Friday, July 30, 2010

From the Water's Edge

A little different perspective on the botany, these photos gathered from the cockpit of a kayak. Several of us floated Turtle Creek and parts of Metzger Marsh enjoying a refreshing morning on the water, and eye level to some interesting finds.

American Lotus, Nelumbo lutea is not uncommon, but the sheer size of these flowers and floating leaves always make a major impression. Even more so when one is paddling in close proximity to them.

Shorebirds were few and far between the last couple of days, but we did see this Spotted Sandpiper working the shoreline.

Catching a few rays on the the jumbo floating vegetation, a Northern Watersnake kept watch as we paddled by.

Birdwatchers, on land or water, you just can't cure them! Here we are checking out a roost of 6-8 Great Egrets resting in the trees.

Greg Miller- (Playing the role of Jack Black?) claims this was the first time he ever returned from a canoe trip still dry! The credit should go to Judy Kolo-Rose, who displayed the level head of a true sailor.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Prairie Composition: grasses and forbs

Every prairie seems to have a unique "personality" reflected in their combination of grasses and forbs, the flowering plants that are not grasses, sedges or rushes. Prairie composition depends on the soil types, location and amount of moisture found in the prairie; many prairies are dry, but some are quite "wet."

Smooth Ox-eye (False sunflower), Heliopsis helianthoides and Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea offered a brilliant display at Guy's prairie.
The flowering forbs are the eye-candy of the prairie. These perennials and self-seeding annuals bloom at different times, creating a constant change in bloom cycles. A prairie that appears blue with Ohio Spiderwort in June, may look golden with Ox-eye in July.

The grasses are a major player in the prairie ecosystem, their tall stems create the support systems to prop up the gigantic nine-foot native sunflowers. Sorting grasses seem so overwhelming to beginning botany lovers, but here is one you can learn. A major component of many prairies is Big Bluestem, Andropogon gerardii.

USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Hitchcock, A.S. (rev. A. Chase). 1950. Manual of the grasses of the United States. USDA Miscellaneous Publication No. 200. Washington, DC.

This Big Bluestem line drawing from the USDA Plants data base, show the grass fruits form seed-heads or spikes which spread like "turkey feet" against the sky. The other common name for Big Bluestem is Turkey-foot grass.

The palate of prairie colors: rich pinks-to-purple from the Purple Coneflowers, yellows provided by Ox-eyes and Grey-headed coneflowers, and soft lavenders from the Wild Bergamot. (Follow that link to a great article on Wild Bergamot, Monarda fistulosa- over at Blue Jay Barrens.)
There are many prairie "personalities" to be found throughout Ohio. Some are on public lands, in cemeteries, parks, nature preserves, and now they are being embraced by the private sector as a sensible alternative to mowing. No matter how big or small, wet or dry, grass to forb composition- they create a unique ecosystem for carbon sequestration and habitats for biodiversity. Prairie on!

House on the Prairie

Don't expect a post about cute little girls running across the Midwest. Although, there were cute little girls present when Greater Mohican Audubon had a field trip to a tall grass prairie in Knox County yesterday. We spent a fascinating afternoon learning more about prairie plants and the unique ecosystem they create.

A view from the upper rim of the prairie looking across the woods and home site. This prairie, planted in five sections, was carved out of former farmland and now stands tribute to the landscape of mid-Ohio before the agricultural boom. Guy Denny planted his prairie in stages, creating pockets of flowering forbs within the tall grasses.

Our host, Guy Denny is a gifted naturalist and story-teller, he brings to life the history of the prairie with stories of the plants and the people who lived with the grasslands. He explains how Compass plant, Silphium laciniatum, a native sunflower said to be used as directional aid, orients its leaves North/South to reduce the impact of summer days in the scorching sun.

Our group of nearly 30 listen intently to stories of the prairie plants, as the wind teases the grasses well above our heads.
Prairie comes from the French word for meadow. French explorers were stunned by the sight of these massive "meadows" covering the midwest. Nothing in France could compare to these vast oceans of grass and flowers, and all the life forms contained within. Imagine the astonishing array of biodiversity, from bees to buffalo and everything between.

