Wednesday, March 30, 2011


There is a television commercial that features a Russian surrounded with a gilded home, beautiful courtesans and a miniature giraffe. The opening line is, "Opulence... I has it." . I find little of his surroundings to my desire. But there is a fellow in La Rue, Ohio, who is someone I envy, just a bit. ... ... Opulence- a Hoary Redpoll. .... ... ... Steve is an enthusiastic birder/photographer (see photo above) in a small Ohio town, who hit the jack-pot this winter. He has a Hoary Redpoll visiting his feeder. It was a bit of a poser at first, almost unbelievable that this rarity would pick this non-descript residential area to call home. After asking a few experts, Steve went straight to the top- Sibley himself, IDed this little fluff-ball with a crimson cap and a miniature bill. .. ... . Here is one of my sorry photos, documenting the bird visiting one of the two feeders in the yard. We will never know why it came here- or why now, but I have to believe it is good Karma. ...
Greg Miller, Steve Jones and the more of Hoary Redpoll fan club...

You see, Steve is thrilled to share "his bird" with fellow birders. He doesn't ask if you are with the right club, or if you live in the right section of the state. Steve won't even expect you to know the Latin name of the bird.

Here is guy willing to share his opulence. So... stop by and see the bird, and be sure to say hello to this young man who loves to share his beautiful photos and his mind-blowing find of a lifetime.

To see more of Steve's photos go here. To watch the Direct TV commercial- go here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Grass is Greener...

The grass is greener, under a Ross's goose. ... Yup, no botany here. This is one of those "fliers" blogs. L ...LL... ... And I should be ashamed, as much as I talk down non-native grasses, but I was plenty happy to see the wildlife this lawn at Old Reid Park was supporting. This Ross's Goose has been camped out in Springfield for the last week or ten days, putting on a marvelous show. .......... ... Ross's Goose migrate with the larger and more common Canada Geese or the intermediate sized Snow Geese. This bird was obviously smaller than the geese it accompanied, and sported a more diminutive bill. However, some have suggested it may be a hybrid with Snow Goose. Either way, it was most enjoyable to see this bird casually feeding in this Springfield, Ohio park. ... It's not often one gets to see a Ross's Goose in Ohio- and it gave me a better appreciation for the non-native grass beneath it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Trees for Butterflies!

Oft loved, but seldom understood- the butterfly is a creature of highly refined tastes. ... ... ... .... The Hackberry butterfly, for example, only lays its eggs on... .. .... .
HACKBERRY trees! Go figure.

So, if you want more butterflies, plant more native trees.
I planted both hackberry and spicebush on my property this year to increase the odds of retaining a population of - hackberry and spicebush butterflies.

I ordered "bare rooted" whips through a mail order company in Michigan. If they take well, I will be forthcoming with the company's name. Meanwhile, when you plan to purchase plants- it is best to get them from a region as cold or colder than your home area. Don't be buying South Carolina plants, and then wondering why they failed to thrive in Ohio.

I used a spade to slice a vertical trough in which to place the roots. Don't plant trees too shallow or too deep. Figure out where the 'bulge" is just above the roots- and get that ground level.

The little ones are hard to see at this stage, so I mark them with a stake (makes it easier for the rabbits to find them!) ...

For the few minutes I invested today- I can look forward to many years of enjoying the berries and butterflies!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Shreve Migration- a Sensation!

Shreve Migration Sensation- As always, great programs, awesome vendors, plenty of Amish essen.. but for those of us working- so little time to bird! ...... Once we learned of the "secret" location of the Black Scoter Su Snyder found- the word spread. By the time Bianca Davis, Greg Miller, and the rest of our troups arrive, Bob Lane (in center with scope) and Su were getting others on the bird. ... Here is what we were looking for- and a good reminder: BUY DUCK STAMPS TO SAVE HABITAT!
Yes, that is Dave "Loopy" Lewis and Laurie bundled up against the chilly wind. It was so cold they left Bobb the Chipmunk in the car.

Friends Hugh and Judy were along, also anxious to see a few good birds after a long day working the booth for Black Swamp Bird Conservatory.


I don't have many photos to share from this year's event as it all went by in a blur.

However, this Screech Owl caught my eye long enough to get one photo-


I am sure there will be loads of other good posts- by speakers Jim McCormac, Greg Miller (check out his new site!), Kim Kaufman... and who knows what photographer Dave Lewis will post!


Shreve is always a fun family event- and I encourage you to visit next year- if you weren't able to catch our act in person this year!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sedge- a mini, spendored thing.

