Tuesday, August 31, 2010

One cool cat

Our butterflies fall into two groups: butterflies (duh!) and skippers. The former includes all of the big, showy and easily recognizable species such as the Monarch, various swallowtails, sulphurs, Red-spotted Purple, etc.

It's the skippers that tend to vex people setting out to learn our lepidopterans. Skippers are small and often inconspicuously brown, often behave more mothlike than butterflylike, and the species can be confusingly similar.

Not so the bold and pugnacious Silver-spotted Skipper, seen above nectaring on Swamp Thistle, Cirsium muticum. A jumbo in the world of skippers, the flashy Silver-spot is probably the first skipper many people learn, and the most widely recognized of its ilk.

Well, the Silver-spotted Skipper and every other butterfly and moth was a caterpillar before they transformed into the beautiful and much more obvious flying machines that we see flitting about. Voracious plant-eating machines, these cats are adept at hiding and not often seen. It behooves these tasty little bags of protein to remain in hiding during the day, when birds and all manner of other predators who would love to make a snack of them are out and about.

But, the trained eye can still find caterpillars. In the case of the Silver-spotted Skipper, watch the foliage of its favorite host plant in these parts, the Black Locust, Robinia pseudoacacia. Should you see a series of leaflets pulled over and sewn together with silk, you're liable to have an SS Skipper larva.

And what a caterpillar! Carefully unfurling the leaves exposes an utterly alien-looking beast; like something straight off the space craft. I suppose there might be a shock value to those large orange "eyes". If some bad guy got to poking around and uncovered a Silver-spotted Skipper caterpillar, and that fake head lunged in its direction, it might be enough to send the potential predator packing.

The thumb provides a size perspective to this last instar skipper larva.

Here's one reason that caterpillars have evolved such good hiding techniques and camouflage. This, I believe, was a Pawpaw Sphinx caterpillar, which is a much larger animal than the Silver-spotted Skipper cat. Lots of things love to take advantage of large meaty caterpillars, either for a quick gulp of a meal or as a provision to feed their offspring.

The little oblong white cases are the coccoons of a braconid wasp, which are common parasitoids of caterpillars. If the adult wasps locate a suitable caterpillar, they'll either lay their eggs on the unwilling host or inject them into its tissue. When the eggs hatch, the tiny wasp grubs burrow happily through the caterpillar's tissue, consuming all of the non-vital stuff. Finally, in a last hurrah, the grubs finish off the victim in a fatal feeding frenzy and burst from the victim to pupate, as seen above.

With threats like that lurking around every leaf, I'd hide too.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Southern Monkshood

I've never wanted for blog material. The following recounts an adventure of a few weekends past, in which I managed to relocate one of the rarest, coolest plants in Ohio. Yesterday, a crew of botanists and myself discovered a very different type of rare plant in a totally dissimilar habitat. Common denominator? Both are very hard to get to. A good rule of thumb for finding rare plants: Take the path of GREATEST resistance. I'll try and get to the other story soon.

Morning mist trails over pristine Scioto Brush Creek in southern Ohio. This stream is, arguably, the finest waterway left in Ohio, from a biological perspective. Not only is its watershed still forested and intact, thus keeping the water quality high, its path is an ancient one. Apparently carved by scouring associated with the prehistoric Teays River, the Scioto Brush Creek was a conduit for Appalachian plants to migrate northward. There are several plants that grow along its banks found nowhere else north of the Ohio River, or elsewhere in Ohio.

On a hot August day in 1993, Stanley Stine and myself were wading up the middle of Scioto Brush Creek in a remote part of Scioto County. Trudging up the stream was the easiest route to take, as we wanted to explore gravel bars and muddy banks for rare plants, as some monumental finds had been along the creek recently. Foremost among them was Appalachian Spiraea, Spiraea virginiana, a Federally threatened plant that Stan had found.

As we sloshed upstream, a faint bolt of blue caught our eyes, nearly simultaneously. Knowing it was something good - the search image just didn't register - we splashed over to the steep, muddy banks.

And there it was - Southern Monkshood, Aconitum uncinatum, the first record north of the Ohio River and one of the northernmost stations yet discovered. It was growing where a rare, beautiful plant ought to grow - in a hard to reach locale along a wild river, in association with a large cast of interesting botanical players.

