Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Butterfly Bonanza

Just as birders do a Christmas Bird Count, we butterfly folks have a 4th of July Butterfly count. So, this post is for all our butterfly friends getting geared up for this weekend.

As stated in the last post, the Bobolinks and Butterfly Festival at Byers Woods was started in order to protect the bobolinks, but we enjoy promoting the diverse butterfly species too. Greater Mohican Audubon put in a butterfly garden at Byers Woods many years ago, and its native plants attract a crowd... both human and butterfly.

American Snout by James Suchy

It's not too difficult to figure out how this flutter-by came by its name. This southern species migrates north (often from Texas) to lay eggs on it only Ohio host: Hackberry trees. Byers Woods has multiple Hackberries, and all three butterflies dependant upon that plant: American Snout, Hackberry and Tawny Emperor.

Milbert's Tortoiseshell..... photo by James Suchy

James Suchy sent along this beautiful photo of the Milbert's Tortoiseshell. Almost like magic, this brilliantly colored butterfly can "disappear" by closing its wings, and looking ever-so-much like a dead leaf. A wonderful bit of camouflage.

Banded Hairstreak..... photo by James Suchy
Yes, this is the most common of the Hairstreaks and one must look closely to tell these species apart. But consider too, the lovely composition of this photo. Banded Hairstreak's host plants are Oaks and Hickories, it is often found nectaring on Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca.

Delaware Skipper..... photo by James Suchy

Those skippers are known for being drab and confusing, the sparrows of the lepidoptera species! However, this female Delaware is a stand-out with bright orange wings outlined in brown with a dark patch on the forward wing cell. Nectaring on the lovable prairie species-Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea.
Virginia Ctenuchid..... photo by Sue Evanoff
A bit of a wolf in sheep's clothing, black-cloaked day flier may be confusing. It is the Virginia Ctenuchid (ten-new-kid) moth. Often found nectaring in the daytime, it is a rather common day flying moth. So not all moths fly at night... and not all lepidopteran day fliers are butterflies. Insects- they're full of surprises!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Landfill to Landmark- Byers Woods

The Ashland County Park District has an unusual piece of real estate in their portfolio, a capped off landfill. Greater Mohican Audubon has been giving bird walks at Byers for years, offering a scenic walk around two large "cells" covered in mixed grasses, clovers and forbs, and nearby woods. Each year we would celebrate the return of the Bobolinks in the spring, and then mourn the lost of their fledglings when the grass was mowed for maintenance in June.

Male Bobolink

Four years ago we did something about it. We worked with the Ashland County Park Board, and with the blessings of Ashland County Commissioners we planned our first Bobolinks and Butterflies at Byers Woods. The Commissioners arranged for the annual maintenance mowing in July, allowing time for the baby Bobo's to leave the nests built directly on the ground in the deep grasses.

Last year we stepped up our public education efforts by installing a sign explaining the life cycle of the Bobolinks. Now, we annually celebrate successful Bobolink breeding and the other interesting flora and Fauna found at Byers Woods. Here a just a few more creatures we saw in 2010.

Milbert's Tortoiseshell Photo by Greg Cornett

These orange and brown butterflies are the prized lepidopterian jewels of Byers Woods. They are not an easy find in Ohio, and most of my friends in NW or SW Ohio will wish they had seen this little beauty. You'll want to think twice before you get rid of "weeds" like Stinging nettle, Urtica dioica , as we learned it is is the host plant for this unusual butterfly.

Our afternoon speaker/ trip leader was Jim Davidson a butterfly, dragonfly, bird and botany guy and good friend of mine. Jim does it all and has an amazing wealth of knowledge. Here he explains the differences between native and non-native cattails species.

And since Jim is quite good with the dragonflies, we spent a bit of time admiring the species found at the pond. This Unicorn Clubtail was quite a thrill and a "life" dragonfly for most of our troops. Anytime I get to see a clubtail, I am a happy camper.