As storm clouds rolled across the open horizon we surrendered to the awe. This is a land where the whole is "greater than the sum of its parts."
How can one describe a circus by one ride, or a prairie by one plant? Grasses, sunflowers, coneflowers, blazing stars, butterflies, bees and dragonflies in abundance. This was our land before it was rendered to corn and beans.
I'll try to highlight some of the individual features in the next couple posts... as I can't pack all of its beauty and diversity into one.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Pretty in Pink

Prairie in Pink would have been a good alternative name for this post, as these species are frequently found in prairies, some wet, some dry.

Queen-of-the-Prairie, Filipendula rubra seems like a logical place to start! This plant was introduced to a Master Gardener's Convention in 2005- and wowed the socks off the landscape crowd. I had to have one, or three. And to think it is an Ohio Native, easily found in wet prairies like Cedar Bog (and my backyard)!

Native plant- Purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea - slightly obscured by a Giant Swallowtail butterfly. They seem to prefer nectaring on the coneflowers in my yard. In fact, I was not a big fan of the coneflower until I saw the Giant Swallowtails. Mark me as a "BIG FAN" now.

Oh, the Phlox of it all... this is probably some garden species from my past "landscaper" life, but I have several varieties of natives too. Spotted phlox, and Blue phlox .. any phlox is a good phlox in my book, as the butterflies love it!
This lovely female Tiger Swallowtail (note the blue on the hind wings) was just making a spectacle of herself today. How could I not post her for the world to see? Shameless!
We silly humans cannot begin to compete with the beauty of nature.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

New Botany Book

On a recent trip to Guy Denny's Prairie, I took this photo of an interesting marsh plant. This is not one I have seen out and about on my travels, and I needed to find out its common name and species.

Glade-Mallow, Napae dioica is known only from a relatively small portion of the midwest.

Guy's property has a variety of habitats and plants to intrigue any budding botanists curiosity. If you would like to see it first hand, join the Greater Mohican Audubon Society on Saturday July 24th. We will meet up at noon at the McDonald's at rt 95 and I-71 near Chesterville Ohio.

And the book I used to find the info on this unique plant? Brand new, hot off the presses: David Brandenburg's Field Guide to the Wildflowers of North America.
It is arranged by plant family, which I find very useful, but it also has a color key in the front- for those who prefer to find their plants that way. I am already enjoying the maps and information provided on an array of plants. This guide will also be useful during travel, as it covers the nation.
Hope to see you Saturday- when we can introduce you to the Glade-Mallow first hand.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Cemetery Prairies

There are two Pioneer Cemetery Prairies in Ohio, which are the Mecca to prairie enthusiasts. Two small patches of ground, never tilled, never grazed. Their original plant communities from 160 years ago are still intact.

Royal Catchfly, Silene regia is the regent of prairie plants. Listed as endangered in Ohio it was once only known in Bigelow Cemetery. Normally a robust red, this off-colored salmon one spoke to me.

These stones are caressed by the prairie sea: waves of coneflowers and grasses in a place where time has stood still. Much of western Ohio was prairie until Mr. Deere's plow conformed it to farm fields.

Smith Cemetery
, a scant 5 miles away from Bigelow has its own unique personality: fewer flowering forbs, more grasses, and a sentinel of Bur Oak trees. Gravestones witness to the hardship of prairie life in Ohio. The heart break of infants' graves convey a sorrow to me that goes beyond the short lives of men cut down in their prime. I am already long-in-the-tooth compared to these
pioneer people.

And I wonder, what good my knowledge? What purpose does it serve to know, this is Flowering Spurge, Euphorbia corollata? Perhaps, people and relationships are more important than the facts we acquire.
Maybe this should be known simply as the "flower-woven-into-crowns" for barefooted children. I can almost hear their songs.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Good Karma Kayak- the botany boat

Friends recently invited me along for a "float" down the Olentangy River- and here is a little photo expose of the grand adventure:

An Eastern Amberwing dragonfly perched on the front of my kayak- like an aquatic "hood ornament."

We commented on the waves of Lizard's-tail, Saururus cernuus growing along the river banks. A Bronze Copper butterfly was admiring it too.

