Thursday, June 30, 2011


Orchids! Michigan's got them. On a recent trip to the U.P. we ran across a diminutive orchid nestled in the needles of Jack pine and spruce growing in a substrate of sand.

Ram's Head Orchid, Cypripedium arietinum

Small, but able to bring you to your knees, or belly. It is the only way to get a photograph of this quarter-sized flower head on a 3-4 inch stem. Rare in Michigan ( completely unknown to Ohio) this orchid favors two habitats, sandy spruce/pines groves or bogs. Pictured Rocks at Grand Marais, Michigan was where we found them.

An unusual color for Ram's Head Orchid.

I have seen other Cypripedium (slipper orchids) in lighter or whitened shades of their usual coloration, so variables do happen. It was just one more reason to take another 20 or so pictures!

Growing in small cluster next to the trail, they could be easily overlooked. Since we were unaware of their presence, it was a lucky find! Ram's Head orchids, are rare an in decline as their habitat is reduced. There is an excellent paper found here, if you would like to read more about their presence in Michigan.

Pink Lady's-slipper, Cypripedium acaule

Also growing in the same general area were Pink Lady's-slipper. We have these in Ohio and find them each year at Flora-Quest, but I had to admire Michigan's too!

A view of Lake Superior from the top of the dunes. Winding up from the woodland, this trail crested on the peak of a dune, allowing stellar views of a picture perfect day.

I hope you'll put Grand Marais and Pictured Rocks on your travel list.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Skipper Skool

Butterflies are in full swing now, so this is your opportunity to get out there and see something new. Just like a big kid, I am drawn to the flashy display of the swallowtails- the big showy beasts of the lepidopteran world. But there are plenty of skippers worth learning as well.

Little Glassywing, Pompeius verna

Little Glassywing is a folded-wing skipper in the gray to black range, and that pattern of clear patches make it recognizable. The fem. Dun, Northern Broken Dash and Little Glassywing are often found together and called "The Three Witches."

"Skipper's all look the same..." is the common complaint. But it is just not true. Take that extra moment to look at pattern, color and the way the skipper holds it wings. Start by sorting skippers into "folded wing" or "spread wing species."

Delaware Skipper, Anatrytone delaware

Topside looks a bit like the Hobomok skipper- but the brighter orange color was the first clue to this species. Underside, there is no comparison, Delaware is plain orange, where the Hobomok has large patches of color. Not a common skipper, but found in wet-to-damp areas.

Artic Skipper, Carterocephalus palaemon

Ding, ding, ding, now the true butterfliers' heads are spinning off their necks! This is a sub-artic species of the boreal forest- one I recently saw in Michigan. The point being: NOTHING else looks like an Artic! Those spots are so bold and dashing- this guy is a standout in the Skipper world- a regular George Clooney!

Other Butterfly news:

Harris's Checkerspot, Charidryas harisii.

NOT a Skipper, but another smallish orange to black butterfly. This too was taken in the U.P. of Michigan, but we should (or once did) have populations in Ohio. All our wetland species are in trouble, not surprising as we continue to drain away some of the best natural areas of Ohio.

Its host plant is Flat-topped Aster, so now you can be on the look-out for a rare butterfly in Ohio.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sunday, June 26, 2011

NOT about Bobolinks!

Bobolinks at Byers Woods. This events just keeps getting better and better each year- but as I recently told the Ashland County Commissioners- this is NOT about the Bobolinks.

This event is about conservation, education, eco-tourism and that feel-good-feeling one gets when you show a kid (even the ones aged 50 or so...) their very first Bobolink.

It is food, displays, crafts, vendors, native plants, bird walks, butterflies and dragonflies! Dragonflies?

Oh, and yeah. Maybe... Bobolinks, too.

Two of the stars of our show were Jen Brumfield and Greg Miller. (If you think these two look "normal" remind me to show you my favorite photos of them!)

Jen is a fabulous talent in her own right, a crack birder, butterflier and dragonfly expert. And her art work- simply amazing! Greg is the most lovable guy around- and popular character of the book- about to be released as a movie- The Big Year! Greg is never too busy to help someone find a bird in his scope or help us sort out a call. We're glad he is a GMAS member!

