Monday, March 2, 2015

Lessons in the Longleaf Pine

A short respite is in order, for all of us who are tiring of endless snow and bad news in Ohio's forests.  Strictly as educational nature therapy, I booked a trip to Florida and met up with birding buddy, Greg Miller.

Red-headed Woodpecker
 It was not long before he suggested birding in the big pines.  Old Growth Forest in Florida?  Count me in.  The first half mile of the walk was filled with rambunctious Red-headed Woodpeckers. Six of 'em.  Go ahead, throw me in the brier-patch.

Our location in the Ocala National Forest

As orientation, we were north of Orlando and west of Daytona.  The Daytona 500 was going on, but the only races that interested us was seeing who could find the first rarity.

Paisley Woods
Pro-tip: take a photo of the map in the parking lot.  I can't tell you how many times this has come in helpful, especially once you are away from the parking lot ... and lost. It also is a good way to document where you saw that magnificent life bird or plant.

The overview of  piney woods habitat

The importance of Longleaf pine habitats is lost on most tourists to Florida.  While thousands crowded the stands at the Daytona 500, Greg and I virtually had the woods to ourselves.  These old growth pines were once the predominant species of inland central Florida as they tolerate and thrive in a fire ecology.  Once common place, now scarce due to lumbering and urban sprawl. These rare spots of protected forest harbor other rarity species, too.   For interesting info on Longleaf Pine ecosystems: go here.

Bachman's Sparrow serenades from a deadwood perch. 
A high pitched song which I could not recognize turned our attention to the grassy woods on our left.  There teed-up singing, "Here kitty, kitty, kitty" was a Bachman's Sparrow. It is easy to miss this grassland bird in the winter, but the pleasant ambient temperature (high 60's) must have convinced this male to burst forth in song.  Well played, Bachman, well played. You were a worthy life-bird.

Look for white bands painted on "nest trees".
We were after another bird however, the elusive Red-cockaded Woodpecker.  The pines marked as nest trees pulled us deeper into the woods.  This is another bird I have tried to see, and missed, before.

The towering Longleaf Pine
Have you ever heard of Warbler-neck?  One can really get a cramp from too much tree top scanning in an Old Growth woods!  These trees are so magnificent, I wouldn't have even cared if we did not find the bird.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker
But we did find the bird!  A female was fussing about feeding in the pine and she posed for my brief and lucky shot.  The large white cheek patches are the diagnostic mark of the Red-Cockadeds, both female and male.  As you can see, she doesn't have any visible "red".

Greg Miller birds. 
A big thanks goes out to my friend and pro birding guide, Greg Miller.  Check out and his upcoming trips! I wouldn't have found these birds without his expertise!

Once a Weedpicker...
The giant plates of bark, over sized cones and the nearly foot long needles of the Longleaf Pine were nearly as exciting to me as the two life-birds.  These Old Growth forest habitats are under the protection of our National Forest system.  Unfortunately, National Parks and Forests often fall under the latest whims of industry and politics.  Many of our so-called protected  forests are under the siege of gas-lines, fracking and timbering.  The eco-services provided by Old Growth woods cannot be understated.  We must permanently protect the last of these amazing trees and the fragile ecosystems they harbor.  Once common place throughout the south, the Red-Cockaded is a high prized sighting for any serious birder.

Let's make certain we provision them with enough habitat for future generations.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Okay, so it’s a blackbird. But it’s not just any blackbird…

It’s the Rusty Blackbird, and it is in trouble!
  Photo by Greg Cornett

 Rusty Blackbirds have experienced an 85-99% population drop in the last half-century. Over the last 15 years, research on Rusty breeding and wintering ecology has allowed us to develop conservation strategies to protect this vulnerable species. But many questions still remain, and Rusty Blackbird migration habits are largely a mystery.  Are there hot spots where many Rusties congregate during migration? Are similar migratory stopovers areas used by Rusties each year, and are these places protected?

  Photo by Greg Cornett

The International Rusty Blackbird Working Group, in partnership with eBird, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Smithsonian, and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, is launching a spring migration Blitz. The objectives of the Blitz are:
1. Identify migratory stopover sites
2. Determine consistency of numbers/timing of Rusty Blackbird migration
3. Strengthen relationships with state and federal agencies in order to advance Rusty Blackbird conservation
4. Engage the birding community and create increased awareness and excitement about Rusty Blackbirds

  Photo by Greg Cornett
    Rusty Blackbirds frequent wet woods. 

