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Showing posts from September, 2010

Those crazy gentians

A cluster of odd saclike flowers bristles from the summit of a robust Yellowish Gentian, Gentiana alba. A few weekends back, while plumbing the depths of Adams County in southernmost Ohio for rare flora, the inimitable Daniel Boone showed us this station of gentians. Yellowish Gentian is quite the rarity here - listed as an Ohio threatened species - and I'd seen it only a few times prior.

I'd concede that Yellowish Gentian is rather bland in coloration, but that's no reason to refer to it as the "Plain Gentian", as the USDA Plant Database does. Any deficiency of bright hues is more than compensated for by the outrageous floral structure. I mean, this is it - the flowers don't open. They are like little paper bags, and this strange morphology serves them well in weeding out unwanted pollinators, as we shall see.

Sometimes Yellowish Gentian flowers do open a bit, and I helped tease this one apart a bit so we could cast a look inside into the pollinary chamber.…

All about owls

Tiny but furious, a Northern Saw-whet Owl makes his feelings known. "Be off, you dumb blithering human", he seems to be saying.
For anyone in the vicinity of Lima - not Peru, Ohio! - next Tuesday night, October 5th, I'll be giving a program about owls at the Tri-Moraine Audubon Society meeting. It's a PowerPoint with lots of cool images and audio, starring all of the nocturnal hooters that visit the Buckeye State, plus some others.


The group surprised me by whipping up this cool poster, and it has all of the necessary factoids should you wish to drop by.

Sleepy Barred Owl dozes in a gnarly Swamp White Oak.

Owls. An appropriate subject for the Halloween season.

Little Brown Bat

Little Brown Bat, Myotis lucifugus.
A few weeks ago, I once again had the pleasure of spending time in a darkened forest with Merrill Tawse, along with a large group of other batters. Yes, batters, and not of the baseball variety. We were there to observe Merrill and crew mistnetting the little furry flyers, and if you ever get the chance to go on such an expedition, do it.

Note the band affixed to the bat's wing in the photo above. They aren't catching these things for the fun of it; Merrill has for years been banding bats, and the whole procedure works essentially as it does for birds, except it's done at night. In this case, they'd set up a series of large nets in - not by - the Clear Fork of the Mohican River near Mohican State Park. Bats love a good waterway - lots of flying insects to feed upon - and the number of bats patrolling this stream is astonishing.

We've spread the bat's wings, revealing the intricate handlike bone structure that supports the memb…

Incredible avian aeronautics!

You've absolutely got to see the following video. Anyone who knows birds well knows that Peregrine Falcons are amongst the most amazing flying machines on Planet Earth. Capable of 150 mph+ dives, lightning quick directional changes, and generating G-forces that would cause a fighter pilot to black out, Peregrines are nothing short of amazing.

But so are Northern Goshawks, in their own way. These feathered barbarians are, ounce for ounce, the Ultimate Fighters of the bird world. Few animals of any kind are fiercer, a quality recognized by Attila the Hun who emmblazoned the Goshawk's likeness on his war helmet. The ability of Goshawks to maneuver at high speed through dense cover is remarkable.

The following video comes courtesy of the BBC, and gives the viewer an incredible bird's-eye view of these fabulous predators.

Dragonfly invasion

Common Green Darners, Anax junius. Male (right) holding female as she oviposits eggs into a cattail leaf.

This has been an absolute invasion year for dragonflies in Ohio, and elsewhere in the Midwest. Swarms big and small have been widely reported, some numbering into the thousands of individuals. I had the good fortune of seeing one of these green darner feeding frenzies a few weeks back, in Ross County. Several thousand dragonflies were darting to and fro over meadows along a floodplain, creating a surreal scene.

Stimulated by word of numerous other sightings of migrant darner swarms, I wrote an article that was published in a number of newspapers throughout the state, and that led to even more reports. One of the more interesting came from Kim McCoy, of Fayette County, who witnessed a massive feeding swarm on her property on September 15. Not only that, but she made a video that captures the scene. View the vid RIGHT HERE.

My column, with more info about migrant dragonflies, is below…

Pleasing Fungus Beetle!