And here are Hugh and Judy Kolo-Rose and other friends from BSBO just getting off the bus! Black Swamp Bird Observatory is the busiest bird banding station in the USA, but they took time and showed tremendous support for our little event. Mark Shieldcastle even drove the bus down - woot, woot!!! (or is that toot-toot?)

Tim Leslie, long-time guide at Byer's Woods gathered the people with a brief history of the past-landfill and the birds found there. The local Friends of Ashland County Parks were right there working shoulder to shoulder. This event would not happen without their support!

Guy Denny, retired from Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources, promotes Jen Brumfield's work in the Dragonflies of NE Ohio. Guy led an afternoon walk (with Jen's assist). It was a little windy for butterflies, but some dragons were found so folks loved it. Besides, Guy could just talk about dirt and make it interesting!

Julie Davis, Jen Sauter, Sue Evanoff .. and Cheryl Harner (aka Weedpicker)

My peeps from Ohio Ornithological Society showed up to lend support and get their first of the year BOBOLINK! Even great birders have to schedule trips to see this bird- they are becoming rarer each passing year.

Crafts! Food! Mowing and weeding the butterfly garden! Ashland County Park District is all volunteers- and some of the nicest people you'll ever meet! A special thanks to them for the work they do, not only for this event- but for all their educational events hosted throughout Ashland County all year long!

Gary Cowell, (center) chief tent pitcher and bird-whisperer, and Don and Diana Plant (far right) have forgot more about bats and bluebirds than I will ever know- and we greatly appreciated their display.

And Bobolinks. Did I mention Bobolinks? A male perched on his landfill-vent pipe, giving the what-for to everyone who passed by their nest. Deep in the grass Mrs. Bobo must have been silently brooding some eggs, as he was ever vigilant!

And this year, those baby bobolinks have until July 10th to clear out safely. Let's hope it is enough time: cross your fingers for successful fledging. Wouldn't it be great if Ashland county could be #1 in Ohio Bobolink exports!?

Again Special Thanks: to Tim Leslie, Jen Brumfield, Guy Denny and Greg Miller for guiding folks to bobolinks and interesting insects.

KUDOS: to Black Swamp Bird Observatory and Ohio Ornithological Society for all of their support in this effort to conserve bobolinks.

And to all of those people from both ACPD and GMAS: Sam W., Jack and Lolle L., Tom K., Louise F., Gary C., Jan K. and Annette M., Bianca D., Don & Diana P., and Miss Paula- Go Team Bobolink!

Thursday, June 23, 2011


You may not think insects are all that interesting. Sure you like plants and birds, but bugs? Who cares? If you like plants and birds, you better care- because bugs are a huge part of their life.

Pollinators have been big in the news the last couple of years, since Colony Collapse Disorder. Our government is concerned, because bees provide the pollination of all those food crops we rely upon. Go here to learn more about pollinators.

Tricolored Bumblebee, Bombus ternarius
Canada and Michigan have bumblebees which are a little different than the standard yellow and black job found in Ohio. These colorful cruisers had my attention from the onset, and I wasted plenty of other-wise good birding time trying to photograph them.

Tricoloreds, also commonly called Orange-belted Bumble bees, are three colors and this picture shows it well. I haven't run across much info about these cruisers, but I did note they spent a good bit of time in solitary efforts of digging tunnels or holes in the sand. If anyone has an explanation for that behavior, certainly we would all like to know. Please pass it on!

Chalk-fronted Corporal, Libellula (Ladona) julia

This dragonfly is a major rarity for Ohio, but they were as common as dandelions in the UP of Michigan. They hang out on the roads by the hundreds!

Four-Spotted Skimmer, Libellula quadrimaculata (quadri = four and maculata= spotted)

Seney National Wildlife Refuge was an excellent location for many species of dragon and damselflies, many not commonly found in Ohio. It was fantastic to see a whole new range of species!

