Friday, September 30, 2011

Birding at Meadowbrook Marsh

Tales from the Marsh part 3

By now this scene might be familiar. Meadowbrook Marsh has been a standard feature of late, but with good reason. This is great habitat. Water, meadow, woods: it has a great diversity of cover and food for migrating and year-round birds.

The crowds at Midwest Birding Symposium were quite smitten with this 100 acre park. We racked up 80 species! Bald Eagles were a regular sighting, along with the summer resident Great Egrets, Black-crown Night-herons and Great Blue Herons which roost in the
trees on the west edge of the marsh.

A Black-crown Night-heron landing among the withering American Lotus. Once landed, you would never see it from the viewing platform. There are probably countless herons making a living off of frogs, fish and crayfish found here and the insect life was robust! The resident Marsh Wrens and Eastern Phoebe were doing quite well for themselves. The counts of warblers stopping to feed here indicate a healthy bug population as well. Bugs are vital and a "good thing" - it is called the food web.

The overview picture gives a better sense of the meadow as well as the wetlands. That meadow was hopping with grasshoppers, katydids, caterpillars and all manner of protein and plenty of seeds for a hungry bird.

Caspian Tern- art by Kelly Riccetti

The show stopper on the second morning of MBS was a Caspian Tern making successful fishing forays in the open water of the marsh. It gave us quite a show while Clay Taylor of Swarovski Optics gave us a running commentary. Proof is a video clip titled, "And now we need to ID the fish." But I doubt I can load such a large clip here. If I get it posted elsewhere, I'll add a link.

Special thanks to Kelly Riccetti (of Red and the Peanut fame) for this wonderful water color of a Caspian Tern. She really captures the essence of the bird! She also helped at the Carbon Offset booth, a project that raised funds to purchase more land for Meadowbrook Marsh.

Ohio Ornithological Society has generously matched funds (and then some) and we currently have a little over $7,000.00 to offer as matching funds for Black Swamp Land Conservancy's efforts to attain a Federal grant. Thank you to all the people who donated and especially those who worked tirelessly for this project- especially Paul Baicich and Paula Harper.

Last but not least- for a complete list of the birds seen at Meadowbrook, go here to see our report from E-bird.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Boots-to-Binoculars Conversion

Jumbo mushrooms are having a banner year! I have received several calls at Gorman Nature Center, and have encountered giants myself. Steve, from Blue Jay Barrens also encountered some last week. He commented they were as large as his boot, but he was not sure how they compared to my binoculars,(which I had photographed as a comparison to a Giant Puffball.)

Boots and Binoculars with Giant 'Shrooms

I happened upon some more puffballs, but this time I am not so certain they are the harmless Calvatica gigantea species. If they were, they appeared to be well past prime, as the insides were gray and mushy.

There are at least two other varieties of "Earthballs" which generally look like the puffballs. However, these bad boys -Sclerodermas- are poisonous. Someone recently suggested we study more about mushrooms, but I would be hesitant suggest any mushroom was edible, especially after the headlines from last week: Man Who Ate Poisonous Mushrooms Shares Warning.

Seems several of his friends are hoping for new livers and they are not that easy to come by, unless you know med students who like to party.

So enjoy the looks of those robust mushrooms, but don't eat them unless you are an EXPERT!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Rare Bird Alert

We interrupt the series Tales from the Marsh for a Rare Bird Alert!

Ohio's birding community is pretty well-connected, if not to higher places, then at least to each other.

Black-throated Gray Warbler, photo by Brian Zwiebel

When a bird the rarity of a Black-throated Gray appears in Ohio, the news spreads rapidly. And when it is accompanied with proof-positive photos, like these taken by Brian Zwiebel, the scramble is on. In your face, birders!

This warbler of the west should be headed to Mexico for the winter, but we don't mind a bit that Brian found one that detoured by way of Magee Marsh's East Beach.

Special thanks goes out to Brian for allowing me to use his incredible photos. If you are not familiar with his work, follow this link. Brian Zwiebel is "the TOP photographer in Ohio (style, respect for birds and habitat, knowledge of bird natural history...)" as stated by Jen Brumfield, one of Ohio's top tour leaders. Did I mention he is a heck of a nice guy too? Rumor has it he is working on a Warbler book with Ohio's own Jim McCormac... and I can't wait!

But back to that beach. I arrived late on Saturday evening, as I was entertaining family when the alert came out. So believe me, when the beach was empty and the light too low to re-find the bird, I was feeling just a bit sorry for myself. I figured this "one day wonder" was gone for sure.

In the pre-dawn light of the next morning, I resolved to enjoy a quiet outing, and commune with nature a bit. It really didn't matter that I missed the bird. There would be other warblers on this beach, and one never knows what interesting dragonfly or butterfly might show up as well. It was a good morning. Just me and nature...