Sedges are a stunning form of botany, best identified when in flower or fruit. Some would say these plants in the genus Carex are small and insignificant, however the "fans" of Ohio Sedges know they are a mini, splendored thing.

Carex communis, Beech Sedge (Rick Gardner's tips for recognizing this sedge: Look for persistent, broad, dried leaves at the base. This sedge grows in a clump, unlike its relative Pennsylvania Sedge, which grows in a spreading colony.)

Our group gathered round to study and admire Adams County's Carex eburnea, Bristle-leaved sedge. Sedge-heads in clockwise order- Ned Keller, your Weedpickin' blogger, Tricia West, Andrew Gibson, and our fearless leader: Dan Boone. Photo taken by Julian Campbell.
Our visiting botanist, Julian Campbell, keeping us on the straight and narrow of binomial nomenclature.

Carex tonsa, Low sand sedge. This was a new one for my "Life Sedge List". And look- it is in flower.. why those blossoms are at least the diameter of a #2 pencil's lead. Stunning!
Ok, so you might have to have your interest piqued before you can appreciate the subtleties of these little guys, but there are so many shape, form and sizes.. it really is a worthy challenge to even learn the most obvious of these mini, splendored things!

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Taste of Spring

Botany starved people- gather round for a taste of our first blooms in 2011. A couple of productive days in Adams County will sate me for at least another week.

Can you name it? I sure couldn't.
But I was fascinated by the pink clouds of flowers on the Red (or Slippery) Elm, Ulmus rubra.

While leading our botany trip on Sunday, Dan Boone was kind enough to pull a branch down for closer inspection.. and a few photos taken by Andrew Gibson, Ned Keller, Tricia West (photo credit) and me.


Dare I call it anything more? Some say the two species were "lumped" into Hepatica nobilis. Other claim it is now an anemone. Indeed, we find that listed under the detailed information at USDA plants for Hepatica nobilis Schreb. var. acuta.

Hepatica- a welcome sign of spring, whatever the "confused" botanists call it.

Another Rainbow of Rock. This one too, is listed in Tim Snyder's book, but if you want to know more- you'll have to buy the book. They will be available during Flora-Quest.
Just saying....

Friday, March 18, 2011

St. Patrick's Day Redux

And if a wise person makes the best of what life sends their way- we made the best of a day in Cleveland- and celebrated St. Patty's Day a wee bit late.

Irish Eyes... smiling.

A favorite restaurant, The Harp on Detroit Ave. in Lakewood is reason alone for raising a glass to good music and boxties. Considered to be "poor man's bread," potato pancakes happen to be... delicious!
And why speak of St Pat's on a botany blog? Have you ever known a people who's lives and hardship were more completely tied with botany? The Irish Famine was due to a potato blight, and it changed the course of a nation's history.
A potato infected with Phytophthora infestans (blight).. photo Wikipedia
The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan is a fascinating book- which covers the history of potatoes as well as several other influential plants.
Ah, but today, I was more interested in hops.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sky Candy

Just in from my friends in Florida, mouth-watering views of a Swallow-tail Kite.
Greg and Leslie were kayaking along the Indian River in Florida (without me!?) when this beauty put on an air show. This is the time of year Swallow-tail Kites return to their summering grounds.
According to Sibley they can over shoot that migration by a bit, and make extremely rare appearances in northern states. Most records I find are in mid-April or in the fall. So look sharp for these fellows, and if anyone spots one- don't keep secrets!

Swallow-tail Kite........... photo by Greg Cornett

photo by Greg Cornett
Mmm, something good to eat! Probably a tasty cicada or grasshopper! These birds are also known to buzz small streams and swampy woods in search of lizards, dragonflies, and other large insects.

Oh, to see a dive like this! Sky candy! Someday I hope to see these magnificent birds myself, until then, special thanks to Greg (and Leslie) for sharing these photos.
All photos in today's post provided by Greg Cornett.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Pine Cone Detective...

Winter is a fabulous time to see the structure of plants, and some unusual adaptations that insects use for wintering. Have you ever seen pine cones growing on willows? Wait a minute, willows don't grow "pine" cones! No but, an insect can cause this look-a-like gall.

The pine cone gall on willow is not uncommon. Deep inside this structure, a little insect has created an inner sanctum. Not unlike the thickened bulbs on the stems of goldenrod, it is the winter home of a insect- just trying to get by.

