Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Turtle Videos

About two weeks ago, I created a You Tube account. This internet service provides a way to upload and view videos that you have created. Here are my first two clips that I have uploaded to You Tube. I shot these images of map turtles at the Columbus Zoo. Turtles fascinate me, and the zoo offered some excellent viewing opportunities.

This clip shows two male ringed map turtles, Graptemys oculifera, interacting with each other. The male on the left then dives down to the bottom of the tank. This species, which dwells in the Pearl River of Mississippi and Louisiana, is a federally threatened species.

Next, we have a male and female yellow blotched map turtle (Graptemys flavimaculata). The thing to notice in this clip is the size difference between the male and female. She is almost twice the size of the little guy. In this clip, he tries to get her attention by fluttering his long fingernails against the sides of her face. When this fails, he simply bites her nose! This species, also federally threatened, dwells in the Pascagoula river system in Mississippi.

Turtles are fascinating, and the Columbus Zoo has a diverse collection of this ancient order of reptiles.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Yesterday, Megan and I created our own, impromptu Christmas bird count yesterday at Kenny Park in North Columbus. This park, which I visit often, serves us well. Today, we saw the following:

First, an overflow channel on the east bank of the river, looking south. Yesterday morning was hazy but bright, and there was an erie sense to the whole park.

This female mallard was dabbling near the opposite bank of the Olentangy as we approached the river from the east. She looked up across the river, saw us, and started smimming across the current to us. She was clearly looking for a handout. Her mate, not quite as brave, eventually came over to check us out as well. Both overshot us on the way across the current, and this female made one heck of an effort to swim upstream the extra 10 feet to get to us.

Here is her pal. I was able to capture this image with Megan's Kodak camera, which boasts an image stabilized 12x zoom lens.

American Robins were feasting on the fruits of Lonicera maacki. This bush honeysuckle has finally lost its leaves (they were still yellow in early December), and the Robins are now taking advantage of the red berries that were passed over earlier in the fall.

Megan and I also saw at least two goldfinches. They were also interested in the bush honeysuckle berries. Here you can see a goldfinch in winter plumage. I am not sure if this is a male or female, but you can see how this bird was intently examining the honeysuckle berries.

Megan and I also heard white throated sparrows and Carolina chickadees. Finally we saw a male and female downy woodpecker. These active birds were impossible to photograph!


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Winter Cold has Arrived

After almost one week straight of incredibly mild weather, winter has struck here at 301 Girard. Yesterday, as winter was marching through, I sat in my car during my lunch break. To say the wind was roaring was an understatement. It felt as if my car would be lifted up, tossed about, and slammed back down half way across the parking lot. This morning, Megan and I were greeted with a cloudless sky with almost no wind. The kicker? Our thermometer on our kitchen windowsill that is connected to a temperature sensor just outside the window by a small black wire read 32.8 degrees, and this was at 9:00! This morning is the first morning since living at 301 Girard that I can sit on my couch, gaze to my left out through the picture window, and see the old Burlington Coat Factory building at Graceland Shopping Center. Yes, the Amur honeysuckle, an invasive shrub that forms a nice wall between our house and the shopping center, has finally dropped all of its leaves. I'm guessing it was the arrival of winter yesterday, and the accompanying sixty mile per hour wind gust that finally did the leaves in. I still feel like I live in a hole, since our street is about 10 feet lower than the parking lot a mere 10 feet to the north. The small dirt bank between the road and the parking lot has grown up in Catalpa, honeysuckle, and black walnut, trees and shrubs that provide a nice barrier between our homes and shopping land. But now it is winter, and that barrier has temporarily gone away.

Thursday, November 30, 2006


I've just learned to embed videos into my blog from a site called YouTube. Very cool. Here is an interesting clip of a radiated tortoise chomping down on some greenery. I'm guessing this clip was captured by a zoo visitor. These tortoises, from Madagascar, are some of the most beautiful four-legged shelled creatures in the world;.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Here are some pictures from yesterday's short field trip to Glacier Ridge Metropark. The first shot shows what I believe to be an Autumn Meadowhawk. According to Larry Rosche in his Dragonflies of Northeast Ohio, the adults of this species fly in late summer and autumn. He has been sending out e-mails to his bug buddy e-mail group about his intent to find one of these guys in December, which I believe would be an Ohio record. Here is my shot from yesterday at Glacier Ridge. Also, here is my very much zoomed in attempt at a late November bullfrog. This is Ohio's largest frog species, and there is actually a proposal to designate this species as Ohio's official state frog. We saw five yesterday in and around the created wetlands at Glacier Ridge.


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Glacier Ridge Metropark

On this unseasonably warm afternoon, Megan and I trekked out to Glacier Ridge Metropark, near Dublin, Ohio, in northwestern Franklin County. The first time I heard about this park was from John Watts, Natural Resources Manager for the Columbus and Franklin County Metroparks system. I was just a student then in Oxford, and he came to our agriculture and ecology seminar class to tell of a wetland restoration project at one of his areas. This was Glacier Ridge. We arrived there today about 1:00 p.m., and it was very warm, at least 65. The park sits up high. The setting is former agricultural fields. Flat agricultural fields, surrounded by huge houses. We pulled into the driveway and noticed the gargantuan steel and wood observation tower, probably at least 2 stories high. Cool. It stood out like a beacon. The wetlands created had some open water areas, and these areas were surrounded by narrow leaved cattail. Not exactly the most diverse place, but these wetlands have only been around for 5 years or so. Right away I noticed something very cool. Some type of Meadowhawk dragonfly. These guys are fairly common even in the most disturbed wetlands, but seeing them 4 days before the start of December was very cool. Altogether we saw two individuals flying about the parking lot, landing on the asphalt walking path and the wooden benches, trying to warm up in the low, afternoon sun. I thought to myself, what other cool stuff would we see?

