Thursday, April 27, 2017
Of all the warblers that breed in Shawnee, it's possible that the Worm-eating Warbler is my favorite. It's a subtle animal in every respect. They breed on steep heavily wooded slopes with a well-developed understory, and do much of their foraging in fairly dense growth. That, coupled with the often dim lighting of their haunts, can make "worm-eaters" tough to spot. While the males sing frequently, it's not an overwhelming song. Their tune is a dry, rapid husky trill, reminiscent of a Chipping Sparrow. This is an easy bird to pass right by, even though in a place like Shawnee, an intrepid traveler might be in proximity to 50 or more of the birds in a morning.
Right now is a great time to make a study of forest breeding birds. Many, such as the worm-eaters, have just returned and the males are quite busy trying to establish territories. This means much singing, and conspicuous battles with neighbors as turfs are set up. The bird in this photo was engaged in a serious sing-off with a nearby neighbor, and constantly visited a regular series of singing perches. All I had to do was sidle into a good spot, and watch the action.
A note on the name: the specific epithet vermivorum of the scientific name means "a worm". Hence the common name. It's naming harks back to a time when scientific descriptions were less than exacting, and caterpillars were often called worms. No self-respecting Worm-eating Warbler would probably actually eat a true worm - one of the "night-crawlers" - but they avidly consume the larvae of Lepidoptera - butterflies and moths (caterpillars). Worm-eaters are somewhat specialized foragers, spending much time gleaning through hanging clusters of dead leaves. Such sites are rich in invertebrate prey.
I continue to be disgusted by the treatment of Shawnee State Forest by its "managers", the Ohio Division of Forestry. This woodland belongs to all Ohioans, harbors some of the richest biodiversity in North America, and is being logged to smithereens. Enough is enough - this is not what most Ohioans want to see, nor is it good for the health of this magnificent woodland.
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Lark Sparrows remind me of elfin quail, and like quail they spend much time on the ground foraging for plant seeds and small insects. Before long, the singer I was photographing flew to the ground not far from me and began picking about. In short order, his mate joined him and they eventually worked so close to me that I couldn't focus on them. In the shot above, the male hops atop a rock to eye me curiously, then continued on with his activities.
As can be seen by this fine map, the Lark Sparrow is largely a bird of the Great Plains. Its breeding range barely extends as far east as Ohio, which is why it is such a notable treat here. The Buckeye State stronghold has long been the open sandy habitats of the Oak Openings west of Toledo, a place that they've probably bred for thousands of years. But more and more, Lark Sparrows are utilizing - in very small numbers - large abandoned stone quarries such as the one that I visited on this trip.
Thursday, April 20, 2017
I'm giving a program this Sunday, April 23, at 3 pm at the Indianapolis Museum of Art about the one and only Audubon. The museum has about 75 of Audubon's prints from his ground-breaking work, The Birds of America, on exhibit: Audubon: Drawn to Nature. The avocet is included among them.
Audubon roamed America at a time when our habitats were largely unaltered, but lived to see sweeping changes wrought by the onslaught of European colonization. He was a woodsman through and through, and in addition to being a keen observer of nature, was arguably the greatest artist of birds to ever live. His paintings are magnificent, and broke new ground in their animation and attention to detail.
Preceding my talk is a tour of the museum's expansive grounds, which are heavily populated with native plants. Birds and other wildlife abound. For all the details, CLICK HERE.
Sunday, April 16, 2017
Mostly, on this trip of last Tuesday, I was looking for a mammal - a very special little mammal. I had been here the previous Saturday, with said mammal high on the list of hoped-for targets, but no luck. We saw lots of other great things, and many nice photos were taken, but the migratory mammal that was a main quest had apparently not yet arrived in these haunts.
I've seen Red Bats on numerous occasions and even photographed them on the wing. The last one that I saw was VERY up close and personal - it was captured as part of a researcher's banding project. The one before that I found napping on the side of an Ohio State University parking garage. But what had thus far eluded me was seeing this wee bat making like a leaf in a tree.
