Thursday, July 18, 2024

Moth Night Part II

 

A Black-waved Flannel Moth (Megalopyge crispata) stares rather inscrutably into the camera. Yes, they're cute. And quite common.

The flannel and the following moths were imaged on July 13, during the foray described in the previous post.

One of the many, many silkmoths to come into our sheets on this night was this spectacular male Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus). It looks like it's got two ferns bolted to its head. These antennae are packed with pheromone receptors, and they can pick up airborne trace pheromones emitted by females from incredible distances. This means they may have to fly long distances to reach her, which pits the moth against dangerous aerial foes: bats. This may be why Polyphemus Moths have evolved a crazily erratic, almost violently yo-yo'ing flight - it makes it much harder for the bats to successfully strike them.

I must confess to liking face shots of moths This is a Rosy Maple Moth peering into the camera, and side view in the following photo so you can better see what one looks like. RMM's are one of the most common silkmoths and easily identified.

Rosy Maple Moth in profile.

There are not too many bright pink and yellow critters out there. In the moth world, camouflage rules and many species are nearly impossible to see when at rest on tree bark, lichens, leaf litter, etc. This image shows how such a gaudy beast might blend in when clad in garish pink and yellow. This RMM is nestled into the fresh samaras (seeds) of one of its major host plants, Red Maple (Acer rubrum).

Slug moths are always interesting and photogenic, and about eight species visited on this night. This is the Shagreened Slug Moth (Apoda biguttata). The erect nubbin is its abdomen. Some slug moths, when at rest, hold their abdomen upright, presumably because it makes for better disruptive camouflage. Host plants for this species include Ironwood, Hickory, and Oak.

I was pleased to see this Oval-based Prominent (Peridea basitriens), a species that I have seldom seen. Apparently, I'm not the only one. The number of records submitted to iNaturalist are relatively few in Ohio. Mysteries still surround even fairly widespread species such as this. Apparently, the host plant(s) remain unknown.

Rather a plain Jane, the Serene Underwing (Catocala serena). However, it was of great personal interest, as I don't recall ever seeing this species. While hidden at rest, this underwing like most of its brethren, has flashy orangish bars on the underwings, which are exposed when the forewings are flicked aside. I should have made an effort to get that shot. This one apparently is far rarer than even the preceding species, with perhaps 15 Ohio records. Furthermore, there are not many records anywhere and it appears to be one of the scarcer underwings. This seeming rarity is somewhat inexplicable as the host plants are said to be Black Walnut and various hickories, and these are very common trees. Perhaps the Serene Underwing just doesn't come to lights very often and goes mostly undetected.

Finally, all manner of other interesting insects is attracted to lights, not the least of which are a variety of wasps. Some of these are parasitoids of caterpillars and are probably nocturnal. Most caterpillars become active under cover of darkness so it would make sense that their predators would also be active then. This wasp is Trogus pennator (I don't know a common name). It preys on several species of swallowtail butterflies. The adult female wasp lays eggs on the caterpillar, which then grow to maturity within the larva.

This coming weekend is the now famous Mothapalooza, and I'll be at that and will no doubt get many more interesting moth images, as well as caterpillars.

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Major Moth Night

 

As always, click the image to enlarge

A group of us enjoyed a superb night of mothing last night at Beth Crane's property in Hocking County. Thanks to Beth and Richard McKee for hosting everyone, and for their excellent hospitality. We were fortunate to have Laura Hughes, John Howard, and Kelly Capuzzi join us - all are superb naturalists and accomplished moth-ers. We had three light setups going and that worked like a charm.

John Howard created this artful display of some heavy hitters that visited our sheets. They are Ash Sphinx, Elm Sphinx, Virginia Creeper Sphinx, Pandorus Sphinx, Imperial Moth, Regal Moth (2), Tuliptree Silkmoth, and Rosy Maple Moth. This was just a fraction of the moths that we saw. There were over 20 Imperial Moths, 6-8 Regal Moths, many sphinxes of various species, and scores of other interesting moths. We finally left at 2 am, and things were still going strong.

These sorts of moth numbers and diversity speaks to a very healthy local ecosystem full of native plant diversity, and largely free of light pollution and other deleterious factors that cause moth declines.

An interesting distant view of one of the mothing stations, John Howard's professional setup. Thanks to Shauna Weyrauch for this image and the next one.

