Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Local Find- Orchid!

 A walk in the woods is restorative to my soul.  Whether is it a brisk-paced cardio or a meander, time in the woods is therapy.  Breath deeply, look down and listen up!  Watch the forest floor, but listen to the canopy above for any unusual bird calls.  Once you are tuned into their songs, you can concentrate on what is happening at your feet and you will hear any birds you might want to see.

Puttyroot Orchid, Aplectrum hyemale
 While sauntering along and quick-scanning the vegetation, this orchid caught my eye.  The yellow flowers were an immediate flag.  However, I was not sure which orchid it was.  Most puttyroot orchids range from purple to pinkish brown, while this one was delightfully lemon-lime!  More on this in a bit, for now we'll look at its habitat.

The Stoller Rd. Trail on the North East side of Clearfork Reservoir. 
 There is a little known trail off Lexington-Ontario Rd just north of Lexington, Ohio.  It runs along the Clearfolk Reservoir.  I visit it frequently, as it is always in change.  Each change of season brings new flora and fauna to study on our walks. Fall walks on this lake side trail are often accompanied by the haunting call of the Common Loon. Springtime walks are punctuated with warblers.

Huge micro-burst blow down impacts the woods.
Early in May there was a mini-tornado, or micro-burst that downed many trees on both sides of the reservoir. The trails I usually walk have been closed by down trees and the storm debris.  It has made our hiking route a bit more- circuitous.

At first one feels a loss- all that devastation! Huge trees knocked down in their prime, somehow seems tragic. Eventually the shock wears off and a sense of nature comes back into focus.  This is forest ecology. The woods are constantly changing; blow downs create new pockets of light- and life.

Gray tree frog hides in plain sight.
Study the forest floor as we walk. The seas of Mayapples, Podophyllum peltatum, found here are a common vegetation in Ohio woodlands. They provide habitat and food for the lower forest level creatures.  Look closely and you might discover a Gray tree frog .  Master of disguises, the gray tree frog (as you see in the photo) is not always gray!

Orchids are masters of disguises, too.
Ohio woodland orchids are often masters of disguises, too.  Once you get a "search image" for them, it becomes more easy to find them hiding among the vegetation.  It is not unlike a birder learning to search the trees for the movement of birds.  It just takes a little time and practice.

Delicate petals enlarged for my poor eyes. 
Let's focus on one floret. This photo is enlarged to at least ten times the size of the actual flower.  Although most diminutive, all of the orchid anatomy is there.  The sepals and petals are gathered round the lip of the orchid, a white landing pad and welcome mat for the all-important pollinators.

Unusual yellow form of the Puttyroot Orchid, Aplectrum hyemale.
Puttyroot orchids are often identified by their winter foliage.  It is a large, striped leaf which persists all winter long.  In the spring it disappears, and leaves no clue to the orchid which is about to spring out of the ground.

Without the foliage to lead us to a correct identification, the yellow flowers of this unusual puttyroot orchid was an exciting find!   I thought it might be a real rarity, but calmer heads prevailed. Any day one finds a native orchid in Ohio woodlands is a good day. Finding this yellow form of the puttyroot, which I had never seen before, really got this ol' Weedpicker's heart pumping!

Take a hike- nature is full of excitements just waiting to be found!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Spring Color Burst.

No trip through Wooster, Ohio is complete without a stop at Secrest Arboretum at the Ohio State University Agriculture Research Center.  It is filled with a wonderful selection of plants, albeit most are non-native.  That doesn't mean they are all bad. As long as a plant is not invasive and damaging to native habitats, we can still enjoy their beauty.  

Hot-poker orange azaleas are now in bloom.
 The colors in the azalea gardens were stunning! These florets were the same color as the flowers on Ohio's native Trumpet Vine. Unfortunately, azaleas don't feed the hummingbirds like Trumpet Vine.

A golden orange azalea imitates a sunset.
 The color variety was exciting!  Every turn offered a new color palate.

