Thursday, May 31, 2007

Oops, I spit all over the plants over there.........

Ok, well I really didn't spit all over the plants, but I sure thought someone had when I walked through the meadow behind my house where I grew up. Eventually, I learned that the masses of foam like spit were created by a spittle bug, and knew little more than that until about 10 minutes ago when a Google search led me to a nice little article. The spittle bug nymph, an immature form of an insect called a froghopper, produces this foamy nest. If you stick your fingers in the spit, you'll find the tiny nymph. In this picture, I believe you can see the nymph at the top left had portion of the spittle. Notice the other insects, dead, that are also hanging onto the spittle somehow. Pretty cool stuff. Wikipedia says these guys belong to the superfamily Cercopoidea. It looks like insect taxonomy has changed quite a bit, and Wikipedia explains that somewhat, but I'm still quite unclear. I like spittle bugs though, and here is a great one from Kenney Park.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Muskingum County

Today, the Ohio Heritage Naturalists trekked to Muskingum County. While there, we saw many things, but the find of the day was a just "hatched" ( I don't know dragonfly lingo, but I'm willing to learn) tiger spiketail. Here our photos from the day. My goal was to get pictures of woodland sedges. I've labeled them and hopefully spelled them correctly. Click on the slideshow and it will take you to a nice webpage where you can see the labels and view larger versions of each shot. I was using the division's Nikon D70 with a 60mm macro lens, and I must say, there was a bit of a learning curve, but after cropping and sharpening, I am happy with the results. Thanks again to our volunteers who helped us inventory today.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Snakes in the Water!

"I've seen water moccasins in my pond." "My dad kills the cottonmouths back by the river each year". "Careful, those snakes in the water are poisonous." I've heard many people through the years tell me about how they have seen and subsequently killed cottonmouths or water moccasins, a venomous snake of the south, in Ohio's waterways. Unfortunately for us, we just don't have this species, Agkistrodon piscivorus. What we do have is the Northern Water Snake, Nerodia sipedon. They frequent the Olentangy River, but until yesterday, I had not photographed them. Luckily, I found two snakes, one a beautifully banded juvenile and the second a mature adult that had just captured a meal.

To me, these snakes are unique looking. There heads are particularly tall, most other snakes have more flattened heads. They bite like the devil if you try to disturb them, so do not even try! If you have seen the Dirty Job's episode with Mike Rowe and Kristin Standford, you will definitely not try to pick up one of these snakes. Although the show featured the Lake Erie Watersnake, a subspecies of the more common species pictured above, they have similar temperaments Anyways, these get a horrible wrap because people think they are poisonous, but they do have plenty of endearing features. They are fantastic swimmers, gliding on top of and darting underneath the water. The mature snake pictured in the water has something in its mouth-- I couldn't tell exactly what it had captured, but it was pink and had a tail. Maybe baby squirrel or muskrat? These snakes are true survivors. I have not spotted any other serpent species in the Columbus area, but here in the Olentangy, Nerodia sipedon appears to thrive.

Great Blue Heron

I spent yesterday morning photographing two Great Blue Herons wading along the Olentangy River. Herons are common now but they are fascinating birds. Depending on the angle you view them, they either look like a ferocious hunter or a dopey muppet. Here is a heron in its warrior pose.

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And, here, I present the same exact bird looking mightily like a muppet.

This wasn't the only heron on the river that day. A young heron, very different in coloration and feather patterns, was also present. Instead of wading, this individual sat in the river, extended its neck up and down a few times, but didn't do much else. Notice the lack of contrasting light and dark feathers, especially on the head. It also lacks the backward directed plume of the adult. Overall, this young heron has a more "fluffy" look to it.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Common Raccoon- Procyon lotor

Megan and I are surrounded by wild creatures. Raccoons abound in our neighborhood. Friday night, I finally captured an image of one with Megan's Kodak P850 digital camera. This individual appears to be sampling a single kernel of corn. We have at least four of these creatures frequenting our neighborhood, and they are subsidized by our neighbors who throw seed, nuts, popcorn, and other munchies into the street. What a feast. Unfortunately, it can be a little unnerving if I'm walking through the back yard and a coon bolts across my path!