As we walked to the large restroom/deck area, I peered over the railing, across the 20 feet of water, to the line of cattails. On several cattails sat perched bullfrogs. I counted 4, Megan saw a fifth. Pretty cool to find these guys so late in the year, but since we have had almost a full week of warm temperatures combined with sunny skies, I suppose this was not all that surprising. We saw about 20-30 mallards fly overhead, a few decided to drop down and into a distant, shallow wetland. A biker on the trail noticed my binoculars, and asked us if we were birders as he pedaled by with his kids. After saying yes, he told me about some shots of a hawk he had taken, I will presume a red-tailed hawk, about 30 minutes earlier. It was eating the remains of a furry rabbit, I presume an eastern cottontail. Pretty cool. I've never seen a hawk eating anything, let alone a rabbit!

Megan and I headed back to the car. We saw three American Coots diving in the open water of the cattail wetland. Not a bad little walk.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

301 Girard

I looked out the large picture window at our house here in Columbus today after work. I saw at least 50 house sparrows, actually a type of finch native to Europe. Two pairs of cardinals were also pecking through the seed laying on the street. A little later, a few doves also dropped on by. Not exactly your most interesting day here bird wise, but at least I looked. One thing to be thankful for, in this season of thanks, were the two great days of weather that just wrapped up this evening. As Jym Ganahl said this evening on Channel 4, It is rare to have two consecutive sunny days at this time of year. With the clear weather also comes the cold, and this morning was the first time that my co-workers and I noticed that the small educational wetland at work had completely frozen over. It was very cold last night.

On another note, you might have noticed the pictures of Megan's umbrella plant I posted a few days ago. The plant was covered with aphids. On Sunday, I brought the plant outside and set it in the front yard, and pulled out the garden house. I turned the pressure all the way up, and blasted a stream of water from the nozzle at the tips of the plant. I was hoping that the stream of water would jettison the little insects off the plant-- sure enough, it worked. So if you have aphids, consider blasting them off before turning to pesticides!


Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Dark Autumn Evening

Tonight is a dark night at 301 Girard. Combined with some bad news on Megan's side of the family, things just seem to be darker than usual. It was raining when I took Megan to school this morning, and it was raining when i arrived home after work. A few new things today. I noticed some sparrows foraging for seed in the road. The guys I saw today seemed different from the white throated sparrows I posted photos of earlier. I should bring my Sibley guide home from work so I could identify them. Overall, it just hasn't been as "birdy" around our house. But I haven't been looking as much either. Next topic: Nuts. My mom gave Megan and I a large, unopened can of Planters mixed nuts that went uneaten during our last reception. I am partial to Brazil nuts, and I've exhausted most of them from the can. I'm also a huge fan of Wikipedia, so I went there to research what I was eating. Brazil nuts come from a large rainforest tree that is not cultivated. Isn't that interesting? I'm eating a product that someone has gathered from the rainforest in Brazil or Bolivia, loaded up in a truck, and somehow transported to the Planters factory where they mix them with gads of peanuts, and dump them in a big old can. Also in the can: Peanuts. The peanut is a short lived plant, and the flowers, once fertilized, are pushed down into the earth where the peanut enveloping pod forms. Pretty cool, I thought to myself. A plant that actually sows its own seeds. Macadamia nuts are also in this can. They are grown in groves in Australia. Pecans: come from a type of hickory tree native to North America. Just really cool neat facts I thought. Most people don't realize that in one can of nuts there are so many stories, and that those nuts have been assembled from around the world!

I can't believe that it is almost 9:00 p.m. Where has the day gone?


Wednesday, November 15, 2006


So, we have had mice in our house, I'm not sure which species, but hopefully, we have gotten rid of these with a few well placed traps. However, our adventure continues.
We have an umbrella plant that Megan has raised for several years. We kept this potted houseplant outside on our front porch when we moved to 301 Girard. Since we have moved the plant inside to our living room for the winter, we noticed that it had been dropping its leaves. Today, I got a phone message from work, from Megan, saying that there were tiny little bugs all over the plant. I came home and examined the situation.
Here is what I found:

Here they are zoomed in:Turns out, these little guys were aphids, members of the insect order Hemiptera. They suck plant juices, and the leave a shiny waste product known as honeydew on the leaves (and floor) below the area they are sucking juices. They have several different life cycle body forms, and as you can see, they look very different from one another. Creepy! They are tiny, each being no more than a few milimeters long. I might try to hose them off, outside, this weekend. If that doesn't work, I may have to consult a few experts. The umbrella plant is quite nice and I like it. The point here is that you don't even have to leave your living room to learn about other creatues. Sometimes, they just find you.



This is a natural history blog, and occasionally, I sit down to create my impressions of the natural world. Last winter, while I was at Megan's apartment and didn't have any of my stuff, I went out and bought some watercolor supplies, and over the course of a month, painted this painting. The reference photo hung on her wall. This scene depicts the view of Little Pond from Megan's parent's deck in Maine. This is the view in winter. It is hard to believe that only a few months ago Megan and I were paddling aroundthe pond and pulling smallmouth bass from its murky waters. Tom

New Blogger

I've switched to the new and improved blogger. We will see if it is truly an improvement over the last version. I can not say that I was overly impressed with the last product. I will give it some kudos however, as it was very easy to use.

The picture to the left is obnoxiously large and I will try to get a smaller, less distorted image soon.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Do Squirrels Have Lips?

