Saturday, May 28, 2011

Conservation- in Land We Trust

A general survey for a local land trust provided a great opportunity to spend some quality field time with some highly knowledgeable folks.

American Copper butterfly on a Hawkweed. Both are considered non-native species- but who cares? Sometimes you just have to appreciate a beautiful spring day and the spectacular colors.

Judy Semroc from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History was concentrating on interesting insects and possible salamanders in this clear running stream.

My eyes were immediately smitten with the blues of the Marsh Blue Violet, Violet cucullata. These tall stemmed flowers aren't your garden variety violets. They favor wetlands, and the shortened lower petal proclaims it as a Marsh Blue.

Do you recognize this well-known wetland flower? It is the seed pod from Marsh Marigold, Caltha palustris. The delicate green orbs hold a million miniature seeds just on the brink of spilling into the stream.

The upland portion of this property provided an exciting find for well-known naturalist, Larry Rosche. We gathered round to document the unveiling of ...

Showy Orchis, Orchis spectabilis.

This is a very nice find for Ashland or Richland counties. After scouting around a bit, we were able to locate numerous grouping of incredibly robust plants. A deer had nibbled a bit on the edge of this beauty, so we created a stick-cage to protect it in the future.

There are many Land Trusts in Ohio doing important work to protect and conserve Ohio's natural resources- the ones we can see, smell and touch! Thanks to the people who have dedicated their time and efforts to set aside natural areas protected from logging, drilling and other unnatural disasters. Once the money from exploiting our State Parks resources is quickly spent, Ohioans will realize we should have put more effort into protecting our land.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Wildflowers at Work

Not only are native plants lovely to look at, they can be work horses in the landscape. A few of the beauties in my yard are producing a view scape to rival anything produced by those big splashy foreign flowers that big-box stores sell.

Wild Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis

This plant is found wild throughout Ohio, from the shores of Lake Erie to the rocky outcroppings in Adams County. The delicate dangling flower is a show stopper in its native orange and yellow form, a favorite of the hummingbirds visiting the yard.

While I wouldn't mix-and-match pink and orange in my attire, nature has a fabulous way of showing off the most outrageous colors! A couple of years ago, while doing programs on wetland plants, I installed this new garden with an upland bird feeding station and a wetland/waterfall incorporated.

Those native flowers have really come into their own this year, creating a striking display. And the wetland? This years rain has been keeping it well filled; it also acts like a raingarden, regulating the water in my side yard.

Did you note the "mini" wild geraniums near the rock work? Herb Robert, Geranium robertianum is a favorite native from the northern portion of the state. Mine originally came from my yard in Lakeside, Ohio. I have also seen Herb Robert adorning the rock edges at the glacial grooves on Kelleys Island.

It is much like our larger native Wild Geranium, Geranium maculatum. However, these delicate flowers bloom well into summer. You'll continue to enjoy their fern shaped leaves right into fall, as they tinge with brilliant red.

So put those native plants to work in your landscape. And if you want to learn more about (or buy) native plants- sign up for the Midwest Native Plant Conference- go right here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Taking you to the Edge

If you have not yet been to the Edge of Appalachia Preserve System in Adams County, it is high time you schedule a trip! (OOS Conference will be in the area on June 3-5, 2011 - click on the link in my sidebar to sign up!) Not only does Adams County routinely produce some of Ohio's most difficult-to-find birds, like Chuck-will's-widows, Blue Grosbeak, and Henslow's sparrow, the flora is unique as well.

Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja coccinea

This partially parasitic plant is a real showstopper. But it is not the flowers, but rather those bright orange bracts that catch the eye. These "paintbrushes" are found in some of prairies in Adams County and Ohio's only species is C. coccinea. Well-named, as coccinea means "scarlet."

A general flora photo from Lynx Prairie.

The Indian Paintbrush stand out against the already huge leaves of Prairie Dock, Silphium terebinthinaceum. Prairie Dock is a pretty fair indicator: you might be in a prairie now!

And the dazzling white flowers, sometimes called Pride-of-Ohio...

Shooting Star, Dodecatheon meadia

Members of the Primrose family, Shooting Star can also be found in pink or lavender forms, but white is the most common color. The flower, arising from a basal rosette of leaves, is one of the later blooming spring flowers and well worth a special trip to witness the full bloom.

The Edge of Appalachia Preserve System hosts a full slate of learning experiences that I can highly recommend. Click here to see their Eulett Center website, and plan your trip today!

Sunday, May 22, 2011


A small lucky group of want-to-be "sedge-heads" attended a Sedge Workshop at the Cincinnati Museum Center's Eulett Center held in Adams County. Filled with trepidation, each of us hoped we were up to the difficult task of sorting those confusing members of the Carex family.

