Sunday, August 30, 2009

Megan's Tick

If you blog, I'm sure there are times when you just can't come up with a decent title for your post. Often I write the whole post and then give it a title, and often, those titles are my best. But for this post, I new exactly what our title would be: Megan's Tick.

No, Megan hasn't developed some neurological disorder that makes her jittery and jump. But she did most definitely have a tick. Yes, Megan had a "tag-a-long" in the form of an ectoparasite commonly know as "a tick".

How exactly she got this tick is the question. We were at my parents' place last Sunday, and Megan and my Mom just back from shopping at the famous Aurora Farms complex. Their goal: find fall and winter clothes for Weston. But when they got back, Megan all of the sudden comes to me, dead serious, and says, "is this a tick on my neck"?

I look, just underneath her hair, and sure enough, is a tick, buried straight down into her flesh. Ouch. Well, it didn't hurt, and the tick didn't look engorged with blood, but it was still pretty gross. On my adventures throughout Ohio, I often get ticks on me, but very rarely do I find them embedded in my skin.

So how did Megan get this tick? Did it travel back with me from Shawnee from the previous Wednesday? Had it been living in my clothes, or worse, our sheets, for several days? Or did it travel back on me from Ottawa County, where I had been the day before? Or, did Megan, unlikely as it may be, pick it up from somewhere around our home in Worthington, or at the Aurora Farms complex?

We'll never know, but it sure was gross. Megan laid down on the white carpet of the well lit living room, I got out the tweezers, and I performed my first tick-ectomy. First we rubbed some Vaseline on the tick, hoping to suffocate it. A few gentle tugs with the tweezers, and it wouldn't budge. I was quite surprised how embedded it really was- it was if the tick and Megan's skin was a continuous entity- pull on the tick and her skin stretched from her neck. A few harder tugs, straight out, and with what seemed like a little pop, the tick relented.

Next question: Did it come out whole? I placed the tick on a paper towel and got out my macro lens: and the answer? I think, yes! A successful tick-ectomy.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Shawnee- Baby Herps and an Orange Orchid- Camera Critters

Almost one week ago, I started this little adventure to Shawnee State Forest with the Ohio Heritage Naturalists, so I better finish it up- I'm sure most of you forgot where we left off- with the Liatris aspera, a beautiful blazing star.

We walked down and back a grassy forest trail that was full of the liatris, when I spotted a few of our naturalists on their knees, hunched over looking at something. Sure enough, it was a tiny, newly hatched five-lined skink, with a bright blue tail. We saw several of these tiny lizards throughout our adventure. Ray was kind enough to hold the skink for the camera.

I had noticed that not all of our naturalists joined us for this little side trip. Mind you, it was getting ridicuously hot by this point, and the humidity was up there as well. Jason and Weedpicker Cheryl said that it was actually cooler on the ground in this position. I'll let them explain it, but they were lined up like they were going somewhere on an imaginary roller coaster ride or something like that. I snapped the picture quickly, they were up and with us again in a flash.

Ahh, the beautiful view from picnic point. From this vantage, theOhio valley can be seen- Ohio on the left, and Kentucky on the right. You can just barely make out the river city of Portsmouth, Ohio, now a shadow of its once former self. It actually was home to a National Football League Franchise called the Portsmouth Spartans. The team left for Detroit in 1934- they're now known as the Detroit Lions.

In addition to the grand vistas, there was plenty of interest at a much smaller level at picnic point. A tiny eastern fence lizard was basking on one of our van's Goodyear tires. The "r" in Goodyear gives quite a size reference- these newly hatched lizards were really, really little.

Jenny Richards, the naturalist at Shawnee State Park, found several other eastern fence lizards, and as I promised Kelly, here she is holding one of these little reptiles. I'm sure we could have found many more, but we needed to pack up our vans and head back to Columbus.

However- We couldn't miss the opportunity to stop and see this botanical wonder- the yellow fringed orchid, thanks again to Jenny. I've seen this species one other time, I believe, in the Oak Openings west of the Toledo. What an amazing plant. More orange than yellow, it was a great way to end our day of botanizing and naturalizing.