A white azalea sports subtle lemon accents.
 Even the white azalea was not just white.  It played along with some lemon pick-me-up.

Have a seat!
 Such an inviting bench, but we had too much to photograph to rest. This trip was an opportunity to enjoy the lovely surroundings and tune into our photography.  It was fun to work with flowers, light and play with the camera a bit. Everyone loves to see beautiful flower photos!

Hosta, Paul's Glory, one of my favorites.
 Hosta plants hold a special place in my heart.  I have many varieties of hosta at home, and can name them off as if they were my children.  My actual children thought that I was a bit obsessed.  However, they were never at a loss for a birthday gift!  Just buy me a new hosta.

Staghorn Sumac leaf - backlit.
Sumacs are a well-favored native plant, but this one may have crept uninvited into their display. It can escape notice now, but this fall when the leaves turn fire-engine red, it will have no place to hide.

We enjoyed the light-play on the leaflets.

A mini garden within the mega gardens.
 The gardens at Secrest go on and on.  It is a wonderful place to learn about trees and horticultural plants. Natural areas have their allure and certainly attract more wildlife, but sometimes it is just plain fun to visit an upscale garden.

Old fashioned white peonies in full bloom.
 Water was beading up on the leaves and pollinators were buzzing about.  There were plenty of photographic opportunities.

Mockingbird make light of our studies.
 While this trip was planned as a time to enjoy flowers, a Mockingbird entertained us with a wild array of calls.  He did a spot-on imitation of a Rock Wren.

Greg Miller enjoying a photography day.
But I wouldn't have known the Rock Wren call, were it not for fellow photographer (and expert birder) Greg Miller. We had fun trying to ID all the birds the "mocker" was imitating as we continued with our photography.

Greg is now leading trips with Wildside Tours, and you can join him on birding and camera trips. We have an awfully good time whenever we go out and you can enjoy a day with Greg, too.

 See Greg Miller Birding for more details on Greg's whereabouts, or go to www.gmasohio.org to join Greater Mohican Audubon Society on one of their walks at Secrest Arboretum. The flowers put on quite a show!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Quiet Time at Magee

The last couple of weeks have been jam-packed with excitement for the birdwatchers and weedpickers in Ohio. After several days volunteering at the Biggest Week in American Birding, I met up with some botany friends and had an excellent time at Flora-Quest 2014.

The boardwalk at Magee Marsh
 But when it was all over and time to wind down and gather my senses again, I headed to Magee.  That may sound odd, to those of you think of the hustle and bustle of the lively birding scene on the boardwalk.  However, with some proper timing (and a little rain) you can get the boardwalk mostly to yourself.

Black-throated Green Warbler
 I tend to linger.  Having no real interest in seeing every bird, or checking-off every species, there is time for being in the moment. Mostly I love to hear the bird song and calls.  For me, the boardwalk at Magee is synonymous with the melodic song of Warbling Vireo.  Brilliantly-colored Baltimore Orioles hold forth from the tree tops, demanding your ear- and your eyes.

The sounds of Magee are my greatest pleasure. Listen to the waves and layers of bird calls.  Don't be offended if I keep to myself, I do my best relaxing by just listening and taking it all in.

Gooseberry in full bloom.
 Yes, the plants are a part of it too.  I am constantly scanning, watching for blooms, pollinators and the clouds of tiny midges that rest on the foliage. They must be mighty tasty, as warblers love them so!

A Tennessee  Warbler dips his beak in nectar.
 If one watches closely, it is surprising what you may see.

Tree Swallow against a dramatic sky.
 The Tree Swallows chatter and fly wildly about.  Follow them, and you are likely to find their nesting cavity.
Veery rules the lower story.
 Remember to look down.  Some of the most interesting things are moving at your feet.  The  snags and tangles on the ground are likely cover for an Ovenbird or Veery.

