Sunday, April 21, 2013


 Most of this weekend I spent in Lancaster, Ohio with some mighty fine people in some mighty fine places- true hob-knobbing.  Lancaster is surrounded by  interesting land formations, not the least of which are found off  Becks- Knob Rd.

This is Ruble Knob, within Shallenberger State Nature Preserve.  These sandstone formations were shaped by water  about 300 million years ago.  You can follow the link above to read the geological history, or find a great guide to go along to tell you the story.

Jim Davidson, guide extraodinaire.
 Jim Davidson happens to be one of my favorite guides in the world.  He is a master on butterflies, dragonflies and botany!  He knows most of Ohio's State Nature Preserves like the back of his hand.  The good news, you can go in the field with him, too!  Just high-tail it over to Mothapaloosa or the Mid-West Native Plant Conference and sign up for his trip.  Just click on their logos in the side bar of this blog.

 The second stop this weekend was the annual Trillium Fest.  It is held a few miles down the road from Lancaster, and offers one of the most spectacular hikes in all of the Hocking Hills.  It is a part of the Appalachian Ohio Alliance  (A.O.A.) Land Trust.  They do some very good work, and I hope you will help support them.

Weedpicker in ski-gear in April?
Inside the main gate was a glorious stand of Marsh Marigolds, Caltha palustrus,  an early flower of the wetlands. They are in full bloom in spite of the 30 something degree weather.  Yes, I am wearing my snow suit.   The truth is, I am inordinately fond of being warm, and find no shame in wearing my ski-gear at any given time.  Tease all you like, this girl hates to be cold.

Large-Flowered Trilluim, Trillium grandiflorum

The star of this spring flower show is always the Trillium.  The Large-Flowered Trillium is our Ohio State flower and one of our most recognizable spring ephemerals.

Red Trillium, Trillium erectum

But much rarer, and even more stunning is the Red Trillium. The name Red Trillium may not always seem accurate, as it can also be pink, or creamy white.  Some call them Stinking Benjamin, as they have a rather unpleasant odor.  It may be unpleasant to the nose, but what a sight for the eyes!

Red Trillium abound within this protected site.
The walls of this naturally occurring box canyon are festooned in red.  The beauty of this portion of the Hocking Hills can hold its own against any location in Ohio, or well beyond.

The sandstone formations are dotted in a floral Elysian and deserving of permanent protection.  It is wonderful work for the ages, the people of A.O.A. are set about accomplishing. You'll find some of Ohio's best naturalists involved with this organization.  No one speaks to their mission more clearly than our friend, Paul Knoop. 
When we consider what it took to create this landscape, we must also consider what we can do to insure that future generations will also be able to marvel at its beauty.

                                                                                 Paul Knoop
It is no wonder good people like Jim Davidson and Paul Knoop continue to work towards the protection and preservation of Ohio's most beautiful and unique lands.  Join the A.O.A and see how you can visit this property too.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Biggest Week got longer!

Spring is in the air, and it won't be long until America's Biggest Week in Birding takes place in Northwest Ohio.  And believe it or not, it just got BIGGER!

Yellow-throated Warbler, photo by John Howard
 In order to spread the bird lovin' around, The Biggest Week sends road trips out to place like Oak Openings near Toledo, Catawba Island and Marblehead.  Folks love to look at those neotropical migrants, the wood warblers!  But to see all of them in Ohio, you'll need to head south of Magee Marsh... about 230 miles, or 4.5 hours south to be exact!

Some of our warblers- those southern Ohio specialty birds- show up at Flora-Quest, an event I organize in Shawnee State Park and Adams County.

Biggest Week hits the road to Adams County, with Greg Miller
Last year my friend Greg Miller was already doing the Flora-Quest's Birding trip in Adams and Scioto Counties, and we decided to offer a "Greg Miller Road Trip" to The Biggest Week!

Roadside birding and bird photography "Shawnee style."
Don't try this in Oak Harbor!
He finds great birds everywhere!

Prairie Warble, photo by John Howard
 Prairie Warblers, Yellow-breasted Chats, and Scarlet Tanagers have the run of this place. If things go well, we may even turn up a Blue Grosbeak or Henslow's Sparrow.

Greg Miller blessing the birds.
 May the birds be with you, and may you join us next year in Adams and Scioto County. This year the trip is already full, but we have so much fun, I can't believe we won't offer it again in 2014.

Roadside birding and botanizing is the norm in Shawnee.

Shawnee State Park is as far south in Ohio as you can go without falling in the Ohio River. This massive forest is an island of quiet and beauty in an otherwise agricultural and industrial state.  The roads wind through hillsides dotted with rare flowers and divided by sparkling streams.

Blue-headed Vireo builds her nest.  
 Listen for the Blue-headed Vireo. 

Henry's Elfin

Yellow Lady's-Slipper, Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens
Watch for the impossibly small Henry'sElfin Butterfly.  They will be near the Redbud trees.

And if you are a really lucky-birder, you might stumble upon a Yellow Lady's-Slipper, one of our most beautiful orchids.  They grow throughout Shawnee.