Elfin Skimmer, Nanothemis bella in a mating "wheel" ( female curled below)

The smallest dragonfly in North America is found in Ohio, but it is rarer than hen's teeth. This mated pair is no bigger than a singular wing of the previous skimmer. Denizens of bogs and fens, Michigan has plenty of Elfin Skimmers, while Ohio has only a few known locations. The best place to look for them is at Cedar Bog.

If you like interesting insects- be sure to join us at the Bobolinks at Byers Woods festival this Saturday (June 25th.) Guy Denny will be leading a walk at 11:00 am to help us identify all the dragonflies and butterflies in the surrounding fields. Hope to see you there.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Don't Tread on Me

Lake Superior offers breath-taking beaches and while it was too cold for the average sun-worshiper, it must have once been a hangout for other forms of recreation.

Unfortunately, most people partaking in these activities never think beyond their own pleasure and needs. The impact of unrestricted access to beaches have too often lead to negative outcomes for nature- like plants and birds.

Pitcher's Thistle, Cirsium pitcheri - this unusual grey-blue foliage is rare and endangered. Several signs on the beach at Grand Marais, Michigan tell the story of plants and birds now protected due to loss of habitat and use (or abuse) of the Great Lakes.

It is hard to convince a real estate developer that this thistle is as important as a new condo, but perhaps we should have some buffer zones? We could have the best of both worlds if we would just plan ahead.

Piping Plover- a major loser in the real estate wars.

These small sand-colored bird have a distinctive high pitched call, like a whistle or pipe. Bright orange legs (adorned with banding tags) are very diagnostic. Once common on the Great Lakes, they were hunted for sport and fashion, and the recent land grab has struck a final blow. "Disturbance of nests and chicks by people and their pets is a primary cause of their decline." * There are less than 20 pairs breeding in the Great Lakes region, when once they numbered nearly 1,000.

The Grand Marais female Piping Plover sits on a clutch of eggs offered some protection by a wire cage and roped-off barrier. It is a sad commentary on wildlife reduced to a zoo-like setting in the wild, but at least it offers some protection.

Let's admire this beach just a bit, shall we? This is no place for four wheelers, beer brawls and barking dogs. We should applaud Michigan's efforts to conserve rare plants and birds on beach habitats, and hopefully we could even replicate some of these efforts in places like Conneaut, Ohio.

Maybe the world would be just a bit better if we all took a day to stroll down one of these beaches, listening to the waves and calling birds... as the sun sets on Piping Plovers. Hopefully, not for good.

* Info from US Fish and Wildlife publication 1994-559-011

Sunday, June 19, 2011

NOT Hunting Grouse

If you ever get the opportunity to spend time in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, here is a birding hot spot you will want to hit!

Seney National Wildlife Refuge is "all that and a bag of chips," as my buddy Jason would say. The birding was fabulous, but the dragonflies here were mind blowing. Chalk-fronted corporals- a dime a dozen.. but we will get to that later.

Seney's wetland habitats speak for themselves. Today will we go to terrain less travelled.

Here's grouse hunter Greg Cornett, leading the way through the most tick infested landscape I have seen since Adams County, Ohio. There are 3 kinds of grouse ( virtual wild land-chickens, to the uninformed) in this part of the UP: Sharp-tailed, Spruce, and Rough Grouse.

We were after the localized, rare species- the Sharp-tailed Grouse. All three species have different habitat requirements, and Sharp-tails like this wide open county.

Sharp-tailed Grouse .... photo by Greg Cornett.

As we are walking along the most tick ridden trail in North America, BOOM- Greg flushed out the bird of our dreams. That wild-chicken can move surprisingly fast! One minute we were calmly walking along, and the next- an explosion of wing beats as the grouse takes flight.

While Leslie and I were still in shock and utter awe, Mr. Cool shoots off several photos of our "trophy" bird. Thanks Greg.

Black Bear.... Photo by Greg Cornett

Nearly recovered from heart palpitations cause by said fleeing grouse, we were enjoying the walk and admiring the view when a black bear looms on the horizon. I was pretty sure we were not in any real danger, but let's say we didn't lolly-gag around, either.

I suppose we are not the only ones to have seen bears in Michigan...

as the wall in our cottage sports the head of a bear who met some hunters in the woods instead of birders, like us!

