Saturday, March 27, 2010

Shreve Migration Sensation

Whenever kids are outside, learning, and having this much fun- someone is getting it right! Thanks to Carrie Elvey and her crew from The Wilderness Center, the wetland dip-net portion of the Shreve Migration event is a sensation in every way!

Greater Mohican Audubon partners on many events each year and Shreve has become one of my favorites. It is not about the big names, not much flash or pizazz here, it is all about families. Kids garner much of the attention.

The highlight of my day? After adjusting my scope to half its normal height, I stood back to watch this young birder hone in on a Ruddy Duck. As he scanned across Wright Marsh, this polite young man quietly confirmed the waterfowl ids with his nearby father. Next, his brother stepped up to the scope and gave his hand a try. It is a privilege to bird with these young Amish birders, and share our respect and awe for the natural world. Their quiet lives make more sense to me than most of this troubled world.

It was shoulder to shoulder on the observation platform at Funk Bottoms, and as always we shared our sightings and compared good finds.

Shreve is a wonderful event for meeting up and sharing time with our many birding friends. Long distance travelers Nina and Anton Harfmann even won the prize for the longest drive! A few of my favorite characters are pictured here, slurping up gummy worms after a "tough" morning of birding! Greg Miller and Janet Creamer flaunt their snacks, while Jason Larson is looking stunned to be caught with his hand in the "worm bag." Hard to believe, but compared to these three (and a few others seated nearby), the Weedpicker almost seems normal!

Speakers, speakers, speakers... a full compliment of educational programing included a few of my friends: Laura Jones, Kim and Kenn Kaufmann, and of course, Jim McCormac- seen here being "wired" for sound by Joe Edinger. Joe is the man behind the scenes in Shreve for this wonderful event. He coordinates all the programs and volunteers and the million details to make this show go on. This is no small feat, as over 1022 people were in attendance at this "Sensation!"
And a special "thank you" to all of our wonderful GMAS volunteers who work so hard at these events! Bianca Davis, Bob Hopp, Roger Troutman, Dick Stoffer and especially Su Snyder for arranging for our spotters at the various locations. And on the inside- thanks to: Sally Deems-Mogyordy, Sue Olive, Su Snyder, Bianca Davis, Jim Sloan and Janet Creamer for setting up and working our booth. Thank you all- it couldn't be done without you! Hope to see you again next year

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ohio Botanical Symposium

If you are a big fan of Ohio's natural areas, you have probably heard of the Ohio Botanical Symposium. About 415 of Ohio's native plant people gathered in Columbus for an educational day of programs, vendors and the latest plant news. A special gathering of Sedge-heads were there to hear the great Tony Reznichek talk about one of the most confusing genus of the plant world, sedges.

One of the best places to look for rare plants is near rare habitats, and Richland county's Five-Finger Bog is a land trust property and frequent haunt of mine.

Today Jim McCormac presented the program on "Best Finds" from all over Ohio, including the Bog Willow, Salix pedicellaris, and Five-Finger cinquefoil, Potentilla palustris found at Five-finger Bog by a couple of the best botanist in Ohio: Rick Gardner and Steve McKee. I was honored to be along on that trip and photo documented the great day as shown above.

Others were credited with "Best Finds", too. Friends like Jason Larson, Daniel Boone, Janet Creamer, Tom Arbour and loads more- that I can't remember! I will try to get my hand on the list and post it in its entirety later. These are the people adding to our Ohio Heritage data base, and the important work of the Ohio Heritage botanists.

Another speaker was the well-known author Dr. Douglas Tallamy- if you don't own Bringing Nature Home yet, please click on the link and get it! I might help you re-think your whole perspective on landscape plants - and the species trying to make a living on them: caterpillars, spiders, bees, birds, frogs, bats and many mammals as well. Think about adding native plants to your landscape, and as Tallamy wrote in my copy of the book: "Garden as if life depends upon it!" Because, it does!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ohio's Earliest Trillium

Ohio's earliest and most diminutive Trillium, Snow Trillium, Trillium nivale is a member of the Liliaceae or Lily family. These dime-sized beauties have a special charm of their own.

Trilliums are the most recognizable and earliest of the spring ephemerals: those short-lived wildflowers that bloom before trees fully leaf out in the spring. And Snow Trilliums, standing but 3-5 inches tall, are a real rarity.

