Friday, April 30, 2010

Flora-Quest, YEAR FOUR

The folks have gathered at Shawnee Lodge and some of the most amazing guides in Ohio came in this afternoon for a pre-scout. It didn't take long to find orchids and warblers- two of the staples for nature enthusiast visiting Shawnee.

We enjoyed "in your face" views of a Cerulean, Kentucky, Worm-eating and Pine Warblers... and many more birds to round out the days list. A trip to the Eulett Center at the Edge of Appalachia produced Henslow's Sparrow and Chuck-will's-widow- a two life bird day for me!

The orchids are spectacular this year. Plenty of Pink and Yellow Lady's-slippers to be found here. And the more diminutive, Showy Orchis display is unlike anything I have ever seen. I saw more of these roadside beauties in one location today, than I have seen in the entire rest of my life. Was it a good day? Hm, does a bobcat skulk in the woods? Oh, and we saw one of those too!
We had to swear our trip attendees they would not rub it in to the less fortunate ones! Some times it is just hard to be humble- especially when things are this good!

Lured by moonlight

Lured by moonlight

South, until road splashed into river

Dark hills of Kentucky

Echo our "Little Smokies"


Land of the Shawnee

Ours only to admire

Garlic scent of ramps clings to night air

as Whip-poor-will calls.


C. Boyd

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Looking out my back door-

With Flora-Quest less than a week away, it's awfully hard to do paperwork and busing schedules on such a beautiful day! Although the wind has a bit of a bite, the view beyond my office window keeps calling to me.

So as a small reward for several tasks accomplished... I took a walk out to the garden. Work is portioned out between botanical temptations, which dangle like "carrots" offered as reward.

Sure enough, the iris and cat-mint were blooming without me, giving ne'er a thought to my toil.

At least the Barn Swallows down at the creek were being industrious, sweeping past the babbling current, perilous stunt-divers gleaning small gnats and bugs. They have a knack for making productivity look like play, an attitude even an industrious German can admire!

Hiding among my hosta, blooms the dressed-up relative of Dutchman's-breechsCorydalis.  This one is Corydalis lutea, a native to the Alps, but we do have a yellow Corydalis which is an Ohio native. So, forgive my "boarding house" reach- but this beautiful little number graces my gardens as well.

Sometimes I just can't help myself from admiring plants that stretch our boundaries, especially a stunner like this.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mohican Wildlife Weekend

Many of my best mornings start on a marsh, and yesterday was no exception. GMAS was leading a Bird Walk at the Ohio Bird Sanctuary, just short mile down the road from one of my favorite hang-outs: the Orweiler Road Marsh.

Spring is starting to show at the marsh, as the spatter-dock leaves peak through the water. We pre-scouted on our way to OBS. Our bird walk would end at the marsh, where Roger Troutman would have scopes set up and ready to view the passing waterfowl.

The entrance to Ohio Bird Sanctuary, the site of Friday night's keynote speaker Kristin Stanford. There are several excellent hiking trails here and a fascinating display of live birds.

As our group started down the trail, the first encounter was with Ohio's showiest native dogwood, Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida, an edge-of-the-woodland welcome.
.................Photo by Wikipedia
Today's walk could have easily been titled "The Towhee Tour". Eastern Towhees were plentiful and conspicuous, and their loud calls suggest our group should "drink your...tea..."

Jan Kennedy, our tour guide, enjoyed sharing great looks at a Eastern Towhee perched in clear view, singing his heart-song just above the bridge.

And below the bridge, a lovely seep filled with "Hostas-of-the-Woods", so sadly called Skunk Cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus. They need a better press agent, to overcome the name that has held them back so many years!

