Monday, May 31, 2010

Nightjar Food

Who says all moths are dull-colored night fliers? On a recent visit to Adams County we found this beautifully colored moth flying in the early evening, well before dark. Seems to me it was just begging to be picked off by some gap-mouthed nightjar, either a Whip-poor-will or Chuck-will's-widow.

Called the Common Spring Moth, or Heliomata cycladata it was well worth stopping for a photograph of this quarter-sized insect. It had a striking white, saddle-like marking edged with blueish specks. Moths often capture my attention as they are close relatives of butterflies. However, with over 10,000 species of moth in North America, I am not very confident in my ability to learn them all, and that is one of the main reasons I stick to butterflies! When I do need to sort a moth out from the crowd, I go to Moth Photographer's Group and use their amazing data base. I can flip through hundreds and hundreds of photos until I find a similar family on which to to hone my search.


The previous day, a few of us were out botanizing when we flushed a Chuck-will's-widow off its nest. I think "nest" is a pretty generous term for this unstructured egg clutch. Nearly the size of a small chicken egg, I figured it would take at least four for an omelet (Just kidding- no hate mail!!!)

"Chucks" have been a target of interest for me for about 5 years now. In fact, it has been a bit of an nemesis-bird. I have made numerous night trips to Adams County to cruise back roads with my car windows rolled down, listening for their calls.


The next day, I stood face to beak- at a safe respectful distance- with my newest Ohio "life-bird". We were able to safely view our little "widow" brooding her eggs, through a high powered scope. She is difficult to find and even quite cryptic in this frame filling shot. Follow the dark line from the centered plant across to the right, and you will find her beak smack dab in the middle. She lies facing us, with her tail extending back to the left.
Thanks to Kathy McDonald for sharing the photo we took through the scope (her camera- I pushed the button.) And thanks to all the great folks who helped with the OOS Breeding Bird Workshop at the Edge of Appalachia. We met some new friends, and saw some wonderful birds, plants, butterflies, and much, much more. I'll be spreading the blog fodder out for the next couple of days!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Herding Cats

Facebook fans have recently been posting about some of these scary looking caterpillars commonly found in southern Ohio. These boys are voracious and well known for chowing-down on plants in the pipevine family. I saw some tonight on my travels through Adams County...

............................................................ photo Cathy Knoop

...and I am looking forward to finding more Pipevine Swallowtail "cats" this weekend. Pipevine is said to make the butterflies poisonous, and while I do not know which chemical is at play here, I will resist the urge to eat either plant, caterpillar or butterfly on the off chance that "they" are right! John Howard

The adult Pipevine is a striking swallowtail. I have planted its host plant in my yard with great hopes for the future. Dave Reipenhoff

This crop of caterpillars are steadily working on a willow. Willow is a host plant for several species of butterflies, including the Mourning Cloak (shown above), and Viceroy caterpillars.

.................................................................C. Harner
Mourning Cloak butterflies overwinter as adults and are often the earliest species seen each year. They may seen dull and dark on a quick fly-by, but if you are lucky enough to see one close up, the blue spots and yellow banding make quite a contrast with the dark, sometimes nearly burgundy-tinted hues.
Early summer is a great time to look for caterpillars, but remember, even if you find them, it is virtually impossible to herd a "cat"!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

It's Karner Time!

OK- Butterfly fans! Here is the news you have been waiting for: Jackie Riley from Kitty Todd Nature Preserve (Oak Openings) reports - "It's Karner time!"

....................................................................Photo J. Riley

Those tiny blue fliers-which are Federally listed as ENDANGERED have just hatched out at Kitty Todd. We have had many posting on these in the past- bring up a few of the old posts if you are interested in learning more. That is a Karner's Blue butterfly I photographed at Kitty Todd, perched on the title header of this page.

..................................................... J. Riley
And if you are into rare butterflies- the Dusted Skippers have been flying too. This is a little harder sell, I know. But it is a real rarity and a "must see" for the butterfly folks!

.................................................. ....................................Photo J. Riley
And last but not least- drive carefully out there! Jackie found this very rare Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) crossing a road near the Oak Openings. We have reported the little fellow to the proper agency, as these populations are monitored throughout Ohio. The spotted turtle is not currently listed in the US Federal Endangered Species Act; however, it is listed as endangered in 22 states.