A closer view of one of the setups. Black lights and mercury vapor or other powerful lights lure the moths, and most end up on the white sheets where it is easy to observe and catalog them. Sometime before dawn, the lights are extinguished and the moths shooed away back into the wilds.


Head on with a Regal Moth. This is one of Ohio's largest moths, and they are so large that one has a noticeable heft to it when handled. This moth is densely fuzzy and looks like a stuffed animal. As befits such a large lepidopteran, its caterpillar is also gargantuan and is called a Hickory Horned Devil. See the photo below for an image of one of those hotdog-sized beasts.

Hickory Horned Devils are often likened to a hotdog, as a size comparison. It isn't an exaggeration.

I'm still sorting through my imagery but have lots of good stuff. Including a few rather enigmatic species, and a few that only be described as cute. I'll post up some of those later.

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Parasitoid wasps dispatch prey in a hideous manner

 

A blue-winged wasp (Scolia dubia) nectars on wingstem/Jim McCormac

Parasitoid wasps dispatch prey in a hideous manner

Columbus Dispatch
July 7, 2024

NATURE
Jim McCormac

We humans have our fair share of parasites, some annoying, some dangerous. Common parasitic predators include bed bugs, lice, roundworms, tapeworms and ticks.

Some of these and others can cause serious issues, such as malaria-transmitting mosquitoes or ticks carrying Lyme disease. Fortunately, most parasitically transmitted diseases can be cured, especially if caught early.

Things could be far worse for people, were we besieged by parasitoids. While parasites generally don’t kill their hosts, parasitoids always do.

Imagine this: One fine day, you’re working in the garden when a giant female wasp suddenly buzzes upon you and delivers a punishing sting before you know what hit you. A powerful neurotoxin quickly immobilizes your motor functions, rendering you as helpless as one of the vegetables you were tending.

The duck-sized wasp, equipped with superman strength, then seizes your inert body and drags you to a premade crypt in nearby soft soil. Unfortunately, your mind still functions perfectly, so you have a ringside seat to your hideous fate. She shoves you into the hole, lays an egg as a going away present and seals the entrance.

After lying in your musty tomb for a few days, the egg hatches and out crawls a hideous white larva. The killer grub feasts on your moribund flesh, eventually consuming you whole.

While this Poe-like tale may seem the stuff of horror genres, it happens all around us on a scope and scale incomprehensible to even the most ambitious psychopath. And an especially speciose group of parasitoid animals are the wasps. And fortunately for you and me, they are tiny, not waterfowl-sized.

Such is the grisliness of death by parasitoid wasp that it prompted Charles Darwin to write his intellectual confidant, the American botanist Asa Gray, questioning parasitoids. A passage in his letter of May 22, 1860 stated “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonid√¶ (a family of parasitoid wasps) with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars…”

Legions of wasps, mostly tiny and unnoticed, ply their trade at the expense of inestimable numbers of caterpillars of moths and butterflies.

Many tomato-growers have seen the fruits of an elfin wasp, known as Cotesia congregata. Females inject eggs into the tobacco hornworm, a caterpillar noted for feasting on tomato plants.

Along with the egg comes a powerful virus and venom. In a complex process, those chemicals radically alter the development of the caterpillar and create a better growing environment for the grubs feeding within its body. In a grand finale, the wasp grubs bore out of the host’s body and spins silken cocoons.

An afflicted caterpillar looks like it is bristling with miniature white mummies. Adult wasps soon pop from their cocoons and start the cycle anew.

Most parasitoid wasps dispatch prey in some such hideous manner, including entombing their paralyzed bodies.

The blue-winged wasp pictured with this column preys on beetle grubs, including the invasive Japanese beetle. Other wasps victimize cicadas, crickets, katydids, spiders, stinkbugs, walkingsticks, water striders and probably every other arthropod group. In all, perhaps 700,000 or so parasitoid wasp species are estimated to exist, but it’s probable that the number is far higher.

Even the parasitoids are not immune to victimization. A second level, known as hyperparasitoids, preys on the eggs or larvae of primary parasitoids. Some hyperparasitoid wasps are the size of a grain of salt.

Darwin was judging the seeming horrors of parasitoids from the very fallible human perspective. In reality, they represent a pinnacle of insect evolution and are vital parts of food chains. Parasitoids hold other insect populations in balance, and in turn provide food for scores of other predators. Many parasitoid wasps are important pollinators, too.

Fortunately for us, parasitoid wasps confine their activities to nonvertebrate animals, so humans are safe. At least for the present.

Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first and third Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at jim mccormac.blogspot.com.

This tiny Ichneumon wasp (Enicospilus purgatus) is nocturnal, as are most of its quarry, caterpillars/Jim McCormac

Sunday, June 30, 2024

Nature: A portal to Ohio's glacial past can be found at Cedar Bog

 

A fen meadow, full of rare plants, surrounded by white cedar, can be seen at Cedar Bog/Jim McCormac

The Columbus Dispatch
June 30, 2024


NATURE
Jim McCormac

One of Ohio’s greatest biological hotspots lies less than an hour’s drive west of Columbus.

Cedar Bog is a fascinating place; a glacial relict populated with flora that one would normally have to venture far to the north of Ohio to see.

At the time of European settlement, the Mad River Valley west and south of Urbana harbored a massive 7,000-acre “swamp”. The word swamp is a catch-all term for a variety of wetlands, and the Mad River swamp deserves more discriminating nomenclature.

In 1974, geologist Jane Forsyth did just that, coining what by then had become known as Cedar Bog as a boreal fen.

Boreal refers to northerly regions and is an apropos descriptor for Cedar Bog. The Pleistocene epoch brought the last global ice age, commencing about 2.5 million years ago. As the sheets of ice slowly expanded south, they bulldozed the landscape, creating valleys and depressions suitable for northern plant species.

As the climate then was much colder, boreal plants, such as spruce, fir, tamarack and many others, flourished in what would much later become known as Ohio.

A warming climate eventually spurred the retreat of the glaciers and they had receded to the north of Ohio by about 12,000 years ago. Boreal flora was slowly replaced with more southerly plants, except around the margins of cold glacial lakes and specialized peatlands known as bogs and fens.

Cedar Bog was one of the largest and is exceptional in that it hosts plants of boreal regions and westerly wet prairies. It should be noted that Cedar “Bog” is really a fen. Fens are fed by groundwater while bogs receive water from rainfall.

Soon after settlers pushed into the Mad River Valley, they set about clearing timber and draining the great swamp. Ultimately, all but the 450-acres that comprise present-day Cedar Bog were destroyed, the once tremendous floristic diversity replaced by the ubiquitous fodder of America’s bread basket: corn, soybeans and wheat.

Well over 90% of Ohio’s peatlands that were documented post-settlement have been destroyed. Fortunately, conservationists were able to rally to protect what remained of Cedar Bog, and in 1942, the state provided funds for its purchase and the site was turned over to the Ohio Historical Society (now Ohio History Connection).

The National Park Service designated it a National Natural Landmark in 1967, and it was dedicated as a state nature preserve in 1979.

I’ve visited Cedar Bog scores of times, most recently on June 22. It was a special-event day, with Chelsea Gottfried, co-author of the book "Gardening for Moths," speaking about our nocturnal butterflies to about 55 people.

Shauna Weyrauch and I attended and arrived an hour early to explore the extensive boardwalk.

Immediately obvious upon entering Cedar Bog are the namesake white cedars. This is a northern tree, and Cedar Bog is the only wetland in Ohio dominated by white cedar. One must venture about 250 miles to the north before cedar “swamps” start to become common.

The bright orange flowers of Michigan lilies caught our eye. The spectacular plants are having a boom year and can’t be missed. Showy grass-pink orchids dotted the fen meadows, and there were large drifts of fen Indian plantain, a strange member of the sunflower family.

Brilliant magenta spikes of spotted phlox provided jots of color amongst the sedges, and we were pleased to see the wand lily in peak bloom. The latter sometimes goes by the name “death camas” due to its toxic alkaloids.

Cedar Bog hosts one of the highest densities of rare plants of any site in the state. Probably the most famous of these is the showy lady’s slipper, a huge orchid with massive pink and white flowers. There are only about five Ohio sites, and Cedar Bog is by far the largest. They’re through for the season, but plan on visiting late spring/early summer next year to see them at prime time.

Visitors are often surprised to see lizards racing along the boardwalk. They’re five-lined skinks and are common. So is America’s smallest dragonfly, the endangered elfin skimmer. It’s less than an inch in length and is a fen and bog specialist.

Elfin skimmers lurk in the sedges, along with a threatened damselfly, the seepage dancer. Sharp-eyed observers will find them right along the boardwalk.

