Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Kingwood Tours

Fall has arrived at Kingwood Center in Mansfield, Ohio, but there is still a spectacular display of flora. Although summer has come and gone, there is much to see on the former estate of Charles Kelly King, and the green house is a cozy spot on any day.

The most photographed location in Mansfield, the formal allee leading to the fountains. This is standard fare for every prom and wedding picture in Richland county.

Here is our welcoming committee. The peacocks greet visitors and are the delight of young and old alike! Kingwood has long been noted for the beautiful birds that grace the grounds.

Kingwood's horticultural staff masterfully mixes native Ohio plants with unusual annuals. A great place to garner landscape ideas, featuring native grasses and Joe-Pye-weed. The cool fall nights have really added intensity to the colors of the flowering plants, and the pink impatiens look absolutely radio-active!

I had the good fortune of leading a group of Inniswood volunteers through our grounds. After we admired the many formal gardens and did some green-house plant shopping, we had a grand time at the duck pond.

Kingwood's new Indian Runner Ducks are real show stealers! This guy was making us all "quack" up! Featured in the movie "Babe," these comical ducks look like bowling pins on legs.

And here is my now nearly-famous "Shovler" mobile with a new retro-look. It is right at home at the mansion with those wide white-walls!

If you enjoyed the highlights of my afternoon adventure, you'll want to make plans to visit
Kingwood or take a tour with your garden club or group, too.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Goldie's gold edge

For as long as folks can remember, I have been a weedpicker, starting as a small child who filled vases with Spring Beauties and Violets. However, ferns have always seemed too complex and befuddling for me to ID. It is such shame, as I work for a great fern-master, Steve McKee, and he has tried to lure me to the "dark side" of the forest.

Steve recently made a tremendous find in a shaded valley of the Mohican Forest, the elusive Goldie's Fern, Dryopteris goldiana. My idea of general impression of size and shape was that of the Osmunda genus of ferns, but the scales at the base of the plant place it firmly among the wood ferns.

Be still my heart! I think this may be my "spark-fern!" (Click on the photo to enlarge)
The gold-flecking makes this fern utterly distinct, look closely- the yellowing is not age, but rather beauty marks for ferns.

And the general scenery in this valley is breath-taking. Huge slabs of rock jut from the earth so uncharacteristic for the midst of Ohio's glaciated flat-lands. This is my Mohican country!

Another rarity found in the same area, Glade fern, Diplazium pycnocarpon waves its ripply fronds in the breeze. To learn more about ferns, you'll want to join Steve on the upcoming trip to Fern Valley. See the Gorman Nature Center website for details.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Salem Cemetery: Prairie Restoration

An opening between today's rain clouds allowed for a scenic afternoon program in the Salem Cemetery Prairie, a restoration project headed by Warren Uxley of the Crawford County Park District.

Along with fall flowers, 5 species of butterflies were seen. This New England Aster, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae , a quintessential native plant of Ohio's fall prairies and road sides was being visited by an Orange Sulphur butterfly. Could any plant be more lovely?

Warren immerses himself in the story of the short-grass prairie. This prairie remnant has been damaged by being scraped to harvest soil for road and rail-road bed fill. The rich top- soils have been removed, leaving only dry barren soil conducive to the likes of Butterfly-weed, Asclepias tuberosa and Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium.

A late blooming Indian Grass displays its delicate golden anthers and sticky stigmas- wind will do the work of pollination.

This large stand of Indian grass, Sorghastrum nutans was planted into the restoration. It holds forth against the September sky, seed heads characteristically arrow-like.

Salem Cemetery, one of Ohio's back road treasures and link to the past. Look on the Morrow website for more information.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Marblehead Quarry: Marsh Wrens and Orchids

When you send a Weedpicker out to take photos at a Birding conference, the truth is: you are gonna end up with botany shots. "I yam what I yam," said the sweet potato...

In the midst of Marblehead quarry is the Lakeside Daisy Preserve, home to some of the rarest plants in Ohio. The Slender Foxglove, Agalinis tenuifolia was in the final days of its late summer bloom. This miniature Scrophulariaceae (think Snap-dragon family) is right at home on the limestone pavement of the quarry floor.

Sunrise peaks over the edge of the quarry, highlighting the Red-cedar, Juniperus virginiana trees (another lime-lover) and the low growing, purplish stems of the afore mentioned Slender Foxglove. The colors were breath-taking and I had the good fortune of sharing this morning with good friends.

