Sunday, May 31, 2009

Congratulations Ethan!

A very fine young man and an excellent birder just graduated from high school. Congratulations Ethan Kistler, all of your friends in Ohio's birding community wish you the very best!

Ethan holding a Purple Finch during today's bird banding/graduation party.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Stranger than fiction... and in my backyard

Some insects have adaptations that seem stranger than fiction. A four inch ovipositor on a wasp? Nah, no one would believe it.

And yet here is an Ichneumon wasp recently seen in my back yard. It appears to be a Megarhyssa, and that whopping ovipositor certainly looks to be the death of something! Jim McCormac had a good post on these beasties as while back- click here for his take.

And if you thought this was just your average bumblebee- look again! Those oddly shaped wings, "bearded" face and insect nabbing claspers, a wolf in sheep's clothing, this one. And it may be my new favorite insect, now that I have read they are a predator of Japanese beetles!

These Laphria robber flies "are to other insects what falcons are to other birds," says Kenn Kaufman in the Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America.

This guide is the greatest- if you don't have one, get it now. I had no idea how much I would use it, and now it is one of my favorites. Even a piker like me can find the basic information on these stranger than science-fiction bugs!

Friday, May 29, 2009

What flower is this?

Scandalously clad in color, gigantic flowers, found throughout Ohio...yet so seldom seen. Why?

A member of the Magnolia family, this native Ohioan is under-utilised as a landscape tree. Birds love the seed produced in the fruit -seen developing in the center of this magnificent flower- and the tasty pollinators the flowers attract. Add in the unusual tulip-shaped leaves, and you have a yard and garden winner in my book.

However, the short-lived flowers tend to be held above eye level on these towering trees. If one really desired a stockier specimen in his yard, some subtle pruning during the early years could certainly make a difference.

Tuliptree, Liriodendron tulipifera is a favorite tree in my yard, and I hope you'll consider one for yours as well. Often called a "Tulip Poplar" this name is misleading, as it is not a poplar at all. Whatever you call it, it is a disease resistant native plant that can be readily found at your local plant nursery.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Landscaping with Native Plants

Virginia Spiderwort, Tradescantia virginiana
Planting natives in landscape gardens is catching on like wildfire. And why not? Native plants are attractive, more disease resistant, hardier and beneficial to our native fauna. It adds up to a win-win situation! And really, just because you use natives, does not mean you can't have an attractive yard. I mix all manner of native plants in with my hosta and hybrid geraniums. It is OK. You don't have to "do" all natives cold turkey. You can have your natives and throw in some annuals for color too. There are no rules here, just gardeners having fun and remembering to provide plants and habitat for the native species too.

So here is my home landscape, all decked out with Red-twig Dogwood, Elm tree, hosta, annual geraniums... and what is that fantastic, blue, blooming plant? It is Tradescantia virginiana! It grows so large in this flowerbed- I use it in place of shrubbery. It is native, colorful, easy to grow and fun. What could be better?

If you would like to see more ways to use wildflowers and native plants in landscapes, as well as colorful photos of the birds and butterflies attracted to them, you are welcome to join the Worthington Hills Garden Club on June 10th for a luncheon and my power-point program on Wildflowers! (just $19.00 for both.)

Reservations are required, and you'll want to arrive at 11:00am for Social & Registration. Please contact Paula Harper by phone: 614-792-5279 before June 2nd.

And if you'd like to learn more about native plants, follow the side bar link to the Midwest Native Plant Conference in Dayton. Check out all the great speakers there as well, and join us for 3 days of fun.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Interesting Inhabitants of Magee Marsh

Spring migration seems to be slowing down a bit, with one last predicted "push" coming later in the week. I spent some rest and relaxation time there today, and thoroughly enjoyed some of the "locals" and summer breeders.

A species of special concern, a Blanding's turtle with its distinctive yellow throat, shares a log with a much smaller Painted turtle. Considered a short step away from an endangered species, they are protected in most of the last remaining states where they can be found. Magee is one of the few places in Ohio where these 8-10 inch turtles can be seen.

Since Blanding's turtles require 15 to 20 years to reach sexual maturity, it is a wonder any make it at all! Our smiling specimen could well be a female basking or thermo-regulating. This behavior speeds the development of her eggs, allowing her to lay them sooner.