Pleasing Fungus Beetle, Megalodacne fasciata, adorns my door jamb
In what could only be ascribed to the cosmic tentacles of Beetledom reaching through the ether and bestowing Good Karma on me, I walked out my front door almost immediately after making the last post, and saw the above. A Pleasing Fungus Beetle! Its color scheme even closely resembles the Tomentose Burying Beetle that I had just written about.

The trip to Krogers was temporarily tabled, and back inside I rushed, to grab the Panasonic Lumix and photo-document this extraordinary insect. The beetle was attracted to the porch lights, and from time to time I get some interesting critters out there, but this is the first Pleasing Fungus Beetle that I've noticed.

As the name implies, these beetles feed on fungi, especially the fruiting bodies. Apparently the genus Megalodacne, which includes this species, goes for those woody bracket fungi that stick like shelves from stumps and trunks.

Needless to say, I was quite pleased b…

Tomentose Burying Beetle

A few weeks back, while touring streamside forests along Little Beaver Creek in Columbiana County with Jim Dolan, I noticed a most interesting bug. It had alighted on a downed tree, and I was eager to see what it was. A closer view revealed a good-looking little beast; unfortunately, before I could get around the tree trunk and into an optimal lighting situation, it bolted.

So, the following pics are not of National Geographic quality, but the animal's charms, such as they are, can be seen to a degree.

Tomentose Burying Beetle, Nicrophorus tomentosus. Tomentose = a woolly coating of hairs. Look at that whitish plate over the thorax, and you'll see how this thing got that most unsexy of names. The plate is thickly cloaked in furlike hair; it is tomentose.

This bears repeating. Should you believe in reincarnation, do your homework, and lobby your god for something good, like a Golden Eagle. I could see an entomologically ignorant nature-lover selecting this beetle for their secon…

OOS Annual Conference

The Ohio Ornithological Society's annual conference approaches: October 8 - 10, in Eastlake, Ohio, hard on the shores of Lake Erie. If you are a newer birder, or don't know us well, don't be put off by the O word. Ornithological is synonymous with birding and fun to us, and we have a great time at these affairs. In fact, we want and encourage ALL levels of skills and knowledge to become involved with us.

A fabulous slate of speakers will wow the crowd: Larry Rosche with an overview of the birdlife of northeast Ohio, one of the richest spots for avifauna in the Great Lakes. John Pogacnik on sparrows, one of our most interesting yet underappreciated groups of songbirds. Andy Jones on migration and how birds make the fantastic journeys that they do. Harvey Webster on the dangers of illuminated skyscapers and other structures to migrant birds and what we can do about it.

Finally, Drew Wheelan, point-person for the American Birding Association for the Gulf BP oil gusher, provides…

Is Maximilian an alien?

Strait Creek Prairie, Pike County. Owned by the Ohio Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, and site of one of Ohio's most successful ecological restoration projects, directed by TNC land steward Dave Minney.

This place is one of my favorite sites in the state. It's really off the beaten track, and most people have not seen Strait Creek Prairie, or probably even know that it exists. It's certainly not a drive-by place; one must park by a rural lane and hoof it in. Strait Creek represents the easternmost outlier of the curious Adams County bluegrass province cedar glade prairies, and it's a great place to find rare flora.

Dave, Dan Boone, John Howard and I were there last Saturday to seek out one of the more enigmatic denizens of Strait Creek's many unusual plants. And we found it, although I can't say that the shroud of mystery surrounding this beautiful plant has been dispelled.

Far back in the boondocks, along the sunny edges of a beautifully restored prairie, is …

Common Buckeye

Common Buckeye, Junonia coenia, Pike County, Ohio, September 18th, 2010
This has been a banner year for this immigrant from the south. Buckeyes are seemingly everywhere, and even non butterfly enthusiasts are noting them. As common as the photo opportunities have been this season, I still hadn't managed a very good shot until yesterday.

A few factors work against the shooter of Buckeyes. One, these eye-spotted leps are hyper-vigilant and quite flighty, often darting off rapidly before one can get very near. Two, they often pose in less than desirable situations, such as on the ground, and the background looks terrible.

But this one was nice enough to tee up in a fairly photogenic spot, and allow me a decent photo of one of our more striking butterflies.