..and two other avid birders: Ben Warner and Jay Lehman. Gee, that camo stuff must really work- I can barely see Jay!

We spread out in the shrubby undergrowth, and working our way across we identified plenty of warblers. Lots of Blackpolls, a few Cape May, a Yellow-rumped and a heart-stopping Nashville. It was a morning of quietude and bliss, when suddenly before me - an unusual bird.

There was no mistaking the bold colors on the head of this warbler. We had relocated the Black-throated Gray Warbler. The Birding gods had smiled down on us. Just as I snapped the photo, I could hear Ben say, "Cheryl, are you on that?"

Oh, yeah! I am on it.

Hence, the fuzzy photo of a bird I did not expect to see, and a wonderful morning communing with nature. I can still hear the waves lap the beach...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Rare Dragonfly

Tales from the Marsh part 2.

Wetlands are filled with strange and wonderful things. They could be called the cradle of biodiversity, with both aquatic and terrestrial habitats available for a myriad of species. Birds, butterflies, water-born insects, fish and turtles all have their habitat niche.

One of the species which thrives in marshes, has a strange life-cycle, born of the water and taking to the sky in adulthood. A relentless predator, and yet prey to larger species during all of its life cycles. One of the earliest species to come forth on earth- out of the mire and muck- the dragonfly.

Black Saddlebags, Tramea lacerata photo by Warren Uxley

Several species of dragon and damselflies were abundant at Meadowbrook Marsh. The large bodied Common Green Darners were plying their trade above the grasses in the meadow, endeavoring lunch on the wing. Black Saddlebags were found hidden near the edge of the woods, with a wait-and-see attitude toward prey.

Red Saddlebags, Tramea onusta- photo by Sherrie Duris

Midway through our Friday morning bird walk, we spotted a stranger saddlebag- this one hovering above, was red. Two possibilities came to mind- with one being rarer than the other. The dragon alighted for but a moment, and the quick-triggered Sherrie Duris stepped in for a photo and documented the first Red Saddlebags at Meadowbrook Marsh. These southerner have been seen in Ohio before, but they appear infrequently, with only eight records in the last ten years.

Unable to call this one in the field, we were fortunate to have Sherrie's photo to send round to the experts. Dr. Dave McShaffrey of Marietta College was quick to forward his diagnostic slides- and bring me up to speed on these two species.

The more common of the two species, Carolina Saddlebags can arrive in Ohio as early as April. I have seen this species several times, and I am always most likely to go with the "commonest" of species. The "Ring-billed Gull, or Red-tailed Hawks" are always first to come to mind.

But today, we were lucky.

Our photo was a better match for the Red Saddlebags. To study more comparisons of dragonflies or to call up the species maps (see below), please follow this link to : Ohio Odonata Society.

Special thanks to Dave McShaffrey, Judy Semroc, Rick Nirschl and of course- Sherrie Duris, for making this dragonfly identification possible.

Friday, September 23, 2011

No "Dead" Tree

Tales from the Marsh Part 1.

Meadowbrook Marsh is brimming with life, and death. Everything is nature is connected by a fine cord, according to John Muir, and life is interwoven with death and decay. If one looks closely at a so-called dead tree, he might be surprised with the variety of life forms displayed.
Standing timber or firewood to some, but in reality, a micro-forest of diversity can thrive on this tree. From the berries on an obvious-at-a-distant Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia to the pin-head sized grubs buried in the bark, dead trees provide sustenance to birds, squirrels and a multitude of lesser life-forms.

Bird watchers filled the platform at Meadowbrook Marsh during Midwest Birding Symposium. Dead ash trees are numerous in the wood lot behind.

Humans seem to be the only animal unable to appreciate a standing dead tree. But perhaps birders are more highly evolved humans, as they often realise birds can be found in the open canopy of decay. Unfortunately, the number of dead trees in all of north-western Ohio is at a staggering high.

The Emerald Ash Borer (photo FDACS), uninvited guest from Asia has infested our ash trees, leaving trails of devastation and decline in our woodlots. The grubs of this emerald green beetle are impacting the management of city parks, neighborhood tree lawns and creating a boon for tree services everywhere. Certainly, dead trees can be hazardous in a populous community, but perhaps we should examine the broader implications in woodlots and natural areas.

Those D-shaped exit holes are the telling tale. Soon the bark layer, will separate from the tree, revealing the channels grubs used and interrupted the water-service from the roots to the leaves. The cause of pre-mature death. But from this death springs life: fungi, ants, grubs go to work as decomposers. Meanwhile, berry festooned vines of ivy and grape feed flocks of migrating bird and provide life-support for wintering birds.

It is a micro-community in a high-rise tower.