Maybe we will have some little ones this fall. They will be about an inch long when they hatch out, but don't count on seeing them. Blanding's are very secretive until they get a bit larger, and little is known about their young.

Consider a late May stroll at Magee to enjoy a peaceful boardwalk, the serenade of Warbling Vireos and melodic tones of the Baltimore Orioles. Breeding birds along the walk currently include Great Horned Owls, House Wrens, Tree Swallows, and Prothonotary Warblers.

Warblers are great, but Magee is much, much more. A "bad" day on the boardwalk is still one of the best days a naturalist could have.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Night of the Living Orchid

Twayblade, Liparis lilifolia

If one knows where to seek them out, Ohio has some lovely, but rather strange orchids called Twayblades. Not as showy as the Lady's-slippers (Cypripediums) or as rare as the White Fringed Orchids (
Platanthera ), it is a mysterious-looking creature in its own right. It might be well suited to star in a horror show, Night of the Living Orchid.

Even the common names range across the board:
  • Brown Widelip Orchid
  • Purple Twayblade
  • Large Twayblade
  • Lily-leaved Twayblade
  • Brown Twayblade

Even stranger yet, the scientific name is also surrounded in confusion, some site Liparis liliifolia, while others site Liparis lilifolia (one i).

No matter what name you choose to call it, it takes a keen eye to find this diminutive orchid in the understory. Its mauve-to-brown colored flowers tend to blend with the dappled colors of the forest floor, and the flatted lip gives it an unusual appearance unlike other members of its family.

Botanical print by Mary Vaux

If you are lucky enough to find one, be certain to watch for its pollinators; it is believed to be fly pollinated, but that has not yet been proven. Who knows what mysterious insect may be adapted to service this botanical oddity. It would sure be fun to be the one who finds out!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Running with the Buffalo...

Running Buffalo Clover, Trifolium stoloniferum

It is always a privilege to go botanizing with Rick Gardner, Ohio's Heritage Botanist. Rick keeps the data base for all the rare and endangered plant species in Ohio, and is a most knowledgeable chap.

Wednesday he assembled a crew to seek out any new or rare finds in a newly minted Division of Natural Areas and Preserves acquisition, Boch Hollow. And we looked high (for birds and butterflies) and low for plants, lichens and mosses.

It is a thrill to report we found Running Buffalo Cover, Trifolium stoloniferum a plant that requires disturbance to propagate and thrive. Our find was along a road/trail, right in the path of traffic. It is a large and robust clover, with 1.5 inch heads and long stoloniferious rhizomes. Although believed common when there were buffalo trails throughout the Midwest, the Running Buffalo Clover has been nearly extirpated. With only a few remaining holdouts, it appears the clover is becoming as rare as the buffalos.

Martin McAllister also had a recent finding of Running Buffalo Clover along a ATV trail in southern Ohio. Perhaps they are the new buffalo, grinding up the prairie and producing corridors for the Buffalo Clover to roam.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Where am I?

Warblers are generally tough to photograph, but this little guy was amazingly compliant last weekend.

A Prothonotary Warbler put on a good show on the Magee boardwalk. In truth, perhaps he was a bit confused. It is a long way to fly in from the tropics, and it is always good to check your landmarks.

"Yep, I'm at Magee! Here's the sign."

Thanks to the Division of Wildlife for preserving this habitat, as it benefits all manner of wildlife, including warblers on the move.

Magee Marsh is one of my favorite "happy spots" and many of us got our first looks at these winged jewels at this Lake Erie location. It is amazing just to be there to enjoy nature- especially with the likes of BT3 (Bill Thompson III) and other friends like Ann Oliver, Kathi Hutton, Peter King and Dave Reinhart. That's your blogger dead center, sporting the silly grin I get from watching warblers!

Magee- there is no better place to meet up with some of the finest birds and birders in the world!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Off on a Lark...

The Oak Openings is one of Ohio's best destinations for excitement, as each trip seems to offer something new or a "first" of one kind or another. To quote a friend, it has more rarities than you can shake a stick at! Lark Sparrow photo by Dave Lewis.