And as always, a Weepicker plays favorites towards the vegetation. The first of the year Greek Valerian, Polemonium reptans were warming up enough to unfurl their blue petals. This is the woodland plant that first caught my childhood interest in spring ephemerals. Often mistaken for Jacob's Ladder - the iron clad difference is the lack of stamens protruding from the flower on the Greek Valerian.
To see the wide array of offerings, from boat tours- to butterfly programs, Click on this link for the schedule for Mohican Wildlife Weekend.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sycamore, Warblers: Mohican State Forest

Mohican State Forest is a lovely place to visit any time of year, but spring time unfolds its special charms. Along the riparian corridor, deep in the Mohican Gorge, sycamore trees line the edge of the steep rock and Hemlock covered slopes. Greg and Leslie Cornett, and I recently took a most enjoyable stroll along the northern trail.

............ Photo by Greg Cornett

A first of the year migrant, this charming little Yellow-throated Warbler was perched at our eye level- from our perch high above the river on the famous covered bridge. Dancing from limb to limb to search the crevices of the Sycamore's exfoliating bark for spiders and other tasty fare, he was quite the show stopper.

A Rough-winged Swallow stopped by the same Sycamore to rest from its many forays, up and down the Clear Fork River in a quest for flying insects.
The spring ephemerals were still on display, and the Covered Bridge Trail was lined with Dutchman's-breeches, Dicentra cucullaria as well as its fragrant cousin Squirrel Corn, Dicentra canadensis.

Leslie peered into the foliage where we last heard the calls of a Black-throated Green Warbler as we were about to climb those exposed tree roots, which create a stairway to the next level of the forest. It eerily looked like something straight out of a Tolkien novel.

The higher elevation boasted a display of Long-spurred Violets, Viola rostrata which we had not seen at the river level. Exaggerated nectar tubes curve gently out from the back side of this violet. Most violets are difficult to sort by species, but the long-spurs easily set this one apart from all others.

And as a Weedpicker is likely to do, we gathered the garlic mustard along the trail, carrying it out of the forest. Garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata is a non-native species with poor manners and a pushy way of crowding out our native flora. Every little bit pulled and carted away is a step towards a healthier ecosystem, and a better spring flora display in the future.
Hope you find your way to this woodland wonderland, and feel free to help yourself to any of the Garlic Mustard we might have missed!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Getting By-

It has been a very long week since I posted last, and I am afraid I don't have much to share. But fortunately, I am going to "get by with a little help from my friends."

And with talented friends like these, one may wonder why I bother to post my own photos at all!

A stunning close-up of a Frosted Elfin, arguably one of the most difficult butterflies to see in Ohio. They are among our earliest butterflies, and mid to late April is the only time of year to see this one-brooded beauty. Jackie Riley, a butterfly transect volunteer at Kitty Todd, took this amazing close up. KT is the place to see Ohio's rarest butterflies- including the once extirpated Karner Blue- like the one in the photo I took for the top of this blog page. Both are found in the "Oaks" ecosystem, which harbors a host of unusual plants, butterflies and birds.

A "Blushing Grasshopper"? Maybe John Howard whispered an off-color joke in his ear (located on the leg of a long-horned grasshopper) before he snapped this photo. John always finds the most amazing creatures, and he is good for sharing caterpillar, flower or bug shots that are bound to make me smile. Today's oddity was no exception.

And birds...? If I had been out and about, I would have been thrilled with this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker taken by Dane Adams. Some guys have all the luck, but thankfully he is nice about photo-sharing too!
So there you have it. Lots of amazing things are happening right now in Ohio, and botany is always a part of it! After all without lupines- no Frosted Elfins. That "Blusher" has certainly been eating some vegetable matter, and if you like Sapsuckers, start scouting around poison ivy berries. It is one of their favorite treats!

Fortunately, even on those days we can't get outside, we can still get by- and get our nature fix- with a little help from our friends! Thanks for sharing!

-For even better looks, click on the photos to enlarge.-

Monday, April 12, 2010

FOWL Friends in Wetlands

Now appearing in most wetlands near you: Marsh-marigold, Caltha palustris!

While many spring ephemerals have poked through the ground and are putting on their best April attire, the wetlands are simply golden. Fowler Woods in Richland County has one of the most spectacular displays of Marsh-marigolds to be found. And while pre-scouting for the Managing Wetlands for Biodiversity conference, we just had to take it in.