So, planning a trip to the Oak Openings? Late June to early July is one of the best times of year, and be sure to stop by Kitty Todd and tell my friend Jackie, "Hi!"

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ohio's Rare Plants

Just west of Castalia, the Ohio Division of Wildlife owns a 2,272 acre plot of which includes a large remnant of native prairie. I have visited this location in the summer, enjoying the full beauty of head-high grasses and forbs, but today’s photo features its crowning glory of spring: the endangered small White Lady’s-slipper Orchid, Cypripedium candidum.

They were a bit past their "prime " this year, as the weather has played havoc with much of Ohio's normal botanical timing. But mark mid-May on your calendar for next year and see them emerging from the rubble-like natural formations of tufa rock. These orchids, smallest of the lady’s-slippers, are fit for a pint-sized princess. Breath-taking to behold and mixed in with many other mega-rarities, if you go to visit be careful where you step as rare plant life is found everywhere.

It is an impressive sight. Friends Jimmy and Susan "ooh and ah" over the smaller-than-normal crop of White Lady's-slippers. This must have been an "off year" for barely thumb sized orchids, and the field did not show signs of a spring burn.

Geology and fire play key roles in the production of this field of orchids. The plants are calciphiles, and would not exist if not for the lime-rich tufa rock. (A whole blog should be written on tufa rock and I may challenge some geologist to do just that!) It is also tough for them to compete with prairie and woody plants that tend to pioneer on open prairies- without fires. Burning this prairie has become key to maintaining the balance of vegetation, and without the fire- the orchids would not be able to continue in this unique habitat.

For comparision, here is a mid-May photo from 2008. Not only was the bloom count higher, but the orchids were much larger as well.
Managing Natural Areas of Ohio require good science and some back breaking work. If you love botany and wish to see Ohio's natural areas mantained for rare plants and animals, please download the pre-made post card and send, or write a letter to your State Rep. and the Governor of Ohio and let them know. DNAP has been totally cut from funding, and many of us worry for the future of Ohio's rare plants. Please show your support for Ohio's Natural Areas.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Ruining Birders

Yesterday was the combined Greater Mohican Audubon and The Wilderness Center trip to Magee. We had a nice crowd, and the birds did their best to keep us well entertained. But perhaps, because I have spent so much time looking down in search of a Connecticut Warbler, or perhaps because I have A.D.D.- I saw a lot of other nature forms on this trip.

.......................... on photo to enlarge

There is a healthy crop of the Comfrey plant, Symphytum officinale now blooming along the Magee Boardwalk. This non-native plant, (the moniker officinale- means "of the shops" meaning it was sold medicinally) was once commonly used in teas and herbal remedies.

Yes, I confess, I ruined some perfectly good birders, convincing them that botany is way cool. "Go ahead Bianca, take a photo of this awesome purple flower!"

All the wildlife seemed to be on the move today. This was the first day the mosquitoes were out in full-force, and the green frogs were happily singing about it! This Northern Water Snake was just "hanging out," probably enjoying a bit of sun.

And what do you call a snail hitching a ride on a Painted turtle's back? Es-car-on-the-go, of course!

In spite of my fool hardy efforts, Sue Evanoff (standing left, in the tan) did her best keeping this group corralled and seeing all the warblers, cuckoos and local resident birds.
Thanks to Sue E. and Su Snyder for organizing this trip and herding this group of birders all around the boardwalk on a beautiful spring day.

Friday, May 21, 2010

One Last Longing Look

After a week- plus (or should I say a "plus" week!)- at Magee Marsh and environs*, it is hard to give it up. Knowing the wood-warblers will soon be gone is akin to taking a last heart-breaking glance at a loved one embarking on a long journey. Even as those feathered jewels delight us with their very presence, they have a much larger role to play than providing entertainment for birders. These neo-tropical migrants must complete their journey north and their life-cycle destiny: procreation.

Saturday morning, The Wilderness Center and Greater Mohican Audubon Society will gather on the back-side of the boardwalk at Magee for the last stroll of the the 2010 spring migration. There could still be some interesting bird-life about, and a possible chance for sighting those elusive late arrivals -the Connecticut Warbler. Today a "Twitter" went out from BSBO that a Connecticut was being heard in the Magee Boardwalk parking lot! So our excitement builds...