When I worked my way along Scioto Brush Creek a few weekends ago, I wondered if I would be able to relocate the plant. I had about two hours to do it, before it would be time to head off to meet up with some others. Even though I remembered the site well, it was a touch on the early side for the monkshood to be in bloom. If it was, it's still possible to overlook brightly flowered and distinctive plants in a place like this, especially if they are few in number.

Therefore, I was pleased to glance at the shady steep bank, and see a faint purplish glimmer. Cool - 17 years later, and the monkshood was still there. No real surprise, that - Southern Monkshood has probably been persisting along Scioto Brush Creek before Homo sapiens split from the ancestral apes, and if we don't manage to destroy this gem of a stream, it'll probably be there long after we're gone.

Like other Aconitum buttercups, this one is smashing. The pale lavender flowers are capped with a domelike corolla, lending the flower the appearance of a robed monk's hood, hence the common name. While Southern Monkshood resembles the Northern Monkshood, A. noveboracensis, that I recently saw and blogged about, there are important differences.

Southern Monkshood blooms later, entering flower about the time that its northern counterpart has finished blooming. It also has a lax, trailing habit quite unlike the upright posture of the other, and there are structural flower and vegetative differences between the two. Finally, the habitats for each are different as night and day. While Northern grows in the decomposed sand in the shadow of sandstone cliffs, Southern thrives in the rich regularly inundated alluvial soils of stream banks and terraces.

The leaves of Southern Monkshood are deeply cleft and quite showy. They are affixed to long trailing stems that sprawl along the ground or clamber weakly over nearby plants. The shoot above comes from a plant growing at the summit of a 15 foot tall and nearly vertical muddy bank. Making photos and admiring the plant up close was a hazardous affair, and meant clinging to small saplings while trying to dig my heels into the viscous mud to avoid a rapid plunge down into the stream.

While I generally want everyone to see interesting flora and fauna - after all, people don't care much about things they don't get to know - I am still glad that there are things that are far from the oft-trod path and not readily accessible. And admiring Southern Monkshood, at least at this location, is not an easy jaunt.

The mapped distribution of Southern Monkshood in Ohio, courtesy the USDA Plant Database. The map is wrong, and needs corrected.

There was a prior record for Southern Monkshood in Ohio, in Hocking County, which is the place highlighted on this map. And it was one of the first things I thought about when Stan and I laid eyes on the true Southern Monkshood along Scioto Brush Creek when we found it in 1993.

Apparently the botanists who found the Hocking County monkshood hadn't had direct experience with Southern Monkshood, and in large measure because it was south of the glacial boundary, assumed the Hocking County plants must be Southern. Details of the population were even published in the botanical journal Castanea. Soon after the discovery of the real Southern Monkshood, the correct identity of the Hocking County plants was proven, but the mistake apparently still persists here and there.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Polyphemus moth

A few weeks ago, I made a trip over to the famous West Jefferson McDonald's. Famous, that is, among the moth-seeking crowd. While those who covet french fries and Big Macs obviously frequent the place, there is a regular contingent who make visits after nightfall, looking for jumbo fliers.

Located right along the banks of Little Darby Creek, there is scads of good habitat in close proximity to this particular Golden Arches. Couple that with the brilliant high-mounted lights that bathe the parking lot in bluish illumination after dark, and you've got a veritable pot at the end of the rainbow for those who want to find the nighttime lepidoptera.

The West Jeff Mickey D's really draws the giant moths: a variety of sphinxes, Lunas, Royal Walnut Moth, Imperial Moth, and many more. There is even a record for the gargantuan Black Witch, a rare wanderer from the tropics. Late June through July seem a bit better for numbers and diversity, but I did manage one noteworthy bruiser of a moth on this visit.

Polyphemus moth, Antheraea polyphemus.

That hand offers a size-scale - this is one big moth! Note the eye spots peeking out, and fully exposed in the first photo. The moth uses them as a defense system. If some predator stumbles into it when at rest, the moth quickly flashes its forewings to the open position. Eek! Suddenly a giant pair of frightening eyes flash in the chickadee's face, sending it packing tail between legs.

I think they should rename this particular store "McMoth's". The famous arches glare in the background; we picked the moth up off the asphalt right about where this photo was made. Polyphemus moths are probably not all that rare, but like many of the large moths they are certainly on the decline. Even though their caterpillars can utilize a wide variety of tree species for food, habitat fragmentation, among other reasons, is certainly not helping their lot in life.