The tan-brown leaves in the photo above are those of American Beech, Fagus grandifolia, and it seems to be the tree of choice for roosting Red Bats.
It would be interesting to know where this bat spent the winter. Red Bats are known to be migratory, and it's possible many of those that pass through or remain to breed in Ohio spent the winter in some southern state. I'm sure FAR more of them are out there than suspected. As this photo essay illustrates, they can quite easily be overlooked. April seems to be a great month for locating Red Bats, and young beech trees with their persistent hanging dead leaves seem to be the best place to search them out. So, should you find yourself in a woodland with beech, keep an eye out for these showy little bats.
Sunday, April 9, 2017
I'm giving a talk this Friday evening, April 14, for the Focus Group, a local photography club. Guests are welcome, and admission is free. Festivities commence around 7:00 pm, guests are welcome, and admission is free. Location is the Upper Arlington Municipal Building at 2600 Tremont Road, and more details are RIGHT HERE.
I plan on using mostly images that I've taken in recent weeks, and will cover a broad range of natural history subjects. They'll include birds, insects, plants, landscapes, and more. I also want to discuss how to find and approach subjects, composition, using images to interpret natural history, and specific photographic techniques for various subjects.
If you can make it, I'll look forward to seeing you there!
Thursday, April 6, 2017
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
On a trip to Indiana last week, I found myself headed west on I-70 - the only pragmatic route for travel to Indianapolis and vicinity from here. As I passed by the Great Miami and Stillwater rivers near Dayton, I noticed great green and gold carpets cloaking the floodplain forests. The dreaded "strangler buttercup", or Lesser Celandine!
This thoroughly noxious plant has really been picking up steam in recent years. It's been a localized scourge in some areas for a long while, but now is steamrolling through floodplain forests at an epic clip. After witnessing the Dayton-area infestations from my 75 mph drive-by, I resolved to visit Whetstone Park near my home after I returned.
I hadn't been to Whetstone in early spring for a number of years, but even then large patches of celandine were already established. What I saw on my visit yesterday stunned me. It was a botanical Armageddon. Long before I even got to the lower reaches of the park and the floodplain of the Olentangy River, I began to see large patches of the stuff in the park's lawns. The floodplain was especially depressing, and the photo above sums up the situation well. The overwhelming majority of native flora and fauna have been totally displaced by the botanical scourge that is Lesser Celandine. Only the overstory trees remain native, but even they are threatened by large clinging draping masses of the invasive Winter-creeper, Euonymus fortunei. The understory is thick in many areas, but shrubs are now nearly completely comprised of another highly invasive species, Amur Honeysuckle, Lonicera maackii.
It's not hard to see why this plant would be a hit. It is showy, and a highly successful groundcover. Probably, when this thing first made its way to our shores and into the nursery trade, no one really knew it would eventually vault over the garden fence and create ecological chaos with native habitats.
But by now, we should be learning some lessons about the likelihood of invasiveness among introduced plants. If it is an extremely rapid to spread groundcover that grows readily from detached vegetative parts such as tubers and bulblets (such as celandine), we're probably in for trouble. If it is a woody plant - tree or shrub - that has colorful berries and co-evolution with birds as vectors to distribute those fruit, we're probably in for trouble. Further, if the introduced plants hail from Eurasian habitats and climates similar to ours, we're probably in for trouble.
When a celandine infestation reaches the epic proportions of the invasion depicted here, I'm not sure what can be done. Abetting this plant's rapid spread is that it best grows on regularly flooded river terraces, and the floodwaters quickly sweep plant parts into new terrain. I suspect that eradication of a given population, such as at Whetstone Park, is a long labor-intensive task, and one that would require many years of follow-up. Not to mention long-term diligence, as plants will constantly be reintroduced to the site.