See what we found during the first part of our Shawnee Trip

This is my Camera Critters post for this week.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Welcome to Shawnee

This past Wednesday, I traveled with my botanical sensei, Rick Gardner, and several of the Ohio Natural Heritage Naturalists to the Shawnee State Park and State Forest region near Portsmouth. What a great time we had. We headed to a place called picnic point, all 20 or so of us, to check out some of the interesting plants that grow along the forest roadsides. Yes, roadsides. Many of the rare plants at Shawnee like disturbance, and therefore, are home along the steep cuts of the narrow forest roads.

One of the first plants we ecountered was Eupatorium album, white thoroughwort. Although this species is listed as potentially threatened in Ohio, I heard Rick say "i've only seen this a few times in my life". You just don't hear Rick say those things very much!

The natural habitat on the ridge tops in the picnic point area is comprised of species that can tolerate the acidic, dry habitat. In the photo above is blackjack oak, Quercus marilandica on the left, and Pitch Pine, Pinus rigida, on the right. The only time I see these species is when I travel to the extreme southern dry ridges of our great State.

Other woody species we observed included chestnut oak, Quercus prinus, and black gum, Nyssa sylvatica, among others.

The understory of the open forest was covered with huckleberries, blueberries, and greenbriar. My legs were scraped up after we walked through this stuff- I should have been wearing my jeans instead of my lightweight nylon hiking pants.

Butterflies are always plenty whenever I travel south. Although the day wasn't particularly "lep-ful", this hackberry butterfly did enjoy sucking my sweat from my hat. It stuck around for several minutes.
Here you can see our illustrious group. You may even recognize a few folks.

Rick is the leader of the trips, and it doesn't go unnoticed. How many other botanists get fanned by a giant leaf when they begin to perspire? Unfortunately, this was the leaf of a nasty non-native species, princess tree, Paulownia tomentosa.

If you're a gardener, you may recognize this plant. Its relatives in the genus Ageratum are commonly used in the nursery trade. Pictured above is our native blue mistflower, or Conoclinium coelestinum, formerly placed in the genus Eupatorium. This species is also used as a garden plant.

Take a close look at this one. Yes, this is a blazing star, but this is Liatris aspera. I wonder why I haven't seen this species in the garden trade like spiked blazing star, a native that almost anyone that has hung around a suburban yard in the past ten years might recognize?

Shawnee is always a interesting place, with fascinating flora and fauna. And this trip didn't disappoint, with some particularly cute creatures running all over the place- But that will have to wait to tomorrow. Megan just brought down some great homemade salsa from our homegrown tomatoes. But we don't have any chips- time for a quick run to Kroger!


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Backyard Photography

Although I get to travel quite a bit throughout Ohio looking for and photographing rare plants and animals, I relish the time I get in my own backyard to explore and photograph. Perhaps my favorite backyard subject is this species of leaf hopper, which I believe is Acanalonia conica. The cone shaped head is diagnostic. Its specific epithet, "conica", is a great moniker for sure.

But back to the far ends of our great State. Yesterday, the Ohio Heritage Naturalists visited the Picnic Point area of Shawnee State Forest, way day in Southern Ohio just one giant leap from Kentucky. In fact, from Picnic Point, which overlooks the mighty Ohio River, Kentucky doesn't look all that far away, or that much different from Ohio. The rest of that story, including a few reptilian ecounters, will be up soon.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Living it Up on South Bass Island

Expecting party pictures? Well, I don't have any, but yesterday I was immersed in the fairly amazing party culture of South Bass Island, aka Put-in-Bay, which is the small party village on South Bass. Why did I go here, you may ask? Yesterday the Ohio Heritage Naturalists ventured to the island to meet up with Lisa Brohl and Debbie W. of the Lake Erie Islands Chapter of the Black Swamp Conservancy.

Our goal? Explore some of the more interesting shoreline areas of the island, which is basically a giant rock of dolomite. Where the dolomite meets the water, many interesting and rare plants grow- these systems are shoreline alvars, a very rare great lakes plant community.

Here we are exploring the Shoreline alvar.

Harebell, Campunula rotundifolia, abounds on these cliffs and slump blocks. This plant is extremely rare in Ohio, and is listed as a threatened species. This small and delicate flower is perhaps the poster child, at least plant wise, for this community. As Lisa explained to us, the real poster child of the community is the federally threatened Lake Erie Watersnake- Protecting its habitat also ensures the protection of the alvar community.

I always love taking pictures of people in front of interesting signs, and all the more interesting when the signs have a big "do not" painted across them.

