Friday, March 15, 2013

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Transplanting a Garden

The thin, green strip has been mowed again—that narrow band of grass and weeds that runs in the few feet of unplowed land on either side of the lane that I walk along each day.

Chicory, Cichorium intybus

The danger in letting it grow, I have not quite determined, for nothing woody remains along the field's edge—nothing that, if not cut severely back each month, would soon overtake the road.
Yet the tractor trims it harshly. On rural land, nothing must grow unbound.
Each chicory, each great lobelia, each milkweed succumbs to the blade until all that remains beside the farmer’s field of beans is one towering bull thistle, just out of reach. How it must have irked him to leave it standing, proudly swaggering, a dozen purple heads staring back at him!

Great Lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica,
in front of soybean field

There used to be scores of dragonflies here, perching atop each tall stem on a heated afternoon, then coursing high above the bean field, hawking insects. Sulphur butterflies tumbled from one flower head to the next, drinking in the nectar. Scores of spiders built broad, round webs between them, capturing grasshoppers along every few feet of the road’s edge—all now gone. Except one, who by good fortune placed hers quite near the bull thistle—a magnificent black and yellow garden spider.

Transplanted garden spider reconstructing her web on goldenrod

She’s been transplanted—to a golden field atop my hill, where she’ll rebuild her broad, round web and capture scores of grasshoppers. And not be mowed by the tractor.

(All photos enlarge with a click)

Black and Yellow Garden Spider, Argiope aurantia

Although female black and yellow garden spiders may be quite showy and large (over an inch), they are considered harmless to humans. Argiope aurantia (from the Greek aura for breeze) build large circular webs (up to 2 feet across) which they situate themselves in the center of and are able to undulate in a breeze-like action that may help elude predators and/or ensnare prey.
The male is considerably smaller than the female (less than ½ inch) and is drab brown.

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Great Borer Expedition II

The Great Borer Expedition II
A journey into the untamed brush of southern Ohio in pursuit of the Amorpha Borer,
a seldom seen longhorned beetle, described by the few who have found it as
‘the most beautiful insect in the world.’

The Team
(in alphabetical order)

Even when she’s without her favorite hat, Heather Aubke wears her reputation well. She's the Indiana Jones of the volunteer naturalist crowd. Often found with her nose-to-the-ground while camera-stalking an interesting bug, an expedition of any sort is sure to capture her interest. Capturing pictures of Heather at work, on the other hand, is a bit more difficult—unless you’re also nose-to-the-ground.

Derek Hennen is an entomology major in his 4th instar…er.. senior year at Marietta College. Derek’s great passion for the insect world quickly spreads across his face when two seemingly disjunct words are said together.
... and ...Bug

John Howard is a resident of southern Ohio and intimately familiar with anything having wings or roots, scales or fins, feathers or flowers…well, you get the idea. He knows how to look for and where to find the best of it all.
His keen spotting on this expedition secured our trophy of the day and earned him the title ‘Chief Beetle-Watcher.’

If you hear Dave and Laura Hughes talking about nets and bait, it’s not fish they’re after, but moths. This pair loves the Leps--and just about everything else. And with their enthusiasm for getting into the outdoors, what’s not to love about Dave and Laura, as well?

Jim McCormac is our expedition leader--the lifelong explorer, whose curious nature has taken him from his boyhood fascination with birds... to plants, back to birds, and on to bugs…biodiversity. If he’s not blazing a trail somewhere or cleaning the lens of his camera, he’s probably writing another book…about birds or plants or birds or bugs or…

The Scene

Mid-morning, late August found us near the banks of the Ohio River. Hoping to get a jump on the heat of the day, yet still have it hot enough for beetles to be up and about in their feeding, we gathered our gear (which, understandably consisted of 1 net and 8 cameras) and set out toward what we hoped would be suitable beetle-hunting ground.
The Amorpha Borer, Megacyllene decora, is a longhorned beetle in the family Cerambycidae—a family heritage shared by the more well-known Locust borer, Megacyllene robiniae. Both brightly-colored, yellow and black-striped beetles require, as a host plant for their developing larvae, a different member of the legume family. For the Locust Borer, it's black locust, Robinia pseudoacacia; for the Amorpha Borer, false indigo, Amorpha fruticosa.
Not surprisingly, both beetles’ names reflect the names of their respective host plant. It’s this critical connection, the life-supporting role of a host plant, that dictates where one might expect to find the beetles, and where we would begun our quest.

