Friday, March 30, 2012

"Preserving" Butterflies

Native plants.  
We need 'em, or at least the butterflies do.

The best way to plant a "butterfly garden" is to focus on the native plants that butterflies lay their eggs upon.  Butterflies tend to be host plant specific.  For instance: no milkweed = no monarchs.

Turtlehead, Chelone glabra  is an Ohio native, wetland plant.

Wetlands  in Ohio are in decline. We have lost over 90 percent of the wetlands our state once had.  When you lose the wetlands, you lose the wetland's plants and the suite of butterflies that use them.

 Jim Davidson likes butterflies.  He likes them so much he bought a swamp just to see them.

He's got some real rarities here, like Dion and Duke Skippers. Their habitat is in pretty good shape, but he worries about the Baltimore Checkerspots.  The deer eat their host plant Turtlehead.  If the butterflies can't find enough plants to lay their eggs upon, he'll soon lose his Baltimore Checkerspot population.

So Jim is helping out  Mother Nature, just a bit.

We visited Jim's swampy nature preserve, which he donated to the Columbus Metro-parks. He wanted  to plant some more Turtlehead and protect it from deer browse.  I speculated if the butterflies could get though that chicken wire.  (They can.)  He speculated I was a goof.  (I am.)

Baltimore Checkerspot- the butterfly population we are hoping to increase.
 About the size of a silver-dollar, that chicken wire won't slow them down a bit. Unfortunately, the deer were probably standing in the undergrowth licking their lips as Jim placed the new plant.

The last stage of the planting process is firmly supporting the wire cage with wooden stakes. This should slow the deer down and perhaps the checkerspots will get a decent meal this year. Jim and a parks employee monitor this site weekly to count butterflies along the transect. "Transect" is just a fancy word for a set trail or path one walks on a weekly butterfly count. By monitoring the same trail throughout the summer, we get a good idea of the ebb and flow of butterfly populations and the species seen in Ohio.

The data from these weekly walks is compiled and sent to the Ohio Lepidopterists. If you are interested in butterflies, join this fine group to learn more about the citizen science going on in Ohio and the many programs and field trips available to members.

We might even visit the Davidson Butterfly Preserve.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Botany and Butterflying

Jaret Daniels has several fine field guides on the market, and I used his wildflower guide during my recent trip to Florida.  I highly recommend it to the general naturalist who wants to get a "lay of the land." There are so many plant species in Florida that it boggles the mind of this Ohio girl, and I appreciated an idiot-proof guide to help me along.

Jaret also wrote an excellent  field guide to Ohio's butterflies.  He is not only very knowledgeable about the identification of all those hard-to-know skippers and such, he is a marvel in the field.  Jaret is a professional photographer and his artistic eye for detail is obvious.  Nothing gets past this guy.  He can be in a group of 40 and STILL be the one who finds the rarity!

We are so lucky he travels up from Florida each year, just to be a Flora-Quest guide.  It is an incredible opportunity to be in a small group of participants and really have the time and ability to access  Jaret's knowledge.

Click on the photo below to go straight to the Flora-Quest web site to register.  We only have a few spots in Jaret's trip, so you'll not want to delay. 


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Gulf Butterfly- Florida

Last week the weather was unnaturally warm for Ohio and I wondered why I had booked a flight to Florida. Although Ohio's weather nearly rivaled the balmy climes of the south, Florida has butterflies I will never see here.

Underside of Gulf Fritillary, Dion vanillae  nectaring on Scorpion's Tail, Heliotropium angiospermum

The long-winged member of the fritillary butterflies is quite common in the south; it is a very, very rare occurrence in Ohio.  It was one of  the most common butterflies seen during my visit to Florida.

This "Gulf Frit" had landed on an invasive species of plant, the Water Pennywort, Hydrocotyle vulgaris.  The local tell me this non-native plant "appeared" everywhere after a hurricane and has been a nuisance in the landscape ever since.