A recent visit to the sand dunes at Gridham Road, along with many fellow OOS members, offered prime Lark Sparrow viewing. I have seen Lark Sparrows on numerous occasions- but I have never SEEN the Lark Sparrows like this! Dave Lewis, fellow OOS friend and blogger captured this fellow with the stunning facial features far better than I was able. It is nice he is willing to share photos with his lesser and lens-challenged friends.

Here's the habitat for those sand loving sparrows- nothing like a big dune blow-out with a blooming crop of Wild Blue Lupines to call home. Don't forget, those lupines are the host plant for Karner Blue butterflies- the butterfly featured in the header of the blog. And that photo too, was taken in the Oak, at Kitty Todd.

Another specialty of the sand dunes, the endangered Dwarf-dandelion, Krigia virginica. My camera is set up is better for these micro-botany shots, and this dainty penny-sized composite makes quite a picture. If this little dandelion would grow in our yards, maybe Chem-lawn would go out of business!

Our visit to the Oaks was filled with many fascinating finds. Endangered birds, butterflies and botany are all part of the regular scene here. If you haven't visited before, make sure you plan a trip this summer- it is just too good to miss!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

OOS 5th Annual Conference- Whirlwind Days

The last three days have FLOWN by- (a little birding conference humor :) - with great friends, good times and amazing birds.

Friday night was the Shade-grown Coffee House promoting conservation and fun. KatDoc and McCormac covered that pretty well, and let me just add- we may be on to a new thing. Folks had a great time enjoying Thompson's "mellow" and the various poems. Any time our crew gets together, we are sure to have fun.

Jim Berry of RTPI and Larry Richardson checking out the warbler action at Magee Marsh.

Saturday Morning on the Magee Boardwalk tuned up to be an awesome day as well. It turned out to be a regular who's who of birds and BIRDERS. Mega-birders, including Jon Dunn, Paul Baicich, Jim Berry and Larry Richardson were also cruising the boardwalk and calling out birds. I cannot say enough about the generous spirit of birders, and their willingness to share their finds.

BT3 (Bill Thompson III), Jim McCormac, KatDoc and others, working on "warbler neck" at Magee.

Before our conference even started we were have more fun than should be legal, checking out the birds and enjoying the humor of two of Ohio's wittiest birders: Bill Thompson and Jim McCormac. If you can't bird with the big dogs, stay home on the porch! Thanks to these guys for their willingness to share a lifetime of incredible birding knowledge. Learning and fun go "binoculars in hand" when you are hanging out with the OOS crowd.

Thanks to everyone who pitched in to make this event possible: especially the OOS volunteers- Kathy Mock, Judy and Hugh Rose, Marc Nolls, Julie Davis, Jackie Bain, Dana Bollin, Karen Menard, Jim Sloan, Susan Madura, Sheryl (can't spell my name right) Young, Jen Sauter and Peter King- we couldn't do it without you!

More fun, and more photos, of birds, botany and butterflies- after I unpack my bags!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

All the better to see... Connecticut Warblers!

As reported in earlier posts, Magee Marsh is a great migrant trap, offering superior looks at neo-tropical warblers. And it was the one place a Weedpicker like me could bird, without being distracted by the botany. Up until this year, Magee has been totally overrun with Garlic Mustard, Allairia officinalis- a rather insidious invasive non- native plant. Garlic Mustard pretty much ate up all the other botany and completely obscured the woodland floor.

Garlic Mustard, allairia officinalis

A dedicated group of weed-pullers have worked the last several years clearing swathes through the understory, finally reducing the uber-aggresive plant back to a few wisps of lingering holdouts. Congrats to Mary Warren and the whole Garlic Mustard removal team.

The end result has been better botany all around. The spring ephemerals have flourished this year, and I actually had a life plant from the boardwalk. A delicate Fumitory with an irregular, lipped flower called Golden Corydalis, Corydalis aurea. The leaves look similar to those of Dutchman's breeches or Squirrel corn, so you'll have to look close to find this beauty.

Golden Coryadalis, Corydalis aurea

And now that the garlic mustard is gone, it will be much easier to see Connecticut Warblers as they skulk across the ground! Just remember, we may be weedpickers, but take a botanist with you if you want to find the Connecticut Warblers or LaConte’s Sparrows, because we are already looking at the ground!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Warbler Neck Explained

The annual pilgrimage to Magee Marsh is a must for all Ohio birders, even the bad days are fantastic! Where else can you see these brilliantly plumed, cell-phone sized neotropical migrants- up close and personal?

