Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Farewell to the Ambush Bug

I discovered this little creature hiding amongst our backyard Canada goldenrod two weeks ago this evening. Many of you asked how I ever found such a tiny, well camouflaged insect. This itself is quite a story.

I happened to notice a little bit of discoloration at the edges of one of the clusters of goldenrod heads. Interesting- it deserved a closer look. In the center of this area was a little tiny bee, wasp, or ant that I photographed. But when I went inside that evening to download the photos, I had a closer look at that tiny little dark insect. And wow was I surprised when I saw the bright yellow creature pictured above, grasping the small brown creature with its powerful looking front legs.

I've been lucky enough to watch this Ambush bug for a week and a half. This past Monday, I wasn't able to find it. Until then, it had stayed on the very same square inch of goldenrod. It would occasionally catch small insects, but I was holding out that someday I'd find it with a gigantic bumblebee in its claws. That didn't happen, but I hope this creature enjoyed its stay in our backyard.

I've been photographing all the insect types that have visited our small patch of goldenrod and I'm slowly working through them. I am amazed at just how many interesting things visited our small patch of backyard this year.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Mussels and their Mantles

In my post of our hike to Battelle Darby Creek, Jennie left the following comment:

"I'm interested in the "beautifully colored fish and fresh water mussels with their bizarre life histories". Recently read about the bitterlings laying eggs in the siphons of mussels, but didn't think that was a local phenomena. Love hearing all the co-evolved mutualisms. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction!"

Well Jennie- Instead of the fish laying their eggs in the mussels, the mussels actually have to get their larvae onto the gills of fish- believe it or not. And they have actually evolved lures to do this. I have photographed this phenomenon in May, 2008 with a plain pocketbook, Lampsilis cardium, as pictured above, and presented in video below.

I also quickly found these other videos on YouTube- These are great views Also- Dr. Tom Waters of Ohio State has posted these amazing videos on his website that are also must views.

A look at the lures of the wavy rayed-lampmussel.

And this video shows a smallmouth bass pecking at the mantle lure of a wavy rayed lamp mussel.

And this clip shows three fish, but one isn't a fish at all, it is the mantle lure of an unidentified mussel species. And I agree with Jennie. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.


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

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Metro Parks Challenge #3 Battelle Darby

A curious goldfinch greets us along the trail

If you live in Ohio, or quite possibly if you really like aquatic ecosystems and live in another state, you may have heard of the "The Darby". This gem of an ecosystem lies just outside Columbus and drains the Darby Plains, once home to a great expanse of natural tall grass prairie, and now home to some of Ohio's richest agricultural land.

Even so, the Big and Little Darby Creeks are still amazingly rich in biodiversity- if I were at work I could tell you exactly how many rare species live in these streams, but safe to say it is dozens. The streams were designated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources as State Scenic Rivers back in 1984 and recognized as national scenic rivers in 1994. I have to say that these two creeks are the biological gems of central Ohio, and I just simply need to visit these areas more often.

Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park is where to go to see the Big Darby, and even some of Little Darby, as the two streams reach their confluence in this Metro Park.
The streams are quite unassuming. But underneath their surfaces is a rich diversity of beautifully colored fish and freshwater mussels with bizarre life histories.

So what better place to introduce Weston to a world class ecosystem AND complete our third Metro Parks Hike for the year? Here he is in the backback- If you remember back to our Sharon Woods hike, we forgot the sun shade- but not this time.
However- We DID forget his bib! How fun it was to watch Mom get food all over the place. Murphy's law was certainly in place this day- forget the bib and he'll be sure to be extra messy with his baby barley cereal.

On our way along the trail, we encountered things like cutleaf coneflower, Rudbeckia laciniata.
And in higher drier meadows we saw one of the cudweed species in the genus Pseudognaphalium.

And we also got to introduce Weston to map turtles. This female was basking on a rock in a large pool created just downstream from the confluence of the Darby Creeks. She was absolutely huge, probably 10 inches long- dwarfing her male counterparts at the other end of the rock.

