Monday, April 30, 2007

Oporornis warber?-Update

Yesterday morning, I spotted a very cool warbler in Kenny Park. He was singing his head off in grapevines and box-elders only 20 feet or so off the ground. This evening, Megan and I saw him again, and I managed to capture some video of his sound. I have no idea if this was the same bird as yesterday, but my hunch is that it is, since he was in the same spot. My field observations were fairly simple: Gray head, white eyering, olive wings, yellow underbelly. No black lines or striping to be seen. Here is the video.

Thanks to Jim McCormac, this bird has now been identified as a Kentucky Warbler.


Ohio Buckeye

The Ohio Buckeye, the namesake tree of our state, is one of the first species to leaf out and bloom here in central Ohio. This evening, this particular buckeye tree caught my eye. It has completely leafed out! Take a look at this northeast Ohioans. I was up in Ashtabula county last Thursday and trees there were barely in bud. Anyways, I have really taken a liking to this species. It seems to love floodplains and grows right above the Olentangy river along the stream terraces in the City of Columbus. No wonder this great state got its nickname from this tree. They had to have been all over Columbus when there was still some primeval forest around and I bet they really got noticed because they leaf out very early, and they are especially showy with there multiple clusters of white flowers which are entering peak bloom. Go Buckeyes!

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Gray Catbird

What a beautiful morning! Earlier today I walked down to the river and I heard a strange warble from the tree tops. What the heck was I hearing? Finally, after spotting this gray bird in my binoculars, I realized that I had a gray catbird singing away, looking for a female. These birds are called catbirds because they make a meow sound that is somewhat cat like. Until today, I never noticed that gray catbirds had a red rump, which you cannot see in this picture. I never knew this bird until I started hanging around people who knew birds. Look for them in a brushy area near you. They seem to like dense, weedy undergrowth areas.


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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Ashtabula County Wildflowers

On Thursday, I met up with a group of highly skilled naturalists affiliated with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. The site of interest for the day was in the east-central portion of the county, only 5 or so miles from Ohio's eastern border with Pennsylvania. I saw and photographed several wildflowers there that are common in this part of the state, but are more rare in central Ohio.

First up we have dwarf ginseng, Panax trifolius. Here, you can see its head of star-shaped flowers. This plant is related to American ginseng, the larger and commercially valuable forest dwelling species whose roots fetch hundreds of dollars per pound. This species seems to thrive in Ohio's snowbelt region, and I saw hundreds of plants on Thursday.

Next, we have Trillium erectum. This trillium, so named because of its three distinct petals, sepals and leaves, is one of Ohio's most handsome species. It has many different common names, including Wakerobin and stinking Benjamin. A few of us smelled the flower, and we agreed that the scent was "citrusy" rather than offensive. This is my favorite trillium species simply because of its large, red blooms. This plant can be tricky however, and some individuals lack the deep red color. I have seen individual plants with cream colored or almost sea green flower petals.

Onto the third species of the day, Claytonia caroliniana, or Carolina spring beauty. This plant is related to the much more common Virginia spring beauty, one of Ohio's most common wildflowers. It is also in the same genus as the lance-leaved spring beauty, which you may remember from my trip to Colorado. Look to the leaves to distinguish Ohio's two species. Virginia spring beauty has long narrow leaves, while Carolina spring beauty has wide ovate-lanceolate leaves, one of which can be seen in the background of this picture.

Finally, Viola hastata or halberdleaf yellow violet. This species is named for its halberd shaped leaves, which are often dark green and variegated with even darker green lines. I was surprised to see about yellow violets back when I was beginning to look at wildflowers in Ohio. This is definitely a handsome violet. Note the very dark purple lines, which presumably guide insects to nectar and pollen.
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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Reptile and Amphibian Adventure

