Triangle Lake Bog State Nature Preserve, Portage County, Ohio.
Last Saturday evening, I was the invited speaker for the The Native Plant Society of Northeastern Ohio's annual soiree, which was held at the Pine Lake Trout Club near Chagrin Falls. That was a great time and I appreciate the group's hospitality.
Not one to miss an opportunity, I headed up that way a bit early, and arrived at the aforementioned preserve near Ravenna well before the sun rose.
Years ago, Greg Schneider and I waded all through this place, seeking a tiny aquatic carnivorous plant known as Two-scaped Bladderwort, Utricularia geminiscapa. It had never been recorded in Ohio, but we figured it might occur at this place. And we found it, growing in small pools on sections of the bog mat that bounced like a trampoline. It was truly tough going, and it's probably a minor miracle that neither of us fell through the mat, to be unearthed centuries later as "bog mummies".
Not long after daybreak, one of the local Red-tailed Hawks took to the air, and it was in sight as much as not for the remainder of my time, tracing lazy circles overhead. After the golden light of dawn had passed, I returned to the car and got my telephoto lens, found a semi-hidden vantage point and began to work the birds.
If you're not wise to the ways of Sharp-shinned Hawks, they are feathered bundles of testosterone - one of the most aggressive birds there is. They love to attack and strafe larger birds, especially other raptors. The sharpie in these photos is a young female, and she's about one-third larger than a male would be, the latter being not much larger than a Blue Jay. Nonetheless, she is dwarfed by the red-tail, which outmasses her by 5-6 times.
Monday, October 31, 2016
Thursday, October 27, 2016
Soaring shale bluffs tower over the scenic Vermilion River in western Lorain County. I found myself in this area last Saturday, and could not resist a stop to admire the big cliffs, and attempt some photographs.
This spot is within Lorain County Metroparks' Vermilion River Reservation. The park is subdivided into Mill Hollow on the river's west side, and Bacon Woods on the east. I took this shot from the Mill Hollow side, and it's an easy little hike back to this part of the stream.
One more shot for the road. Fall foliage was fairly crisp on this nippy, blustery day, and massive puffy clouds blocked the sun far more than they allowed its exposure. I waited some time to get these images, for the very few brief interludes in which the sun popped out and cast its glow on the river's corridor.
For photography buffs: These are High Dynamic Range (HDR) photos. Each is a composite of five images made in immediate succession, from a tripod and using a remote shutter release to trip the shutter. They were made with the ultra-high resolution Canon 5DS-R, and 16-35mm f/4L lens. Bracketing mode was used, with 2/3rd stop intervals; only the shutter speed changes between exposures, giving five different exposures in each burst. The top image was made at f/11, ISO 100, with the lens wide open at 16mm. The second image was shot at 27mm, and f/16. Photomatix software was used to blend the images into the final product.
Thursday, October 20, 2016
Next Monday evening, October 24, Thomas Mangelsen and Todd Wilkinson will present a program on Yellowstone's Grizzly Bears at Ohio State University's Ohio Union. Registrants already number over 900, but it's a big room and if you wish to go, CLICK HERE for details.
Wilkinson penned the following piece about these bears, and after reading it I asked David Hanselmann, the event organizer, if he could secure permission for me to run it here. Thanks to Todd Wilkinson for agreeing, and David for working things out. Read on...
The Most Famous Bear In The World Belongs To UsBy Todd Wilkinson
In Bozeman, Montana, I live directly across the street from a pair of proud Ohioans, one of whom is a man counted among the greatest science writers in America. David Quammen, who grew up in Cincinnati, wrote the entire May 2016 edition of National Geographic magazine about Yellowstone National Park and why it matters for all citizens in this great country of ours.
I was asked to write captions for the exquisite photographs accompanying Quammen’s piece. That edition of National Geographic is today the most widely read in the history of the legendary yellow magazine. What this affirms is not only the love affair we Americans have with our first national park, but why Yellowstone remains, amid all of the present turbulence in our society, a point of common pilgrimage.
Consider this: 94 percent of us who travel to Yellowstone have desires of seeing a grizzly; we want to catch sight of bears more than we desire to see Old Faithful Geyser erupt.
Quammen and I have had many spirited street-side conversations about this phenomenon, many of our discussions centered on the plight of the Yellowstone grizzly bear population. It is the focus of my new book, “Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek” and the subject of a public presentation being held at Ohio State University on Monday evening, October 24.
I hope you can make it, for “A Night With Mother Grizzly 399, the Most Famous Bear In The World” will include an appearance by noted American nature photographer Thomas Mangelsen who has trailed Grizzly 399 over the last decade in her life and death struggle for survival. His images are astounding.
