I had a meeting at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers visitor's center at Caesar Creek Lake in southwest Ohio's Warren County yesterday. We convened to plan the 2023 Midwest Native Plant Conference, and it should be another doozy. As I've not had a chance to shoot much lately, I got down that way at sunrise, and wandered into a productive patch that I knew about. It wasn't long before I heard the rich warble of a Blue Grosbeak. While I had great studies through binoculars, the melodious animal never cooperated for images.
Monday, August 29, 2022
Wednesday, August 24, 2022
For anyone interested, I'm giving a talk entitled "Gardening for Moths" at the Franklin Park Conservatory this Saturday at 3 pm. While moths are the focus, the talk is really about using native flora to spawn fauna and create a diverse ecosystem that includes lots of animal diversity. I'll use lots of examples of native flora that can be purchased and grown, and what ensues when they are. Lots of pretty pictures, of course :-)
Details and registration are here: Gardening for Moths | Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical GardensFranklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (fpconservatory.org)
Saturday, August 20, 2022
On August 14, Susannah Hopkins discovered two Swallow-tailed Kites (Elanoides forficatus) in this area, and they remain to the present. Many people have visited to see the spectacular raptors. A book project and some other stuff prevented me from going for five days, but I was keen to see the birds, and especially the site. I know that area of Perry County well, and there is nothing particularly striking here from a habitat perspective - much of the land is highly agricultural. But clearly it is to the kites' liking, and that means food abounds. More on that later.
Let's keep our fingers crossed and hope for Ohio's first modern nesting record of Swallow-tailed Kites in some upcoming year.
Thursday, August 18, 2022
Tuesday, August 16, 2022
As you inferred from the post's title, it is a Green Mantidfly (Zeugomantispa minuta). While all the mantidflies are strange and interesting in their own way, this one is especially fetching. It's the first of its kind that I recall seeing. While about 400 mantidfly species occur worldwide only five or so are found in Ohio, and any sighting is memorable. This one, with its lime-green coloration and ornate wing venation, is especially fetching. Green Mantidfly has an enormous range, extending from about our latitude south through the eastern U.S. and on south through Central America and into South America.
Mantidflies look like something cobbled together by a mad scientist. The foreparts resemble a praying mantis, replete with colorful gemmed eyes. Powerful forelegs are used to seize prey, which might be anything smaller than the mantidfly. As this mantidfly is maybe an inch long, we're talking small prey. The wings appear to be stolen off a lacewing, and the thickened abdomen smacks of a wasp.
It gets weirder. Many mantidflies, this one included, are parasitoids of spiders. A larval mantidfly, shortly after hatching, seeks a ride on a spider. When a suitable arachnid passes by, the larval mantidfly hops aboard. If the spider turns out to be a male, the hitchhiker awaits its discovery of a female and subsequent mating. While the spiders are so engaged, the clever mantidfly crosses over to the female. When the female spider begins to create its silken egg sac, the mantidfly hops in and is sealed up with lots of fresh eggs. It then gorges on fresh spider eggs, pupates within the spider nest and eventually emerges as an adult.
That strikes me as pretty risky business, this mantidfly lifecycle. Perhaps that's why they seem to be rather scarce.
Wednesday, August 10, 2022
Sunday, August 7, 2022
People dump billions of gallons of water on the ground daily to keep the turfgrass emerald-green. Can’t have “weeds” encroaching or unwanted insects attacking the grass, so over 100 million pounds of herbicides and pesticides drench lawns annually. These toxic chemicals make their way into waterways and cause various environmental and human health issues.
I won’t even go into the gas use and pollution generated by lawn mowers, and that noisy scourge of suburbia, the gas-powered leaf blower.
Lawn management is a multi-billion-dollar industry, so there is plenty of seductive spin aimed at convincing people that a manicured lawn is good and healthy. Don’t want the Joneses to leave you behind! The truth is that all of this non-native grass and its attendant management has laid waste to native plants and wildlife.
It doesn’t have to be like this. And increasing numbers of homeowners are eschewing traditional high maintenance turfgrass wastelands in favor of hardy and beautiful native flora. And just last week, The Dispatch garden writer offered suggestions for alternatives to turfgrass.
When I moved to Worthington a few years ago, I immediately set out to vanquish lawn in favor of native plants.
Today, my yardscape is floristically diverse and full of interesting low-/no-maintenance plants. Numerous butterflies provide fluttering proof of increased eco-friendliness. In the last few weeks, I’ve seen American snout, cloudless sulphur, hackberry emperor, monarch, and summer azure laying eggs on appropriate host plants (none of which are turfgrass).
Last year, my brother Mike introduced me to one of the kings of lawn-to-native conversion, Josh McElhaney. Josh and his wife Abby live in the epitome of urbanized suburbia: the corner of Karl and Cooke roads in northeast Columbus. I visited their “yard” again on July 13 and was blown away by its diversity.
Josh began his mission to diversify an acre of lawn in 2015. Seven years later, it bears beautiful fruit. At least half the grass is gone, replaced with a rich palette of native flora. Various coneflowers, cup-plant, several goldenrod species, prairie-dock and sunflowers provided lemony highlights and sent the local goldfinches atwitter in anticipation of the coming seed crop.
A discerning botanist would have fun searching the McElhaney yard. Curiosities such as queen-of-the-prairie, pawpaw, persimmon, rattlesnake-master, royal catchfly, and wild honeysuckle dot the grounds. Five species of milkweeds are in the gardens, a boon for monarch butterflies. One is Sullivant’s milkweed, which was first discovered in Ohio in the 1830s. Its finder was William Starling Sullivant, the botanist son of Lucas Sullivant, the founder of Franklinton, which would evolve into Columbus.
Splashes of color come courtesy of easily grown native standards such as blue false indigo, mountain mint, redbud, and wild bergamot. A daring gardener, Josh has also planted two species of sumac: ecological heavy lifters, but they occasionally need to be reined in. In all, about 100 native plant species now flourish in the McElhaney yard and it in no way resembles its grassy predecessor.
I asked Josh why he started down the native path, and he gave a wonderful answer. The McElhaneys have two girls, ages 8 and 10, and wanted them to be able to experience nature and all that comes with it at fingertip range. That they can; just a step or two out the door and this easy opportunity has sparked an interest in flora and fauna in the girls.
Josh likes showing off his homegrown wildlife refuge and sharing what he’s learned about establishing native flora.
If you would like to visit, send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will put you in touch.
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.
Friday, August 5, 2022
I made a trip into Zaleski State Forest (Vinton County, Ohio) on July 28 of this year, in large part to look for this amazing orchid. It is fairly easy to find in this region, and in places is along the roadsides. This plant and the following were off the beaten path, though - bit of a hike up a trail, then a bushwhack down to the bottomland and voila! There they were. As a bonus, I located a handful of Cranefly Orchids (Tipularia discolor) in flower.
Tuesday, August 2, 2022
I am giving a PowerPoint talk on "Conservation Photography" this Saturday at 10 am. All are welcome. The talk is in the visitor's center, which is just off to the left and out of the picture in the image above. The address is 980 Woodburn Road, Urbana, OH 43078. It's a nominal $5.00 ($10.00 for nonmembers) to attend. Money goes to support the wonderful work of the Cedar Bog Association, the nonprofit that manages the preserve.
After the talk and lunch, we'll head on to the boardwalk to explore. There will be much flora and fauna to see, and photograph. We should get to view the newest mega-rare plant, an interesting carnivorous species that came to light in an unexpected way. There will be many other rare plants to see, North America's smallest dragonfly, a threatened species of dancer (damselfly), skinks and much more. Hope to see you there!