A member of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), this wetland gem creates a sea of color. Marsh-marigold can be grown in the landscape too, if you give it enough water.

If you are looking for biodiversity, healthy wetlands are chocked full of it! Wetlands support a host of interesting species, including this Redback Salamander. Abundant and some-what common, the dark red line on its back makes this one easy to remember. However they are occasionally found unstriped, and called "lead phase." While they do not breed in vernal pools, they certainly have a predilection for these damp forested habitats.

Greg Lipps was our amphibian and salamander expert, a source of infinite knowledge of all things slimy, including gelatinous eggs. Wading deep into dark waters, he found salamander and frog egg masses in several vernal pools in Ashland county.
His program, "Small, Messy, and Diverse: Why Vernal Pools are Full of Life" got the folks reved up to investigate wetlands on our afternoon field trips.

Nothing got past this crew. The Black Forks Wetlands provided good looks at fairy shrimp and a mayfly in this small pool. Jan Kennedy, Lori Totman, Patty Saunders and Tim Mason were scanning the ditches for interesting life forms usually left unnoticed.

Not a staged photo! Hard to believe, but this candid shows how much fun naturalists can have on a sunny day, with a few friends and a water-hole.
Thanks to all our speakers: Greg Lipps, John Mack and Jim Bissell for opening our eyes to the fauna and flora of wetlands. Also, to the Ashland Park District volunteers and Ray Stewart of "FOWL" (Friends of Wetlands)- we couldn't have done it without you.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Of Ravens and Unraveling

About a week ago, I led a fact finding group on a mission to Fernwood State Forest. The others, Greg Miller and Su Snyder, were along to help locate Ohio's only known nesting ravens. Common Ravens, most under appreciated birds, are extremely intelligent and have interesting historical implications as well. Something about these Corvids really excite me, and you'll find an interesting treaties on ravens here. And yeah, I would be lying if I didn't admit, we wanted to add it to our Ohio's birds list too.

Ravens can easily be mistaken for a American Crow, but for the wedged shape tail, "big honking" bill and somewhat larger size in general. The American Crows are common in Ohio. The Common Ravens... not so.

It is all about habitat, and the high walls the ravens love to nest on are more commonly found in Pennsylvania and the Virginias. It is not a regular feature of Ohio's geology, unless... the area has been mined for coal. Strip mining laid bare portions of the Ohio landscape and older sites were never "restored" to current Government standards. So, it is those high walls at Fernwood that lured in our first ravens.

We conducted a pretty thorough survey, including the local landfill. Greg Miller brought along a super-sensitive listening devise, but nada. No "Rawk" of the raven was heard.

And what does this all have to do with unraveling? It is symptomatic of an unraveling ecosystem.
In the immediate area of the Common Raven's uncommon nest was an on-going logging operation. We probably shouldn't be surprised that the ravens felt threatened and vacated the area, especially since it happened during their nesting season.
The analogy that best describes this type of forest fragmentation can be found in David Quammen' s Song of the Dodo. You'll want to read the book, but here is the quick version:
Start with an expensive oriental rug. Now, take a carpet knife and cut that rug into 16 equal squares. It should be worth the same amount, right? Wrong. You have a dismembered whole, which no longer retains the same value. Each square has ragged edges prone to unraveling, or in forest terms, invasive species eating away at the edges of our natural areas.
Every gas line right-of -way, every roadway, every timber operation fragments the whole and reduces biodiversity a forest or natural area can support. You see fewer and fewer native species as invasive species force them out. Common Ravens will just fly away, to a more suitable habitat. Unfortunately when the garlic mustard takes over, West Virginia Whites, small butterflies with weak and short flights, just disappear.
And meanwhile, our edges keep unraveling....

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Fernwood: a forest out of balance

The previous post featured the West Virginia White butterfly, a charming and altogether unexpected find at Fernwood State Forest. Unfortunately, an isolated rock dome named Little Round Top may be a last outpost in this "forest". Unlike the Ravens we sought, West Virginia Whites are weak fliers, doomed by habitat disturbance. Forest fragmentation and invasive plants are the primary causes for their decline.