When at rest during the day in a normal habitat, the moth can look remarkably like a hanging dead leaf. But they don't have to worry about avoiding predators for very long; they're probably lucky to last for a week.

Face to face with a Polyphemus. The caterpillars, which get quite large, are voracious eating machines. Allegedly one of these bags of goo can eat some 86,000 times its original weight before it transforms.

The adults do not eat at all, and have no functional mouthparts. They live only to find the opposite sex, mate, and in the female's case, lay eggs. Female moths emit powerful pheremones, which the male senses through his large fernlike antennae. Apparently the boys can sniff out the girls from a mile or more, and steer unerringly towards them in the quest to reproduce.

An adult Polyphemus is a true miracle. Probably only a tiny percentage of all of the eggs laid by a female ever make it to adulthood. The threats are many, and the caterpillars are delicacies for all manner of parasitoid wasps and flies, and hungry birds, beetles, mammals and many others.

I saw firsthand the all too common fate of a caterpillar of another species of large moth recently, and will share that sometime soon.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Blue-winged Wasp

Blue-winged Wasp, Scolia dubia

Nectar-seeking Blue-winged Wasps are one to watch for right now, especially on goldenrods. These are cool, distinctive and beneficial wasps. The oval-shaped yellow marks on the burnt-orange abdomen is distinctive.

This species preys on the grubs of various scarab beetles, and allegedly goes after the grubs of Japanese Beetles. The female wasp is an adept burrower, and tunnels down into grass and other vegetation in pursuit of their prey. Once a beetle grub is located, the wasp stings it into submission, administering a neurotoxin, and lays an egg in the victim.

Apparently female Blue-winged Wasps on a hunting spree go a bit mad, attacking and stinging all of the beetle grubs that they run across, and not necessarily laying eggs on all of them. But, as some of these beetles are pests of people's beloved turf grass, the wasps should be viewed in a friendly light. As should anything that takes out Japanese Beetles.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Rough Greensnake

Last Friday night, I led a nighttime singing insect walk at Buzzard Roost Preserve in Chillicothe. This is a fabulous natural area, sporting some 1,200 acres of varied habitats. We always see interesting things here, and this walk started out with a bang. As I neared the preserve, I began to notice hundreds - thousands, probably - of Common Green Darner dragonflies in a massive feeding swarm along Polk Hollow Road. When I arrived at the parking lot, above, there were dozens of darners hunting here, too. This has apparently been an exceptional late summer for migrant dragonfly hordes.

Anyway, our primary purpose was to learn about the Orthopterans - the primary group of "singing" insects. We saw some and heard hundreds, representing many species. This is a female meadow katydid; note her long sword-like ovipositor. We heard several species of meadow katydids, and their relatives the Greater and Lesser Anglewings, Common True Katytdid, and Round-tipped Conehead, among others.

This is a tree cricket, perhaps a Two-spotted Tree Cricket. We heard those, as well as Broad-winged and Davis's Tree Crickets, and several other types of crickets.

Lots of other cool stuff of the night popped up, including this walking-stick, a true master of camouflage. This one was about four inches long, and they look all the world like twigs.

Caterpillars really come to life under cover of darkness, as the birds, parasitoid flies and wasps, and other predators have retired for the day. These are Fall Webworms defoliating a Black Walnut tree.

But here was the real surprise - a true bonus. One of our sharp-eyed participants spotted this Rough Greensnake vining its way through a thicket of grapes.

Greensnakes are most active at night, and they aren't easy to spot in the shrubbery. They are mostly arboreal, gracefully slithering through the foliage seeking insects and other prey.

Exceedingly gentle, greensnakes do not bite and even people who are frightened by snakes are often mildly charmed by these interesting little serpents. Note its huge eye - an adaption to a nocturnal life style.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Snout on camera

A bold and pugnacious American Snout lands on one of our Amorpha Borer expedition member's thumb last Sunday. These snouts are quite feisty for a butterfly. We believe they may have been employed by the Amorpha Borer beetles as lepidopteran thugs in an attempt to scare us off. It didn't work.

I've heard of getting close to your subject but this is ridiculous.

American Snouts invade Ohio from the south in varying numbers each year, and there have been lots around this season. They are quite the oddity, what with that incredibly long proboscis.

