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Monday, December 29, 2008

MyWorld- Exploring a New World

This is my contribution to this week's "My World" Meme. I invite you to participate and show your world as well. Go here to do so.

There's nothing like a 68 degree, late December day to motivate anybody to get out and start exploring. This past Saturday, Megan and I did just that, taking a hike along the Olentangy River near our new home in Worthington.



I say our "new" home, but it depends on what your definition of "new" is. We have lived here just shy of six months, and I still feel like I'm getting to know the ins and outs of our new house and have only scratched the surface when it comes to exploring our neighborhood. We have moved almost exactly two miles north from our last home, a rental in the Delawanda neighborhood of the Beechwold/Clintoville area. Before, I could be at the Olentangy river, literally, seconds. Our house was only two removed from the urban forest that covered the floodplain of the Olentangy. In our new neighborhood, there are homes close to the river as well, but our house is not one of them. We live about eight tenths of a mile east of the Olentangy, in the ever so 1960's-esque Worthington Estates.

Back to Saturday. Why not explore the same Olentangy river near our new home? It was only a matter of time before I brought the cameras to capture what we would see along the river. Feeling like spring, we parked the car, stepped into the park, past the playground, and onto the Olentangy Bikeway, one of the busiest bike paths in Ohio.

We walked north, and shortly we crossed under Wilson Bridge Road, continuing north where a footbridge leads the trail northwest across the river. I must say that the river here is a disappointment. Compared to the runs, riffles, pools further south, actually further into the City of Columbus, the river in Worthington has been channelized. Instead of the root wads of trees lining the bank, limestone rip rap is present, and the stream is one long corridor, even in times of lower water.



The river crosses under a major thoroughfare just north of this footbridge. If you've driven through Columbus, chances are you crossed the Olentangy River here on Interstate 270, the beltway that rings our city. One of our major commuter freeways in town, State Route 315, was built alongside the stream in this area and the river was probably channelized at the same time the new freeway was created. You may recognize this sign, especially if you are a buckeyes fan.



Looking north, towards the bridge that carries Interstate 270 across the Olentangy River.



The trick in these urban environments is to really look and explore- although rare and sensitive species may not be present in such disturbed areas, there are plenty of interesting things to be seen and discovered.

As we walked north of the bridge pictured above, the path takes on a more natural feeling. There are less invasive species in the floodplain forest, the trees are more mature. We walked further, and Megan stopped us suddenly.



A Virginia oppossum- I haven't seen one of these since we moved from Girard Road. This one was young- who knows why it had perished alongside the path. I would hate to think that it was hit by a bike, but I suppose that is always a possibility. Even in winter, the trail is used often.

Megan and I continued to walk, noting the occasional downy woodpecker, Canada goose, and mallard. And finally, we reached the end of the trail, which is adorned with one of our areas most interesting geologic features- concretions.





They may look small, but these boulders are huge. Megan gracefully and graciously volunteered herself to be the size reference for the concretions.



These are actually limestone concretions, founded bedded in the Ohio Shale, our bedrock of the area. The jury is out on exactly how they are formed, but sometimes there are fossilized fish bones in the center of them. The Ohio Geological Survey has put together a nice fact sheet that I'll have to more in depth. The ones here must have been dug up during building construction, I presume, and place in the grassy park area at the trail head for decoration.

There were still other interesting things to be seen on the floodplain that I noticed on the way back. First up was a nice (or not so nice) population of the invasive plant wintercreeper, or Euonymus fortunei. You may recognize this one from your home landscape, but in nature, it can escape and be a nasty weed. Here it has climbed up a sycamore tree.



A closeup of the leaves. Do they look familiar to you?



A little on down the trail, I saw another clump that was fruiting. I'm not sure if I have seen winter creeper fruiting before.



The wintercreeper wasn't the only thing fruiting. Columbus seems to be a hotbed for Osage Orange trees, a non-native species that was extensively planted for hedge rows and other agricultural purposes. I always find these fruits extremely interesting- for those of you that haven't seen them, they are about the size of a large grapefruit. I was reading on Wikipedia that some scientists have theorized that the fruits may have been eaten and dispersed by now extinct mammals. Amazing! The tree is native to the the south-central U.S.



This year seemed to be a mast year for box-elder trees. A maple, the samaras of these trees went crazy this year.



One last tree that seemed to be quite common along the drier reaches of the flood plain was honey locust, a tree that is adorned with three-pronged thorns often several inches long.



