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Showing posts from February, 2016

Leap Day leapers!

Being that it's Leap Year, which only rolls around every four years, I figured that I'd better do something saltatorial. And as today is Leap Day, the time is now. So here for your viewing pleasure are some extraordinary leapers.

A bold jumping spider, Phidippus audax, perches atop the mountain of disk flowers that forms the cone of a gray-headed coneflower. The spider was stalking pollinator prey. When a victim bumbles into range, the spider will pounce like an eight-legged leopard. Photographed October 8, 2013 in Franklin County, Ohio.

While at ease in this image, eastern fence lizards, Sceloporus undulatus, can explode to life in the blink of an eye. Their speedy bursts can include impressive leaps. Photographed on April 7, 2012 in Adams County, Ohio.

A glance at the impressive legs of this curve-tailed bush katydid, Scudderia curvicaudata, gives away its common mode of locomotion. When at ease, the animal stalks about slowly and mechanically. If a threat looms, it springs …

A few birds of late

Last Saturday, I got up really early, and was down in deep southern Ohio not long after sunrise. This was a bird mission, primarily, and my target was a large wild area in Adams County that I had not visited in a few decades. Time has not been kind to this place, and an infestation of nonnative honeysuckle shrubs and various other factors have caused a sharp reduction in plant diversity, and as a consequence, overall biodiversity.
I had to kick around quite a bit before finding a honey-hole. But finally, while cruising a gravel lane, I spotted a clearing surrounded by various native shrubs, saplings, with a backdrop of more mature forest. Best of all, there was a robust thicket of fruiting staghorn sumac, Rhus typhina. I knew this spot would produce some action, so I parked, hauled my rig in, and pushed up against some small trees.
I spent the next two hours near the sumac, being treated to a regular procession of birds. Lots of species love to snack on the fruit of sumac, including …

First spring wildflower in bloom!

In my quest to deliver the coming gospel of spring and all things vernal, I offer up the news of our first spring wildflower, which is in full bloom. Yesterday, butterflies, today, flowers.

It is February 21. But while calendars and convention may proclaim that it's still winter, the flora and fauna know better. The tidal wave of spring's flora and fauna is in its gestation period, and visible diversity will only increase in the days to come. The early vanguards of spring are evident right now, especially birds. Migrant flocks of blackbirds are sweeping north, as are Killdeer and Turkey Vultures. Meadowlarks are conspicuously singing, and someone will soon hear singing Eastern Phoebes in southern Ohio.

And, the Skunk-cabbage is in bloom. I took this series of images today, in a local quagmire that sports hundreds of these odd arums.

A spearlike leaf juts from the mire, next to a liver-spotted Skunk-cabbage spathe. The leaves emerge and unfurl after the spathes have largely wi…

First butterfly of the year!

A Question Mark, Polygonia interrogationis, basks in warm sunlight in Shawnee State Forest this afternoon. This species is an extraordinary dead leaf mimic, at least in this posture. When the wings are splayed out to the sides, the butterfly is more colorful and conspicuous. It was an unseasonable (it's February 20!) 65 F when I made the image. The butterfly had plenty of spunk, and I got only this one photo before it flew off, not to be seen again.

Question Marks, their close ally the Comma, and Mourning Cloaks overwinter as adults. It isn't unexpected to see any of them flying about during a midwinter warm snap. In fact, I'm surprised that I didn't see more of them today. It was just the Question Mark in the photo, another Question Mark/Comma type (never got near enough to tell), and one Mourning Cloak. I would have loved to photograph the latter, which nearly hit me in the head as it coursed about, but it never alit and was soon gone.

These butterflies will retreat…

Gadwall, in creamy waters

Of all our dabbling ducks, I would venture that the Gadwall may be the most overlooked. To ignore such a subtly beautiful animal would be an aesthetic crime on the part of the observer. The Gadwall in this photo is a drake, and it is finely etched with artistic vermiculations that create delicate op-art on its breast, flanks, and back. A beautiful tawny-brown head punctuates golden-tan highlights on the back, and the duck is capped rearward with an ebony rump.

