Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Scent-uous Plants

Late May and early June serves up a special temptation for gardeners, exotic scents.  These heavenly fragrances can make one long to forget the issues surrounding invasive species, and give into to their spell.

The heavy perfume of a Japanese Honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica begs one to pull a flower from the vine to taste its sweet nectar.  No wonder hummingbirds and moths are attracted to this non-native.  It smells  Who knew it would try to eat the landscapes of southern Ohio with the vigor of a Kudzu?  It is listed as an noxious weed in Texas, Illinois and Virginia.  You know it is a problem if Texas doesn't even want it.  

 Dame's Rocket, Hesperis matronalis is Garlic Mustard's pretty cousin.  It is considered invasive, but it is easy to fall under the spell of  its jewel-colored charms and sweet fragrance.  After all, it really isn't that invasive, is it?  Lie to yourself all you want, but the purist avoids this lady of the evening.  Yes, her scent is sweet and she is charming in a cut-flower bouquet.  But, once she moves in it may become difficult to rid yourself of her at a later date.

A Cloudless Sulphur nectars on Dame's Rocket at Magee Marsh.
 Dame's Rocket invades native places, especially enjoying a damp-ish spot in the dappled sun.   The boardwalk at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area even entertained a small population.  It is difficult to dislike a plant when it is a nectar source for an unusually early wandering Cloudless Sulphur butterfly.  Both the plant and the butterfly were May records for in this north western Ohio location.  It is hard to think a plant this beautiful could be problematic, but it is banned in both Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Multiflora Rose, Rosa multifora is an insidious devil in Ohio.  Once promoted by the U.S. Soil Conservation service as a hedge row for erosion control and living fences, this fragrant beauty has worn out her welcome.  Shown here at Magee Marsh, it rapidly spreads by the fruit-loving-bird vector.  Once believed to be sterile, the avian species have proven otherwise.  But even as I loath its thorns and the tangles on the landscape, I can barely help myself when I smell its sweet perfume.  Oh devil, your sweet smell belies the terror you inflict upon property managers.

Is it any wonder that the most noxious of invasive plants smell the sweetest?  Perhaps, as put forth in Michael  Pollan's book The Botany of Desire, these plants are cultivating us.  Do they use their beauty and sweet scents to entice gardeners to grow the very plants we will curse and attempt to eradicate in the future?

Ah, perhaps we smell a successful ploy for self-preservation?  Maybe these invasive species should make one wonder who is cultivating whom?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Picking the Lakeside Daisies

Marblehead, Ohio is home to the rarest of all Ohio's native plant species- the Lakeside Daisy, Hymenoxys herbacea.  Other than here and a small population in Michigan, this plant only occurs in two areas of Ontario, Canada.  There is a special Ohio Division of Natural Areas Preserve set aside for this flower and a special day each May is held in its honor.  

Lakeside Daisy, Hymenoxys herbacea.

 The Lakeside Daisy preserve is easily accessible off of Alexander Pike, but you'll want to wait until next May to visit- as the daisies have long pasted their peak bloom.   These plants are federally protected and you will NOT want to pick or molest any of these plants.

 Our story begins at a Quarry Rd. location in Marblehead.   This is the home site of the LaFarge operation, a humongous limestone quarry that encompasses most of the center of the Marblehead peninsula.

These gigantic trucks are dwarfed only by the scale of the landscape.  Each tire is a tall as a man.
 Marblehead has a long history of quarrying, as many of the original settlers came to Ohio from Europe to work in the quarry.  Limestone has been shipped out of Marblehead by way of Lake Erie since the mid 1800's.  The end result is hundreds of acres of barren ground, unable to sustain most vegetation.  However, the Lakeside Daisy thrives in this moonscape-like habitat.

Our group dons vests of saftey yellow before heading out into the quarry.
 The call came out from the Federal Wildlife agents and along with several of Ohio's Department of Natural Resources employees, we were asked to help rescue daisy seed from areas about to be lost to future quarrying operations.
Guy Denny begins to strip seeds for the future.
 Many hours in the hot sun produces but a quarter- to-half a bag of seed.  With the heat index well into the 90's, we were cautious to keep hydrated while working in the blazing sun.