Or this- the bag worm. Finding unusual cone-like structures on your arborvitae or blue spruce? Weirder yet, I have seen these "cones" on sycamore trees. So, they can't be a pine cone, right? These structures are created by an insect, which gathers leaf (needle) pieces and web them together for its winter home.
We studied some of these in an eye-opening "Diagnostics" class, taught last night by Denise Ellsworth, at Master Gardener training. I tend to look at these problems with a bit of a different perspective though. Instead of wanting to know what to spray them with, or how to kill them, I always wonder... what eats them? Will these larva hatch out when the warblers are migrating? Will they provide food for a family of Phoebes? If you DON'T spray them with poison, what happens next?

Tent caterpillars- the bane of gardeners everywhere. Except me. I have watched a Baltimore Oriole feasting on these fuzz-balls during migration. And cuckoos are adapted to tolerate those stiff-bristled larva; could I deny them a meal?
Once you tune into nature, your first reaction ceases to be: reach for the spray! Most of these insects will naturally occur and naturally be held in check in a balanced ecosystem. After all, web worms maybe considered unsightly, but they are unlikely to kill a a tree.
Bag worms can defoliate pines and spruce to the point of no-recovery, since they do not regenerate needle like a deciduous tree. So if it is already a goner, why not see which interesting birds come by to feed?
Live Curious. It is not just a Nat Geo saying, it is a whole way of life.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Healing Trees...

For those of us attuned to nature, there is some magical healing property of a tree.

Not just the physical healing properties of trees, of which there are many; Aspirin is derived from Salix sp.- the willow tree, and Witch Hazel, Hamamelis sp. provides an astringent. These are just two of the many species used in traditional Native American medicine with proven efficacy.

"I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order." -John Burroughs
Trees also offer a balm for mental heath, and healing, and we nature-philes seek them out in the most unusual places. I found this digital tree being projected onto a wall in a lobby at the Cleveland Clinic. While waiting, once again, for more tests...more results... I was drawn to this image.
The tree hypnotically swirls and twists as though it were in a circular wind. It also progresses though the seasons. Pictured in the above photo- the flowers of spring. It continues to full leaf of summer, and on to golden leaves of fall- which eventually are wind swept away to reveal the most stark, bare essence of a tree.
Maybe we, as humans, relate to a tree's resilience.
Trees endure each year, what we might perceive as a struggle or mini-death, and are beautifully reborn with spring. As basic as breathing in and out: we live, we grow, and hopefully, we see many seasons before we die. It is our nature.
And so, I sat mesmerized by this tree, and its impact on others. I was surprised as numerous people stopped (like me) to capture its image on their cell phones. The weary-worn individuals, wandering from the parade of people in the main hall, to stop and watch a the tree-of-"light" and a portion the life-drama being played out before their eyes. But most of all, how peaceful I felt while in the midst of great inner turmoil.
We know nature heals.
And those of us lucky enough to be aware and connected to this life-drama must care enough to protect and conserve our natural areas. Let's do it for the future generations- before man's greed has drilled, cut and paved over the last tree.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Southern Charms

Spring arrives in southern Ohio a bit earlier than the ice-box corridor of mid-Ohio. Fortunately I was there to see the first spring flowers gardeners traditionally enjoy: Crocus.

About 30 different species of Crocus are in common cultivation in the U.S.

Remember, our cultivated flowers where once "wild" somewhere else. In the case of the crocus (and tulip) many species are from the Middle East- especially Turkey.

The "gold" of the spice world, Saffron is cultivated from crocus stigmas. It is a highly desirable spice, used in gourmet cuisine.

So it is fitting that crocuses would be coming up in the gardens at the Murphin Ridge Inn, the most amazing B&B and restaurant, tucked away in the rural corners of Adams County. It was one of the highlights of a recent trip down to the Amish Birding Symposium.

There was also wonderful birding at the inn!
Purple finches, both male and female attended the feeders outside a dining room window. It was the perfect opportunity to study those tricky, drab-colored females with white eye-lines and big honking bills. Unfortunately.. she is shy, and hiding her head in this photo!

The Murphin Ridge Inn owners, Darryl and Sherry were most welcoming hosts- and immediately hit it off with our friend Greg Miller (center.)

Adams County flora and fliers were just the tonic I need for my soul, as nature's healing properties are the best therapy for a case of the winter blues. Wishing you sunshine, a "natural tonic" for a winter chaser!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Spring's First Offerings

After a bit of warm weather and stream-swelling storms, southern Ohio awoke to a light covering of snow today. It was such a lovely blanket of white, I could barely begrudge it for hugging the first of spring's floral offerings.

