Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Purple Martin Majesties

When the sun sinks into the treeline, in the long days of mid-to-late August...
the Nimisila Reservoir, just south of Akron ,Ohio is the place to find Purple Martins.

Our guide, Sandy Brown leads us out into gently slapping waters. The wind was a bit more than we had hoped for, and I suspect it was the last breaths of hurricane Irene. Not enough to stop us, but enough to warrant caution with life jackets snugly in place over our coats.

The cattail islands stand alone. Not much to catch your eye during daylight hours, but knowing the magic we were about to witness, they loom huge against our tiny kayaks.

In they come. Hundreds and hundreds of Purple Martins winging their way to a late summer night roost. Purple Martins, the largest of our swallows, are generally found inhabiting boxes and gourds supplied by homeowners and enthusiastic Amish farmers. In the late days of summer, Martins leave their domestic homes and gather en mass for the coming journey.

Swirling and sweeping across the sky, they pour into the cattail reeds. This colony was much larger two weeks ago, but many have already vacated. Skyward, by night for the 5,000 some mile migration to Peru and Brazil.

We silently paddle back to shore, with a smiles spread wide on our faces... and a quiet song in my heart:

Oh beautiful, for spacious skies

For amber waves of grain,

for purple martin majesties,

Above the fruited plain...

At least, that is my way of singing it tonight.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mohican's Fern Valley

You are just in time for a rare trip to Mohican's best kept secret: Fern Valley.
In fact, this place was such a great secret, virtually no one knew it was there! Or at least, no one who knew how amazing it is to have this assemblage of ferns all in one location.

Steve McKee, Director of Richland County District is an excellent teacher and especially fond of ferns. So imagine his surprise (and glee) when he was led into a fern filled valley he had never seen before, while giving a program for local camp councilors. Eureka!

Along the trail Steve points out a population of Northern Broad Beech Fern, Phegopteris hexagonoptera. A key characteristic is the last pair of pinnae which are broader and often point downward...

resembling the ears on a dog!

So imagine "Beechly" the fern hound, helping you to sniff out Broad Beech Ferns. Steve gave me the mental imagery and I added the red marker for you!

Brian Gara, another keen fern enthusiast, came with the Mohican Native Plant Society on this trip. Brian has also grown many of these native ferns, so he has some expertise on several levels.

Glade Fern, Diplazium pycnocarpon, a lush fern with long graceful pinnae, is an indicator of an undisturbed habitat-infrequently found- compared to the similar-looking ....

Christmas Fern, Polystichum acrostichoides.

The most common evergreen fern is easily adaptable to home gardening.

Christmas Fern and Glade Fern side-by-side comparison
Note the Christmas fern has the extra tab of tissue on the pinna, while the Glade fern pinna is symmetrical. A subtle, but very easy clue to tell these two apart.

I hope this has whetted your appetite for ferns, and maybe even fern gardening. If you are interested in learning more about ferns, consider this your personal invitation from me- to join Greater Mohican Audubon Society at Steve McKee's upcoming workshop Sept. 11, 2011: "Best Fronds Forever." Details on the GMAS website!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Parting Shot

Do you remember the old standby in Life magazine? My favorite feature was called "Parting Shots." Some of Life's best photography was featured as a stand alone article, the basic premise that a picture can speak a thousand words.

Daughmer Savanna .............photo by Ian Adams (click on photo to enlarge)

A parting shot from Daughmer was sent to me by Ian Adams and I just had to share it with you. This is what a "real photographer" can do with a topic.

Ian's photo breathes life into the stately Bur Oak, Quercus macrocarpa spreading above the open grassland at the prairie savanna in Crawford County. Light gently plays across the grasses, which have been here since they were maintained with fire by Ohio's First Nation, the native Americans.

Thankfully, this will not be the last shot of this historic property which "freezes" the landscape in a past time. A time before the plow, when bison and bear still knew the lands of Ohio.