The daisy seed head.
The extreme heat of spring 2012  brought the daisies to an early bloom. This should be peak time for seed collecting, however, many of the seeds are already past.  We spread out as we searched for collectible seed.

 Often only empty seed heads  remained, and much of the seed had already dispersed before we were able to collect.   This raccoon skull was found bleaching out in the scorching sun next to a clump of spent daisies.

The daisy are so rare because they grow, in fact require, this barren and alkaline habitat.

At the end of the day, Jennifer Windus from Ohio Division of Wildlife inventories our take.  We have gathered 6-8 partial bags of seed to be used in future restoration projects. It was a long hard day, but it gives one a sense of accomplishment to know we were a part of collecting and preserving the rarest of Ohio plants for the future.

Our Lakeside Daisy is protect it for the future.
 Next year when you visit the North Coast of Ohio, schedule a time to visit this unusual preserve.  It is fascinating to see acres and acres of this this little plant blooming away on an otherwise inhospitable habitat.  You'll want to admire its moxie.

 Just don't  pick any, OK?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Bank Swallows!

Yesterday, while on serious business at the Marblehead quarry, we enjoyed the high-flying antics of a population of  Bank Swallows.
Bank Swallow,  Riparia riparia
Although these dapper fellows wear a "bow-tie" (look for the diagnostic brown breast-band) you'll not find them on Wall Street.  Their Latin name gives a hint to their preferred habitat: riparian corridors.

 Bank swallows build their nests inside the banks along rivers, but some have adapted to nesting in sand and slag piles in quarries- like the one in this photo.

A closer view of the bank reveals results of a colony of hole dwellers, the look of Swiss cheese. The Bank Swallows were swarming in and out of these nest sites, but  they were far too fast for my amateur photographic skills.

 As one rests in a nearby tree, several hawk for insects in the background of the photo.

There could hardly be a more handsome swallow.  It was a delightful side attraction at a sight better known for some of the rarest botany in Ohio and in all of the United States.   This quarry is also the home of the famous Lakeside Daisy.  More on that topic to come...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Butterfly Boom at Magee

Red Admiral butterflies were all the talk of the butterfly and bird list-serves two and three weeks ago.
Red-Admiral butterfly
 These little beauties were everywhere.  They were literally "blowing in the wind."  A south wind, or south-west wind had enabled them to emigrate to Ohio in record time.  They had arrived in waves of color and taken up residence everywhere- even at the famous birding trail at Magee.

The understory at Magee is also early this year.  Those warm temps and plentiful degree days pushed our flora into full leaf at a record pace.  It is not just the trees that leafed out, but the vegetation on the ground is well advanced too.

 Watch for these twisted leaves as you botanize and bird this week.  You just may find a surprise inside the leaves of the members of the nettle family.

 I opened up several along the Magee walkway and found small caterpillars feeding inside.  These are the larva stage of the Red Admiral.  Just as the butterflies were prolific a couple of weeks ago, now the caterpillars will be feeding on nettle plants everywhere.

They are about 1/4 inch in size now, but it wont be but a few days and they will double in weight and size. 

Prothonotary Warbler

Just think... they will make wonderful "warbler food" for the last of the spring migrants and the Prothonotary Warblers which annually nest at Magee! No doubt there will be plenty of caterpillars that will make it to adulthood, and I am betting we see another Red Admiral boom in about 4 weeks.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Cleveland by Kayak

I recently visited daughter #2, the aquarist who lives and works in Cleveland.  Just in case you are confused, aquarist is not her horoscope, but rather her job title.  She works at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium and has been professionally working with fish (and often sharks) since college.

For most of her formative years, whenever I would ask her to go out in the field with me, she would ask, "Is there water involved?" 

 No water.  No JJ.

So it was no surprise when JJ asked me to bring the kayaks to Cleveland for a whirlwind tour of the city- by water.

The decommissioned Cleveland Coast Guard Station.
We put in at Whiskey Island, entering the shipping channel and Cuyahoga River next to the old landmark U.S. Coast Guard Station.