Magnolia Warber photo by Dave Lewis. (Dave is easy- and gives these to me for free! So support his work with a purchase at the upcoming OOS Conference)

Magnolia Warbler is one of the most common- of these anything-but-common wood warblers. I will never tire of looking at these beautiful birds. Just a Maggie? Heck yes, bring them on!

Warbler Neck Explained photo by Cheryl Harner

While visiting the boardwalk at Magee during a "warbler fallout" in 2006, we had the good fortune of an up close and personal look at a stunning Canada Warbler. While others nearby were getting photos of the bird, I realized how cool it was for birders to see a bird so close, we were not even using our binoculars! That was a fantastic day on the boardwalk, indeed.

We may yet have a few good days left for warblering in the coming week. So plan to join OOS in Perrysburg, Ohio for our Saturday afternoon conference speakers, Kenn and Kim Kaufman from BSBO and Jim Berry from RTPI- 2 programs/$10.00 > E mail me for details. And arrange to spend some time on the boardwalk before or after: it is a magical place in May.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Spent the early part of the weekend up at Magee Marsh for some fabulous birding. And we will certainly get to the boardwalk and the findings there in another post. First, let's look at a couple moments that struck me as very funny; you might enjoy them too.

Benton Carroll Salem Rd. has always been notorious for good shorebirds in the field- and the local police. We were all under the impression that our troubles were gone when Ottawa purchased this tract of land and provided shore bird habitat up-close and personal. However, once you park 35 cars, and a tour bus from Cleveland, I guess we exceeded some kind of limit...

"Move along folks. Nothing to see here. Move along..."

He couldn't really start writing us tickets, as it would have taken all afternoon. Yes, that is infamous Ann Oliver's car in the foreground. Scoff law!

And another case of someone getting their chops busted. I could only imagine...

"Really, Vincent... I ask for FROSTED shredded wheat. Now what will we do with all of this?"

Hope you had a good weekend too!

Friday, May 8, 2009

From The Sublime to The Ridiculous

Flora-Quest trip leader Steve McKee has reported in on Quest 5's trip, including Paul Knoop's private preserve, Spring Glen. This Adams County Cedar Barren is the home of many diverse species of flora and fauna. Steve was thrilled with an encounter with Hybanthus concolor, Green Violet, located on the preserve, along with another Adam's county specialty: Shooting Star.

Dodecatheon meadia, Shooting Star photo by Steve McKee

Interestingly enough, USDA plants data base refers to this flower by the common name: Pride of Ohio. Indeed- I think it is an awesome plant!

But, leaving the realm of flora, we have an incredible photo of fauna, a Hognose Snake, also shot by Steve McKee. Wait, I don't really mean shot. Before any PETA folks start writing, seriously, Steve and Paul are two of the kindest souls you would ever want to meet. They would never shoot a snake. They might poke it a bit to show people its incredible "possum act" of playing dead, but they would never actually harm it.

So here is Mr. Hognose, who should win an Academy Award for Best Actor. Believe me, although his tongue was hanging out and he looked to be el morte, he was just fine. They waited around until he crawled away... chuckling about fooling those silly humans! :)

Plant, mineral, animal- you will see it all on a Knoop / McKee trip. They are two of Ohio's best naturalists and great fun in the field.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Checking our list

Silene caroliniana Walter var. wherryi, Wherry's Catchfly photo by Cheryl

Unusual plants abound in Adams County and in the Shawnee Forest. In fact, there are so many we keep a comprehensive check list of the plants we have seen, or hope to see. It is a bit mind blogging for many of us, but the experts do this every day. Sorting the sedges and rarities call for an expert, and Rick Gardner, our state Heritage Botanist is one of the best!

Rick Gardner and Janet Creamer check the list of species and add a few more.

With a total of 454 plant species, you would think we were covered! But Rick has found some more to add to our future lists. Nothing gets past these two sharp-eyed botanists!

