Monday, July 29, 2013

The Good News of Midwest Native Plant Conference

This past weekend a large gathering of native plant enthusiasts gathered for a spirit-filled event at the Bergamo Marianist Retreat Center in Dayton, Ohio.  This was the fifth annual Midwest Native Plant Conference, where people gather for workshops, speakers, guided walks and a huge native plant sale.  It is about as much fun as a gardener in Ohio could ever want!
The Good News- native plants feed God's little critters.
Native plants are easier to to grow, well adapted to our soils and temperatures, and historically correct for Ohio.  But even more important, native plants feed native insects, the basic link of the food chain. If you like wildlife --from fuzzy little bunnies to black bears-- you know they have to eat!

Cheryl Harner hosts a show-and-tell with caterpillars.
One ginormous display, loads of feeding caterpillars, and
 native plants that host butterflies are all part of the program.
 It is not all preaching to the choir. I love speaking at these events, to help assure people that we are not fanatics.  You can keep your hosta and day lilies, and still provide companion native plants for habitat.  One topic of grave concern is our use and misuse of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides.  What is the point of planting native plants if we kill all the insects (think butterflies and other pollinators)  that visit them?

A gentle rain didn't' stop the bird watchers.
 Educational walks are a big part of the weekend.  Jim McCormac led a morning bird walk and an evening insect song walk with Lisa Rainsong.  People love to learn more about nature in the beautiful surroundings at this retreat center.  A gentle rain couldn't stop this crowd.
Besides, we had plenty of umbrellas to share.

The gospel according to Doug Tallamy, could be a valuable tool for preserving species.
 The numerous speakers are excellent. David Brandenburg rocked the Graminoids, while John Howard took us on a photographic "Meander through Nature."  Jim McCormac taught photography and a class on the rare plants found at Cedar Bog.  These men are my mentors, some of the smartest fellers in Ohio, and just a few of the knowledgeable people who presented.

Our keynote speaker represents the University of Delaware. Doug Tallamy broke new ground in the native plant field with his book, Bringing Nature Home.  If you haven't read it, you will want to do so, right away! Tallamy has documented all that we "naturalist types" suspected; our native insects must have native plants, and the balance of our natural world is being upset by non-native plants.

The take home message from Tallamy's program was this: Biological corridors must do more than facilitate movement; they must support life!  Birds may eat multi-flora rose hips and honeysuckle berries, but they cannot raise their young on berries.  Birds must have insect larva to meet the protein requirements of their young.

Native plants are not just good-looking and hearty, they are vital to the existence of our wildlife!

Thanks to everyone who attended the conference and supports the native plant movement.  And a very special thanks to the organizers, speakers, leaders and volunteers.  It simply could not happen without you.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Seney Michigan Monarchs

There is plenty of marsh, as well as dry land habitat at Seney National Wildlife Refuge in Michigan's UP.  I was particularly pleased to note the blooming Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca along the embankment. 

Common Milkweed in bloom attracts many insects.

This is the host plant of the Monarch butterfly.  The large pink-to-lavender flowers attract many pollinators and butterflies as a source for nectar, but the milky toxins in the plant stems protect the plant from most "grazers.'  

The Monarch caterpillar is one of the very few species of lepidoptera that can withstand milkweed's toxic load.  In fact, Monarchs are able to retain the chemical compound into their adult (butterfly) stage, rendering them unpalatable to birds and other predators. 

An adult male Monarch photographed at Seney NWR in July 2013.
The Monarch butterfly is indeed king of the butterfly world.  An individual monarch may migrate 1,500 up to 2,000 miles in its short life.  It is but one part of the migratory stream of butterflies which migrate north- as far as Canada, only to return to turn and fly back to Mexico to spend the winter.  It takes five full generations to make the round-trip.

The Monarch population has suffered devastating losses the last several winters.  Between horrific weather conditions and illegal logging operations, their wintering grounds in Mexico have provided little sanctuary. In fact, monarch migration is now officially listed as a threatened phenomenon by the IUCN. 

 Most butterfly enthusiasts  have barely noted a movement of monarchs in Ohio this year.  Fortunately, I saw at least 6 or 7 Monarchs at Seney and have great hopes they will provide offspring for the fall journey south.

Consider planting some milkweed now to help them on their return trip.  Join us at the Mid-West Native Plant Conference in Dayton this weekend, and you find loads of native plant vendors with the Milkweeds you want to grow.  I'll hope to meet you at my presentation on Lawns and Lawn Alternatives. 

You can make you back-yard more exciting than a alien-grass lawn; make it a wildlife habitat!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Old Loony at Seney

Here is one more post from vacation, and before you think I am dissing my elderly father, the star of this blog is in fact, an old loon.  "ABJ" is a well documented celebrity at Seney National Wildlife Refuge in Seney (Upper Peninsula) Michigan.
Seney Wildlife Refuge is home to the oldest  (known) living loon.
Meet ABJ, aka for "Adult Banded as a Juvenile."  While I was gathering information about the driving tour offered at Seney, a nature center guide told me of a Common Loon family that is routinely seen on the tour.

