Monday, July 30, 2007

Go Fly a Kite

The plot thickens... Back in early June, a Mississippi Kite was reported at the Brass Ring Golf Course in Hocking County. Then, two birds. These first reports of multiple birds were somewhat enigmatic, although I eventually got the original discoverer, Rick Perkins, on the phone and he confirmed seeing two birds together early on.

Then, for a good month and a half, one bird was widely seen by nearly all who ventured to see it, but reports of the second bird were virtually non-existent and unconfirmed. During that period, I spoke with golf course personnel who are on the course for hours daily, and often at or near the spots that the kite frequented. They reported only seeing one bird, at least that they could be sure of, and by this time these folks were intimately familiar with Mississippi Kites.

In the past week or so, the second bird surfaced. I got a call from the course superintendent, excitedly reporting both birds together in the favored tree. A number of birders who have recently visited have also seen the two together.

So, what does this mean? That someone needs to find the nest, perhaps! It sounds as if an active nest may be nearby, and one of the adults was tied up with incubation while the other was out hunting and being observed. If they did nest, it must have been within the golf course, as there is good habitat there and thats where the kites seemed to spend the vast majority of their time.

Fortunately, the folks at the golf course have become quite interested in these birds, know what to look for, and should clue us in if they see nest/young.

For now, enjoy these wonderful photos taken by Michael Packer on a recent visit:

Kite in flight, by Michael Packer. You can see why some of the golf course workers initially thought it might be a Bald Eagle, albeit a tiny one :-)

Note the considerably shortened leading primary flight feather. Graceful and acrobatic in flight, Mississippi Kites often pick off flying dragonflies. Anyone who has tried to net big dragons knows how challenging that can be.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Artists and Authors event

On Saturday, August 4th of this very year, the legendary Black Swamp Bird Observatory will be hosting a new event that they've devised - the Artists and Authors Afternoon. Go here for details. And, it's free!

And they do have some real artists in the house. Kenn Kaufman will be there; we all know what jewels his various field guides are. Just got my insect guide - Kenn's newest - and it is sensational. I must remember to cart all my guides up to have Kenn sign them...
Other fabulous writers, artists and photographers will be on hand, too, including such luminaries as Jen Brumfield, Ian Adams, Chip Gross, Jim Mollenkopf, Karen Menard, Marilyn Reeder, Larry Rosche, and Brian Zweibel.
Since the program doesn't begin until 1 pm, there'll be plenty of time prior to scout around the vast marshes of western Lake Erie for shorebirds and other early fall migrants. Dragonflies should be great, too - last year around this time Rick Nirschl found Ohio's first Striped Saddlebags a stone's throw from BSBO's offices.
They have kindly invited me to speak at this gig - always an honor. I asked, "on what?". They said "whatever". I said "owls?". They said "fine". So owls it is, and I've had fun putting this one together.

Cute little rascals, aren't they? You wouldn't be saying that if you were a white-footed mouse and this Northern Saw-whet Owl was hot on your heels!

Crows like to heckle Great Horned Owls, just like some ruffians like to heckle speakers. I am hopeful there will be no crows in the audience.

I'll try to be on my A-game for this owl talk - I definitely don't want this sort of reaction!

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Costa Rica Revisited

For the past two years, the Ohio Ornithological Society has taken trips to Costa Rica. We'll be doing it again next January/February, and please feel free to contact our Executive Secretary, Jen Sauter at if you are interested.

Anyway, on the last trip we had photog-extraordinaire Michael Packer along, and he set some sort of record for photos snapped. Thousands, I suspect. Some are doozies, and if you want to jet down to a very tropical place via cyberspace, go right here to see Michael's handiwork.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bugs Galore

We had lots of good experiences on the field trips during last weekend's Ohio Dragonfly Conference. And that's what really gets people interested in this stuff, or anything for that matter - good memories. Plenty of those were generated, thanks to a lot of very knowledgeable leaders, and weather that was totally flawless for bug-seeking. And please, if you're one of those hard-case entomologists who bristles at the colloquialism "bug", spare me. I know they're really "insects".