I am back in Columbus, however, yesterday, Megan, Myself and Tim walked along the Cuyahoga River in Munroe Falls. The Metroparks serving Summit County has created a great bike path running from Munroe Falls to Kent. I rode my bike many times along this trail when I lived with my parents. I wanted to check out a small pond adjacent to the bike trail, about 1 mile east of State Route 91. We mixed in in exercise with reptile looking! Although I didn't see what I was really hoping for, which was some salamander egg masses, the pond was still there and was teeming with reptiles and amphibians. The first thing I saw was a large male green frog poised right at the water's edge. I could tell he was a male by looking at his eardrum...the large circle behind his eye, that is in fact bigger than his eye, gives him away as a male. I could tell he was a green frog by looking at the two folds of skin that run from behind the eye, parallel to each other, back to the rear of the animal. Next, Megan spotted a great eastern garter snake. We think he was cruising around the edge of the pond looking for other, smaller green frogs. Across the way we heard more leaves rustle, and sure enough, another eastern garter was cruising the opposite bank and making a rucous as it lunged for frogs. Perhaps the coolest part of the visit to the pond were the painted turtles. We found six in this small pond, no bigger than my city lot sized back yard. I wonder if they had found refuge here after the Cuyahoga River restoration project. You see, Munroe Falls was named after an artificial dam that had been across the river in the center of town in one form or another since the early 1800's. But since the dam severely limited the amount of oxygen in the river, the local community worked with the county to remove the dam. The pool behind the dam, a long slough of slow moving water, was the perfect habitat for painted turtles. Now that dam is gone, the river is free flowing, and would be better suited to species like common map and spiny soft-shelled turtles. Anyways, the painted turtles had to find a place to go, and I wonder if some of them made it to this little pond!





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Old Stomping Grounds

Megan and I were in Munroe Falls, Ohio today and yesterday to visit my parents and brother and celebrate my brother's twenty-fourth birthday. The weather yesterday was clear and warm, perfect for visiting a few places where my love of natural history was nurtured as a small child.

Behind our house in Munroe Falls ran a small, spring fed stream lined with sandstone and shale. It was here that I found some really cool stuff growing up. I managed to rediscover many of the things that I found fascinating when I was a kid.

Here you can see "The Creek". It is quite sunny there now without the leaves on the trees. Notice the sandstone strewn about. These rocks are perfect habitat for an animal that I would spend hours catching-- the Two-lined Salamander.

I wanted to see if the salamanders still lived in the creek. It did not take me long to find one. I overturned one of the large pieces of sandstone to reveal this little guy.

Satisfied at finding the two-lined salamander, I next turned my attention to the rocks under which the salamanders hide. I had always noticed strange parallel lines running through the sandstone. I later learned that the sandstone here was full of fossils from ancient plants called horsetails. The rocks in the stream are at least 286 million years old, and formed when non-flowering plants like the horsetails, which are considered a "fern ally" dominated the landscape. After looking for about 5 minutes, I managed to find this specimen. Although weathered somewhat, you can clearly see the ridged outline of the plant. I really think these fossils are amazing!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Plants of the Mountains

Tonight I thought I would share three of my plant observations from the top of Lookout Mountain, Jefferson County, Colorado, approximately 7500 feet above sea level.

The first is a succulent looking thing that I am still wondering about. This plant had no flowers, and the leaves, or what I think are leaves, appear to be spirally arranged around the stem. I thought this looked like something that you find in the cacti section at the home depot. It might even be non-native. Can anyone help me out with this one? I have more pictures.


Next we have the cone of the Douglass fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii. Pine cones are kinda like the flower of the flowering plants, except they don't provide as much protection for the ovule, which will eventually become the new pine tree. Douglass fir cones are distinct because they have that little 3-pronged bract sticking out between the scales. Notice the tiny male cones, which only produce pollen, at the top right of the photo.

Finally, we have something that really caught my eye last Thursday when I took this photo. A clump of what looked liked spring beauty was shooting up near a Ponderosa pine, the dominant species of this area. It turned out to be Claytonia lanceolata, or lance-leaved spring beauty. This was the only flowering plant we saw on this 32 degree day on top of the mountain. You may see the more familiar virgina spring beauty here in Ohio. Look for it in any wooded area throughout the state.
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Monday, April 16, 2007


A few shots of our adventure to Colorado for our Friend Matt's wedding! Here we have Megan and I on top of lookout mountain, Megan's fab shot of a Spotted Towhee, and my mom's sweet shot of us at Bear's Lair Jefferson County Open Space Park.