It was so great to get out with Megan this past Saturday and walk. She really gets the prize for growing this baby inside her. It is truly an amazing experience for us, and I get all the wonder, and she gets lots of pain! It is hard to believe that in only a few more months, we'll be doing walks with a three person family. Let the count down begin. I've added the widget Megan has on her blog to remind me of just how close this thing is all going to shake down!







Tom

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tonight's Sunset

Tonight I made it down to Worthington's Olentangy River Parklands to capture the post sunset glow. I miss living so close to the river. I actually had to drive there, albeit only for about 2 or 3 minutes. I'm hoping to capture more images like these in the future, taken along the river in the City of Worthington's Olentangy Parklands. Just like the Columbus park areas further to the south where we used to live, this area is heavily used by the residents of the area. Since Worthington is a suburb with more tax revenue, the park is manicured. Several play ground areas, walking paths with fresh wood chips, and a paved, smooth bike trail adorn the river. Although more developed, there are still plenty of opportunities for viewing and experiencing the natural world. Yesterday, Megan and I ventured out into the 68 degree weather, a record high, and we really saw several interesting curiosities of the local area. Pictures and narration of our hike to come tomorrow. For now, I hope you enjoy this sunset image.

Tom

Friday, December 26, 2008

Hippity Hoppity Juncos



Shot with the new video camera (Canon FS100) that my parents got us, of course, to shoot footage of our child that is on the way. Thanks Mom and Dad. I'm sure it will come in handy for other things, as well. Special recognition to the person that can identify both the voice and the television program (on DVD) that was running in the background.

This week this video is my contribution to Misty Dawn's camera critters meme. Go here to view others and participate yourself.

Tom

Wet Junco


Christmas Eve, 2008

Thursday, December 25, 2008

E-bird and the Birdiest Day So Far at Home

Has anyone tried e-bird? I've heard about it, and today, since I saw the most species ever in my backyard (a great christmas present) I decided to go to www.ebird.com and report my observations. The bird of the day? A brown tree creeper. I couldn't believe that this tiny little bird was crawling up our bur oak tree, almost getting lost in the deep furrowed bark. Here is my list, courtesty of E-bird. Amazing what you can see just from the kitchen window.

Location: Worthington Bur Oak
Observation date: 12/25/08
Number of species: 11

Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Downy Woodpecker 1
Blue Jay 1
Carolina Chickadee 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
Brown Creeper 1
Carolina Wren 1
American Robin 4
Dark-eyed Junco 20
Common Grackle 1
House Sparrow 2

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Christmas



Happy Christmas from your Blogger. I'm guessing this was my second Christmas, probably in 1980. That year we were living in an apartment, waiting for our new house to be built, the same house which my parents still live in. Look at all the hair. It was stylish back then, right? My mom and grandma loved it. They still have envelopes full of the stuff. Merry Christmas,

Tom

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Close Encounters with an Eastern Gray Squirrel



The squirrels are getting mighty tame around here!
I made this video with Imovie thanks to DrJaymez, who hooked me up with a Mac to fiddle around with. It is fun.

For more Camera Critters, go here.

Tom

High on Carex

December is a tough month. Today, when I was walking down the hallway towards the glass door that would lead me out of the office, I did a double take. I actually saw blue sky. It had been raining all morning, and now, finally, the clouds had broken. No more rain, and even a little bit of sunshine. It was the first that I had seen since last Friday, when I took the pictures of the Juncos. Getting shots in the daylight at this time of year just isn't conducive to my work schedule! I need to try harder- perhaps even take the camera to work and try to catch a cooper's hawk taking down a morning dove.

But I digress. During the field season, I travel across the Lake Erie Watershed searching for Ohio's rare plants. Us botanists collect specimens of plants when we're in the field, allowing us to document a plant's existence. Often, when I collect a specimen, I have no idea what it is, and it takes careful examination under a dissecting scope to put an ID to it. Plant ID is challenging, but all it really takes is time and a great deal of patience.

My view at work the last few weeks has looked liked this:





I've spent hours looking through the scope at plant parts. What you see here is a closeup view, taken through the scope using my Panasonic LZ8 (digiscoped!) of the perigynia of Carex comosa, a fairly common sedge in Ohio found in marshes. This particular specimen I collected back during our June trip to Kelleys Island.

Sedges in the genus Carex are fascinating to study. Just like learning the birds that come to your yard, I'm trying to learn the sedges of Ohio. It is a large group with over 150 species just in our state. What is amazing is that sedges superficially look alike- but once you learn what to look for, they really begin to look different. Ever watch the show John and Kate plus 8? When Megan and I first started to watch the show, we couldn't separate the sextuplets-at all. Now that we've watched a million episodes, we've begun to get to know them and they all look very different to us. The same thing goes with sedges! Enough studying, patience, and persistence, and you'll soon be able to tell Carex gracilescens from Carex blanda!