Thank you, Ian for this beautiful photo- a work of art. Special thanks also, to all the local people and the folks with Ohio Department of Natural Resources who labored to preserve this prairie for future Ohioans. Job well done.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Gems from Daughmer Prairie

While concentrating on eradicating some non-natives from the prairie, we had to admire the biodiversity surrounding us. There were many indicators species of prairies, namely the four major grasses for Ohio prairies: Big Bluestem, Switch grass, Indian grass, and Prairie Cordgrass.

There were a host of native forbs and insects to admire as well.

Common Buckeye butterfly on Virginia Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum virginianum

Everywhere we walked in Daughmer a deep scent of mint permeated the prairie. Since sheep were grazed at Daughmer from many years, it is fairly safe to assume sheep don't care to eat mountain mint. Several species of plants we would expect to see growing here are missing. Our conclusion: sheep found them "tasty."

The Common Buckeye butterflies were dancing from plant to plant, taking in the fragrance and nectar.

Just a couple of weeks ago, this Buckeye caterpillar was photographed at the same location.

Winged Loosestrife, Lythrum alatum
Not all Loosestrife is bad! This petite member of the Loosestrife family is a native plant, well mannered and easily overlooked. Unlike its brassy cousin the invasive species, Winged Loosestrife has small, loose sprays of flowers. Apparently, sheep don't eat these either!

Red-legged Grasshopper, Manlanoplus femurrubrum

No, I did not make up this Latin name. But isn't it cool? Femur=leg rubrum= red

Bob Clips and I had a great time speculating on this boldly colored locust, then again, everything is interesting with Bob! He conducts milkweed pollination studies at Killdeer Plains and teaches at OSU Marion. He will be conducting some fun moss and lichen workshops this fall. You will want to watch for more information about those.

Until then, happy weedpicking!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bucket Brigade at Daughmer

Clear blue skies, a stand of majestic oaks, the crush of mint beneath our feet and a Bald Eagle circling overhead in the mid-morning. How could this be called work?

Daughmer Prairie- the newest acquisition of Division of Natural Areas and Preserves. The beauty of the location was the inspiration for a day of grueling work: fighting an alien invader.

Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum (used to be Dipsacus sylvestris)

It looks harmless enough as this Silver Spotted Skipper nectars, but do not be fool by this invader. It is pointy, and prickly business cutting them out before the seed-heads fully develop. Once imported to be used for carding wool, Teasel was entirely too successful and forms dense clumps once they get a foothold.

Fortunately, there have been many good-hearted-but-slightly-crazy folks willing to help of late. Here is Bruce Lindsay and Dick Moseley chest deep in the prairie, doing hand to hand combat.

And what does a "Weedpicker" wear to such a social event? A bucket, of course! This one was filled many times over.

And here, complimenting the 4 foot high teasel, is a patch of chest high poison ivy that I worked in. We'll see how that works out for me!

Thanks to all the fine volunteers who have been working at Daughmer Prairie to help with this important work. All told we have logged many hours, but it is worth the effort to know we are preventing an even larger out-break next year. A special thanks to Guy Denny and Dick Moseley for gathering the troops and making this happen in a timely manner.

I have finally earned my moniker- as a "Weedpicker!"

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ottawa N.W.R. Auto Tour

There are all sorts of drive-thru opportunities in this fast paced world: hamburgers, banking and pharmacies are just a few. My favorite takes a bit longer, but is well worth the trip.

Crane Creek, as seen from the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge auto tour.

In a short hour and a half (or longer if you choose) birders can get their birding "fix" on the go. Zoom, zoom. Common Gallinule, Red-necked Phalarope, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and a host of birds in between can be seen from the comfort of your car. OK, I admit we had to get out and really look for the phalarope, but it was so worth it!

And it is not only birds! A short walk along these dikes provides ample opportunity for excellent botanizing.
Whorled Milkweed, Asclepias verticillata

Looking rather bland and unassuming to the untrained eye, this plant was one of the highlights of my trip. It is not everyday we find this milkweed, in fact- I am not sure I can name one other place I could consistently find it closer than Adams County.