These were photographed in Franklin County (just outside of Columbus), where I have seen the hardy half-pints blooming in April- when snow was still lingering on the ground! The Wilderness, a property owned by
The Nature Conservancy in Adams County also harbors a population that should be in full bloom right now.

Easy to recognize but difficult to find, the Snow Trillium is a flora-phile's delight.
And if you are one of the many hundreds of flora-philes and botanists headed to Columbus on Friday for the Ohio Botanical Symposium, stop by the Flora-Quest booth and say "hello" to the Weedpicker. One of my favorite events each year, it is well organized by Ohio's Heritage Botanist, Mr. Rick Gardner. Hope to see you there!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Welcome as the rain...

Of all the wonders in our world, what could be more amazing than fresh water falling from the skies? Food and sun may be vital for a plant or animals survival, but consider hydration. How long can one survive without water? Unless you were born to be a cactus or a camel, it would be a short, painful life my friend.

And so I welcome the rain.
Spring manifested in liquid form; life giving, life sustaining.

My little friend, Kilroy - a Jefferson salamander, and I wish you happy Spring and blessed showers. You'll find me at the vernal pools, admiring early life forms, while awaiting the trilliums and warblers. Spring is finally on its way.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

March Madness: Frog Courting 101

Spring has officially arrived when the frogs start singing. Frog song is not only aesthetically pleasing to me, the female froggies are wild about it too! Since several species of frogs gather in the same water-holes, how does a poor gal know what to do? Consider this blog your "Female Frog's Guide to the Singles' Scene."

The first frogs to the vernal pools in mid-Ohio are the Western Chorus Frog, Pseudacris triseriata. Pseudacris- roughly translates to "false locust"- and their insect-like call is much like a thumb-stroking the teeth of a comb. Dime-sized, yellow at the jaw line and three distinctive stripes are worn by all stylin' Western boys (cowboy hat not included).

The Spring Peeper, Pseudacris crucifer crucifer is a lead-singer and a high pitched songster: peep-peep-peep. They arrive at the pools a bit later ( I heard numerous calls today), but are similar in size to the chorus frogs. The name Crucifer- means cross-bearing, and the Peepers have a large X on their backs.

Easily found by their ear-piercing chorus, some frog researchers have reported feeling nauseated from the deafening sound created by a frog chorus in full-swing. No amplifiers needed by these amphibian rock-stars, they do it all with an expandable, vibrating vocal sac.

.......Photo by John Howard

Last to arrive to the woodland frog singles' scene is the land-loving Wood Frog, Lithobates sylvatica . This terrestrial frog is found in woodlands and only gather at the water for a short breeding period in the spring. Wood frogs are indicators of high quality, undisturbed woodlots- and have suffered from habitat loss due to development. Recently they were completely extirpated from Franklin County, and efforts to re-introduce them have been ongoing.

Pinkish- to brown in coloration, sporting a bandit's black mask, and deceptively using a voice of duck, these frogs Quack-clack-clack their love calls to attract suitable females.

........ Photo by Warren Uxley

This is the only time of year Wood Frogs can be found in the water.

These early frogs species are sensitive, and negatively impacted by chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and logging. If quality wetlands continue to decline in Ohio, it will be come even more difficult to find these cryptic woodland singers.

To learn more about wetlands and the interesting creatures that inhabit them, you want to sign up for the Managing Wetlands for Biodiversity Conference being held April 10th 2010 in Ashland. Go right here for the details and registration form.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Pintails, Destined for Doom?

So global warming is real. The science backs it up, and even if my brother and GW Bush still remain unconvinced.. the scientific community knows it is as basic as: a lifestyle of fast food and smoking equals heart failure. They have measured our actions, and it is not looking so good. It is time to face our habits of self-destruction.

Audubon National is all about it. Some say their reports sensationalize and use some questionable data to justify their views. That maybe, but birds are in decline. Fact.

And if the decline of Northern Pintails is due to global warming, or if it is due to habitat loss of the western prairie pothole region created by increased farming for ethanol, does it make a difference? I don't want to imagine a world without a sky-full of pintails. by Dane Adams (click to enlarge)

The view that makes my heart beat faster.
It is time to consider our actions. No one person can do it all... but each of us could do a little. And if you are interested in the birds most at stake- according to National Audubon, Northern Pintails are rated #3 with a 77% decline. Click right here for the complete listing. Dane Adams
...Yes... yes, we are standing on ice, dear. But global warming is real.