We followed the butterfly until she found her host plant, Water Smartweed, Polygonum amphibium stretching out of the higher-than-normal waters. We watched as she crawled inside the plant to deposit her eggs.

"Good Karma" came by picking up trash floating along the way, Greg transports it in the bottom of his canoe to be disposed of properly on our return. I am not sure if it was the karma or the smell, but his canoe attracted the best insects. The photo shows a Snout butterfly riding the line just above the trash.

But the most excitement of the day occurred when this Flag-tailed Spinyleg dragonfly landed in the canoe- turns out to be a Marion County record. Can you say, "Photo op?"

Basking along the bank, a Map turtle. He had a yellow triangle behind his eyes, and an interesting paisley pattern on his neck.

And birding was good. Besides the calling Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Kingfishers, Red-tails and numerous song birds, we enjoyed good looks at this male wood duck just going into fall plumage.
This hot weather is way easier to take in the good Karma kayaks!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dragonflies: big and small

Another thrill from the recent dragonfly meeting was my first opportunity to see a some of Ohio's most unique dragonflies- including the Tiger Spiketail.

Tiger Spiketail- photo by William Hull

These three inch giants may be large, but flying low over a stream in dimly lit woods makes it difficult to find and nearly impossible to photograph. Tiger Spiketails are a species of concern which require high-quality shallow streams with sandy bottoms.

Here's what a great "Tiger stakeout" looks like. We each choose a section of stream to watch, and called out any passing dragonflies. Greg Cornet got the bead on our quarry first, as I was in my usual day-dreaming mode when it first flew past me!
Female Tiger Spiketail Photo by Bill Hull
Females oviposit like a pogo-stick... dabbing eggs into the sand. If we had seen a female, she might have looked like this one loaned by Bill Hull for this post. Be sure to check out his web site for some amazing dragon photos and much more!

Cedar Bog near Urbana is the home of the other rarest dragonflies, listed as endangered in Ohio. The Elfin Skimmer is the smallest of our dragonflies; this beautiful blue male is just under an inch long.

The female is a wasp mimic, and would be easy to overlook as she perches along the dried vegetation inches off the boardwalk. Their flight period is mid-July, so you'll want to make a pilgrimage soon to see this little wonder.
Cedar Bog also has loads of interesting flora as well, and will be one of the field trips for the Midwest Native Plant conference. Just click on the logo in the side panel of the blog to go to the registrations page. Hope to see you there!!!

Monday, July 12, 2010

My what big teeth you have!

The Great Lakes Odonata Meeting provided some wonderful opportunities to learn from the dragonfly experts. We spent a good deal of time wading the Big Darby, which was not a bad job during Ohio's steamy heat in July. Other trips went farther afield for the rarities, and we also spent some time locally with pond species.

Comet Darner in flight- photo by John Howard

Comet Darners are a sight to behold at three inches long, these mega-insects have a cherry red abdomen. Don't wait for them to land for a photo, as they never seem to perch. John Howard shot this portrait of a darner in mid-flight in Adams County. Considered rare, they are easily distinguished from the frequently seen Common Green Darners.

All dragonflies start their lives under water as nymphs. Some larger species may spend two or three years in the larval form before they emerge from the water, split out of their "exoskeleton" or shell, and fly away. Occasionally, one may find their exuvia - the shed exoskeleton- on a reed or grass where the insect emerged.

My what big teeth and jaws you have! The Comet Darner's exuvia is readily noted by the monstrous proportions of the jaw. I have outlined the photo in blue, to show the jaw extends clear back to the 3rd leg. That's like having teeth down to your belly-button! No wonder so many science fiction monsters look like they were modeled after dragonfly larva!

Thanks to these knowledgeable guides and leaders from Ohio Odonata Society and the Batelle-Darby Metro Parks. Erik Pilgrim, Bob Glotzhober (blue shirt in fore ground), Bob Restifo, Andrew Boose, and Mac Albin. It was a wonderful weekend!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Big Darby Dragonflies

Columbus is the spot to find a horde of dragonfly watchers this weekend. The Great Lakes Odonata Meeting is being held at the Batelle Darby Metro Park with some field trips radiating throughout Ohio.