ABJ, as they call the patriarch of this loon family unit, was banded when he was a juvenile- in 1987.  This loon is an impressive 26 years old!  This is just one good reason bird banders tag birds in this manner, to provide life-history information about our wild birds.

If you are interested in wildlife, especially birds or water-fowl, Seney NWR is a must see.  It also has a stunning array of dragonflies, butterflies, and yes, black-fly and mosquitoes this time of year.  So drive through in your car with the windows rolled up!  It was still an enjoyable place to spend an afternoon watching wildlife.

 Here is the loon family unit we were hoping to see.  Common Loons breed on large lakes in Canada and the most northern regions of the U.S.   The haunting, tremulous call of the male is a signature sound for the Great North.  Male and  female loon look pretty much alike, but the fuzzy looking juveniles are a real stand-out.

 Juvenile loons often hitch a ride on their parent's back. However, these "teenagers" are too big for all that. They paddle about freely as the adult loons dove for food nearby.

 Loons are awkward, at best, out of water.  These strong swimmers  and deep divers are meant for the water. The brown, fuzzy looking youngsters will soon be changing to a more flight-worthy plumage.  In a few short months they will be hop-scotching from lake to lake, making their way south in migration.

Good luck little guys! Hope to see you at Mansfield's Clear Fork Reservoir!

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Superior Shore

Having recently returned from a Superior beach vacation, I'd like to share some of the beautiful  sights found in Northern Michigan. Put the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on the top of your must-see list for any trip to the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan.

"Twelve Mile Beach" on Michigan's northern most shore.
Miles and miles of pristine beach are available, where waves lap the shore on a calm day.  Lake Superior is the deepest of the Great Lakes.  It is a "drink of water" almost beyond my ability to perceive, having lived on the shallowest of our Great Lakes (Lake Erie).  Erie is but a tablespoon to this great bucket of water.     

If one could pull the plug on Superior and spread it out across America, it would create a pool of water -four feet deep- from Wisconson to Texas stretching to both borders.  Now THIS is a natural resource, the second largest lake in the world..

Shelly investigates the wide assortment of beach pebbles.
 Brr, it is deep and cold!  You'll not find any swimmers here.  Beach bathing is also deterred by the swarms of insects, although we had no problem with them during our visit.

The rocks are comprised of many different types of  minerals.  Basalt is a hard volcanic rock, often containing pits. Agates were formed in the volcanic rock and have multicolored bands created by silica. Granite is represented in the white, pink and gray rocks which first traveled to Michigan within a glacier. Green stones are formed of epidote, and the bright iron-red rock is jasper.  Last, but not least are the many-colored  pebbles of quartz.

Picturesque high bluffs are layered with minerals and geological formations. 
Thankfully, this is all protected as a National Lakeshore.  It is free and open to the public every day of the year. Remember that when you pay your taxes and you will immediately feel great about being an American!

Map of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Click on the map above to enlarge it, and follow our trail from the left: Munising to Miner's Castle, to Twelve mile beach and on to Au Sable and  Grand Marais.

Left to right, at Miner's Castle, Michelle Goodman, Cheryl Harner, and John Boyd
We had a tremendous opportunity to visit one of the most beautiful Lakeshore in the U.S., and better yet, it was an opportunity to share some wonderful memories with my oldest daughter and my father.

No matter what the beer ads might try to tell you, it doesn't get any better than this.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Wayfaring Pelican

If you enjoyed the last post from the Cleveland Lakefront, I hope you will enjoy this as well.

 There is a bit of a birding celebrity hanging out at Wendy Park at Whiskey Island, and no, I don't mean Greg Miller.

Enjoying the Tall Ship Festival- he was a gate-crasher.
 A Brown Pelican, a most seaworthy bird, has become the newest avian rarity to land in Ohio.  You know it is a "good bird" when Jim McCormac chases it!  The excitement has been hard to contain, even for those of us who have seen Plenty O'Pelican (sounds like an upcoming James Bond movie co-star.)

His resounding  "yawp."
 We all know that a pelican's beak can hold more than his belly can.  But we do worry if the fish this fellow is getting will be adequate for a sea-born bird.

We are used to the occasional White Pelicans in Ohio, and even expect them annually. However, a Brown Pelican is a very different thing.  This bird was the happy find of Jen Brumfield, uber-birder and Cleveland mega-lister. We know not what strange winds brought him (or her) to our shores, nor how long it will stay.  But we do know this is a rarity of the first order for Ohio.

So, if you keep an Ohio list, make haste for the city and see this bird. And while you are at it, put in a few good words to your higher power that this young bird makes it back where it belongs, to tell tales of tall ships and sky scrapers on Ohio's North Coast.