I'm not really interested in forecasting gloom and doom, but let's think about our future- and how we can each be part of the solution.

Think globally- but act locally, starting in your own backyard.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Nature's Early Shift

Several signs of spring have announced the floodgates of rain and warmer weather are not far behind. The bird-watchers can attest, the overhead movement of migration has started. Pintails, wigeon, redheads and the like are seeking out refuge in the icy waters, open within the ice flows, on their path northward.

Salamanders and frogs have started their migrations to vernal pools, for fabulous nights of free love and egg laying. It is a short lived affair, oft lit by the lanterns of awe-struck herpetologist. I confess, I have been known to don the waders and partake in a bit of voyeurism, myself.

But nothing says "spring" like the pollinators.

The earliest of pollinators for the earliest of flowers- Harbinger-of-Spring (or Salt and Pepper), Erigenia bulbosa. This hairy little bee has his winter coat on, to protect it from the cool spring temps. These early bees are a short-lived seasonal occurrence.

The Witch Hazel, (Ozark witch-hazel) Hamamelis vernalis is now being pollinated by a very early spring bee. Unfortunately, I can't ID either of these interesting native insects. A fact I can tell you: since the threat of colony collapse disorder and the demise of many European honeybees (non-native imports), scientists are taking a hard look at these important native insects. Without pollinators, mankind would be seriously challenged to find food sources.
With a great interest in these little work-horses of the insect world, I am really looking forward to Judy Semroc's pollinator program at the ...
Be sure to check out the schedule on line and join us on August 6-8th for some amazing speakers and a whole lot of fun. I'll be covering the butterfly plants, and get to lead a trip with Jim Davidson, one of Ohio's finest lepidopterist. Sure hope to see you there!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Vernal pools spring to life

In a desperate attempt to banish winter, John Howard arranged an Adams County foray for any signs of spring. Morning temperatures were still hovering in the 40's when we staged an assault on a vernal pool.

Vernal pools are ephemeral ponds, generally holding water January through July. They are the breeding grounds for many frog and salamander species, and if they held water all year- fish would be present and predate the eggs of the other life forms.

So here we are- tapping the keg, so to speak. Jim McCormac "handles" the ice breaking for this crew, consisting of (standing) Nina Harfman, John Howard, Janet Creamer, Bob Scott Placier and me.

Janet and Nina are the ultimate tomboys, and two of my favorite almost-adults. Here they are inspecting a larva of an immature Marble Salamander, Ambystoma opacum.

The earliest of the salamanders to breed, egg laying time for Marbled Salamander is late fall. They have a fascinating life-history, but I'll leave that up to the others to tell, as they each have nature blogs as well, and are far more knowledgeable on that topic.

While the others were making over icy salamanders, your Weedpicker wandered off to study the seed, or achenes of a Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis. This is one of my favorite wetland plant species and the seeds are a common food for waterfowl, especially the Wood Duck.

Just to give a hint of things to come, the Buttonbush flower will look this in a few months. Butterflies and bees are highly attracted to these globular florets.

Vernal pools and wetlands are important to our native wildlife. If you are interested in learning more about wetlands and the biodiversity they host, sign up for the amazing $25.00 program Managing Wetlands for Biodiversity on April 10th in Ashland Ohio. We will have 3 of Ohio's top wetland experts, Gregg Lipps, Dr Jim Bissell, and John Mack speaking and leading trips into the field.

For more information and registration form go to It is hosted by Friends of Wetlands and Greater Mohican Audubon Society. Seating is limited to 75- so don't delay!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Just Golden: a Golden Eagle at Killdeer Plains!

On a march trip to Killdeer Plains, waterfowl is the main event. The warming trends and a crack of open water at pond #27 is all it took to entertain the scope-happy folks from The Wilderness Center, Crawford County Parks, Firelands and Greater Mohican Audubon Societies during our March 6th joint trip to Killdeer.

Both Tundra and Trumpeter Swans were present, and a good number of early migrant ducks.

Thanks to our volunteers, several life-birds were seen on the pond and from the back roads of Killdeer Plains.Our group of seven regaled in some excellent looks at both Horned Larks and Lapland Longspurs on Washburn Rd.
After a little life-bird dancing, we headed west just in time to spot an eagle cruising in our direction. A bit of commentary about the unusual "tilt" of the wings brought our cars to a halt. It was time for a better look...