I would like to say Greg wrestled the bear to the ground and took this head as a trophy... but that would be a whole 'nuther blog post!

Friday, June 17, 2011


Yoopers! The folks in Michigan's Upper Peninsula think this is "Da place to be!"

Here are a few photos from our first day of exploring Michigan's Upper Peninsula- or as the local call it the U.P.

A northern forest speciality: Bunchberry, Cornus canadensis. This relative to the dogwood tree is an acid loving ground cover.

The view scape. Now imagine the haunting call of the common loon. This is how we spent the entire day.

Water, bogs, Jack pine, butterflies, more dragonflies than you can shake a stick at and birds galore. I may never come home.

White Admiral - technically the same species as our Red-spotted Purple, this is another color morph. Our Red-spotted Purples/ Admirals are mimics of the highly toxic Pipevine swallowtails. Since there are no Pipevines this far north, no reason to mimic them. The bold white stripe on the White Admirals is a real stand out in the forest. It is no wonder in order to have survival of the fittest, they needed to tone it down!

Canadian Tiger Swallowtails puddling

At first glance they appear to be the same as "our" swallowtails, however they are a bit smaller, and a few of the lines appear different. Different enough to warrant being a separate species.

Lot's of new things to see... gotta run!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Celebrating Bobolinks

Baby bobolinks are a natural by-product of adult bobolinks and proper grassland habitat. Great, that's not so tough right? It shouldn't be.

But before those babies are big enough to fly away, the grass or hay is at the perfect time to be harvested. Barely-feathered, baby "Bobs" are pretty much flightless. Guess what happens to those nestlings that can't get away from the mowers?

So, here is our educational sign for Bobolink protection, and there goes the mower grinding up babies on June 30th in 2010. Not a pretty sight.

The Friends of Ashland Park Disitrict and Greater Mohican Audubon Society have been trying to protect those baby "Bobs"for the last 5 years. We have been hosting seminars and festivals hoping to create public awareness and get the extra time the birds need to leave the nests- before the mowing occurs.

After all, what could be cuter than a baby Bobolink? You don't even have to be a birdwatcher to appreciate the bubbly calls of these gorgeous "ricebirds" from Argentina.

Finally, the Ashland birds are set to get a break! After multiple trips to the Ashland County Commissioners, they have contracted to mow Byers Woods after JULY 10th! This is great news for Bobolinks! We should have many fledglings leaving the nests before the mower comes through this year. We may lose some late "second-nesters" who have moved in after their nests were destroyed at other sights, but at least we will get our local "crop" of Bobolinks out of the fields before the mow date.

Male Bobolink in flight... photo by Dave Lewis (Birds From Behind)

The Byers Woods Bobolinks are flying around celebrating, and we are celebrating with them!

Please join us on Saturday June 25th, 2011; help us show the Ashland County Commissioners how many people DO CARE if the Bobolinks fledge. We can't save all the Bobolinks in farm fields throughout Ohio, but at least we can cooperate and manage this one field as a safe spot for Bobolinks.

Click HERE for enlarged schedule

We have a stellar line up of walks, vendors, displays, and food! Come out and look at Bobolinks through a spotting scope with Greg Miller. Take an educational Dragonfly/ Butterfly walk with Guy Denny. Pick up a new field guide from the Black Swamp Bird Observatory traveling store!

But most of all stop out on June 25th to help us- help the Bobolinks. Their habitat is declining throughout Ohio, and they need all the friends they can get. So be sure to thank their new friends: the Ashland County Commissioners!

Map and full details at

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Dragonhunter

My Holy grail of Ohio dragonflies would have to be the Dragonhunter, Hagenius brevistylus. These high speed, death-dealers of the Odonate world prey on any other insect they can take down- including other monster-sized dragonflies. I have seen them before, but it has always been as they zoom past a riverbank at breakneck speeds. Catch them in a net, you say? Good luck on that! They give even the most expert dragonfly hunters a difficult time.

So an eye to eye encounter with a Dragonhunter is a rare opportunity. This one was found freshly liberated from its aquatic form in the nearby Grand River.