The shoreline alvars have prairie affinities, including the native species\mountain mint (perhaps Virginia?- I didn't look at it well enough) and Big Bluestem.

Here's Rick Gardner, my botanical partner in crime, looking sneaky.

We also went out to east point, and waded across to Buckeye Island.

After east point, we drove through down town put-in-bay. What a nightmare. I was driving, and dodging all the pedestrians, golf carts, go carts, mopeds, bicyclists, tourist jeeps, buses and vans was crazy. No pics, as I was driving.

Our last stop was on the west shore of the island, to look at more shoreline alvar habitat. From this vantage point, we could see bands of microcystis algae- an indicator of water quality problems.

Here, Len is examining a sapling blue ash, Fraxinus quadrangulata.

Isn't that a beautiful hunk of dolomite? The shoreline alvars of the Lake Erie Islands are extremely rare Ohio plant communities. We were lucky to explore these area, all thanks to Debbie and Lisa and the Lake Erie Islands Chapter of the Black Swamp Conservancy.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Nature Everywhere

I've told myself that nature is everywhere, and I try to sell this to as many people as possible, but sometimes I still surprise myself. Megan, Weston, and I were walking along the east side of High Street in Worthington this past Sunday, browsing the different farmers markets when I noticed this little katydid resting in the grass just off the sidewalk. I picked it up and shot it with the farmers' trucks in the background to emphasize that this is indeed an urban katydid. Hopefully it won't meet the same fate as Pinky!

I haven't tried to identify this one yet, any thoughts? Also- Just in case you were wondering, that large flesh colored object is the thumb and pointer finger of a Homo sapiens.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Bald Cardinal

Sometimes one needs a break from the typical, and I appreciate your patience while I was getting my zoo creature fix. Sometimes we just all need a new perspective once in a while, me included. I needed a break- I hope you enjoyed my images from the Columbus Zoo.

Back to our backyard. I've been feeding the birds throughout the summer. The black-oil sunflower seed is going quickly this time of year. But it's great to be able to sit on the couch, drink a cold one, and see myriads of birds in aerial maneuvers jostling for a position at the feeder.

Do you remember when I had the first cardinal observation at our feeders here at our new house? (I need to stop calling it our "new house". We've lived here just over one year. It is now "our house".) Hard to believe that it took months to get birds to the feeders, but now they won't go away. It just shows you how smart birds are- they know exactly where the great feeders are in a neighborhood, just like I know where my favorite places are across Ohio to stop and get a bite to eat while I'm traveling.

Having a bird feeder close to your window is critically important- you'll just see more- more birds and more interesting behaviors. If you pay attention to my twitter stream, you may have noticed that I mentioned that an aberrant male Cardinal had paid our backyard a visit. What was unusual? It had a total of three, yes, three, twig-like feathers sticking out of its head, and the rest was completely bald. I had my binoculars, so I got a great view of the cardinal's skin- very dark gray, almost black, and kinda wrinkly. Wow was it weird, but I didn't get any pictures.

Fast forward a few days, and I'm sitting on the couch, and bam, the bald male cardinal is back at the feeder. I run to get the camera, and fire off a few shots, albeit pretty lousy ones. So I'm thinking to myself, why does this happen? Is the bird just molting?

The answer, it turns out, isn't so simple. Some suggest that mites are involved, but I don't quite think anyone knows for sure why this happens. It may be a multitude of factors- parasites, overall health, a regular molt (birds shed their feathers- they get worn out). It doesn't seem to be exactly rare either, there are scads of reports and photos of this phenomenon.

One of the best reports I came across, stood out from the rest. If Mr. Baldy has piqued your interest, then you must read installment #179 of "This Week at Hilton Pond", with absolutely amazing (but extremely ugly) photos of bald cardinals.


Sunday, August 09, 2009

G'day Mate

I had the fortune to travel to Australia with Hiram College in 1999. We spent 3 months touring the eastern half of the continent, traveling in a motorcoach complete with a modern day chuck wagon trailing behind. What a trip. I even created a website all about it, and it really hasn't been touched since 1999. Go there soon, because Yahoo! is eliminating their free Geocities hosting. Although it was ten years ago, whenever I visit the Australia area at the Columbus Zoo, I'm brought right back to the home of Kangaroos and Koalas.

The kangaroo pictured is one of the big reds, Macropus rufus, which live in the interior of the country. Reds are so common that many people in the outback place large metal bars across the fronts of their cars, almost like an old cow catcher, to protect their cars from collision. Our bus hit several on our trip, unfortunately.

