Saturday, June 29, 2013

Insect Irony

Two bell jars hold a place of honor on my porch.  Traditionally, these jars were used to protect spring plants from the cold.  People occasionally re-purpose them to cover food items in a decorative manner, and to keep said food- pest free.  I use them to keep "insects" in.

 These jars aid in the early stages of caterpillar raising.  They are ideal containment units for early instars of moths or butterflies.  There is some irony, right?

 This is a batch of Cecropia moth eggs which recent hatched caterpillars. The wee ones are feeding on fresh  cherry leaves from my yard as seen below.

Caterpillars go through numerous stages of  "instars" or sheddings.  The earliest instars (like this tiny black form) are often unrecognizable.  We will see these little fellers change very quickly in the next couple of weeks.

Check back to learn more about these caterpillars, and the commitment it takes to raise a herd of "cats".

Monday, June 24, 2013

Not just another pretty Bobolink

This is not just another pretty Bobolink.  Much more than a grassland bird, this is also a symbol of conservation in Ashland County. Once we reveled in the sighting of a few Bobolinks at Byers Woods; now we enjoy a cacophony of the males' burbling song. As many as fifty bobolinks were recently seen fluttering above their grassland gals on the methane mountain* at Byers Woods.

* This grassland is a result of capped landfill mound.
A Bobolinks at Byers by Lisa Rainsong.
Bobolinks at Byers Woods is a little festival the Greater Mohican Audubon Society has been putting on since 2006.  It is a successful blending of teamwork, conservation, education, tourism and a whole lotta fun.  Most of all it is a success story.  Byers Woods is a landfill which has been re-purposed into an Ashland County Park which holds an abundance of wildlife.

Bluebirds tending young in the nest.
Byers Woods is not just for Bobolinks! There are plenty of close-up looks at other birds tending their young.  Many locals go to Byers to look at wildflowers, walk their dogs, or to visit the ponds, and they undoubtedly encounter something new on every visit!

Jim McCormac's group celebrates great looks at a rarity. (photo provided by Jim)
The Bobolink festival increases the odds for nature interaction by providing -at no charge- some of the the best bird guides in Ohio. Jim McCormac is legend for his hearing ability, and no doubt his keen ears led this group to the rare Black-billed Cuckoo hiding out at Byers Woods.

Later that morning, Jim regrouped for a second trip, specializing in butterflies and dragonflies.

Jim shared an up close and personal look at a dragonfly. (Photo by Irv Oslin)
Jim is one of Ohio best known and experienced trip leaders. We appreciate all he has done to promote this park from its earliest days, and his willingness to participate at our festival. Jim was the keynote speaker at the very first one.
Tim Leslie of the Ashland County Park District (Photo Irv Oslin) 

Plently of Ashland County Park District (ACPD) folks helped too, like trip leader Tim Leslie and Kolleen Crall who made crafts with kids.  The ACPD provides food service, parking help, and tables for the vendors.

I wish I had a photo of all the vendors and displays, as it was wonderful. (You'll notice most of these photo were sent to me; I only had time to snap a few on my phone.)  Bianca Davis handed all the educational displays and vendors this  year, and she and her son Derrick did a magnificent job.  They were the first ones there in the morning and the last Audubon members left folding tents and cleaning up long after the party was over.  A VERY SPECIAL thanks goes out to them!  

Weedpicker Cheryl points out butterflies with Lisa Rainsong. (Photo Irv Oslin)

Music professor, Lisa Rainsong, led our first "Bird Song" trip for this festival.  There have been rave reviews on her abilities as a leader and guide.  Greg Miller and Su Snyder also helped people find Bobolinks  in their spotting scopes.  We appreciate their volunteering as well.

Sure, it is all fun and guides now, but the fact remains, this little festival is a conservation effort in progress.   In the early days, Bobolinks were dying on this field during the annual early summer mowings.  Our efforts to educate the public and raise awareness have resulted in pseudo-sanctuary for grassland birds.  This is why it is important that the Bobolink festival remains free and open to the public.  But to run a festival like this -with tents, banners and top quality leaders- it does take money.   

Fortunately, some folks cared enough about grassland birds to help us raise some funds for the effort.