I have never noticed this before, but check out this photo I snapped of a gray squirrel chowing down on some bird seed in my street:

They sure do have interesting little strips of hair that really look like lips. I'm not sure of their function, but beware of a juicy lipped squirrel near you.

Today was a pretty interesting day, bird wise, at 301 Girard.

I had:

Junco 1
White crowned sparrow...at least two
2 Common Grackles
1 female downy woodpecker
Over 30 mourning doves
1 white breasted nuthatch
2-3 carolina chickadees
The ubiquitous house sparrow
Gray squirrels
1 red squirrel.

Here is the white throated sparrow. This is the first time I've seen them in the road feeding on Marvin's bird seed that he tosses out from his yard every day.

My shot of a common grackle: I had two, this one was OK, but the other one had a gimpy leg, and my bet is that he doesn't make it through the winter.

Finally, I decided to forget about taking photos of birds in my front yard at the end of my ultra-crappy street and head back to Kenny Park to try to get some photographs of deer. Well, about 30 seconds after entering the woods a young buck walked slowly towards me. I got of a few shots of absolutely nothing but blur. I found some cool wrens checking out the rotten crotch of a large silver maple, then I crazy black lab came racing down the trail, straight past me, and at the time, I thought he would be on the trail of the buck. Anyways.......A few hundred feet later I met eyes with the buck again, this time face to face. I started walking towards him and finally I saw him, his head locked into an upright stare. Wohhh was my first reaction, I turned on the camera, even though there wasn't enough light, I fired off a few shots. Here was the best. I'll get a better one next time! I'm sure this buck lives here in Kenny Park.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Blogging to Blog

Tonight, there just isn't much that crosses my mind in regard to natural history, the subject of this blog. Most of my activities today were in the human realm. I did see a few mallards, perhaps five or six, dabbling along the shore of our man-made pond at Fountain Square. Rose hips, the fruit of wild rose plants, are also common in the area. After seeing these tangy fruits as an ingredient in some tea, I once picked some from our fields at fountain square. I tried to eat a bit of their waxy flesh, but it seemed as if the seeds encased inside the red fruits had prickles on them, and I just remembering it being a very unpleasant experience. I'm not exactly sure what I was thinking that day. Anyways, rose hips are packed with vitamin C and antioxidants!


Monday, November 06, 2006

Erie Burn

Words to describe my feelings today after our prescribed burn at Erie Sand Barrens:

Itchy eyes












Peanut butter and Jelly




Look up

Look down

Look around




Sunday, November 05, 2006

Fire @ ESB

Tomorrow, I'll be participating in my first prescribed burn. Ok., make that second. While at Miami U. for grad school, I helped out (which actually meant watched) with a small prairie grass burn. Tomorrow I'll be heading to Erie Sand Barrens State Nature Preserve in Erie County, not far from Sandusky Ohio. I'll be suiting up in my Nomex fire proof clothing, lacing up my yellow vibram soled rocky work boots, and beyond that I'm not really sure what to expect. We'll see and I'll describe the experience come tomorrow.

Today Megan and I went to Grandpa's Cheesebarn and Fin Feather Fur outfitters in Ashland. A few natural history items of note. One, there was a nice buck lying in the back of an old blue truck right in front of the outfitters. I thought of my brethren at the Division of Wildlife. Which makes me think, on our way up to Ashland from Columbus, we must have seen at least 10 deer that had been struck along I-71. Second, after our visit to Fin Feather & Fur, Megan spotted a wooly bear caterpillar "booking" across the street as we walked to the cheesebarn. Jim McCormac blogged on these guys a few days ago, and be on the lookout for one of these weather predictors in your backyard. They are really cool and remind me of being a little boy. Ok, they don't really predict the weather, but it is a pretty neat old myth.


Saturday, November 04, 2006

Fall glow at Kenny Park

Living near a natural area, no matter how small, is truly a gem. All you have to do is spend time observing the creatures and plants in the area, and I guarantee that your natural history skills will improve. Want to be a naturalist? Don't spend time in the library, spend time in the woods. I used to fall prey to this mistake. And after being in the field with some of Ohio's best naturalists and biologists, I have learned immensely from them. And one of the most important lessons I've learned is to carry my binoculars, carry a hand lens, carry my notebook and write write write write! We all have different learning styles, but writing in the field makes me pay attention to what I'm looking at. Instead of identifying an animal to species, I'm more apt to notice how many birds are at the top of the tree, whether they are male or female, and I can even get a feeling to what they are doing. Are they calling? Gleaning for insects? Extracting seeds from box-elder samaras?

I'm not sure why all of this came together for me, but yesterday afternoon at Kenny Park, along the Olentangy River here in North Columbus, I really felt in tune with what was going around me.

The evening sky was aglow. The air was clear, crisp, and cold, but not cold enough that I was wearing gloves. The leaves had mostly fallen off the tall trees, and the black walnuts on the alluvial terraces are now like skeletons. The stately sycamores and silver maples were still struggling to shed their quickly drying, brown leaves. Since many of the green plants have turned brown and shriveled up, I have turned my attention to birds. It is amazing how well they can be seen when there aren't leaves on the trees (although the bush honeysuckle is green as it was in mid- June).

So what did I see?

1 Carolina chickadee, flitting about in the box elders. I think it was trying to eat the box elder seeds, still in their helicopter like samaras, and still attached to the branch tips. I'd like to see how long this source of food lasts through the winter.

2. Robins, calling frequently, flying around. I'm not sure what they were up to.

3. 2 Gray squirrels, one after the other, chasing each other across a fallen, rotten log.

4. Next, in my notebook, I note the constant din of traffic from state route 315, a four lane commuter highway, across the river and back over my right shoulder towards the west.

