Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A mishmash of flora and fauna from recent days

I've been away far more than home of late, much of it up in Ashtabula County - the largest and most northeastern of Ohio's 88 counties. From my home in Columbus, the center of the state, it takes nearly three hours to get there. It's like another world, and harbors perhaps the greatest concentration of wetlands in the state.

Thus, Ashtabula County was a great place to hold the Ohio Odonata Society's annual meeting, which is why I was there. The hub of the get-together was in Morgan Swamp, at the Ohio Chapter of The Nature Conservancy's Grand River Conservation Campus. There, we heard a number of great talks, and on Saturday radiated out to surrounding areas for field trips. The one that I was on visited Holden Arboretum in adjacent Lake County. Following are some photos from that excursion, and other forays in the area.

An Upland Sandpiper, Bartramia longicauda, forages in a light rain. It was one of two adults, who were tending two fully-grown offspring. The adults were conspicuous, frequently giving their ethereal wolf whistle calls, and alighting atop telephone poles. This beautiful sandpiper has declined tremendously in Ohio and is now listed as state-endangered.

A "glow worm", or the larva of a firefly (genus Photurus). The wet woods of Morgan Swamp are thick with fireflies, and I spent some time Saturday night with Laura Hughes and Dan Hodges checking them out. Laura knows tons about this poorly known group, and showed us a gathering of one of the "synchronous" fireflies in the genus Photinus. The larval glow worms produce luminescence just as do the more conspicuous flighted adults. These dragonlike predators are ground-dwellers - watch for them in damp areas.

A Groundgog, Marmota monax, one of our more charismatic mammals. This one surveys his realm from a patch of crown vetch. Often derided as a "varmint" (you can be pretty well sure that anyone using that word is low in ecological literacy), these native ground squirrels are keystone species. Their large burrows are used by many other species, including foxes.

Small but stunning, a Meadow Fritillary, Boloria bellona, nectars on yarrow. We saw many of these butterflies.

It was a treat to encounter the huge and spectacular Polyphemus Moth, Antheraea polyphemus. This is a female, nicely displaying her eye spots. If a songbird were to notice and poke at the moth, it would instantly snap open its wings, displaying the "scary" eyes and thus likely spooking off the potential predator.

A portraiture shot of the same moth. The Polyphemus is one of the giant silkmoths. Members of this group are in essence flying gonads: they have no functional mouthparts, do not feed, and only live for a week or so. Their primary duty is to find a member of the opposite sex, mate, and reproduce themselves.

An interesting caterpillar to be sure, that of the Viceroy butterfly, Limenitis archippus. This one was feeding on sandbar willow, Salix exigua, a common host plant. The cat is an excellent bird dropping mimic, but not as good as a caterpillar to follow.

The tiny mauve flower of Water-shield, Brasenia schreberi, juts from the water. This small water-lily is our only native member (in Ohio) of the Cabombaceae family. The undersides of the leaves are coated in a viscous jelly, and quite gooey to the touch.

A Giant Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar, Papilio cresphontes. This is probably the best of our caterpillar bird dropping mimics, and it looks quite unpalatable indeed. I tapped him just before making the photo, causing the animal to rear up and display its osmeterium, or "horns". Those horns produced foul-smelling chemicals, and the "chemical switchblades" are used to try and ward off would-be predators. This one and several others were feeding on prickly-ash, Zanthoxylum americanum, one of only two Ohio natives in the citrus family. These plants were recently installed at Holden Arboretum, and are already producing swallowtails. Plant it, and they will come.

Finally, some dragonflies! This striking blueberry-colored specimen is a Slaty Skimmer, Libellula incesta, one of many that we saw at Holden Arboretum.

A huge Comet Darner, Anax longipes, in a rare moment of repose. Holden Arboretum's longtime director of special projects, botanist, and overall natural history expert Brian Parsons was leading us around a dragonfly-filled pond at Holden when we spotted two of these dragons. For a while, they aerially hunted and chased one another, sometimes right through the group. Finally, in a rare stroke of luck one of the comets landed on a nearby tree, allowing close inspection and photo ops for all.