As we returned north through the most mature woods along the trail, I happened to spot the plant pictured above. Weird, I thought to myself, I've never seen this. I thought it might be an orchid. A quick e-mail to my colleague Rick Gardner after we returned home and he confirmed that my suspicion was indeed correct. He identified this as the autumn coralroot, Corallorhiza odontorhiza. Some plant species produce flowers that never open and are self fertilized- botanists call these cleistogamous flowers. Autumn coralroot can produce both types of flowers, so it is possible that these flowers will open eventually, or it is possible that they will remain closed and self fertilize.

Megan, Weston, and I had great fun at Battelle Darby Creek Metropark. We parked at the Cedar Ridge area and followed the Indian Ridge trail south to the Indian Ridge Picnic area and back. Here's an aerial view of the day's adventure.

View Metroparks Challenge in a larger map


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Coolest Thing I've Ever Photographed in the Backyard!

Hot off the Compact Flash card- I took this image on Wednesday evening while shooting insects on our Canada Goldenrod patch in the backyard. Absolutely amazing! This is an ambush bug, in the subfamily Phymatinae , and possibly in the genus Phymata. Isn't it cool?

Check out a larger image on black that I have posted at TA Photography.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Metroparks Challenge Hike #2: Sharon Woods

I have caught a cold! Oh Joy! I just love being sick. I hope I don't pass it on to anyone else.Fortunately, the cold hit last night, so it didn't mess up our weekend. Megan, Weston and I continued our Metroparks challenge- which is to visit every one of the 15 Metroparks in the system here in Columbus and Central Ohio. Two down, thirteen to go!

Sharon Woods a short drive from our home- just two exits off the beltway (i-270) that circles our great metropolitan area. Megan and I have been here before- pre Weston.

We decided that the 1.8 mile Spring Creek loop trail looked perfect for a nice hike with our little guy. The trail offered a variety of habitats- upland old fields and forests, lowland headwater streams, and even a small created wetland. Although none of these habitats were stellar- I wasn't expecting to see an amazing array of biodiversity, the hike was still interesting and fun.

As you can see over Megan's shoulder, the first portion of the hike led us through an old field dominated by Canada goldenrod.

I kept an eye out for butterflies, but the only one I observed was this pearl crescent, one of the most frequently encountered butterflies in Ohio.

After the old field, we entered a young woodland with several "wolf trees". These trees, often much bigger than most of the forest, were remnants of a time when this land was probably pastured or farmed. The old trees would have been surrounded by crops or grasses. At sometime in the past, the land was abandoned, allowing tree seedlings to become established. Since they were all competing against each other, these trees grew quickly and very straight, in contrast to this large open grown oak.

A little further down the trail brought yet another old field opening, this one much smaller. It supported a nice population of grease grass, Tridens flavus. This species seems to be relatively common in central and southern Ohio especially in old fields and infrequently mowed roadside habitats. If you run your hands up and down the stem and panicle, you'll feel why this plant is given the name grease grass- it somehow produces an oily substance- if you haven't felt it, it's really neat.

Another species growing in this meadow was Sorghastrum nutans, or Indiangrass. One of our showiest native grasses, I'm not exactly sure what it was doing here. It is native further west in Franklin County in the Darby prairies, but here it may have been planted or introduced from mowing equipment. It could have been a natural population, but I'm guessing that it is more likely introduced at Sharon Woods.

With Megan carrying Weston, she kept continuing hiking on, especially after my grass photography. It was taking too long- and he is heavy.

It's hard for me to not take a photograph of a honeylocust trunk covered with protective spines. I just find those spines amazing. The honeylocust is considered an example of an anachronistic species, first described by Dan Janzen and Paul Martin in 1982. The gist of this theory is that this tree species' protective spines are no longer needed because the giant herbivores that this tree evolved with and developed these spines to protect against are now extinct.

We crossed over a small stream that was full of minnows- although I've only dabbled in identification of Ohio's fish, if I had to guess- this is a creek chub.

Out of the forest and back into the old field, I did spot a few birds, including this field sparrow.

And, what I think is a song sparrow.

After just short of two miles of hiking, we finished the loop, and stopped to take a break before we got into the car. "Dad, that was fun hike, but I really just want to eat your camera!"

If you'd like to visit Sharon Woods, here is a Google map with aerial photography that shows the lay of the land. I've placed a pin where we began the trail, and roughly the traced our path. Overall, a nice little place for a quick getaway from life in the city.

Also- Megan is also blogging about our Metroparks Challenge with pictures of me not seen here.