5. Next, I look over my right shoulder, and in a amur honeysuckle, I see a small grayish, round, short-billed bird. I note its gray head, light gray eye ring, yellowish wash on its primary flight feathers and rump. My first instinct? Some kind of straggling wood warbler that hasn't quite yet made it to the tropics. I just leafed through my barely touched Peterson "Warblers" field guide and I'm hopelessy stuck. The thing my bird most resembled was a resident of Florida. Oh Well. Hopefully I can snap a picture today.

6. A red shouldered hawk cried out from above and to the south. KeyYER KeyYER KeyYER KeyYER!

7. Above me, calling with a short but surprising strong alert from a small bird, possibly another warber? High up in the black walnut, jumping from branch to branch, I only glimpsed at his underside. I just looked at the "Warblers Guide" again, and they actually had a plate that showed the underside of many common species! All I noted though, from my time yesterday was that this birds tail was decidedly notched. Well, I'm not sure if all passerine's tails possess this quality, but all the warbler's illustrated did. Oh well...next time...better observation. More detail.

8. Next, the presence of the leaves, still going strong, as green as they were in June, catches my eye. These belong to the highly invasive amur honesuckle. The shrubs growing beneath the walnuts almost reach small tree size. They emanate from a single stump, quickly branching out like a water fountain. The shrubs are covered with the globose, red-juicy berries. Obviously, nothing is really interested in eating these! I'll keep an eye throughout the winter. The fact that the honeysuckle still possesses photosynthetic leaves leaves no doubt how it is able to out-compete native species. Spicebush the native woodland understory shrub that is absent from Kenny park has long lost its leaves by now.

9. A small single engine plane flies over, heading northwest, reminding me that I am in the city.

10. I walk down to the Olentangy. It is still high, and my usual fishing spots are flooded. The water has receded quite a bit from earlier in the week, and the muddy banks are littered with signs of wildlife. Deer, squirrel, dogs, other stuff that I can only guess....I should learn more about tracks. Anyways, the long shadows that the sun casts at this time really make the tracks "pop" right out of the mud.

11. Finally, I walk back up the bank to the terrace where the walnuts and honeysuckle dominate. I see a squirrel about 100 feet to the south, in a black walnut. It seems smallish. Could this be the phantom red squirrel that I've caught a few glimpses of? I put my binoculars on it, and sure enough, I think it was. This guy had a snow white belly and a grayish red topside, separated by a thin black line of hair. And then he made the tell tale rattle of the red squirrel. It is loud and obnoxious. Hard to believe that such a sound comes out of the little guy.

Anyways, it is getting colder, my hands are freezing, and after seeing a single crow alight on top of a walnut, I decide it is time to head back to 301 Girard. Megan and I have a Bluejackets game to go to!


Monday, October 30, 2006

Kenny Park

I've talked about Kenny Park before. It is a small strip of land on both sides of the Olentany River about a half a mile west High Street, behind the old Burlington Coat Factory at Graceland Shopping Center. This evening was particully warm, clear, and wet underfoot. We've had several days of rain and the Olentangy was just under bankfull. Megan walked around the river and floodplain for about 30 minutes, and we saw the following:

Several gray squirrels hopping about, looking for the perfect hiding place for black walnuts.

Several American robins, high up in the now leafless black walnut tree.

Both male and female cardinals, in their typical habitat, low brushy and weedy vegetation. This evening, I watched a female feasting on the seeds of Polygonum scandens or Polygonum convolvulus through my black ruberized bushnell binoculars.

Megan spotted a downy woodpecker in the top branches of a box-elder. This particular specimen had been mutilated by a chainsaw. It had the fortune to take root underneath powerlines, and it will never get much taller than 15 feet.

2 mallard pairs, at the edge of the flooded Olentangy, doing there best to stay in the same place and avoid looking like the little plastic colored duckies at the state fair circling around the giant mountain of stuffed animals.

A deer....a large female doe, walking slowing underneath the bush honeysuckle canopy. It saw us, stopped a bit, ate some grass, and moved on. My neighbor Jackie tells me that she often sees deer in her front yard and in our road. Again, her Husband Marvin spreads seeds in the street everday attracting all kinds of fun urban wildlife.

Finally...we heard a faint whistle...Oh Sam peabody peabody...Oh Sam peabody peapody peabody...Over and over again. I offered a ten dollar award for the first to spot the small sparrow that was timidly calling out to us with this classic tune. Megan said that the bet was not at all fair since I was the only one with the binoculars. But after some careful listenting. She found it. A white throated sparrow. A little ragged and definitely lonely, it was cool to see this bird had chosen to stop at Kenny Park as he passes southward.


Fall Back

I wake up early. Megan has physiology at 7:30, and I drop her off the bus at 6:30. When we step outside our side door and look up, it is black. Ok, well, it isn't totally black. Pinkish black might be a better description, since the light pollution from the city taints the pure black sky. But it is dark, there is no sign of the sun. Period. I think that awaking before the sun gives me a better awareness of when the sun does rise. Not just at what time, but what the weather is doing when the sun rises. Will I see the sun? Will it be shaded by clouds? Will it be raining? The sun is still there...if only I could jump through the clouds and land on a magic platform in the sky! But I digress. Several things on my mind tonight.

First, the forest fire deaths in California. I recently completed a rigorous 40 hour interagency wildfire training course at the Ohio Fire Academy. This course trained me to be an official "weed beater". Come summer, I could travel in 24 hours notice to a wildland fire "out west" Throughout our training, safety, by far, was the absolute most critical aspect of fire fighting that our teachers drilled into our heads. Be safe. But sometimes, you just can't be safe. The engine crew that perished were a professional, highly trained team for the U.S. forest service. They didn't make it. The fire got them. Yes, deaths are rare, but it does happen, and I'm absolutely impressed that these men for gave up their lives to protect private homes. Incredible. I'm not ready for their level of dedication, and I will be sticking to light, prescribed burns set here in our state nature preserves.