Goofy as the snout may be, they are always a pleasure to see.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ohio River buttonweeds

A view of the banks of the Ohio River from a lofty perspective. This is the site of the great Amorpha Borer Expedition covered in the last post, the marina at Shawnee State Park in Scioto County, Ohio. The host plant of that most gorgeous of beetles, False Indigo, Amorpha fruticosa, reaches the northern limits of its natural range along the Ohio River. So too, I suspect, does the Amorpha Borer beetle.

They aren't unique. A whole host of animals and plants run up against their northward limits in the Ohio River Valley. There are probably two primary reasons. One, the climate. The valley of the mighty Ohio has its own microclimate, remaining warmer on average than even just a short distance north, over the first set of hills. Two, the river serves as a migratory corridor, and flora and fauna have dispersed along the stream for many thousands of years. Many of them need the regular flood-scouring disturbance cycles that are associated with large rivers, and thus must grow or live within the flood zone.

We saw two of these Ohio River specialties while stalking the beetle, and I took the opportunity to make some photos. This one is Virginia Buttonweed, Diodia virginiana. It is a small member of the enormous Madder Family, Rubiaceae, which sports some 13,000 species, most of which are tropical. Coffee is probably its best known representative.

Virginia Buttonweed is small, nearly prostrate plant, and easily missed by those seeking larger objects. Like most things wee, it is quite showy upon inspection. The ciliate margins of the flowers lend them an almost crystalline look, like botanical confectionaries. Don't be fooled by the delicate appearance - this buttonweed is one tough cookie.

Range map courtesy of USDA Plant Database.

Virginia Buttonweed grows right along the river banks, where floods regularly scour the soil. It is a pioneer species; one of the first plants to occupy a freshly disturbed habitat set back to ecological ground zero by massive flooding. Ironically, mowing seems to duplicate this disturbance and the plant thrives in cropped grassy area along the river's banks. Note how it occurs only in Ohio's river counties, and then only right next to the river in most cases.

This plant is an even better find. It's Smooth Buttonweed, Spermacoce glabra, another Madder Family constituent. It tends to be more rare and local than Virginia Buttonweed, but occurs in the same habitat and often in association with it.

Smooth Buttonweed is listed as Potentially Threatened in Ohio, which is the botanical watch list category, a notch below Threatened or Endangered on the rarity scale.

We've been very hard on Ohio River habitats, and lots of animals and plants have become rare or vanished as a result. The river itself has been largely tamed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They've built a series of locks and dams which have essentially transformed the once free-flowing river into a linear series of pools to accommodate shipping. Terrestrial habitats adjacent to the stream have been cultivated, built on, become the site of massive chemical and power plants, and all manner of other development disastrous to our natural resources.

The spotty and local Ohio River distribution of Smooth Buttonweed, one of our more interesting little plants.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Great Borer Expedition

The marina at Shawnee State Park, Scioto County, Ohio. May not look like the most exotic locale in the world, but as we shall see, there are some very interesting critters to be found here. This is Ohio's Deep South; as far as one can move towards the equator and not dip their toes into the Ohio River. In fact, the marina is on our mightiest stream; the one that separates us from neighboring Kentucky. And a number of plants and animals reach the northern limits of their ranges in the Ohio River Valley.

Last year, John Howard and I were exploring here when we encountered one of the most magnificent beetles I had ever laid eyes on. John, who lives in the area and explores Ohio River habitats all of the time, had only seen it once, a few years prior. He took photos, but was unable to pin a name on the beast as it wasn't in any of his books or easily findable on Internet resources. Finally, I posted one of my photos to BugGuide.net and was rewarded with a quick reply - Amorpha Borer, Megacyllene decora.

The gentleman who provided the answer was none other than Eric Eaton, and he reported that he had seen but one despite living in Cincinnati for eleven years. By now, I was consumed with interest in this seemingly exotic bug, and we began plotting out an expedition to find more of these beetles in 2010. Last Sunday was the fateful day.

This insect will offer a suggestion of the showiness of our quarry. It is a Hickory Borer, Megacyllene caryae, which can be locally abundant in spring. Like other beetles in the genus Megacyllene, it is an apparent hornet mimic.

You may have seen this one - it often is found seeking nectar on goldenrod flowers from about now through fall. It's the Locust Borer, Megacyllene robiniae, another nice-looking bug. Still, it holds no candle to our quest beetle; the object of the chase of what may to date be the world's only Amorpha Borer Expedition.

