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Showing posts from May, 2010

Birding at the Edge

I'm just back from a very productive weekend of Birding at the Edge. The Edge of Appalachia Preserve in Adams County, that is. The Ohio Ornithological Society, along with partners the Cincinnati Museum Center and the Ohio Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, organized a two-day foray to see birds. Lots of birds. Ground zero for our operations was the spectacular new Eulett Center - above - which looks out over the Ohio Brush Creek valley.

This event was limited to 22 people, and we divvied up into two teams. Scouring Adams and Scioto counties over the past day and a half, we found 102 species, and all but one was a local breeder. Not bad, considering that probably not many more than that breed in that region in total.

Major thanks go to Cheryl Harner of OOS, for her incredibly competent logistical work; Ned Keller for leading the other team; Marc Nolls, and Greg and Leslie Cornett for helpful support; and Chris Bedel, Mark Zloba, and Pete Whan and Lucy Miller for lending their fab fi…

Fence Lizard

I'm down in southern Ohio helping to lead trips for an Ohio Ornithological Society breeding bird workshop. We're exploring Adams and Scioto counties, and this landscape includes some of the state's best wilderness lands. I'll post more about this foray later.

We've done well thus far. Our group list stands at about 95 species, nearly all of them local breeders. Chuck-will's-widows on the nest has certainly been a highlight, but we've seen lots of other great birds. And other stuff.

Eastern Fence Lizard, Sceloporus undulatus. A lot of Ohioans are probably somewhat surprised to learn that we have lizards in the state. Rest assured, we do, and the chap above and his brethren are locally common throughout much of southern and eastern Ohio. Fence Lizards prefer dry slopes and openings, and spend much of their time on the ground. Spook one, and they're prone to running up a tree trunk, and the animal's upper body matches tree bark well.

We spotted this one …

Dwarf Lake Iris

The road less traveled, in this case through a beautiful northern forest near the shore of Lake Huron, in northern Michigan's Presque Isle County. A very special plant is common here, and we were indeed fortunate that our recent birding and botany foray here coincided with peak bloom for this extremely range-restricted species.

In places, Dwarf Lake Iris, Iris lacustris, carpeted the thin limey soil in a riot of purple. This plant is a true showstopper, sure to grab the eye of even the most botanically jaded.

Small wonder the state of Michigan designated this iris as the official state wildflower. A truly sophisticated choice, as not only is this one of the showiest plants in the Great Lakes region, but Michigan also supports the bulk of the total population.

What they lack in stature, Dwarf Lake Iris makes up in beauty. The "Dwarf" in the name is well placed - they only stand six inches or so in height.
It occurs in perhaps a dozen counties in Michigan, all along the sh…

Bearberry-eating elfin

Strolling the trails and beaches of the Lake Huron shoreline in Presque Isle County, Michigan is an excercise in constant distraction. There are all manner of birds, and one must generally keep their eyes elevated to spot those. But looking up is tough when plants such as Yellow Lady's-slippers, Cypripedium parviflorum, are quite literally roadside "weeds" in places. The individual in this photo is a gem of an orchid; an unusual double-flowered form.

Coming from Columbus, Ohio - the land of invasive bush honeysuckles - it was nice to see some of the native honeysuckles. This is Wild Honeysuckle, Lonicera dioica, a plant that is becoming scarce down here but remains common up there. Most of the flowers that I saw were this striking deep red-orange color; most that I see in Ohio trend towards yellowish.

Brilliant yellow-orange flowers of Plains Puccoon, Lithospermum caroliniense, stand in stark contrast to the white sandy dunes of the Huron shore. The low shrub in the bac…

Twin-spotted Spiketail

During my recent foray into the north woods of Michigan, we visited an interesting site loosely known as the "Underground River". That's it, above, when not under the ground. This is karst country, and the underlying limestone is prone to patchy erosion. Sinkholes are common, and in places this stream disappears into the ground only to resurface elsewhere. There are points when you can hear its rushing waters in the subterranean depths through fissures in the ground.

Pretty cool stuff, and breathtaking scenery. We had a Winter Wren here, singing its impossibly complex symphony of trills, and many other interesting birds. Gay-wings, Bunchberry, Rose Twisted-stalk, and Striped Maple added botanical allure.

But it was a dragonfly that was my personal highlight at this spot.

Sharp-eyed Nina spotted this freshly emerged dragon on a young sapling, some 30 feet from the river. It is a Twin-spotted Spiketail, Cordulegaster maculata, and it still clings to the exuvia from which it …

Birding NettieBay

Nestled on the shores of Nettie Lake in a remote corner of Michigan's Presque Isle County is NettieBay Lodge, a truly fabulous place for those who cherish nature. The property is expansive, covering some 2,200 acres, and we could have a bang-up time without ever setting foot on other lands.

But we wandered. Not far and wide, though - the 130 species of birds, numerous other animals, and more cool plants than you can shake a stick at were all found within a one-half hour drive of NettieBay Lodge, our base camp.

I was there to lead field trips as part of the "Birds & Botany Weekend". We prioritized birds, switching more to plants and other natural history as the day progressed and birds became quieter. I'm going to blog some of the ultra-cool plants that we found later, and already have mentioned a few if you look at earlier posts.