This might be called the "Tour de Bridges."  There are a lot of metal structures spanning the Cuyahoga and the railroad lift trestles are some of the most impressive feats of engineering to be seen.  It is hard to believe a span of metal this size is completely lifted skyward to accommodate the height of incoming freighters.

There is a little nature left to been seen along the river.  Good numbers of tree swallows and Canada geese call this place home.  There is often a large gathering of Black-crowned Night-herons which roost here in the winter, but they were not seen today. 

 A monument to Cleveland's Irish population stands along side the  river at "The Flats."  Once a seedy part of town dedicated to shipping and longshoremen, it had a huge surge in popularity in the 90's and was a tourist spot.  Several businesses are still found here and the old power plant is the site of the aquarium.  Work is being done to infuse life into this section of town once again.

An hour of paddle time took us from Whiskey Island to the heart of the city.  We had excellent views of Terminal Tower and other Cleveland skyline landmarks.  All in all it was a most pleasurable trip and one I would do again.  Especially if I thought I would see those Night-herons!

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Day in the Life...

This post could be named as "A Day in the Life of an environmentalist."  But rather, let's focus on the important things- calling it "A Day in the Life of the Environment."

Dr. Jim Bissell, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Dept. Botany
The day starts out at a property protected by the North Central Ohio Land Conservancy.  Jim Bissell had already found a rare grass, an Andropogon  (Elliot's Beard Grass) and had moved on to the wetland.  He was scrutinizing the water cress- something just didn't seem right.  Is this a rarity, too?

Jim brought a team of elites: Dave Kriska, Judy Semroc, Larry Rosche and others to comb through the land trust property for a complete documentation, including possible rarities.  It is our job to discover the secrets this land has held in silence as it has remained undeveloped, except for one close-call with a timber company.

Appalachian Azure, in Mid-Ohio?
 As we wandered through the giant Skunk Cabbage a large, or rather largish for a blue, butterfly flitted by.  Dr. Bissell had asked if we ever had Appalachian Azures here, based on the botany.  I had dismissed them as being out of range.  And yet, like a phantom one appears.  Judy Semroc is the butterfly expert of this crowd, and we both feverishly photo document the lep.  This was too good to be true.  And we will see if it is...

Steve McKee Displays a frond of Blunt-lobed Woodsia
 Another find!  A few miles away, while gathering for a press conference, Steve McKee stumbles into the largest and only 3rd population of the Blunt-lobed Woodsia in the county.  Steve has only seen this plant in ones-and-twos prior to today.  Here he discovers a thriving population.

Many life-times of botanists, entomologists and other scientists have made and continue to make new discoveries in Mohican and Malabar.  We are still finding great discoveries, and sadly today we are gathered at this very location for fear of what we might lose.

The press corps roll footage and take notes under the  towering canopy.
 Ohio State Parks, including Mohican and Malabar are currently on the block for fracking and timbering.  In an unprecedented grab for money, the political powers in Ohio believe mining the parks for resources is a way to "save" them.  Who knows what rare fern, butterfly or grass could be forever lost, before it has even been found.

A press conference was held to announce the  Coalition to Protect Ohio Parks.  Please click on this link for more information.  Columbus Dispatch coverage here.

Portrait of a Rough-winged Swallow
The day ended in hush evening bird song, along the Clear Fork River.  Wood Thrush and Veery set the stage for this photo of a Northern Rough-winged Swallow settling in for the night.  I had watched a pair of swallows hawking for insects along the river.  My view from on the old covered bridge afforded this Monnet-esque view with the dappled river as a background.

Day draws to an end, and those of us who commune with nature pray,  It will not the end of days for Mohican, as we know it.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Springtime Wings

As predicted, spring 2012 may go down in the records as the butterflying-est year in history.

 It all started with the Red Admirals.  They were everywhere.  The first ones I saw in April were very "fresh" looking.  I suspected a new hatch.  About two weeks later, waves and waves of these beasties were reported throughout Ohio.  They are known to migrate in from the south-west on warm winds.

Question Mark, this one is from Point Pelee. Note the beautiful purplish margin on the edge of the wing.  This early butterfly is no surprise, as Question Marks and Commas can winter over on mild years. There was also a large number of them reported as emigrants this year as well.