Second. The time change. This always throws me for a loop, but I think perhaps this is the finest time change I can remember. Why? Um, the aforementioned trip to the bus in the dark every morning. Finally, I just might not look up at the sky tomorrow morning and see the pinkish black sky....maybe the sun will have peaked over the horizon and provided me just a little light for my drive to the bus stop and then on to Fountain Square along Morse Road.


Thursday, October 19, 2006


Have you ever been driving down the road and noticed a huge patch of tropical cane-like grass invading in a ditch along Ohio's highways? A giant green grass, surpassing 12 feet tall? Maybe you have seen it along Lake Erie, or perhaps Mentor Marsh in Lake County?

Until about 2 years ago, we thought this stuff was horrible. And really, the plants that I have described are still highly invasive. And those plants are horrible. But at national meetings, botanists would get together and talk about Phragmites australis, the common reed. Along the east, botanists and wildlife managers swore at this stuff. Phragmites is running us out of our wetlands! It is taking over! Plant lovers and other scientists in the upper midwest were like, um really? Phragmites is really a well behaved plant in our managed areas. It really isn't invasive at all.

And it turns out that some people did some great botanical work. Specifically, Saltonstall, Peterson, and Soreng published an article in the international botanical journal Sida, naming the native species Phragmites australis subspecies americanus. Since this article has been published, numerous botanists have developed ways to tell the native from the invasive species.

Anyways, all this background is in the back of my mind when I go out into the field. So the other day, when I was at Springville Marsh in Seneca County, some phragmites caught my eye. I had seen the plant two years before. Tall, growing with cattails and shrubs. I asked Greg and Rick if the stuff was native, but they just didn't know the plant back then. Today, I was sure what I saw was the native stuff. The large dense plume that I normally seen in the agressive phragmites was replaced with a more open panicle. Could this be it? I collected a few large stems, Walt helped me place them in a temporary vasculum (a trash bag!) and I headed back to Columbus. Sure enough, upon returning to the office, my specimens matched 4 of the characteristics of the native plant. The stems were red and smoothly polished instead of rough, the plants had black fungal dots on the stems, the glumes, part of the highly modified grass flower also matched. I showed the specimen to Rick Garder, state botanist, and he concurred. Maybe I'll write a newsletter article for Natural Ohio, my employer's newsletter, describing the find? We'll see. It felt great finding this plant that most people had passed over for a weed.


Monday, October 16, 2006

Friends with Exoskeletons

When Megan and I were camping at Alum Creek, we had the fortune to run into some very cool invertebrate friends. The first guy we found, if it is a male at all (i have no idea how to tell the difference between a male and female spider) was quite striking. When I got back to the naturalist's hideaway, I realized that we had found a banded garden spider, or Argiope trifasciata. Isn't it stunning? Also, yay for digital camers with the superb ability to take close up pictures. Canon and I have teamed up for some truly great moments (with sarcasm).

The ventral side of the spider. Notice the spinnerets near the top of her abdomen. This anatomical area is where the spider generates silk.

Finally, the hungry spider snathes and entombs a wonderful meal. About all that is recognizable is this fly's two beady eyes.

Last but not least, I shot this small grasshopper on an evening primrose a mere arm's length from the spider's web. This again brought me back to my childhood, when Kevin Myers wood pluck fat and juicy "tobacco spitting" hoppers from my yew bushes and throw them into the garden spider's web. I was tempted to watch this green creature warm up in the hazy sunshine and see if he would make the unwise move of hopping into the web of death. Alas, he did not, I wasn't patient, and I he let me capture this image.


Sunday, October 15, 2006


This evening, Megan and I were feeling tired. It was a busy weekend. Last night we attended the Cameos of Caring awards Gala at the Columbus Convention Center. This morning, I zipped over to pastor Kathy's home to assist in the development of a sermon. The point here? We're busy. Megan and I live in the City of Columbus, but only about 500 feet from the Olentangy river. We retreat to the river whenever we need a little rest and relaxation. Kenny park is a patch of land owned by the City of Columbus. There are several winding trails through the bottomlands. The vegetation of the park can be summed up in one word: weedy. The overstory is actually black walnut, but underneath is a thicket of Lonicera maacki shrubs, in some places reaching eight feet. Wild ginger, and rue-anenome were present in some areas, and this surprised me. I could see some vestiges of a "real" mesic forest community. The river this evening wasn't beautiful. The silver maples dominating the banks haven't shown any sign of changing color. Any splotches of blues and whites from the fall blooming asters have diminished. And we could hear the steady din from constant freeway traffic on "315" just on the otherside of the streamside forest. Still, this finger of nature that stretches just down from Delware county into the city of Columbus was a nice refuge from the day to day grind. We're lucky to live so close to to the river.


Saturday, October 14, 2006

The view from my front porch

I literally captured these photos of common bird and animal species from my front porch here in north Columbus. I was playing around with Megan's 12x zoom Kodak camera. It is pretty sweet.

First, a mourning dove. I can remember wondering what the strange squeaky noises these birds produced were whenever they would drop in from the sky to our blue spruce trees that grew alongside by childhood home. Finally, I learned that is was just there wings rubbing together. Other memories: A beautiful female nested on top of my window type air conditioner at my first story apartment in Oxford Ohio. I think these birds are beautiful. There subtle grays, blues and pinks, although not obvious in this photo are striking.