So if you are itching for some fabulous birding, remember- The Biggest Week just got bigger.

We can't wait to see our Biggest Week / Flora-Quest friends in Shawnee!

Greg Miller and I will be waiting for you there.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Butterfly season begins.

Warning! Viewing these photos could make you earnestly long for spring and strike out for early season butterflying.  Sane people do not look for butterflies in winter coat weather.  Now that we have established a definition of sane, we know that my friends and I fall through that crack.

Henry's Elfin, Callophrys henrici
 So who is Henry, and why does he rate a butterfly? That I do not know.

We do know it is one of our earliest butterflies, it is no bigger than a dime, and tends to be southern in Ohio.  It is common, locally.  Which means you can see numerous Henry's, if you find one.  You should look for them where you find naturally occurring stands of Eastern Redbud.

The bud on Eastern Redbud
 Henry's lay their eggs on the buds of Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis.  The adults emerge in time to mate and lay eggs on the flower buds. Butterflies emergence is not timed with the calendar as much as it is timed with phenology, or the blooming of plants.  The Redbuds are late to bloom this year, and you can bet the Henry's are perfectly timed with them.  That is how nature works.

Male Falcate Orange-tip, Anthocharis midea
 Falcate Orange-tip is of the butterfly Family Pieridae (the whites and yellows.)

This early spring emergent is a feast for the eyes, at least the boldly marked males are.

Female Falcate Organe-tip
 The females could be easily overlooked.  They are smaller versions of a Common Cabbage White, with an odd mottled coloring to their hindwings.

Mated Falcate Orange-tips, Male left, female right
Both male and female have the mottled underwing, but you will rarely see it.  In fact, this is the only time I have photographed the underwing.  It is difficult, if not down right impossible to get decent photographs of this hyper-active species.  The cold weather worked in our favor; these poor butterflies were moving in slow motion due to the chilly temps.

It is a rarity to find butterfly seekers in cold weather gear, but here we are: the Ohio Lepidopterists' sub-group called B.O.G. (Butterfly Observers Group.)  We watch, photograph, document and celebrate butterflies.

But we never, never pin.   Wishing you a great day in the field, even when you have to wear a jacket!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Spotting Salamanders!

Salamander season has been a bit "spotty" this year.  First it was too cold.  Then it was too dry.  Many of the salamander fans in Ohio were starting to think we would miss out.
Spotted Salamander
 Salamanders have unique life cycles. The adults emerge from the ground on rainy spring nights and head to vernal pools.  These water-holes of the woods are filled with mating frogs and salamanders of all kind.  And the eggs masses left behind- writhing with mini salamanders- are proof of the adult salamander's night time activities.

John Howard- a naturalist outstanding in his field, er, vernal pool.
 Following soon after the salamanders, are the salamander fans:  like John Howard.

 John knows how to impress the women, he shows them salamanders!

 John was kind enough to take six of us out to visit some of his favorite vernal pools yesterday.  The results were excellent.  The other five women in the group got their "life" Spotted Salamanders and  Marbled Salamander larva.

 Debi is admiring the Marbled Salamander larva.  Marbled Salamanders lay their eggs in the vernal pools in the fall, so their young are already developed.  They aggressively feed upon the other salamander's and frog's eggs.  Nature is a tough Mother: it is a salamander-eat-salamander world!

 John even created this hand held viewing cell, two sheets of Plexiglas with a narrow space between, which allows folks a closer look.  Patent pending.

The Marbled Salamander larva swimming between sheets of glass.  Sorry for the bad photo-too much movement-  but you get the idea.

 The salamander paparazzi were having a field day.  Congratulations, Mary Ann and Kathy - you are now in the Salamander Club.
Salamanders make people smile.  Jan gets her first close up view of a Spotted.

And why should we care if people see salamanders?  Because now these ladies want to help us protect salamanders and their natural habitats.  Once people have a close encounter with the inhabitants of vernal pools, they want to spread the good word. We can't protect these marvelous woodland wonders, unless people know about them.

These creatures have evolved little from their beginnings, their design so perfect- they need not evolve.  

Humans should admire their ability to continue as their God intended- perfectly, wondrous creatures.

We live in a better,  richer for their existence.  

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Jeepers! Creepers!

Last evening, a side trip to Cleveland, Ohio placed me on the lake side walk in Lakewood Park.  The temperature was an incredible 70 degrees.  Folks were out walking their dogs, playing soccer, and doing the things city people do in parks.  
Well camouflaged, Brown Creepers hug the bark of trees in search for insects.
My daughter and I were watching birds.  
Not just any bird, but Brown Creepers.  J.J. is not a birder, but she noticed the movement on a nearby tree, and then she laughed uncontrollably. "That bird just fell down!"

Ah, that would be a Brown Creeper.

Bird that mimics a falling leaf.
Creepers have a feeding style that sets them apart from others.  They creep up a tree, searching every nook and cranny for yummy insect morsels- eggs, or legged- it is all good.

And when they've reached the top of the tree, they flutter like a falling leaf, back to the ground.  The mimicry is quite stunning.  This bird searches for insects, crawling then falling, from tree to tree.