Orchid Alert! The Great Plains Ladies'-tresses, Spiranthes magnicamporum, seemed to be everywhere this year! This finger-sized plant is just about to open, and each orchid bloom will spiral as it goes. Careful where you step- that "grass" is the foreground is actually the leaves to one of Ohio's rarest plants: Lakeside Daisy, Hymenoxys herbacea. You must visit Marblehead in May ( same as IMB Day) to get the full effect of this little beauty. It covers the quarry floor with a blush of yellow. Go here for a photo...

Every party has a crasher, and Greg and Leslie Cornett wandered off to the far back edge of the preserve to peer into the Giant Reed, Phragmites australis- the invasive plant that has become the uninvited guest in so many of Ohio's wetlands.

............................................... photo by: Greg Cornett
Ah, at least this invasive plant provided a resting spot for a lovely Marsh Wren... our token bird for this trip!
Thanks friends, for sharing the day and the whole Midwest Birding Weekend- let's do it again in 2011.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sky Fishing at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge

As with any good fishing story, this one starts at sunrise. The Friday morning kick-off of Midwest Birding I was the local guide for Paul Baicich and Wayne Petersen. Oh yeah, throw me in the brier patch.

The sun was just creeping into the sky as we drove out on the dikes to meet the experts in shorebird banding. For the botany lovers, this vegetation is your basic wetland fare: Marsh-mallow- Althaea officinalis, Smartweeds- Polygonum sp., Cat-tails- Tphya sp., and Beggar's-ticks Biden cernua dominated this scene.

Clad in high waders, Tom Kashmer carefully works his way out to the sky nets. This scientific expedition is is all about collecting data on the comings and goings of shorebirds, but first, they must be caught in the nets.

Once the birds are safely retrieved from the nets, Tom and Tom gather the details, weight, wing length, fat-reserves and so and on. The bird receives a souvenir band, as the guys pledge to love, honor and cherish....

Tom Barlett holds a Wilson's Snipe for our inspection. One never tires of seeing birds close-up, details we know only as blurry field-marks are wonderfully clear at this distance.

The dowitchers and snipe have amazingly flexible bills. It comes in very handy while probing in the mud for tasty treats.

After the paparazzi finish with photos, (Bird Chick in the foreground) the birds are released unharmed and sent on their merry way.
Thanks to Tom and Tom for this marvelous adventure, and Dana Bolin and Micheal Bolton (the Ottawa census guy, not the singer) for this opportunity to visit the dikes for some sky fishing and a morning of a lifetime.

Monday, September 21, 2009

MBS: Dawn at the Marblehead Lighthouse

Sunrise off the Marblehead lighthouse is beautiful to behold, and it was especially wonderful to share with some of my Midwest Birding Symposium friends. The bloggers were out in droves, certainly Nina fom Nature Remains and Kathi at Kat-Doc got great photos too. Be sure to check their posts, along with Jim McCormac's Birds and Biodiversity- who has the first of his posts up already.

Dawn at the Marblehead Lighthouse (click to enlarge)

As an Bald Eagle flew overhead, the shush of the waves lapped the shore, balancing the incredible beauty of dawn's first light, and it was just one of the highlights of MBS. Now multiply that feeling by 5, and you'll get and idea of the high of 800 participants (especially for those of us who saw the Kirtland's Warbler).

Thanks to the many, many volunteers from all over the state- without them we could not have done MBS. Special thanks to Bill , Ann, Laura and Katbird from Birdwatcher's Digest for pulling the strings to make this event go. And the incredible OOS Team: Jen, Jim, Marc, Judy, Andrea, Ann and Dana for the many months of work that went into the event. Thanks also to Lakeside and their awesome team! Hope to see you all again in 2011!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Lakeside: My ship finally comes in

Here it is: The Goodtime cruise boat, plying the water just off the Lakeside dock this evening. Nearly 225 Midwest Birder folk boarded for a Sunset Cruise, which did not disappoint! Everyone had a great time as the weather was spectacular, the sunset a ball of orange, and the food ... incredible! It was a lovely spread, and the generous birders even brought popcorn for the birds!

Thanks to Jason, Kathy, Ethan, Loopy, Ernie and Sheryl- who pitched in for Janet (hope you are feeling better soon!) And thanks to all the patrons for making it such a fun event. OK, the bird list may have remained in the single digits, but it was a great way to kick off the week end. Midwest Birding: much more to come!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Follow the signs to MBS

Short post due to a long day! We have been working away in Lakeside to prepare for every little detail for this weekend's Midwest Birding Symposium. Many of the guides have rolled in, and we are looking forward to the convergence of 800 birders in one of the most scenic towns on Lake Erie. I'll make a better attempt for some birds and plants tomorrow.

So drive safely and once you get to Lakeside- follow these signs to Hoover Auditorium on Third St.