The male cardinal is everybone's favorite. I know take these for granted. I shouldn't. They do like marginal habitats, but we should be greatful that they can persist in the city. I was hoping to get a closer shot of the crows, but they know when there is someone looking at them, and they fly up into the walnut trees. Notice that the black walnut has completely lost its leaves, even though it is only October 14th.

The crow. An intelligent animal, notice they have no problem judging the distance between you and your vehicle as they diligently pick roadkill along the side of the road. They manage to fly away just before your whizzes by. I was surprised to learn that these animals are still legally hunted. I see several crows almost every morning picking corn and other seed from the road in front of my neighbor's small cape cod here in the city.


Have you noticed something different? Are you feeling differently? Well, fall is here. With the first frost Friday morning, a whole new era (ok, maybe I'm exagerating) has come to Columbus. I really mean this. I have a new feeling of calm. Why? Because the plants are done growing for the year. No longer will I feel guilty about spending a few days in the office. Sure, you can always observe things in nature at any time of the year, but my main quarry is plants. The plants are dying! Yes...the season is over...I can finally relax. Come January, I'll be itching to get back out on the trail and botanize again. This will last until late March, when the things do start to pick up again, and I'll just want a few more weeks of gray winter before the craziness picks up again! Well, I still have plenty to look at even though it is winter. I've got about 120 specimens in the press that I need to examine, show Rick Gardner, and I hope I can survive this arduous process. Many species can only be determined by close up examination with a hand lens or microscope. This requires patience and moutains of minute detail work. I can do it!


Sunday, October 01, 2006

Camping Adventure

This weekend, Megan and I celebrated our 1 month anniversary of marriage, and to boot, our 1 year anniverary of meeting for the first time. We decided to celebrate the event with a quick camping outing at Alum Creek State Park. Located in southern Delaware county about 15 miles from our home, we thought this would be a perfect little experiment to test our camping ability. We were definitely put to the test. After securely fastening our rainfly to the tent on Friday, as Megan and I were sleeping, we were awakened by intermittent rain showers throughout the night. The next morning, our friends Brian and Rita Kaspar joined our adventure. We hiked, talked, cooked some great food, and finished off the evening with some wine. That evening, the storms came to Alum Creek! What an amazing feeling to be in a tent during a thunderstorm. Our small enclosure rattled in the wind, but it held. After the constant din of the pounding rain subided, i think I went back to sleep. But I'm not really sure...Megan thinks she fell asleep during the peak of the thunderstorm. Anyways, we were again wakened around 2:00 a.m. for an equally strong attack of thunder and lighting from the night sky. We held our own once again. It ended, I fell back asleep, and just prayed for calm the rest of the night. Upon waking up this morning, we noted that others at Alum Creek had abandoned camp in the middle of the night! We stuck it out...braved the weather like a weathered old sailor during a fierce Maine 'noreaster. Wet and cold, we packed up this morning, headed home, and now we are safe and sound back in our little bungalo on Girard Road here in wonderful Columbus Ohio.


Friday, September 22, 2006

Whale Watching

So, Its tough getting one of these out everyday. I'm not sure how some people do it. Anyways, I've got these cool (at least they were fun to take) pictures of whales from our whale watch trip out of boothbay harbor. I'm somewhat interested to hear what others say about these trips. We saw a couple extremely cool things, starting out with Minke Whales, an excellent experience with a finback whale, and I managed to get some great shots of harbor seals and gray seals.

So here it is. The first whale of the day. This is a Minke whale, a very small (for a whale, it is under 20 feet), and they were really common. Here is a shot I took from Megan's camera that isn't zoomed in very much. It is pretty cool that I got some of the classic Maine coast in the background. The camera makes the shore seem closer than it actually was, but, we weren't that far from land. The Minke Whales we saw on the day would come up for air about 3-4 mintues, take very deep breaths at the surface, and finally dive deep into the gold algae filled waters in search of fish. After about 3 minutes, the whales returned to the surface, our captain spotted the returner from the depths, and put the boat in full gear to get his patrons closer to the gentle giants.

After seeing many Minke whales, this was getting old. Finally we made a mad dash out to deeper water. After crusing along a bit, finally, our naturist guide yelled out. "Right there, on the horizon, a finback whale spout." The naturalist husband, our afforementioned captain again engaged the boat sending all watchers to the rail, holding on for dear life. We finally reached the gigantic beast. In the picture below, notice the speck on the left side of the whale. That is it's dorsal fin, and the whale's body is still coming up and out of the water. This picture wasn't zoomed in, and when I captured the image, I was somewhat dissapointed. However, seeing the boat's support beam in the foreground really gives you an impression just how big these guys are.

Zooming in with Megan's new 12x image stabilized lens allowed me to get incredible close up shots, even though the animal was moving, and the boat itself was moving. What a giant blowhole!

After having some very close encounters with the solitary finback, our captain turned around the Harbor Princess for calmer waters. On our way back, the naturalist point out harbor and gray seals basking on the rocks on one of the most remote islands off the boothbay harbor coast. Notice the seal in the top left of the picture with a large wound. Ouch!

Overall, this trip was really great! It far exceeded my expectations. I really could do that once a week. Oh well....now I'm back in Ohio and racoons are pretty much the only mammal I see on a weekly basis! Happy naturalizing,


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Back from Maine

Well, I'm married and Megan and I are back from Maine. This summer, dragonflies have caught my attention. I'll never forget my dad catching one of these guys when I was a little kid back in Munroe Falls. I'm by no means being original here by posting pictures of dragonflies, but boy, are these things cool! All of these pictures were taken in between wedding preparations at Little Pond in Otisfield, Maine.

