Monday, August 26, 2013

Fall flowers for butterflies

The insects' song tell me fall is on its way.  Cicadas, katy-dids and snowy tree crickets dominate the chorus around here.  My yard is filled with insect calls, because my yard is also filled with native plants.  Insects thrive on native plants and in pesticide free lawns and gardens.  One might imagine a "locust plague" here at Harnerville, but nothing could be further from the truth. 

There is a balance. A balance of colors, shapes, and foliage forms.  A balance of scents, a hum of pollinators and the fluttering of wings.  Butterflies, moths, bees, even beetles have a place here.  And the bird population keeps them in check.  

Our common yard birds include House Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Catbird, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Eastern Phoebe.  Right now, the goldfinches are in their glory.  My Tall Ironweed is about to go to seed; it is the perfect finch food and will save me a bundle by replacing the store-bought thistle-seed.  

Here is a close-up of the Tall Ironweed, Vernonia gigantea which towers above the other plants in my yard.  I've always had a thing for "tall, dark and handsome."  Take a closer look at the florets and you will recognize this as a member of the aster family.

Clearwing Snowberry Moth (a bumblebee mimic) is a day-flying moth.
Any member of the Phlox family is also welcome in my yard!  This is the non-native garden phlox, which thrives and attracts all my favorite insects. Phlox is a great nectar plant and I have added several varieties of smaller natives varieties as well.

If you would like to hear about some of the plants which attract the bees, butterflies and moths that live in my yard, Wild Ohio has produced a video for you.

Here is your Blogger, Cheryl Harner, with my spiel on fall flowers.

Special thanks to Ohio Division of Wildlife's Tim Daniels and Nina Harfman for producing this program about fall flowers.  They do wonderful work, and let me blather away about some of my favorite fall plants. I hope you will consider adding these favorites to your yard as well.

PLEASE PLANT MILKWEED!!!   The Monarchs are counting on you!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Battle of Lake Erie

Two hundred years ago cannons fired across Lake Erie.  The war began in 1812, but the deciding battle was fought just off the shores of Put-in Bay in the summer of 1813. Today, towering over South Bass Island, stands a highly visible landmark: a monument to Oliver Hazard Perry and the sailors who fought bravely for this new country.  

Commander Perry as he is transported to the ship Niagra.
 Battle of Lake Erie by William Henry Powell, painted 1865 / Wikipedia
Once again, the tall ships are coming to Lake Erie. There will be a reenactment of the battle over Labor Day weekend 2013 and tourists will flock to Lake Erie to join the festivities. But are these modern day sailors aware of the new "Battle for Lake Erie"?
This is my photo from 2011 is from a Weedpicker blog on the water quality of Lake Erie. If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention.   We have alien invaders and toxic algae threatening the health of Ohio's greatest lake.

If you ready to learn more about this amazing ecosystem, Cleveland Museum of Natural History has just the offering for you! Ohio's most important natural resource is fresh, potable water; it is the resource we should be fervently protecting.
The Cleveland Museum of Natural History will host its annual Conservation Symposium on Friday, September 6, 2013. This year's theme is The Battle of Lake Erie--focusing on current threats to, as well as the status of, our Great Lake Erie ecosystem. Our keynote speakers are...Peter Annin, professor at University of Notre Dame and author of The Great Lakes Water Wars, will update us on the status of the "water wars." And Dr. Eddie Herdendorf, retired director of Stone Lab (OSU), will give us an historic overview of how Lake Erie was formed and functions. 
For a schedule of all speakers and to register, please click on the link below:
Sign up TODAY;  I look forward to seeing you there!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Doing good pays off, big.

Meadowbrook Marsh in Marblehead, Ohio was the Carbon Offset Bird Project for the 2011 Midwest Birding Symposium.  Birders from all across the country joined the Ohio Ornithological Society's efforts to purchase this land, which kicked off a very good thing. 

The wetland at Meadowbrook Marsh was not protected prior to MBS 2011.
Thanks to your support, we engaged  Rob Krain of  Black Swamp Land Conservancy in the effort. BSLC worked long and hard to complete the deal for this property and to put a conservation easement in place.

Now the watery viewscape of Meadowbrook Park, a significant birding area, is protected from future development.  This will always be a place for nature.

Q: What could be better than saving a wetland for protecting birds?  
A:  Protecting an area that "works" for us by storing carbon.