The narrow leaves might not indicate "milkweed" to most people, but a close-up look at the flower tells the tale. Besides, the monarch butterfly caterpillars can use it as a host plant, and you can't fool the monarchs!

Another huge surprise we found on today's tour, a brightly colored plover. Holy Mackeral!!! It is a Rose-breasted Plover!? What rarity can this be? Some folks were getting pretty excited.

But a few of us remembered a recent post on the Ohio Birding network List-serv. These folded nets also reminded us of the important banding work that goes on at Ottawa NWR. I have attached the notice below. It is a pretty good explanation of the rose-breasted plover.

SPECIAL THANKS: To the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge for allowing birders some additional days to tour the refuge. It is wonderful to have the opportunity to learn more about the birds, plants and even the insects that are found in our Lake Erie marshes. Thank you again, from of all Ohio's nature lovers.

PS: Birders, don't forget to buy your "Duck Stamp" which helps support the purchase and maintenance of wetland habitats.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Lights of the St. Lawrence

As one might imagine, we saw plenty of lighthouses and channel lights along the St. Lawrence Seaway. I could have probably amassed another 10 or so if I spent my entire trip on the deck of the boat with my camera. But, here are the highlights from our recent cruise.

The Light/House. A combination of shore light and a house for the keeper and his family. This light is not only picturesque, it still appears functional. Wouldn't it be great to taking a working vacation as the Keeper of this light?

Single light. This light most reminds me of familiar spot in Ohio: the Marblehead lighthouse. This light is structurally similar and likely to be from the same period of time: the early 1800's. It is quite possible the ships that fought at Put-in-Bay quietly piloted past this light on their way to skirmish.

Shipping channel marker. Not technically a lighthouse, but definitely a light. These markers are indispensable for marking the channel the big freighters use as they ply their goods up and down the seaway.

In the last photo, you might note the osprey platform next to the channel light. The osprey like to build nests in these light, and can obscure the marker light. Hence, they are encouraged to use the platforms instead.

However, this family was not about to be evicted and raised two young on the channel marker. Osprey were a common sight along the seaway. I was surprised that Bald Eagles were not. Locals told me there are eagle nests near Rockport, however I did not see an eagle on the entire 4 day trip.

In general, the birding was not what I expected it to be. Along with the osprey, there were the usual mix of gulls and both Caspian and Common Terns. However, I did not see any herons or shorebirds of any kind- even while on port calls. The Double Crested Cormorants are said to be at an all-time high number, and their domination of the islands is putting pressure on the the heron's ability to find suitable nesting sites.

Fort Henry, Kingston Ontario.

The first and the last tower we view upon departure and return to Kingston. This may be more of a watch tower than a light, but certainly is has been used for navigational purposes. This stately structure stands at the base of Fort Henry and near the Canadian Military Academy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Islands of the 1000 Islands

Are there really 1000 islands? There are several conflicting sources -somewhere between 1086 and 1870. It must depend who is counting. Either way it is well over one thousand.
An overview of the islands as seen from the tower on Hill Island.

One of the many islands owned by Parks Canada. Basically it is a boaters campground. Someday I hope to come back to explore some of these island first-hand.

One of the smaller islands- not much more than a large rock covered with cormorants... and cormorant crap. Would you count this as an "island?"

Sparrow Island- Another of the small islands owned by Parks Canada. I wonder if Capt. Jack Sparrow hides out here?

Heart Island is the home of the famous Boldt Castle. It has a fascinating history, of wealth and the all the excesses one man could hope to give to his wife. Go here to read more about this amazing place.

Enough for now- must get back to the shuffleboard courts and kite flying...

Monday, August 15, 2011

1000 Islands by Cruise Ship

The next couple blogs may be more water oriented than botany, but I can only hope you'll forgive. I'll try my best to work some interesting plants and birds into the posts. The scenery is bound to be amazing. After all, what's not to like about ...