 The Gulf Fritillaries use several members of the Passion-flower family as host plants. 
The Gulf Fritillary caterpillars we found were feeding on (presumably) a passion vine.  There was not enough vegetation left intact to identify the plant species!
Unfortunately, it appears a Braconid wasp had, or was laying eggs on this poor caterpillar.  That spells "lights out" for this guy.  The eggs will hatch out and feed on the innards of the caterpillar, allowing it to live long enough until they reach maturity.  A good parasite doesn't kill its host, until it is no longer needed.

Nature is amazing, but at the same time, often horrific.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Shreve Migration- Sensational!

Welcome to the 12th Annual Shreve Spring Migration Sensation!

 The official door greeter, a Peregrine Falcon took his job very seriously.

 "This ain't no Walmart, Mister."

 The Medina Raptor Center provides live birds for the event. It is a rare opportunity for many kids to see a magnificent bird of prey eye-to-eye.

 The vendor booths are always popular, but something extra special must have been going on at "Time and Optics".  Maybe our friend Robert Hershberger was telling one of his famous birding stories?

Holy Salamanders!  Nina Harfmann, the winner of the DOW Diversity Stamp photo contest was also on hand!  A lot of folks got their  Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamps signed by Nina.  If you haven't bought one yet, be sure to pick one up at Black Swamp Bird Observatory this spring.  That $15.00 stamp promotes wildife diversity throughout Ohio.

Your Blogger caught up with the now-famous Ryan Steiner while birding at Cemetery Road.  Ryan is a fantastic birder, who has amazing abilities and writes articles for the Greater Mohican Audubon Newsletter!  One of my favorite partners for Christmas Bird Counts, this young man has a wealth of birding information which he eagerly shares!
It is his latest find that was probably all the talk at that Time and Optic booth. Ryan tooks some youngsters out to bird at Funk Bottoms Wildlife Area and turned up a Neslon's Sparrow!  UNHEARD of in March in Ohio.  This is big birding news folks!

Nelson's Sparrow, photo by Ryan Steiner

 Not only did Ryan find the bird, he got a very good photo to document it!   We'll get Ryan (the birding rockstar!) to tell us the whole story in a future GMAS newsletter.

The soggy trail at Funk Bottoms Wildlife Area where the Nelson's Sparrow was found.  A second Nelson's was also seen at this location during the Shreve Sensation.

Kenn Kaufman was our keynote speaker at Shreve. We took copious notes and photos as it is always an honor to learn from Kenn.  His "Spectacular Sparrows" was the perfect program for the Year of the Nelson's Sparrow.  Usually we are all about waterfowl at this early migration event, but 2012 took a whole new turn!

Kim and Kenn Kaufman greeted the crowds after their programs.  Kenn, almost passing for Amish, still had on his Ammodramus sparrow hat.

All the speakers were well attended and provided an interesting selection of topics.  Thanks to the committee who runs the Migration Sensation and the many volunteers who make it happen:  The school staff, the many volunteers -especially the ones providing educational opportunies for kids, and our Greater Mohican Auduboners who help in the field.  Thank you to the people who make this event continue to attract over 1,000 people each year

While Shreve is normally considered a waterfowl/ wetland event, it was my honor to present the first ever Shreve Migration program on butterflies.  It was a wonderful opportunity to talk about butterflies that migrate, and others who emigrate. Who knew the temperatures would already be in the high 60's with numerous species flying in March? Studying about butterfly migrations was unique opportunity for me to learn so much more about the insects that interest me so. 

A special thanks goes out to the wonderful friends who provided information and books about butterflies; I couldn't have done it without you.

Hope to see you all again next year at this family friendly event!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Bag Bills

I admit sometimes I am smitten in the craziest ways.  But it is no less real, perhaps, I am just better able to see the wonderfully unique features that makes this bird- such a personality!  

The "Bag Bill" or Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis is a beautiful bird!

A large, colorful presence found along the Florida coast, this handsome adult Brown Pelican, which sports a yellow crown and silvery plumage, is a mighty fisherman.  There is a wonderful poem that documents his prowess:
         What a marvelous bird is the pelican
          His beak can hold more than his belly can
          He can store in his beak
          Enough fish for a week
          But don't ask me how the hell-he-can!              (Author unknown)

 Indeed you will find his beak can hold more (water) than his belly can, and he strains the water from his catch.  But the catching is the amazing part!  He cruises along the water, until he seems suddenly rendered with a paralysis which throws him into a head-long dive, deep into the water.  Up he comes to the surface, with a virtual smile on his beak and a fish in writhing within.  He drains the water a bit, throws back his head, and gulp!  Down it goes.