Asplenium rhizophyllum, Walking fern
Cystopteris bulbifera, Bulblet Fern
Ophioglossum engelmannii, Limestone Adder's-tongue
Pellaea atropurpurea, Purple Cliff-brake
Pellaea glabella, Smooth Cliff-brake
Pleopeltis polypodioides, Resurrection Fern

Asclepias verticillata, Whorled Milkweed
Coreopsis major, Forest Tickseed
Cypridedium candidum, White Lady's-slipper
Delphinium exaltatum, Tall Larkspur
Draba cuneifolia, Wedged-leaf Whitlow-grass
Jeffersonia diphylla, Twinleaf
Hybanthus concolor, Green Violet
Leavenworthia uniflora, Leavenworthia
Manfreda virginica, American Aloe
Silene caroliniana var. wherryi, Wherry's Catchfly
Sisyrinchium albidum, Pale Blue-eyed-grass
Sullivantia sullivantii, Sullivantia
Thalictrum revolutum, Skunk Meadow-rue
Trillium flexipes, Drooping Trillium
Trillium nivale, Snow Trillium
Triosteum angustifolium, Lesser Horse-gentian

Carex crawei, Crawe's Sedge
Carex pedunculata, Long-stalked Sedge

Keeping this list is no small effort, but Miss Paula is up to the job. I am sure she will have the updates cranked out in no time at all!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Fauna-Quest: Birds and Butterflies

Blue Grosbeak photo by John Howard

The most sought-after non-flora on our weekend event was the Blue Grosbeak. At least two Quests produced views of these jumbo-headed Adam County specialities.

My first look at a Blue Grosbeak was during an Adams county trip at the 2006 OOS Conference held in Shawnee. We were thrilled with flickering glimpses of a dull brown female, while both Flora-Quests reported head on looks at a brilliant blue male. In fact, if you would like to see a Blue Grosbeak, there is a pair hanging about the Eulett Center. Now might be a great time to plan a trip to see that new building and pick up a life bird.

Cobweb Skipper photo by John Howard

The butterfly enthusiasts had the toughest go of it, since the temps were pretty moderate. While they did not have huge numbers of sightings, this one rarity made up for it. What I would give to add a Cobweb Skipper to my life list! Not only did they see one- Jaret Daniels, with his incredible butterfly ju-ju caught it mid-air with his bare hands and produced a glass jar for better viewing. Jaret is amazing in the field, and the nicest guy you would ever want to meet. I bet he still walks little old ladies across the street like a boyscout!

More flora to come, but I couldn't help reporting the rarities first-

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Post Secret- Botany

Adams County's Secret Botany- White Lady's-slipper

There is an edgy little blogspot called Post Secrets, which is extremely popular with the college crowd. It is not for everyone, as its topics often delve into sex, drugs, and general unhappiness. It is a artistic outlet where people post their deepest, darkest secrets- in total anonymity.

Most botanists have some secrets too. Generally not the seamy dark kind, but rather the location of a rarity, too good for general publication. Secrets they whisper amongst themselves- away from the greedy public. It is not that botanists are selfish people, they just love botany so much, they want to protect it. And sadly too many times a rare plant has been dug up to be added to some one's personal collection. As flora-enthusiasts we should all take responsibility for protecting our rare native plants. Do not dig plants from the wild. Purchase them from reputable dealers (considering the junkie-like cravings I get for plants, dealers is the perfect descriptor for plantsmen!)

White Lady's-slipper, Cypripedium candidum, featured in the photo above, was a rarity a very lucky few from Flora-quest got to view. Somewhere on the vast TNC properties in Adams county this lovely golf-ball sized orchid graces the landscape. One of our guides could take you there- but we would have to blind-fold you first...

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Flora-Quest Finale

Shawnee State Park Lodge May 3, 2009 Click on photo to enlarge

Here's the happy group under the Flora-Quest sign at the Shawnee Lodge this afternoon. Life plants, life birds- and a whole bunch of life people! More fun than ever with fabulous speakers, botanical rarities, and workshops on butterflies, photography and new converts to using a Newcomb's guide. And, plants for everybody, thanks to Marvin!

We were not about to be scared off by a forest fire, and our ever vigilant guides even came up with contingency plans for Sasquatch encounters! We decided to stick close to Jenny (the very pregnant gal in the front row). After all you don't have to outrun Sasquatch, you only have to outrun Jenny!

More fun later, when I have unpacked and caught up on sleep!