Juniper (or Olive) Hairstreak,  an early butterfly from Adams County.  We saw more of these in a day than I have previously seen in a lifetime.  Butterflies (and butterfliers) are having a very good year!

 A well worm Red-banded hairstreak.  This one was seen during Flora-Quest.

 Gold-banded Skipper, a rarity found in Shawnee State Forest by Jaret Daniels at Flora-Quest. Take the time to check all those Silver-spotted skippers a little closer!  You may be looking at something much rarer.

The Monarchs are also back.  We found them in Adams County and again at Meadowbrook Marsh in Marblehead, Ohio.  This colorful butterfly is the most recognized insect in America.

Midges, family Chironomidae
But an insect that should be of most concern the birders is the Midge.  Do not confuse these with mosquitoes, they do not bite.  These water-born insects were abundant in the underbrush, beneath the leaves of every tree and shrub along Ohio's Lake Erie shores and at Point Pelee during the Biggest Week in American Birding.  This is warbler food.  The migratory birds were stuffing themselves on midges.  It is a good thing they are plentiful, as it would take 20 or 30 midges to pack the protein punch of one juicy caterpillar.

Never underestimate the importance of insects.  If you like birds, or other forms of fauna- such as mammals, realize that insects are a critical part of the food chain.  Without them, we would forever have "silent springs".

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Highlights from Flora-Quest

After two weeks on the road, I have finally returned home to catch up on paper work and write a stack of thank-yous to some of the most interesting people on earth: our Flora-Quest guides.

Steve McKee answers a patrons questions, while guides Kevin Bradbury, Rich Gardner and Jenny Richards supervise the loading of vans, while dodging the morning mist.

What makes Flora-Quest?  The simple answer is: the guides.  We gather 20 or so of the most knowledgeable guides around to lead trips into the forest.  You don't have to worry about getting lost, or struggling to find the rarest of the flora.  Our guides do the driving and teach about forest ecology.  Most of our guides are well versed botanists, birders and lovers of reptiles and amphibians.  It is a dicey bunch, but we have come to love this gig and our time together each year!   

Greg Miller of The Big Year book and movie fame was our celebrity birding guide this year.  He helped friends Dave and Laurie find some awesome birds- like a "lifer" Kentucky Warbler.

Yellow Lady's-slipper, Cypripedium parviflorum
Wild Geranium and Devil's-bit, Chamaelirium luteum
But botany is king at this event.  Everyone wants to ogle the old favorites like Yellow Lady's-slipper and see something new, like the Devil's-bit.  This unusual flower was at peak bloom during our visit.

Carmen DeLeon, Mike Belt-Wang and Matt Herron 

 A new addition to our program was the "Flora-Quest Fellows."  It was wonderful to have scholar-ships provided by The Scioto Foundation. These students gave back as much as they got.  We hope they will return!  (Tim Fultz and Megan Bihun were also returning Flora Fellows.)

We love having vendors and authors on hand before and after our banquet.  It provides an opportunity to ask those important questions and discuss the plants we saw during the field trips.
Bob Henn signed and sold his book, Wildflowers of Ohio.

The rarest of the rare was in bloom this year!  Collinsonia verticillata, Early Stoneroot is an endangered plant in Ohio, with our only known population in the Turkey Lake area of Shawnee.  Guide Kevin Bradbury, a reformed Dobro player and past park manager for Shawnee State Park, knew right where to find it.  Many suggest a Teay's Valley influence for this plant; that might be a great program for a future Flora-Quest! 

Jason Larson advertises his services.
 Our Emcee for the event was Jason Larson. He struck just the right chord with the audience and put up my constant harassment.  Not only is Jason a fabulous botanist, he is one of Ohio's best birders and a ton of fun in the field!

Lot's of photos are in circulation on Facebook and there is a Flora-Quest page if you would like to post your photos.  I also suggest you check out the blogs from Andrew Gibson- Natural Treasures of Ohio, Heather Aubke -Heather of the Hills and Dave Lewis- Bird's From Behind.  We are thrilled they were with us at Flora-Quest in 2012 and hope to see them again in the future!