Recently, a study cited in the Smithsonian says wetlands are extremely efficient for storing carbon.

The prairie/meadow in the park also provides excellent habitat for insects and small passerines.  The woods which lines the park provides food and safety for all manner of wildlife.  Handicap accessible trails make outings easy-going, even for those in a wheelchair.  This biologically diverse property is good for birds and good for people at the same time!

A sight -for-sore-eyes, a singular Monarch butterfly
 A few days ago I photographed a male Monarch butterfly nectaring on Swamp Milkweed in the meadow.  The Monarchs have been M.I.A. this year, and much has been written of the impact farm chemicals are having on this iconic species of insect. Every school child knows of the Monarch and their annual migration to Mexico.  However, their numbers are diminishing so rapidly, they have become a species of grave concern.

Meadowbrook provides a chemical-free place for butterflies to nectar and breed, for the next generation.

Fall at Meadowbrook Marsh.
 As fall colors the trees with golden hues, those Monarchs will arise from Meadowbrook's meadow and fly south to their wintering grounds in Mexico.  Just in time to bid them farewell, will be the birders of Midwest Birding Symposium.

Once again, the viewing platform at Meadowbrook will be filled with eco-minded birders, admiring the fall shorebirds and warblers as they too, fly away south.  Please stop by Meadowbrook and witness the good work birders started by instituting our very first ever Carbon Offset Bird Project.

Go here for a Meadowbrook map and location guide provided by Kenn Kaufman and the Black Swamp Bird Observatory.

Please, join our efforts at MBS 2013 to increase the carbon holding capacity of another birding area, to benefit both birds and mankind.  If you like being part of a good thing, then print off the form below, and send it in. Or better yet, bring it by the Carbon Offset booth in the main auditorium during MBS and see the nice people working there.

This year's project is at the Boss Unit at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. You will feel good when you write that check, and help us help the birds.  Thank you.  (Click on the form below to enlarge and print.)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Nature Alert: Zombie Grasshoppers!!

Truth is stranger than fiction when it come to nature.  This weekend I had the opportunity to encounter a fungal death in the form of a grasshopper.

Death rides a grasshopper
At the recent Midwest Native Plant Conference, my friend, John Howard, gave a program which featured photos of ants which had been made in to "zombies" by a fungus.  That program made me aware enough to stop, look and document when I noticed an unusual number of dead and dying grasshoppers on recent outing.

Judy Kolo-Rose and Michelle Goodman survey the grassland at Meadowbrook Marsh.
Our outing was at Meadowbrook Marsh, a fabulous habitat in Marblehead, Ohio.  It has become a prime location for birding, botanizing and now...for studying insects.

We first  noted an unusual number of gleeful grasshoppers bouncing along the path. As birders, we welcomed their presence, they are a tasty source of protein for many bird species.  An American Kestrel has taken up territory on the telephone wires nearby,  and no doubt he is loving the free food-fest.

(This is important: a healthy habitat free of pesticides and insecticides will be alive with life.  There is a dramatic difference between the insect activity at Meadowbrook and the deathly quiet we are experiencing in the corn country of mid-Ohio.  Insects are a bioindicator of a healthly environment.)

Grasshoppers, both dead and dying, were oddly teed-up on the tops of plants. 
Soon we noticed an odd sight, numerous grasshoppers had climbed to the tops of grass.  This is a very odd behavior.  Grasshoppers don't usually hang out at the top of grass, as they are tasty and would not last long if they did. Grasshoppers must hide in grass. If they normally clung to the tops of vegetation they would have been called "grass-perchers," and they would certainly be extinct by now.    

Why had these not being eaten by birds?  What possessed their brain to make them act so differently?  Why were they so DEAD?  And ugly.  Did I mention they looked zombified?

Closer inspection showed parts missing.

The answers to those questions lie within the grasshoppers.  The bodies have been invaded by a mind-controlling fungus.  Thanks to  Eric Eaton (co-author of the Kaufman Field Guide to insects) for helping me learn about this type of fungus: Eric called it an entomopathic fungus.  
Go here for more details.

This phenomenon starts when a fungus invades a grasshopper.  Eventually the fungus multiplies and becomes master, forcing the Zombie Grasshopper to crawl to the top of the grass to die.  The fungus matures and explodes out of the grasshopper "host".  The fungus needs the grasshopper to take it high enough on the grass tops so the fungus' spores will blow in the wind. This allows the fungus to spread most efficiently.  All of these dead grasshoppers had evidence of exploded body parts.  