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Whetstone Park of Roses

Today, as my mother in law put it, we stopped to smell the roses. Megan, myself, and her parents went to the fantastic park of roses here in Clintonville, a neighborhood of Columbus. Although most roses had not reached peak bloom, many varieties were in flower and it made a spectacular visual and odoriferous experience. Here are some views of the park that I captured today.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

What's Blooming in Kenney Park?

Last evening, Megan and I ventured through Kenney Park to answer, so what is blooming in Kenney Park? Although the spring ephemerals are dry and shriveled, several plants are at peak bloom. Members of carrot family are prevalent, and I also found some type of purple-petaled mustard, and finally, a tall meadow rue.




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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The View from Our Window

Megan and I are constantly fending off wild creatures. A racoon here, feral cat there, you get the picture. But sometimes I am just amazed at how many wild mammals live near us. Tonight, after arriving home from work, I spotted four squirrel species right from my couch and I managed to photograph three of them. In addition, American Crows were feeding in the street, and they constantly would fend off pigeons and blue-jays who attempted to steal food from them. Watching them was fascinating, as they strut around the street like they own the place.

First, an Eastern Chipmunk, then a questioning squirrel, next, a cartoon-cute juvenile ground hog, and finally, a clever crow.




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Monday, May 21, 2007

Cecropia Moth

Although I have a great job, it isn't often that I hear my co-workers laudibly expressing great joy when they walk into the office. However, today was one of those days. Last fall, one of my co-workers discoverd the cocoon of the Cecropia Silkmoth, Hyalophora cecropia. We kept the cocoon, stored in a glass vase for safe keeping, all winter and spring. And this morning, as Debbie walked into her office, she saw a fully formed, beautiful moth. This species is incredibly huge, as you can see from the photos. We let the moth outside when the temperatures warmed up, and I snapped these photos. We weren't worried about this one finding food. The adults don't eat, only the larval caterpillars do! My co-workers believe this moth is a female. Lets hope she finds a mate! Supposedly males can fly from miles, at night, following pheremones released by the lady moths. The moth was stunning. For excellent information about this species, check out an great page on the Butterflies and Moths of North American site.




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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Slate Run Metropark

Birds, pigs, wetlands, what more could Tom and Megan want!

Today, Megan and I went to Slate Run Metropark in Pickaway County, just south of Columbus. I must say, what a park. We hiked about 6 miles through created wetlands, prairie, beech-maple forest, oak forest, and even stopped by a historical farm made to look like 1880. I would recommend anyone from Columbus make to trip south. Here are some photos of our experience. Also, after you are done watching the slide show, continue to the embedded video. A mother pig and her piglets put on quite a show for us!

Tom & Megan

Common Cowparsnip

I must tell you, today I blog with slightly more hesitation than normal. Why? This past week, I listened to an author on NPR, whose name I did not catch, talking about how Americans are increasingly isolating themselves from other people and our social networks are breaking down, resulting in hyper-individualism. Then, I was reminded by the words of the natural history writer David Petersen that you can't experience nature by leafing through a book or watching nature documentaries on television. Although at one time this was my strategy, I know now that one must get out into the natural world, bringing a critical eye, and observing everything in that realm with a fine tooth comb. That is what I try to do, and I write some of my observations here- This space helps me remember names, faces, and places, and this is my nature journal. I do hope that my thoughts, pictures, and words inspire you to get out and create your own nature journal, be it on paper or on the computer.

Today, I would like to share a photo of common cowparsnip, Heracleum maximum. It has to be one of the largest non-woody plants in Kenney park. Over 4 feet tall, it is currently in peak bloom. Its blossoms are characteristic of the carrot family. Although they look somewhat like an umbrella, botanists have called this flower structure an "umbel" Be careful though, this plant can be known to give dermatitis to some if one touches the plant. It is related to Giant Hogweed, which can cause severe burns on the skin when one comes into contact with the plant's sap. Although cowparsnip stays a bit smaller than the ten and fifteen foot non-native Giant Hogweed, it is a very noticable plant and quite stunning. Look for it near you. In Kenney Park, it grows along stream terraces.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Super Birds!