Dr. Paul Rothrock from Taylor University (Indiana) is a fabulous author and teacher, who gently guided us through the keys. In this photo you can almost hear him say... "So what if they aren't orchids?" After all, sedges are quite beautiful and complex in their own right.

John Schmidt making sedge study look easy. We spent a good deal of time keying out species

And sure, he didn't bring out the labeled pressed samples until we were done with our work.

Paul Rothrock and Ohio's sedge expert, Rick Gardner walked us through identifying numerous sedges in the field.

So, it wasn't all desk work. We enjoyed several expert led field trips, including this finale at Lynx Prairie. Don't tell anyone, but I was looking at some other amazing flora there as well, and even shot a few photos that I promise to show you later.

Getting great sedge photos is pretty tricky, but the smaller ones are actually easier since the entire sedge fits in the photo. This little yellow sedge is not much larger than the pen I jambed in the ground to give you a sense of proportion.

Carex cryptolepis, Little Yellow Sedge

These clever little plants are self-pollinating. Some hold their pollen bearing male parts up in the air (like the one shown here) and the female parts get pollinated at each of the points on that ball consisting of perigynium. Each little section will hold a fruit called an achene.

The variety of size, shape and configuration of these basic features is truly impressive. Orchids, after all, generally need an insect pollinator. Sedges are self-sufficient, inventive and industrious. So what if they are not orchids? They are pretty cool in their own right, and it was a pleasure to learn more about them with some fascinating friends.

Don't over-look the sedges. Even if you don't plan to study them, they are still easy to admire and pleasing to the eye.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Quercus and Curiosity

Of all the fabulous things we have seen this month, rare birds, endangered plants, interesting people...

.. the pink and frosted green leaves on this tree at the edge of my drive has captured my attention.

Curiosity has propelled me to the books, oaks. Ugh. Oaks are a tricky lot in my book, remember I have never claimed to be a botanist, but rather a plant enthusiast- a mere "Weedpicker."

The rounded leaves tell me "white oak" and the dry upland habitat say Quercus alba, White Oak. I seem to remember these pink hues high in the budding oaks at Shawnee, but again fear of Oaks seems to paralyze me.

After all, I have another white oak in my yard which is nothing like this. It is in the wetland area of the side yard, and that is a Swamp White Oak, Quercus bicolor. One could get confused with these similar common names. Not only are there a myriad of oaks, but they have a tendency to interbreed- and leave me questioning what I "think I know."

So forgive me if my brain is foggy after several weeks of a mind-bending schedule, fabulous bird chases, and a botany filled spring.

Today let's just look at the beauty, like this vista from a favorite spot at Sheldon's Marsh.

Sometimes it can be enough to appreciate the many curiosities of biodiversity and to marvel in the beauty of nature without needing to name every one. After all- as the Amish say, "It ain't the things you don't know that get you into troubles; it's the things you know for sure that ain't so."

For today, the beauty alone is enough.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Gooseberry, eh?

One of the most fascinating plants on the Point Pelee trips was this Gooseberry. After spending hours in the books, I can officially say I know quite a bit more about the individual species enough to say one thing: YIPES Ribes! These species are maddeningly difficult to key out.

OK, maybe I know two things. Not only does it take a true botanist to sort these bad boys, there are many species around, some of them non-natives. Should we just totally avoid them? I don't think so, but maybe it is OK to just note they are one of the Ribes. They are quite interesting, and provided a great case study in the relationships of birds and flowering plants.

This is the Gooseberry in question from Point Pelee. I am fairly confident it is Bristley Gooseberry, Ribes cynosbati.

However, I am only confident because that is how it is listed on the FLORA of Point Pelee, a handy little list I will take on my next visit to Canada! Click on this and scroll to the bottom of the page for their complete listing.

Note: it may cause some confusion that the list is broken down into monocot and dicots, and Large-flower Bellwort is list as simply "Bellwort."

But why were we so interested in Bristley Gooseberry? Because it was a bird magnet.

This Tennessee Warbler was nectaring on the flowers, entertaining us for the longest time as it popped about acrobatically. A lucky moment finally revealed the tell-tale eye line.

Most of the time, it would have done Dave Lewis proud- only giving us views of its underside.

This Tennessee was not the only bird in this bush, I first started watching this gooseberry when an Orchard Oriole had flown in to sip on the flowers. In the half-hour or so we watched it during lunch, several other species came by for their lunch- including a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Trip leader Dan Donaldson (standing center) called out many species to an appreciative crowd. The gooseberry bush was just beyond this railing where we enjoyed our very birdy lunch.

Thanks to BSBO for scheduling this boat trip to a foreign land, filled with interesting birds and plants. The talented leaders on these trips make it fun to see and savor so many species in a short amount of time. And while the Magee Marsh boardwalk remains a great place to see warblers- and gooseberries- there are plenty of other interesting trips and locations offered at The Biggest Week. I hope you will try a few of them next year.