It don't get no better than this, if you're a dragon-seeker. Several of us were on our bellies photographing a very cooperative Orange Bluet, Enallgma signatum, when this Violet Dancer, Argia fumipennis subsp. violacea, decided to use Marlo Perdica's hand as a perch. Of course, the rest of us demanded that she freeze, so we could document the moment. The Violet Dancer was a beaut, too - nice purple male - but a bit hard for Marlo herself to photograph...

While out on a pre-scouting trip, we came across a very interesting butterfly. Fitting it is the only carnivorous butterfly in North America, as we were focused mostly on dragonflies, and bugs don't get any more carnivorous than the Odonata. Anyway, veteran field naturalist extraordinaire Jim Davidson spotted a Harvester, Feniseca tarquinius, which proved to be quite cooperative.

A quarter-sized beauty, the habits of the Harvester are bizarre by butterfly standards. The larvae eat at least four genera of woolly aphids, which often form conspicuous clusters on host trees. Around here, American beech, Fagus grandifolia, and any of several species of alder, Alnus sp., are good host plants for suitable aphids. Some authorities believe that Harvesters are probably a lot more common than thought, but their populations tend to be highly localized and the tiny adults can be easily missed as they don't come to flowers for nectar.

A swarm of woolly aphids on a beech tree. You've probably seen these before; the colonies are bizarre-looking and conspicuous. And where you want to seek the odd, light brown Harvester caterpillars, their long setae (hairs) often gunked up with whitish secretions from the aphids. The caterpillars live right amongst the aphids, casually munching them as the mood strikes. The adult butterflies often hang close to the aphids, too, as they shun plant nectar for the apparently tastier "honeydew" secreted by the aphids.

Nature can be strange sometimes.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Purple Martin Extravaganza

You know 'em, ya love 'em, they're purple, and they're martins. That's right, our biggest swallow, the ones with the rich liquid gurgles that dwell in houses that we make for them, have an enormous fan club. So, if you've ever even looked cross-eyed at a martin, you'll want to attend the event that I will unabashedly plug below.

First, a few Purple Martin points of trivia. This is the only swallow named for a famed comedian, they are not actually purple, they eat many dragonflies, and with perhaps one exception, depend entirely on humanoids to provide their housing. All true, but the first - Steve is funny, but he doesn't rate being equated with this bird. Well, I guess the males are kinda purple...

I've always enjoyed martins. They often soar on high, their rich chortling carrying down to us commoners on the ground and alerting us to look upwards and wish we, too, could be Purple Martins. I particularly enjoy watching them at their martin houses. They remind me of New Yorkers hanging out on the porches of their brownstones, gossiping away and watching the traffic go by. The females occasionally poke their heads out the doorway, just to see what's happening.

Susan Smith sends along a bulletin about an event that martin enthusiasts won't want to miss. Read on:

Purple Martin Conservation Association301 Peninsula Dr., Suite 6Erie, PA 16505814-833-7656
For Immediate Release Contact: John Tautin - 833-7656, Ruby McCormick – 833-7656, Susan A. Smith – 460-2540
2007 Purple Martin Conference & Festival at Tom Ridge Environmental Center at Presque Isle
The Purple Martin Conservation Association (PMCA) announces its first Purple Martin Conference & Festival on August 17, 18 19, 2007. Purple martin enthusiasts from around N. America are expected to attend this 3 day Festival. Friday (1-5pm) workshops from experts from around the country include: Mentoring purple martin landlords, Feeding Purple Martins, Preparing natural gourds and Conducting nest checks. Friday evening (5;30-7:30pm picnic and viewing hundreds of p. martins staging on the Beach 11 wires.
Saturday’s (9am-5pm) presentations include: Survival in purple martins, Swallow roost ecology, Purple martins in S. America, and more. Saturday evening (7-9pm) Reception on the Victorian Princess and view of thousands of p. martins at their waterfront roost.
Sunday 10am-4pm) is a celebration of PMCA’s 20 year anniversary and will appeal to kids, families and the general public including: gourd painting, face painting, making Origami martins, Purple martin exhibits, scavenger hunt and children’s activities and prizes and partner exhibits.
This event is open to the public. Registration form is at call 814-833-7656.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Ohio Dragonfly Conference

Wow! One hundred and forty dragonfly enthusiasts descended on Wooster, Ohio and vicinity for the inaugural Ohio Dragonfly Conference. As far as anyone knows, this is the largest such conference yet held in North America. A huge thanks to the Ohio Division of Wildlife for supporting the conference, and to the primary partner, Greater Mohican Audubon Society.