But one last look at a late season Black-throated Green would be tonic for my soul as well. I have no need for the rarest or the hardest to procure. The simple beauty of this "common" warbler aways quickens my heart.

Or Parula, gleaning insects from on high, singing his emphatic song that always ends with an exclamation!

Black and White Warbler, the pied creeper played hide-and-seek with me all week long. Dane Adams
Ever the exhibitionist- Gray Catbird- the rufous-bottomed leaf-flipper, chatters and scolds throughout the boardwalk, always making me smile. She may continue on at the marsh, but pairs will quiet considerably as they incubate eggs and feed their young. One can't always be the life of the party.
And as migration winds down, summer arrives...allowing this birder a slower pace for rest and reflection on the endless cycle of nature and our very small place in this ancient world.
*If you would like to express your appreciation for Magee with a little "pay-back" labor, you are not too late for the last garlic mustard pull. Scheduled from 1-4 pm on May 25, 26, and 27th- any help is appreciated. Check in With Mary Warren and her crew at the west end of the boardwalk. They will be keeping track of volunteers and number of bags pulled. Thanks to the volunteers who are making a huge difference in the quality of Magee's habitat.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Botany = Birds

Continuing the tale of Separate Shores...

Kelleys Island's scenic shore of Long Point and the Jones Preserve have a similar feel to parts of Magee's boardwalk area. Large trees provide a canopy for a shrubby undergrowth. This path has consistently provided good looks at many warblers and ground loving thrushes. by Laurie Boylan

A rock wall parallels Erie's shore, marking the perfect location for a soothing sounds recording: waves gently lapping the shore play counter-bass to the susurrus of overhead leaves, teased by coastal breeze. An enchanted place which once held a myriad of spring flowers is now overrun with the invasive Wild Chervil, Anthriscus sylvestris. It looks much like a minature Poison Hemlock, as both are in the Apiaceae, or carrot family. Barely known in Ohio, it is considered an invasive in many other states and ironically, on another island: Iceland.

AND NOW our story continues to a distant shore: a beach habitat of sparse scrubby brush, beaten back by sand and wave. As our group toured Kelleys Island, the Twitter report came across the waves of a major sighting at Magee. Witness how botany can come to play in birding:

Just as it had been predicted earlier in the week, this sandy beach with low scrubby vegetation would provide the best habitat for a Kirtland's Warbler. The Twitter report had confirmed a "K-Bird" was found by Kenn Kaufman, along this no-man's land.
The question was, would we be able to return from Kelleys in time to see it!

Exactly 32 minutes from our Kelleys Island ferry docking in Marblehead, Ohio- the first of our tour group ran across the Magee/Crane Creek sands at break-neck speeds. And as one might imagine, we had little trouble locating the bird, with a little help from the paparazzi!

The "biggest" bird- during the entire Biggest Week In American Birding: Kirtland's Warbler. Bird wise it is not so huge, but it is a fine, strapping specimen for a warbler. Not only was this bird kind enough to stop by Magee on its way to the Jack Pines stands of Michigan, he was also in beautiful breeding plumage and quite willing to strut his stuff and sing a bit for the masses.
Those of us who witnessed this incredible find felt blessed just to be in the presence of such an uncommon bird. Unfortunately, it was a one-day-wonder, and was gone before the next sunrise hit these shores.
My thanks to all the good folks at Black Swamp Bird Observatory, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Ohio Division of Wildlife and all the other partners who hosted the BWIAB.

Special thanks to Kenn for sharing the bird we viewed with the wide-eyed with excitement of children! And a big hug of thanks to Kim for allowing me to drive "her bus" and share my excitement for wonderful birds and botany with so many new birding friends.

Monday, May 17, 2010

On Separate Shores

Separated from Magee by miles of water, our BWIAB travels on Kelleys Island continued to the north east side of the island called "Long Point," where Camp Patmos and Jones Preserve are found.

A distant view of Put-in-Bay lies beyond the decorative lighthouse on Camp Patmos beach front. We were served a lovely lunch at this Christian Youth and Family Camp. But, I was a bit disappointed there was no traditional camp "bug juice" offered along with the iced tea and lemonade!