 Special "Thanks" goes out to Cleveland's top-notch bird (and plane) photographer Chuck Slusarczyk, Jr for allowing me to share all of these wonderful photos!  It is a major feat to photograph a bird at these distances, and we appreciate Chuck's ability to help us see this wonderful bird that has captured Cleveland's heart.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Land, Ho!

This post is a bit of a break between the normal birds and butterflies.  Even nature-nuts need a bit of a vacation from time to time, and I bet you will never guess where I spent mine.

 Land, ho!  There she be matey! The mast and rigging is pointing the way to a wee bit of a light house, on the North Shore of  Cleveland, Ohio!

The tall ships were in town, right right between the Cleveland Brown's Stadium and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  That is Terminal Tower smack-dab in the middle of the photo.

You can see some strange folks on the street in the big city, but these characters would standout in most neighborhoods.  I think they were trying to bribe little children into being long-haul deck monkeys... or maybe they were just allowing kids to have their photos taken with a Capt. Jack Sparrow look-a-like.

Ah, the Pathfinder was a wee jolly ship and certainly manned by "our kind" of crew...

made obvious by the kale and salad greens growing outside the Captain's quarters!  I suppose one would miss butterflies while out at sea, but there is no reason to do without fresh greens.  Bird watching could also be quite good from a ship's deck..

Hope you had a happy holiday weekend, and enjoyed yourselves as much as those of us who attended the Tall Ships Festival in Cleveland over the Fourth of July.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Caterpillar Ranch

Things are moving right along, here at the caterpillar ranch.  Mostly is it all fun and games, but like any other ranch, there are chores to be done.

Cecropia caterpillars, 1st instar ( black) and recently shedded 2nd instar caterpillars.
 The "cats" are growing now, and since their skin does not stretch to accommodate their increasing girth, it is time to shed.  The little black ball on the right side of the photo is actually the outer coat of a first stage insect, or instar.  They shed in a way similar to a snake shedding its skin. The black cats are first instars.  The brightly colored cats with red bobbles are second or third instar cats.  Things are starting to get interesting!

Moving into larger quarters.
 It is time to move the brood to larger quarters.  I have a lovely Victorian case that lends itself to this task.  One might think this case is suited to fine collectibles, flowers or plants, but it suits my caterpillars just fine. It is a roomy high-rise for the critters.

I am not a big one for tightly contained wild animals- whether they be tigers, or tiger swallowtails.  If you don't have room, time or energy to properly and humanely raise and feed caterpillars, then- please DON'T.

Mostly I do this for educational purposes. It is a time, space and endurance commitment and it is not for everyone.

Feeding caterpillers create "frass,"  and lots of it.
This is one day of waste from a few tiny creatures.  Wait till you see how much waste material can be created by nearly mature, full sized silk-moth caterpillars!

The "barn" needs shoveling out, so I call in my ranch hands.  The neighbor kids are bright and interested in learning more about raising lepidoptera.  I "Tom Sawyer" them into cleaning my caterpillar's palace.

If I do any traveling this moth, I will need a highly qualified back-up crew to feed this lot of hungry, hungry caterpillars.  I want to make certain they are trained and ready.

Step 1: Wash all foodstuffs.

A CRITICAL component of raising caterpillars is the appropriate food.  We are feeding wild cherry and offering a few other options as well. I offered some apple leaves, but I noticed the caterpillar on the apple leaves died.  I fear that tree is too close to the farm field at my yard's edge.  I suspect pesticide drift is the culprit, and now we will stick to leaves from trees deep within my woods.

No matter, all plant material MUST be washed thoroughly. We don't want spiders are other predators coming in with our greens.

Rule of thumb: If you aren't finding things, you aren't washing enough.

A looper of some sort was hiding in the vegetation gathered for feeding.
I found this interesting caterpillar while washing boughs. There is no real fear it will harm my Cecropias, so it will be allowed to remain in the crystal caterpillar palace as well.

Water plants, but add a paper towel dam.
 Keep the plant material fresh by placing it in water, otherwise the leaves will dehydrate and not be too palatable for our cats.  Unfortunately, caterpillars are not too bright.  Do not leave the water exposed, or cats will crawl in head-first and drown.  I learned this one the hard way!

The whole point of raising caterpillars should be: to increase their odds for survival.  So if you are thinking about raising lepidoptera, please be attentive to their needs. Otherwise, just leave them outside and let nature take care of them.  The best rule is "first do no harm."

My lovely ranch-hand has cleaned the glass house, restocked the feeding material, and placed the old leaves holding caterpillars into the fresh material.  We do not handle caterpillars with our hands, as we could be carrying harmful bacteria or fungus.  The less we mess with them the better.  Our ranch strives to raise organically feed, healthy, happy moths and butterflies.  This is not a business, and no amount of money would make this much work worth the pay.  The early instars are the easy part.  Wait 'til you see the frass-for-all that lies ahead!

Warning:  Raising a whole mess of caterpillars is a lot like getting a puppy.  It always seems like a good idea, until you get about halfway into the process.  That's when you'll understand why I love having ranch hands!