Monday, May 31, 2010

Morning and Afternoon

Orchard Orbweaver,  Leucauge venusta

I'm getting in a groove on the weekend for insect and macro photography- early morning I head to the backyard to photograph tiny creatures like this Orchard Orbweaver, a type of spider that I've seen often but hadn't yet photographed.  Early morning is a great time to get this type of shot since it is usually very calm at dawn.  Any little bit of wind causes the web to move, making it extremely difficult to focus and expose without image blur.

Possible Swamp Darner Epiaeschna heros

Now, fast forward to the afternoon. We've done our family outing in the morning (Saturday it was to the zoo, yesterday we lounged at the Alum Creek Beach, today it'll be the Worthington Memorial Day Parade). We've had lunch- Weston takes a nap, and I'm out the door to photograph insects again, but this time, I'm headed to the Olentangy River. Sunny, hot afternoon days are typically the worst times for photography, unless you're photographing dragonflies. That's the perfect time to get them in flight.

I believe this dragon maybe a swamp darner, but I was surprised to see this species on a river. I've only seen them deep in forested swamps, but you just never know what you might find.  I'm still not closing the door that it might be another species.

This week I'm headed out west.  And when I say West, I don't mean Brookville, Ohio.  I mean Yellowstone National Park West.  I'll be visiting my good buddy Bryan in Livingston, Montana.  From there, we'll be headed for a three night camping adventure in the park, with the intent on photographing Spring- the baby animals, the migrating birds, a little snow, and who knows what else.  I'll be incommunicado from Tuesday evening through the next Monday- so this week I'll have a lineup of images from yesterday's trip to the Olentangy.


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Assassin Bug with Red Eyes and Sticky Leg Hairs

 Possible Zelus species.

One of my major projects over the past two years has been to document in photos the insects that frequent our suburban yard here in Worthington.  I've let weeds grow up in a few places until my native plantings get established, and these small but wild grassy areas harbor a surprising amount of biodiversity.  Here is another member of the assassin bug family (Reduviidae), which also includes the infamous wheel bug.  I'm not exactly sure which species this red-eyed bug belongs to, but I think it could be a member of the genus Zelus.

What makes this genus interesting is that its members use a technique to catch prey which is downright plant-like. Do you see those tiny hairs on its long legs?  Supposedly, they are able to smear those hairs across a gland on their leg that produces a sticky resin.  If you've got long sticky legs, then all you need to do is hold them out in front of you and just wait to the prey comes to you. It's not dissimilar to how carnivorous sundew plants capture their prey. I didn't know this little tidbit of natural history information when I took this shot in the field-  I simply thought its outstretched arms made for an interesting photograph, but know I know the rest of the story.

Many of the members of the assassin bug family can inflict a painful bite with their long, piercing mouth-part. If one ever lands on you, the writers at Bug Guide recommend flicking away the creature, as squashing it will most likely cause it to bite you.  And I might be especially weary of members of the genus Zelus-  They are named after the minor Greek deity Zelos, who stood for the personification of zeal, rivalry and anger!  


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Delta-spotted Spiketail

I observed this dragonfly in a skunk cabbage-speckled alder swamp in Portage County this past week.  I was searching for bog bluegrass and this fantastic black and yellow dragonfly kept slowly moving back and forth a foot or so above the skunk cabbage and sedges.  Finally, it stopped for a break, and I had my camera ready.  The spiketails are one of my favorite groups of dragonflies- their coloration is really striking, bright yellow spots on a black background.  I have previously seen a tiger spiketail, but this was my first delta-spotted (Cordulegaster diastatops).  It is named for the triangular shaped spots running down each side of its abdomen.  In Ohio, this species is restricted to NE Ohio where it is considered uncommon.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ending Where I Began

Driving back from northeast Ohio today, I had one of those "ah-ha" moments, and it was all sparked by one little pink flower that grows in a fen in Portage County.