Were we successful? You bet your longhorned beetle we were! Here it is - the dashing Amorpha borer, Megacyllene decora. What a bug! Even a beetle-hater would like it. Large and tinted in the most beautiful hue of orange-yellow imaginable, this black-dashed stunner inflames the passions of all who see it, and upon discovery some of our party were rolling on the ground in fits of rapturous ecstacy.

OK, maybe no one got quite that excited but we were pleased as punch to successfully score the beetle. Actually, the group was rather displeased with me soon after the first beetle was found. I spotted it nectaring on some Giant Goldenrod, Solidago gigantea, and demanded that the net be turned over to me. I took a clumsy swipe and whiffed, the beetle escaped, not to be seen again and before any photos of substance could be made.

But the expedition's greatest success was yet to come. Stumbling somewhat dejectedly over to the aforementioned marina, it didn't take long before Janet Creamer found our target. This beetle, which proved to be far bigger and better looking than the one that I scared off, was quite cooperative. Scores of photos were made, and the group was able to fawn over the Amorpha Borer for quite some time.

There are some essential botanical ingredients required for this beetle, it appears. One, its host plant, False Indigo, Amorpha fruticosa. This small woody shrub occurs sporadically along the bank of the Ohio River, and the river bank may be the only Ohio locale for the plant in its native range (False Indigo has spread far to the north as a weed). The beetle lays its eggs in False Indigo and the beetle grubs bore their way around in the tissue.

When the adults emerge, they seem to stay in the immediate proximity of the False Indigo plants from which they were spawned. At least the females seek nectar and they definitely have a taste for Late-flowering Thoroughwort, Eupatorium serotinum, which is the plant in the photo above. They'll also use goldenrods but few of those are in bloom in this habitat this early in the season. Find these plants growing together on the banks of the Ohio River in August, and you may have a decent shot at discovering this splashy insect.
Janet eventually captured the Amorpha Borer and it didn't take kindly to being fondled. Here, it attempts to rasp off her flesh with those formidable mandibles. The black triangular mark on the thorax isn't typical - usually there are black stripes that band this region. I think some of the orangish pubescence may have rubbed off, exposing the shiny shell underneath.
The bold members of our Amorpha Borer Expedition (L to R): Ned Keller, Janet Creamer, John Howard, Tricia West, Cheryl Harner, Kathy McDonald, Debbie Wolterman. Your narrator was made to take the photo and thus couldn't be in the photo.

I love stuff like this. Finding some bizarre new animal that no one seems to know much about, figuring out at least the basics of its life history and successfully finding more of them. I'd love to know more about Megacyllene decora if anyone, anywhere, who might stumble across this knows something of the beetle. Who knows, there may be some place they are common as dirt and slapped away like offending mosquitoes. I doubt it, though.

Thanks to my fellow expedition members for their bravery and hard work in seeking the Amorpha Borer.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Kites, untethered

The following photos are courtesy of Dane Adams, and he took them yesterday at the "Kite Day" covered in the previous post. I really appreciate his graciousness in allowing me to reproduce them here. Dane is a fabulous photographer, and these are great photos. Enjoy!

Adult Mississippi Kite, resplendent in tones of black, gray, and white. The bird is strikingly beautiful to us; it is a cicada's worst nightmare.

One of the two juvenile kites produced from the Hide-A-Way Hills nest.

A doting parent lands with a chitinous buzzing morsel of cicada to feed to little beggar.

Thanks again, Dane!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Kite day - success!

The scene shortly after 9 am this morning in Hide-A-Way Hills, Hocking County. This was the site of Ohio's first ever Mississippi Kite Day, and from 9 am until noon the good people of this private, gated resort allowed birders to enter and meet what are rapidly becoming their most famous residents.

Many thanks go out to Elizabeth vanBalen Delphia for finding and bringing the birds to light, then serving as the host for the 60+ birders who came to visit this morning. She and her husband Michael were exceedingly patient and gracious hosts, visiting with everyone and guiding people to the best spots. I also want to thank the management of Hide-A-Way Hills for tolerating this rather out-of-the-ordinary invasion of the human kind. The security staff was great, as everyone else down there has been.

Finally, as is nearly always the case, all of the birders that visited, from as far away as Michigan, were great. Many a life bird was notched and lots of fantastic photos were made. Photographers the likes of Steve Jones, Jerry Talkington and Dane Adams were on the scene, and they'll have much better stuff than mine, but I haven't yet had time to seek their permission to use photos.