Mark your calendar for July 6 when firefly expert Matthew Speights delivers a presentation followed by a nocturnal foray into the fen to see an amazing insectivorous lightshow.

Cedar Bog offers a portal into Ohio’s glacial past, without having to drive several hundred miles to the north.

A visit is always interesting and the dedicated volunteers and Maddie Brown, the site manager, are a wealth of information. For hours and other details, visit cedarbognp.org.

Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first and third Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at jim mccormac.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Confused Eusarca moths nectar at rare plant

Last Saturday evening, Cedar Bog hosted a moth night, headlined by speaker Chelsea Gottfried, coauthor of THIS BOOK. It was a great program, and Chelsea played to a packed house of about 55 people. Nightfall was settling in by the time her talk was done and illuminated mothing sheets had been strategically placed around the nature center.

I was equally interested in going into the heart of the large fen (Cedar "Bog" is actually a fen) and seeing what moths but by visiting the flowers in the fen meadows, many of which are rare in Ohio.

This is one of those rarities, the Wand Lily (Anticlea elegans), or as it is sometimes known, Death Camas. The latter stems from the toxicity of plants in this genus, and apparently the toxins are quite potent.

Shauna Weyrauch and I were more interested in moth flower visitors than plant toxicity on this night, but despite watching, saw no Lepidopteran visitors at the Wand Lily. I did later see an image from someone else of a moth nectaring at these flowers but could not tell what species from the image. I would have liked to have spent more time observing the Wand Lilies, but time was limited, and I thought that another species nearby would bear more mothy fruit.

This is Fen Indian-plantain (Arnoglossum plantagineum), and while quite the rarity in Ohio, there is plenty at Cedar Bog and it can form sizable drifts. It is a beautiful plant, and recognizing the family it belongs to as probably not intuitive for many people. Fen Indian-plantain, believe it or not, is a member of the massive Sunflower Family (Asteraceae).

It was in perfect bloom, and I figured that the luminescent white flowers would lure moths, so we spent much of our time observing the indian-plantain.

Bingo! A Confused Eusarca (Eusarca confusaria) taps nectar from the strange blooms. We saw a number of Confused Eusarcas doing so, as well as other moth species that I didn't manage photos of and did not identify. By the way, I do not know the story behind the "confused" part of the moth's moniker. They didn't look particularly confused to me, and I suspect it may have something to do with other similar species and humans' confusion over separating them.

Confused Eusarca caterpillars feed primarily on members of the Sunflower Family, and it may be that Fen Indian-plantain plays host to them. There are many other potential host plant candidates in Cedar Bog's meadows as well, and I would love to put in some more hours in the "bog" at night looking for nectaring moths.

If you want to experience Cedar Bog after dark, firefly expert Matthew Speights will be giving a program in the Cedar Bog visitor's center on July 6 at 730 pm. Afterwards, everyone will head afield to look for and learn about "lightning bugs". I can report that it looked like a laser light show in places last Saturday night due to prolific fireflies.

PHOTO NOTE: I have been regularly engaging in nocturnal photography for some time now and have hit upon a pretty bulletproof flash technique. It involves these settings: ISO 200, 1/200 second exposure, and f/13 or f/16 (a small aperture). The flash is either the Canon 600 EX II RT speedlite, or more commonly the Canon MT 26EX-RT Twinlites. The latter mount on a ring around the end of the lens barrel, and both lights - one on either side of the lens - can be adjusted independently. When the shutter is half tapped, subtle pre-lights come on on both flashes, providing enough light to focus. When the subject is locked on, fully depress the shutter and make the image. No need for clumsy flashlights or other auxiliary light sources to find and focus on the subject. my 100mm f/2.8L macro lens is the usual weapon of choice. With the flash set to TTL mode, it communicates with the camera and typically provides just about the perfect amount of light every time. I'd far rather focus on finding, approaching, and composing subjects that constantly fiddling with camera/flash settings. And light metering that I do is usually by adjusting the intensity of the flash itself, either adding or reducing light if needed.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Raccoon rears up like a little bear

I recently received a timely request from a magazine, BWD, that I regularly work with. It's the former Bird Watcher's Digest, now truncated to the acronym. If you're into birds, on any level, I highly recommend a subscription. GO HERE for more information.

