Monday, August 30, 2010

"I"- Candy

When a routine heron-head-count stop produced a couple of unusual southern visitors, it created quite a stir for Wayne Co. Fortunately several friends stopped by to see the birds and reassure me that I wasn't dreaming! These typically southern birds are occasional visitors north, with very few sightings of singles or small groups in Ohio each year. Some photos were taken to document the deal, but typically with these immature plegadis ibis, there just aren't enough field marks to sort them out.
But really, who cares?!
They were great looking birds and I enjoyed finding them and sharing them with friends. Here is a little eye-candy for my blogger friends. Hope you enjoy them too! (Photos provided by Dane Adams- thanks Dane!)

Ibis sp. photo by Dane Adams

Ibis sp. photo by Dane Adams

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Yesterday was our regular GMAS bird walk at Byers Woods and afterwards I did a bit of solo birding for shorebirds. Funk Wildlife Area and the peat pit on Wilderness Rd seemed like good places to start, but it was the place that I finished that proved most interesting!

While heading North on Funk RD (yes, that is really its name!) I spotted 10-12 Great Egrets and multiple Great Blue Herons feeding at a receding water hole in a fallow field. I figured I would set up my scope and take a peek...

Ibis sp. and two great Egrets photo by Kurt Wray
It was a funny moment when I realized there were two ibis fraternizing with this long legged crew. Not a sight you expect to see in Ohio!! So, thanks to Greg Miller, we got the word out on the Ohio List-serv and folks started rolling in to witness these unusual visitors.

Ibis photo by Kurt Wray
Kurt Wray sent along a few photos, and we appreciate a closer look at this pair. It is difficult if not impossible to tell if they are juvenile Glossy or White-faced Ibis, but based on past history, Glossy would be the more likely of the two.
If you are interested in the break down between the two species of dark ibis click here for a recent article on the Colorado Field Ornithologist's Blog.
Whatever they were- I was happy to see them. But seriously, I could have fun just watching the egrets and herons. If it is nature- it is all good!

Friday, August 27, 2010


Nature. Just when you think you have it all figured out, she tosses a curve ball.
All moths fly at night, except when they don't. Katydids are green, except when they are pink (or blue)! And those female tiger swallowtails- are either black or striped, except when you find a rare in-between.

A female Tiger Swallowtail in an unusual "intermediate" color form. In all my years of butterflying, this one was a stand-out to me! Much darker than a normal striped female, she looked black when she closed her wings. This is a combination of the two female color variations.

She just couldn't decide what to wear! The darkness of her coloration was more obvious at a distance, making her a fashionista of the tigresses.
Nature- something new every day!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Black Tiger

Many of my birding friends show an interest in butterflies during the slow, hot months of summer. And since so many birders are proficient at sorting out look-a-like shorebirds and confusing fall warblers, certainly they can learn the few anomalies in butterflies.
Only a few species of butterflies show significant dimorphism: the male and female look markedly different. One species, the Tiger Swallowtail, has two different female forms. These are both female Tiger swallowtails pictured in the photo below.

The commonly recognized "tiger" form of the female on the left is only slightly different than the male tiger swallowtail. She sports a bit more blue at the base of her hindwing.
However, the black-form female tiger swallowtails can be a real poser. Maybe we need to talk about those confusing "black" butterflies? This black-form female still has a blue band at the hindwing, and if you see her against the light- you can actually see these faintest of stripes!! That is a sure bet you are looking at a dark-phase female tiger.

Suprise! Now we have added a male to the mix - a male Spicebush Swallowtail. He has just joined the ladies for a drink (of nectar). He is also a dark butterfly similar in size to the tigers, yet there are no see-through wing stripes. We can easily assess this a male, as his hindwing color is green. A female Spicebush would have a blue coloration.