One of the rarer species we found at Holden was this Gray Petaltail, Tachopteryx thoreyi. These massive, primitive dragons are associated with permanent seepages, often in heavily forested areas. The petaltail is an extrovert and as is often the case, allowed me to get as close as I wanted with my camera. At one point it even landed on the shoulder of one of our group members, and better yet, briefly alighted on the net of odonatologist Bob Glotzhober!

I'm going to write more about dragonflies later. This year marks the inaugural year of the three year Ohio Dragonfly Survey, a collaboration between the Ohio Odonata Society and the Ohio Division of Wildlife. It's structured much like a breeding bird survey, and the end game is to document an accurate picture of all of Ohio's odonata (dragonflies and damselflies). Everyone is welcome to help, no matter your level of skill. Read more about the survey RIGHT HERE. Also, consider joining the Ohio Odonata Society. Can't beat the price - dues are only $5.00 a year! Details RIGHT HERE.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Nature: Bunnies prolific breeders but have many predators

A young eastern cottontail grooms itself along a Hocking County lane. Many cottontails fall victim to predators before they reach adulthood. Jim McCormac/For The Dispatch

June 18, 2017

Jim McCormac

Hallo, Rabbit,” he said, “is that you?”
“Let’s pretend it isn’t,” said Rabbit, “and see what happens.”
― A. A. Milne (from “Winnie-the-Pooh”)
I’ve been writing natural-history columns for The Dispatch for 12 years and have penned more than 250 articles.
In all that time, I haven’t written a word about one of our most familiar mammals, the eastern cottontail. My apologies to the rabbits.
There’s certainly enough of the fuzz-tailed hoppers to warrant some comment. Cottontails are prolific breeders, with females able to produce five or more litters of up to eight kits in a single season.
Some of those kits will produce litters in their first year.
It doesn’t take a mathematician to realize that we could quickly be swarming with rabbits.
But we’re not awash in rabbits, thanks to numerous predators that view them as hopping steaks. Larger hawks, owls, coyotes and foxes make meals of them. Snakes, skunks, weasels and others nosh on nestling rabbits.
A notable rabbit-hunter is the bobcat. I’ve only seen two of these wildcats in Ohio, and both were patrolling rural lanes in June. I suspect they were seeking young rabbits, which are prone to conspicuously foraging in mowed berms in early summer.
The predators must work for their meal, though. A startled cottontail bolts off in a series of rapid zigs and zags, and can briefly touch 18 mph.
If a cottontail makes it out of adolescence, it will be lucky to last three years.
Few people have actually seen cottontail courtship, which is sometimes called “cavorting.” A pair of amorous rabbits face off, a few feet apart. The male will suddenly spring several feet into the air, twisting 180 degrees in the process. The female races beneath the airborne acrobat, and he lands facing her. Cavorting may entail all manner of other rabbit hijinks: chasing, hopping and tussling.
There once was another rabbit species in Ohio. The larger snowshoe hare occurred in extreme northeastern Ohio, in the snowbelt region. This northern rabbit was at its southern limits in Ohio, and changing habitats pushed it out of the state by the early 1900s. A reintroduction scheme initiated by the Ohio Division of Wildlife in the early 2000s failed.
Ohio hunters must settle for the eastern cottontail, and many do. Rabbit hunting is popular, and the bag limit is four rabbits a day. In recent years, the annual harvest is probably about 500,000 animals. Harvests of four decades ago averaged about 2 million rabbits.
A decrease in hunters and an overall decrease in the cottontail population — driven by habitat loss and an increase in certain predators such as coyotes — have combined to cut those annual takes.
Cottontails remain common, though, as many a gardener who has waged war with the furry vegetable-eaters can attest.
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.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Orchid poster available!

Botanist and orchidophile Andrew Gibson has assembled a stunning collage of all of Ohio's native orchids in poster form, aptly titled Native Orchids of Ohio. Click the photo above to see a larger version. It took him years to track down and photograph all 47 native species - and there is also one interesting hybrid included. The photos speak for themselves - they're stunning. The poster, which measures 24" x 36", could be framed and used as wall art. As many people may not even know that orchids occur in Ohio, the poster is sure to be a conversation piece with house guests. It would also be an informative addition to the walls of schools and other institutions of learning.

