Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cactus: Wicked, sticky, pricky, home!

Arizona is the most incredible state of blue sky, open spaces and cactus. If you like plants like me, no problem. It is just another opportunity to learn something new, and I am finally getting a handle (if not a hand!) on the most common of Arizona's botanical gems.

The big one. Yup, he's a big one alright-and next to it is my husband Randy. The Saguaro cactus-Carnegiea gigantea is iconic for the west. Seen throughout the desert, growing on mountain sides that look improbable if not impossible for a plant to hang on for dear life. These giants of the Southwest have entire ecosystems of birds and lizards making a livelihood in their presence.

Outside of Tuscon the predominate Cholla cactus is the Chain-fruited Cholla or Jumping Jack- Opuntia fulgida. It has a reputation of being a nasty one, and the reason cowboys had to wear chaps. This is not a plant you want to bump into, or you will become a very unwilling distributor of a portion of the plant...and thus nature's plan for its reproduction.

But it too provides habitat for some amazing wildlife, as this cactus wren nest testifies.

A Cactus Wren on a Cane Cholla, photo taken at Sweetwater Park Tucson. The Cactus Wren is the largest of North America's wrens and the state bird for Arizona. They are bold little characters, most fitting for the Southwest. A perfect choice in my opinion, and now that I am feeling a bit better after a bout of death flu, I am headed back outside for a few more adventures.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Quails to Trails

Quails to trails pretty much sums up my day in Arizona. We started out north of Phoenix in the Tonto National Forest (funny forest- no trees, all cactus!) at the Lost Dutchman's Trail.

Arizona has a user fee for its parks and forest, in the form of a $5.00 parking fee. While visiting with the ranger issuing our permit, I heard some unfamiliar bird calls.

He states, "Oh, them's Gambel's Quail. They're real common round here." In short order, I had some great looks at several pairs of Gambel's Quail. (Too bad Dave Lewis wasn't with me, and we would have some better shots from behind!)

Needless to say, in my book, Gambel's Quail, Cactus Wren, Black-throated Sparrow add up to a real bargain for $5.00!

Some white-knuckled excitement came in the form of our afternoon drive through the Superstition Mountains. Route 88, otherwise known as the Apache Trail is about 41 miles of hair pin turns and sheer cliffs, once again proving guard-rails are for sissies! Not far out of Tortilla Flats (population 6) the road turns into sand. Average speed- 20 miles an hour; cars crashed at the bottom of the canyon- 2; experience: priceless.

The Apaches finally got their revenge.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Westward Ho!

Hey Toto, we're not in Ohio any more! Yesterday I stepped off a plane in Phoenix Arizona, and it is strange and yet beautiful in so many ways. Sunny with temps in the high 80's made the trip to the Desert Botanical Garden a wonderful overview of the state in general, less the golf-courses and airports!

Here is the view of native plants in Arizona... I feel as though I have been dropped onto a new planet! I can't name anything I see- beside the iconic Sauguaro Cactus. There is a whole world of new plants and animals to encounter, and I'll be sharing them right here.

Here's something I recognized! Chihuly's glass art! After you visit the on going exhibit in Columbus, swing by here for the desert version of the show.

And this lizard was a special request by JJ, my daughter who has stayed home to keep tabs on our house and feed the watch dogs. Grr... down doggies! Good JJ!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Seeing Red...

One of Ohio's most eye-catching native plants, the Cardinal Flower- Lobelia cardinalis is generally found on the edge of vernal pools in woodlots throughout Ohio. It is a treasure when found in the wild, but it is equally as welcomed in the landscape. Just remember to keep it well watered!

This photo of the Richland County Master Gardener's Enviro-garden shows the clever design of a water garden with an intentional "leak." A rivulet feeds a small wetland next to the main pond where the Cardinal Flower stands with wet feet. Interestingly enough, the Cardinal Flower attracts birds- but not the Northern Cardinal. It is the hummingbirds that go mad for fire-engine red flowers.