Tigers can routinely be found nectaring on brightly colored flowers, such as Purple Coneflower and Ironweed. But this photo from Adams county was the first time I have seen them nectaring on the incredibly fragrant Virgin Bower, Clematis virginiana. I have one in my landscape but I rarely see it utilized by butterflies. I plan to take a much closer look to see if mine is actually a hybrid, that may not be producing a sweet smell or nectar like Ohio's native plant.

Blue Jay Barrens posted a wonderful article on Virgin Bower and I encourage you to tap on the link and visit his sight for for more information about this wonderful native plant.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Amorpha Made the Beetle

A recent expedition to Adams and Scioto counties was carefully planned to find the colorful, yet elusive Amorpha Borer beetle. Some (like Jim McCormac) say this is the most attractive insect on earth. While this blog mildly contests that statement, I strongly submit- Amorpha made the beetle!

Photo by Wikipedia
False Indigo (or Desert False Indigo) Amorpha fruticosa is a plant with a limited range in Ohio. It is found on the water edges along the Lake Erie and the Ohio River. There is also an isolated population at Killdeer Plains and in other counties where it was most likely spread by man. It is considered native in Ohio, due to the southern-most population. But before I would get on this extremely attractive native's bandwagon- I must warn- it is banned as a noxious weed in several states and seems to aggressively reproduce.

The equally attractive beetle is named for the habit of laying eggs within the stems of Amorpha. When the tiny eggs hatch, the beetle larva feed on the inner pulp of the plant, hence the name Amorpha Borer. These beetles are as rare as pelicans in Ohio, but they may be more plentiful in the states where Amorpha reigns. We are still learning about this mysterious bug!

Watch for the False Indigo, Amorpha fruticosa if you are in the vicinity of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge or Killdeer Plains. It is an attractive shrub with compound leaves, much like a black locust.

Any rational person would have to admit THIS insect, the Southern Dogface butterfly, is far better looking than a beetle. Southern Dogface butterflies are also Amorpha dependant, and the only population I have ever witnessed were at Ottawa NWR.
This golden-yellow beauty could easily be mistaken for a common Yellow Sulphur butterfly, and what a sorry disappointment that would be. Watch closely for those straight cut edges on the upper wing and the silhouette of a poodle.
Once again we see how plants and animals have important relationships that should not be taken for granted. Take away the Amorpha and there will be no beetle, or butterfly! Ohio is on the edge of the range for both the plant and these wonderful creatures it hosts, yet we may not want to introduce this plant into sensitive areas in case it proves itself an unwelcome guest.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Eye of the Tiger

A field trip to Adams County afforded some wonderful opportunities to get up-close and personal with many species of butterflies, and a few interesting "bugs" too. More photos will be forthcoming, but for now, let's say I happened to see things "eye to eye" with this fella.

He brought along his own "straw" to nectar on a native thistle, and while he probed the flower with his proboscis (a fitting name for the implement), I checked out the leaves to determine which thistle we were both enjoying.

Tiger Swallowtail on Tall Thistle.
And so we stood, face to face, admiring the beautiful flowers of Tall Thistle, Cirsium altissimum. This particular thistle is not very well armed; it barely has bristles. Those lanceolate leaves also offer a nice color-contrast with their noticeably lighter undersides.
He wondered why gardeners never consider planting these lovely plants, as they are guaranteed to attract a host of butterflies. I said I would pass the idea along, since we both agreed: thistles could add a new dimension to the average flower garden!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Secret Lives of Butterflies

If you only look for butterflies on flowers, you could be missing some interesting species. One can find butterflies in more locations- and a few places you might never suspect. Most butterflies are known to puddle- or gather minerals from damp gravel or mud.

Mud flats are not just for shorebirds you know, here a bevy of beauties gathered at Ottawa NWR for minerals. All but one is the common species, Clouded Sulphur, but look closely at the squared-off wing of the mostly obscured upper left specimen. That, my friends, is a Dog-face. A rare member of the sulphur family who migrates from the south. They generally appear later in the season, if they appear in Ohio at all.