Lakewood shoreline boasts a view of Cleveland. 

Brown Creepers, Certhia americana are a great bird, and we love to find even one on a Christmas bird count.  They usually inhabit wet woods.  Although Lakewood Park has some trees, it hardly boast a woods where I would expect to find creepers. 

 But find Creepers, I did!  Five in all! 

This creeper was creatively using the breakwall.
These birds are in migration, headed home to Canada.  It is not unusual for numbers of them to "stack up" along the Lakeshore in the springtime.  They are waiting for a favorable wind for crossing the lake to their breeding grounds.

It was quite a pleasure to watch these birds ply their trade. Far better than the other two-legged  "creepers" one occasionally finds in our city parks!

Pulling a spider's web out of a crevasse.
Home wrecker!  This guy has developed a feeding pattern for the break-wall,

 it systematically searched for spider eggs hidden in the flawed concrete.

Jeepers Creepers!  This moment in nature is brought to you by the city of Lakewood. It was the best part of my day.

  • Kenn Kaufman and Greg Miller will keep you posted on the bird comings and goings in Ohio!

Two great sources for Ohio bird migration information are:
Birding Crane Creek
Greg Miller Birding

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

America's Best Idea

Several years ago, America was smitten by film maker Ken Burns', "The National Parks: America's Best Idea."  It inspired my new-found pride in country, and a desire to see the refugia of our nation's most beautiful and historic places.

President Lincoln was the first to set national land aside with a protective grant. It later become a National Park, called Yosemite.  It was named a park in 1889 in order to offer the lands more protection, in part due to the influence of conservationists, such as John Muir. Prior to being named a park, the efforts to protect the land grant from unlawful sheep grazing and wildlife poaching consisted of regular Army troops sent to monitor the situation. Those troops were Buffalo Soldiers, black units led by a young West Point graduate, Charles Young.

On April 2, 2013 the newest, the 401st National Park was announced in Wilberforce, Ohio. It was the home of Charles Young.

Col. Charles Young

Col. Charles Young was loved and admired as a citizen and a soldier. He was an exemplary leader. His life history is an inspiring story of perseverance in the face of incredible odds.

 This will be the last new park announced by Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Dept. of the Interior, as he is about to retire. He spoke encouraging words of embracing all of America's cultures. Our parks and monuments should reflect all of our peoples and histories. This is a step forward in telling those stories and protecting them for posterity.

Congratulations and thank you to the many people who made this possible, our friends at Trust for Public Lands and the citizens and organizations in Wilberforce who protected this historic property and made it available. This house will enshrine the history of the Buffalo Soldiers who served -separate and unequal- for a country founded on equality. The time has come to honor all who served our great nation.  Part of that greatness is our willingness to now- lift up those who were held down in the past.

National Parks are also good for the economy.  Not only do they preserve our most precious natural landscapes and historical monuments, they stimulate tourism. In fact, the Nation Park Service has documented for every $1 invested, there is $4 returned to the economy.

Now that sounds like the Best Idea yet.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Google Doodle...

Behold, nature enhances our lives in many ways.

April 2, 2013 Google Doodle

If you do not yet know the term "Google Doodle," I urge to to go forth and seek the Google page.  The art  or "Doodle" is frequently changed, and offers an interesting reflection of life, art and a potpourri of culture.

Today's Google Doodle caught me off guard.  It is a beautiful rendering by Maria Sibylla Merian.

Just as I seek nature in life, Google connected me with one who sought nature long ago.  Before "women" did that.  Shoot, almost before anyone else was interested in insects! 

Thank you Google for enriching my life.  Click on the links for more on Google's latest doodle  and this significant influence in the development of entomology. 

Read this article at:

Google's latest doodlecelebrates the 366th birthday of naturalist and scientific illustrator Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) on Tuesday. Maria Sibylla Merian is regarded to have a significant influence in the development of entomology.

Google, by posting a doodle on its homepage, has paid homage to the German naturalist, who was one of the greatest artist-naturalists of her time. The doodle features caterpillars, chrysalises, moths, butterflies and a green iguana in conjunction with the specific plants upon which they feed.

Born into a family of artists and scholarly printers on April 2, 1647 in Germany, Maria dedicated her life to the study and depiction of the metamorphosis of insects. She was exposed to natural history publications at a young age. 

After her father's death, her mother married the still-life painter Jacob Marrel, who trained her as a flower painter. At the age of 13, Merian painted the transformation of silkworms into moths. Perhaps this was the beginning of her passion and her first hand observation of insect metamorphosis which later paved the way for her groundbreaking discoveries.

Maria's detailed observations and documentation of the metamorphosis of the butterfly laid the foundation for modern entomology. During her time in South America, Maria travelled around the Dutch colony, sketching local animals and plants.

Her lavishly illustrated book, the Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (The Metamorphoses of the Insects of Suriname) depicted the life cycles of insects she had studied. 

The book was published in 1705, 10 years before she suffered a stroke and was partially paralysed. Maria died two years later. Her daughter published a collection of her work.