Sunday, July 31, 2011

Butterflies, finally!

Prairies are in peak condition in late July, and I planned to post from some of my recent prairie trips. However, since we have had so few butterflies to admire this year- this one especially caught my attention.

Can you name this butterfly?
It is doing none of the things I would expect this species to do. Honestly, I had to look twice before it made sense to me! This is not a butterfly I would look for in a prairie, and I have never seen them nectar on flowers, come to think of it.

It is a little easier to identify now that I caught a rare glimpse of its opened wings. This is a female Tawney Emperor, one of the three species of butterflies to use Hackberry trees exclusively as a host plant.

But how do I know it is female? First off, the color seemed a bit off to me. This female's color is a bit muted, but look at the red-rings around the eye spots on the hind wing- usually those just appear black. The shape of the wings are also a huge clue. In fact, the "fuller" shape of this voluptuous lady may be the other reason it required my second look. The hind wing is fuller and the fore wing is almost... squared off.

Tawney Emperor, a male doing all the things I would expect of a Tawney Emperor.

First, it was near a woods, not in an open field. Second, it is perched on a stump. Tawney Emperor are one of those species known to nectar on sap and dung; they are not generally the flower loving type. And finally, look at the inward curves on both the hind and fore wings. This the look with which I am most familiar.

But wasn't it fun seeing the differences of the male and female? I had never thought of Emperors as being dimorphic before. This is almost as good as sorting sparrows- or skippers!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Re-thinking Weeds

This past weekend was spent ping-ponging throughout the state, with lots of interesting, but not so botanical findings. However, I did find one "life-plant" which took me through the thrill of a new find, to the "aw-shucks" of "it is just another invasive weed."

As a Weedpicker, I just can't help myself. I am simply drawn to any vegetation that looks new or different to me. On a recent walk with my friends, Hugh and Judy...

Hairy Willow-herb, Epilobium hirsutum caught my eye. This lovely quarter-sized flower was blooming prolifically along a rocky man-made canal. My heart raced... what could it be? There was only one plant growing in this location. Could it be rare?

The long seed pods should have been a hint to its genus; it is a member of the herb-willows (or willow-herbs). Turns out, this is a newly emerging invasive plant on the prowl. Oh my, and it was so pretty- but such a disappointment.

The common names all get jumbled- but in Ohio we call this a Hairy Willow-herb. Seems simple enough and a good translation from the Latin name. However, one of my favorite reference tools, the USDA Plant Data Base calls it "codlins and cream." That may be my official vote for the craziest (and most worthless) common name ever!

Purple-leaved Willow-herb, Epilobium coloratum is a near-relative of the Hairy Willow-herb. It is very, very common in Ohio. Unfortunately you'll have to turn you head side-ways to see those similar seed pods, because the Blogger-gods refuse to post this photo in its correct orientation. The flower is four-petaled, like the more showy "Hairy" plant above, however they are minuscule and difficult to see on this Willow-herb. ( Pay no attention to the Queen-Anne's-Lace in the background. That just another invasive weed.)

Common Eveing-primrose, Oenothera biennis

Like the two willow-herbs above, Common Evening-primrose is another member of the family Onagraceae. This was the plant we originally went out to identify for my friends when I got so distracted by its showy pink (alien) cousin.

There are many forms of Evening-primrose in Ohio, both native and cultivated. However, this is the most common and weediest form. It was a staple in my flower gardens for many years, but I have been phasing it out, as it is an attractive to a major garden pest: Japanese beetles. Instead of powdering and poison insects, I find it easier and more environmental friendly to cease growing plants that attract non-native invasive insects.

It is all a matter of balance. Whether it is insects or plants, a few non-natives might be a beautiful addition, but they might be the beginning of an unwanted over-population. So chose your plants wisely.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Habitat Hero

This is quite possibly my favorite story about Ohio habitats. It is the story of hope.

The Swamp Metalmark was a butterfly thought to be extirpated from Ohio. Since 1988 no one had seen this little creature, not much bigger than a copper colored penny.

One young man hadn't given up hope. Troy Shively was still looking for the metalmark, and his search took him to his own Grandfather's back yard. This swampy wetland had been untouched- and ironically, the last of Ohio's Swamp Metalmarks were hiding out in this fen.

A very special plant grows in that wetland beyond the Shively home. The Swamp Thistle is the only plant the Swamp Metalmark will lay their eggs upon and their caterpillars leave tell-tale signs in the leaves.