And look.. we did. And gawk...and stare. With jaw dropping views of a juvenile Golden Eagle circling our heads, I decided it was time to run for the camera. Pardon the poor shots, but after all... I am only a Weedpicker.

As it flew away, the white tail band and white "window panels" on the wings were easy enough to note, but still hard to believe. We were feeling blessed and rich indeed, as we had shared a golden moment.

And here is your blogger, sporting the new Ohio Wildlife Legacy stamp in a handy clip on tag. I was proud to be wearing it when that Golden Eagle added me to his "life-birder" list! I hope you'll buy one too, and support Ohio's wildlife areas and the biodiversity found within.

Special thanks to Brad Phillips, Mary Warren and Su Snyder for helping to compile the day's list, and to everyone who attended our event at Killdeer Plains.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Eurasian Wigeon visits Newark

I hate to admit it, but I love a good bird chase. Nothing clears the head from winter cobwebs like standing above an impoundment of waterfowl. And something about the sound waves of whistles, quacks and honks drifting across the water are a tonic for my soul. One author compared it to the sounds of a "cocktail party." If so, pour me a big one, please.

Recent reports to Ohio's List-serv are from the T J Evans Park just north of Newark, on the East side of Rt.13. It is a bear to find, but well worth the effort. This well-hidden park lies across and over a railroad track, but an obvious jewel, once you are there.

A viewing platform overlooks a water park, which appears to be the remains of a past quarry operation. With open winter water, my guess is the quarry shut down when they hit an artisan spring. The road to the lower level is closed, but no matter. When I was there the lighting and angles offered spectacular looks at the water fowl, creating one of the best set- ups for waterfowl photography that I have ever seen. Too bad I don't have the camera equipment to do it justice.

.......................--click photo to enlarge-
And sure enough, bobbing around like corks in a tub, our migrant duckies. Redheads and American Wigeons were the most common, with a beautiful Canvasback (not shown) and off to the left, the rich cinnamon colors of an Eurasian Wigeon. It is always a good find, as we rarely have more than a couple reported in Ohio each year. This is not the first Eurasian Wigeon I've seen, but it was certainly the best looks. Breathtaking! This "baldpate" was text book, in full living color. He followed the Redheads around, harassing them for their hard earned greens. These wigeon are a bit of a pick-pocket, and often liberate their meals from some hard-working diving duck. They call it kleptoparasitism... there is no cure.

Close-up with an Eurasian Wigeon (this one from a Cape Breton birds site- amazing photos there!)
If anyone gets some good shots of our Newark bird, don't hesitate to forward copies. This male was a spectacular bird.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Winter Leaf Squeezing

Winter walks provide a perfect opportunity for a little leaf squeezing. Yes, it will probably never become so popular it becomes an Olympic sport, but it is an excellent exercise in natural history.

Look closely among those dried leaves remaining on the trees and understory shrubs. Sure, go ahead and squeeze them... just don't squeeze them too hard! Wrapped inside their safe cozy, leafy cocoon a moth may be spending winter.

.....................Photo provided by Dave Lewis

And if those moth cocoons are fortunate enough to be over-looked by the hungry woodpeckers and the migrating wood warblers, they will be hatching out one of these balmy spring days.

Many of the larger cocoons protect members of the giant silk moth, or Saturniidae, like the Promethea in the photo. Once the mature moth emerges from its cocoon, their life expectancy is but a few days. Silk moths have no mouth parts, and cannot feed. Their only order of business is finding a mate and producing eggs to continue the species.

Once those eggs hatch out, hungry hoards of caterpillars eat or are eaten. It is a tough life as an early instar of an insect. And these gooey protein sacks are a primary food source for many species of birds. Unfortunately, our native silk moths have suffered great losses from pesticides, invader insects which were introduced to control gypsy moths, and the general loss of habitat. And in a trickle-down economy, that means it is harder for the birds to find dinner.

If you like birds, and butterflies- plant a native tree. Cherries, oaks, walnuts, elms... these are the native tree species our moths and butterflies have co-evolved to feed upon.

And if you are interested in learning more about the relationships between lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) and native plants, be certain to hear Dr. Doug Tallamy on March 26th at the Ohio Botanical Symposium. You find his program fascinating!

Go here for all the details. Deadline for registration is March 22nd.