Pelicans seem nearly improbable in flight.  They cruise in small groups, or casual flocks of 20 or so, along the coastline. They look almost prehistoric as they cruise overhead; it boggles my mind that these unwieldy birds even fly!  They look like a squadron of  B-52's.  Sometimes their formation skims so low across the water, wingtips nearly touch the waves.  On they go, for miles and miles...

And if fishing is not so hot, no worries!  There are plenty of Florida fisherman most willing to share the scraps from their fish cleaning process.  All the pelicans have to do is hang out at the local docks 'til the boys come in.  I once heard someone say pelicans were stupid, but that doesn't look so dumb to me.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Gulf Coast - colors

Sunset on the Gulf Coast's Honeymoon Island State Park washed the sky with colors.  

With a few days to spend in Florida, this state park was a must-see. Hundreds of photographers (and bloggers, perhaps)  waited to capture that perfect moment as the sun splashes into the Gulf.  

This Florida State Park is a short forty-five minute ride from the Tampa Airport.  We  happily paid $4.00 at the gate to get in.  Pay-to-play parks are an awesome idea, and I never grumble about paying to see nature. I would drop cash to see any art museum or zoo, why shouldn't I want to support the natural areas we love so well?  There is a theory that fees also help keep the riff-raff out, but... I was still there!

Nature: Beautiful, soothing, portable: a Zebra Longwing butterfly.

 This Zebra Longwing butterfly was flitting about the landscaping at our hotel's pool. I hoped to encounter one on this trip, as I have never seen one in the "wild".  Zebra Longwing is the state butterfly of Florida and their host plant is Passionflower.

Several southern butterfly species do "migrate"  or "emigrate" to Ohio (which will be part of my program for Shreve Migration Sensation on Saturday March 24th), but the Zebra Longwing is not one of them.  If you want to see this member of the Heliconiinae subfamily, you have to go south. It certainly made this whole trip worth while for me!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Conkle's Hollow- Hocking

Spring has arrived at Conkle's Hollow in south-eastern Ohio.  The upper rim trail is a short course in beauty and fear.  The 2.5 mile trail winds along unprotected precipices, offering dizzying views of the Hocking Hills.

  My daughter, Michelle Goodman basks in the sunshine and spectacular views from the top.

This high-rise portion of the trip is not for everybody.  It is not for those with a fear of heights, and please, leave the children on the lower trail.   In this day of liability, it is surprisingly free of handrails or barriers.  Drink in the scenery, but sip slowly, and watch your step.  

The lower trail is an outstanding, one mile, handicapped accessible trail.  One of Ohio's most breathtaking walks, it is easily compared to the River Trail at Zion National Park in Utah.  Take a mini-trip to the caverns,  where a stream meanders beneath the  Black Hand sandstone walls festooned with hanging gardens.  Ferns and sedges carpet the edge of the trail. While March is early for the spring ephemerals, wildflowers are a key tourist attraction in the hollow.

The Plantainleaf Sedge, Carex plantaginea lines the lower trail.  This handsome sedge is distinctive enough to be propagated for the nursery trade.  I have seen it marketed under the name "Seersucker Sedge".  In fact, I have a few in my yard.

Look for these attractive purplish-red culms to help you identify this sedge. The leafless stalks will bear fruiting bodies in record time with the 70-plus degree days in March this year. 

Is there any doubt it portends that which is to come?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Wetland 101

Not all wetlands are created equal; a pond is not a vernal pool.

To better understand the reason not all "ponds" are the same, one must look at the life cycle of a frog.  Sure, why not?  Who knows more about wet places than a frog?

 A recent walk at Byers Woods, an Ashland County Park District property south of Ashland, made the difference abundantly clear. 
This is a pond.  It was silent. 
Fishermen gather here for a little catch-and-release sportsmanship. (You wouldn't really want to eat fish caught at a landfill's drainage pond, would you?)  It is a great place to watch Tree Swallows and dragonflies in the summer time.  But, it is quiet.

