Saturday, October 29, 2011


Compare all of fall's offerings, and it is doubtful you will find any plant more dynamic than the Eastern Wahoo. Foreign plant specimens and hybrid freaks have nothing on this lovey native Ohio plant. Breath-taking.

Eastern Wahoo, Euonymus atropurpureus. Hues of pink and purples contrast with green on the end-of-season leaves. What could offer more spectacular color?

And the fruits- stunning! This member of the Celastraceae (Staff-tree family) has all of the magnificent color of the non-native Euonymus (burning bush) with none of those nasty invasive habitats.
Closely related to the more southern "Hearts bustin' with love" or Euonymus americanus- all have colorful fruit which might remind you a bit of our native Bittersweet, another Celastrus.

Take that landscapers! Away with your Bradford pears and burning bush. Ohio has it own plants that surpass in beauty and fit nicely into a landscape.

Next time you are making an addition to your home's greenery- keep this plant in mind. And support your local Wild-Ones and our friends at Midwest Native Plant Society. I'll see you at the conference in July!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Walking Among Giants

Standing adjacent to the rim of a cavern in Hocking county remains a enormous hull of a tree. Towering perhaps 60 feet above the forest floor, one feels the presence of this giant as if it were still a living being. Being dwarfed by its majesty, Jim Davidson gives scale to the remains. This American Chestnut, Castenea dentata, was undoubtedly a victim of the Chestnut blight which ravished trees from 1904-1940's forever changing the landscape of America.

Chestnut was a highly desirable species with excellent nut crop for wildlife and man alike. That Christmas song extolling the virtues of "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire" was from those better days. Once the blight took hold, trees were dropped en mass for its valuable- and highly rot-resistant wood.

This hulking giant has stood a likely 40-50 years beyond its life, giving us a small insight to the majesty of these native trees. American Chestnuts, much taller than their Oriental counterparts, reached the heights of the forest canopy and bloomed in flowering creamy-white profusion -reportedly seen for miles and miles.

Its weather resistant properties remain its only recommendation today. Many public building were constructed by the C.C.C. from an effort to "harvest" all the timber before it wasted away. What if just two or three of those trees harvested might have carried a gene resistant to the blight? Would we have a living remnant of the species today?

The aging and weathering of the wood offers a beauty in its own right. Said to be "differential weathering"- that is, the softer wood wears away leaving ridges of the harder wood behind. It reminds one of the "skeltons" seen in out West, the form of past Saguaro cactus.

My guides on this forensic forestry expedition were no other than Paul Knoop and Jim Davidson, two of Ohio's deepest thinkers and natural history "giants" in their own right. No rock, leaf, bug or plant goes unexamined by these two. Their combined wealth of knowledge- and endless curiosity- make an afternoon walk feel like a priceless privilege.

Here, I can only hope to share a small portion of that information with you.

For the history of the American Chestnut click here.

For my long, past post on chestnut trees- click here

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Cawing of Crows

A cool autumn breeze has been teasing leaves off of our landscape, while I catch up on work in my office. Gradually I note, someone- or something- has turned up the outdoor soundtrack of cawing crows. The scene is pretty visible from my window...

American crows are teeing up in the tree top, creating much more of a cacophony (ca-caw-phony?) than their normal feeding mode. This is serious business.

My curiosity gets the best of me, and I eagerly ditch the desk to go out to investigate.

By now the alarm is such that fellow crows are being called in from the local fields. The farmers are having a dreadful time harvesting corn and beans with this year's rainy fall, but the crows consider it all good fortune.

The tag-team is lining up. The large dark bodies peal out of the fields, winging their way to the sounds of their distressed comrades in my yard.

In twos and threes, on they come....

the Crips or Bloods have nothing on this gang.

It is all for one and once the alarm is raised, the team assembles.

The crows go into a full defensive program. Cawing from perches and on the wing, they will wheel, fly circles and volley towards the tree where the offender roosts.

Looks like a heavy-eyed owl recently home from the night shift. This Barred Owl watches the mob assemble, knowing he will soon need to make a run for it. There will be no more peaceful daytime sleeping in this neighborhood. He has been put on notice.

The crows reign victorious by day. Team work and persistence will drive the larger and heavy taloned predators from their midst. The stakes are high, as the owls would likely win if it were night.

Crows and Jays are members of the Corvidae family, the most intelligent of all birds. They are mortal enemies of the Great Horned Owl and will not take chances by allowing any known owls in their territory. Their gangland treatment of predator species is well documented, and a heck of a lot of fun to watch.