Michelle Goodman and Cheryl Harner with  Michael Godfrey, videographer from Virginia.
Photo by Randy Harner

Michael Godfrey was gracious enough to show a video and lead a discussion on conservation and climate change and its impact on grassland birds. The audience was charmed by his narrative which included photos from his farm in Virginia.  This special benefit program helped Greater Mohican Audubon Society raise funds to continue our educational efforts at Byers Woods.

Participants enjoyed the benefit held at Gorman Nature Center.
 Thanks to those to joined us for a casual evening and contributed generously to the cause.  We would like to especially acknowledge the support of Ohio Ornithological Society, Black Swamp Bird Conservancy and the North Central Ohio Land Trust.  Your generous support has helped us take this festival to the next level.

Friday, June 14, 2013

New Guest Leader at Byers Woods!

We are introducing a new guest leader at Byers Woods!

Each year we feature special speakers and have big name guides Like Greg Miller and Jim McCormac at the Bobolinks at Byers Woods bird Festival.  If you have been living under a rock and haven't heard about it yet,  here's the plan:

Something altogether new this year is the addition of a Bird-song walk led by Lisa Rainsong, a very talented music professor.  
Lisa Rainsong listens to birds.
Join Lisa  at Bobolinks at Byers Woods Festival for a 10:00 interpretive walk focusing on bird song. And to get you warmed up for the adventure, go to her blog page Listening in Nature  to read her fascinating findings on our feathered friends, the Bobolinks.

For general information and maps go to the Greater Mohican Audubon Society web page and "Events" link.  Hope to see you there!

Right now, I have to go chase butterflies at Mothapaloosa!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Grassland Birds Responding to Change.

In mid-Ohio we have seen a whole suite of birds responding to the forces of change: grassland birds.   These birds have been scattered by the relentless forward march of progress.  Their numbers have been reduced by loss of habitat, change of farming practices, global pressures, and now even a changing climate is getting in on the act. 

What's a baby Bobolink to do?
 If a love-struck pair of Bobolinks survive long enough to make it out of Argentina and fly nearly 5,000 miles to mid-Ohio in the spring, what are the chances they will find an appropriate grassland?

Ohio has lost 99.9 percent of its native prairies.
Nearly all of Ohio's grasslands have been converted to farmland, or urbanized.  Of that farmland, what percentage is suitable for grassland birds?  They can't make it in a mono-culture like corn or beans.  A hay field would work, as long as it isn't  harvested or mowed before the fledglings leave the nest in July.

Ohio farmlands in early July.
And if all that wasn't enough, grassland birds are now getting a sucker punch from climate change.  Have you noticed extreme weather being reported in the news?  How are grassland birds responding to the massive droughts in the west?  We know someone who has been pondering all those questions...

Michael Godfrey, bird videographer and his best friend Benson.
 Michael Godfrey is a fellow who has been seriously engaged in watching birds (and farms) for a long time.  When you meet him, he might tell you he is a "cattleman," but that's just the short story.  He recently created a program for the Smithsonian Conservation  Biology Institute on the particular subject at hand: grassland birds. Now he has agreed to travel to Ohio to share that program with the friends of Greater Mohican Audubon Society.

This "old boy" from Virginia can turn a phrase until it squeals for "Uncle!" He is an entertaining story-teller and a darn good author as well, with several published books to his credit.   His blog is called Birding on the Farm. You'll want to see his most recent entry, which includes excellent footage of a Mourning Warbler in full song.

Godfrey* is a deep thinker and an inquisitive guy.  He's full of questions and just has to know "why".  What birds are doing and eating should be just as important to us as their color, shape or plumage.  Behavior is key to truly learning about birds and Michael likes to look at the big picture, so to speak.
*He has also been known to carve out a tune on a  Dobro; he claims to have several outstanding warrants for that particular musical offense.

Audubon VideoGuide filmed by Michael Godfrey
Many a birder honed their knowledge with Michael's video guides. Recently, I noticed they were for sale at Maumee Bay State Park gift shop, right next to the Kaufman Field Guides.  How fitting, as these two have known each other for many years and collaborated on several projects.

I'd love to introduce you to my friend Michael. He is going to give his program on grassland birds and climate change the night before the Bobolinks at Byers Woods event. If you would like to join us for the whole weekend, drop me a line at and I will send along the form for you to sign up.

Hope to see you there!