Thursday, September 1, 2016

More Meadowbrook

 It is no secret, one of my favorite places in Marblehead, Ohio is Meadowbrook Marsh. It is a park opperated by the Danbury Township Trustees.  It has turned out to be a birding hotspot and a nature fix for those in need of a little natural TLC.

A young Bald Eagle circles over head with a full white-headed adult.
Today's surprise was found overhead. Two Bald Eagles circled above and conducted a series of dives and aerial flip flops.  The recovery story of Bald Eagles on our North Coast never ceases to make me smile.  How lucky are we to see these magnificent birds high in our skies!

Red-Spotted Purple butterfly
 Butterflies were numerous today as well.  Red-spotted Purples have been in short supply this year, but we saw numerous warming up in this morning's sun.

Under wing of Red-spotted Purple
 People always seem puzzled when we announce a blue butterfly as a "Red-spotted Purple." It is the under wing that tells the true story, Ah, red spots on a field of purple, now it makes sense

Hackberry Emperor, 
One of my favorite trees at Meadowbrook is the Northern Hackberry.  But why am I talking trees when this obviously a butterfly photo?  The Hackberry tree is the ONLY host plant for the Hackberry Emperor.  Three types of butterflies feed on Hackberry in their larva stage: Tawney Emperor, Hackberry Emperor,  and the American Snout.  This particular Emperor was resting on a Common Milkweed plant.  

Milkweed does not play a role in the life cycle of the Tawney Emperor, but it is the host plant of the Monarch butterfly. When you think of butterflies- remember it is not just the Monarch at needs a host plant to survive.  Hackberry trees are important, too.

Wetland species Swamp Milkweed and American Lotus
Meadowbrook is known for its marsh and Swamp Milkweed is right at home in a marsh. These beautiful pink flowers are perfect for young Monarch butterfly larva.  Just beyond the water edge, those large circular leaves belong to the American Lotus.  One of our most beautiful native aquatic plants is just finishing its bloom cycle.  (To see more on American Lotus http://aquaplant.tamu.edu/plant-identification/alphabetical-index/american-lotus/)

American Lotus seed head.
The stunning white lotus flowers have given way to the seed heads, which famously look like shower heads!  Some believe the seed pods are as striking as the flowers.

Come on out to Flora-Quest 2016 and you can choose your own trip to see aquatic specialties in the marshes and wetlands on the North Coast.

Registration has been extended to Sept. 15, 2016.  Sign up now for an eco-tourism adventure!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

I'll BEE there: Native Plants and Pollinators


Our friends at the Midwest Native Plant Society are hosting a Pollinator Workshop at Caesar Creek on August 13th, 2016.  In my book, this is a not-to-miss event.  There is a tremendous amount of interest in pollinators all across the country and it is not all European honeybees doing the work!

Get ready to "Bumble"!

Bumblebees come in many "flavors."
 There are several types of bumblebees native to Ohio. It would be great to understand their differences!

Tiger Swallowtail and Spicebush Swallowtail!
 Butterflies are pollinators, too! And while we have heard plenty about declining numbers of Monarchs, there is more to the world of Lepidoptera than all gloom and doom.

We can help you sort out the common butterfly species on our  afternoon field trips.

Native bees and pollinating flies abound!
I can't wait to learn more about the unique relationships between native plants and pollinators.

Good thing we have Heather Holm speaking at this Pollinator Workshop at Caesar Creek on August 13th, 2016.  She will have her awesome book for sale too!

Pollinators of Native Plants is "an excellent guide that will help you attract, observe and identify native pollinators! Her presentation is a fascinating journey showcasing the development of different flower types and the presentation of floral resources to pollinators.  Heather will provide many specific examples of how native plants are pollinated and what pollinator is most effective and why."*

Heather Holm and her fabulous book.
"Author of Pollinators of Native Plants, Heather Holm owns a Minnesota-based landscape design and consulting firm specializing in pollinator landscapes and native landscape restorations. She is currently working the University of Minnesota Extension faculty on a three year study to determine the types of native bees that visit cultivated blueberries in Minnesota. The study includes developing customized forage plantings for the native bees identified, and providing additional or enhancing existing nesting sites within the farms. Heather is an environmental educator and frequent presenter at conferences in the Midwest and Northeast. She writes for Houzz, a social media website, about pollinators, beneficial insects and native plants."*



I'll be there leading field trips for this event and I hope to see you there, too!