Tom

P.S. Note the time of this post. I can't sleep- and I'm apparently high on Carex.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Backyard Birds

Have you ever taken something for granted? It turns out that I really didn't appreciate all the birds that frequented the yard where we used to live. Our neighbor there had been feeding the birds for decades, and I could count on picking up my camera during any time of the day and be able to at least point it at a house sparrow.

Fast forward to our new house, and things have been a little different. I've had my sunflower seed feeder hanging for quite some time, and during middle fall, it did get some heavy use. Mostly from white breasted nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, and even a red bellied woodpecker. Lately, however, it seems those birds have abanonded our neighborhood altogether and I'm not sure why. I certainly miss them, so I decided to do something about it.

Perhaps I could attract other ground feeding birds to our yard by casting seed about? That is what my neighbor Marvin did every day, and it really brought in the birds. So I bought some seed two weeks ago, and started putting it out throughout the yard. A few piles below the feeders, a few piles on the top of fence posts, a little bit scattered around our large bur oak tree, and finally, a dash of seed on our deck.

The squirrels found the seed quickly- but would the birds come? Well, it only took about three days, and I had juncos coming to the seed. Unfortunately for me, I work during the daylight hours, so I hadn't been able to get any images of birds. Last year at this time, I was taking tons of bird photos, and I have really missed photographing our feathered friends.

Finally, this afternoon, I had an opportunity to point the camera at several juncos who have now found the seed piles and have told their friends.





I can't wait to have some more free time to get good shots of these birds. Sun will help, and so will my tripod. I didn't have time to set it up this afternoon. And I probably won't be getting any more shots this weekend- we'll be have guests from NE. Ohio, New York City, and Maine visiting us.

Tomorrow we're having Megan's graduation party. Finally, this weekend, she'll officially be hooded and receive her PhD from The Ohio State University. I'm proud of her, and now, we can claim that we have a doctor in the family!

Enjoy the weekend,

Tom

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Wheel Bug Arrives at our Doorstep

Reviewing my last few posts, one can't help but notice something: almost everything is a picture from Maine, and this is an Ohio nature blog. When I set out in the blogging world, I thought I would do more reporting on what was happening in Ohio nature. In a former life, I did report on my own natural findings in Ohio considerably, back before Megan and I moved. You see, we lived only a minute walk from the Olentangy River corridor, which offered a myriad of natural photographic opportunities. It also didn't hurt that my neighbor had been feeding birds there for decades, and there were plenty of photographic opportunities right from my living room.

Now Megan and I now live in the middle of suburbia, less than a mile from that very same river, yet things are quite different. Preparing for a baby, trying to attract birds to our yard, removing wall paper and painting, and setting up a house to be the way we want it- all these things-have sucked up my time. And I'm fine with that. I just have to come up with new and creative ways to find nature around my new settings. And I have, however, many of these findings never made it here because I've been fully enveloped in the joys of home ownership.

Slowly but surely, the neighbors are getting to know us. And maybe they think I'm a little weird having my camera out all the time, but I have built up a reputation, at least to one person, that I like bugs. Megan and I were greeted with this plastic container lying in our mum urn in early November.



What the heck was this?




As I glanced through the plastic, the huge bug came into focus. Ah ha, I thought to myself, a "wheel bug". Our neighbor Nancy must have placed the jar on our porch. The previously summer, while I was outside taking pictures of moths on the lamp post, she had stopped me and wondered what the heck I was doing. She told me about a really big weird looking bug, and I suggested to her that it might be a wheel bug. Who knows if what she actually saw was a wheel bug, but what she had captured and placed into this plastic container was most definitely the creature I had described to her. I was excited- Megan and I had seen a wheel bug two years prior during one of our trips to Slate Run Metropark, but back then, I hadn't yet bought the Canon efs 60 mm macro lens. I was excited to take the bug out of the jar, carefully I might add, ensuring I didn't receive its nasty and painful bite.



Way back at Slate Run, I wasn't careful. I fortunately was not bit, but supposedly the bite is quite painful. Wikipedia does a great job summarizing the biology of wheel bug:



"The Wheel bug (Arilus cristatus), in the family Reduviidae, is one of the largest terrestrial true bugs in North America, being up to 1 1/2 inches, or 38 mm, in length; it is the only member of its genus. A characteristic structure is the wheel-shaped pronotal armour. They are predators upon soft-bodied insects such as caterpillars, japanese beetles, etc., which they pierce with their beak and inject salivary fluids that dissolve soft tissue. Because most of their prey are pests, wheel bugs are considered beneficial insects, although they can inflict a painful bite if handled carelessly."