A Hackberry butterfly was found feasting on the body of a Lakeside mayfly. We may find some of their behaviors a bit horrifying, as we don't consider butterflies as possible carnivores.

Savoring a damp spot on a hot summer day, this Spicebush Swallowtail was fixated upon...

the fragrant juice from a dumpster. No flowers here.

Scat, in particular, fox scat is very appealing to this Appalachian Brown and several other winged species. Appalachian Browns were once considered a single species with Eyed Browns. However, the Eyes are found in wet meadows where the much rarer Appalachian is found near damp woods and bogs. Robert M.Pyle says in Audubon's Field Guide to the Butterflies, "Both species are vulnerable to development of inland wetlands."
Looking closely at butterflies and discovering their secrets can be a repulsive, yet beautiful sight. I don't mind. I figure butterflies just keep secrets from the masses of people who chose to believe what they will, and do not bother to learn the truth about butterflies. Their lives are not all flowers.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Miracle in the Marsh

Ohio's wetlands may be limited in size, but they are fascinating hotbeds of biodiversity. Absolutely a-buzz with dragonflies, bees, butterflies, singing insects and birds... and in May, Ohio hosted no less than 5 of these gaily colored swamp-chickens, Purple Gallinules.

A spring storm may have been the catalyst, for after the weather cleared on May 4th there seemed to be a "purple rain" of southern birds.
McCarty reported several in the Plain Dealer and hundreds of Ohio's birders streamed to Columbia Station see this Floridian as it scampered across the Yellow Pond-lily or "Spatterdock" Nuphar lutea. It was a dream come true for me, as I had nixed out on this bird twice in Florida. Now one was in my own state- and not just one!
And as I photographed this amazing find, I noticed the similarities between this habitat and one I frequently bird.

Bur-reed, Sparganium americanum is but one of the the wetland obligate species growing at Orweiler Road near Mansfield. Seen directly behind it, is our Spatterdock patch. So, why couldn't this be a fall-out location for these magical birds? I wasn't the only one wondering and checking, for soon John Herman of Crestline found not one- but two of these southerners cavorting in our marsh!

We wondered, was it possible? If we kept quiet long enough to give them a chance- could we be lucky enough to be hosting a pair? Word soon came that young had been spotted, and within days I spent a morning watching the little-bitty black chicks (look directly under the beak of the gallinule) forage beneath their parents. However these gallinules were no exhibitionists, and were nearly impossible to find among the reeds. Easily, 5 out of 6 days there were no sightings.

Purple Gallinule family- photo by Joanne Wrasse

One evening several locals were hanging about hoping for a glimpse of the elusive birds. Much to their shock, the whole family marched boldly across the road. Joanne Wrasse documented the scene with a quick snap-shot of the little family: 2 adults, 6 chicks.

Purple Gallinule family Photo by Joanne Wrasse
I wished she had gotten a photo of the shocked birders as well as the birds! This was just too good to be true! And now we have the first confirmed breeding of Purple Galinules in Richland County. The last known breeding pair in Ohio occurred in 1962, and the linked article states... they were found in Yellow Pond-lily-"Spatterdock!"
So ends the story of Richland Couny's miracle in the marsh. There were some mighty happy birders around here, even on the many days we could not see the little black chicklets chasing after bugs. We knew they were there, deep in the Spatterdock, making our little wetland one species richer.
Isn't it amazing? Botany and birds... it all goes together.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Birds and Botany in Ohio Wetlands

Wetlands are a precious commodity in Ohio. Once huge swaths of marshy swamps covered vast portions of the Ohio, the Great Black Swamp most notable. Today we have a fraction of this habitat left for birds, botany, butterflies and a plethora of other species dependant upon those "swamps".

Swamp Thistle, Cirsium muticum

Unfortunately we have drained over 90% of our original wetlands, often for farming, but commercial development and urbanization have taken their toll as well. Is it any wonder that we have also extirpated several species of wetland dependant butterflies? The swamp thistle is the host plant of the Swamp Metalmark, and both- plant and butterfly- are now rare finds in Ohio.