Anyway, the list of photo requests for the upcoming issue included one very specific target: an American Crow with an unshelled peanut in its bill. I can do that, thought I, as I've been working near daily trying to form a bond with a couple of the local crows. They nested this year within sight of the window where I now sit, the aerie well hidden in the crown of a towering Norway Spruce. I make regular gifts of peanuts to them, and the birds - mostly one or occasionally both adults, and a juvenile - have learned to recognize me as the peanut vendor. They now will come quite close as they exhort me to greater speed as I distribute their peanuts.

So, I waited until the light was optimal, set up my blind in a good spot in the backyard, scattered some peanuts and soon had my shot. I used the blind because at first, I was thinking that as used to me as they've become, I can just sit in a yard chair with my camera rig on a tripod in front of me. I should have known better. Crows are smarter than many people I've met, probably including myself, and the appearance of me in an odd location with what looked like a giant cannon (Canon, actually) aimed in their direction did not sit well with the birds. They cawed and rattled and sought new vantage points but would not drop down for the peanuts. Once I hid myself and the rig in the blind, I soon had success.

Crow with unshelled peanut. As always, click the image to enlarge.

It was getting late in the day as I worked the peanut-eating corvids, and thus I wasn't too surprised when a sow Raccoon ambled along, her keen nose apparently having detected the nuts.

I know that "coons" generate a lot of dislike, but even though I've had my fair share of issues with the wily beasts, I greatly admire them. And when she presented herself such as above, and I'm looking down the barrel of a big telephoto lens, there's no way I'm not taking advantage.

But crows, not coons, were my primary targets and the masked bandido's presence kept the birds at bay. So, a few times I had to pop from the blind and spook her off.

After the third time of me springing from the blind and making odd noises to startle her back under cover, she was leery, but the allure of peanuts still brought her back. This time, to better get a sense of her surroundings and the possible location of the annoying person (me), she reared up like a little bear, giving me a wonderful series of interesting shots. So, success on two counts with two of the smartest critters around.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Cedar Bog Moth Night: Saturday, June 22

 

A LeConte's Haploa (Haploa lecontei) at rest on the needles of White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis). I came across this moth last June 8, while on a whirlwind trip around Cedar Bog, near Urbana, Ohio, on my way home from elsewhere. I was especially pleased at this scene, as the moth chose the bog's namesake plant for its resting spot.

On Saturday, June 8, Chelsea Gottfried will give a talk about moths at Cedar Bog's visitor center. It is loosely based on the book that she and I coauthored, entitled Gardening for Moths. In addition to pragmatic information for anyone interested in growing native plants/moths (the two are inseparable), the book is full of natural history information about moths and their critical role in the environment.

The talk begins at 8 pm, and afterwards we'll have mothing stations up and running and luring lots of interesting moths. Visitors can see these fabulous creatures up close and personal and there should be plenty of great photo ops. For details, GO HERE.

Cedar Bog is an absolute goldmine of floral and faunal diversity and hosts one of the largest concentrations of rare species in Ohio. A few photos of some of the floristic gems (my main targets on that day) follow; all were made on my short June 8 visit.

If you would be interested in a special pre-talk hike around the bog, starting at 6:30 pm, led by myself and Chelsea, let me know. We'll probably limit it to a dozen people as the boardwalk limits the number of people who can gather as a group to look at and learn about interesting finds. Just send me an email if you're interested (jimmccormac35 AT gmail.com).

As always, click the photo to enlarge

A beautiful Grass-pink (Calopogon tuberosus) poses nicely for the camera. I especially appreciated its presentation of odd numbers: three flowers, and five buds above. Some stragglers may still be holding on for our moth night adventure next weekend. This orchid is pretty common in the fen meadows at Cedar Bog and is one of a number of orchid species that occurs there.

PHOTO NOTE: I made all of the images in this post with my Canon R5 (I can hardly bring myself to shoot with anything else, after much experience working with this amazing camera) and the Canon 400 DO II telephoto lens. I knew that at least some of my target plants would not be particularly close to the boardwalk - people should never leave the boardwalk - so I wanted much more reach than either of my macro lenses offer. The 400 DO II is a sensational lens that produces tack-sharp imagery, is very lightweight, has brilliant image stabilization for handholding, sports a relatively close minimum focus range but also works well with a 25mm extension tube for even closer focusing, and creates a wondrous bokeh. It and other larger telephotos can be fine, and even extraordinary, lenses for plant photography and I frequently employ them for such purposes.