Have birds ever reminded you of super heroes? Tonight I tried to captures images of flying birds. The house sparrows in our yard were my quarry. Unfortunately, freezing a bird in mid-flight is pretty difficult, but as I was watching the birds jump, dive, climb and leap, all in mid-air, I couldn't help thinking about Spiderman swinging through New York or Superman darting around Metropolis. Although house sparrows are frowned upon by many, these little Birds are pretty amazing acrobatic creatures. Here are my somewhat fuzzy efforts. The photos have been cropped and sharpened.


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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Adams County Natural Heritage Naturalist Trip

I'm trying something new tonight. Here is a slideshow from today's Ohio Natural Heritage Naturalist field trip to a site in Adams county that was loaded with great dolomite barrens. We had a great time botanizing, but my neck was a bit sore from looking at the ground for four hours straight! We had a great time and I learned tons of new plants today, courtesy of the great volunteer naturalists that help us survey the state.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Maple Eyespot Gall

Have you ever seen the round bullseye looking thing on maple tree leaves? I had always wondered what this was! This beautiful phenomenon is actually caused by a type of fly called a midge. Adult female flies lay eggs in the leaves, they hatch, and the larvae emit a hormone that causes the red and yellow coloration. Fascinating and eye catching, this red maple seedling was heavily infested with maggots! Megan and I took this photo at Tar Hollow State Forest.

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Violet Wood-sorrel

Tonight I decided share several photos that Megan and I have captured in our journeys the past week. I love taking pictures. I'm not exactly sure how many people are out there looking at these, but let me know what you think by leaving comments. I always enjoy feedback!

Megan and I found this shamrock like plant in Tar Hollow State Forest. It was common there, growing on very dry hillsides and ridgetops.


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Dame's Rocket

This non-native member of the mustard family is quite common here in central Ohio, growing in weedy woods and along roadsides. This shot is from Kenney Park.

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Canada Waterleaf

From Kenney Park, Columbus, Ohio.
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A Sleepy Koala at the Columbus Zoo

Megan captured this photo of the Koala, who was awake just prior to this shot.

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American Robin

An American Robin,hopping about in our yard Sunday evening.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Plants from Tar Hollow




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Animals from Tar Hollow

Tar hollow was very birdy, and we were constantly hearing ovenbirds, woodthrush, hooded warblers, and scarlet tanagers. The male scarlet tanager makes a very distinctive call which can not be mistaken for any other bird. "Chick Bur" "Chick Bur". Megan and I saw a striking male in brush about 30-40 feet away, unfortunately I was not quick enough with the camera to capture it. However, towards the end of our hike, we heard another male chick burring away overhead, we saw some movement, and luckily, the male alighted above us and stayed long enough for me to grab Megan's camera from her fanny pack. The bird was high up in the tree, but here is what I managed to produce using some sharpening in Google's Picassa software.


Next up we have the northern dusky salamander. Megan and I came to the first stream crossing on our hike and I noticed several small, flat pieces of sandstone in the water and leaf litter that looked perfect for salamanders. Sure enough, I overturned a few rocks and the little creatures seemed to wiggle out from everywhere. I saw a southern-two lined salamander and this northern dusky. Quite a nice portrait, if I do say so myself!
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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Natural Ohio- Salamanders

I wrote a little piece about Ohio's salamanders for this Spring's issue of Natural Ohio, published by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Natural Areas & Preserves. Our newsletter is available free to any Ohioan, and those that are outside of Ohio can read it online. To subscribe or read online, please visit the Natural Ohio newsletter page.


Tar Hollow State Forest

Megan and I ventured today through hollows, up hills, and across ridgetops at Tar Hollow State Forest. In total, we logged eight miles. We saw some pretty spectacular things. Needless to say, we were pretty wiped out when we were done. Here we are half way through our little journey. More to come tomorrow!


Tom & Megan
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