After all, what is a Snow Trillium, Trillium nivale if it can't take a little snow? If you are interested in learning more about this species- go here for Jim McCormac's special take on this population.

Pining for Spring? Winter faces off with summer as this Pine Siskin (look closely for the wing bars on the left) shuns the approaching brightly yellow hued Pine Warbler. This was a most welcome sign of spring found at Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus today.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Geology Rocks Botany

Glen Helen in Yellow Springs, Ohio has many surprising features. The yellow travertine, formed on the rocks by the mineral waters, is just one. Although it did give name to the historic resort town.

Another feature of even more importance can be found here. This craggy rock pillar, stands tall against time in the woodlands near Antioch College.

Pompeys Pillar could use a publicity agent, as most Ohioans are completely unaware of its presence. This 15 foot pillar has been a local attraction for over 100 years, but has failed to attract the attention it merits. One has to admire this time worn rock feature having a history that well predates our state.

Finally "Pompeys" story has been told in a marvelous book featuring many of Ohio's most notable, yet often unknown, geologic features. Timothy Snyder's book "Rainbows of Rock, Pillars or Stone" provides photos and text about the natural arches and pillars of Ohio. Tim will be a key-note speaker at Flora-Quest, where he will explain how geology and botany are explicable tied.

Many endangered plants like Wall-Rue, Asplenium ruta-muraria are so linked with geology, they are only found on a particular type of rock formation. As its name suggests, wall-rue grows on vertical rocky surfaces. If the geology is uncommon the plant distribution will likely follow.

Tim, the author, will explain why botany in Ohio is never simple. Join us at Flora-Quest in Shawnee to see how geology can rock your world.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Discovering Yellow Springs

Ohio is fortunate to have several excellent rails-to trails bike paths, each with some historic station or building to remind us of its connection with the past.

Yellow Springs, Ohio has one of the loveliest yet, nestled in among the shops of this quaint college town. And although there has been some changes at the college, the town still holds its school-town charm. It is worthy of several visits.

Not far from the down town is Glen Helen, a nature preserve which holds the secret to the town's unusual name. The water bursts forth from the rock, which has an odd coloration... could it be- yellow?
Traveling through the lime rich strata, the water collect minerals. These minerals gather into a substance laid down on the rock: travertine. The material is usually cream colored, but the high concentrations of iron present as yellowish-orange rock formations.
Travertine tinged yellow.
These springs, once popular heath spas, were considered curative- like Hot Springs Arkansas- without the "hot."

Winter leaves of Hepatica, Hepatica nobilis

And although Skunk Cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus was the only flower we found in bloom, the purplish winter leaves of the Hepatica, tease us with a "spring" breaking forth with bird song and buds. And not a moment too soon for me.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Suburban Eagles

I trotted up to Lorain County today to do some birding and visit with friends at Black River Audubon Society. The speaker tonight was Mark Shieldcastle, quite likely most knowledgable person in Ohio- regarding Bald Eagles. Mark was with the Division of Wildlife when the Bald Eagle population struggled with low numbers and were constantly monitored.
It was a huge deal to us in the 1980's when Bald Eagles build a nest along Rt 2 near Sandusky Bay. It was such a huge deal, there were signs posted "No stopping" along the highway for miles near the nesting territory. It was feared the Bald Eagles would be disturbed by human activity as eagles were not comfortable near our constant hub-bub.
Oh, how things have changed! Ohio is currently sporting a population of 600+ Bald Eagles and they are now brazen beasts. They seem unbothered by most human activity and even found nesting in out-lying suburbia. This sub-division near Sandy Ridge hosted a Bald Eagle nest and a Great Horned Owl nest in the same woods.
There are also Northern Harriers and Short-eared Owls. So, you suppose this location is great for hosting birds? I doubt that it is sustainable for long, as without the open fields - housing sub-divisions provides poor hunting opportunities for these larger birds- unless they take up eating feral cats.
A bird's eye view of the nesting eagle. Wishing them a world of luck with their family!
Mark Shieldcastle

Bald Eagles have re-bounded from the death throes of the the DDT days, but they may face a new danger. Wind Power has the potential to put the smack down on many of our avian species. Black Swamp Bird Observatory is playing a major role in cautioning against the coming fatalities if we continue to build towers and wind turbines in sensitive areas.

..For more information go to one of Mark's programs. Or better yet, go to BSBO's website and support their research and conservation.