 Registration at http://www.midwestnativeplants.org/

*Quoted text from Midwest Native Plant's website.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Lakeside Flowers and Fun

The best vacations often combine beauty, relaxation and fun.  Our family thinks Lakeside, Ohio fits the bill perfectly.  It has been our long-standing tradition to be there for the annual Fourth of July festivities. But a huge part of my enjoyment comes from visiting the non-stop flower displays generously sprinkled across the grounds. Lakeside's lakefront has been declared as the "Most Beautiful Mile" in Ohio.

Hollyhocks as colorful as fireworks
The Gundlach Garden is an old-timey cottage style garden on the west end of town which features a brilliant firework-like display of hollyhocks. Visitors often photograph these stately flowers against the back-drop of Lake Erie. Every article written on hollyhocks warns us not to plant them in windy locations, so Lakeside hollyhocks persist with a spirit that defy all odds.

A closer look at the heavy pollen.
A closer look betrays a heavy pollen load at play here.  Most literature I read says they are very attractive to bees and hummingbirds. Hummingbirds?  Where is the nectar reward?  I'll be watching to see what takes an interest in these old-fashion favorites. It is interesting to look closely at our plants and to better understand their ecosystems at work.

Getting a nature, science and beauty "fix."
 Leave it to Lakeside to encourage one tho think "out of the box" a bit.  The Lakeside Campground Association was offering science courses to woman back in the 1890's!  The long standing tradition of education, recreation, religion and cultural arts are the very pillars of the Lakeside Chautauqua Movement. It is intentionally designed to feed both mind and soul.

Historic Hotel Lakeside
 Our Hotel Lakeside is a Victorian hotel which perfectly combines modern needs with the beauty of an age gone by. You too can stay in this Grand old Gal from June to early October. It is one of our designated conference hotels for  Flora-Quest and OOS's Rally for Rails.  This is your chance to see Lakeside in the off-season.

Summer fun on Lake Erie
During the summer the lakefront is active with swimmers and boats. A good, stiff lake breeze will bring out a fleet of Sunfish sailboats, too.  This is all part of the recreation for which Lakeside is famous. Mini golf, swimming, shuffleboard, tennis, bike riders, fitness walkers and plenty of runners keep this active town on the move!

Happy Fourth of July!
So here's to a wonderful Holiday!  I hope you all were able to spend time with your family and friends, enjoying beauty, fun and some physical activity.  Next year, feel free to join me and a couple thousand of my friends on the shore of Lake Erie!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Holy Grail of Ohio Rails

Birds in the family Rallidae, or rails, are notoriously secretive. They live and breed in wetlands, a habitat which is difficult to bird.  Scientists and hunters who frequent the marshes during fall migration tell me they are numerous.  So why are they so hard for birders to see?

King Rail at Glacier Ridge, photo by Bruce Miller.
Birders are willing to travel many miles and stand for hours for an opportunity to see a King Rail in Ohio.  Are King Rails that rare, or are they just difficult for the novice to find?  Since rails are generally limited to wetlands, and Ohio has lost 90-93% of our wetlands, would it be surprising if rail populations are also limited?

BSBO's Mark Shieldcastle with King and Virginia Rails in hand.
 Photo by Hugh Rose.
The best way for a birder to see more rails, is to support the scientific endeavors to study them. Black Swamp Bird Observatory has been conducting studies on rails in the Lake Erie Marsh for many years.  Biologist Mark Shieldcastle will be telling the story of BSBO's study during the Fall "Rally for Rails" being held in Lakeside.

King Rail outfitted with transponder. Photo courtesy of Winous Point.

 A very large King Rail study has been going on at Winous Point Marsh Conservancy.  Transmitters have been attached to King Rails to help scientists better understand their migratory movements, life history- and possibly shed light on the sheer numbers of their population.