False Indigo, Amorpha fruticosa
means 'without form' in Greek, referring to its flowers,
which are lacking the usual petals of those in the legume family

False indigo, Amorpha fruticosa, reaches its native northernmost distribution in several of the southernmost counties in Ohio—those bordering the Ohio River. Its pinnately compound leaves look at first glance like those of its family relative, black locust, but there are no thorns along the slender stems and the spiked purple flowers wait until latest weeks of summer to bloom.

Hedge Nettle, Stachys sp.

Scarlet Sheetweaver, Florinda coccinea

By late summer, the untamed land within the Ohio River Valley has begun to resemble a jungle. High humidity and fertile soil grow thick, tangled stands of wildflowers waist-high. Overhead, vines climb hungrily along the branches of the trees. Spiders wait patiently for prey in elaborately woven webs. Singing insects trill.

Sensitive Partridge Pea, Chamaechrista nictitans

Handsome Trig, Phyllopalpus pulchellus

Locust Borer, Megacyllene robiniae, making a meal of goldenrod pollen

And perfectly timed to bloom profusely, offering a late-season hearty meal of pollen to hungry emergent beetles, the flowers of goldenrod and thoroughwort open on tall stems.

The Quarry

Yay! We found one!
Amorpha Borer, Megacyllene decora,
August 28, 2011

Boldly marked in bands of bright yellow and black, the Amorpha Borer, and the Locust Borer as well, look like wasps atop the flower heads as they feed in late August and September.
But look closely at those long antennae—it’s a longhorned beetle, instead!

Amorpha Borer on tall ironweed

If you’re extremely lucky, you might find one feeding or mating or preparing to lay eggs within a stem, but you’ll never find the white, worm-like larvae, which feed only on plant tissue inside the host plant. They’ll chew their way through next year’s growing season to emerge once again as a snazzily-clad adult.

Extreme infestations might weaken a tree and make it susceptible to wind damage.
(Several members of this family have become quite well-known as pests for their wood-boring life-style. Asian longhorned Beetle)
But not the Amorpha Borer.

You have to hand it to this lovely creature,
of whom some say is none more beautiful,
cruising the tops of the field flowers,
masterfully eluding all but those
whose one purpose
is to see just

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Going Coastal

Marblehead Light

This may not be the image that first pops into your mind at the mention of the word Ohio.
Ohio’s a Midwestern state, right?
Farmland boasting fertile fields of both corn and beans, a hint of hill country to the east where the Appalachian plateau rises from the Ohio River Valley, and Columbus situated at its center—including, of course, the sprawling campus of The Ohio State University, where, this time each year, thousands relapse into a case of Buckeye Fever that consumes the region until football season has passed.
A lighthouse is perhaps the last thing you might associate with the state of Ohio.

Lake Erie at Dawn

But, despite its mid-continental existence, the state of Ohio claims over 300 miles of coastline where it meets the southern shore of Lake Erie, the southernmost and shallowest of the 5 Great Lakes. Boasting some of the best birding in the world, especially during migration, sites within this area provide critical marshland and shoreline and are designated an Important Bird Area—globally recognized habitat for bird conservation. Wading, shore and water birds abound here, and in the more wooded areas adjoining it, many songbirds, as well.

In the center of what is termed the Lake Erie Western Basin, sits the quaint village of Lakeside—the site of the 2011 Midwest Birding Symposium—surrounded by many legendary opportunities for great birding.

Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, known as the Warbler Capitol of the World, is probably best known for its famous boardwalk along the lakefront that draws thousands of onlookers each spring as warblers rest and refuel before crossing the Great Lakes to points north. Other sites that are frequent favorites include Black Swamp Bird Observatory, East Harbor State Park, Marblehead Lighthouse State Park, Meadowbrook Marsh, and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.