And Halloween Pennants were perched on stem-tops holding their wings like a flag in the breeze. These colorful dragonflies of orange and brown make quite an impression!
Thanks to all the folks who so graciously helped out, Su Snyder - bird walk leader, John Precup- our main GMAS booth man, Warren Uxley and Greg and Leslie Cornett for carting plants and for helping wherever needed.
A special thank you for the support and encouragement of Black Swamp Bird Observatory and Hugh Rose and Judy Kolo-Rose for bringing the traveling display to our event. And certainly, we appreciate Jack and Lalle Laughlin from the Friends of Ashland Parks for all their help with this event, and all the park folks who provided lunch!
But most of all this event works for conservation because people attend from far and wide! Thank you for traveling many miles to show our park system that we value the Bobolink. IF you were not able to make it this year, please save the last Saturday in June of 2011 and plan to join us in our efforts to continue conserving grassland birds at Byers Woods. It is hard to believe we can accomplish so much for conservation, just by having a good time! - Bobolinks and butterflies / Nature lovers descend on Byers Woods to check out wildlife - Bobolinks and butterflies / Nature lovers descend on Byers Woods to check out wildlife

Follow the link to the article in the local Ashland news.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

So, did you hear today was "Bobolinks and Butterflies at Byers Woods"?

Here comes the butterfly now.

Oh, cool.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Swimming with Sharks

IF you were following the last 2 installments, you'll know I have recently deposited my youngest in Philly, PA where she will continue her career as a person who swims with sharks. (Thanks for bearing with me, we'll get back to botany in the next blog.)

JJ gave her Grandfather and me the "insider's tour." An aquarium is a fascinating place to visit, and even more so when your tour guide knows each and every animal first hand. She has worked with many of these sea creatures in other aquariums, so she knows just what she is getting into.


And she'll be getting into water... with sharks. This is a diver having a "close encounter" with a Shark Ray (or banjo guitarfish.) This is an unusual relative of the rays, and rarely found in aquaria. Divers always go into these tanks in twos; you want someone watching your back when you are swimming with sharks and rays.

A little more aquarium humor, this sign was posted where the divers enter the shark tanks.

Outside the shark tanks in a reef display, just when you thought the water was safe! The only time JJ was ever really in danger of being bitten was by an eel. So I photographed all the possible suspects at her new aquarium.

This fellow has the teeth and the camouflage to make him the scariest eel in my book. I hope she remembers the old song:
When an eel grabs your thigh when your just passing by-
That's a Moray!

Best wishes to JJ on her new job, and hope you enjoyed the insider's tour.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Happy, Happy Hippos

Adventure Aquarium in Camden N.J. was certainly an adventure for me! I never expected to find a Hippopotamus in an Aquarium. What kind of cracked out idea is that? And it was even more interesting to find fish featured in the tank with the Hippos!

Here's Buttons and Ginny, relaxing happily in their jumbo sized spa. If you look really closely, you will see their backs are being "groomed" by small fish.

The fish in the tank with the hippos clean them and "recycle" any vegetable matter left in the water by the hippos. What an amazing display! But hippos? Why hippos at an aquarium?

Here's the scoop on hippos- although they resemble pigs or elephants, their closest living relatives are
cetaceans! They are more closely related to whales and dolphins than any other group of animals. Wow, that was news to me! Hippos are full of surprises: they are basically herbivores which feed on grass near the African rivers in which they live. They eat very little aquatic material.

They are also considered one of the most aggressive animals in Africa. Lions and crocodiles give them clear berth, as these are the most foul-humored of folk. Nothing like a couple of tons of bad attitude to ruin your day.
Gee, and they look so happy in the photo above!

The hippos exhibit also makes good use of some free flying Piping Hornbills. These birds have the run of the exhibit, but they like to congregate in the tree just above the hippo viewing windows.

It was fun to see these birds, and I was happy to take a quick look at the hippos and move on...
As the hornbills are providing the crowd control:

Ah, aquarium humor!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Aquarium Adventures

So why would a "botany blog" feature photos from an aquarium? The answer is two-fold really.

1. Do you think "botany" otherwise known as vegetation, fish food, etc., does NOT play a role in the ocean? Botany is not just on land. Botany is vitally important to the survival of many species.


2. My daughter, JJ just hired on as a Biologist 1 for Adventure Aquarium in Camden N.J. and this gave me an opportunity to get an aquarium insider's tour. Aquariums are amazing places, but can you imagine how much more fun it can be with your own personal tour guide?

Botany of the sea. Sargasso Grass is vitally important to many species of aquatic life. There are entire fish communities based on this one vegetation.

Adventure Aquarium's displays were top-notch and went a long way to explain the interaction between currents, plants, and aquatic life forms.