Red-headed Woodpecker, photo Dave Lewis

Woodpeckers are the winners. The Hairy and Downy rap out their beat, while Red-bellieds call from the tops of snags. It may be hard to remember so much life can come from death, but ask the birders. They already know.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

MBS Trip to Kelleys Island

In the dawn's early light, one hundred of Midwest Birding Symposium's luckiest people entered the gate for the ferry to Kelleys Island.
Jason Larson and Julie "Red" Davis check us off the lists and give us marching orders. This is gonna be a great day!

The lake had calmed considerably since the Thursday cruise. Kathy Mock enjoyed the good weather and the sunny company of Al Batt on the trip across "the pond." It is a four mile crossing to Kelleys Island*, a short 20 minute cruise in good weather.

(*yes, that is spelled right- no apostrophes in the official spelling).

Kelleys rocks!
Our group gathered at Glacial Grooves, the best example of a glacier's mega-groove and a National Landmark. Once there were a series of these humongous gouges in the landscape where ice crawled across the island, but the others were quarried out and the stone shipped away. Today this monument to nature remains to tell the story of these 10 foot deep grooves and the 350 - 400 million year old marine fossils embedded in the limestone.

A highlight of our trip was a visit to Master Bander Tom Bartlett's tent. Tom has been doing research on the island, for at least 20 years... as long as I can remember, anyway. There is something special about seeing a bird in the hand, something mystical and almost life changing.

Another bird bander, Dave Russell, from Miami University (OH.) was able to teach us about these fascinating warblers we were seeing. The key points on a fall Blackpoll warbler are much easier to find when they are in hand. Hint: look at the legs and feet!

Just before lunch at Camp Patamos, I photographed one of the islands most famous residents: the Lake Erie Water Snake. They are famous for being ill-tempered, wanting to bite and musk any fool willing to try to pick them up. This one was exceptionally well colored, most are much plainer and gray-looking.

Until recently, this was a Federally listed endangered species, the topic of much research and efforts to stabilize the population. They are so famous they have been written up in the New York Times and featured on Mike Rowe's Dirty Jobs!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Midwest Birding Symposium

In case you were with us on Kelleys Island, or otherwise not able to watch the final video at the Midwest Birding Symposium- here it is!

Midwest Birding Video-

Special thanks to Ann Oliver for creating this production, and all to the amazing photographers who were so willing to share their time and talents! Enjoy!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Botany Highlights from MBS

The mega-event Midwest Birding Symposium was an immense success, and it has left my head in a whirl. So much to tell, so many people to thank, stories to share and new friends from far flung places!

Not unlike a comfort food, plants are my mainstay. When all else fails to make sense, they are a beginning for me. And so from the gazillion photos I eventually hope to share, here are some botanical highlights:

Giant Puffballs, Calvatia gigantea, each as large or larger than my binoculars.
Several were found near the paved path at Meadowbrook Marsh, and more were tucked back into the open grass beneath a canopy of trees. We also found numerous of these cream colored orbs on Kelleys Island near the Long Point banding station.

They appeared to be a volleyball at first glance, but closer inspection reveals the familiar mushroom smell and smooth skin. This species is said to be edible in the early stages, but I am not one to suggest any mushroom is edible, as some types can be quite poisonous. As one friend says, "You can eat any of them...once." Better leave the cooking to experts, I just liked to admire these giants and wondered if they are more numerous this year due to the higher than average rainfall we have had this summer.

Great Blue Lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica
Generally found growing in ditches and damp habitats, the Great Blue Lobelia is a show stopper of a flower and one of my favorites to cultivate here at home. There were waves of the blue beauties growing throughout Meadowbrook Marsh, lining the trail in several locations.

The species name is a reference to its supposed ability to cure syphilis. That is another piece of folklore I can't corroborate. Let's just admire this plant for its lovely blossoms and the butterflies it might attract.

Both of these plants are interesting natives at the Meadowbrook Marsh in Marblehead, Ohio.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunrise at Meadowbrook

The last three mornings were spent communing with nature, and watching sunrise at Meadowbrook Marsh. The bird calls drift across the marsh as the sun gently gilds the distant treeline, creating an ambiance that only nature can provide. We took it in with hush and awed tones.

This is will be the benefactor of the Carbon Offset Birding Project.

Cheryl and Kelly Riccetti at the Carbon Offset booth

Special thanks to everyone who donated, and every one who helped man the booth.

There were be full reports soon, but now I must catch a ferry to Kelleys!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cream Gentian

One of the rarest plants in Ohio is blooming in profusion in Bexley. This neighborhood in Columbus is also home to sand dunes, rock alvars, and a mini prairie contained in a formal setting. It is all found at the Ohio Governor's Residence Heritage Gardens.
Cream Gentian, Gentiana alba
This plant is hard to find in the rest of Ohio. Previously, I have only seen them in bloom once, in Adams County.