Swamp Thistle, Cirsium muticum is not a common plant. After all, nearly 95 percent of Ohio's wetlands have been drain; there just aren't that many swamps left for it to grow in.

Coral Hairstreak and Swamp Metalmark - photo by George Sydlowski

Nature photographer George Sydlowski captured these crisp images on our recent trip to visit the Swamp Metalmarks with the Ohio Lepidopterists Butterfly Observer's Group. Swamp Metalmark was a "life butterfly" for everyone in the group, except Troy!

Swamp Metalmark- photo by George Sydlowski

This story had a happy ending. Unfortunately, too many of our habitat stories do not. Hopefully our little copper beauties will live long and prosper- thanks to Grandpa Shively's wisdom for protecting their habitat.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Jr. Naturalists Study Dragonflies

Summer is here, bring on the Odonates! You may not be enjoying this hot weather, but I guarantee the damsel and dragonflies don't mind it much. They are enjoying the high-life feeding on insects, fighting with competitors and breeding in the local streams and ponds.

The Ebony Jewelwing is one of Ohio's most common damselflies, sporting an irridescent blue/green body propelled by blackened wings. Truly jewel-like as they flit among the sedges shrubs along woodland paths, they are some of the most easily identified of the damsels.

When the Ohio Bird Sanctuary's Jr. Naturalist (J. Nats) decided to learn more about these charismatic wetland insects, they went straight to the top!

Judy Semroc (second from left) from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History came down to teach a class and spend some time in the field with Jan Ferrell and her crew. What a jump start on the world of Odonata!

Larry Rosche pointed out an Eastern Forktail hiding in the grasses along the trail. Larry and Judy are two of the most experienced dragonfliers to be found, and are the principle authors of the fabulous Dragonflies and Damselflies of Northeastern Ohio. It is considered the best guide for learning about and identifying the transparent-winged ones in all of Ohio.

Go here to order your copy from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. It is filled with life histories, photos, and line drawings to help you sort the species we generally see. Although it is specifically made for NE Ohio, it works well for the rest of the state as well.

Tule Bluet, Enallagma carunculatum-

Our big find of the day. Larry and Judy netted several of these unusual species, and we proceeded to photo document them, as they have not been recorded in our county.

It may be hard to get too excited when the damsels are so small and look so much alike. So start slow; learn those stand-outs, like the Ebony Jewelwings and the big flashy dragonflies. You can learn a few new species each year, and in no time you will be amazing your friends! Besides it gives you something to do in the hot weather!

Congratulations J. Nats for a very successful day!

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Plant Detective

Many of you may know my friend Steve McKee. In fact, a good number of you may know him from his now-nearly-famous, "The Plant Detective" program, most recently seen at the Midwest Native Plant Symposium. Steve originally created the clever program for his friends in the Mohican Native Plant Society, and it seems to have achieved a life of its own. The main theme involves the process of searching for missing plants. It even includes a "Most Wanted" plant.

Today was a big day for the Plant Detective, Steve McKee. He finally solved the case and found his most wanted plant. This plant had been collected in Richland County, once in 1892- and has been missing ever since.

Purple Fringed Orchid, Platanthera psycodes is such a lovely plant, it would not easily be overlooked. However, it has the nasty habitat of living deep within swamps, where few people dare the July heat, humidity and mosquitoes. Unless, those people might also be interested in dragonflies!

The plant paparazzi moves in. Gary Kennedy gets the GPS coordinates as Judy Semroc takes documentary photos. What started out as a dragonfly outing ended up as a celebration for our friend's good fortune and excellent find.

The Plant Detective, Steve McKee... always gets his orchid.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Family Farm Field Day

Yesterday was much like an opportunity to visit times past, as this idyllic scene unfolded near Sugarcreek, Ohio.

Hundreds of horses rested in the shade, freed from their burden of buggy and riders. Pony carts, family buggies, work carts and a battalion of abandoned bicycles lined the farm lot in Amish country.

The excitement was almost palatable, as the families and older children raced to the tents. There would be food, exhibits and games. Speakers for the grown-ups. A live llama, chicks hatching from eggs, a leaf and seed collection, bird and bug displays... a world of excitement!

The big tents circled on an open field, with wooden playground equipment taking an honored spot in the center. I would love to show more pictures of the scene, but for today you must use your imagination. With somewhere around 1,500-2,000 Amish folks gathered, there was no way I could take photos without infringing on their hospitality. I was a guest, it would be beyond rude to take photos as if I would studying some alien species. It is not proper.