And yes, "There's Dory!" If you have any of the little-ones in your proximity, they can tell you who "Dory " is... and why they all know her. JJ's hears this comment- or "There's NEMO!" About a million times per day... Ok, I exaggerate. One employee told me they average 3,000 school kids in the doors on some days. So that is just 3,000 "There's NEMO"s!
Is it great that kids know so much about the ocean? Well, how much did you learn about wildlife from watching "Bambi"? Not much really, but maybe it will inspire a few of the tykes to learn more.
So, hang in there for the next couple of days, as we will be meeting some of the creatures from Adventure Aquarium. No wet-suit required.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Best of Bog

If you are interested in seeing some of the best of flora offered in Ohio, Brown's Lake Bog has a fair number of offerings. Here are a few of the delights one can find:

Nearly science fiction like in appeal and beauty, the flower of the carnivorous Pitcher-plant, Sarracenia purpurea is as unusual as an Ohio flower gets. It begs the questions, "How did these flowers evolve?"

The boardwalk leading to the bog mat has massive displays of several varieties of ferns. The Cinnamon fern, Osmunda cinnamomea named for its fertile fronds, which resemble cinnamon sticks and Royal fern, Osmunda regalis are both found along the path.

Swamp-Candles, Lysimacia terristris grows on the bog mat, creating high-lights of yellow in amongst the green vegetation.

Scanning out across the mat we could see a multitude of rare pink Ohio orchids...

growing within the mats of reed and sedge-filled spaghnum moss is Rose Pagonia, Pogonia ophioglossoides. The most delicate of pink orchids, it is a breath-taking visual treat.
Our group remained on the boardwalk, and gave up the opportunity for eye-popping photos of these beauties inorder to preserve their future populations. Trampling across a bog mat is forbidden in this location as it can be very damaging to the rare acid-loving plants hanging on to existence in this bog. As conservation minded people, we cannot go stomping across the very rarities we claim to protect. So be a sport, and follow the link to a photo of this rare Ohio native plant.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Brown's Bog Discoveries

Frequently, after the Greater Mohican Audubon Walks we do a little "advanced birding." It is pretty informal and whatever we come up with at the last minute: chase rare birds, visit a local hot-spot, or even visit some other natural wonder. Friend Jan came up with a great idea for this week- we could visit Brown's Bog south of Wooster.

As we wandered down the boardwalk which meanders through the fern-filled woods to the bog, we heard the calling of Acadian Flycatchers: Pee-sza! A pair have made their nest way too close to the boardwalk for their own safety, and are easily flushed. I took this photo on the way out of the bog as we tried to creep past her without disturbing her duties.

On the trip in, we discovered the nest when she rocketed out of an Arrow-wood Viburnum bush along the boardwalk. One youngster, barely a feather to keep him warm, had just hatched...

A little closer inspection reveals he is the first of four. But wait, why is one egg different? Looks like Mrs. Brown-headed Cowbird has been by to leave a brown-speckled calling card. Cowbirds do not raise their own young, they rather foster them out to warblers, flycatchers and the like. Yes, it seems cruel and it can be difficult for the smaller bird species to maintain a huge honking baby the size of Godzilla. But that is how nature does it. And while many birders hate the Cowbirds for their supposed laziness and destruction, they are just doing what nature intended. As nomadic birds who once followed buffalo across the plains, their lifestyle did not permit incubation time for eggs. But they know who will get the job done.

And if it is not a cowbird, perhaps other predators might get the Acadian's young. Sunning on the spaghnum moss, a beautiful specimen of garter snake will take any lunch opportunities that pass him by. That is just nature's way of doing things, and in the end it all balances out... we hope.

You can't blame the snake... for being a snake. That's just the way he rolls... ah, or should I say slithers?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Our Secrest Arboretum

Greater Mohican Audubon does a bird walk six times a year at Secrest Arboretum in Wooster, Ohio. Not only is it a beautiful location and a wealth of information about trees, it has many lovely gardens and interesting birds, butterlies and dragonflies.

A visit to Secrest is worth the drive to Wooster, as habitats range from a hemlock gorge- where we heard Hooded Warblers today- to fields of crabapple trees. Cedar waxwings love 'em!