1000 Islands! We will be featuring everything from a waterfront view, as my family is aboard a cruise ship in the St.Lawrence Seaway.

The architectural scenery is almost overwhelming. As beautiful as these island are, man has left his calling card in every nook and cranny. We have seen everything from castles to shacks, in every size and description.

I'll do my best to feature some of the history, both natural and man-made.

"Welcome Aboard!" the Canadian Empress. We are about to cruise one of America's largest, most scenic rivers.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Winged Jewel in Rough-cut

It has been an interesting couple of weeks in the caterpillar department. The latest find was this handsome green specimen...a Promethea Moth caterpillar. He was found on a recently denuded spicebush, looks as though he had already eaten his fill.

It is important for these silk moth caterpillars to be well nourished, for once they are transformed to jewel of the night, they will not have any mouth parts. Silk moths' adult life consists of attracting mates and laying eggs. Their short, but beautiful adulthood will last but a week or two.

Several days later I refound the larva wrapped tight in a spicebush leaf, sealed off in a weather proof cocoon. Let's wish him well for winter. The next time it appears it will be in the springtime- as a woodland winged jewel.

Go here if you would like to see adult prometheas

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Keeping Secrets...

Some of the rarest things in nature are the most fascinating. Factor in the challenge to see these rarities and an obsessive desire is born. We want to see them, we need to see them. Or at least we think we do. Sometimes, maybe it should be enough to know they are there.

Three-birds Orchid, Triphora trianthophora
Diminutive orchids with rare blooming cycles, become the Holy Grail for botanist types. Perhaps, it is good to document their bloom cycles, and fix a "mental search image" so other populations may be found.

Swamp Metalmark, Calephelis muticum
The butterfly so rare, it was thought to be extirpated. Did the last of the previously known population meet its demise by over-zealous by butterfly collectors?

How easy it is to love to death the very treasures we should protect.

River Jewelwing, Calopteryx aequabilis photo by Dennis Paulson

In Ohio dragonflies, it is the delicate River Jewelwing which inspires men to madness and women to mourning. Oh, to see this creature dive beneath the water to lay her eggs, to enable next generation's success. Only two known sites in Ohio; this is the damsel we long to see. But we should put the good of the species, above our need for voyeurism? I have settled for seeing this species in Michigan, where they are not endangered.

Keeping secrets? Maybe we should- if it protects the very plant, insect or bird that we treasure most. Is it keeping secrets, or being responsible? Eco-tourism is great, as long as the "traffic" doesn't endanger the very species we want to save.

Maybe I'll even re-think my desire to see polar bears, after all- do they really need to see me?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Ohio State Fair

One thousand seed packets and pencils given away, and it was a distinct pleasure to spend a day in the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves' booth at the Ohio State Fair.

DNAP- they are the ones who conserve some of the rarest plants and animals (including butterflies) in Ohio. Funding has been a major issue this year, and the Division was all but dissolved. Since there is no revenue stream - like hunting licenses or camping site fees- your donations are essential to the protection of these fabulous site. Many are the places consistently featured on this blog: Fowler Woods, Irwin Prairie, Sears Wood, Springville Marsh (to name a few.) So remember to CHECK OFF a donation on your state income tax, or purchase one of those cool purple coneflower and monarch license plates. Those funds go directly to DNAP.

The Natural Resources Park at the state fair has something for everyone! Fishing, kayaking, avian displays, camping info, a mini prairie, and of course my other favorite spot...

The Butterfly House! Packed full of native plants and a variety of butterflies for your viewing pleasure.

People were more than willing to endure the heat to get a gander at flutter-bys up close and personal. Don't forget your camera!

Be sure to put the Ohio State Fair on your list of things to do, and visit the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves for a nifty poster or package of prairie seeds. Support DNAP- and help protect and conserve some of Ohio's greatest natural resources!