A few feet from the river's edge we found this silver-dollar sized exuvia, the shed exoskeleton of a Dragonhunter nymph. Dragonflies spend the beginning of this life cycle as an egg, once hatched- they remain a water-born nymph until they climb of the water and shed their exoskeleton and begin life as a winged adult.

These exuvia are fascinating molds of their previous life form. Each species of dragonfly have their own distinct larva, exuvia and adult form. It is not unlike their insect cousins the butterflies. Butterflies too can be identified by their caterpillar, chrysalis and winged adult form.

Special thanks to John Pogcnik, Guy Denny, Jim Davidson, and Ian Adams for teaching me more about dragonflies on a recent tour of the Grand River. If you would like to learn more about dragons, mark your calendar for June 25th, when Guy Denny will be leading a dragonfly/ butterfly walk at the Bobolinks at Byers woods Festival in Ashland County. More details to come.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Signature- Cedar Bog

Rare places and rare plants in Ohio- my favorite things! A group of friends visited Cedar Bog this week to see Ohio's most majestic orchid in bloom.

Showy Lady's-slipper Orchid, Cypripedium reginae

The signature plant for Cedar Bog would surely be this, perhaps the loveliest of all of Ohio's orchids. As the Latin name indicates, these are indeed the queen (reginae) of orchids. They were in extraordinary condition earlier this week, with exceptionally vibrant colors. Note in the photo, a back-drop of the equally significant White Cedar (or Arbor Vitae), Thuja occidentalis.

Cedar Bog is not really a bog, it is a fen! This nature preserve harbors some of the most unusual botany in Ohio, and you can see it with an expert during the field trips of the Midwest Native Plant Conference. So sign up now- before these trips are filled- to see rarest of wetland plants, trees and dragonflies from the comfort of a boardwalk.

Hope to see you there! Click on the MWNP link in my side-bar to sign-up.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Appalachian Discovery

Still having many photos from the OOS conference to share, today's blog will feature some of the botany as well. Tourism supports the local economy, and birding is a low-impact/ high return form of tourism. Adams County does it right!

There is an entire publication designed to help you find the best places to bird in Adams County. Maybe we need to come up with a botany trail as well! Let's start at the Conrad Tract-

Nina H., Faye S., your Weedpicker, and "Kat Doc" are standing by the trail head sign at the Conrad Tract. To get there, follow the directions to the Wilderness Ttrail, but stop a 1/2 mile short- at this sign.

The 24 acre Conrad Tract was conserved through the efforts of OOS , The Nature Conservancy and Clean Ohio Funds. To read more about that, go here.

Conserving property for birds and botany is a worthy cause, and unprotected natural areas are in grave risk these days. Unfortunately, many places people thought were protected, like National and State Parks are in danger's way as well.
Walking fern, Asplenium rhizophyllum

But let's talk ferns. The Conrad Tract features some dolomite rock out croppings, covered with rare and unusual plants... and a hand-full of fabulous ferns that even I can remember! This Walking fern with its long tapering pinnae tip, touches down on the mossy rock and starts a new plant. Hence its growth habit suggests "walking" across the rocks.

Purple Cliffbrake, Pellaea atropurpurea is a rarity for Ohio. There are several other cliffbrakes, but this one sports purple stems.

Resurrection Fern, Pleopeltis polypodioides - looking very withered and dead. This southern plant, rarely dipping into Ohio, lives up to its name by drying up and conserving energy during drought and returning to a lush mat of green after a rain.

In a Weedpicker science experiment, we poured a little water on one frond at the beginning of our hike. When we returned, the plant had already started to green and looked a bit resurrected.

This property is also known for its White Cedar, Thuja occidentalis both living and dead. These standing remains are monuments to past forest lives... possibly hundreds of years old.

Much of the property is a high, dry ridge-top which protects the view scape of The Wilderness property. This photo was taken from below.

One might get a sense of the steep ridge-top from the background of this photo I took while we were birding. It is good to know these habitats are protected for the future.

Be sure to check out the birding trail map locations next time you travel to Adams County!