 This is a vernal pool; the mid-morning  frog chorus was at a deafening roar.

The very definition of  vernal pool is a "springtime" pool.  It is short lived, or ephemeral.  In other words, it drys up in the summertime and has NO FISH population.  Frogs don't like to lay their eggs where fish live.  Fish eat tadpoles, the larval stage of a frog.  Simple.  Vernal pools are where frogs gather to lay eggs, and tadpoles grow quickly into baby frogs, before the pond drys.

 Northern Spring Peeper is no bigger than the first joint of your thumb.  This tiny denizen of the swamp shrieks a high pitched, "Peep-peep-peep."  You'll know him in a heart beat. If you hear one calling, you'll probably hear many more.

The scientific name is Pseudacris crucifer crucifer.  Think of crucifer, as in "cross".  This tiny frog has a cross on its back.                                    X- marks the spot for Spring Peeper!
Western Chorus Frog, Pseudacris triseriata

Western Chorus frog is known by the stripes running down its back.  The photo (by Warren Uxley)  shows those markings on this regularly occuring Ohio frog.  Chorus Frog's call is commonly described as someone running their thumb against the teeth of a comb.

Get out there and enjoy this warmer spring weather and the call of the spring frogs.  They don't mind if it is rainy, and neither should you!  In fact, warm rainy nights are the best time to visit these vernal pools. 

Special thanks to Warren Uxley for use of the last two frog photos, which portray them in full song.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ohio Amphibian Conference

It is not everyday we get to rub shoulders with our heroes.  But today was just that opportunity for a group one might call the Fraternity for the Frogs.  It was  like Christmas morning for an enthusiastic crowd of  big kids who grew up playing in ditches and streams.  Over 200 people gathered in Columbus for the 2nd Ohio Amphibian Conference, an assemblage of  programs and scientific findings from the wild-about-wetlands crowd.

Greg Lipps and Dr. Tyrone Hayes 

One of America's best known experts on frogs and the chemicals which disrupt their breeding, Tyrone Hayes presented The Cause of  Amphibian Declines.  He has studied the effects of  herbicides which mimic estrogen and  "chemically castrate" male frogs.  These chemicals do not kill frogs, but rather create mayhem in their reproductive cycle.  These same chemicals can cause estrogen-fed cancers in humans as well.  

 Dr. Hayes' research has become an environmental calling card, warning us about chemicals which are negatively impacting our lives in ways we have never dreamed.  Hayes has an amusing delivery of a less-than-funny story.  Think about those chemicals next time you buy herbicide saturated lettuce.  It won't take long to realize why there are no frogs calling in those chemically managed landscapes.

                                           Hellbender- photo from

Greg Lipps spoke about Ohio's largest and most endangered salamander- the Hellbender.  Most of Ohio's populations have ceased to reproduce.  Young are rarely found.  Since these unusual creatures are only found in the Ohio River watershed, it is more important than ever to stabilize their populations before anymore potential harm comes to their streams and waterways.   Ohio will soon be in the business of selling water to industry throughout shale-gas regions. Let's not forget who resides in that water.

Clean water.
Amphibians are the canaries in the aquatic "coal-mines".  Their health should be important to us, as they are bio indicators for our future.  We should all be thinking about this a little more.

A special "thank you" to  Greg and all the people who made this incredible day possible, from all of us overgrown kids.

To read all of the speaker's abstracts go here.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Merganser Tango!

Mergansers- "Saw-bills" come in three flavors: Red-breasted, Common and Hooded.   All three are found in Ohio, but the Hooded Mergansers are a bird of "small" waters.  The Common Merg- which is  identified by by its expansive white breast-  and the more colorful Red-breasted Mergansers are generally found on Lake Erie. 

Many Red-breasted Mergs were gathered in the Lorain Harbor today.  The warm temperatures and spring-like drizzle must have put them in the mood for love.  The males, already dressed in their finest  breeding plumage, were actively competing for attention from the gals.