Exactly eleven years ago right now, I was preparing to start my conservation career with State of Ohio.  I had just been hired by Preserve Manager Emliss Ricks as a college intern.  I'd be assisting with the care of a system of State Nature Preserves across northeast Ohio.  I would come to learn that the preserves in this system harbored some of the rarest plants and animals in the state, and after a week on the job or so, I was hooked, and knew what I wanted to do the rest of my life.

The very first day in the field, Emliss brought me to a wonderful place called a fen.  And in this fen grew an orchid that grew nowhere else in Ohio. An orchid so rare that sometimes only one or two individual flowers are seen each year.  I knew this orchid was special, because people came drove two and half hours from Columbus just to see it.

Fast forward eleven years and I'm that person driving from Columbus.  Two years as a summer worker, two years of graduate school, and seven years working in the central office of the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves has flashed by like a lightning bolt.  I've had the fantastic opportunity to explore Ohio's most interesting natural areas.  And today I returned to where it all started.  And this day was my last day in the field as an employee of the Division of Natural Areas & Preserves.  Tomorrow, I move my office to the Olentangy Wildlife Research Station, where I'll begin a new page in my career with the Division of Wildlife.

The purpose of today's field outing, which I had scheduled long before I had figured out my moving date, was to document two other rare species- one called lesser panicled sedge and another called bog bluegrass. We needed updated information on these populations, and I chose late May to catch them when they were both easily viewable.  The orchid wouldn't be ready yet, or so I thought- I'd be about 10 days too early.

But as you can see, the orchid was blooming- everything is early this year and the Arethusa bulbosa was holding true to that pattern. And then it hit me on the drive back to Columbus.  I had ended my career in the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves exactly where it started 11 years ago...standing in a fen in portage county, admiring the beauty of the dragon's mouth orchid. 


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Favorite Habitat

Headwater Stream, May 2, Scioto County, Ohio

Headwater streams- rivulets of water so small that they don't often appear on maps, are incredible habitats.  Their clear, cool water harbors a fascinating community of animals. Aquatic invertebrates, a diverse array of minnows, crayfish, water striders, larval salamanders, and tons of other biological organisms call these systems home.  A stream very much like the one pictured above is where I developed my love of natural history.  I was catching minnows with a toy butterfly net while my dad watched from around age six or so.  I gradually moved up to bigger minnows, and then added crayfish and salamanders to my quarry.  If you live near a headwater stream, explore it.  Find out what macroinvertebrates live amidst the rocks- and catch the fish and salamanders that depend upond the clear, cold, water.  They're one of my favorite habitats- and I think you'll enjoy exploring them too.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Dragon Season is Here!

For those of you that have been with me for a while, you'll remember back to the days when it was just Megan and I and we rented a home only a stone's throw from the Olentangy River. On the banks of the Olentangy, I found a passion in dragonflies and damselflies, and spent most of my free time photographing them during the summers of 2007 and 2008. I documented around two dozen species of Odonata, including three species that had never been seen before in Franklin County. All of these sightings happened in the middle of the city of Columbus, and a few surprised quite a few in the local Odonata community.

Now that we've moved, I'm not far from the river, only about a five minute bike ride or so, but it feels miles away. The distance makes a big difference, and, it's just not the same river. Here in Worthington the river has been channelized, and the habitat just isn't the same as it is a few miles downstream.

Sunday morning Megan, Weston and I went to Inniswood Metrogardens. Dragons were flying, and it was hot and sultry by 11:00 am. With the dragons flying I thought to myself, why not head back to my old stomping grounds in the afternoon? Maybe I could find a few early emerging dragonflies, maybe even a clubtail, one of my favorite groups of dragons.

I packed up my gear, drove to Kenney Park, and walked down to the river. I chose an entry point at the northern end of the park. I waded into the cold water, the river was high and moving fast- few rocks were exposed, but just enough for clubtail perches. I watched for dragons, and it didn't take long to find exactly what I was looking for. A dark, clubtail-tipped dragon cruising about two feet off the water upstream. My hunch had paid off, the dragons were flying- now I had to photograph them.