Thanks to Kim and Delores for allowing me to help BSBO in any little way I could, and a huge tip-of-the-hat to all the fabulous birders and leaders I enjoyed rubbing shoulders with through out the week, especially Greg Miller. And many thanks go to the Tropical Birding guides who helped at least a thousand people see their first Connecticut Warbler!

What an incredible 10 days it has been!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Perspective from Point Pelee

Another amazing trip hosted by Black Swamp Bird Observatory is the Jet Express boat ride to Point Pelee. The Elderhostel crew from Put-In-Bay joined us, adding Tom Barlett and crew's talents to the leadership pool.

Large-flowered Bellwort, Uvularia grandiflora was the head-turner of the trip. So many folks asked what this was- I started to just answer "large-flowered bellwort" whenever asked a question...

The vegetation at Point Pelee, Canada was surprisingly good. Very few alien plants were seen, despite the obviously human-made trails, buildings and amenities. This Canadian National Park was very well maintained, and we barely scratched the surface of all the places to bird on this excellent preserve. There is a tram system available too, but if you are able- I recommend the woodlot trails.

We had an excellent day of birding with well over 100 species. This Magnolia Warbler was so up close and personal, I was able to snap a decent shot. The bird du jour was Baltimore Oriole. There were times we could see 4 or more chasing about, with a Orchard Oriole as the trump card.

Cheryl Harner and Julie Davis at Point Pelee, Ontario

But what is Point Pelee if you don't visit "the point?" Here is your blogger with fellow OOS board member Julie Davis posing on the point. There were numerous birds lounging off-shore, and a decent collection on birds on the lee side, resting from their journey.

More later... have another trip right now.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Botanizing at Biggest Week

Today was the Kelleys Island field trip, where I got to hang out with some of the country's most awesome birders birders to point out things like Jack-in-the-Pulpits, Lakeside Daisies and Garlic Mustard. We had an awesome time and saw a decent number of warblers. The weather was beautiful; we all shed our coats and fleeces during the afternoon walk.

We had a spattering of Federally Endangered Lakeside Daisies, Tetraneuris herbacea and I promised folks to show them the preserve in Marblehead, Ohio- not far from where the Kelleys Island ferry docks.

Massive field of Lakeside Daisies at Alexander Pike in Marblehead, Ohio. Photo by Greg Miller.

This flower is having a banner year, and is well worth the trip. Its habitat is the rock alvars and hard pan floor the the quarried areas of Marblehead. Truly, one of Ohio's most gruelling and rarest habitats.

Tonight Greg Miller and Ethan Kistler have me all tuned up about the Nexrad maps! Those are birds, folks, crossing Lake Erie... and we are headed to Point Pelee tomorrow. Can't wait to see how this develops!

Birds and botany- tomorrow is going to be another great day!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Magee Madness

There is no place like Magee Marsh for seeing warblers up-close and personal. It is certainly no wonder that birders "flock" here. On a good day- which is usually a bad weather day- the warblers often hang low and flit about within arm's reach. It is mind numbing.

This gorgeous Black-throated Green couldn't help but pose for me. I am no photographer, but I have stunning photos of many species from this little woodlot on the shore of Lake Erie. Even I can get lucky at Magee.

And Magee isn't the only place in town. The Biggest Week event provides trips, vendors, travel programs and other great speakers- to fill out the rest of your waking hours. In fact, there is so much to do- some of us are starting to look like the walking dead- birding zombies.

But don't be afraid! Birders are the nicest people-and I promise- they won't bite. Rarely will you find a group so willing to share their good fortune and help others find any elusive birds playing hide-and-seek. Black-billed Cuckoo- over there! Orange-crowned Warbler, on that log!

The boardwalk at Magee is like taking a course in birding. Just keep your eyes and ears open and you will be amazed at the tidbits of birding knowledge you can attain. And some days, it is a regular Who's Who of birding dignitaries.

Tricolor Heron photo by Sherrie Duris

But don't be afraid to venture beyond the boardwalk. Sherrie Duris found this lovely Tricolored Heron at nearby Metzger Marsh, another Division of Wildlife property. Rather than keeping secrets, most birders are happy to share their good fortunes and great finds. After all, joy is doubled when you share these gifts with friends. This bird was so beautiful, I just had to call a few friends, as it would be a shame to miss a bird with this much grace and beauty.

So if you are coming up to Magee- I hope I run into you! And while you are there, check out many of the other amazing sights in the area as well. The Lakeside Daisy should be in bloom too.

I'll check that out when we come back from Kelleys.

Good birding, friends!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

No Place like Home...

Happy Mother's Day to everyone!

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know I tend to travel a bit. And while I love seeing new and exciting things, it is also good just to "chill" here at home. Today, I would like a share a few of those snapshots with you.