And speaking of hummingbirds, an Ohio oddity, a Rufous Hummingbird has been hanging out at the Sage home near Loudonville, Ohio. I popped by to admire the little gal, and she certainly put on a good show. The rufous underwings were quite visible as she came and went from the feeder. And as I admired the yard of these kind folks hosting the little hummer, I noticed one thing in common with the other two other places I have seen fall hummingbirds: loads of red.

Each time I have visited a home with a Rufous Hummingbird I have noted the general area. Red flowers were still obvious in a western Ohio yard a few years back. Two years ago, they banded a Rufous in Mansfield, and at that time I noted a very large red Christmas bow decorating the wreath near the hummingbird's feeder. The Sage's have several red articles in the area, including a large red pad on their bench. Hummers are definitely attracted to red flowers, and I can't help but wonder if these homeowners raised the odds of becoming a host for a late hummingbird by their displays of red. Wouldn't it make sense that a bird in migration would be looking for a friendly spot of red to signal "oasis" for hummers? It is enough to make me want to roll out the red carpet for any passing through my area.

And even if I don't attract any oddities to my yard, I'll be having a great time, as I am headed to Arizona for vacation. Hopefully, I'll see some unusual birds and plants for your blog-reading pleasure. Who knows what adventures lie ahead? You can bet I'll be looking for red!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fallen Leaves: at the Falls

It was my good fortune to present a butterfly program for the Cleveland Natural Science Club, one of Ohio's oldest and illustrious nature groups, and I always enjoy traveling to Look About Lodge. It is part of the Cleveland Metroparks and one of the many areas of natural beauty in the Chagrin Falls area.

Colorful leaves ride the ripples of water created by the falls at Sulphur Springs, part of the South Chagrin Reservation.

It would be a shame to visit the area and not stop by these magnificent falls, located right in the heart of Chagrin Falls. The town has capitalized on its natural beauty and played up the falls with public parks beside the historic bridge. Pedestrians fill the sidewalks, drinking in the sites (and $5.00 specialty coffees.) Set aside some time to wander through the quaint shops, and marvel at all things yuppie-fide. It is fun to see how the other half lives. Your Weedpicker seemed to be the only one in hikings boots in this town!

Watch for the Cleveland Metroparks signs, and visit the many natural attractions the area has to offer. This area is perfect for an Ohio "fall destination" tour!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Railing about the Great Black Swamp

Friday's gloomy fall weather did nothing to dampen the diversity of the Lake Erie marshes, pictured here off the drive at Metzger Marsh. Between the Ohio Division of Wildlife marshes and the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge system, northwestern Ohio retains most of the 10% of wetlands remaining in our state. These areas are teaming not only with hunters fare, such as ducks and geese, but every imaginable wetland creature finds a niche here. Flycatchers to dragonflies, and every wetland species in between, benefits from the vast areas preserved with Duck Stamp dollars and it is not only hunters who purchase them. More and more, birders are flocking to show their support for these habitat conservation programs.

My trip to the heart of the marshes was to visit one of Ohio's most knowledgeable bird-banders. But, calling Mark Shieldcastle a "bird- bander" is almost laughable faint praise.

Mark is a recent retiree from the Ohio Division of Wildlife and the go-to man for all things Bald Eagle, duck and rail related. The data collected by Mark's efforts could probably go to the moon and back and for many years his wife Julie has been one of the main driving forces behind the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. Their combined scientific collection of bird data is mind-blowing. They are experts, usually very damp and soggy experts I might add, in these parts.

King Rail and Virginia Rail banded by BSBO Photo by Hugh Rose

Mark has studied the migration of rails through the marshes of Lake Erie and was kind enough to share information about these secretive birds in decline due to habitat loss. Spring is our best chance to hear the calls of rails as they seek mates in cat-tail marshes and margins of our once Great Black Swamp. Along with collecting scientific data, education and conservation are two of the main components of BSBO, and I hope you will visit and support them in their efforts, whenever you are in the Lake Erie marsh regions.

