Thursday, November 20, 2014
I traveled to the Cleveland area and specifically Holden Arboretum yesterday, to give a program for the Blackbrook Audubon Society. The subject, fittingly, was "Birding Ohio's North Coast", and the talk largely outlines the Lake Erie Birding Trail guidebook, which was released earlier this year.
The program was in the evening, but I went up early to meet with Brian Parsons, the Holden Arboretum's Director of Planning and Special Projects. The arboretum is engaged in some very exciting work, and Brian was good enough to give me a tour. More on that in a later post.
As fate would have it, Eastlake was only 20 minutes from the site of my talk, and I had a bit of time in between things to run up there and do some gull-watching. The weather was tough. Gale-like winds raged, and the temperature was in the teens. These conditions transformed the lake into a raging cauldron, with big rollers forming and atomizing against piers and breakwalls as seen in the photo above. Many people came and went while I was there, to stare at a formidable and angry Mother Nature from the safety and warmth of their cars. It's hard to make decent photographs from a car, so I spent my time outside behind the tripod, dodging spray from waves crashing against the seawall twenty feet away. By the time I left, my car was frosted in a thin veneer of ice.
Ohio Ornithological Society, which will feature field trips to Cleveland hotspots, and a talk by legendary birder/photographer Chuck Slusarczyk, Jr. Chuck will be focusing on, appropriately enough, gulls. All the event details are RIGHT HERE.
There is more to gulls, such as the interesting identification challenges and the hybridization issues, but the other major reason I enjoy watching gulls is their behavior. In the photo above, a fracas breaks out between two first-year Herring Gulls over a tasty gizzard shad or some such morsel. Other Herring Gulls speed to the scene, some caught with mouths agape as they loudly bugle their thoughts. A congregation of gulls is generally a lively place.
If a large gull such as a Herring Gull makes it to its fourth year and the attainment of complete adult plumage, it may well have a very long life ahead of it. Gulls can live for many decades.
This is a small gull - dwarfed by the preceding species. It takes a Bonaparte's Gull only two years to achieve its adult plumage. Adults are easily identified by the bold black, gray, and white wing pattern. The only species close to it is the very rare (here) Black-headed Gull, which has sooty black underwings, among other differences.
The offshore waters of Cleveland and vicinity support an enormous concentration of Bonaparte's Gulls in November and December. One-day estimates in excess of 100,000 birds have been made along Cleveland's lakefront. This part of the lake is a vital staging area for the small gulls, and seeing them at their peak numbers is one of the great spectacles of Nature in this part of the world.
Sunday, November 16, 2014
November 16, 2014
Jumping spiders are the extroverts of the arachnid world.
Most spiders prefer to stay out of sight and out of mind. Many remain well-concealed or emerge under cover of darkness.
That is a good thing for the legions of arachnophobes. Such people would rather not know that more than 600 species of spiders occur in Ohio and that they are the most abundant predatory animals in the state.
Many species are outrageous in appearance. The mustached jumping spider (Phidippus mystaceus) resembles a cross between Justin Bieber and Sid Vicious, endowed with three extra sets of eyes and legs and imbued with a homicidal bent.
Most jumping spiders are active during the day and behave like eight-eyed leopards, stalking and pouncing on victims. They shun web building but do make intelligent use of silk.
Before leaping at a victim, the jumping spider attaches a silken belay line. Thus, if the jump were to fail or the prey were to knock the spider away, it can quickly clamber to safety.
Jumpers also craft dense silken bivouacs, which are used for shelter and nurseries for spiderlings.
Experts think jumping spiders possess among the greatest visual acuity of any group of invertebrate animals. A little jumping spider will cock its head curiously at a human and seem to track your every movement. It might even advance on you, to better gauge your intentions.
Have no fear: The spiders are too small to inflict damage, and bites to humans are essentially unknown.
However, potential food had best beware. These formidable foes possess cognitive memory abilities far beyond most other small creatures. The spider can spot prey, move out of sight and into a better ambush locale, and leap unerringly onto the victim, sight unseen. Much larger animals are quickly overcome by the spider’s powerful venom.
About 13 percent of Ohio’s spiders are jumping spiders, and they represent the world’s largest family of spiders.
Such success has spawned fantastic evolutionary radiation. Some jumping spiders have evolved to appear remarkably similar to ants. The disguise is so good that even naturalists can be fooled, as can the spider’s potential predators. Ants are largely unpalatable and can be highly aggressive, so resembling one can be a good deterrent to predators.
