Monday, December 26, 2011

The Cliffs on Christmas Morning

Before dawn on Christmas morning, Steve and I stole out of my parents’ house and drove over to the cliffs at Hach-Otis to catch the sunrise.

It was cold and snowless, and silent except for the hum of traffic even this early on Christmas.

As it got lighter, we heard the chips of chickadees and titmice, and eventually the jungle call of a pileated woodpecker as it flew over the valley. Canada geese flew below us above the river, and slowly the sun rose, reflecting on the river below.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Holden Arboretum--July 16, 2011

Back in my hometown for my high school class reunion, Steve and I spent last Saturday afternoon at Holden Arboretum in Kirtland, Ohio. We didn’t get there until high noon, and the sun was blazing. I almost left my camera behind, knowing it would be hard to get a decent exposure in the sun, but decided to bring it along anyway. I’m glad I did because we saw a lot of cool stuff.

There is a large butterfly garden behind the visitor’s center, and we spent as much time there as we could stand to in the heat. There weren’t a lot of butterflies, but this Monarch (Danaus plexippus) did float in to visit the butterflyweed (Asclepius tuberosa) right in front of me.

We also got a good look at a hummingbird moth (Hemaris thyshe) feeding on some wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). They are very convincing hummingbird mimics, even down to the wing buzz!

Bullfrogs were abundant in the pond. This young one got a bit of shade on a lilypad.

There’s an arid patch, piled with sand and planted with succulents. Here is an Allium sp. planted in front of prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa)--odd to see in Ohio, but perfect in this setting and in the heat.

An assassin bug waits for it’s next victim on a mullein plant.

Center of purple coneflower (Echinacia purpurea).

Monday, May 30, 2011

Magee Marsh, May 29, 2011

Despite missing the peak of the spring warbler migration two weeks ago, Steve and I made the trek up to Magee Marsh between Port Clinton and Toledo yesterday morning hoping to see some stragglers. I had never been here this late in spring, so I didn’t know what to expect, except a trip to Ohio’s premier birding hotspot is never not worth the drive, no matter the season.

Our destination was the famed Boardwalk Trail located in a small woodlot across from Lake Erie. The woods itself does not appear impressive at first glance. It’s about a 7 acre wet, shrubby area with a lot of ash and large cottonwood trees situated in the 2000-acre Magee Marsh wetlands. It attracts migrating songbirds as an area where they can rest and fuel up on insects before they attempt the daunting flight across the lake. The warblers, which can be hard to observe further inland where they tend to stay high in the trees, are bold here, intent on their business, and not worried about the humans that crowd the boardwalk to capacity during the peak weekend. It’s a wonderful spot to get a good look at the active, colorful birds that are only here for a few weeks in the spring and fall.

Male songbirds tend to migrate ahead of the females in the spring, risking potentially cold weather to secure the best territories. The females come a few weeks later when the weather conditions are more likely to be favorable. Male warblers in the spring are beautiful and distinctive--easily identified if you get a good look, and when we go to Magee earlier in the season, we usually just leave the field guide in the car so we don’t have to lug it around with us.

Mystery flycatcher

Yesterday, the woods were full of warblers still, but there was a large proportion of the more muted females, as well as numerous cryptic Empidonax flycatchers notorious for being difficult to identify if they don’t choose to sing.

My birding skills were tested as well as my photographic ones. Warblers never sit still for long and spend their time hopping around gleaning insects from leafy branches. I struggled with my camera’s limits, fighting auto-focus and shutter-lag, and got a lot of blurry pictures of wings and tails leaving the frame! This Canada warbler was the only one I got a reasonable picture of the whole day. I was more excited though about the second prothonotary warbler I’ve ever seen and the few glimpses I got of the mourning warblers skulking around the vegetation on the ground.

There were plenty of other migrants besides the warblers. Great-crested flycatchers were prominent (and easily identified). Warbling vireos were plentiful and I caught a glimpse of a cuckoo sailing overhead.

More familiar birds were more cooperative for the camera....

Gray catbird

This great egret was intent on hunting in the lagoon.