The degradation of our habitats by the onslaught of nonnative invasive plants is depressing indeed.
Monday, April 3, 2017
Sunday, April 2, 2017
A common loon in the water looks like a surfaced submarine. With a quick flick of its feet, the bird slips below the surface; it might reappear a far distance from where it submerged.
Thursday, March 23, 2017
Even on this late date, the orchids were at or near peak bloom. Even so, it's ridiculously easy to overlook them. Coralroots are myco-heterotrophic; they derive their nutrients by intertwining rootlets with subterranean mycorrhizal fungi. The fungi are the middlemen, funneling nutrients to the orchids. This is a common but imperfectly understood relationship in the orchid world (and many other plants).
Oftentimes, when framing a subject, we would look a bit beyond and there would be another orchid. And another. And more. In all, we located several dozen Autumn Coralroots and it may not even have been a great year for this population. Many orchid species have boom and bust years, and the change in above-ground numbers from year to year can be profound. In a site where relatively few orchids surface one year, a return trip the next year might produce hundreds.
I had not seen this species for many years, well before I got heavily into photography. It was a treat to see this odd little orchids again, and have the opportunity to make images of them.
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
By now, far more spring wildflowers will have sprung forth, and they'll reach a climax in southern Ohio in mid-April or so. I'll hope to get back down there before long, and shoot some more of them.
Sunday, March 19, 2017
On Independence Day in 1972, Harold von Braunhut was awarded a patent for "Sea-Monkeys." They already had become the stuff of legend; he had been selling the seemingly magical creatures under that name for a decade.
Friday, March 10, 2017
I'm giving a program next Wednesday evening at the Happy Days Lodge in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, for the Cuyahoga Valley Photographic Society. This is on the north side of Akron, and not too far south of Cleveland. Show begins at 7 pm, it's free, and all are welcome.
The talk is a photo-rich ramble entitled " A Romp Through Ohio's Flora and Fauna", which showcases the great natural diversity of our state, and features both well known and nearly unknown organisms. With an overarching message of conservation, of course. I've only given this talk once, but it seemed to go over well, and I look forward to running through it again - probably with some updated material.
Details can be found RIGHT HERE.
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
So, if you are hoping to seek some salamanders yet this year - at least the vernal pool-breeding mole salamanders - there's still time.
Tuesday, March 7, 2017
March 5, 2017
Signs of spring start materializing come mid-February, especially in mild winters like this one. Our first "wildflower," skunk cabbage, bursts from spring-fed mires. Buds begin to pop on elms and maples.
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Well, back in Ohio, where the temperature will drop into the 20's F tonight, and the wind is howling. A far cry from southern Georgia and southwest Florida, where I spent the last eight days. It was pretty much a gonzo, dawn to dusk everyday, birding/photographing expedition, and a highly productive one at that. It'll take a while to sort out many thousands of photos.
The trip was not without challenges. I made my first trip into the Withlacoochee State Forest, a place known for its Bachman's Sparrows and Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, among many other species. I found both, but also learned the perils of navigating the forest without benefit of four-wheel drive. My first day, I managed to stick my car but good in an undetectable soft sandy spot on a very remote forest road. That took about three hours to resolve. Also, the two days that I poked around the Withlacoochee were plagued by overcast skies and off and on rain, which made sharp, crisp photos a near impossibility. Nonetheless, I look forward to a return trip, in four-wheel drive mode.
But after the ill weather of the Withlacoochee, it was mostly warm weather and sunny skies. Following are a smattering of images.
Venice Rookery, owned by the Venice Area Audubon Society. The rookery is on a very small treed island in a little pond, and thus viewers are quite close to the action. Nesters include various egrets, herons, Anhinga, and ibis. Here, a nearly fully grown young Great Blue Heron begs for food from an adult. A second after I made this image, the young bird lunged upward, seized the adult's bill, and yanked it downward. This is how the young stimulate the adults to regurgitate food.
Burrowing Owls next, I think.