A young rabbit feed near the boardwalk.
Be "veery, veery" quiet- and you might see a baby bunny.  This little guy was feeding on the vegetation near the boardwalk.  I snapped his photo with only my phone.

Moss covered logs are centers of activity.
 Watch those logs in the water.  Often they are a basking spot for the rare Blandings turtle.  Look for yellow throats to confirm their ID.

This mossy log was being utilized as a grocery store by the local female Red-wing Blackbird.  I spent a full thirty minutes watching her work the shore line, turning leaves, checking under moss and generally acting if this was her regular territory. She owned this section of the woods.  Even the non-warblers can be interesting to watch.

There is a colorful new sign, but the same old magic awaits.
The Magee boardwalk got some colorful new signs this year.  Sometimes the boardwalk takes on a bit of a carnival atmosphere, and gets a bit crowded.  That's all good, if people are enjoying the birds and learning. Hopefully they will also pitch in to conserve habitat and protect those birds.

After all, lack of habitat is exactly why Magee Marsh is one of the best places in Ohio to watch the spring migration. This magical woodland is a "migrant trap," being surrounded by lakes, marshes, and open corn fields.  These birds zero-in on the best place possible to get a meal before they cross the lake on the final leg of their spring journey.

This is a sanctuary for the birds.  And don't mind me if I quietly bask in my own little moment.  Magee is sanctuary for those of us who find peace in nature, as well.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Flora-Quest invades Marblehead

It was a perfect time to pair two of my great interests, Flora-Quest and Marblehead, Ohio.

This was our eighth year for Flora-Quest and it was time to change things up.  Coincidentally, May 13th was also the 25th anniversary of the dedication of the Marblehead Lakeside, Daisy Preserve.  Perfect timing for a pairing.

Lakeside Daisy Preserve in full bloom on May 13th, 2014.  Photo by Paula Harper
Back in 1988 the rarest flower in the United States- Lakeside Daisy, Tetraneuris herbacea- acquired its own preserve carved out from quarry land.  This seemingly unpretentious yellow daisy is only found naturally occurring in Marblehead/Lakeside Ohio and in Ontario, Canada.  It is a globally rare flower.

Lakeside Daisy was named for the town of Lakeside on the Marblehead Peninsula. Photo by Paula Harper.
For a few short weeks around Mother's (early May) these daisies turn the preserve's rocky ground into a carpet of gold.  Except for some stunted Red Cedar trees, this gravel lot looks more like a place to park than a habitat for unusual botany.

Dick Moseley tells she history of the Lakeside Daisy Preserve. Photo by Paula Harper.
 Flora-Quest gets the most knowledgeable guides to lead our trips, and this year was no exception.  The daisy preserve had three excellent guides: Dick Moseley, retired Director of Ohio Division of Natural Resources.  Allison Cusick is the retired Ohio Heritage Botanist, and Rick Gardner, the current Ohio Heritage Botanist, led our tour.

Guy Denny was prepared to lead trips into real adventure. Photo by Paula Harper
 Guy Denny, past Chief of Division of Natural Areas and Preserves is also one of our guides.  These leaders have a life-time of experience in interpreting naturals areas.  People love to learn from them.

The Monday morning field trip to Meadowbrook Marsh.  Photo by Kevin Joyce.
 We had a botany/ birding trip to Meadowbrook Marsh.  Jason Larson (yellow shirt) and your blogger (coral shirt on right) had more fun than should be legal.  We both like birds and botany, although he probably missed the other "Sunshine Boy," Pete Whan.  Jason and Pete led the popular Flora-Quests to Adams County for several years.

"Miss Paula" Harper brandishing her umbrella. Photo by Cheryl Harner
 Jason steps up to do his guide duties and tells a bit about the American Bladdernut, Staphylea trifolia  growing along the parking lot at Meadowbrook.  It is one of our under utilized, decorative native shrubs. Paula wasn't actually poking him with that umbrella, although the photo does look incriminating!