Pipe Creek in Sandusky may not look like much, but to we "nature types" a wetlands is a beautiful thing. Last Friday, the water's edge provided foraging for geese, ducks, and many species of shorebirds, including a Willet and a Red-necked Phalarope. Several species of butterflies were also noted, including Buckeyes frolicking in the bare spots along the well-worn path.

Groups of birders gathered here to pay homage to a wandering Black-bellied Whistling Duck, found at Pipe Creek by Larry Richardson (blue hat in center of group). Look closely in the background of the photo, another similar spit of land nearby projects into Lake Erie, where Cedar Point amusement park is doing business as usual. Millions of tourists and millions of dollars have made their way to this northern most point of Sandusky...

Black-bellied Whistling Duck photo by Bernie Master

but as far as we know, this is the first BBWD to grace this shore. It made big news in the birding community and it is one more reason to support wetland conservation.
As they say, "Be kind to your web-footed friends..." but remember, many plants and bugs benefit from wetlands too!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Saving the World

Some mornings the news is pretty hard to take. Environmentally, we humans don't have such a hot record for co-existing with nature. Reading about oil spills, global warming, and invasive species is enough to get you down.

If the bad news all becomes a little overwhelming to you too, let me share a few thing you can do to make a difference.

1. Provide Habitat

The last slide from my "Creating an Oz for Butterflies" program pretty much sums it up. Plant native plants (especially native trees) to improve YOUR corner of the world. You might be surprised with the wildlife that will visit... and even come to depend on your oasis or "Oz."

Landscapers and homeowners tend to avoid using tree species that shed fruits or nuts on lawns. So, what do you think our wildlife will live on? Plant a wild cherry, oak or hickory tree if you want to see nature in action.

2. Preseve habitats-

Here is a feel-good story about a guy who is hosting the ONLY remaining Swamp Metalmarks in Ohio. He didn't even have to plant natives. He just didn't mess up the habitat that was already there! Follow this link to the story in the Bellefontaine Enquirer to read about my hero.

3. Support a conservation group- or several!

Greater Mohican Audubon Society, OOS, Black Swamp Bird Observatory have all done educational programs and promote conservation. There are many organizations that need your help (or $ if you can't spare the time.)

So, those were three simple, empowering, things you can do.

And if you are most interested in that important link between native plants and nature- I encourage you to check this out:

Here is a book that could change your life. Reading Bringing Nature Home will help you understand how important native plant species are to the survival of birds, butterflies and other natural wonders... including singing insects! The book is also a great resource for lists of "best" trees and shrubs.
No one of us can save the world... but we can make a difference, by simply re-thinking our own backyards. As Tallamy wrote in my copy of the book, "Garden as if life depended on it."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Philadelphia, PA

It is a far cry from the back woods of Ohio, but here is my latest excursion... a trip to downtown Philadelphia.

My daughters and I took in the sights of the city, and yes, Philly is infested with the same Starbucks and Hardrock Cafe one can find in every other major city. We were more interested in the history and architecture.

A statue of William Penn - 27-tons of bronze- adorns the top of City Hall, and it is the tallest atop any building in the world. The building is but 10 blocks from the "Old City" where one finds the Liberty Bell and the Constitution Hall. And yes, it was hot here today... nearly 100 degrees!
As a huge fan of 1776... I just wanted to burst into song..."Sit down, John."

This courtyard of the capital building is being restored, but it still provided good looks at the beautiful French influenced architecture.

The best botany find in the city was this relief (releaf?) carving hidden in the marble walkways. A thistle and lizard, seemed odd, but it brought a smile to me, as I am totally nature-starved!

Monday, August 9, 2010

MWNP Trip to Possum Creek

Midwest Native Plant Conference had an offering of wonderful field trips and our group investigated Possum Creek, a Dayton Metro Park. It offers a bit of woodland shade and a rather nice prairie planting, which creates habitat for many creatures.