True Zombie Grasshopper has lost it's head!

 We found several grasshoppers who had lost their heads over the deal.  It makes me think being a "host" is not a great idea if fungus is on the party guest-list.

Nature is weird, but logical.  So why didn't the birds feed upon the easy-to-find Zombie Grasshoppers? My guess: this fungus tastes bad.  Bad enough that once a bird tastes one, it won't eat more.  This is just one more way nature adapts and fills niches we humans can barely understand.

If you are interested in more grasshopper gore, you'll want to check out the headless Zombie Grasshopper video hosted here:

Monday, August 5, 2013

Natural Beauty: Prairie Style

 One of the most significant preservation accomplishments in Ohio in the past decade was naming Daughmer Prairie Savanna a State Nature Preserve.   A lot of good folks were involved in this effort, and I have written about it numerous times: the Dedication ceremony, how it looks in late fall, Daughmer on fire, its cord grass and several other posts as well.

Daughmer Prairie on an early August morning
I have gone there many times and each experience is different and meaningful in its own way. Last Saturday Crawford Park District was hosting one of Ohio's most knowledgeable naturalists, Jim McCormac.

This virgin, never-plowed prairie is worth investigating over and over.  If you would like to take a guided tour of Daughmer, go to the Ohio Natural Areas and Preserves Association and sign up for our Annual Banquet

Jim McCormac, the ultimate nature guide.
Jim McCormac, author and employee of Ohio Division of Wildlife, leads people into nature like none other. He has been a wonderful mentor to me and thousands of Other Ohioans. He is a walking field guide to Ohio.  You would be hard pressed to find a better source on botany, birds, natural history. He also has a great understanding of both mammals and insects, including moths, dragonflies and any other creepy-crawlies.  I simply wanted to hear his take on Daughmer.

There was quite a crowd too!   I didn't count, but we had somewhere between 45-50 people. Those of us who were in the back of the tour were a good 1/8 mile away!  It was still an extraordinary trip.

Winged Loosestrife, Lythrum alatum
 We had not even left the parking lot before we discussed the "good" loosestrife, which is not to be confused with the invasive non-native.

Sullivant's Milkweed, Asclepias sullivantii
Next we ogled the famous milkweed that was named for Ohio surveyor and part-time botanist William Starling Sullivant.

Ann Budgeda from Lake County Parks with Swamp Milkweed.
 It became a "pretty in pink" day, with Swamp Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata rising high in the grassland.  This milkweed is just as beneficial for hosting monarch butterfliess, but it prefers wet soils.

Primrose moth, Schinia florida
Another high-light was the Primrose moth Jim found as it flitted through the vegetation.  We had wonderful opportunities for a photo shoot with this compliant creature.  This day-flying photogenic pink bug can be found (but is seldom seen) throughout the eastern U.S.  Primrose moths have an affinity for nectaring on Common Evening Primrose.   I once saw one in Florida, but it didn't stick around for a photo session!

Josh Dyer (Crawford Parks), Jim McCormac (ODOW), and Bill Fisher (Crawford Parks) at Daughmer Prairie

Thanks to Crawford County Parks for all they do to maintain the prairie (with the help of ONAPA) and for hosting this special program.

Please sign up for the fall Daughmer tour with Guy Denny sponsored by ONAPA. You will be amazed, too.

Friday, August 2, 2013

From the (birding) news!

One of the many organizations that I am happy to promote is the Ohio Ornithological Society.  They bill themselves as "Ohio's Birding Network."  OOS (as we fondly call them) has a stellar website which includes current information, blog links, and a calendar.  You should check them out if you are interested in Ohio's birds and the birding scene. Go to

The Cerulean is the name of a beautiful blue warbler, a small bird that is a real poster child for conservation.
It is also the name of the OOS' newsletter.  It is packed full of good information.  Today I was surprised to see an article on page four- that looked really familiar!

In case you missed my presentation at Mid-West Native Plant Conference- this article is  a short-course on the topic.

If you are interested in reading the whole thing, go here.  Meanwhile, Click on the Cerulean logo in my side panel and  join the OOS.

You'll also want to sign up for Midwest Birding Symposium!  We have load of fun planned for Lakeside, Ohio this September.  Hope to see you there!