Next time you hear crows being "cawed" into a mob, be sure check it out!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hey Lady...

Splashes of red and gold say fall has settled in, and winter can't be far away. Someone stopped by to make certain we were properly prepared for the months to come.

This Red Squirrel is peeking in the porch window, wondering if that bag of sunflower seed will get him through the winter. We have three species of squirrels at our ranch: Fox Squirrels, Flying Squirrels and Red Squirrels. Yes, they all love the bird feeders but the little Reds seem to be the most persistently destructive.

The main feeders have baffles on them, but the most effective squirrel proofing I have found is a 4x4 plastic cover for the timber posts our big feeders sit upon. Seems the little devils can't climb those at all! Ha ha ha... it took me years to come up with that system!

The nearby fields are filled with corn for the taking and our woodlot is heavy with beech, walnut and hickory nuts. No wonder they think this is the Garden of Eden. But this little guy is checking on his back-up plan, just in case it is a hard winter. He knows I am a softy after all...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Greg Miller's Big Day!

If you are connected at all with the birding world or just into movies in general, you are probably aware the movie The Big Year premiered tonight. And most of us in mid-Ohio who bird, made a real event out of it.

After all, it was inspired by the true story of our friend, Greg Miller. "How cool is that?" Greg likes to say.

Does he look happy here? He was grinning so much, he admitted he looks like he has a "coat hanger in my mouth sideways!"

Friends and family gathered from around the state to share this night with him. Dan Sanders and Doreene Linzell are two very special birding friends who took him for "birding therapy" while he was fighting off cancer (after his big year.) Two of his other long-time birding companions, cousin-Kent Miller and friend-Su Snyder were also there.

Tim and Laura Dornan provided this hysterical cake- which was also quite yummy. Sorry, not one crumb is left.

After all, we had a packed house with over-flow into the next room. Everyone wants to wish Greg well, because he is the nicest guy in the world. No matter if he becomes famous or the movie flops- he will always be our lovable, silly Greg. Those tumbles in movie? I have actually seen him do that in the field.

Alan Dolan, Greg Miller, and Cheryl Harner (your blogger.) It was wonderful for the Canton Audubon and Greater Mohican Audubon to work together to make this night happen for Greg in Canton, Ohio. He wanted to be close to home for the big evening.

The movie filled our evening with some good chuckles and a few pulled heart-strings, but for those of us who know him well- he gives us that each day. No one at the movie laughed louder or cheered more than Greg. What you see, is what you get. That's Greg.

So Greg- here's to you! The world is a better place for having you in it.

May your movie inspire others to live their dream!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Ottawa NWR- A Copper Mine

Ottawa National Wildlife Reserve in northwest Ohio has been all the talk of late. The gates have been open more frequently to birders, and the shorebird migration has been all the rage. It seems they had a gob of godwits last weekend and Larry Richardson tells the full story here.

Another group of nature-seekers have been haunting the paths at these same impoundments. September and October aren't just a good time to see shore birds and fall color.

Jason Lewis (Ottawa NWR manager) and Jackie Riley (Karner Blue butterfly monitor), hard at work!

Fall is also prime time for late butterflies! Especially the RARE Purplish Copper, Ohio's most wanted butterfly; they had not been seen in about ten years! That is, until someone got a photo last year while birding at Ottawa.

So the great hunt begins! First we need to wade through the Bronze Coppers, their sister species. After seeing nearly 400 Bronze Coppers in one day, one might think they are as common as a butterfly could be! However, since they are strictly a wetlands species- and Ohio has lost over 90% of our wetlands- they are only common in rare places.

Butterflies often have highly refined tastes for certain host plants, and our target species, the Purplish Copper, feed on a terrestrial form of the Water Smartweed, Polygonum amphibium. Some say Purplish are extra keen on the hairy form of the plant.

We checked over every plant and every individual we could find. This female appeared to be settling in to lay eggs, but alas she is only a Bronze Copper. We continued to look...

Did I mention there was over three miles of possible habitat? It was like searching for a needle in a haystack! Unfortunately, after four hours of beating the bushes, we were no closer to solving the mystery of the missing Purplish Copper.

But we haven't given up! Well, maybe for this year. But next year, we will be back at it, armed with these amazing "cheat sheets" that Jackie made for us. Now you have the scoop on Ohio's "Most Wanted" butterfly! Take a close look and you will see why it is so easy to confuse these two different species of the copper colored butterflies.

Special thanks goes out to Mike Reese of for allowing us to use his wonderful photos. If we can't find our own Purplish Copper soon, we may have to go visit Mike to see a little bit of their marsh magic!

