Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Botanists Discover New Species in Appalachia

Thanks to a recent trek in Adams County, a botanical best find is in the making. Several amateur botanists were out for an afternoon stroll, and discovered a stunning plant with distinctly marked and heavily veined leaves. Held above the foliage on a downy stem was a six-petaled lavender flower just about to unfurl.

John Howard, Janet Creamer, Jeff and Jessica Huxmann carefully keyed it out in the field guide, alas- it was no where to be found! This rarity is too unusual for our casual field guides, but group consensus declared it to be the Rattlesnake-liver flower, Goodyera hepiflora a southern disjunct, previously unknown to Ohio.

Results from Ohio’s Heritage botanist are pending: Happy April 1st.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Flexible Billing...

Short-billed Dowitcher photo by Dave Lewis.

Sure the economy is tight, but that is not the type of flexible billing this post is about.

There were no Short-billed Dowitchers in attendance at the recent Shreve Migration Sensation –their peak migration is not until May- but, their cousins the Snipe were found in good numbers. And while studying them, our conversation soon turned to the amazing flexible tip of their mud-probing bills. Not only are the tips flexible, as this impossible-looking photo shows, they are also sensitive to touch, enabling the discovery of dowitcher delectables buried in the sand and mud.

The adaptations of shorebirds, and their specific food niche can be a study in and of itself. The better birders can often tell the species of bird by the depth of water and signature style of foraging. Mannerism or habitat is often the key to a bird's ID, so you’ll want to pay attention to those subtle clues. Sorting these divas of the mud flats can be a real challenge for a Weedpicker, so I need all the clues I can get.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Shreve Migration: A Sensation!

The small town of Shreve Ohio must have wondered where all the birders came from, as 900 people descended upon this usually bucolic burg in the heart of Ohio's Amish county. To read the full coverage in the local paper, go here.

Great balmy-weather birding and programs were the main draw, while a nice selection of vendors and educational displays rounded out the mix. It was old-home week for many of my feather-friends, and I enjoyed seeing so many GMAS and OOSers.

Marc Nolls, Jim MCcormac and Dave Ford in the field.

After tending to the Greater Mohican Audubon Society booth for a bit of the morning, we hit the waterholes to have a look-see. The waterfowl were plentiful and the frogs were in good chorus too. Although we were unable to actually locate the leopard frogs, we knew they were about from their underwater "snores" - grrrrowl.

The afternoon was filled with programs, one featured Ohio Peregrine Falcons, which included some amazing video and photos (one shown here.) It was a fascinating look at the life history of these "Bullet hawks" from birth to death.

Hilliary the Peregrine Falcon.

Last two speakers: McCormac and Kaufman, both worth the wait. Jim McCormac showed some lovely images from his about-to-be-released book, Wild Ohio: The Best of our Natural Heritage, and regaled the audience with his depth of knowledge and well-developed sense of humor. Anyone who enjoys nature will want to learn about the incredible diversity Ohio has to offer and you can pre-order a copy of his book, just go here for the form.

And last, but certainly not least, Kenn Kaufman should win a "constellation" prize for his program on migration and the movement to save habitat with shade grown coffee. If you love birds, think twice about your morning cup of Joe; think shade grown.

Thanks everyone, for a wonderful day!

Ceruleans and Coffee

In support of Kenn Kaufman's program at today's Shreve Migration Sensation, I am re-posting this Shade-grown coffee blog.
Photo by Brian Zwiebel

What does your morning cup of coffee have to do with Cerulean warblers? Plenty, according to the research by Dr. Amanda Rodewald at The Ohio State University. Her program at the Ohio Wildlife Diversity Conference focused on the Cerulean Warbler and the terrifying 70% decline in its global population since 1966.

Shade grown coffee could be the answer. Many neotropical birds utilize the plants, often coffee, growing in the understory mountainous regions of South American. More aptly, they “utilize” the insects that visit those plants. All was well and good, until shade grown coffee was tossed aside and the soil tilled and managed for sun grown coffee. The difference is the same contrast between an organic Ohio Amish farm and the huge corporate farms tilling large swathes of land with no hedgerows, and chemically controlled weeds and insects. Not a bird (or people) friendly operation.

What can you do? Let’s make that effort to purchase
shade grown coffee. If we all did a little- we could accomplish a lot! Folger's and Maxwell House should be trembling at the prospective loss from my coffee drinking habits alone!

Help protect the neotropicals: please pass this blog link on to your friends, and let's start rewriting history. Purchase shade grown coffee and give the warblers a break! Please click the new link on the sidebar to order your Audubon coffee.