One of the subjects of our quest: a freshly minted juvenile Mississippi Kite. There were two of the still downy beasts, and fabulous views at great length were had of both. These guys normally just sit like dummies high in the branches of dead trees - the most conspicuous perches about, the better to beg from. As Mississippi Kites normally have only two young, this means that the pair has successfully fledged both.

When a youngster detects an adult flying back with a morsel, it begins emitting high keening whistles reminiscent of a truncated Olive-sided Flycatcher call. While perhaps annoying to the adult kites, it is great for us on the ground, as we have advance warning of an impending food transfer - one of the exciting moments of kite-watching.

One thing that I love about birders is that most are very gracious about sharing birds with others. We must have had 30 residents of Hide-A-Way Hills stop by today, wondering about the hubbub. Everyone was great about providing scope views and explaining the significance of the kites - read my previous post for more on that - and I am confident that there are some new kite fans as a result. Even some very young youngsters got in on the act, and Dave Slager was good enough to lower his scope to ground level to accomodate these Lilliputian gigglers, who added Mississippi Kite to their life list.

It was fun to watch the young kites flex and test their wings. Theirs is a steep learning curve. In short order, they've got to be fattened to the point where they can make the upcoming multi-thousand mile flight to the jungles of South America, where they'll spend the winter. And even trickier, they have to learn to hunt, and catching favored kite fare on the wing is no small feat.

Every now and then, one of the Juniors would make a test flight, wheeling about and showing off their complex, gorgeous juvenile plumage - very different than the grays and whites of the adults.

We had a scope trained on the nest, which is a tiny flimsy affair that only a Mourning Dove would relate to. It was high in the boughs of a White Ash, Fraxinus americana, and is the first nest of Mississippi Kite found in Ohio.

Most people spent their time watching the juveniles as they sat high aloft, awaiting the return of an adult with food. I saw about ten transfers, and all but two were annual cicadas. Even though we couldn't positively identify the victims to species, we heard Linne's, Lyric, and Swamp cicadas singing in the area and it stands to reason that these were the species that were being caught. On one occasion, a Green Darner dragonfly was brought in, and on another a large sphinx moth was the prey.

A few times, the juvenile kite would shy away from the cicada when it was offered, and the adult would then appear to do a bit of surgery on the bug. I am only speculating, but what I suspect was going on is that the cicada was still alive and struggling. When cicadas are threatened, they make incredibly loud agitated buzzes, and that display may have frightened the young kite, requiring the adult to administer the coup de grace before Junior would accept the meal.

We were treated to some truly outstanding displays of the adult kites' aerial prowess. They seem to trace lazy, languid circles not far above the canopy, but in reality their laser eyes are seeking prey. One group saw a kite stoop and grab a cicada from a pine, the bird apparently spotting it amongst the needles. Usually, they spot their prey as the cicadas make short flights from tree to tree, and swoop in with incredible speed. I saw this happen a few times. The kite would suddenly tuck its wings in and drop like a missile, accelerating faster than a Ducati motorcycle and snagging the hapless insect.

This is huge talent. One just doesn't pip from the egg, stretch its wings, and launch right into 70 mph cicada-nabbing power dives. It seems as if the Junior kites spend lots of time on their snags watching the adults, and probably learning by example. This may be in part why they choose such high conspicuous perches - the better to watch mommy and daddy ply their trade.

It was great to have so many residents of Hide-A-Way Hills stop by and get the chance to view the birds. Everyone seemed quite taken with them, and none of the locals seemed to object to sharing their community with kites that are not tethered to strings.

Mother arrives with a fresh cicada for the begging youngster. Missisippi Kites don't arrive until early June or thereabouts at this latitude, and are very late nesters for a raptor. Makes perfect sense, though. If your preferred food are annual cicadas, you've got to time the arrival of your offspring to coincide with peak cicada abundance and these bugs don't peak until mid to late summer.

By early to mid September, this kite family will be off for the South American tropics to winter. There, in remote jungles, surprisingly little is known of them and how they operate. Come next spring, if all goes well, these birds will begin the long northward flight back to Ohio, hopefully to once again set up residence in Hocking County and Hide-A-Way Hills. And perhaps their offspring will also set up territories of their own nearby, further expanding Ohio's new Mississippi Kite population.