I wasn't going to be careless this time. This is a fascinating creature, I couldn't help taking numerous pictures from about every angle that I could get a shot.










Doesn't that red piercing mouth part look formidable? I'm just glad that I don't have to worry about catching food with a giant piercing mouth part. So there we go. The fascinating wheel bug, captured in digits (we can't say "on film" anymore) right here in Ohio.

Tom

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Maine Thanksgiving Weekend Part 2



Where were we? Friday afternoon, I had just walked back up the from the pond. I was hoping to get several good bird shots while we were in Maine, but that just didn't pan out. Ultimately, I didn't have the patience or cold weather gear to hold out to get great shots of several different species. Although, this black capped chickadee did oblige. Where Megan and I live in Ohio, we have Carolina chickadees, so it is nice to see the black caps. To me, they are a little bigger and more handsome, but this is perhaps because our city birds are "dirty" from rolling around in dust and grime piles! Glen had five feeders out, and they were being visited by downy woodpeckers, white breasted and red breasted nuthatch, and a bevy of red squirrels.

Being almost dinner time, I headed up to the house to see what was going on. Sure enough, someone had began to defrost shrimp in the sink. I wanted to take a picture of the shrimp for microstock, and it was quite dark in the kitchen, so I got out my Vivitar 285hv flash to illuminate the scene. I took the picture, and looked at the camera, and my jaw dropped. I no idea that I would be able to stop the stream of water raining down on the shrimp with my flash. It was very cool, and I had to try it again, taking a picture of just the water. If you have an SLR camera but don't have an off camera flash, you are missing out on some fantastic creative opportunities. I used to think I never would need flash, but now that I've had one for about six months, it really comes in handy and I take in wherever I go.





After the shrimp and water photography, I noticed a bag of live creatures on the porch. I took one out, let it crawl around the floor, and was fascinated by its colors and shapes.





When looking at the lobster's claws close up, it appears that they have very different uses. The left claw, full of tiny barbs and hooks, looks like it is designed to hold onto prey items.


However, the left claw, which is lined with bumps that remind me of our own molars, looks like it is designed to crush prey.


Photographing the lobster was fascinating. I'll leave it up to the imagination as to what happened next.

A full belly, it wasn't much longer before Megan and I headed to bed, ready for our last day (Saturday) at little pond.



I was up early the next morning. The temperatures in Maine weren't all that cold when we were there, and it was very humid. Overnight, everything froze and there we some amazing frosts. Ice crystals coated everything in the bog, like this black spruce branch,


This tamarack needle, one of only a dozen or so still holding on to the tree,


and these alder catkins.


There was quite a bit of bird life, and I was able to see a brown tree creeper, and squawking above, these three ravens.



Ravens are common at Little Pond, but here in Ohio, we just had our first confirmed modern nesting of Ravens this year. I always enjoy the ravens, but they stay far away from the house at little pond.



The house is a log home, nested at the top of little pond on a peninsula between the pond and a marsh. The house itself faces away from the road. The original owners had the house face that way so its large sliding glass doors would look out towards the pond rather than back at the woods. Since the front of the house is so close to the woods, it is quite hard to get a shot of the real front facade.

I was poking up around the woods just below the house when the sun rose up above the hills, providing dramatic lighting to the ice and snow covered forest.


A snow covered branch of balsam fir, the conifer so revered for its fragance at this time of year. It seems as if every church in Maine sells native balsam fir wreaths for fundraisers at this time of year.

Another tree that caught my eye in the sun was this American beech, still holding on to its leaves.



And finally, as I walked up towards the house, ready to go in, as I was pretty cold by this time, the sun was simply spectacular as it shot through the trees. Part of the photography challenge I have at little pond is to continually capture unique and interesting images. We visit here often, and although the property is only 40 acres or so, things are pretty similar. I saw this shot and just new I had something interesting and different from anything that I had ever captured at little pond. The small white pine, coupled with the right-arching deciduous branches provides an interesting contrast and balance to the image. Although shooting into the sunlight is typically a "no-no" in nature photography, I think this shot works. I had to shade the lens by holding out my hat above and in front of the camera.



Megan and I packed and later we headed to Portland to catch our flight back to Columbus. On the way, we stopped with the family at Dimillo's a floating seafood restaurant in Maine. Satisfied with my bounty of seafood for the weekend (lobster, PEI mussels, shrimp) I was ready to head back to Columbus. I hope you enjoyed our trip to Maine.

Tom