Nice.

I made this image last Saturday from an elevated viewing platform at the tailwaters of Hoover Dam in Westerville, Ohio. I normally don't much like shooting from that spot, because it forces one to shoot down on the birds at a fairly steep angle. This often means that there isn't enough contrast between ducks and water, and the ducks get lost among the reflections.

However, every now and then the water color and reflections complement the duck, and I think that's what happened with this image. As the air temper…

Frozen falls and frozen birds

Yesterday was bitterly cold in central Ohio. The day began about 7 F, and warmed into the low teens. Yet winter and subfreezing temperatures brings its own charms, and frozen Hayden Run Falls is one of them. I figured it would have been transformed into a cascade of ice, and sure enough that was the case.

A closer view of the Hayden Falls ice sculpture. I wrote about this place late last fall, and shared some images of the falls when the water is freely flowing. Just CLICK HERE for that.

Below the falls, towards its confluence with the Scioto River, Hayden Run was mostly unfrozen. This pair of Mallards rested and foraged in the stream. Although it still seems - and is! - wintry, spring is very much in the air. The daylight lengthens and stretches the days, and ducks are entering courtship mode. This drake was quite attentive to the hen, and tailgated her constantly as she swam about.

Nearby Kiwanis Park produced lots of birds, as it nearly always does. Being a sucker for charismatic …

Two great conferences

The annual Ohio Natural History Conference takes place on February 27 at the Ohio History Connection (Historical Society) building in Columbus. This is a great venue for such a conference, and you won't want to miss it.

Lots of great talks will be heard, including one by the cicada-master himself, Gene Kritsky, who will speak about periodic cicadas. As you may know, a mass emergence will take place across much of eastern Ohio this year. I made the photo above in 2008, when a smaller cicada brood erupted in southern Ohio.

The inimitable Joe Letsche is speaking about his work with one of our most fascinating serpents, the gentle Rough Greensnake. He has uncovered all manner of interesting nuggets about these secretive creatures. I made the photo above last fall while on a foray with Joe at his Chillicothe-area stomping grounds.

There will be many other points of interest at this conference, including a great keynote by the one and only Guy Denny. To register, CLICK HERE.

Registrati…

Bluebirds hunting and eating

A stunning male Eastern Bluebird hunts insects from a conspicuous perch. While these seemingly gentle creatures are thrushes - a group known for shrinking violets in this part of the world - I think of bluebirds as "hawk-thrushes".

I found myself roaming parts of south-central Ohio last Saturday, on an unseasonably balmy day. Temps hit near 50 F, and that got some insects stirring. One of the places that I visited was Stage's Pond State Nature Preserve just north of Circleville. Recent habitat management there left a savanna-like situation, with a recently mowed meadow interspersed with scattered small trees. Perfect bluebird habitat, and sure enough there was a small flock hunting the site.

I'm certainly not the only one smitten by bluebirds. This species - all three species, actually - have a virtual cult following. Much of their fan club is driven by "bluebirders" who collectively erect scads of free housing for these cavity-nesters. I'm not among t…

Hardy Seuss-like Himalayan beasts among stars of the Wilds

The Sichuan takin, among the species in the Wilds, is a lumbering mammal native to the frigid highlands of the Himalayans in Tibet and China
Hardy Seuss-like Himalayan beasts among stars of the Wilds
COLUMBUS DISPATCH January 31, 2016
NATURE Jim McCormac
One of my favorite places is the Wilds in Muskingum County.

Sprawling across almost 10,000 acres, the massive conservation center is a bonanza for bird-watchers. In the summer, its meadows ring with the songs of bobolinks, Eastern meadowlarks, and many other species.

Wintertime brings raptors: Northern harriers, short-eared owls, rough-legged hawks, even rare golden eagles.

I was there Dec. 26 to participate in the Chandlersville Christmas Bird Count, which includes the Wilds. Although plenty of wild birds were to be found, it's the mammals that steal the show.

It's surreal to be scanning the meadows for birds and spot a trio of Bactrian camels on the horizon. A group of distant animals materializes into a herd of fringe-eared ory…