Thursday, February 28, 2008

Spring- Only a Few Weeks Away- Soon the Frogs and Sallys will Play

So you're probably thinking, "Tom, are you crazy?" Even with more snow forecast tomorrow? Well, I went back through my photos of last year's activity, and let me just tell you that spring will be here soon. Soon we'll have a chorus of spring peepers across Ohio and the midwest. Megan and I shot this video of a single male spring peeper (Pseudacris cruicer) on March 18, 2007. The chorus of thousands of spring peepers can be deafening. Make sure you have your sound turned up when you watch the video- If it is hurting your ears, you are reliving the spring peeper chorus if full reality.

Yesterday I posted images of fine art, and today, I'm turning to my some of my favorite animals in Ohio, spring peepers and spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculata). With the first warm spring rain, these tiny creatures emerge from their winter hiding places and head to temporary pools to breed. The spotted salamanders will return to the ground while the peepers stick around in wetlands, catching bugs and avoiding predators.

Spotted salamander from Portage County, Ohio, March 2007.

Last year, Megan and I searched for spotted salamanders in Columbus, but only found the spring peepers heard in the viedo. Our second outing of the year turned up a few spotted salamanders, but me missed the mass migration.

I have, however, witnessed this magical event one time in my life, when I was a graduate student at Miami University. My herpetology professor scheduled a field trip to a known salamander breeding pond. We were accompanied by another graduate student who had been visiting the pond for weeks, but had found no salamanders. We left the campus about 8:00 at night, arriving at the woodland pool soon after. Sure enough, when we got there, there was nothing but peepers. We searched, and searched, and searched the pond, but found no spotted salamanders. Finally, a drip here, a drip there- it began to rain. Would anything happen? Someone shouted out, "I found one!" I thought to myself, "really?" I thought they were full of B.S. And the shout came not from the pond, but from up on the hill. The class raced to the spot, and sure enough, in the leaves, was a magnificent 6 inch long spotted salamander.

How cool! It continued to rain, and as we were gathered, another classmate "spotted" a spotted. Then another one. Then another one! After 10 minutes, we could barely walk in the woods without stepping one them. We collected 50 for the grad students project (he had a permit from the Ohio Division of Wildlife) but we could have collected hundreds. The most amazing thing about the whole night is how a quick change in environmental conditions caused these sallys to come out from underneath their hiding areas in the leaf little and logs. It was awesome.

Spotted salamanders from Butler County, March, 2003

When I first saw these creatures in person, several things come to mind. First is their size- they are massive compared to the woodland plenthodonitid salamanders that I was more familiar with. Second- their color is spectacular. Incredibly spectacular for a creature that spends most of its time underground, and when it is above ground, it is during the night time. Third- If a poacher ever found a mass migration, look out. Hundreds if not thousands can be gathered at one time, and during one night, an entire population could be eliminated.

I hope everyone gets to see an ambystomatid salamander (like the spotted) this spring!


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Chihuly Glass from the Franklin Park Conservatory

Two dreamy chandelier like creations hang in the Palm House
The Franklin Park Conservatory owns a fantastic collection of Dale Chihuly's glasswork. When the exhibit first came to Columbus in 2003, I thought the museum was over hyping the installation, but after visiting the museum in 2004, I was impressed by the size and magnitude of his works. His glass was so popular at the conservatory, that in 2004, the friends group associated with the garden purchased all 3000 pieces of the exhibit to a tune of $7 million! We are fortunate to have such interesting artworks here in Columbus, many of which are inspired by forms in nature.

Megan and I in the Palm House of the Franklin Park Conservatory

The little bit of information that I have found about Chihuly is interesting- He's blind in one eye (as a result of an automobile accident in the 1970'), wears a patch, and he no longer has the depth perception needed to personally blow his own glass. Instead, he paints his visions, and his team of artisans go to work to produce these intricate assemblages. I have uploaded the first four images here in their original resolution- for those with either a high speed connection or a ton of patience, clicking on each image will link to the high-res versions.

Chihuly's works offer something new from every angle of observation.

Leaving the palm house and moving to the Orchid Forest, we saw this incredible piece. The twisting tubular glass reminds of me the elephant's head lousewort of the American west coast.

But perhaps my favorite installation of Chihuly's work at the Conservatory are these giant glass spheres that have been placed in the Koi pond. The color of each sphere is spectacular.

Chihuly's works have been installed in botanical gardens and conservatories across the nation. Visit for more information about this artist and his incredible pieces of glass.

Monday, February 25, 2008

14 Orchid Photographs to Brighten Your Winter

Yesterday morning, Megan and I toured the Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus's Olde Towne East neighborhood. This beautiful Victorian era glasshouse and botanical conservatory exhibits orchids each winter. The conservatory also holds a large and impressive collection of Chihuly glass, which they have beautifully integrated throughout their artificial botanical wonderlands. More on Chihuly's works tomorrow, but this evening, I thought I would help everyone here in the Midwest escape from our winter doldrums. Snow, you may be coming, but in Columbus, we have a tiny piece of the tropics that can be enjoyed year round.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

View From my Window- A female Northern Cardinal

I took this shot this morning as a female northern cardinal was eating black oil sunflower seeds placed on our windowsill. Needless to say, they are getting used to the cameras.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

An Icy Evening Brings a Beautiful Saturday

Yesterday and last evening we had freezing rain, and a glaze of ice covered the landscape.

Almost an amazing shot- If only the squirrel were in focus! I'll get him next time. This is the melanistic squirrel that I've posted on before.

After the ice glaze, a dusting of snow covered the ice, making an interesting surface for impressions of animal tracks.

An icy Aster pilosus

I made my way down to Kenney Park, which is adjacent to our house. These tracks led up from the muddy Olentangy River. Any guesses?

The ice glaze was beautiful when backlit by the sun.

And with the high waters of the Olentangy coupled with freezing temperatures come fascinating natural ice sculptures.

A muddy overflow channel, rendered black and white.

Drip drops.

Feathers. There were ten or so of these, on the ice of a puddle adjacent to the river. I wonder what happened?

The clear waters of the overflow channels contrasted greatly with the muddy river.

A stand of sycamores.

The dappled bark of a young sycamore.

I hope to see images like this in two weeks when Megan and I travel to Sanibel Island, Florida. I just hope there will be no snow!

And here is to a bright, blue sky day. Winter, you are still here, but the birds are calling, spring will be here soon.