Tom Bartlett's people were doing a bird banding workshop during our visit. Bird banding is a way for people to learn more about subtle differences in birds, that might not be noticed without up-close inspection. Even guides Sam Woods and Christian Boix were interested in these proceedings.

..................... ....... photo by Dave Lewis

And I was most interested in the fresh hatch of Swamp Darner dragonflies cruising for minuet insects along our pathway. This is a jumbo-sized early season dragonfly and our largest Darner species. They have impressive cerci (terminal appendages) used while mating. Dragonflies and Damselflies of Northeast Ohio is the best book around for learning more about Ohio Dragonflies. Much of the artwork found with it was drawn by Jen Brumfield- the talented artist and birder who also produced the BWIAB logo!

................... .... ... photo by Dave Lewis
We also found the even rarer Carolina Saddlebags- a migrant dragonfly species! These must have blown north to Kelleys Island on the winds and storms of the preceding days. Once in Ohio they can reproduce, but they are generally rare and localized.

And all the while, we guides were sweating the truth. On another not-so-distant shore, another rare migrant was being seen. Could we get the troops back in time?
To be continued...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Biggest Week In American Birding

In case you have been living under some rock (or forgetting to read the logos in the side panels of this blog), the last ten or so days was the biggest, hugest bird-fest ever seen around these parts. It was centered at Magee Marsh in Oak Harbor, Ohio- but many of the field trips went far and beyond. The Oak Openings, Kelleys Island and Point Pelee, Canada were just a few of the offerings.

Last Friday morning, they loaded a crew of birders on the early ferry to Kelleys Island. We were set for the adventure and prepared to bird at land or sea.

Dave Lewis and his better/ saner half, Laurie also went along for the ride (probably illegally transporting a chipmunk- if I know these two.) It is a good thing too, as you will learn later ... dun dun dun... the tension builds.

And while we were on the way to our first birding location, someone spotted a Common Loon swimming near the shoreline. There was nothing "common" about a loon to Christian Boix, our Tropical Birding guide from Cape Town Africa. This is how one of our most accomplished birders celebrates a "Life-bird!" We were all thrilled to celebrate with him.
Kelleys' most famous geological feature- the Glacial Grooves- provides a point of cultural and historic interest on island life. Most of the limestone grooves created by a receding glacier were quarried for stone. This portion is preserved by the State park located at the end of Titus Road, which has an excellent treeline for an amazing selection of warblers. The Blackburian seemed to be our bird du jour, but no one was complaining. We explored the island on the best warbler "fall-out" day we have had this year, and spent the day enjoying all the island had to offer.

................ ....Photo by Dave Lewis
And lest we forget the botany, this limestone loving plant Aquilegia canadensis, the flame orange and yellow Wild Columbine sets its feet into the rock on the jagged shores of Lake Erie.
Thanks to Dave for sharing some great photos with me, as my camera battery died, whilst stranded on this island. Dave is too professional to make such a rank amateur's mistake. And once I get caught up on some sleep- I'll post some more adventures- from BWIAB (Biggest Week In American Birding).

Thursday, May 13, 2010

On a Lark at Oak Openings

The most botanically diverse location in Ohio is the Oak Openings. And along with botanical diversity, comes interesting animal and avian life. So it is no surprise the Oak Openings is a favorite place to visit, and I easily agreed to be the bus driver for one of BSBO's field trips to the "Oaks."

While strolling along Wilkins Rd. looking for warblers, we were smitten with these Cinnamon ferns, Osmunda cinnamomea in full glory. The fertile fronds of these woodland beauties look like a cinnamon sticks, hence the name. I am generally fern-impaired, but this is one is fairly obvious!

Warbler neck. Yup, most of my friends have it this time of year, and one of our guides, Elliot Tramer did his best to show our friend Mary how to properly achieve the stabbing pains that accompany watching for birds high up in the trees.
"Warblering" is a bit more fun at Magee Marsh, where they are more likely to be at eye-level. So, we moved on to see the "rare in Ohio" birds the Oaks are known for: Lark Sparrows.
The Oak Openings are the remains of a post-glacial sand beach. The only modern day shifting sand dunes in Ohio are perfect habitat for this ground nesting western species! A sign warns folks to stay out of this area during their breeding season. Click here (Dave Lewis' photo of Lark Sparrow, taken on last year's OOS trip to the Oaks) to see one of Ohio's most attractive sparrows.