So, two Metroparks down, thirteen to go. The next hike will be Batelle Darby Metropark, home to one of Ohio's highest quality stream ecosystems, the Big and Little Darby Creeks.

View Metroparks Challenge in a larger map

Batelle Darby Creek
Blacklick Woods
Blendon Woods
Chestnut Ridge
Clear Creek
Glacier Ridge
Heritage Trail
Pickerington Ponds
Prairie Oaks
Scioto Audubon
Sharon Woods
Slate Run
Three Creeks

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Welcome to Little Pond

Last Christmas my parents gave Megan and I a little video camera. Why? They wanted us to film Weston. And I have. But this little SD camcorder has allowed me to film all types of interesting natural history subjects, including one near to us and featured here often, Little Pond Maine. I know I talk about this place frequently, and hopefully, this short film will help you understand why that is. Take a few minutes to see and hear the dragonflies, birds, and botanical wonders of Little Pond.


Monday, September 07, 2009

The Metro Parks Challenge

Megan and I took Weston to Clear Creek Metropark this Saturday- down at the gateway of the hocking hills. With the construction of the Lancaster bypass, we can be in Ohio's hill country in about 50 minutes. When we're there, it seems as if we're much further from home than we really are. One of things about living in Columbus is that we're a nicely sized metro area, but we're also a pretty compact metro area, in spite of all the suburban sprawl taking place. This means, at least for now, that we can take a fairly short drive and be out in very rural areas. Growing up in the megalopolis that is northeast Ohio- finding rural serenity was just about impossible. Although I did find out that this was in fact possible when I left home for Hiram College- a short drive but also a world away from home.

Back to Saturday. We're gradually taking Weston, 6 months old now, on increasingly longer car rides, and using our backpack carrier we were graciously given by Megan's Mom. Although Clear Creek is famous for its hilly terrain, I remembered from a former visit, in my single days, there is fairly flat trail that followed the creek. Since Megan was prepping for a 5K the following day, that would be the perfect trail to walk with Weston.

Here we're about to load the little guy up and hit the trail.

In the carrier, but not yet on my back.

On my back. When I first put this thing on, I'm shocked at just how heavy it is. Weston is over 19 pounds, and the carrier itself is at least 5 pounds- it is quite a load, until you get going.

Clear Creek Metropark is also Ohio's largest dedicated State Nature Preserve- a fact not widely advertised once you are in the park. The creek itself runs clear and cool- cool enough to support a stocked population of brown trout, so the park is frequented by anglers and hikers alike.

Weston looking mighty baby like- and being fed Gerber squash. I tried it- sweet, like butternut squash. Not bad at all.

Here's Weston's new sinister grin. We're not sure how he came up with this, but it started this past Friday. Whenever he gets excited, he seems to flash this funny smile. It is pretty cute, since it reveals his newly formed teeth!

Dad, I really must eat this stick. Don't worry, mom pulled it away a split second after she took this photo.

But I have to get some nature in- The floodplain of Clear Creek reminds me of the Olentangy, except for one big difference- the lack of invasive species. No honeysuckle, no garlic mustard. Overall, a very nice example of a floodplain community, and all the late summer species were blazing.

Here's one to watch for, its Gaura biennis. These small pinkish and white flowers don't look like much until you really look at them closely, and wow, they're really quite neat. Check out that dangling stigma. Very cool.

Megan and I really enjoyed our short hike with Weston, in all, about two miles in the bottomland of Ohio's hill country. We enjoyed it so much, that we had a little idea. An idea that we're calling the Metro Parks Challenge.

What is this challenge? This fall, before the snow flies, we're going to take Weston to each Metro Park in the central Ohio Metro Parks system- all 15 of them- before the snow flies. Can we do it? It should be fun trying, for sure. There still are a handful of parks that I've never been to, and Weston will be able to tell his baby friends that he's been to all of them before reaching the tender age of one. We'll both be blogging about this- so also look for Megan's perspective on her blog- My New Life as a Mom.

1 down, 14 to go.