This one was well well hidden beneath the over growth, which we had been called in to contain. It is no small trick sorting through these rare plants and know what to weed!

Here is the team of specialists, hard at work. Dick Moseley, Jan Kennedy and Guy Denny are on the right- trimming the bluegrass.

This garden is a peaceful place for man and beast alike. It is refreshing to have such cooperation regardless of political party. Hope Taft still works tirelessly to promote Ohio Natural Areas and this beautiful garden is the next closest thing to seeing these plants in the "wild." It is a regular botanical zoo!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Two Trips to Hemlock Falls

Quite possibly the most magical spot in all of Mohican, is the privately held Hemlock Falls. It is a part of the Mohican Outdoor School, and not generally available to the public. Yesterday, it was our good fortune to get 2 trips to the falls.
The falls were in good form, as a "hail" of a thunderstorm had crashed through, just prior to our visit. In case you might wonder, there are Hemlocks growing way high up there- at the head of the falls.

The rock formations are quite extensive, and unlike anything we mid-Ohio flat-landers are used to encountering. One must decide whether to climb through the rock formation, or take the trail around. I did both, a different way each trip.

The Mohican Native Plant Society was studying ferns at this location, and Greater Mohican Audubon Society joined in for the fun.

Steve McKee gleefully taught the class, and said we should call him if we ever find this plant- Crested Fern, Dryopteris cristata in our region. Call him, even if it is at 3:00 am in the morning. He wants to know! Better yet, wait till 6:00 am and give his poor wife Deb a break.

We had a likely candidate along a stream side, but it turned out to be a rather robust Spinulose Woodfern. It still counts though, because it was a Woodfern Workshop after all. This region of Mohican is filled with ferns, compared to just 50 mile west- where Ohio becomes fern challenged.

This is not the fern group. First hint: they are looking up.

Our second trip was by twilight, and the birders listen carefully for the Pine Warbler and Brown Creeper.

A Spicebush leaf was opened to reveal a Spicebush caterpillar; the sharp-eye Leslie Cornet found it along the trail. After a few snapshots- we tucked him back in for the night.

A lot of adventure for one day- but with Greater Mohican Audubon - that's how we roll!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Butterflies, finally!

This year has been less than stellar for the butterfly buffs, and the last couple of days were a wash out. When tasked with leading a trip for the Division of Wildlife's Diversity Partners, I thought our trip might be a total bust. It was raining a fine steady mist as we unloaded out of the van.

However, this Common Buckeye was not about to let a little water get in his way. In fact, he was puddling in it!

The sun started to peak through the clouds, and several Eastern Tailed-Blues magically appeared, as if from nowhere.

Meadow Fritillaries were the next to show; several dancing across the meadow.

The best of the the field work was this very fresh Variegated Fritillary. Bonus points for anyone who can name the botany that is was posing on! Hint: It is in the tomato (Solanum) family.

Just past the working barn at Malabar Farm, we herded this Checkered White Skipper toward an adoring crowd. The was the best find of the day, a butterfly-not rare- but certainly unusual.
The End.

And it was the end for this poor hapless Clouded Sulphur who strayed into a spider web.

This day at Malabar Farm produced some of the best butterflying we have had all year! Thanks to the great folks at DOW for this excellent event.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Lake Erie Weekend Whimbrel

Labor Day weekend started out hot, but quickly turned to stormy on Sunday. The lake was really throwing its best rollers at the Lakeside dock- which had to be closed. Most tourists headed home, but this is my favorite time on Lake Erie!

Angry clouds and wind stir the waves. The power of storms on the lake is surreal. And you never know what might drop in...

A lone Whimbrel showed up at Lorain Harbor.

It casually put on quite a show as he strolled through the grass in search of tasty bugs and worms.

Whimbrels dwarf the other mud-flat visitors, like this Sanderling. These jumbo-sized birds seem to drop into shore habitat for very brief visits during their fall migration. Generally it is touch down, feed a bit and off again. They rarely hang around long, perhaps the high winds and foul weather kept this bird grounded longer than usual.

The waves were really pounding the exterior walls of the harbor, but it was well worth the buffeting we took by the wind to see this bird!

Meanwhile, back in Lakeside- the birds are gathering in the park for a convention. I think it is called Midwest BIRD Symposium. No vendors or speakers, but the Lakeside hospitality is a draw.

And remember the first snapshot? That's Kelleys Island, we'll be headed there on Sunday of the Midwest Birding Symposium. I hope you will be with us!

The Kelleys Island ferry is plenty big enough to withstand almost any weather Lake Erie might throw at us. The locals call it "BOB" (Big Orange Boat).

Lakeside is ready to roll out the red carpet for 1000 birders coming to MBS, and I can't wait to share my old hometown with all of you! Hope to see you there!