First we have a damselfly. I'm guessing this is one of the bluets, but I need to check to be sure. He landed on some dead peat at the edge of Little Pond, an area roughed up a bit by Megan's dogs. They just open some areas a bit, and hopefully they'll create openings for other intersting plant species. Notice how striking this guy is. Can you see why so many people are becoming interested in damsels?

Next is a spreadwing damselfly. Unlike most other damselflies, they do not completely fold their wings above there bodies. They are "spread". Here is one of the spreadwings captured in the balsam fir-birch woods just 50 feet away from the sphagnum mat that circles little pond. Notice how long and slender this creature's abdomen is.

Here is a meadowhawk. This is a dragonfly with several different representatives. Some are bright red. Notice the orangish coloration of this individual.

Finally, a slaty skimmer. This identification was fairly easy here, as there is simply not other dragonfly that looks like this! What a beautiful specimen!

Sunday, August 27, 2006


Soon, I'll be heading to Maine to get married. My brother and I, Tim, got to spend the weekend together. It was great. It will probably be the last time that we get to spend a whole weekend by ourselves.

I've got to do a few exciting things the last week as far as field goes.

First, I have become addicted to smallmouth bass fishing. After purchasing my license through the ODNR's online system, I hit the Olentangy River just a few hundred feet west of my house. I popped on a rubber crayfish on my newly purchase spincast outfit, plucked that baby in the water, and after a little bit, I snatched this beautiful, but admittedly small fish from a shaded, boulder filled pool. My first smallmouth bass.

What else? Megan, who is Maine preparing for our even that we "seal the deal" for us, a.k.a our wedding, sent me a few shots of her parent's backyard. This place is palatial. Our wedding is going to be sweet.

Here is there house, in which we will set up the large "Christian" tent that we are getting for the reception:

Here is the view from the deck and backyard...The body of water is called "little pond" Um, looks like a like to this Ohioan.

So that, is about it. Are you coming to our wedding? It is going to be great.


Friday, August 18, 2006

Powdered Dancer

The Powder Dancer

Although I purchased Larry Rosche's Dragonflies and Damselflies of Northeastern Ohio almost two years ago, i didn't really use it until this summer. As a part of my job, I sometimes join NEON, an acronym for Northeastern Ohio Naturalists, on their field trips. It was on these trips that the amazing flying predators caught my eye. This just goes to show the importance of the naturalist—without Rosche, I would not have have had the will or patience to capture the picture below.

On a trip to the Conneaut Creek in Ashtabula county, Rosche pointed out blue fronted and blue tipped dancers, powered dancers, several slender spreadwings, eastern pondhawk, and the Illinios River Cruiser. Just spending a few hours in the field with Rosche, who in a former life taught calculus at my high school, really got me going into dragonflies. A few weeks later, Megan and I were standing in my apartment parking lot, right next to a large grass rimmed retention pond, watching darners zoom about. We kept our eye on one particular mosquito that was sharing the airways with their predators, when, in an instant, a darner swooped in and gobbled up the poor thing. I couldn't tell if I was happy for the dragonfly, sad for the mosquito, or just thankful that another potential west nile vector had been taken out. I was hooked, and so was Megan. Not only are dragonflies beautiful, but their behavior is equally fascinating as well.

Upon moving this Saturday, I have observed three species of Odonates (dragonfliesand damselflies) in my backyard around our water garden/goldfish pond. The first guy I spotted was the very common blue fronted dancer, a damselfly in the genus Argia. I then spotted a blue dasher, a dragonfly, zooming about with a fabulous dusky light blue abdomen. Finally, last evening, a male and female powder dancer spent about ten minutes hovering around the pond and landing on the limestone landscaping rocks. I captured this guy..can you believe it?

What a magnificent creature. Digital photography sure does these guys justice! While I'm writing this using my laptop just feet from the pond, the crickets and katydids are getting louder...I'm hearing a hum in my ear....and a rattling kingfisher just flew over head. Its nice to settle somewhere that still retains some semblance wildness.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Munroe Falls Dam?

Yesterday evening, I had the pleasure to accompany my father, grandfather, and my fiance Megan to the place that gave the name to Munroe Falls, the town within which I lived until I was 18. But wait, the dam, originally built in 1902 to supply water to a nearby paper plant, is gone! To restore a free flowing condition to the Cuyahoga River, Summit County pitched in thousands of dollars to remove the thirteen foot high sandstone block structure last summer. The aftermath is quite interesting. Before, the Cuyahoga River upstream of the dam was really just a lake. The wide, calm expanse even had round orange buoys strewn down the river for waterskiers to zoom in and out of. But today, that same stretch of water is now free flowing, 13 feet below its former level, and wild. The area where the dam stretched across is now merely a riffle, the name stream scientists give to areas of rivers that drop off suddenly, the water speeds up, and you might even see a little "white water." For those of you that remember the dam, the City has even created a small platform that overlooks the riffle, just like the old spot on the north side of the river. The platform even has a light, similar to the light that illuminated the old falls. My dad even commented that in the 1970's as a member of the Jaycees, he helped raise money to install the old light. The parking lot has been expanded, and it is an easy walk for most. I enjoyed visiting here with three generations of my family.


Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Sancturetum

Today, Megan, my brother Tim and I checked out an interesting arboretum near Stow City Hall called the sancturetum. This property, tucked behind the municipal building, is a quiet relaxation spot in the middle of suburbia. Lots of plants...everywhere. Weird stuff. Giant Sequoias (ok, just babys, but they were there) verigated arrow arrum, button bush, cedars from the Himalayas, and last but not least, plenty of mosquitoes. If you like plants, this is a place to go. If you like quiet, it is a nice retreat from the city. All in a little place called Stow.