CLICK HERE for information about ordering the Native Orchids of Ohio poster.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A few odds and ends from recent days

I've been away more than home of late, and often busy with necessary work when I am home, so here's a quick and easy post. A hodgepodge of various flora and fauna from recent travels around Ohio, in no particular order.

One of our most striking warblers, a male Common Yellowthroat tees up on a favorite singing perch. Cedar Bog, Champaign County.

A flowerfly in the family Syrphidae grasps the style of a meadow parsnip flower, Pastinaca sativa, and laps pollen from the stigma. Many species in this family, like this one, are excellent bee mimics. Castalia Prairie, Erie County.

Rearing up and displaying its osmeteria is a Black Swallowtail caterpillar. The orange horns emit a foul-smelling chemical and are used to ward off would-be predators. The cat was eating the foliage of poison-hemlock, Conium maculatum, a very toxic plant. Woodman Fen, Montgomery County.

Tiny but beautiful is this Orange Wing Moth, Mellilla xanthometata. It was one of many moths that were lured by light sheets set up by entomologist Jim Lemon at Cedar Bog in Champaign County.

A large wolf spider (species unknown, to me) carries several dozen of her spiderlings on her back. Many small predators would think thrice about messing with this eight-legged mom. Cedar Bog, Champaign County.

One of our showier orchids, the Grass-pink, Calopogon tuberosus. This plant can easily be seen from the boardwalk at Cedar Bog, Champaign County.

Fading fast but still looking good last Saturday was Cedar Bog's most famous botanical resident, the Showy Lady's-slipper, Cypripedium reginae. Champaign County.

As a photographic footnote, I made both of the preceding orchid images with a big telephoto lens, Canon's remarkable 500mm f/4 II. While normally a bird lens, it works very well on larger plants, and provides beautiful background compression. As its working range is considerable, using it allows one to remain on the boardwalk in this case, and not trample into Cedar Bog's rarity-filled sedge meadows.

An especially cooperative Common Baskettail, Epitheca cynosura, poses nicely at Castalia Prairie, Erie County.

The largest genus of plants in Ohio is Carex, a diverse group of over 160 species of sedges, This is one of the more distinctive species, Short's Sedge, Carex shortiana. Germantown Metropark, Montgomery County.

Finally, one of our stranger flies, perched on the pedicel of Dudley's rush, Juncus dudleyi, in a wet prairie. It is a marsh fly (probably a species in the genus Antichaeta). These flies parasitize various freshwater snails. Castalia Prairie, Erie County.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Young rabbits galore

Tis the season for young Eastern Cottontails. June brings young bunnies, and these youngsters, who haven't yet developed street smarts, often forage out in the open. Thus, they are easy pickings for all manner of predators, not the least of which is the Bobcat. Both of my Ohio Bobcat sightings come from June, and both cats were patrolling country lanes. I suspect they were searching for young rabbits, like the one in these photos.

I made these two images this morning in Hocking County, while photographing birds. The little rabbit - and there was another close by - was oblivious to my presence. In the photo above, he nonchalantly feeds on the leaves of American plantain, Plantago rugelii, right out in the open along a rural lane. Any Red-tailed Hawk - and there are many around there - that happens along will take a keen interest in this rabbit.

Eastern Cottontails are incredibly prolific breeders. A sexually mature female can have five or so litters a year, each of up to eight kits. Some of those kits will be able to breed within their first year. It doesn't take a mathematician to see that we would soon be awash in rabbits if various predators did not take advantage of all the hopping little steaks.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Showy Lady's-slippers at Cedar Bog

A trio of dazzling Showy Lady's-slipper flowers, as seen from the boardwalk at Cedar Bog in Champaign County, Ohio, this morning.

Fortunately, I made it back from the northern reaches of Michigan in time to get over to Cedar Bog and see Cypripedium reginae, arguably the most spectacular of North American orchids. It is at peak bloom right now, and will look good for another week or so.

Not much notice, I know, but the Friends of Cedar Bog will conduct guided tours to see and learn about these orchids tomorrow and Sunday (June 3 & 4). More information can be found RIGHT HERE.

I highly recommend a visit. Traversing the "bog" (really a fen) is easy, thanks to a mile long boardwalk. While the orchids are currently the star of the show, biodiversity abounds in this magical place, and you'll see much more.