To be unveiled by the Ohio Division of Wildlife at this year’s symposium, is the Lake Erie Birding Trail--84 sites in an expanded area from Toledo to Conneaut, organized into 7 easily-driven loops and offering birders a chance to tally nearly 400 species along its length. As popular as birding has become, the grand opening of this newest of North American birding trails will surely be welcomed by birders beyond the borders of Ohio, for, situated in “The Heart of it All,” Ohio is within a one-day drive of nearly half of the population of North America!

Click on the logo above
to access a copy of the COBP donation form

Feeling a little torn between a desire to travel these trails in the pursuit of the birds and a desire to curb your carbon footprint?
This year at the Midwest Birding Symposium, an experimental and voluntary Carbon Offset Bird Project will be launched giving attendees an opportunity to calculate the impact of their bird-related travel to and during the symposium.
As monetary values are suggested to offset emissions based upon mileage and vehicle type, donations collected in this effort will be used to secure additional wetland habitat adjacent to Meadowbrook Marsh, just east of Lakeside.

No, the beaches of Ohio's lakefront don't smell of salt air.
And you won't find clams or lobster on the menu here.
But the birding is world-class.
The birders, too.

If you're not signed up for the Midwest Birding Symposium, get on board!
And be sure to follow the course of events as these bloggers report from Lakeside, Ohio.

Official 2011 Midwest Birding Symposium Blogger

  • Heather Aubke / Heather of the Hills
  • Jane Blumenthal / Wrenaissance Reflections
  • Nancy Castillo / The Zen BirdFeeder
  • Corey Finger / 10000 Birds
  • Nina Harfmann / Nature Remains
  • Ruth Johnson / Nature Knitter Blog
  • Robert Mortensen / Birding is Fun
  • Greg Neise / NA Birding
  • John Riutta / The Well-read Naturalist
  • Lynne Schoenborn / Hasty Brook
  • Julie Zickefoose / Julie Zickefoose on Blogspot
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    Monday, August 29, 2011

    Refilling the Feeder

    My hummingbird is happy for the change…in me.
    A newly cleaned and freshly filled reservoir hangs, brimming with cool nectar, in what feels like September’s first fall breeze. I’d gotten lazy in my tending of the small, plastic globe suspended from the eave of the upstairs front porch and blamed, instead, the awful August heat for the mildew-blackened holes and clouded liquid of the neglected hummingbird feeder.

    The demands of summer ran away with me. Carefree hours spent on the porch watching hummingbirds dart in for long drinks or perch quietly within firing range and zoom back around in defense of the plastic flower soon dwindled to nothing. And as the birds themselves disappeared in my neglect, so did my desire to spend time porch-sitting.
    Before long, a faded and revoltingly dirty (and unhealthy) feeder was the only hint that remained to suggest that this had once been a place of great joys.

    A couple of weeks ago, I spent a few days with a friend.
    The hum and whir of birds outside her doorstep began at dawn and continued through the day until dark. Back and forth they’d travel by the dozens to the sizable reservoir—hers always fresh and full—hanging near a copper bucket tucked and fastened beneath the eave.

    Flowers filled her yard.
    As you’d expect from one whose life has been largely devoted to caring for and nurturing even these tiniest of winged creatures, many plants had been chosen as natural nectar sources. But the artist’s eye and poet’s soul had gone beyond to create a beauty so lively and rich, that it remained after dark, afloat on the air of a night lit only by full moon and fireflies.

    And I drank it in.

    And remembered the places and stories that had first registered those feelings of connectedness, the inspiration that flows with her words from the page.

    The friendship that I can only describe as a ball of yarn--
    cords wrapped this way and that, intertwined one with another,
    until I can no longer tell where it began.
    I only know that, with time, it has gotten bigger.

    Dropped back into my daily routine from this refresher of sorts, I began with an overhaul of the feeders.
    After all, I know what it is to be thirsty.

    Chet Baker

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