To photograph dragonflies, I use shutter priority mode on my camera- This allows me to set a super high shutter speed to stop motion. If I set the camera to ISO 400, there's enough light on a sunny day to use 1/1000 of a second. This pretty much freezes the dragonflies in flight. Focus is the next problem- sometime I use autofocus, setting the camera in Canon's ai-servo mode, and sometimes I just use manual focus. I typically end up cropping the images quite a bit. I use a telephoto zoom lens, and I've found that a 200mm focal length is about all you can use- anything longer than that and your chances of following the dragon through the viewfinder are pretty much nil!

So, what do we have here? I think it could be a midland clubtail, judging by its color, the shape of the later abdominal spots, and the arrow-like patterns on the dorsal (top) of the abdomen. This would make another new species for me on the Olentangy!

With the warm weather in Ohio this week, dragons will be flying everywhere. Get out your camera, binoculars, or a net and have fun!


Tricky Trillium

This is just too good not to share. I found it on the Ohio Governor's Residence and Heritage Garden site. Those trilliums really are tricky!


Monday, May 24, 2010

Sunday, May 23, 2010

How Many Painted Turtles...and the answer is......


One morning, I counted 24 midland painted turtles in the pond at the education area at work.  They are quite successful, to say the least, and to get seven in one shot was not difficult.  To get all 24 in the same frame would been a little more difficult, but now that I think about it, it might have made for a very interesting panoramic photograph. Thanks for playing.



For those of you who have never been on a photowalk-  they're a blast if you love photography.  Here are a few shots from yesterday's nature photowalk around Worthington, courtesy of Stephen Wolfe.

Here I'm demonstrating the difference between horse chestnut (palmate compound leaves with 7 leaflets) and Ohio buckeye (palmate compound leaves with 5 leaflets). 

This is Scott, aka Shog on Flickr, photographing a moth.  Take a look at his results, they're amazing!

Your blogger- Thanks for the great picture Steve!

Thanks to everyone that came, and as Steve has captured in the above image, I had a blast.  We had at least a dozen folks interested in nature and macro photography, and it was great fun to see everyone so interested in the natural world.  I'll be attending and helping to organize and promote more nature photowalks through the Ohio Nature Photographers group at Flickr. Look to this blog for more information.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Photowalk this Saturday Morning at 'The Mac"

Whew!  Two days in a row the field has wiped me out, but they were two very successful days. The week is flying by, and the weekend will soon be here.

As a part of my  nature photography exhibit (along with the photography of Mike Heisey) at the Worthington McConnell Arts Center, I'll be leading a photowalk this Saturday morning at 9:00 am here in Worthington.  We'll be checking out the grounds of the Mac arts center and then we'll head down to the Olentangy River.  I'd love if you could come- and don't forget your camera!

Here's what you need to know:

FREE Class with artist Tom Arbour
Saturday, May 22, 2010 at 9:00am

Join nature professional Tom Arbour Saturday, May 22, 2010 at 9:00am for a morning of nature, photography and fun!

Tom will be guiding a FREE nature walk and shoot complete with tips on capturing brilliant photographs of the event. Wear comfortable clothing, bring your camera - be ready to walk and shoot around Worthington.

Just in case, the "rain date" will be Sunday, May 23, 2010.

McConnell Arts Center
777 Evening Street
Worthington, Ohio 43085

View Larger Map


Monday, May 17, 2010

Sunday, May 16, 2010

What Will Straighten Weston's Hair?

Static electricity!


Lunch Break

Swamp Rose, Rosa palustris

Muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus

Male blue dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis

Carolina saddlebags, Tramea carolina
Pair of green darners, Anax junius, with female oviposting- "laying eggs"

One of the spreadwing damselflies, Lestes species-  I can't be sure that the exuvia here is the one that this individual.