Go to for complete information and to help!

Photo by Greg Cornett

Will you accept a Rusty challenge?  

This spring, help advance our understanding of one of the most rapidly declining landbirds in North America!   

Special "thanks" goes to Judy Kolo-Rose for all text in this article.  Greg Cornett provided the photos.
Ken Ostermiller is Ohio's Rusty Blackbird coordinator for 2015.  

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

We are off to see...

We are off to see... NATURE!

We're off to see...
Attending natural history events is a good way to inform your experience and learn more about nature.  The next step is taking your new-found information out into the woods, fields or streams.

Here is a line up of some of my favorite spring festivals:

Adams County Birding Symposium  Saturday March 7th, held in Southern Ohio. This event has limit seating and it fills up quickly! Register now or you will miss out!

Many of us stay at the wonderful Murphin Inn Bed and Breakfast, a retreat to make your winter all better.  The granola must be experienced, 'nuff said.

Find the rare Snow Trilllium, Trillium nivale in Adams County
I intend to stay an extra day to do a little birding or botanizing.  This is the time to see Ohio's rarest Trillium, Trillium nivale, the miniature trillium oblivious to snow!

Katie Fallon is the Keynote speaker at this year's festival.  This is her wonderful book about the The Cerulean Warbler. The story connects us with the life history of a warbler species in great decline, the Cerulean Warbler. Spoiler alert: loss of breeding habitat is key.

Did you know the Cerulean Warblers breed in the Mohican Forest?  One more reason to keep our trees.

Then mark your calendar for April 25-27th, 2015
The Ohio Ornithological Society will be headed to Shawnee Park and Forest and registration is right here.

We have an offering of excellent speakers, including Lang Elliot, Jim McCormac and my personal hero, Martin McAllister!  Marty will tell us more about The Nature Conservancy's Sunshine Corridor.  

Slant Lined moth on Lady's-slipper Orchid
You know the "Weedpicker" is going to be looking at the flowers of the forest!  Register for a hike to see Spring Warblers and maybe a few early orchids!

All these are warm ups for the BIG event, The Biggest Week in American Birding- May 8-17th, 2015.  Registration will be opened soon. So get ready, get set, GO SEE WARBLERS!

Prothonotary Warbler at Magee Boardwalk
Come for the birds, but stay for the informational programs and some of the best (and a few of the wackiest) birders from all across America.  There will be spotting scopes for sale, birders in Kilts and if you look really hard you many spot the incog-negro* himself, Drew Lanham!

My Tribe, a mixed group of birders who I can't wait to see again.
Photo pilfered from Jeff Bouton's Facebook page.
 (Buy something Leica from him, so he doesn't get mad at me!)
There will be Pie!  The Biggest Week is the biggest celebration of birding held in America. If you have friends, sign them up and head to Oak Harbor!  If you don't have friends, you will after visiting this place!

Join us for the root'n toot'n-est time you ever had.  Oh yeah, there will be good birding too.  Sign up for trips to new places.  Meet a crazy conservationist (me!)  Or just come for the pie and meet Greg Miller.  Anyway you cut it, this is an action packed event.

* Drew's term, not mine. Frankly, I hope to spot him!

Friday, February 6, 2015

We Need Trees

Being in a forest makes me feel... better 
                                                                       Breath in deeply.

The smell of pine or spruce is a tonic to my soul.  I am not the only one who has noticed this, apparently the Japanese have studied the phenomenon.

Forest bathing 
"The Japanese term Shinrin-yoku may literally mean "forest bathing," but it doesn't involve soaking in a tub among the trees. Rather it refers to spending time in the woods for its therapeutic (or bathing) effect.  Most of us have felt tension slip away in the midst of trees and nature's beauty.  But science now confirms its healing influence on the body. When you spend a few hours on a woodland hike or camping by a lake you breath in phytoncides, active substances released by plants to protect them against insects and from rotting, which appear to lower blood pressure and stress and boost your immune system." - Mother Nature Network 

Dead ash limbs at Mohican's  river campground B.
 Unfortunately, in Ohio something has gone wrong.  It is called Emerald Ash Borer.  Because of a little bug, which found its way here from over seas, much of Ohio's ash trees are going, going, gone.