This gathering would be the equivalent to an Amish state fair, without competition. No ribbons, no dog and pony shows. These are simple, plain people after all. So imagine your county fair without the lights and rides, and add in nature displays and walks through a wetland. Yes, there was food, but the lines were too long to get to the pie. Fortunately, the tent with homemade ice cream made up for it.

Several things come to mind when I have spent an afternoon with this Amish community. Children seem to be well appreciated here- however they know their place. Children gather quietly and respectfully, and I have never seen pushing, shoving or angry words. Of course, there is a bit of shy curiosity, as we "English" are the strange ones in this gathering. These small children have grown up speaking "Dutch" and for the most part, only speak when they are spoken to.
We spent much of our time in the "Nature Tent" where people gathered for trips to the back lot trail through woods and wetland: Birding with Ed Schlabach, Nature with Guy Denny, Dragonflies with Ian Adams, Wetlands with Don Beam... to name a few.

It was my good fortune to be asked to tag along with Guy Denny's Nature walk. I made myself useful near the back of the walk, where I could talk to the women and children. Many of them enjoy watching birds at their feeders at home and growing plants in their yards and gardens. We had much in common to talk about.

Guy Denny, retired Director of Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves, and Don Beam of Stucker Meadows Native Plants discuss the lay of the land and the sightings of the day. This was one of the few places I felt comfortable with my camera- in the nearly empty car parking area.

We also spent a bit of time with good friend Ian Adams, an amazing photographer with several books in print. Ian was leading the Dragonfly walks, as he is not only a gifted photographer but also an excellent birder, butterfly and dragonfly guide.

If you are not familiar with Ian's work- you should immediately go here to order your copy of his newest book. It is filled with lovely images of many of my favorite places in Ohio and tips for getting the photos in many of these locations.

I'll leave you with Ian's image of one of my favorite locations in the world: the Marblehead Lighthouse, and the good reasoning of a man who loves this book, even though he is not a photographer.

"A photographer's guide to Ohio is written to help photographers improve their camera skills, but I treasure it most for its beautiful illustrations. Typical Ian Adams- a superb book."

David Kline- editor of Farming magazine (and organizer of Family Farm Field Day.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Planning a Prairie

  • The recent Midwest Native Plant Conference provided some excellent speakers, and opportunities for learning from some of the top botany experts in Ohio. Guy Denny spoke on "Tall Grass Prairies" and gave us a "Recipe for a Prairie."

Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea with Question Mark butterfly posing on top.
Guy's home prairie is a beauty to behold. He artistically stages the grasses towards the center and the edges consist of repeating waves of Purple Coneflowers. Not only is it appealing to the eye, it is appealing to the butterflies as well.

Acres and acres of breath-taking beauty. But prairies are not only beautiful, they are practical too. Guy pointed out several benefits during his program:

  • Sequesters atmospheric carbon dioxide

  • Sequesters atmospheric nitrogen

  • Increases organic matter into the soil

  • Stabilizes the soil

  • Increases rain water absorption

  • Provides critical wildlife habitat

  • Increases ecological diversity

  • Enhances the beauty of the landscape

    So if you are interested in attracting beautiful creatures like Slaty Skimmers...

..or in providing habitat for rarities such as Duke's Skippers. You may want to visit a few prairies this summer to get a feel for the broad brush stoke of native plants.

But be warned: visiting prairies can become habitat forming!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Orchids Galore!

On our recent trip to Cedar Bog we found two more species of orchids. Let's face it, if we are going to look at botany, why not go for the big and flashy stuff?

Grass-Pink, Calopogon tuberosus

This orchid is not so big, only an inch or so across, but the color makes up for the size. A magenta colored orchid has real "wow factor." It is also interesting among orchids, as is operates up-side-down so to speak. The "lip" is on the top, and when a pollinator lands on the orchid, the spring-loaded lip smacks a load of pollen on the the poor unsuspecting bee! This must be Mother Nature's idea of a practical joke, but it gets the job done.

The full size of the orchid is not much more than 8-14 inches, and it often grows out of the sphagnum moss in high quality bogs and fens.

Purple Fringe Orchid, Platanthera psycodes

Rumor in the botany world had it that a rare Purple Fringed Orchid was being seen from the boardwalk at Cedar Bog. This was an opportunity I just couldn't pass up! This is an orchid we haven't seen in Richland County (my home) since the late 1800's. Here was my opportunity to get a mental search image for the correct habitat and get a look at the orchid, although it was sadly failing by the time we reached Urbana.