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake

Today was one of those glorious fall days: azure cloudless skies, a tinge of color blushing the foliage, and crisp early morning temps. The signs of fall and the collapse of the growing season are everywhere.

I was deep in the boondocks of Pike County to meet Dave Minney, land steward for the Ohio Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. Dave was good enough to take me, along with John Howard and Daniel Boone, into the Strait Creek Prairie preserve. This is a spectacular place, and our primary mission was to find and document one of Ohio's more beautiful - and perplexing - plants. We did, and more on that later.

But as on all forays, many noteworthy plants and animals were catalogued. This little charmer is Bluehearts, Buchnera americana, a rare member of the Figwort Family (Scrophulariaceae).

Juvenile milkweed bug peeks from behind the pod of a Butterfly-weed, Asclepias tuberosa. A much younger animal is in the foreground.

A wooded slope yielded a large stand of Green Violet, Hybanthus…

Ken Druse "Real Dirt" radio interview

Ken Druse is a gardening fanatic, and a well-spoken and interesting advocate for vegetable matter. He has a radio show entitled "Real Dirt" and uses that to interview a wide variety of people on issues related to gardening, and the natural world.

I was his guest on a show back in July, and finally got around to listening to it. We darted and jagged through a variety of topics: native plants, birds, caterpillar damage, dragonflies, and more.

It was fun, and I look forward to being on Ken's show again in a few weeks.

If you would like to hear my interview with Ken, GO HERE.

White-marked Tussock caterpillar

White-marked Tussock Moth caterpillar, Orgyia leucostigma, feeding on Witch-hazel, Hamamelis virginiana.

A few weekends ago, I had the good fortune to cross paths with one of our more beautiful caterpillars while exploring forests along Columbiana County's Little Beaver Creek. White-marked Tussocks aren't rare; in fact, they are probably one of our more frequent caterpillars. But, caterpillars aren't the easiest things to find, and a bit of serendipity often factors into discoveries.


These things are wackily ornate, with various pencil-brushes, bristling setae, stripes, dots and colors. I was with some people who had never seen a White-marked Tussock and they seemed suitably impressed. They probably would have been less than awed by the adult - the tussock morphs into a bland brown moth that is completely unremarkable.

These cats are tolerant of a diverse diet, and in addition to the Witch-hazel that we found it munching on, they'll snack on a wide variety of woody plan…

Black Witch

This is just too cool not to share lickety-split, so here it is - the most amazing moth one could hope for in Ohio. Sort of like finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Photo by Greg RatermanMoth expert Greg Raterman was baiting nocturnal leps last night in Pickaway County, when this gorgeous monstrosity appeared. Black Witch, Ascalapha odorata! As far as I know, this is the biggest moth to be found north of Mexico, and they are true showstoppers.

I can only imagine Greg's surprise when he checked his moth-baiting operation and found this beast. Like most Black Witches that turn up far to the north of where they ought to be, this one is a female, which has the prominent white scalloped line across the wings. The Black Witch occurs in parts of the Caribbean, and throughout Mexico and Central America and south into South America. They are major rarities this far north, and one shows up in Ohio every few years, perhaps.


Photo by Greg Raterman
Its wings are ornately painted, and …

Chanterelle Waxycap

Glowing like luminescent orange beacons, a cluster of Chanterelle Waxycaps, Hygrocybe cantharellus, is sure to catch the eye. These were shot in the gloomy understory of a Columbiana County forest recently. NOTE: I THINK they're this species, but as always I welcome corrections by those more knowledgeable, especially when I enter a realm that is murky to me.

I like mushrooms, a lot. And wish I knew more about them. Their infinite patterns, textures, and shapes are fascinating. Some, like this chanterelle, are such a delectable color that one wants to snatch them up and shovel them in the old pie-hole.
I wouldn't recommend that. Not unless you are absolutely sure of what fungus it is that you lust for. In the case of chanterelles, at least some authorities recommend avoiding the entire group, or at least the genus Hygrocybe, as apparently none are particularly tasty and some can cause serious damage.
Anyway, 'shrooms make for fabulous photographic subjects. It is like magic,…