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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Golden, Colorado

Megan and I will be traveling to Golden Colorado tomorrow for my friend's wedding. I am his best man. Although the forecast is rather glum, calling for snow accumulations on Friday, I am hoping to get some photos of the great western coniferous forests. We'll see how bad the snow really is. Stay tuned. Look for a report this upcoming Monday.


Saturday, April 07, 2007

Rockbridge State Nature Preserve

Alas, Ohioans, it is still snowing this Saturday morn! Christmas warmer than Easter? What is going on here? Anyways, I wanted to share a few more pictures from our little field trip to the Hocking Hills last weekend.

First up, one of my favorite wildflowers, bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). Rarely do I get to see it in full blooom. The flowers are very delicate and only last a few days.

Your bloggers!

Finally, the stunning and relatively common yellow trout lily, Erythronium americanum.
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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Spring Wildflowers in the Hocking Hills

Megan and I went to the Hocking Hills this past sunday. The hills kicked my butt. I did not realize how out of shape I have become. Anyways, the spring flora was out in force on Sunday, and I thought posting pictures of this 70+ degree day might brighten our spirits. As I right this, I am looking out the back window watching the snow come down. What a strange spring we have had.

First up is the leaf of one of Ohio's native orchids. This leaf is distinctive throughout the year. See something like this and you know you have rattlesnake plantain, most likely Goodyera pubescens. I have often wondered if the name of this genus was named after the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., since the patterning on the leaf resembles that of a tire. In fact, in Gray's Manual of Botany, M.L. Fernald says that it is named after an English botanist named John Goodyer

Next up is the flower of trailing arbutus. This small, prostrate member of the heath family blooms in early spring and is quite stunning.

Megan and I stumbled on this plant, literally, on our way to the restroom at Clear Creek Metropark. I didn't know it in the field, but I captured a few photos, and figured it would be fairly easy to find another picture on the internet. Sure enough, I did, and this plant turned out to be Obolaria virginica, Virginia pennywort or Pennywort gentian. The whole plant is just about three inches tall.

Finally, we have Corydalis flavula. This small member of the fumitory family caught my eye last April when Megan and I were hiking at Clear Creek. I wanted to return this year to get some shots of this seldom seen plant. It seems to like disturbed woods, and it was growing alongside an old road on the top of a dry ridge under Virginia pine.
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Monday, April 02, 2007

Map Turtles

Today I was walking along the Olentangy river to hopefully get a glimpse of the turtle that I had seen diving into the churning, brown water last week. The water had receded somewhat by today, and luckily, I saw 3 large softshell turtles and at least two map turtles sunning themselves on a distant bank. A pair of Canada geese was near them, and I think they spooked most of the turtles back into the water. Anyways, these guys were too far away to photograph (I only had my Canon 4x) zoom) but it was very cool to see these large reptiles basking on the banks of the Olentangy. Further upstream, I noticed a huge female map turtle on the opposite, west bank, in the shade. I trained by binos and she was truly a magnificent girl. Her shell was at least 12" long. To her left sat a smaller map turtle, most likely a male. The females are 2-3 times larger than the males in many map turtle species. Why are they called map turtles? They have lines running in irregular patterns on their shells and legs. Graptemys geographica, very much map-sounding, is their scientific name. After checking out some of the other portions of the floodplain, I hiked back up to the house and returned with Megan's ultra high zoom camera and tripod. Here is a shot of them!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Erythristic Redback Salamander

Take a careful look at the above picture. You will see two salamanders. On the left is the typical redback salamander, but on the left is a rare color morph of the same species that is bright oarange-red. It is known as the erythristic form, and finding one is quite rare. In Portage County Ohio, I have found all three phases of this salamander. Not pictured here is a third color phase known as the "lead back" which lacks the red pigment and is simply dark with lighter flecking. Aren't these guys cool?

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