Batelle Darby Creek
Blacklick Woods
Blendon Woods
Chestnut Ridge
Clear Creek
Glacier Ridge
Heritage Trail
Pickerington Ponds
Prairie Oaks
Scioto Audubon
Sharon Woods
Slate Run
Three Creeks

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Old Bur Oak

Click for a larger image

I'm sitting down here in the man cave, listening to Megan laugh out loud upstairs in the family room. I think she's reading the latest from Janet Evanovich-I know she has been on the waiting list for months at the library.

I'm scrolling though some old photos- I'm thinking of purchasing a new lens for the camera, and I'm strongly considering the super-wide offering from Canon for crop sensor bodies, the 10-22 mm. This lens gets really wide- almost too wide. I rented it last fall and I've been going through those pictures to see how I did with it.

And here's a shot I took and wanted to share with you, but I don't believe it ever made it here. In this image you can see just how freaking huge our backyard Bur Oak really is. See those gigantic, gnarled branches up in the air? They themselves are the size of most tree trunks in our neighborhood. It is a really massive tree, and we're lucky to have it.

We had a great day this morning, as Megan ran in her first 5K, and I walked it with Weston in the jogging stroller- quite fun. I didn't even take any digital photos, just film, with the old early 1970's era Pentax SP500- we'll see how those come out. If you still have an old film camera lying around, run a roll through it now and then, you'll have a blast.

Tomorrow I'll share our images from Clear Creek Metropark.


P.S. Megan has just informed me she finished the book.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Columbus Welcomes the Grange Insurance Audubon Center

Let's flash back a few years. I'm a brand new graduate student at Miami University- in the Institute of Environmental Sciences- with big dreams of making a difference in the environmental field. Our teachers packed a bunch of us newbie students into fifteen passenger vans and we set out on a three day adventure around southwest and central Ohio- the goal? To see as many environmental type things we could- ranging from wildlife sanctuaries-to chemical plants- to landfills.

But one of the coolest places we visited was the Aullwood Audubon Center & Farm in Dayton- what an awesome place. Now THAT is a nature center, my nature loving friends. If you haven't been there, go. But what does this have to do with Columbus and the here and now?

I remember our guide, way back in 2001, telling us how there was a downtown nature center be planned for the City of Columbus. What a cool idea, I thought to myself- as a young and aspiring environmental professional, I thought, that would be a great place to work.

Well, it has been about eight years since I first heard about the center, and well, I just couldn't wait around that long to find a job. But, last weekend, I did have an opportunity to participate in the opening weekend of Columbus' newest nature destination- The Grange Insurance Audubon Center.

I received an e-mail out of the blue from Victoria, an educator at the Center, asking me if I wanted to display some of my photographs that appeared here at The Ohio Nature Blog. After a few e-mails, this eventually morphed into me agreeing to present "a photo workshop". After a bit of thinking, I said sure, I could do that, and I eventually came up with the title "eight tips for better nature photography" which I'll share here in time.

I hope the patrons who had gathered at the center enjoyed my talk- we had a nice conservation about photography, and I really enjoy being able to share my view of the world with others, this time, in a face-to-face situation.

But let's get back to the center. It is situated on the Whittier Peninsula, in a reclaimed industrial area just south of Columbus (i added a Google map that shows you what the area recently to look like, scroll down to the end of the post).

The old industrial land that surrounds the center is now Scioto Audubon Metropark. This land is a work in progress, as you'll see below.

The building is really quite cool. It is quite an example of eco-engineering. Take for example storm water management. See those strange looking rusty-red downspots? They bring water off the roof, underneath the large sidewalk, and then into the rain garden/swale on the left. This system eventually works itself down into a little pond, which is already frequented by twelve spotted skimmers.

The center itself looks towards the city and towards the mighty Scioto (pronounced Sy-O-tah), on the banks of which our capital city was founded. The river was muddier than my grandfather's cream filled coffee on this day from recent rains, although the turtles were out in full force- both map turtles, painted turtles and the non-native red-eared sliders.

My only surprise with the Audubon center was its lack of exhibits. Aullwood, in my recollection, was full of live animals and just all sorts of really cool nature "flair". Perhaps the Grange Center is just ramping up- but I'd like to see more nature things in the building itself. I'm sure this will happen with time.

We're quite lucky to have a world class nature center building here in the heart of Ohio. If you are able, visit often, and watch it, and the native plants sown around the center, grow. I should add a caveat- If the geese don't eat them all first.


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