Photo provided by Brian Zwiebel, to purchase his exceptional photography, please go to
Nature Photography Portfolio.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Butterflies of Shawnee

Henry's Elfin photo Dave Riepenhoff

Dave Riepenhoff sent this wonderful photo of a Henry's Elfin recently seen in Shawnee Forest. Henry's is a dime-sized beauty that utilizes the Red Bud tree as its host plant, and in just a week or so, Shawnee will be a blaze with blooming Red Buds like the photo below.

Shawnee Red Buds photo Ian Adams

Flora-Quest has added a trip specifically for photography this year. If you are interested in taking better flora photos, Ian Adams will be teaching a fabulous workshop. Check out the details here. Butterflies and Flora will also be featured in 2009, and the amazing Jaret Daniels will be leading a workshop/ field trip combined. Jaret is the author of Butterflies of Ohio and this guy really knows his stuff. If you have an interest in butterflies, check out the occurrence list (below) for Scioto/Adams counties and you'll see we will pick up some nice rarities there!

More news on the butterfly front: Toledo Rare Birds has added a Lepidoptera section! Now butterfly folks can report their sightings. I don't know about you, but that adds the Pop! to my Snap and Crackle! It doesn't take much butterfly talk to get me excited about spring!

Rare Jewels to searching for...

River Jewelwings are classified as an endangered species in Ohio. And once again, why should we care about some bug? Dragonflies are a bioindicator, and their presence or abscence can signal a change in water conditions. These water-born wonders are nearly extirpated from Ohio, and I have to wonder, why? It may be because we are on the edge of their range, as their numbers seem secure in other states. Or are there other factors in play?

River Jewelwing photo by Dr. Dennis Paulson, one of the nation's leading experts in dragonflies, he is also a scholar and a gentleman. And did I mention he is great fun in the field?

This may well be Ohio's most interesting odonate (dragon or damselfly), the River Jewelwing is endangered in Ohio and has only been seen in the North-eastern quadrant of the state. All damselflies tend to be smaller than their dragon counterparts, but the major difference is the position of wings while at rest. Similar to the Ebony Jewelwing, R-Js show a dark tint on only the last third of their wings.

River Jewelwings are especially noteworthy as the males have a interesting courtship flight to impress the females. Add in the underwater stunt she preforms to lay the eggs, and your understand why this particular species is so fascinating to me.

Our insects should be important to budding naturalists, especially folks interested in botany. The direct "host" relationship many insects have with a particular plant, makes them easier to identify correctly. Seeing orange and black butterflies at a milkweed plant? You can be 95% certain it is a Monarch, not a viceroy, since milkweed is the host plant for the monarch butterfly.

So let's get to that botany. You see, River Jewelwings have a direct relationship with Eel Grass, Vallisneria americana sometimes known as celery grass. Since River Jewelwings only lay their eggs in this plant, botanists will have a distict advantage in locating a new populations of this incredible species. Perhaps we can strike it rich, and find a new population of these rare jewels.

To learn more about the River Jewelwing and its unusual mating ritual, the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Northeast Ohio has a complete life history. The folks at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History penned it, and no nature library is complete without it.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ohio's Earliest Trillium

Snow Trillium, Trillium nivale is Ohio's earliest and most diminutive of the Trilliums, and a member of the Liliaceae or Lily family. Typical lilies have six-parted flowers, whereas the triangular trillium has three leaves, three petals and three sepals.

Trilliums are among the most recognizable and earliest of the spring ephemerals, the short-lived wildflowers that bloom before trees fully leaf out in the spring. And Snow Trilliums, little 3-5 inch beauties are a real rarity.

These were photographed at The Wilderness, property owned by The Nature Conservancy in Adams County. Franklin County also harbors at least two populations, where I have seen these hardy flowers blooming in April- when snow was still lingering on the ground.

Easy to recognize but difficult to find, the Snow Trillium has a special charm of its own.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Creepy-crawly bioindicators

Welcome to the new format for the Weedpicker Journal. You'll be able to access all of the favorite links and a few new ones, and a "cleaner look" with a working comment section. New features, but the same great location at the Flora-Quest site. And slipped in between the new posts, you'll find some of the old favorites from the archives. Thanks for following the journal, and I hope you'll approve of the improvements. Now let's blog!

Creepy-crawly bioindicators

Our Adams County micro-flora foray also included some very cool micro-fauna. Searching under rocks and logs on stream edges is just part of the deal when you hike with naturalists. Many interesting species lurk underwater, or at the waters edge.

We found a Common Stonefly larvae, one of the species used as a bioindicator for good water quality. Ecologist often test for "EPT" Ephemeroptera (mayflies), Plecoptera (stoneflies) and Trichoptera (caddisflies). These species are bioindicators of a good quality stream.