Their gift shop is a great place to buy a Federal Duck Stamp. It is also chock-full of warm clothes, fun birding novelties, and even plant and insect books! Kim Kaufman, Hugh Rose and many other gifted volunteers keep this place bustling with activity.
So stop by soon and peek out the window-on-nature, browse the books and tell them "Weedpicker" sent you!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fall Color: Alert

Fall colors are about to reach their full glory and many plants are setting fruits and berries, which contain their seed and hopes for propagation. This beautiful native plant has it all: glossy red leaves and clusters of white berries. However, you’ll want to reject this stunner from your fall wreath-making. Its a great example of a native plant, that many birds adore, but most folks reject.

Poison Ivy, Toxicodendron radicans, this “leaves of three- let it be” is also prime example of the general rule to avoid eating white berries. You should probably avoid everything else about this plant as well. Many people have allergic reactions from urushiol, the toxin contained in the oil from the leaves, stems and roots. It creates a reaction from a mild rash to a severe condition demanding medical attention. This is a plant you should respect, and probably avoid until you know your tolerances.

Downy Woodpeckers adore poison ivy berries.

However, as loathed as is it by some people, it does have a valuable place in nature’s landscape. It is a primary food source in the winter months, and birders may note it's especially attractive to woodpeckers. So before you totally write this one off as a plant only Cruella De Vil would harbor, remember there is place in nature for plants we may not seek to cultivate at home.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Botanical Big Sit: Day of the Jay

For those interested in botany, especially in the dispersal of oak trees, you would have been amazed at the science in action at our Greater Mohican Audubon's Big Sit.

Let me explain that a bit. First off, the Big Sit is a friendly competition among birders, where we see how many species of birds we can count while confined to a 17 foot circle, generally a 24 hour gig. So that explains WHY I would be sitting outside and readily able to monitor the activity of our local Blue Jays all day on Sunday Oct. 11th.

The Blue Jay is a member of the highly intelligent Corvid family. They are a social group, who are often under appreciated due to their boisterous personalities. But like most Corvids, their interactions and intelligence makes them a fascinating species. Blue Jays are widely known to the the major disperser of acorns, and if you like Oak trees (see the previous post), you should thank a Jay.

Early in morning Gary Cowell and I noticed the Blue Jays ferrying acorns from some location south of our Big Sit site. Throughout the day the Blue Jays continued, flying south with empty maws only to return in short order with acorns protruding from their bills. Flight after flight, hour after hour, the jays continued a relentless pursuit for their cache. One study documented jays transporting and caching 133,000 acorns from a stand of Quercus palustris trees! Their diligence is admirable.

Photo by Su Snyder

And here is a photo of the Greater Mohican Audubon's Big Sit team (missing from photo- Su Snyder, Jan Kennedy, Jean Taddie and John Precup). Thanks to everyone who helped spot birds, brought food and provided entertaining commentary while we watched Blue Jays- and 49 other species of birds.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Shawshank Redemption Oak

Fall is a spectacular time of year to visit Malabar Farm State Park, and today's Greater Mohican Audubon bird walk was especially scenic.
Our crew walked this lovely pasture in search of grassland birds, and we were not disappointed. Not only did we find Killdeer, Eastern Meadowlarks, Pipit and Horned Larks, we spent some time admiring the old oak standing silent sentinel .
Bogie and Becall were not the only movie stars to be seen around Malabar. This tree is also very famous! It is the oak tree featured in the movie the Shawshank Redemption, and a special note was hidden in the rock wall at the base of the tree. The rock wall is mostly gone now, some suggest it was sold on E-Bay, others say it was only built for the movie. Either way, the site is now protected by a fence, and the dignity of this magnificent tree should be protected as well.