A much more rare Aussie animal, and one that I never saw in the wild was the Koala, Phascolarctos cinereus. Koalas are from the forested regions of southeastern Australia. We did see them in sanctuaries, but we didn't spend enough time in the forested regions to see any wild populations. The history of Koala-human interactions is quite interesting- during the 19th and early 20th centuries, koalas were hunted for their fur, and eventually large culling programs were initiated. Hard to believe that such a cute and cuddly looking creature has had such a complex history with people.

Oh yeah, back to my title. The Aussies really do greet each other with "G'day". It's not just a joke or a stereotype. Here in America, guys like me talk about our friends or buddies, but if you're an Aussie and you're about to go have a VB (Victoria Bitter, great beer, extremely rare in the U.S.) with your buddies, you'd call them your "mates".


That concludes the images from the Columbus Zoo series. I needed some time away from blogging on Ohio nature for a little bit, but we've recently had plenty of interesting natural encounters, look for them this upcoming week.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Beco the Asian Elephant

Beco was born March 27th at the Columbus Zoo. We're especially fond of Beco, since he and Weston were born the exact same month. Weston was 8 pounds, 3 ounces at birth, while Beco was a whopping 303 pounds! On July 20th, the zoo posted that Beco was almost 600 pounds on their facebook page. He still isn't going into the outside pool at the zoo yet. His brother, Bohdi, was in the water almost immediately- Beco is a bit more timid.

Although Beco is 600 pounds, he's still tiny compared to his mother. If you have a chance, stop at the zoo to see this little elephant. You really have to see how small he is to appreciate him- he almost looks like a toy. Just like a big elephant, but much cuter. He's slightly uncoordinated, but his movements are so much fater than an adult elephant. He has grown quite a bit- here is a picture of him that I displayed on Tom Arbour Photography a few months ago.

We're not done yet with the zoo animal series- still up- creatures from Australia, one of my favorite places in the world.

This is my contribution to this week's Camera Critters meme.

Camera Critters


Friday, August 07, 2009

The Caribbean Flamingo

Welcome everyone that is stopping by from Abe Lincoln's Brookville Daily Photo. I haven't been able to ID his mystery plant yet, but I haven't given up.

Here I typically blog on natural areas in Ohio, but this week, I've been posting images that I took this weekend at the Columbus Zoo. This is a Caribbean Flamingo, Phoenicopterus ruber. The zoo has a nice colony of these interesting birds, and you can get quite close to them. In the wild, this bird lives in the Caribbean, along the Yucatan Peninsula, and the northernmost shores of South America.


Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Komodo Dragon

Fortunately for us in Central Ohio, we don't have to travel far to see the largest lizard in the world. We have at least one living at the Columbus Zoo, and maybe more. This one is tiny compared to those I have seen at the Toronga Zoo in Sydney. Let's give this individual a few more years and see how big it gets.


Sunday, August 02, 2009

Evening Silhouettes

My question for you, is, What bird species have alighted on our wires?


Ohio's Prairies Featured in the Columbus Dispatch

You may have caught my post on Ohio's remnant cemetery State Nature Preserves in Madison County. Steve Stephens, a travel columnist for the Columbus Dispatch, has a great article, including awesome photographs, in today's edition of the paper:

Fruited plains: Small pieces of once-vast prairie thrive in Ohio


Saturday, August 01, 2009

Weston Chillin' in the Dairy Barn

Yep, he did great today during our little adventure to the State Fair. Always one of our favorite places to go, we are definitely glad that Weston enjoyed the fair as well. Sheep and cows are in, horses and pigs arriving soon (some today!). And don't forget to check out the ODNR Natural Resources Park, perhaps the nicest most park like section of the fair. If you haven't made it yet this year, you've got one more week, the fair runs through next Sunday.

Oh yeah, if you're at the fair on Tuesday, come by the Division of Natural Areas & Preserves booth right next to the prairie. I'll be there from 2-7, handing out really cool turtle coloring pages, turtle erasers, color changing pencils, prairie wildflower seed packets, and we'll even have a purple cone-flower planting activity for the little ones (although my mom found this quite fun today too!) If you won't be there Tuesday, still stop by the booth and let the DNAP staff know how much you appreciate their nature preserving efforts across Ohio.