The primary target of this day, the Purple Fringed Orchid (Platanthera psycodes). This is a very rare Ohio plant and is also very rare within Cedar Bog. Only two plants were found this year. Purple Fringed Orchid is a very striking plant, but can be easy to miss in shady, well-vegetated haunts such as at this site. This plant, and the other, were rather short in stature as well, making it even easier to miss them.

PHOTO NOTE: To get this image, I laid on the boardwalk and shot through the one small opening in the vegetation that offered an unobstructed view of the inflorescence. I had to push up against the kick rail on the far side of the boardwalk to get far enough away to focus, as my minimum focus distance (with the extension tube) was about 8 feet. Settings were ISO 1000, f/7.1, and 1/160 second exposure. The higher ISO (I typically prefer ISO 100-200 for plants) was necessitated by the darkish shaded habitat. Also, as I was handholding a bit higher ISO atones for any movement on my part as it permits a faster shutter speed than lower ISO settings would. Because of background clutter, I opted for a fairly open aperture of f/7.1 to better melt away the backdrop. In general, I prefer more open apertures for plants, often between f/4 and f/7.1. As for presentation, I chose to crop down to just the flowering portion of the inflorescence. After all, the incredible flowers are the most charismatic part of this orchid. Besides, the bottom portion of the plant had various stems and leaves of other plants in the way. No flash, and I'm tempted to add, "of course". I'm not a fan of flash on most plants, as it imparts a harshness and flatness that isn't pleasing to my eye. There are certain situations in which flash might help improve a plant image, but those instances are not typical.

Finally, the state-endangered Horned Bladderwort (Utricularia cornuta). This is one of Ohio's rarest plants, being found only at Cedar Bog and one other fen in a neighboring county. There are old records from two northeastern counties, but the bladderwort is no longer known to occur at those sites. Bladderworts are carnivorous plants, indeed, the largest group of botanical carnivores with some 250 species worldwide. Their root systems are beset with tiny sacs (the bladders) that have trap doors. When some tiny animal such as a water flea or insect larva swims near and triggers guard hairs on the bladder, the door pops open inwardly with great rapidity, sucking the victim inside. The door then rapidly shuts and over time the bladderwort ingests the soft parts of the prey, abetted by various enzymes that speed decomposition.

I was glad that I had the bigger lens for this one, as this bladderwort - the most unobstructed specimen that I could find - was probably 12-15 feet out in the meadow. The light was not exactly awesome, as it was afternoon with mostly bright sun. I hope to work more with this species in the future, and I think that I have more pleasingly illuminated shots than this from past work.

If you can make it out for our event next Saturday, we will see these species, sans the Purple Fringed Orchids which will probably be well past flowering - and MUCH more.

Friday, June 7, 2024

Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica)

 

Like an elfin garden, a colony of Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica) springs from well-drained soils of an upland forest in Mohican State Forest in Ashland County, Ohio. Shauna and I did a bit of hiking here this morning and were pleased to stumble across this magical little wildflower.

A trio of flowering spikes erupt from their leafy bases. Shinleaf can be surprisingly easy to miss, given its gloomily lit haunts. Also, it blooms well after the crush of spring wildflowers, when everyone is in the woods ogling showy bluebells, trout lilies, wood poppies, etc. Furthermore, from my experience, this Lilliputian member of the heath family (formerly and sometimes still the Pyrolaceae family) is normally rather scarce, with widely scattered and small colonies.

An isolated plant showcases the graceful form of Pyrola elliptica. The specific epithet elliptica stems from the slightly elongated shape of the basal leaves. I love the genus name Pyrola, which rolls pleasingly off the tongue. It references the genus Pyrus, the pear trees, due to a supposed resemblance of the foliage.
The little candelabras of waxy white flowers are quite elegant. The other three species of Pyrola found in Ohio have similar inflorescences replete with waxy flowers, but only one other, the Round-leaved Wintergreen (P. rotundifolia) can be locally common, although it is largely confined to the eastern half of the state.

The other two, One-sided Wintergreen (Pyrola [Orthilia] secunda) and Green-flowered Shinleaf (P. chlorantha) are now considered extirpated, as it's been over two decades since anyone has found them. The former occurred in only seven counties in the extreme northeastern corner of the state, and the latter was only found once, in Lucas County. Their disappearance correlates with a seeming northward retreat of northern flora at their southern limits. Rediscover either of those, and you'll become famous in Ohio botanical circles.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Osprey seizes fish, Black Terns watch

 

As always, click the photo to enlarge

An Osprey labors skyward, having just caught a Common Carp. The fish looks shocked as it should be. "Fish Hawk" attacks come without warning. One minute you're plying your trade in the isolation chamber calmness of the underwater world, then suddenly, Crash and Splash! Out of nowhere a giant raptor's talon break the surface, seize you, and next thing you know, you're high aloft and heading for a nest of baby Ospreys. Fate: avian sushi.