This Virginia Rail was a re-capture, already outfitted with a transmitter.
 The Soras and Virginia Rails are outfitted with a much less expensive transmitter that helps to track their localized movements within the marsh.  This helps the team understand preferred habitats and life history while present in Ohio's marshes.

John Simpson examines a recently captured Sora.
 These scientists at Winous Point take their jobs very seriously.  The birds are treated with the utmost care while being weighed, measured and fitted with tracking devices. Good information is reliant upon healthy and normally functioning birds.  The primary goal is to gather information with the least disturbance to the population.

A closer look at the Sora.
 Soras are one of Ohio's more abundant rails.  Other better known Rallidae, or at least one more frequently seen by birders, are coots and gallinules.  Because King and Virginia Rails are difficult to monitor visually, the tracking devices are providing needed information about those populations.

Oliver Cornet and Brendan Shirkey gently fit a harness on the Sora.
 The transmitters are attached to a harness, much like a micro-backpack.  The biologists gently work the harness onto the bird and double check to assure the bird's wing movement is not restricted.  The bird's feathers settle back around the harness.  The actions and walking gait of a recently "harnessed" bird appear normal and unencumbered.

Brendan adjusts the harness for comfort.
Brendan Shirkey will be sharing more details about the work of Winous Point and the Marsh Conservancy at the Ohio Ornithological Society's "Rally for Rails."  It will be held in conjunction with our fall Annual Meeting in Lakeside, Ohio.  Registration is now on line at http://ohiobirds.org/category/rails/#

Special funds generated by this program for the conservation and study of rails will be directly applied to programs designed to conserve these wonderfully secretive birds.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Point of Conservation.

They call it Winous.  Winous Point.

It may well be the best kept secret in Ottawa County.  It had its origins as a shooting club in 1856. That makes it the oldest continuously operating hunt club in America. Impressive, to be sure, but it may seem an odd place for a Weedpicker and her fellow conservation enthusiasts to visit.

The main Clubhouse at Winous Point,
complete with Canada Goose weather-vane.
Winous Point Shooting Club is a repository of history of hunting. Through limited use, it protected the shores from development along the Sandusky Bay near the Sandusky River and Muddy creek. Winous Point conserves about 5,000 acres of wetlands and shorelines, providing some of the last remaining places for the massive water fowl and shorebirds migrations, as well as year round habitat for all forms of wildlife.

Historically, Winous Point is a Shooting Club, but in 1999 the Winous Point Marsh Conservancy was formed to study the marsh and the inhabitants therein. We will particularly focus on their on-going rail study. 

Rail habitat- is the edge habitat. 
Winous Point is key to the educational experience Flora-Quest and the Ohio Ornithological Society have planned for birders and plant lovers this fall. Several members of our OOS Conservation Committee visited the Winous Point conservancy experts to see their rail study in action. We ventured out to the sedge meadows and edge habitats where lures were set to attract these secretive birds.

Oliver Cornet discusses the plant life at Winous Point.

One of our guides for the morning, Oliver Cornet, specializes in the management of invasive plants. It was fascinating to learn more about the efforts to improve vegetation and create viable habitats for various shorebirds birds, rails and waterfowl. 

Brendan Shirkey demonstrates the rail trap.
 Brendan Shirkey will be one of our guest speakers at the OOS Rally for Rails in October 1 and 2nd.  You will not want to miss the details of their humane live trapping and data tracking of Ohio's most secretive birds.  We are just starting to peek into the lives of these marsh inhabitants, and the Winous Point study (partially funded by Ohio Division of Wildlife) is providing much of the critical data.

Brendan retrieves a Virginia rail unharmed.
 The third trap of the day held a surprise: a Virginia rail which was already outfitted with a radio transmitter!  This bird was a recapture.  Brendan returns to the awaiting trucks with the unharmed bird.
Virginia rail seeking companionship.
As Brendan said, "This guy must be looking for love in all the wrong places."

After the rail was gently bagged we returned to the station to take its general health updates for the study.  We learned this bird has been found in the trap three times! After gathering their data, the birds are returned back to the area in which they were originally found.  Apparently, the experience must not be too traumatic or this Virginia rail would have likely avoided the trap the second time.

- To be continued.