It's amazing what can be seen and photographed during my 30 minute lunch.  All of these creatures live in a small urban wetland on the north side of Columbus surrounded by apartments, houses, a former mall, office buildings and a major retail corridor.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Hover Fly & Kentucky Bluegrass

Hover flies, members of the insect family Syrphidae, have always attracted my attention.  I've never really got great shots of them- for a number of reasons.  I do most of my macro photography in the evening.  The hover flies are busy hovering from flower to flower, and I don't have the setup to get them in flight.  I needed to change up my routine.  This morning, I went out into the backyard before 8:00 when the insects were still cold and the air was dead calm.  The creatures, awaiting for the sun to rise, are easily approachable with my camera. 

What adds interest to this image is the plant that the hover fly is resting on-  it's Kentucky bluegrass, Poa pratensis, which frequents a lawn near you.  Grasses have flowers too- they're just not pretty to our eyes since they rely on the wind and not animals for pollination.  Look closely, and you can see the comb-like stigmas that receive pollen, and the yellow y-shaped anthers, the producers of pollen.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Really Tiny Creatures that Live in our Basement

Let me make this clear-  they live in a blue tub, complete with tight fitting lid, in our basement.  My friend Butch gave me one of his surplus composting worm farms a while back- with one condition.  That I photograph the tiny little bugs that help out the red wiggler worms do their job.  Here you go Butch.  But what are they?  My guess is that there are springtails, an ancient group of hexapod organisms whose classification is murky at best.  If you consider them insects, which most experts don't, they'd be in the order Collembola.  It just gets more confusing from there.  There is a very different looking group of springtails called the globular springtails, which I photographed in our vegetable garden last year-  they're much chubbier and round.

It pays to look at the details in nature- nothing is too small or insignificant to closely examine.  You'll be amazed at what you find.

Does the substrate that their living on look familiar?  It's cardboard!


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

In the Backyard with the Macro Lens

The insects are tiny right now- it's hard to tell what exactly they'll be a few months from right now.  This creature has been living amongst the leaves of a common milkweed plant that I have in a pot just near our deck.  Since it lives in a potted plant, I can move the pot or rotate it to get just the right angle.  Any guess as to what this creature may grow up to be?  I'm guessing some type of katydid, but that is simply a guess.

Here's another image of a similar organism that I took a few days later.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Power of Small Things

Taking items out of their natural setting and into my basement studio is something that I find interesting.  This bur oak seedling was a casualty when I recently turned the soil in an area where I put a few new native perennials.  I found the miracle of nature working here- the shoots headed for the sun, and the roots headed for the soil.  There is so much potential in this little tree- If I plant it again, it could turn oxygen, carbon dioxide, water and nutrients into thousands of pounds of wood.  It could host lichens and moss, which in turn host insects and bugs, which are then feasted upon by woodpeckers.  It's hard to believe that our massive bur oak started out as a marble-sized seed.  There's quite a lot of power in one little acorn. 


Monday, May 10, 2010

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Song Sparrow

One bird species that we have with us year-round in our suburban backyard is the Song Sparrow.  It's nice to hear these birds sing every spring-  I'm not sure if the same birds stay year round, or if during the winter, ours fly south and are replaced by birds from further north. I took this image the last week of April, although it has an orange, fall like glow to it.  We can thank that color to a neighbor's crimson king cultivar of Norway Maple.


Friday, May 07, 2010

Barn Swallows

Today Megan, Weston and I traveled to Slate Run Metropark, one of our favorite haunts in central Ohio.  I decided to bring the big heavy lens along, and I was glad that I did. Yesterday, I saw my first barn swallows of 2010, and today, I was able to photograph them.  They really are amazing birds to watch- they whipped around the hay fields and in and out of the doors of the pig barn.  And when I was standing in the doorway, unknowingly blocking access to their nest they really let me know it.  A quick step to the side and I had barn swallows whooshing by at eye level.  This individual is resting after all of that work.


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Name that Plant! Flora-quest 2010 Collective Naturalizing.

OK flora-questers and beyond, let's see how well you remember what you saw! And everybody else can play too! All images taken in Shawnee State Forest this past weekend.