Allison Cusick gave an excellent program on  "What is an Alvar?"
 Our lunch time meals were a welcome retreat from Monday's rain and Tuesday's heat.   On Monday, Allison Cusick, the retired Ohio Heritage Botanist kept us enthralled with his story-telling ability and tales from Marblehead's glacial impacted topography. He also gave brief accounts and locations of the very few other alvars in the world. So how do the glacially scraped surfaces of an alvar differ from a parking lot? They are likely to have plants, very rare and stunted plants.

Doty Twyford, long time Questor in front of the Marblehead Lighthouse.  Photo by Paula Harper
 Many of our questers ended the workshop at the most photographed location in Ohio: the Marblehead Lighthouse.  Built in 1821 by the Kelley brothers from Sandusky, our longest operating light on Lake Erie is a popular tourist gathering.

Looking out from the rail surrounding  of the beacon.  Photo by Ian Adams.
It was a special occasion to have the lighthouse open for tours, and Ian Adams participated in Flora-Quest by giving photography tips to the eager questers.  The 80 degree weather and bright sunshine made for a welcome surprise in May.

All in all, the event couldn't have been any more fun or successful, and we thank our partners, sponsors and patrons for making Flora-Quest the place to be in May.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Biggest Week Birding and more-

This is the week the "Walleye Capital of the World" becomes the "Warbler Capital of the World." Anyone who is remotely connected to birding in Ohio knows that Magee Marsh in North-west Ohio is the epicenter of bird watching for the first two or three weeks in May. The boardwalk was built thirty-some years ago and has been the pilgrimage trail for birders and photographers alike.

About 4 years ago, Black Swamp Bird Observatory endeavored to make sense of some of the Magee Mayhem by organizing The Biggest Week in American Birding trips beyond Magee.

Large-flowered Trillium, Trillium grandiflorum
 So why would the Weedpicker post a photo of Trilliums to represent this event?  Because first and foremost, birds do not live in a vacuum.  They live in forests and woodlots filled with flowering trees and vegetation.

To really understand birds one should look to understand and appreciate the eco-system in which they dwell. That includes the pretty flowers. This explains why Flora-Quest is proud to be a sponsor of "Biggest Week" and why a Weedpicker (with a birding addiction) loves to help with the field trips.

We want our visitors to take in all of the natural history the North Coast has to offer.

Window on Wildlife at Pearson Park in Oregon, Ohio. 
Pearson Park in nearby Oregon, Ohio is always a favorite stop.  The "Window on Wildlife" gives a up-close view of our favorite spring migrants.  In the early spring, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings enhance the complement of local birds found at these feeders.  It is always an enjoyable and educational stop on our trips.

Clay-colored Sparrow beneath the feeder.
Yesterday our tour was fortunate enough to watch a Clay-colored Sparrow as it fed beneath the bird feeders.  My poor photo includes a photo-bomb by a White-crowned Sparrow (in the foreground), also vying for our attention.

Another group of birders gather outside.

After getting the local news and birding information, another tour driver clued me into a trip highlight: a fox den with young.  Erik Brunkhe and I soon watched as a congo-line of birders looked into a scope trained on three of the most adorable baby fox kits one could imagine.  

Fox kit at Pearson Park
 Apparently, a couple of foxes have been raising kits on this raised mound outside the wildlife viewing area for several years.  Those pipes are the supposed access to the den.  If you visit in person, you can orient yourself with the green electrical box seen in the foreground of the photo.

"Helloo, my mommy left me here with something yummy."
This youngster made quite a display of shaking a muskrat corpse, and brutalizing it upon the ground.  We were so scared. The mighty "hunter" pounced upon the muskrat skin, working up a fury. His mother would have been proud.  

It was mighty good entertainment, even for people who though they were just "birders."

One last look at happy faces...

Another group of perfectly nice birders survived the day with a "Weedpicker" who also looks at plants, trees and mammals, as well as spectacular birds.

We are having a great time at the Warbler Capital of World and I hope you will consider join in on the fun!