Our focus was on butterflies as well as native plants and we had nice looks at a both Viceroys and Monarchs. It offered an opportunity to study the difference in their wing patterns (look for a tight "V" in black on the Viceroy's upper wing-photo above) and their flight styles. Monarchs are deliberate in their flight- think "Bald Eagle" of the butterflies.

Jim Davidson (far right), my co-leader is a wealth of knowledge in the field, an incredible butterfly/plant mentor. Jim can call a skipper at 25 paces- and he is unbelievably accurate!

And we saw loads of plants! The Rattlesnake-master, Eryngium yuccifolium was this year's poster plant for the event. A rather odd looking member of the parsley family, Rattlesnake-master can be utilized by butterflies as a nectar plant and as a host for Black Swallowtails.

Sand-vine is a climbing member of the milkweed family and another host plant for monarchs, shown here twisting around other prairie plants. It is also called Honeyvine (oh, man those common names are confusing) and now the Latin has changed too! It was once called Ampelopsis albidus, but is now called Cynanchum laeve.
Your choice- keep up with the name changes or not- but I will try to keep current, since this pretends to be a botany blog.

Last but not least, we were thrilled with a Carolina Saddlebags, Tramea carolina ... a nifty dragonfly that is a migrant from the south. We considered it a pretty good find!
Once again, thanks to the organizers of the Midwest Native Plant Conference and all the great folks who attended. I enjoyed meeting up with old friends and making new acquaintances.
So get out there and promote biodiversity- plant native plants!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Native Plants Taste Yummy

A bunch of us have gathered at the Bergamo Center in Dayton, Ohio for the annual Mid-West Native Plant Conference. It is about as congenial a group of folks as you'll ever find, and ones I share a lot in common with. Several friends were eager to share the news of Spicebush caterpillars, knowing that would be first on my agenda.

How fitting to find him nibbing on a native plant- Spicebush!

After dinner
Wil Hershberger gave his amazing program on the "Songs of Insects." His knowledge and enthusiasm for this insects is downright contagious. After the program Wil and Jim McCormac led a night hike, with what may well be the largest group ever gathered in the name of "Katydid." By the way, we learned in the south, "Katy-didn't!"

Here the crowd gathers in excitement around the Spicebush caterpillar we had seem earlier in the day. At night he glowed eerily under the flash-light beam. You have to love a group of people who "ooh" and "ahhh" over a butterfly in this basic form! No pretense here!
Native plant people value nature in its most basic forms, and help preserve biodiversity! My kind of people!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Small Orchid- Big Deal

There are people who love orchids, and then there are people who love orchids.
Generally orchids are among our biggest and flashiest of flowers. Not so with the Three-Birds Orchid, Triphora trianthophora. It may be a small orchid, but it is a big deal to Ohio's orchid lovers.

It's an orchid alright, and a showy little flower it is. But they can be rarer than "hen's teeth," as the old saying goes. Botanists often ponder if they are really more out there than we know about, but their size and short bloom cycle make them extremely difficult to find.

This little population in Ashland county was originally found by Tom Arbour, a good friend and fellow botany lover. He knew beach maple forests can produce these beauties, and he must have had his eyes peeled to find them.

How small are they? Well, here's one beside a penny! Nevermind the rotten photo, it is all mine. Auto focus liked the penny better than the plant, but you get the idea. This is definitely a tiny orchid!

Dr. Erik Roth from OSU was along with our group. He studies Three-birds Orchids and their habitat and you have to get close to study this orchid! The largest population he has ever seen of the orchids was also in Ashland county. It had hundreds and hundreds of the mini-corsages, but no more. That location has become a sub-division; welcome urban sprawl.

Three-birds Orchid photo by John Howard.

Normally Three-birds bloom the second week of August, but as I suspected, the timing was early this year. So get out there and start scouring around beneath the trees; they are often found in the same habitat as Indian pipe, Monotropha uniflora.
Good Luck!!! I am sure Erik would love to have a few more populations for his study.