Purple Fringed Orchid..... photo by Andrew Gibson

Fortunately, young botanist Andrew Gibson was there last week and got spectacular photo- documentation of this very orchid and the wet woodlands it inhabits at Cedar Bog. He was kind enough to share his photos- so you can fully appreciate the beauty of this pastel charmer. It was a "life" orchid for me, and one I have been hoping to see for quite a while.

Cedar Bog is packed with rarities and loads of "regular" botany too. Please be sure to visit soon, and patronize the "Friends" concession in their lovely, new building. Not only did we find orchids, but there were several interesting lilies as well. Add in the insects, lizards and a bazillion species of plants, and you have plenty to hold your interest!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Queen of the Midwest Native Plants

Just sorting through my 6,000 photos from the Midwest Native Plant Conference and hope you'll enjoy seeing some of the highlights. It was a madcap time with tons of good friends, fabulous speakers and loads of hard-to-find native plants for sale.

Queen-of-the-Prairie, Filipendula rubra

Queen-of-the-prairie was the plant of the year for MWNP 2011. A perfect selection, too. I bought yet another for my yard!

This year seems to be a banner year for this 3-4 foot tall blooming mascot, and the ones I saw at Beaver Creek Wetlands were in peak form.

Brian Jorg, from the Cincinnati Zoo, gave the Friday evening program. Brian travels extensively to see the rarest of the botanically rare. We were treated to some of his best photos and a whirlwind tour of the midwest's orchids.

And yes, he had photos of Cypripedium reginae, Showy Lady's-Slipper and some other orchids that are currently blooming at Cedar Bog. Several of us visited bog/fen today, but that story is for a later post!

Steve McKee and Jim Davidson

(Shown here with a sound amplifying devise to help with those high pitch insect calls.)

Steve and Jim both gave programs and led field trips for the conference. These two are the best mentors one could ask for! Steve gave a wonderful keynote presentation on "The Botanical Detectives." His sense of humor and botanical encouragement are perfect for empowering beginners (like me!)

Jim Davidson is my go-to-guy for all things butterfly. His program focused on butterflies and the native plants they use as host plants.

Jim McCormac and Guy Denny

Two more of Ohio's best botanical minds! Jim, who is also an expert birder, gave an inspired program on Hummingbirds and pollination. Guy, who could be the King of Ohio Prairies, spoke on tall grass prairies and how he planted his. We can probably cover a bit more of that in an upcoming post as well.

Thanks to the many tireless folks who put this program together, it was an outstanding event once again! I will look forward to planting my many new plants this week, and know we will be enjoying them for many years to come.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Woodland butterflies

On a recent butterfly outing, we were fortunate to find a flurry of activity in the understory of Wolf Creek Park in Mt. Vernon, Ohio. There must have been a recent hatch of these woodland butterflies and several were drying their wings in the late morning breeze.

This photo would make a good $100 butterfly quiz. Can you name this species from a top-side view?

Does this help? Two of the same species on one stem. The woods was thick with the beasties!

Northern Pearly Eye, Enodia anthedon. Not so tough from this angle. Pearly Eyes favor damp-to-wet woodlands and use bottlebrush grass (Hystrics patula) for their larva form.

You'll have to look twice to see the differences between Pearly Eyes and a rarer species, the Eyed Brown. Pearly Eyes are more of a woodland species, while Eyed Browns prefer marsh or wetlands. The Eyed Browns are also lighter in general color and their markings are not as vivid.

Jim Davidson just gave an amazing butterfly and host plant program today at the Midwest Native Plant Conference. I am looking forward to some more time in the field and programs by some of Ohio's best botany (and butterfly) experts.

The next quiz question might be how many of these fantastic native plants can I cram in my car? With so many vendors to shops, I may go crazy! Hope you'll stop by to shop for native plant deals on Saturday!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Go Play Outside!

Happy Fourth of July!

Much of my childhood, the immortal words of my mother were ringing in my ears...
"Go play outside!"

And she thought I never listened to her! But anyone passing me on the road might guess my intentions.

Two kayaks, two bikes and a sailboat suggests the Lakeside might be involved in my plans!

Wishing you and your family a wonderful holiday; do something you enjoy. Just make sure it is OUTSIDE!