We had several sensational speakers; Bob Glotzhober, Larry Rosche, and Dave McShaffrey all gave great talks at yesterday's inside portion of the conference. We returned that evening for an excellent dinner, followed by keynote speaker Dr. Dennis Paulson. Dennis is certainly one of the world's leading authorities on the Odonata, and has traveled to nearly all corners of the globe in pursuit of dragons and damsels. He gave a very informative overview of the world's odonate fauna, generously illustrated with great photos. I also got to spend time in the field with Dennis, and greatly enjoyed the experience. He is a fantastic all-around naturalist and interested in everything.
Today we all headed afield, and it was a glorious day for hunting dragonflies. Sunny and bright, warm, and little wind. Lots of interesting insects were found; my tally is of at least 30 species, but other groups probably had additional species.
Dennis Paulson, above, holding a remarkably tame Rusty Snaketail, Ophiogomphus rupinsulensis. These clubtails are rather local, and we were finding them near the Mohican River, but up in the grass and shrubs a bit away from the stream.
Here's a female Rusty Snaketail, teed up on the old flower head of White Clover, Trifolium repens. They will allow for very close approach and are amazingly tolerant of us great unwashed masses looming closely in to admire and photograph.
The mob of paparazzi surrounds the exceptionally tolerant snaketail. Many hundreds of photos were snapped of this one.
We ventured mostly to Funk and Killbuck wildlife areas, and the Mohican River, on our field trips. While we had decent diversity, the big darners were notably lacking. However, we saw a number of the big Green Darners, Anax junius, like the bruiser above. This species can be highly migratory and sometimes swarms of hundreds or even thousands are seen in late summer/fall heading south.
Violent insects, if you hold a dragonfly by its feet you'll be assured of getting nipped. This Green Darner is chewing on Larry Rosche's hand. Luckily for us, even the big ones don't hurt; they just create a funny nibbling sensation. Such would not have been true some 250 million years back during the Carboniferous Period, when Canda Goose-sized dragonflies ruled the skies.
Jen Brumfield, one of our guides, is absolutely amazing with a net. She made a number of incredible catches, including this Prince Baskettail, Epitheca princeps. A beautiful member of the Emerald Family, Princes are typically seen on the wing hunting insects well above the ground and often out of reach. Getting to see one up close and in the hand was a treat.
We were indeed fortunate to see this Orange Bluet, Enallagma signatum, out and about in the heat of the day. Unlike the previous species, this is just a tiny little guy. Like many of the orange-colored damsels, Orange Bluets tend to emerge and become active towrds the end of the day and even past dusk.
Everyone was ecstatic about seeing this one up close, thanks once again to the wonderful netting abilities of Ms. Brumfield. It is a Swift River Cruiser, Macromia illinoiensis subsp. illinoiensis. River cruisers typically fly fast over the waters of streams, and can be very hard to catch. Like B-1 bombers, they come in low and fast, exposing brilliant green eyes if the light is one them, and blur past just outside of net reach.
This may be the world's most heavily photographed Swift River Cruiser. Once we were through handling him, we put him on this stick - this is how river cruisers perch, vertically - and he stayed there for maybe half an hour before departing. In that time, probably several hundred photos wre taken by many folks. Here, you can see the bright yellow spot towards the end of the abdomen, on segment 7. That shows up well on flying individuals and is a good field mark.
All of us involved in the planning and execution of the Ohio Dragonfly Conference were pleased with how things came off, and the level of interest it generated. It would be great to do another, perhaps in the area of the best western Ohio fens, or maybe the bogs and streams of northeastern Ohio.