Quammen, in his NatGeo piece, also organized his narrative around wandering grizzlies. The reason: all of us are intrigued by these largest of carnivores, still persisting in the wild backyard of our country. We are simultaneously left in awe and tinged with inner fear when thinking about these magnificent animals.
But more than that, here’s something that often escapes recognition among Ohioans—the grizzlies of Greater Yellowstone and the federal public lands they inhabit belong to you. Yes, they are part of our birthright as citizens and their common ownership is something that factors prominently into what I call “capital D Democracy”—which is the idea that together, no matter where we live, we are stakeholders.
Right now, there are attempts under way in Congress to divest American citizens of public lands they own and hand over management to western states. Because the states cannot afford to manage these lands, which are vital for supporting public wildlife, many of these awe-inspiring landscapes very likely could be sold off to private interests.
In addition, there is a push underway to remove federal protections for grizzlies and subject the bear population to controversial sport hunting after 41 years of cease fire. Essentially, Grizzly 399, who spends much of her life in Grand Teton National Park and is known to millions around the globe, would be vulnerable to trophy hunters just as Cecil the lion was in Africa.
Mangelsen and I will talk about this emotionally-charged conundrum in our talk at Ohio State. But foremost, we’ll emphasize this: Caring for our national natural heritage is not—and should not—be treated as a partisan issue. It was, after all, Republican President Theodore Roosevelt who championed the noble concept of public lands and public wildlife conservation as a gift to all Americans that extends forward into the future beyond our own lives.
Democratic lawmakers, who commune with the great outdoors just as much, have made equal contributions to ensuring rare charismatic animals like grizzlies (our own unique versions of imperiled African lions and Bengal tigers) persist because we are willing to share the space they need to endure.
Famous grizzly mother 399 and her extended family of bruins belong to you, me, all of us. That’s something worth celebrating, protecting and defending. I know Ohioans care because I live across the street from two natives of the Buckeye State who express it every day. You’ve played a mighty role in recovering species like the bald eagle and your voice matters with wildlife in the West.
Todd Wilkinson, who makes his home in Bozeman, Montana, has been a professional journalist and award-winning author for 30 years. His stories have appeared in publications ranging from National Geographic to The Washington Post.
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
As good fortune would have it, the conference venue was a short hour and a half drive away from an Indiana natural treasure, Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area. I'd only been here once, last March, when David FitzSimmons and I teamed to teach a photography workshop there in conjunction with Roberts Camera of Indianapolis.
I was totally impressed by my inaugural Goose Pond foray, so after the conference I hopped in the car and headed down to Linton, which sits on the edge of the sprawling wildlife area.
This is a flock of American Wigeon. Their high-pitched piping whistles carry some distance and are a classic sound of a waterfowl-filled Midwestern marsh.
This hen Blue-winged Teal was shot with the rig I used for all the bird shots in this post, a tripod-mounted Canon 5DS-R with Canon's superb 500mm f/4 II lens, increased to 700mm via their 1.4x teleconverter. Settings for this image were f/5.6 (wide open with this set-up), 1/2000, ISO 800, and +1/3rd exposure compensation in manual mode.
Before I knew it, my day was over and it was time to make the long haul back to Ohio. If you ever get the opportunity to visit Goose Pond, take advantage. CLICK HERE for more information.
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
As soon as I got out of the car, big lens and tripod in tow, sentries were taking up positions to monitor my every move, and if need be alert their fellows with high-pitched squeaking beeps. I had planned on shooting and watching the animals for perhaps an hour. That plan ultimately elongated into three hours. For most of these images, I had my camera down nearly to the ground, and often had to wait for a half-hour or more in one position before the squirrels overcame their concerns with me and began to move around.
Habitat is considerably different, too. Chipmunks are forest species, and ground squirrels - at least all that I have seen in Ohio - shun woodlands and occupy wide-open spaces. They are closely related to prairie dogs and act the part. It's thought that the squirrels expanded eastward with the bison, probably during the last Xerothermic Period, which was about 5,000 to 8,000 years ago. Herds of bison are major game-changers when it comes to habitat manipulation, and they created vast open shortgrass plains perfect for the squirrels. While the bison are long gone, the squirrels persist, usually inhabiting human-maintained short grass haunts such as airports, golf courses, and cemeteries.