Look around the fields, and you may even find some of the inmates- passing a little time. Or maybe they are just Halloween decorations. For more photos from today's GMAS walk- click on the side bar link to Facebook. You'll see how much fun "birding" can be!

Friday, October 9, 2009

A World Without Hemlocks?

Hemlock Falls: one of Mohican area's treasures.

Hemlock Woolly Adelgid Summit

Gorman Nature Center- Mansfield, Ohio Oct. 8, 2009

What is white and fuzzy and has infested over 1/3 of the hemlock forests in the northeastern United States? The Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, the focus of a fact-finding summit sponsored by the US Forest Service, Ohio Division of Forestry and the Greater Mohican Audubon Society on Oct 8th at the Gorman Nature Center.

An alien and invasive insect, which arrived in the US on hemlock used in decorative landscape, has become a concern of major proportions for US Parks and Forests. The importance of Eastern Hemlock- Tsuga canadensis, a keystone species that host an entire ecosystem that cannot be replaced by another tree, makes combating the fuzzy, white sap-sucking insects a high-priority for the managers of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Delaware Water Gap Recreational Area and beyond.
Mohican State Park and Forest would be vulnerable to this insect if introduced locally.

Nicole Stump-Wayne National Forest, Dr. James Dyer- Ohio University, Brad Onken- US Forest Service discuss the monitoring protocol for HWA.

Summit speakers included Brad Onken (Morgantown , WV) USDA Forest Service, Rich Evans (NJ) Delaware Water Gap, Dr. James Dyer and Nicole Stump from Ohio University, and Dr. Dave Horn, a respected entomologist and Director of Ohio Biological Survey. The summit was a brainstorming session for representatives from Ohio’s ecological and scientific communities throughout Ohio.

Early detection and public awareness will be key to arresting the progress of the adelgid in our native hemlock communities. The Ohio Department of Agriculture is monitoring hemlocks being transported for sale in Ohio, and will continue to be vigilant in eradicating hemlock infested with HWA. Many attendees called for a moratorium on all hemlock importation until better monitoring is in place. Dan Basler from the Ohio Division of Forestry, led the round-table summit, and indicated a desire to get information on recognizing and reporting these silent killers of our natural resources to the general public, especially outdoors men and women.

For more information on Hemlock Woolly Adelgids see

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Meadowbrook Preserve: Marblehead's Best Kept Secret

The Marblehead peninsula, home to Lakeside and the Lakeside Daisy Preserve has been featured in numerous blogs this month. Just Google "Midwest Birding Symposium" and you should get a ton of hits featuring the peninsula: East Harbor State Park's Kirtland's Warbler, the historic city of Lakeside, and for the botany minded, Lakeside Daisy Preserve. An earlier Weedpicker post gave some of those botanical highlights- just click here.

But the best kept secret on the Peninsula is the new Meadowbrook Preserve. This beautiful causeway spans a part of the wetlands, which supports various habitats, from open water to mudflats. A scant 4 miles from the Fifth Street gates of Lakeside, an inland channel feeds this phenomenal preserve which plays host to numerous species of birds, botany and much more.

Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, and Black-crowned Night-Herons are common fare for this wetlands. The numerous frog species may be part of the reason the herons are found here. It's essentially a fast-food market for these birds! The ducks also gathered for our viewing pleasure: Wood Ducks, Mallards, Blue-winged Teal, Green-wing Teal, and Hooded Mergansers were all well represented.

A few days after the Midwest Birding symposium, Paul Baicich and I took a whirlwind tour of the peninsula , Medusa Marsh and part of Huron. Nothing else compared to the sheer numbers we found right here at Meadowbrook Preserve. Congratulations to the Danbury Trustees for their excellent work on providing habitat and a place for people to connect with nature.

Look for these signs on Bayshore Rd, just to the east of Englebeck Rd. I predict it will be a favorite site of the Midwest Birding Symposium 2011 participants, and nearby location for excellent birding. Bring on the Whimbrels!