Remember, keep your eyes to the skys (and the smartweeds) if you are visiting Ottawa NWR!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Day of the Grebe

The last of a spectacular fall is closing in on mid-Ohio. Saturday's balmy temperatures were perfect for the last kayak trip of the season and Hoover Reservoir was as calm as a sheet of glass. The paddling was easy and the shore birding was pleasant, but the talk of the day was...

a lone Horned Grebe on the back-waters of the river. We first encountered this Podiceps near several Mallard ducks, but it remain when they spooked. It wandered up stream a bit, turned to take us by surprise and continued to swim past the kayak float, back towards the mouth of the stream. Hence, the jaw dropping looks, even photos of water droplets on its back.

Horned Grebes are migratory birds, only found passing through during spring and fall. This one will be headed south to Florida or Louisiana in the very near future, but we were grateful for the afternoon it spent with us.

A picture perfect day with the water reflecting the colors of fall.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Our Lake becomes Eerie

It is not a spoof or a Halloween trick, it is a fact Ohioans need to come to grips with: Lake Erie is a scary place these days. A new report by the National Wildlife Federation has started to make waves in the press, but do average citizens realize how bad this situation has become?

Hardly what you would call a "day at the beach." Toxic algae can't be a healthy environment for our wildlife.

A recent stroll at the Huron pier left me feeling sickened by the waves of blue-green algae washing into shore. It was thick, foul smelling and almost as far reaching as the eye could see.

This year our lake has reports of algae blooms up to 2 foot deep, affecting much of the western basin. This toxic algae outbreak is the worst in history, surpassing the levels in the 1960's when the lake was declared "dead." The algae has plagued several inland lakes as well, with huge negative impacts already felt on fishing and tourism at Lake St. Marys. State agencies have been studying how to reduce farm run-off feeding the high phosphorus levels. We know the cause and now must resolve to make the tough changes required to improve our water's health. The stakes are too high to lose.

Meanwhile, we must take these events seriously. The food chain in the Great Lakes is collapsing. Fish and fishing is in decline- after all who wants to catch or eat "slightly" toxic fish? Once you have seen these sickening waves of eerie green- you'll reconsider any desire to swim or sail in these waters. Above all, Lake Erie is the source for drinking water for most nearby communities.

We can't sit back and hope someone will figure out an easy answer. The lake is our most precious natural resource and life in Ohio will not be the same until we take a good hard look at the way we are squandering our best and most beautiful asset.

Let's hope we can get our act together... soon. For the full report from National Wildlife Federation go here.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Last of Summer Whites

Summer heat has shifted to fall's cooling nights and Mother Nature now provides us with a palette of red and gold. But it would be a shame to bid goodbye to summer without a glance at two important plants in the same floristic family. Both wear white.

Boneset, Eupatorium perfoliatum wears the last of summer's white.

A wetland plant that is little noted and often confused with similar plants of the same genus, Boneset has a history and growth habit worth noting. It was historically believed to be a healing plant, one used to help mend broken bones.

After all, look at the way the leaves have "healed" together to surround the stem! The leaf margins blend together giving the appearance of one leaf having been formed out of two. According to the Doctrine of Signatures, any well-rounded medieval doctor would know this plant must have curative powers. Today we know- this just isn't true.

But those leaves are a much easier way to identify the plant than the inflorescence of the Boneset. Many of these late summer Eupatoriums look much the same, but for the comparison of their leaves.
White Snake-root, Ageratina altissma (once know as Eupatorium rugosum, and long ago E. urticaefolium) also has pharmaceutical effects- of the deadly kind! This plant is known from rich soils, and damp meadows found along river bottoms. White settlers to the Ohio River Valley were plagued by a mysterious summer-time disease called "milk-sickness." It caused the trembles in free-range cattle and was usually fatal to the unsuspecting victim of tainted milk. The sickness killed scores of pioneers, like Nancy Hanks Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln's mother. Eventually Dr. Anna, a "medicine woman," took heed from a local Shawnee woman and the correlation between "milk-sickness" and White Snake-root became known.
The florets of White Snake-root much resemble those of their cousin the Boneset, but the leaf is strikingly different.

Note the Latin name for Boneset- E. perfoliatum should remind us that the stem is completely encircled by the "healed-over" leaf. The White Snake-root has a much glossier leaf.

Both flowers have interesting cultural histories and the stories may well make up for the lack of showiness on their part. After all, these plants impacted the lives of many of our forefathers- including one of our greatest Presidents.