Hauling away the remains. 
(Doesn't this spread the bug?)

State foresters downed hundreds of ash in the Mohican campgrounds and along the river picnic sites and the Lodge. These trees were deemed a safety hazard to the hundreds of thousands of people who visit Mohican State Park each year.  I get that.  I really do.  They did the right thing.

It is a tragic loss. It was difficult to watch, especially at a time we need all the trees we can get for sequestering carbon.  Trees breath, too.  We are the beneficiaries of their by product, Oxygen. One might think we would preserve as many other species of trees as possible, now that the ash are gone.

Natural history- cut for removal.
 These trees were not infected with Emerald Ash Borer.  The red pines were likely planted by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps.) in the 1920's or 1930's.  After WWI millions of people were out of jobs, and the land of Mohican had been striped of trees and suffered erosion due to the poor timbering and farming practices.  A conservation crew was sent in to replant forests. These trees were our natural and national history.

 At the time all living trees are at a premium, these trees were cut.  Stumps and green vegetation is all that remains.  Now the Mohican Gorge Overlook, one of our most cherished locations, features stumps.

Since the laws  regarding State Parks were changed in 2012, now like our state forests, parks are free to profit from trees which are removed.  This is what a revenue stream looks like.

These pine were not dead or dangerous.  In fact, they look like wonderful timber.  We have many acres of trees that were planted in Mohican  which could have been harvested instead. Why destroy this very public area?

Our current park management has deemed we do not need these trees.  We need more grass, more mowing and less biodiversity.  I could have stayed in the city for that.

 Breath deeply.  Visit your State Parks and Forests, soon.  Don't take it for granted that the areas you most cherish will be there next week,

My Mohican, is gone. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

LEAP into Landscapes

If your idea of a perfect snow day includes browsing seed catalogs, we must be friends.  Back in the days I ran a greenhouse, Stokes was one of my favorite catalogs.  It offers extremely detailed information on seed germination and is an excellent resource for planting information. If you have ever pondered the terms "scarify" or "stratify," Stokes is for you.

Plant like the professionals!
It is never too early to think about planting.  However, January is too early to actually plant, unless you have access to grow lights or a green house.  Raising your own flowers and vegetables can be very therapeutic. You can even grow them in the same beds, or try adding berry plants in your landscape.  Here at home we have blueberries and strawberries festooning the shrub bed. What could be better than having your landscape and eating it too?

A good variety of potted plants from Native in Harmony nursery.

 Once I became more interested in growing native plants, I found it was harder to find native plants and seeds to purchase.  In the last ten years, this has become much easier.  If you are looking for a place to purchase native plants, plan to attend the Midwest Native Plant Conference in Dayton.   They always offer a great variety of native plant vendors and many plants from which to choose.  You should also continue reading this blog, at the bottom of the page is a link to many native plant sources.

Weedpicker- planting native plants in the Lakeside landscape.
Planting a native plant garden is not very different than planting any other garden.  You should assess the soil, day light and water available to the garden. A native garden is more likely to use plants that will thrive in the local soil, where horticultural gardens often amend soils to nurture plants that would not be native.  For example in  mid-Ohio clay-based soils, we would have to add peat-moss and acid to grow azaleas.  Or, we might add sand to our soil to grow succulents. 

Native plants host native wildlife, like this moth caterpillar.  
Anyone know what moth this will become?

The landscape we planted last fall in Lakeside was comprised of Ohio native plants.  These plants are suitable for the soil along the lakefront and were chosen for their durability and sun tolerance.  The grasses were used to stabilize the lake shore and reduce erosion.  Many were one gallon potted plants, but some were even smaller.  I prefer using younger plant material and allowing it to become established in situ.

The LEAP (Lake Erie Allegheny Partnership) has developed a new interactive map where you can find the location and information about many of Ohio's native plant nurseries.  Just click on this link to visit their website.  It is important to use only reputable vendors who do not wild collect plants. This map will make it easier for you to find those reputable dealers.

Do you know of other nurseries specializing in native plants,which should be included on this map? Or do you know of seed vendors who supply the native plant seeds we might like to grow?

Leave me a note in comment section below and I will be happy to pass the info on to LEAP.

Now, back to my seed catalog...