Bianca Davis led the walk today and our ranks numbered more then 20. Some participants are serious birders, some novices.. and others may just be out for an enjoyable walk in nature.
Always the Weedpicker, something in the way of a native plant is bound to catch my eye. And growing in the flower beds along with all the pedigreed greenery is good ol' Jumpseed, Polygonum virginianum- one of my favorite natives! The flowers aren't much to look at, but the foliage is stunning. Look at the bold chevron pattern on the leaf.

And a planting of bold prairie flowers, straight from the Ohio prairie list includes Sundrops, Oenothera fruticosa and Downy woodmint (purple) Blephilia cillata.

Don Beam is the creator of this garden and owner of Stucker Meadow Native plants. He will be on hand at GMAS' Bobolinks and Butterflies at Byers Woods on Sat. June 26. Go here for all the information. We hope to see you then!

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Dragons of Summer

Every once in a while, when we are out there botanizing, birdin' and butterflying... I get distracted. And it is usually one of those fast flying winged jewels in the family Odonata that catches my eye.
Oh, do nata 'nother insect I would rather watch as they eke out a living on a pond or stream edge. It is all sex and violence, with constant feeding in between. What an exciting life- more unbelievable than Las Vegas!

Painted Skimmer-

First one was seen on Kelley's Island in May, and in June we were fortunate to find another in Adams County. My first impression is always.. Hm, not quite right for a Halloween pennant... and it is not! But a golden body with tiger-striped wings is a perfect description for this 1.5" long uncommon dragonfly.

Unicorn Clubtail- by Greg Cornet

This one is not such a rarity, but the clubtails always get me excited! They look like the "Apache" attack-style fighters, small (2") and fast, compared to some of the bigger or slower dragons and damsels. Note the last couple segments of the tail are all black, with a serious-looking pincher (cercis). That's not for "pinching"-exactly. Cercis are used by the male to hold on to the female while mating.

Lancet Clubtail- by Greg Cornet
Just under 2" the Lancet Clubtail has more yellow on the final tail sections (what we call S-9 and S-10). This fellow has some handsome blue eyes, and is given to some fancy flying to impress the ladies. Oh, he is a "common" one, but you can see how easy it would be to fall for him. Note: he is at rest on the familiar frond of a Sensitive fern, Onoclea sensibilis .

Eastern Red Damsel-
This crimson hued fellow is the rarest and one of the tiniest, under an inch long! Known from bogs and fens, it is difficult to find them as they rest on low vegetation and especially favor small spike rushes. It can be tough to photograph them so low to the ground. I have seen them at Cedar Bog, but this one was found in a ditch not far from my home. His blue-black thorax and tail markings make a distinctive impression as he rests on an emergent Touch-me-not or Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis. This little damselfly really stands out from the common "bluets".
Not just another "pretty" face, dragonflies are also bio-indicators, as some require pristine water quality. The more you learn about these fascinating creatures, the more addicted you'll become too!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Butterflies and Botany

A recent botany trip to Adams county provided flocks of butterflies to admire. Watching butterflies interact with plants can provide two-fold possibilities for learning: flora and fauna.

Great Spangled Fritillaries were the grand champions by sheer numbers, and this one was using his proboscis to probe for nectar in the blossom of Indian Hemp, Apocynum cannabinum a common member of the Dogbane family. by John Howard
We all stopped to admire the G.S. Frits on Purple Milkweed, Asclepias purpurascens. This uncommon milkweed is a real show stopper and John Howard captured the moment beautifully.

Boys will be boys, and when he is not taking photos, John loves poking around in every water-hole and catching every creepy crawly. And while the "boys" fussed around with their sedges and salamanders...
some of us watched as a Tawny Emperor, a much less-common butterfly and a "lifer" for many in our group, spread its wings in the morning sun.

Tricia West (pictured above) and I worked a bit on our butterfly photography. I took the dorsal (top-side wings) view photo of the Tawny Emperor, and Trish got this diagnostic ventral photo of the male butterfly. by Tricia West
Tawny Emperors are usually found mixed in with the common, and similar shaped Hackberry butterfly. Both species' caterpillars feed exclusively on Hackberry, one of our Ohio native trees.
Interested in attracting more butterflies to your yard? Consider planting a variety of butterfly host plants including a Hackberry, Celtis occidentalis tree. It could soon become an "arbor of eating" for Tawny Emperors,Hackberry and Snout caterpillars!