There were a lot of reptiles too. This midland painted turtle crossed the drive only to turn back around and hurry back to the pond south of the parking lot.

We saw several snakes basking in the sun. The cloudy eyes of this eastern garter snake indicate it will soon shed it’s skin.

Baby groundhogs living under the boardwalk got a lot of attention!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Spring wildflowers--April 23, 2011

It's late April, the snow has finally stopped, and the spring wildflowers are blooming. My small, wet second- or third-growth woodlot had suffered a lot of human interference before I moved here 15 years ago, and I work on and off to try to restore it to a more native state. It's been heavily planted with daffodils and daylilies, and the former owners apparently kept it raked.
It's very small and has been thoroughly infested with garlic mustard (Alliaria officinalis). For the last five years I have dedicated a good deal of time each spring to pulling up this invasive weed, and while it's still a problem, the center of the woods is now largely mustard-free. I keep meaning to address the (also invasive) daylilies, but this time of year I tend to get overwhelmed with yard work, and never manage to get back to them. There's also multiflora rose that I hack down when it starts climbing into the trees and the native grapevine that I control the same way. I was lucky enough to have grown up in a large old-growth forest (by Ohio standards), and I well remember the annual carpet of wildflowers from my childhood. Although my woods here is beautiful to look at, I tend to see all the invaders as well as the fading ash trees, notice what's missing, and can't help but feel somewhat depressed.

I miss seeing trout-lilies and trilliums here, but some native wildflowers do appear. I transplanted this Dutchman's-breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) plant from a friend's property in Delaware County before her house was built, but there's a bigger patch down in the ravine. This beautiful wildflower grows in rich woods, but did not occur in my childhood woods for some reason and I saw it for the first time when I moved to Columbus. It's seeds are known to be spread by ants, and sure enough, there's a large anthill right on the edge of the woods.

Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) were prevalent and a sure sign of spring in my parents' woods, and I love seeing my own colonies thrive here.

A few spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) live here...,

....and there is one small patch of rue anemone (Anemonella thalictroides) among the Dutchman's-breeches in the ravine.

There is a huge number of violets, both common blue (Viola papilionacea)....

...and large-leaved (Viola incognita) in the woods and lawn. The blue violets are known to become weeds, and they are a welcome one for me!

There is a spreading patch of wild leeks or ramps (Allium tricoccum) for which this wet, muddy woods is especially suited. Ramps are a well-known spring delicacy in Appalachia and are threatened by over-harvesting in some states. I'd be happy to see this patch overtake the woods!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Delaware Wildlife Area--March 2, 2011

In the midst of this small break from the misery that has been this winter here in Ohio, I attempted to capture a photograph that eluded me around this time last year. I commute by this marsh in the Delaware Wildlife Area, and one morning last March the rising sun lit the trees and turned the water to gold. I brought my camera the next day, but was foiled first by a stretch of cloudy days, then the time change, and finally the drying out of the marsh which changed the whole character of the scene.

So this year, post-flood, pre-time change, and with a clear day forecast, I arrived just before sunrise. I came for the scenery, but was delighted to find flocks of waterfowl--mostly Canada geese and mallards, but also a small group of snow geese--not rare exactly, but birds I seldom see.

The sun rose, and I took lots of pictures, but never saw the orange reflection in the water I remember from last year. More flooding rain is forecast for the next few days, so I’ll have to wait for another opportunity.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

December 18, 2010

Today I venture out into a frigid, breathtakingly beautiful, blue and white morning.

Last weekend's ice and snow still covers the ground and clings to branches..... well as the Queen Anne's Lace.

The teasel seed heads are rimed with frost.

This time of year, I'm rarely home in the daylight, so I enjoy the marvelous view on the way to the mailbox.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

October 30, 2010

I ventured out to the mailbox this morning, the sun well up and the thermometer at freezing. Last week's storm blew most of the remaining leaves from the trees, but the sugar maple still flames and the mulberries are showing some green.

Milkweed skeletons hold their seeds to the wind...

And goldenrod seed heads catch the early sun's rays.

A flock of a dozen white-crowned sparrows flit between the rugosa rose hedge and the field, foretelling the coming winter.