Here is the habitat: scrubby oaks, sand dunes, rare plants= rare birds!

A little closer look at those wild Blue Lupine, Lupinus perennis- the host plant for those rare Karner Blue butterflies. For more info on the rare plants and animal of the Oaks, visit Blue Weekend 2010.

Tell 'em the Weedpicker sent you!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Blue Weekend

Warblers are good- but State Listed, Federally Endangered butterflies- are way cooler!!!
Behold: the Karner Blue butterfly.

When you come up to Magee, nearby Kitty Todd is the place for the "Butterfly of butterflies!"

Schedule your trip to Kitty Todd on May 15 or 16 for Blue Weekend, for the annual celebration of all things blue in the oak savanna, including the Karner blue butterfly, wild blue lupine and the blue spotted salamander. Hikes, presentations, photo exhibits and more are all part of this family-friendly weekend at Kitty Todd Preserve and surrounding protected areas in Northwest Ohio.
View the schedule

No promises on the Karners, but the amesome Frosted Elfins should still be out. And for you leps who bird watch in the off season, lark sparrows are sure to be seen. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me: and I will get you to the right people!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

More from Magee

International Migratory Bird Day at Magee attracted a much thinner crowd this year, something about rainstorms and tornado warnings scared off some of the casual birders. But we serious "warbler madness" types were still out in good number.

This magnificent Prothonotary warbler is just one of the 20 odd reasons we are willing to risk lightening and funnel clouds. With a window period of two weeks for these neo-tropical jewels to pass through Ohio on their way to the breeding grounds in Canada, we know if we miss it now, we will have to wait another full year until warblers in breeding plumage pass through again. So timing is everything.

....... .... Photo by Larry Richardson
Timing- and location. Here is your blogger, the Weedpicker, perched on a railing trying to claim a view from behind the front row birders. Some folks attend hockey or football games, we're just rallying for the Golden-wings, warblers that is!

And by mid afternoon, the crowds were being thrilled with glimpses of Black-throated Greens, Bay-breasted Warblers, and the ever popular Golden-winged Warbler. by Sue Evanoff
Friend Sue Evanoff fired off this shot of the elusive male warbler, with the iconic golden patch on its wing. Many tried, and most of us failed to focus on this little beauty as it flitted about the leaves in search of supper.
We found a second Golden-winged Warbler at Metzger Marsh, where we enjoyed birding with some of Holmes county's "plain" birders. Many of our area's Amish are excellent birders and whole families come out to see these colorful migrants. After one all-too-brief look, an elderly gentleman remarked, "Oh, it is pleasing to see, sure enough." And indeed, he is right.
If you are interested in our Holmes County Amish, and wonder about birding in their midst, you may want to listen to a recent interview on Amish Wisdom, a radio show hosted by Author Suzanne Wood Fisher.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Magee Madness

Today is International Migratory Bird Day, and thousands of birders are perched in northwest Ohio, with plans to attend today's events. We'll see how the weather holds up, but I even enjoy Spring's "bad weather". Bring on the rain!

Friday morning's birding was interrupted with a bit of a rain storm. The casual birders headed for the exits.

This fellow was fishing, just yards beyond the boardwalk. He didn't mind the rain so much. In fact, we both were enjoying having the place to ourselves for a bit!

Ah, my favorite stretch of boardwalk, and thanks to the downpour I was one of the few folks left to enjoy the birdsong and the rain. Admittedly, there was little action to see but the Baltimore Orioles and Warbling Vireos sweetened the air-waves with their calls

The cloud formations gathered a crowd in the Black Swamp Bird Observatory's parking lot. The clouds swirled about in strange formations, this one looking like the thumb-print of God.

Pockets and opening in the clouds created a canvas of awe. Sometimes, it pays to admire nature in all her forms, and the reward for venturing out in the rain was painted in the sky for those of us willing to observe. Nature's vast beauty is everywhere, if we only look around.