These beasts are furry Rip Van Winkles, and I'd bet they'll be down in the tunnels for the winter this week. Probably only the jumping mice rival them for extended hibernation, at least in this part of the world. With the coming of consistently cool weather, in October, they retreat to the burrows and don't emerge until April. A squirrel's normal active respiratory rate is up to 200 breaths a minute; when in hibernation mode that'll slow to about a breath every five minutes.
However, when a threat looms, they're quick to race (8 mph bursts!) to a nearby hole. This can work to the photographer's advantage. When I would see one drop into a burrow, I'd quickly scramble into a good nearby position, partially concealed by a headstone if possible, and with the light to my back. After a few minutes, the squirrel would stick its head above ground. It would remain like that for several minutes, surveying its surroundings.
After a bit, it would proceed to Phase 2 of the Cautious Burrow Exit Strategy (CBES) and stick the upper half of its body above ground. This stage is usually accompanied by regular calls. Ground Squirrel talk consists of high-pitched beeping notes, often doubled but when excited they prolong them into a short series. The prolonged calls suggest a Sora's whinny call, but several octaves higher. The double-noted call greatly resembles the double-beep sound made by my Canon camera when it acquires focus. I found I could sometimes arouse their attention by beeping my camera.
It took the fellow in the photo above a minute or two to finish his meal, and I did not realize what he (could be a she, I don't know how to tell) had until I reviewed my photos later.
We crop in close to see the snack - it's a Japanese beetle grub! These invasive beetles are a scourge on turf grass, as they eat the roots, often killing extensive areas of lawn. I suspect a thriving colony of ground squirrels really keeps down the beetle population, and to my untrained eye the lawn in this cemetery looked pristine.
A great many Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel colonies have been eradicated, especially when they take up residence in cemeteries or golf courses. There used to be a thriving colony in Columbus's Green Lawn Cemetery when I was a kid, and many (most?) visitors loved them. But the cemetery staff destroyed them long ago, probably due to concerns about their burrowing. My hunch is that the squirrels do more good than harm in these highly manicured landscapes but protecting them can be a hard sell.
That's why I don't want to name this cemetery. While I can't imagine that the people who maintain this place don't know they're there - I saw several dozen on this visit, sometimes six were in sight at once - no point in potentially drawing attention to them. However, if management does know they're there, AND intentionally allows these fascinating "prairie dogs" to remain, I would like to nominate them for some sort of medal, or perhaps entry into the Royal Order of the Ground Squirrel Benefactors.
Sunday, October 9, 2016
On October 24 at 7 pm at OSU’s Ohio Union, Thomas Mangelsen and Todd Wilkinson will present a fascinating account of grizzly bear conservation in Yellowstone National Park. The program will be liberally illustrated with Mangelsen’s stunning photography. The program is free but please preregister RIGHT HERE. Sponsored by the Environmental Professionals Network.
Monday, October 3, 2016
A toadlike bolas spider holds her silken weapon: a sticky ball she dangles and flings at approaching moths.
October 2, 2016
A group of spiders has been flinging bolas lines far longer than the gauchos.
The bolas spiders comprise a group of about 50 species, all of which occur in the Americas. Thirteen species are found north of Mexico, and four occur in Ohio.
Finding a bolas spider is always a big deal. They’re rare and easily overlooked. It wasn’t until Sept. 3 that I finally clapped eyes on one of these bizarre spiders.
I and others were conducting nocturnal field work in The Nature Conservancy’s sprawling Edge of Appalachia Preserve in Adams County. Suddenly, a roar went up from David Hughes, who is a firefighter and expert photographer. He had found a toadlike bolas spider, Mastophora phrynosoma.
During the day, the toadlike bolas spider rests atop a leaf, looking like an amorphous glob of fungus or gooey bird dropping. From certain angles, it looks rather toadlike. Presumably, would-be predators ignore such an unpalatable-looking mass.
Come dusk, the spider spins a few silken guy wires under leaves and prepares to hunt. She hangs from her support lines and crafts her sophisticated weapon. By rubbing a silken line against sticky secretions generated by her spinnerets, the spider forms a gluey ball.
When all is ready, she suspends the sticky bolas from a silken strand and holds the line with one of her forelegs. The look is much like a fisherman holding a baited rod.
She then emits a fragrance that mirrors pheromones secreted by a certain group of female moths. Eventually a male moth will detect this pseudopheromone and fly in to investigate.
As soon as the amorous moth comes within striking range, the spider flings the bolas and snares the moth. The duped victim is reeled in, dispatched and eaten.
The much-smaller male spiders and young females do not hunt with a bolas. Remarkably, they produce a scent that attracts tiny moth flies, which are seized and eaten.
Lots of weird things transpire under cover of darkness.
Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.blogspot.com.