The Big Darby is a state and federally listed Scenic River, known for its clean waters and the rare mussels and fish within. Dragonflies are also a bioindicator of water quality, as some species rely on pristine waters for their larval or nymph phase.

American Rubyspot is well known from the vegetated banks of the Darby. These damselflies are easily compared to the Ebony Jewelwing in size and shape, and both species' females show a white dot at the stigma.

Male American Rubyspots are easily identified by smokey colored wing which sports a bright ruby red "spot" at the base. Rubyspots are a bit of a botanical damselfly as well, often affiliated with Water Willow, Justicia americana. In fact, I have never seen am American Rubyspot when it wasn't on Water Willow.

But this was the big thrill: Black-shouldered Spinylegs. One of those impressive clubtails, this fellow was the only B-S S willing to set a spell for photos. Most were off at top speeds, vigorously plying their trade of death to small insects.
We saw many more species than a poor photographer like me could dream of shooting, and we are about to head out for more wading along the Darby to look for the "cruisers". We've seen a variety of dragons- from Comet Darners to Dragonhunters and many, many Dancers and Bluets.
So, if you like dragons- you should be in store for more excitement in the coming posts.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Sandhill Cranes

One would think Sandhill Cranes, standing four feet tall, would be easy to spot in a field. But nesting sandhills can be surprisingly stealthy. And if you were looking for Ohio's isolated populations one would start in Wayne and Holmes Counties where the first of recent breeding populations (reported in 1987) were found. Considered endangered in Ohio, we birders in the Greater Mohican Audubon area hold them in highest regard.

Richland County Sandhill Cranes Photo by Dane Adams

Last week the top was blown off the breeding bird news with Richland county's first family of Sandhill Cranes. Gary Cowell reported seeing two adults and two juveniles, called colts, in Richland County just off Bowen Rd. Sure enough, photographer Dane Adams, Jan Auburn and I were able to relocate the happy family hiding in the phragmites along Bowen Rd.

Adult Sandhill and Colt ........................Photo by Dane Adams
What a joyous occasion to see the product of what one suspects was the union of a pair of Sandhills who performed their spring courtship "dance" on this very field. This may be the first Sandhill Cranes born in Richland County in a century, or perhaps... ever.
Historically, it is likely this was a wooded area at the turn of the century when these cranes were more commonly found in Ohio. Now the land has been opened up by agricultural activities, providing an area to forage near the Bowen Rd. wetland located in this field... and the nearby Ashland University Wetlands complex.

But the big surprise came when we went out to photo document these colts. We found a second pair of cranes across the street by the Ashland University wetlands! The red dots on the map mark the locations where the two families of Sandhill Cranes were foraging that morning. Who would have believed there were eight Sandhill Cranes making a living on this back road just off route 42?!

Scanning Ohio's farm fields turned up some surprising information for
Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas.
You'll want to report any of your unusual findings to the fine folks trying to put Ohio's breeding birds on the map. And don't forget to report your normal, regular and routine findings too. It is all a part of the breeding bird history of Ohio needed to document the whole picture. And who knows? While you are out there you might find something spectacular too!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


The heat of summer is here, and I have to admit the only communing with nature I did this weekend was in Lakeside. And while all the botany I enjoyed was of the horticultural variety, Lakeside's gardens are more beautiful than ever. If I can persuade one person to go to this magical place on Lake Erie where I go to get a fresh perspective when life gets me down- it was worth this post.

The view from the lawn at Hotel Lakeside- photo Randy Harner

While I did not pick up the camera all weekend, these photos were all taken by better half. Lakeside is the best place in the world to read a book, eat ice cream, stroll the dock, or for the adventure seekers- sail a Sunfish.

I learn the ropes and "crew" for Capt. Shelly, an excellent sailor who happens to be my daughter. We were very fortunate to have good winds, calm water and fair sailing.

Our nature fix: the water slapping the hull of the Sunfish as the wind stretches the sail. It looks as though we could reach out an touch the Perry's monument at Put-in-Bay but it is about 6 miles out from the Lakeside "L-dock". Not for everyone I suppose, this is the dirt-bike equivalent to land transportation. Plan on getting wet and leave your troubles on the shore.
Hope you all had a marvelous 4th of July as well!