We'll be happy to sign you in for the most fun you can have legally. Oh yeah, and golf carts- and SEGWAYS! 'Cause that's the way we roll!

PS to Bloggers: Come see me if you need internet, and I will let you log on with my air-card! Gotta keep those blogs up and running!

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Butterflies of Claridon Prairie

The Claridon Railroad Prairie is a rare remnant of the Sandusky Plains Prairie, and it was this prairie enthusiast's delight to meet Trella Romine, Gale Martin and other good friends for the grand tour this afternoon. But the butterflies stole the show! After a summer with record low sightings of the flying jewels, I basked in the glory of multiple species, along with a showcase of Prairie plants. And now without further delay:

The most common, yet pleasing Orange Sulphurs were nectaring nearly exclusively on asters. Two common species, yet... how enchanting.

This was the thrill of the day: Common Checkered Skipper (not so common in my book) on Saw- tooth Sunflower, Helianthus grosseserratus

A Monarch utilizing a Boneset or Tall Snakeroot, Eupatorium altissimum as a nectar plant.

The peachy tones of a Painted Lady's underwing are almost more pleasing than the brilliantly colored upperwings. This one favored the Flat-topped (or Grass-leaved) Goldenrod, Euthamia graminifolia .

And the grand finale'- the first Buckeye butterfly I have seen this year, on one of Ohio's most stunning goldenrods: Riddell's Goldenrod, Solidago ridellii. Note the leaves reflexing and arching away from the stem.
Prairie plants and butterflies- the best part of a fall day.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Northern Wheatear visits Ohio

Today yielded a surprising day of birding in the Greater Mohican Bobolink area. It started out normally enough at Secrest Arboretum, where Bianca Davis led our Birdwalk through the regular trails and the regular species. A good time, with some interesting botany thrown in for good measure. But things got exciting in the afternoon- Marc Nolls called to give us a heads-up on the Northern Wheatear being seen near Berlin, Ohio- about 40 minutes away from our favorite Bob Evans and CBC haunt!
(click photo to enlarge) This Northern Wheatear was just too good to take a chance on missing! We scurried down the back county roads, carefully dodging Amish buggies. It was easy enough to find with Marc and Jason Larson's directions, and the line of cars parked at the end a the drive was a pretty sure tip-off too. The yard had several hired vans and many bicycles along with the horse drawn wagons. This scenic farm and its kind owner was an idyllic place for a life bird, and it was only out of respect for Amish preference, that I did not photograph the many Amish and English gathered there. Black hats or birding T-shirts, we are all the same in the presence of a great bird.

We gathered quietly in a line, all 30 or so Wheatear admirers, and in hushed tones we compared notes on the soft coloring, white rump and tail band when it flew from the open ground where it had foraged for insects, to its favorite log pile.
Northern Wheatears are uncommon visitors from Eurasia, Greenland and Alaska. We have had only two previous sighting in Ohio (1988 and 1998)- and this bird may be a year late for the once-a-decade record, but we didn't mind a bit. Thanks to the gracious Yoder family who allowed us to visit today, may they be blessed with many more wonderful birds, and thankful birders to sign their visitor list!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Herrick Fen- natural history romp

Herrick Fen Nature Preserve was one of the pre-trips for Friday's Conservation Symposium at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. As a huge fan of the fens, it was a pleasure to trek up to Portage County to see the fall colors coming to life. Rick Gardner and Tom Arbour from Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves were the guides on our journey, but many in the group were the nature-nut types, including the gal in the next photo.

Preserve Manager Karen Adair gave us the background of the removal of a dam which created the lake that had engulfed this fen. Once the dam was removed, the wetland plants are springing forth from the seed bank and taking hold once again. The Purple-stemmed Aster, Symphyotrichum puniceum, a tall "swamp" aster and bold yellow Beggar's Ticks, Bidens cernua bloomed in profusion.

"New" mud flats are the by product of the release of the lake, and we watched as a Solitary Sandpiper and many Killdeer enjoyed feeding in the murk. Ohio Birders are watching this fen to see what might be attracted to it this fall. I kept watching for a Long-billed Curlew.... maybe next trip.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Viceroy Cats

Viceroy is one of our better known Ohio butterflies. These denizens of wetlands, their host plant is the willow, are often confused with the similar looking Monarch. Their coloring is the same- providing some safety in mimicry of the toxic Monarch butterfly. Viceroy's are a bit smaller, faster in flight and have the distinctive postmedial line in the hindwing.