Friday, July 28, 2006

Past Pics

Hi All,

My grandmother passed away last night. She was an incredible lady. Viola Thomas was her name. Check out her obit at Ohio.com

Going though pictures last night, I thought today would be a great day to post some pics from some of my past adventures. Here they are.

First, and ice dam, which reminds me of the arctic scenes from the Super Man movies with the former man of steel Christopher Reeve.

While on one of the very first Ohio Natural Heritage Naturalists field trips to the Oak Openings, Greg Lipps, Jim Davidson and I stumbled across this beautiful female eastern box turtle just feet from wire grass ditch. This ditch, which runs through portions of Kitty Todd Preserve, helps drains much of the wet prairie in the area. This was truly a magnificent find in 2004. I just didn't think these guys live up in northwest Ohio. If you ever have the chance to go herping with Greg do it...He is one of the best advocates for Ohio's herps and he is just a darn right nice guy.

A luna moth at Conneaut Creek Wildlife area, in 2003. I found this guy with DNAP manager Greg Schneider and Melissa Campbell. We were investigating whether a small patch of hemlocks warranted dedication as a state nature preserve. Towards of the end of the day, we found this guy on a small tree. The lime green color is striking.

Finally, swamp rose mallow from the beach at Sheldon's Marsh State Nature Preserve. If you haven't been there yet, go. Between Huron and Sandusky, this is Ohio's last remaing natural beach and marsh system. You'll be amazed that you are in ohio.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Singer Lake

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to join Jim Bissell and the North Eastern Ohio Naturalists on a trip to singer lake bog. I really wasn't prepared for what I was in for.....
Here is a shot from the southwest shore of Singer Lake, looking west across the bog.

The yellow flower of Utricularia macrorhiza, common blatterwort. This carnivorous plant, one of three species that we observed on the day, was common in still water areas of the moat rimming the edge of the bog.

Last but not least, here is Virginia meadow beauty, potentially threatened in Ohio. This species appears to like wet, sandy, disturbed soils. Isn't it a beauty?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Natural History

Right now, natural history blogs on the Internet are becoming quite popular. Jim McCormac's Ohio Birding Blog has inspired me to embrace this phenomenon. I'll blog a bit on my natural history travels. Now that I've received my camera back from Canon factory service, I'll be able to capture a few sparkling moments in the field, and hopefully adorn this blog with snapshots of my adventures. Isn't amazing that I get paid for this stuff? Very Cool.

This morning (I am writing this blog at 3:51 a.m....too many tacos at Adobe Gilas last evening) I'll be going to Singer Lake Bog. This jewel of a site is owned and managed by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Jim Bissell, curator of botany, worked his magic throughout the 1990's and early 2000's to acquire a patchwork of land parcels to protect this site. The site contains several natural kettlehole lakes, left when large ice blocks were surrounded by glacial outwash over 15000 years ago. These blocks melted, the depressions filled with water, and the slow course of succession began, resulting in today's bog meadows, shrub swamps, and a little open water. I've never been to this site in Summit County, but used to drive by in wonderment when I was a seasonal for DNAP in 1999 on my way to pull purple loosestrife at Jackson Bog.

Here is an aerial view of Singer Lake. It is incredible that this gem was left untouched. In recent years, there has been some encroachment from homes, but Bissell's work has ensured that this area will retain it's biological integrity for some time.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Howdy All

What's up?

I decided I'd blog a bit. What's new? Well not really all that much. Megan and I are doing very well. We really connect at all levels. She is awesome.

Tomorrow we'll be checking out clear creek metro park It is Ohio's largest State Nature Preserves, which is definitely very cool. Although we do not own the property, it has been dedicated.

We should see some very cool sandstone hemlock ravines.

This gorge has been referred to as Neotoma valley, due to the former presence of Allegheny woodrats. They aren't there anymore, possibly wiped out from a disease that is carried by the racoon. It should be an awesome time!


Monday, February 20, 2006

I'm 27

I turned 27 since the last post. Kinda crazy? Hmmm.....Well Anyways, that actually sounds pretty old, doesn't it?

The race for Ohio's governor is heating up. It definitely looks like there will be a hard fought battle between two very conservatives, Jim Petro and Ken Blackwell. If Blackwell recieves the republican nod in the primary, look for it to be a very tough battle against democrat Ted Strickland.

Also, mall heiress Capri Cafaro is running again for Sherrod Brown's vacated and convoluted seat in Northeast Ohio. I'm not sure that Brown can beat DeWine, but he would be a good man for the job. Both Mike DeWine and George Voinovich have been relatively independent thinkers in Washington and have refused to jump on board with the mindless conservatism that currently plagues both houses of congress. DeWine's support has weakened because he has been moderate on some issues. Some have interpreted that his seat is vulnerable. However, is this the case against a moderate democrat in Sherrod Brown? I doubt it. I Predict DeWine wins by 5%, Stickland wins by 3% against Jim Petro, and the N.E. Ohio seat is vacated by democrats, since Capri Cafaro is simply looking for someplace to spend her money, and doesn't seem like a realistic candidate.

My Thoughts,


Sunday, February 05, 2006


I can see why Terro Pluto is good at his job. He loves to write. Period. There is no doubt about this....he has said it many times in his column. Which brings me to this blog. Do I love to write? Well, I like the process, but I'm not totally sure that I love it. Who knows.

What happened this weekend? Not much. I figured out that I am trying to do a few too many things again. I need to start focusing on the one thing that is completely the most important part of my life now. (I'm sure that you can guess who that is!)

So, anyways..........back to the title of this blog. I hope I can come up with unique observations about the world. And I will.......they just might not come as fast as furious as they had been...I don't love writing as much as Terry Pluto does. There is something else out there that I need to concentrate on!