Shauna and I attended the amazing Allegany Nature Pilgrimage in southwestern New York, as I gave the keynote last Friday night. Moths, of course, loosely based on Chelsea Gottfried's and my new book, Gardening for Moths, which is equal parts, at least, moth natural history. This was the 66th year for the pilgrimage and it is still going strong with about 700 attendees this year.

After that, we spent a few days based in Rochester, New York, exploring Montezuma and Iroquois National Wildlife Refuges - this Osprey image was created at Montezuma - and a few other nearby sites.

A Black Tern wheels over a marsh at Montezuma NWR. As many as 12 were present simultaneously, and this marsh also hosted up to five Osprey at once. Needless to say, birds in flight opportunities were frequent. I was especially pleased to see the terns. The Black Tern has become much scarcer in many areas, including my home state of Ohio. The reasons are several, probably, not the least of which are loss of marshes. But there's undoubtedly more to the picture. Black Terns take lots of insects, in addition to small fish. Insects are spawned by native plants, generally, and native plant diversity has certainly crashed in heavily managed, diked, marshes controlled by wildlife agencies. Invasive plants thrive in such environments and both Montezuma and Iroquois had lots of Giant Reed (Phragmites australis), Reed Canary Grass (Phalaris arundinacea), Flowering Rush (Butomus umbellatus) and others. Carp also thrives in such environments, and they are hard on wetland ecology. We can at least thank the Osprey for removing some of them.

It was interesting to watch the terns hunting damselflies from floating algal mats and other aquatic vegetation. Damselflies are tiny dragonflies and to spot them, dive, and deftly pluck them from the plants is a feat indeed.

Hopefully I'll get around to posting some more of the interesting observations that we made on this trip.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

A hodgepodge of spring birds

I was out and about, to the extent possible, finding and photographing birds this spring. The last year has been my busiest ever for speaking engagements, thanks in part to my new book, Gardening for Moths. My coauthor Chelsea Gottfried and I have been very pleased with the book's reception, and we're grateful that people are interested in moths. So, if promoting one of our coolest groups of insects meant less bird shooting (with a camera) for a while, no problem.

Here, in no particular order, is some aviphotography from the past month or so.

A Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata) floats across a marsh. These birds are generally far easier heard than seen. Gallinules, along with Pied-billed Grebes and American Coots, are responsible for much of the loud cackles, grunts, and yelps that emanate from an early morning marsh. The vocalists often remain hidden in vegetation but this bird, lucky me, floated across placid waters in beautiful light. Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Lucas County, Ohio, May 8, 2024.

An American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus) flies over a Lake Erie marsh. Note the head and bill shadow on the underwing. Before its flight to another section of the marsh, the well-camouflaged heron was regularly delivering its bizarre oonk-ah-choonk song and continued to do so after arrival to its new hunting grounds. Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Lucas County, Ohio, May 8, 2024.

A Sora (Porzana carolina) swims through the fringes of a large mixed-emergent marsh. Plenty of the little chicken-like rails were present this day. Soras are much easier to hear than see, though, as they tend to remain in dense cover. There were also a number of Virginia Rails, although on this day those remained sight unseen. Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Ottawa County, Ohio, May 8, 2024.

A very bright Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum) forages along the Bird Trail at Magee Marsh on May 8. This one caught my eye due to its bright yellow coloration, pretty much from throat to undertail coverts. The streaks on the breast also look thicker than typical "Western" palms that move through Ohio in abundance. Could this be the rarer (for the Great Lakes region) "Eastern" Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum subsp. hypochrysea)? Or just an exceptionally colorful male Western Palm? Lucas County, Ohio.

A subadult male American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla). Males of this warbler species do not develop their distinctive black and orange Halloween colors until their second season, although they can sing and pair off and breed as young "yellowstarts". This individual is particularly boldly spotted with black. A female redstart would lack the black dots and black around the eye. Magee Marsh, Lucas County, Ohio, May 18, 2024.