So don't think of them as scary creepy-crawlies, these aquatic invertebrates are important water quality indicators we should admire and respect!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Clean Water

Photo of sunset of Lake Erie, from Catawba Island

Earth has been called the "watery planet", and indeed 74% of its surface is covered in water. However, only 3% of it is classified as fresh water. Once you consider underground water and soil moisture account for 22% , while fresh water stored as ice is calculated at 77% -and declining everyday, that leaves us with a precious 1% of fresh water.

In Ohio we too often take this "gift of life" for granted. With Lake Erie's bounty to our north and reservoirs spotted throughout the state, we give little consideration to our liquid assets. We ego-centric humans have always touted blood as the gift of life, but without freshwater, life as we know it would soon come to a screeching halt.

Turning on a faucet in mid-Ohio is so easy, one never registers the rarity of this natural resource. If you lived in Arizona or Florida and endured water rationing and watering bans, the concept becomes a bit clearer. On a global perspective, many still carry water for miles for that life giving sustenance of human, livestock and agricultural needs.

Plants, butterflies, birds, fish, humans- we all need clean water. Take a moment to ponder this gift of life and reconsider your choices. Do you need to use that chemical on your lawn? Is agricultural run off impacting our streams and rivers? Can parking lot residuals creep into our waterways? Protect and conserve our water- learning about Rain Gardens is one step in the right direction.

Micro-flora fest 2009 It's How Big?

Our fearless field leader, John Howard hones in on a Draba reptans.

Leader of the micro-flora fest, John Howard is also a wonderful photographer and mighty fine person. His photo of a Leavenworthia uniflora in bloom is placed in perspective by the cap of an acorn in the foreground. Barely an inch across, it could almost make an appropriate sized pot for the miniature mustard.

Many of these early blooming plants we pursued in Adams County are in the mustard or Brassicaceae family: Levenworthia, Drabas and the more familiar Cardamines: Purple Spring-cress and Cut-leafed Toothwort. Perhaps their small size makes finding them seem like such a big deal!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Micro-flora and more

Adams county was the perfect location to conduct a micro-flora foray today. The Drabas and other Lilliputian-sized rarities were awaiting our small but curious crew.

Another shot of the same plant from the last post, Harbinger of spring, this one in a more developed state. Interestingly enough, we were discussing the possible pollinators for such an early plant. Beetles? Ants?

Behold- the bee! Now remember this flower-head is no bigger than a dime, and our bee appears to be a Mason or "orchard bee" of the Osmia family. Looks like a match to the Kaufman Field Guide to Insects (pg. 343). This is the book- I thought I would never use it, and now it is darn near indispensable!

These pollinators are quite interesting, as they are picking up more of the slack than people had imagined, since the
colony collapse disorder has stuck the non-native European Honeybees.

And remember the name "Salt and Pepper?" Not the rock band, the other common name of Harbinger of Spring. This photo clearly illustrates that moniker.

Micro bees and macros of flora- stay tuned! You'll be amazed at all Adams County had to offer!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Welcome: Harbinger of Spring

Erigenia bulbosa, Harbinger-of Spring is a fitting name of this minuscule plant, it truly is one of the first sprigs out of the ground. This photo, taken at Fowler Woods in the north-most corner of Richland county, shows the rather rubbery looking fern-like leaves. A member of the Parsley family, it has another common name of Salt-and-pepper.

Either way, it is one of the earliest flowers to poke through the cold, damp leaf matter remaining from last fall. A happy sight for flora starved eyes, and quite beautiful on close examination. And I do mean close. This whole plant is barely marks two inches, although they can be a bit taller.

Fowler Woods is well worth finding on your map. It belongs to the Ohio Department of Natural Areas and Preserves and has an easy to access, board-walked wet woods. Large communities of Marsh marigold, Caltha palustris and singing spring peeper frogs are certain to greet your early spring visits. There are many interesting plants to be found in this refuge, including the somewhat rare Pumpkin Ash. SHHH, don't tell the emerald ash borers. We would like to keep these!

OOS Conference at the Oak Openings

Need a good excuse to plan a trip to see Wild Lupines, Karner blue butterflies and neotropical warblers? Put this on your calendar:

The Ohio Ornithological Society's 2009 Conference and Annual banquet will be held May 16th, a sensational time to be in the Oak Openings and Lake Erie marsh regions. The staging ground is the beautiful Holiday Inn-French Quarter in Perrysburg, located only a stone’s throw from the Oak Openings’ best habitats, and an easy drive from such iconic western Lake Erie birding locales as Magee Marsh Wildlife Area and its legendary bird trail.
The Saturday-only conference will feature three nationally known speakers,
Kim Kaufman, Director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory, and Jim Berry of Roger Tory Peterson Institute will present in the afternoon. Both are outstanding and you won't want to miss them! After Saturday evening's dinner, Jim McCormac, President of the OOS will give a program titled Oak Openings: Desert of Diversity, based on twenty years of visits to document its rare flora and fauna. Visit vendors, browse educational displays, and enjoy good conversation with fellow birdwatchers during the dinner buffet.

