Maumee, Muskingum, and Scioto get more than their fair share of attention due to their size and conspicuousness. But it's the little headwater streams that do much of the heavy aquatic lifting. They make up nearly 80% of Ohio's river miles, and form and feed the big streams. As we've seen - and this is just a tiny sampler - headwater creeks support an interesting diversity of specialized fishes and other aquatic life. But they are vulnerable to destruction and detrimental impacts. One of the largest rosyside dace populations was wiped out by a highway construction project. Just a week or so ago, in the area that generated this article, I came across an excavator smack in the middle of a headwater stream, dredging rocks which were being hauled out by big dump trucks. Permits? Nah, probably not. Stuff like this goes on all the time, and it's not to the benefit of the streams' rightful occupants.

Major thanks to Kelly, Laura, John and Phil for creating a fascinating natural history foray.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

West Virginia photo workshop! May 6 - 9!

 The iconic mill at Babcock State Park in southern West Virginia.

Debbie DiCarlo and I are leading what promises to be a fantastic photo foray in one of eastern North America's most scenic regions, the New River Gorge and vicinity in southern West Virginia. We've got two or three open spots, and would love to have you. Dates are May 6 thru 9, and base camp is the charming little town of Fayetteville, West Virginia.

Established in 1978, New River Gorge National River in West Virginia encompasses over 70,000 acres of land along 53 miles of the New River. The New River is actually among the oldest rivers on Earth! It's a rugged, whitewater river that flows through deep and spectacular canyons, carving a deep and long gorge in the Appalachian Mountains. And we will be there to photograph oodles of things - sunrises/sunsets from majestic overlooks to waterfalls and cascades. From showy wildflowers to unique plant species in boreal-type bogs. And yes, the New River Gorge Bridge and the equally famous Glade Creek Grist Mill too!

For workshop details and to register, CLICK HERE.

Mountain streams such as this are commonplace, and you know we'll be photographing some of them.

Mountain gaps as seen from near the summit of Babcock State Park.

A four-toed salamander marches through mosses. This region is very rich in salamanders, birds, plants and other biodiversity. We'll see lots of flora and fauna, and capture much of it with our cameras.

Sunday, April 14, 2019


Marsh-marigold grows in profusion along the banks of Cedar Run. This brook is spring-fed and stays cool year-round. Water cress, Nasturtium officinale, grows in the stream's waters, and occasional clumps of giant-leaved skunk-cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, dot the banks. Cedar Bog, Champaign County, Ohio, yesterday.

Right now is about peak for marsh-marigold at Cedar Bog, but it should look good for the next week or so. It's well worth the trip. For more information about Cedar Bog, CLICK HERE.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Purple Finch

I shot this gorgeous male purple finch yesterday in Adams County, Ohio. These stunning raspberry-colored finches are always a treat to see. Some winters we have plenty, in others it's tough to find one. There are always some purple finches to be had in both spring and fall migration, especially if one is familiar with their soft tok call, often given in flight.

This bird was frequenting feeders at John and Tina Howard's Ohio Star Retreat Center not far from West Union. I had to speak at a conference on Thursday in Clermont County, which isn't too far from the retreat. So, I took the opportunity to go down early and spent all day Wednesday botanizing and photographing in the Ohio River Valley and various Adams and Scioto county hotspots. If time permits, I'll share some of those plant shots later.

John and Tina's retreat is a great place to stay. Nice and neat as a pin, inexpensive, and very convenient to lots of natural history hotspots. As a bonus, John maintains a feeding operation just off the deck which attracts lots of interesting birds. The feathered visitors are quite approachable, and especially towards day's end, the light is great. Two red-headed woodpeckers were also coming in while I was there, along with many other species.

For more info on the Ohio Star Retreat Center, GO HERE.

Cedar Bog macro/rare flora and fauna photo workshop!

Debbie DiCarlo and I will be repeating last year's one-day Cedar Bog photo workshop on June 3. This is a Monday, but we chose that ...