My front yard Downy Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) was in peak fruiting condition on May 23 and does it draw the birds. To be this Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) must be akin to sitting in a bowl of botanical M & M's. A group of about eight waxwings has been visiting often to plunder the tree but they're not the only ones. In one half-hour photo shoot, I also saw Blue Jay, House Finch, Gray Catbird, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, and Northern Cardinal partake of the fruit. If you like birds, plant a serviceberry. All this action is 20 feet from my front door. Worthington, Ohio.


A female Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) prepares to swallow a fruit from my Downy Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea). She did not have far to go. Their nest (2nd pic) is on the other side of the driveway, about 20 feet away. The bluebirds made frequent visits to the berry-laden tree, even driving off catbirds, waxwings, cardinals and other fruit-seekers. Worthington, Ohio, May 22, 2024.

A Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris) does the splits between two grass culms, a characteristic posture for this little wetland bird. There was a loose colony of several wrens in this spot. We could also hear several Sedge Wrens in the distance, in a drier grassy field. Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Ottawa County, Ohio, May 19, 2024.



A Sedge Wren (Cistothorus stellaris) surveys its foggy prairie domain from atop a Giant Sunflower (Helianthus giganteus). In the next shot, he chatters his mechanical sewing machine-like song. This species is loosely colonial, and others had staked their claims nearby. Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Ottawa County, Ohio, May 18, 2024.

A Philadelphia Vireo (Vireo philapelphicus) strikes a pose along the bird trail at Magee Marsh. There were a number of them on this day. "Phillies" can look much like brighter-plumaged Warbling Vireos, and their song is incredibly similar to the Red-eyed Vireo, which can create identification challenges. Lucas County, Ohio, May 18, 2024.

A male Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) intently watches a mayfly whir by. Probably more people ogle the extroverted nesting pairs of Prothonotary Warblers along the Magee Marsh boardwalk in May, than observe all of the other Prothonotaries in existence, combined, during the same period. The males, especially, will pose at arm's length, seemingly curiously watching the fawning bipeds, and even land on the boardwalk guardrails. I love watching the reactions of newer birders to this amazing and charismatic songbird. Lucas County, Ohio, May 18, 2024.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Mothapalooza 2024: July 19 - 21

The quirky but infinitely fun and thoroughly educational Mothapalooza rolls around in less than two months and it's time to register. And register you should. This is a great event in one of the most scenic biological hotspots in Ohio, and Mothapalooza is populated by extremely knowledgeable connoisseurs of Nature and natural lore who love to share knowledge.

I only say that Mothapalooza is "quirky" because of the primary subject matter, and the hours of some of the field trips. It goes without saying that moths are the primary quarry and stars of the show. Butterflies have mostly always gotten the Lepidopteran limelight, and the creation of Mothapalooza, with the inaugural conference in 2013, showed that moths too could attract attention. And there are FAR more moths to ogle than butterflies. Something like 140 butterfly species have been recorded in Ohio. While no one knows anything close to an exact tally for moths, it's probably 20x higher, or more. Sure, the field trip hours tilt towards the late side, but it's well worth it. There will also be excellent diurnal field trips, and topnotch speakers each night at the historic Paxton Theater in nearby Bainbridge (home of the Dental Museum).

Mothapalooza was held at Shawnee State Park lodge in the early years, capitalizing on the adjacent 70,000-acre Shawnee State Forest and the nearby Edge of Appalachia Preserve. A few years ago, it shifted to the Highlands Nature Sanctuary in Highland County (Ohio), which is among numerous gems owned and managed by the Arc of Appalachia. This'll be the third Mothapalooza at this site, and the mothing is extraordinary.

Following are a few moth photos from events past, but first, to register for Mothapalooza, CLICK HERE. Hope to see you there!

Ornate Compacta Moth (Compacta capitalis), a rarity but we usually get some notable species such as this.

Harris's Three-spot (Harrisimemna trisignata), another oddity but one that we usually find in small numbers.

An Io Moth (Automeris io), one of the more frequent silk moths. The silk moths are always crowd-pleasers and we got lots of them, of many species.

Smaller Parasa (Parasa chloris). This is one of the slug moths, and they are some of the more interesting moths in appearance and coloration.

Yellow-based Tussock Moth (Dasychira basiflava). One element of mothing that is great fun is the photography of these creatures. Whether you use an iPhone or Canon R5 or Nikon Z8, it's easy to make interesting imagery of creatures that are seldom seen, thus seldom photographed. I and others are always glad to offer tips on technique.