Next year, we're adding an extra day - one and a half days went far too fast! - and tack on a trip to the extensive dunes and beaches…

Fringed Milkwort

Fringed Milkwort, or Gay-wings, Polygala paucifolia, Presque Isle County, Michigan.

One of myriad interesting wildflowers in this remote and sparsely populated corner of the upper Lower Peninsula.
Our crew had tons of great birds today. We just returned from watching and listening to scores of Whip-poor-wills, some of which were hunting on the road and treating us to their luminescent red eye shine. Just before that, we watched an American Bittern "singing".
This morning, we were treated to Kirtland's Warblers singing at close range, a hybrid Brewster's Warbler paired with a female Golden-winged Warbler, Black-billed Cuckoo, Lincoln's Sparrow on territory, Bobolinks, and about 90 other species.
If you've not been up here, you really must visit. We'll be doing this workshop next year in late May and it'll be every bit as good. For info about NettieBay Lodge, GO HERE.

Ram's-head Orchid

Today we entered a true botanical paradise; a land of eflin flora and rare specialists. Hard on the shore of Lake Huron, not far from Roger's City in Presque Isle County, Michigan, is some of the coolest habit on the Great Lakes. Limestone pavement juts to the surface in places, forming alvars. In between are cool, wet cedar and spruce swamps and everywhere there are interesting plants.

We saw far too many things to list right now, but below is one of the coolest of today's finds.

Ram's-head Orchid, Cypripedium arietinum. One of our smallest orchids, this lady's-slipper can be devilishly hard to spot in the gloom of the wet boreal forests that it inhabits. They apparently are not common here, and we found but two plants. I had a vibe about some particularly interesting habitat, and dropped into the woods and found these plants.

What a treat. This was a life orchid for me, and so it will be for the rest of the group when we take them to have a peek. Yellow Lady's-sli…

Presque Isle County, Michigan

I arrived in this incredible northern Michigan county last night, and spent the day today scouting for birds in preparation for some upcoming field trips. I'm here to work with the Nettie Bay Lodge, and a more beautiful place to stay could not be found. Within earshot of my cabin are yodeling Common Loons, singing Whip-poor-wills, dancing American Woodcocks and so much more.



Jack Pine country, and this crop is of just the right age to support Kirtland's Warbler. I stumbled into this area, only about one-half hour away from the lodge and far north of the traditional Mio/Grayling sites where most people go. There were four territorial males right here, along with beautiful territorial Clay-colored Sparrows and many other species of the sandy pine plains.

The main highway in this area, and typical of the roads up here. Next to no traffic!

While taking the photo above, an American Bittern was gurgle-pumping right next to me, in this beautiful glacial lake. Such habitat is common h…

Fabulous Lark Sparrow photos

If you caught my recent post about an excursion into the Oak Openings, you also saw a totally marginal photo of a Lark Sparrow that I took. Well, award-winning photographer Bruce Miller was along as well, sporting the big lens. And he got some doozies. A bit of Lark Sparrowian eye candy follows...

A boldly patterned male Lark Sparrow stands proud, as if modeling for Bruce's lens. No shrinking violet Le Conte's Sparrow types, these harlequin-faced beauts.

The female of the pair gathers rootlets for nesting material. Given where these birds were, chances are good that some of that vegetation is listed as endangered or threatened. But we'll cut her some slack - these Lark Sparrows of the Oak Openings are the easternmost breeding population.
In a remarkable display of multitasking, we saw the male mount her several times - while she also held a mouthful of nesting material. Efficient little devils, I'd say.
Thanks mucho to Bruce for sharing his fabulous work with us.

Ed the spider

I've got an uninvited but not altogether unwelcome tenant on a dark corner of my basement. It's a spider; specifically a House Funnel Weaver, Tegenaria domestica. I call him Ed, even if it is a female.

Ed in his lair, in a dank intersection of concrete blocks behind my dryer. He's a bit of a celeb in the spider world, as a photo that I took of him last year made it into the new Division of Wildlife spider booklet (p. 15). That's right - last year. These funnel weavers can live a long time, and I first photographed Ed on November 29, 2009, and he'd been around for at least a month or two prior to that.

During the day, you'll generally not see hide nor hair of Ed. Come nightfall, and he ventures to the mouth of his funnel retreat. The flash of my camera seems not to bother him one whit, and I got these images last night. The capture sheet in the foreground has become a thick, lustrous mat strung between the two cellar walls, as funnel weavers continually add to it…

Macro and micro in the Oak Openings

The scene yesterday along Krause Rd, just west of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. We were looking for very distant Upland Sandpipers. At times, the best birding locales were absolute gridlock. That's fun for a while, but I desperately needed a break from the mobs today.

Wild Lupine, Lupinus perennis, paints a sandy oak openings. This rare - for Ohio - member of the pea family is the host plant for the endangered Karner Blue butterfly.
So, it was off to the Oak Openings west of Toledo. These ancient dunes harbor some of the most interesting flora and fauna to be found anywhere in the Great Lakes region. And there are far fewer people.

There are lots of tiny and obscure rarities to be found in the Oak Openings. This is one of them, and it may suggest a dandelion to you. And it is the Dwarf Dandelion, Krigia virginica, a threatened species in Ohio. A lover of open sands, it thrives in the Oak Openings but few other places in this state. A big one might stand a few inches in height, b…