Jumping spiders hit their pinnacle of outlandishness when mating season rolls around. Males must approach the larger females with caution, lest they be mistaken for a meal.
To up their odds, male jumpers engage in ornate displays that involve waving their legs like a sailor signaling with semaphores and flashing iridescent body coloration.
Some spiders even create drumrolls or vibrations to add audio effects. Spiderish vaudevillian acts identify them to the aggressive females.
The Ohio Division of Wildlife offers the free publication Common Spiders of Ohio. To get a copy, call 1-800-WILDLIFE or send email to email@example.com. us.
Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a biweekly column for The Dispatch. He also writes about nature at www.jim mccormac.blogspot.com
Friday, November 14, 2014
I highly recommend this trip. From my town of Columbus, Ohio, it is only about a four hour drive, and the Chicagoans need only travel half that distance. Jasper-Pulaski is in easy driving range from much of the Midwest, and you'll meet people from all over the place who have traveled to see the cranes.
The huge meadow overlooked by the main viewing platform is known as Goose Pasture. It serves as a social rendezvous point for the cranes, which spend the evenings in nearby marshes elsewhere on the 8,000+ acre wildlife area. Around sunrise, the cranes fly en masse to Goose Pasture and seemingly chat it up with each other. Shortly after sunrise, the birds begin streaming out to surrounding fields to spend the day foraging.
Dusk and dawn are the times to be at the viewing platform for the cranes' social hours. In between, trolling the local roads will produce scads of cranes feeding and resting in agricultural fields. Oftentimes the birds are quite near the road, and often will not flush or be unduly disturbed if the observers remain in their vehicle.
A Sandhill Crane is one big bird. It stands about four feet in height, has a wingspan of around seven feet, and can weigh eleven pounds. Over 1,500 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds would be required to match the mass of a crane. People that I suspect would never notice the lesser components of our fauna, such as pleasing fungus beetles or various sparrows, DO notice Sandhill Cranes. And many of them travel far distances to J-P to witness the crane spectacle and admire the feathered giants for hours on end.
This wasn't my first time at the Jasper-Pulaski crane dance, and as before the trip came to a close all too soon, and it was time to get back to my world.
Monday, November 10, 2014
When one considers the overall numbers of robins, waxwings, and other species of fruit-eating birds, it's small wonder that invasive berry bushes such as honeysuckles spread so prolifically.
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
Now here's something one doesn't hear everyday. Laura Hughes recently sent along another fabulous trail cam video that she and her husband made in the backwoods of Monroe County in eastern Ohio. This one features a trio of frolicking River Otters, Lontra canadensis. As you'll see, they approach the camera quite closely; in fact, one of them brushes it with its whiskers. Turn the volume up, though - the otters are delivering their amusing little squeaky calls, and those are sounds that most people have never heard, I dare say.
Sunday, November 2, 2014
The sign above points the way to one of the best - and most significant - hikes in the state. The Buzzardroost Rock trail is about a 4.5 mile round trip, and worth every footfall. It is part of the vast Edge of Appalachia Preserve in Adams County. I toted my backpack full of camera gear along, and managed to make a few passable photos during the trek.
Buzzardroost Rock is part of the sprawling Edge of Appalachia Preserve, which is co-managed by the Cincinnati Museum Center and the Ohio Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. The preserve now encompasses about 16,000 acres, and TNC regularly adds new parcels. Their Sunshine Ridge corridor project is an effort to link "The Edge" to the 65,000 acre Shawnee State Forest, which lies not far to the east.
The Shawnee/Edge region is the wildest landscape remaining in Ohio, and one of the most significant biological hotspots east of the Mississippi River in North America. Rare habitats and unusual flora and fauna abound, and I have featured scores of them on this blog over the years. The primary reason that so many natural history events - at least ones that I have had a hand in - take place down here is because of the natural diversity. Mothapalooza, Flora-Quest, numerous Ohio Ornithological Society conferences, and the Appalachian Butterfly Conference, are but a few. People attending Mothapalooza III next year will once again be wowed by this area, and one of the trips will journey to the very rock that you are now virtually visiting.
If you get the chance to visit the Edge of Appalachia Preserve, by all means do so. More information is available RIGHT HERE, and HERE.
Saturday, November 1, 2014
Most of our roughly 1,800 native plant species (in Ohio) would quickly fade away were it not for the army of native pollinators that service them.