Even though the conference is officially only one day, there'll be plenty of great opportunities on the days that bookend it. Plan to visit one or more of the featured destinations, as the Oak Openings is Ohio’s only stronghold for Lark Sparrows, and harbors breeding Summer Tanagers, Blue Grosbeaks, Whip-poor-wills, Blue-headed Vireos and much more.

The date of the conference will also be good for catching late migrants such as Connecticut Warbler at Magee Marsh and the famous "Boardwalk." The conference packet will provide directions to seven great locations, ready to showcase the best they have to offer for our attendees. Hope to see you at “The Oaks!”

For Registration
Click here or visit Jim McCormac's blog for more info.

Butterflies and Skippers of Ohio

Tucked into the Ohio Diversity Conference packets (March 4th, 2009) , were copies of the Ohio Division of Wildlife's newly released Butterflies and Skippers of Ohio.

The booklet is the perfect field guide for your daypack or car's glove box, as it features 60 species with stunning photos of the adults and larval forms of many butterflies. Their life histories are complimented with distribution maps, and occurrence charts. Written in cooperation with the Ohio Lepidopterist, it has most of the species the casual butterfly enthusiast will see in Ohio.

Generously provided with Diversity Funds, your free copy of Publication 204(109) from the Ohio Division of Wildlife is available by calling 1-800-WILDLIFE (1-800-945-3543) or (614) 265-6300 for those outside of Ohio. The text and photos are beautifully presented; photos were provided by folks throughout Ohio, including contributions from good friends John Howard, Jim McCormac, Jim Davidson and Dr. Jaret Daniels, from Florida.

Don't forget, Jaret Daniels will be leading trips and teaching a workshop at Flora-quest: Butterflies on the Wing: Their Biology and Identification. This may be your last opportunity to get in, as it is filling rapidly! Go to
Flora-Quest for the details and register for Butterflies and Botany. Hope to see you at Shawnee!

Wild Ohio: The Best of our Natural Heritage

Gary Meszaros gave the keynote presentation at the Ohio Natural History Conference in Columbus yesterday. His stunning photos, many of Ohio’s threatened and endangered species, captured the imagination of the numerous naturalists in the room. Eastern Spadefoot frog, Regal Fritillary butterflies, Arethusa orchids and other flora rarities had me on the edge of my seat.

Gary’s cover photo, on a soon to be released book, is a breath-taking Luna moth. Photos like this, matched with the magic pen of Jim McCormac, are certain to make Wild Ohio a book you’ll covet for your own library. Not only a gifted writer, Jim is one of the finest naturalists in the field, and I would venture to say- not only in Ohio, but well beyond our borders. If excitement for nature were a drug, this guy is a king-pin operator. I mistakenly thought he was just a “bird guy” when we first met, and soon learned his knowledge of botany is encyclopedic! Jim's capacity to immerse himself into knowledge, whether it be butterflies, dragonflies or katydid calls is legendary. And to top it off, he is great fun in the field as he generously shares his knowledge.

My best wishes to Jim and Gary on the upcoming release of their book!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

First Of the Year Butterfly

Now appearing in a woods near you! The Mourning Cloak is the earliest of butterflies to be seen each spring. Yesterday, I noted a dark figure flitting against the backdrop of the naked tree canopy- and knew instinctively it was a Mourning Cloak. It is rare to get a great look at a Mourning Cloak, and rarer still to photograph these stunning colors. Most people never see more than a gray-black blur in flight; it is a butterfly suited for "cloak and dagger" mysteries.

And the biggest mystery is, how do Mourning Cloaks live in the winter? I bet you thought all butterflies go through that life cycle of hatching out of a chrysalis in the spring. When it comes to the life history of butterflies- your elementary teachers usually left the best stuff out! Yes, Mourning Cloaks hibernate as adults, in tree crevasses or log piles and leaf litter, and can emerge for a single warm March day, only to return to hibernation with inclement weather.

But what do they eat? There are no flowers blooming in the woods. Mourning Cloaks nectar at sap and dung. We all know the maple sap is running, and the Mourning Cloaks utilize sap for nectaring sources. They just get more wonderfully specialized by the minute.

Get out there and enjoy nature- even in the very earliest of spring there is much to be seen!

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