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Fishing spiders big, not bad

Fishing spiders sometimes enter homes/Jim McCormac
COLUMBUS DISPATCH
NATURE

Fishing spiders big, not bad
Sunday April 29, 2012
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Cover your heads and mimic an ostrich, arachnophobes: There are about 600 species of spiders in Ohio. Spiders are probably the most numerous predators in most habitats. Sites that are rich in biodiversity might contain hundreds of thousands of spiders per acre. Fortunately for those who detest the eight-legged crowd, most spiders are so small and inconspicuous that people never notice them.
There are exceptions, however.

If there were a beauty pageant for spiders, the huge and sensational fishing spiders would be perennial front-runners for the tiara. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the leggy and intricately marked fishing spiders will always garner a reaction — pro or con.

Ohio hosts five species of fishing spiders, all members of the nursery web spider family. These arachnids don’t spin conventional webs; they ambush and pounce o…

Lakeside Daisy

Last Sunday while up at Lake Erie, I found myself on that long narrow slab of limestone known as the Marblehead Peninsula. And when traversing the Marblehead in spring, I always try to make time to stop in at the Lakeside Daisy State Nature Preserve. This 19-acre site looks like a lunar landscape at first blush; a barren rocky substrate sparsely dotted with red cedar trees. But in May (normally), the place comes alive with its namesake plant.

I was amazed to see how advanced the daisies were on the early date of April 22. I checked my photo archives for past visits, and have plenty of shots of the daisies in peak condition between May 10 and 12. So, they're nearly three weeks ahead of schedule this spring, and if you want to see one of Ohio's most amazing botanical displays, you'd best take a trip down Alexander Pike soon.

A sea of yellow dots carpets the rocky floor of the preserve. Lakeside daisy, Tetraneuris herbacea, is one of the rarest plants in the United States, a…

Mink: long, low, and slinky

A young mink, Neovison vison (formerly placed in the genus Mustela), snarls at your blogger from a grassy roadside verge. I made this photo a few years ago, along the entrance road to Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. Yes, the minklet looks "cute" but rest assured he/she is every bit the savage predatory tubular sausage that is the stuff of which lesser creatures' nightmares are made.

Photo: Bill Fisher
In an utterly remarkable coincidence, I was motoring down the causeway that bisects Magee Marsh Wildlife Area last Sunday, when a gorgeous adult mink shot across the road. The Magee causeway is only a few miles from where I made the first photo, of the juvenile mink. That was quite cool indeed, as I probably see only one or two of these weasels a year, at best.

But the proximity of my two Ottawa County mink sightings was not the remarkable coincidence that I speak of. At almost the exact time that I watched last Sunday's mink tear across the road, my Droid chimed to le…

Fish Crow update

I didn't realize that Michelle Leighty, who like Andy Jones, works at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, also was instrumental in tracking down and documenting Ohio's first nesting record of Fish Crows (the subject of the last post). Sorry about that oversight, Michelle!

Laura Gooch, who lives but a relative stone's throw from the location of these Fish Crows and their nest, made a fascinating observation at her Cleveland Heights house on May 23, 2011. Laura sets up nocturnal recording equipment to document nighttime migrant birds, and made a wonderfully serendipitous recording. She had been out for an early stroll on that May 23 morning, and heard and saw three or four Fish Crows passing over. When she got home and checked her recording equipment - it was still turned on, fortunately - there were the calls of Fish Crows. Listen for yourself RIGHT HERE. Great work, Laura!

One wonders how long Fish Crows have occupied the Shaker/University Heights east side Cleveland …

Fish Crow nests in Ohio!

Yesterday came the exciting news that Fish Crows, Corvus ossifragus, had been found in Ohio. This species had long been anticipated to arrive, and eventually nest, and that expectation became reality this week when Andy Jones discovered the birds described in this post. Last year saw a few reports of flyby Fish Crows along the Lake Erie shoreline, but those birds were not chaseable or otherwise independently verifiable, and I don't believe any recordings of vocalizations were made.

Well, Andy's birds are a snap to find, and are enlivening the neighborhood depicted in the shot above. Jones, who is the ornithologist at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, came across these Fish Crows in a quiet well treed east side Cleveland neighborhood, Shaker Heights. He broke the news yesterday, and Bernie Master and I were in the car and headed north bright and early this morning. The crows were easy to find; we saw them as soon as we turned onto the street in the photo, and they put o…

Red-shouldered Hawks nest in a most appropriate site

Photo: Bill Thompson
Bill Thompson, aka Bill of the Birds, has been photo-documenting a beautiful pair of Red-shouldered Hawks that are nesting in a huge sycamore right outside his office building in Marietta, Ohio. And where does Bill work? Well, he is editor of Bird Watcher's Digest! These birds couldn't have selected a more appropriate place to take up residence.

Bill's been posting about these birds in his blog, and you'll want to follow him. It'll be sort of like watching a nest cam, albeit a sluggish one that uses still pictures. It should be fun and educational to follow these birds as Bill documents the nesting process, and raising of the young. It'll be doubly cool because Red-shouldered Hawks are avian herpetologists - they are especially smitten with catching amphibians and reptiles, snakes included, so we should see some interesting prey items being carted to the aerie.

Follow Bill and the hawks RIGHT HERE.

Magee Marsh and early warblers

I spent part of today at one of Ohio's most iconic birding hotspots, the legendary "Bird Trail" at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. This mile+ boardwalk winds through a 30-some acre patch of swampy woods on Lake Erie's south shore, and the place is a beacon for migrant songbirds. Today was raw and blustery, with temperatures in the low 40's and strong winds. Birds were relatively few, but included some of my favorite species.