 The female's plumage is a subdued brown- but he still thinks she is lovely.  He raises his bill and neck high in the air and then quickly bows forward.  "Hey girlie, over here..."

She must like what she sees, as she turns to watch the full maneuver.  Stretch and dip; its the male Merganser's tango.  He put on a stunning display by enlarging the surface area of the white stripe down the length of his body.  Apparently the ladies like that flash of white!

The channel in front of the Lorain Coast Guard Station provided ample opportunity to watch the courtship of these Red-breasted Mergansers.  It still must be early in the season, as they were not consummating the dance.  But spring is right around the corner and the mergansers already have the moves!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Our earliest frogs

Of all of Ohio's frogs, the Wood Frog is best suited for winter.   Early spring fluctuates wildly from  balmy breezes with temperatures spiking into the 50-60's to cold windy, snow-splattered days. Wood Frog isn't phased. Truly a cold weather frog, range maps indicate their presence well into Alaska. This freeze-tolerant species can really "break the ice" at those vernal pool parties.

Wood Frog,       photo by John Howard
What to wear?  Wood Frogs' skin coloring ranges from tans and browns to PINK?  And, they have a "bandit' mask like a raccoon!  Did I mention their calls sound like a duck's "quack" or "clack"?  Seriously, it is all true.  You just can't make up stories like this! 

Once I found Wood Frogs on my property, my whole life changed.  Who could imagine a frog that lives in a forest and only visits the water once a year?  Endlessly fascinating and barely known among "'normal" people. Certainly, if I have the power, they would be protected in my own yard.  Thus, the vernal pool in the side yard was reclaimed from the drainage-tiled lawn.

Wood Frogs in amplexus,     photo by John Howard

"How about a hug, big girl?"  The males (on top) are slightly smaller, but their forearms and thumbs are swollen to a larger-than-normal size in the spring.  "All the better to clasp you with, my Dear." 
This is called amplexus- the male holds tight and fertilizes the female's eggs as they are being laid.

Wood Frog eggs,   photo by John Howard

Frog and salamander eggs can be distinguished by numerous characteristics.  Wood Frogs lay small eggs in clumps. Toads lay their aquatic eggs in strings or lines.  Salamaders' eggs are often "glued" to a stick or stem protruding from the water.
Spring is well upon us, and I hope you will take advantage of the excitement that only occurs this time of year.  Spring Peepers, Wood Frogs and many other amphibians are gathering at a vernal pool near you. 
Go ahead.  Look a little...  I won't tell.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

"Spring Fever" with Muskingum Valley Garden Society

Yesterday was chilly and gray outside, but inside was a warm and happy place at Zane State College/ O.U. Zanesville with the Muskingum Valley Garden Society.  They do their annual "Spring Fever" event up big!  Wonderful vendors, educational displays, fabulous food, and some pretty decent speakers!  Brian M. says I should tell you,  "They really have their "compost" together on this event!"  And indeed they do.  I am marking my calendar for next year- first weekend in March.

 Nothing does a gardener's heart more good than seeing (and smelling) GREEN!  This wall garden made out of an old shipping pallet is one of the most clever ideas I have seen in a while.

What could be cuter than little bitty plants tucked into slots?  I think Kenilworth Ivy would be an ideal candidate for this project.

 The banquet hall had plenty of space- we filled it up with about 275 people- and with screens all around the room, there was no craning necks to see.  This is a top-notch venue!

Our keynote speaker, Troy Marden came in from Nashville, Tennessee with wonderful ideas for landscape and a slide show of new plant species to share.

His garden slides were inspiring and filled with great concepts for adding pizazz to your garden.  Be sure to go to his website and blog.  (Photo used with Troy's permission.)

Thanks too, to Cassie for the program on Square Foot Gardening.  So many people are interested in veggie gardens and you gave us a wonderful template to follow.

Zanesville, Ohio- Home of the wacky "Y" bridge and an excellent Garden Society.  Be sure to go to their web page to see the summertime photo of this bridge festooned with flowers!  It was a pleasure to meet so many new friends and to mingle with so many fellow Master Gardeners.  Can't wait til SPRING!