Marginal Woodfern, Dryopteris marginalis was one of the few native species hanging on for dear life. If this was once a "Fernwood," the name has long outlived the reputation.

Many non-native species have taken hold, like Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara, shown here eking out a living along a creek.

The creek color, tinged with Yellow Boy, tells the whole story: coal mining was here. If you are ever told the tale of "clean coal" you need look no further. Much of southern Ohio bleeds the orange of acid mine runoff. While student teaching in Athens' elementary schools, my daughter noted the children color the creeks orange in their artwork; the only color of water they have ever known.

Fernwood was strip-mined before the days of Federal standards for reclamation (i.e. The Wilds). Left to recover by its own devices, invasive species rule. The Armageddon of nature, Ailantus altissima or Tree-of-heaven, must come straight from hell, as it can endure anything. Honeysuckle, buckthorn, garlic mustard- looking for a noxious weed? Look no further. Once stripped of native soil, the non-natives move in.

And if it wasn't bad enough, the Forestry service helped them along with Russian Olive, another noxious and invasive weed. Too often these invasive plants provide attractive but non-nurturing fruit to birds but do not provide host material for our native insects, including lepidoptera. Caterpillars, the bio-mass most preferred by nesting birds, are a vitally important link in the food chain.
So, we Weedpickers go on-and-on about invasive species and non-natives... it is not just a preference for our natural world. It is actually the life-line that holds our natural world together. Botany drives the wildlife, and geology drives botany. And strip-mined areas, become biological deserts filled with invasives. Coal has a long-term cost we haven't begun to measure.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Lost and Found at Fernwood

Recent travels took me to Fernwood State Forest, near Wintersville, right on the eastern edge of the state of Ohio. It has been the only known nesting sight of an Ohio raven, one of the largest and most wary members of the Corvid family of birds. Unfortunately, no ravens were found on the trip, but we still had some interesting sightings.

Four West Virginia White butterflies were spotted that day, but taking a photo of these ghostly little creatures is not so easy. Fast-fluttering and high-flying, it was a fortunate shot indeed that captured this specter's image. A bit smaller than the common Cabbage White butterfly, W.V.W.s lack the distictive black spots found on Cabbage White's wings.

West Virginia Whites, Pieris virginiensis are considered, rare to occasional and quite localized in Ohio. Don't even try for them in Toledo or parts west, you won't find them there! Some of our earliest fliers, W.V. Whites are mighty particular about their chow as well. Here is the host plant you'll be looking for:

Cut-leaved Toothwort, Cardamine concatenata (used to be called Dentaria lanciniata) is a member of the mustard family. Now I did not note any toothworts at this location, but I did see several of its close mustard family relatives.
WV Whites are interesting flutter-bys and one you should note. In fact, the Cleveland Museum of Nature's LEAP program has been charting their occurrence. The invasive alien, Garlic Mustard may be impacting these little beauties in a very bad way. Forest fragmentation and loss of habitat are just a couple more reasons they are in decline. So, if you find some West Virgina Whites fluttering through your neighborhood, you might do a good deed and report them to the authorities!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Rare Species Found at Shawnee State Park

Just in from Shawnee State Park and Forest, in beautiful southern Ohio: Local man finds rare "purple morph" Zabulon Skipper. This stunner is a real eye opener and the crowds are starting to gather. Lepidopterist from across the country are headed to Scioto County to see this charming butterfly of violet hue.

You won't find this in your Butterflies of Ohio! This documentary photo, arrived in my e-mail just last night, shows the creature at rest. Zabulon skippers, Poanes zabulon are known to use several host plants in the grass family, including Purpletop Grass, Tridens flavus. Are we seeing a color morph due to long-term pigment retention from its host plant? This normally brown and golden butterfly is listed as uncommon to occasional, and most likely to be found in open woodlands and forest margins from April through September.

Local butterfly enthusiasts have suggested a sub-species name of Poanes zabulon april-foolsii!