You'll not see many scenes like this come May - the boardwalk will be packed with birders, and in places it'll resemble the sidewalks in Times Square at lunch hour. But on a good day the birds will outnumber the birders and the diversity of warblers and other songbirds can be fabulous.

And make no mistake - warblers are the People's Choice when it comes to the favorite group of birds at Magee. I led a walk yesterday elsewhere in Ohio, and Dick And Jane Ward showed up sporting this wonderful license plate.

One of our most striking warb…

Ugly caterpillar = beautiful butterfly

One of the earliest woody plants to bloom in the east is the downy serviceberry, Amelanchier arborea. The  still bare treelets are festooned with spindly white blossoms in March, providing jots of color to woods that have yet to green. By now, the leaves are expanding, as above, and the leaves are blanketed in soft whitish pubescence. The hairs of the petioles are long and silky - sericeous, in botanicospeak.

I recently was able to spend some time afield with photographer Marcia Rubin, who works amazing magic with a Panasonic, and found that she also has sharp eyes. She drew my attention to a strange linear lump on a serviceberry in a woodland understory, and I was delighted to see what she had found.

It was a caterpillar, and not a rare one judging by all of the adult butterflies one sees flying about, all of which went through this stage. Nonetheless, it was a "life" caterpillar for me, and I was excited to finally turn my lens to one.

This is the larva of the red-spotted…

Waiting for Godwits: A Birder Murder/Mystery book!

Not long ago, I received an email from an outfit known as Bantry Books, a small bookseller based in the United Kingdom. As a birder, I apparently made their distribution list as they peddle some products that purport to cater to the binocular-toting set. This specific missive trumpeted the above book, by Digby Maclaughlin, who apparently has made a bit of a habit of scrawling mysteries that are supposed to appeal to birders.

Here's the brief teaser for Waiting For Godwits:

Foul Murder on the marshes

"Retired American detective Patrick McCluskey is a contented man. He aims to live happily ever after in a 300-year-old cottage on England’s wild and windy North Norfolk coast, sharing life with his new partner, Judith, a beautiful and talented illustrator of birds. Then Rev. Richard Rocastle, the vicar for Chesley-Next-The-Sea, arrives with the news that his church roof restoration fund is missing . . . and McCluskey is instantly plunged into a tangled investigation of abduction, …

Giant fishing spider!

After spending all day last Saturday within the confines of a conference hall, I was more than ready to explore the great outdoors the following day. Don't get me wrong - the conference was fabulous and provided a goldmine of information - but I was near the iconic Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, and was eager to explore the place.

So, after spending Saturday night near the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains, it was in the car and up the mountain on Sunday morning. This shot was taken along the beautiful Skyline Parkway, which traverses the length of this 105 mile long, 200,000 acre park. Spring is slower to arrive at the mountain's summits, but there were still interesting flora and fauna, and breathtaking scenery at every turn.

What goes up must come down, and eventually it was time to drop down off the mountain. On the way down, I spied a beautiful rushing brook, and decided to explore its banks. A Louisiana Waterthrush, full of vim and vinegar, had staked out t…

Red Admiral Invasion

I'm freshly back from an interesting trip to the great state of Virginia and the beautiful city of Winchester - renowned for its Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival. This event will celebrate its 85th year in a few weeks; unfortunately given the early spring, their apple trees will have shed their blossoms by then. I was there to speak at a new and interesting conference called Tomorrow's Landscapes, held at Shenandoah University. It was fun and infomative; among the better run of these sorts of things and it was great to see acquaintances such as Jeff Lowenfels all the way from Anchorage, Alaska, and Doug Tallamy from Delaware.
The relatively short drive over to Winchester took me through five states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia. Before leaving Ohio last Friday, I was seeing LOTS of red admiral butterflies, Vanessa atalanta. I saw some more along the drive to Virginia but not as many as were fluttering around my home state.
Bold and pugnacious, a sho…

Eastern Screech-Owl

Photo: Bruce Miller
The Eastern screech owl is a master of camouflage. Its ear tufts aren’t really ears; they just help the bird blend into backgrounds.
NATURE
Eastern screech owl common but rarely spotted
The Columbus Dispatch
April 15, 2012

Somewhere not far from you sits Ohio’s most common avian predator. But chances are that most readers have never seen one.

You might have heard its calls: eerie descending whistles, perhaps reminiscent of a baby banshee wailing through a muffler; or its other song, a strange, quavering monotone trill. Either call will draw one’s ear, but good luck seeing the singer.

Eastern screech owls are masters of camouflage. The small owls — less than 9 inches long and weighing little more than a smartphone — are strictly nocturnal. During the day, a roosting screech owl typically holes up in a tree cavity or nest box. Sometimes they’ll sit tight against a tree trunk, and their plumage matches the tree’s bark to a remarkable degree. The owl’s prominent ear tufts f…

Midwest Native Plant Conference!

Logo: Ann Geise
Registration is now open for the 4th annual Midwest Native Plant Conference. Dates are July 27, 28 & 29, and the venue is the spectacular Bergamo Center on the grounds of Mount St. John in Dayton, Ohio. While the common thread of the conference is native plants, the event is multifaceted with great speakers covering a range of topics, plenty of native flora FOR SALE, field trips, and more.

Two of the standout features of the Bergamo Center is that it has plenty of excellent inexpensive rooms, so conference activities are just steps away from your quarters. And even better are the grounds of this 150-acre nature preserve. Our evening field trips are always a hit. As soon as we step out the doors of the Bergamo Center, we're surrounded by a symphony of nighttime singing insects and lots of other creatures of the night. It was here, at the 2010 conference, where guided by orthopteran guru Wil Hershberger, we think we set the world record for a nighttime singing in…