During last week's rain, some of the local fauna enjoyed an easy meal and some rest at one of my "bird" feeders. Bunnies hold a pretty special place in my heart, as they were my Mother's favorite. She has been gone four years now, but I can still hear her saying, "Hello, little bunny." We always plant enough spinach for us... and "her" bunnies.

Wildflowers? Sure, we've got loads of them. Most were already on the property when we bought it, but these Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica were brought with us from Lakeside. I couldn't imagine spring without bluebells!

Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a migrant stopover

When I am not out botanizing or birdwatching elsewhere, I find considerable enjoyment watching the feeders here at home. Springtime brings exciting waves of fresh migrants, hungry from their travels. It provides a wonderful opportunity to enjoy some of these neo-tropical migrants up close, without having to drive to Magee Marsh.

Indigo Bunting has just returned from his southern vacation. He will likely establish a nest and family on the edge of our woodlot. I am accustom to hearing his sweet high-pitched song all summer.

And while he visits my feeder when he first returns each spring, he doesn't come to them for long. Once he is rested from his trip, he will sing from the highest tree tops overlooking the corn field and my garden. He is a welcome sight as I tend my gardening chores and bask in the beauty in my own backyard.

There's no place like home.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Watering Rocks

A good number of us spent Wednesday in Columbus at the Ohio Environmental Council's Lobby Day. We met with our Senators and State Representatives to encourage them to stand against "Fracking" - especially in our State Parks, Wildlife Areas and Natural Areas and Preserves.

No one reads this blog to hear about politics, but if we regular folks don't stand up and say "whoa" we soon may not have neat places like Shawnee Forest and Magee Marsh to go get our orchid and warbler "fix."

Watering Rocks...

One fellow environmentalist said his wife chastises him, saying that our efforts are as futile as "watering rocks."

That may be, but I believe that little by little the reasonable man speaking the truth, can make a difference.

After all... look how water eventually wore away the rock in several of our western states: behold the Grand Canyon.

So, please call your state Rep. and Senator, and tell them you value our State Parks for the natural resources we can see, smell and hear.

Ohio's parks make up only 1% of Ohio's landmass. Let's do our drilling, cutting and mining elsewhere, and preserve these areas, as intended, for our children.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Highlights from Flora-Quest

Flora-Quest 2011. The 5th Flora-Quest to be held in Scioto and Adams County, the botanical "sweet-spot" of Ohio. More flora, more birds, more butterflies... there is a reason so many of us keep going back.

Pink Lady's-Slipper, Cypripedium acule

In the very beginning, we knew the lady's-slippers would be the stars of the show. Our very first feature on the Flora-Quest advertising cards (do you still have all five cards?) is still the big draw. People love this incredible flower.

Large-flowered Trillium, Trillium grandiflorum

This was the big bonus flower, as we have never had so many Trilliums in bloom during Flora-Quest. Usually these ephemeral are spent, but this year's cool, wet weather kept them in good form. The flora of Shawnee has never looked better than in 2011. We never dreamed we could see Trilliums and Lady's-slippers blooming side by side.

Falcate Orangetip photo by Greg Miller

Our poster child for southern butterflies, a species never seen in our northern counties, was still on the wing. Usually they are well past by the first week of May, but here was a male still flying about!

Nesting Blue-headed Vireo

Chris Bedel, the leader of Bike Quest found this unusual nester in the forest. Having toured Shawnee many times, I am now a total convert to seeing it by bike! You can hear the birds and get better views of the passing flora. What a spectacular way to spend an afternoon; Chris is a veritable fountain of wisdom on forest ecology.

Fire Pinks, Silene virginica

Brilliant displays from the roadside, these flowers love to cling to the steep, sunny embankments along the forest roads.

Spicebush Swallowtail

Pedaling through the horse camp we saw tons of butterflies. This Spicebush swallowtail was having lunch at one of our non-native, yet important butterfly nectar flowers: Taraxacum officinale. Doesn't that sound nicer than Common Dandelion?


Thanks again to all the participates, leaders and those amazing volunteers who help keep the event going! Special kudos to Paula Harper, Greg and Leslie Cornett, Kathy Knoop, Shelly Goodman, Colleen Kammer and Joyce Riepenhoff- and of course the guides. We couldn't do it without you!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Luna love

The Luna moths and I love Shawnee State Forest. There will be more photos and posts to come- but for now, here are a couple favorite images.

Lunas in love.

The only thing better than finding a luna moth in the forest, might be finding two. After these giant silk moths mate, they will "hang out" until the next evening, when they will fly away. These moths have very short lives, often living only days. Mating and egg laying are their only priorities. They do not even eat, in fact- they have no mouth parts.

Consider biking Shawnee. This was the most fabulous quest I have ever been on! Being emersed in the forest takes on a whole new feeling...

More to come.