And what could be cuter than a kitten? This Viceroy caterpillar is so small-think sunflower seed size here- it is hardly more than a hatchling! Thanks to Kim Kaufman for sharing these amazingly tiny caterpillars with folks visiting the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. Their gift shop carries a huge assortment of desirable insect and natural history books- along with the expected birding accouterments.
Another of Kim's kitties (Viceroy caterpillars) a bit further along in the transformation to butterfly. That bird-dropping camouflage make them devilish hard to find in the wild, and less tasty looking to predators.

This is what the final larval-stage product will look like, four or five instars later.
Check out those horns! This particular jumbo sized (about 1.5 inches) caterpillar was found in Ashland University's wetlands and is found immortalized in the Butterflies and Skippers of Ohio - a handy field guide distributed by the Ohio Division of Wildlife. Call: 1-800-WILDLIFE for your free copy.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Red Knot- not red

By briefly interrupting the family vacation at Lakeside, a short trip to Maumee Bay State Park beach produced some spectacular looks at a not red Red Knot. This juvenile has been hanging out with the holiday weekend sun-worshipers and it was too good, and too close, to miss!

The Red Knot probes shallow water in search of a meal. (click on photo to enlarge) Thanks to Kenn Kaufman and Janet Creamer for assisting in the finer points of identification of a fall bird. Kenn mentioned last week's two juvenile Red Knots at Pickeral Creek wore more of a silvery sheen than this one, but the distinctively barred flanks and a gray rump when in flight are key markers.

This juvenile Sanderling is a good size comparison for the somewhat larger knot. Both birds were foraging not far from small flock of Ring-billed Gulls, who were nearly twice as large in size: about 9-10" for the knot and 17" for the gulls. We had a great opportunity to study them at our leisure.

Another beautiful day on the Lake Erie shoreline, add in the mix the Caspian Terns in various plumages, and I am really getting reved for Midwest Birding! Bring it on!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Shawnee Butterflies: the bold, beautiful and rare

Wednesday found me in Shawnee, leading a butterfly field trip for a Wildlife Diversity Conference. We scouted along the ridge tops of Forest Rd #5, in search the the bold and beautiful, and were delighted when we stumbled upon the rare.

Our days total tallied out at 24, the first being a Cloudless Sulphur. The giant-flying-lemon-wedges are larger and lighter in color than our more common Clouded Sulphurs and look entirely different in flight. Their lofting, yet determined-looking flight makes sense when one factors in the long distances these southern migrants cover.

Co- leader Jim Davidson is a wonderful butterfly mentor and friend. His vast knowledge makes any field trip more enjoyable and his ability to call butterflies in flight is legendary.

Our rarity of the day: Leonard's Skipper, first spotted by the keen eyed Linda Romaine. These penny-sized wonders are found near their host plant - Little Bluestem grass, Schizachyrium scoparium and prefer purple flowers, like these Rough Blazing Star, Liatris aspera. This was not a butterfly we were expecting to see, as they are a bit of a rarity in Ohio. But if you can find them, they are usually present in good numbers.

The Harvester, our only carnivorous butterfly, took front stage when it landing on this backpack and later on Tom Bain's hat. It seemed to be fixated on green!
Harvester, a very unusual butterfly, is totally hit-or-miss in the field. Although they are many-brooded, they are more unpredictable than the rarer single-brooded Leonard's Skipper. Both species were unexpected and welcome sightings on a fabulous field trip at Shawnee, and it was a pleasure to share them with good friends.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Evening at Bat Cove

Spectacular sunset and a Little Brown Bat on the horizon.

Last evening I had the good fortune of a spectacular sunset on the Clearfork Reservoir, and was soon joined by friends who were also drinking in the cool night sky.
Actually, the Little Brown Bats were drinking in the Clearfork Reservoir... but they did so on the wing. Bats are devilishly hard to photograph, since they are creatures of the night, however Little Browns are the first to shake off the day's slumber and take to the sky. And the first order of the day, er... night, is to get a drink of water.
Just as the sun silently sinks into the water, 20 or more bats winged their way about the cove, wheeling and cutting with acrobatic prowess. Insects gathered above the day-warmed water were quickly dispatched, and brief fly-by visits to the water's surface provided the much needed drink to cut the "cotton mouth" of their day's sleep. Dipping and diving along the shoreline lasted but 20 minutes, then off they winged to feed at higher elevations above the tree canopy.
Word from the environmental community to our south, says the Darby's Indiana Bats have already started to migrate. It won't be long before these curious creatures take the cue from the cooling nights and head to more favorable winter conditions.
Bats have been a much studied subject of late, as fungal condition called White Nose Syndrome has been decimating whole communities. Add to this the impact of windfarms, and now what was the most plentiful family, constituting 25% of all the mammals, is under siege on several levels. A most fascinating species of warm-blooded furry fliers, you'll want to use these last few nights of summer to catch their show.