Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Timber rattlesnake: part 2

An update on the rattlesnake adventure from last year.  The post from Nov. 6, 2019 introduced you to our first captured timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) on the preserve, and if you read the post, you know it led us to a den site.  We were excited to know this den site was on preserve property, AND a second rattlesnake was using the same den.  Well this spring, thanks to the time lapse cameras supplied by John Howard, we know that the transmitted rattlesnake came out of the den on April 6th.  But the camera showed the other rattlesnake, the one we have not officially met yet, came out on April 4th.  We thought we missed our chance to catch that second snake and see if it was a male or female.  But luckily, it decided to go back into the den that same week.  Re-entering the den is not something we thought the snakes would do.  But this new snake, and an Eastern black racer (Coluber constrictor) that overwintered in the den, came out and later returned.  So we knew the snake was back in the hole in the ground.  Meanwhile the transmitted snake (the one we'd been following), was just feet away, "leaf hiding" as our Ohio rattlesnakes do after first emergence.

John's brother Vince built a trap he thought would help catch the new snake, and we mounted the trap over the den entrance.  It took two days, but the new rattlesnake, and the racer finally came back out, and into our trap on April 20th.  We had the new snake!

Trap is mounted above den entrance to capture whomever is living inside.

Once the new snake was in our possession, snake biologist Doug Wynn came down to process the snake.  The rattlesnake was held comfortably in a tube to protect everyone involved, and a pit tag was inserted under the scales in case this snake is recaptured. The pit tag allows us to scan the snake and give us an I.D. 
The rattlesnake is guided into a tube to handle safely.

The snake was weighed, sexed and measured.  To our delight, SHE is a female, with an approximated age old enough to have mated a few times already.  To find a female old enough for mating is a rare occurrence in Ohio, so we took her right back to the den site to release her.

Biologist Doug Wynn traces the snake under a clear press to measure the length of the snake.

Although the elliptical pupils and shape of head makes her appear "mean", this snake rattled only once during capture and has never attempted to strike.

Female timber rattlesnake released at den site.   Yes, that small hole in the ground is the entrance!

Get close and personal with our second timber rattlesnake in the video below.

To date, the radio-tagged male has moved about a half mile from the den site since its 2020 emergence. It has been hanging out on a hilltop, most likely waiting for a chipmunk to pass by.  As summer presses on we plan to follow our radio-tagged rattlesnake on his long travels looking for a mate.  At the end of July we will have mapped out his movements for an entire year.  Hopefully it will then lead us to the same den hole he emerged from in April.  And we hope the cameras catch the female returning alive and well.  
Watch for an update this fall!

Posted by:  Mark Zloba

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Bugs on Plants

Two immature Orthopterans and a beetle hanging out on an ox-eye daisy. Not sure if these are grasshoppers or katydids, but due to the lack of fully formed wings, they are not adults.

Bugs. A word that can bring excitement to some, dread to others, and taxonomically misused all the time. (True Bugs are a specific group of insects, but I recognize that the word "bug" generally means insects, spiders, and other arthropods.) I love insects and most other arthropods (Except roaches. Just. No.) Insects especially are too amazing for words. The infinitesimal number of niches they fill, the adaptations they have and the sheer number of them constantly blow my mind. One thing I really love about them are their relationships with plants and vice versa. One of the most notable relationships occurs with insects who end up being pollinators of plants. Beyond that though, are insects eating plants, insects and other arthropods eating the insects that are eating the plants and so on. That is why I thought it would be fun to take a look at just a few instances of "bugs" on plants.

This one is an adult grasshopper, hanging out on a lovely blooming Liatris or blazing star.

A harvestman lounging on pasture rose, Rosa carolina.

A scarab beetle, possibly in the genus, Trichiotinus, hanging out on some wild hydrangea flowers, Hydrangea arborenscens. These beetles feed on pollen and nectar as adults.

Looking about its universe, a soldier beetle in the family Cantharidae, perches on the end of a leaf. 

A dusky wing butterfly, Erynnis spp., probes for nectar with its long proboscis on downy wood mint, Blephilia ciliata.

This juniper hairstreak's, Callophrys gryneus, striped antenna and legs sure are fancy! He's dressed to the nines for dining on rattle snake master flowers, Eryngium yuccifolium.

A tiny moth named the mournful thyris, Thyris sepulchralis, sips nectar from a prairie plant in the genus, Zizia.

An even tinier moth, Spragueia apicalis, perches atop a gray headed coneflower, Ratibida pinnata, for its meal.

Honing in on a prime Penstemon flower, a bumble bee, Bombus spp., comes in for a landing, tongue out and ready to get some nectar.

A gray headed coneflower, Ratibida pinnata, is producing lots of pollen which this small native bee is taking advantage of.

Large and small, members of the order Hymenoptera (bees, wasps and ants) take advantage of the many tiny flowers that make up the head of a rattlesnake master plant, Eryngium yuccifolium

Awaiting a tasty snack such as a small bee, fly or beetle, this small crab spider in the family, Thomisidae, waits patiently on some just opening flowers of honewort, Cryptotaenia canadensis.

Also hoping to catch and consume something for lunch is this silt bug, Neoneides spp. His reservations were on downy wood mint, Blephilia ciliata.

Insects are other arthropods are one of only a few groups of animals that you can consistently see year round. And, they occur in every conceivable habitat including indoor spaces! This makes them accessible, entertaining, educational and more. Try looking around where you are for some 6 or more legged friends. You may be surprised at what you find!

Posted by: Robyn Wright-Strauss

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The Green and White Season

Mock Orange, Philadelphus spp. has fragrant white blooms. There are several native species, but a non-native one is commonly found in gardens and landscapes.

Late spring and early summer in the forest is a little less colorful than early and mid spring. The canopy has closed, preventing as much sunlight from reaching the forest floor and the spring ephemerals are fading away. A lot of the plants in bloom during this time have white flowers. Many are shrubs as well which is interesting. A former supervisor of mine called this time in the forest, the green and white period. 

Oxeye Daisy, Chrysanthemum leucanthemum, is a widespread non-native summer wildflower.

White blooms during this time are not limited to the forest interior. Roadsides and forest edges commonly sport our first flower in the line-up. While not native, Oxeye Daisy, Chrysanthemum leucanthemum, is extremely common and can make its home just about anywhere there is enough sun. Like other non-natives, it does especially well in disturbed areas. This might just be the one wildflower that anyone can name. 

There are several different species of beard-tongues, Penstemon spp. There are three on the preserve that are separated out by small details such as glabrous anthers.

One of my favorite early summer wildflowers happens to be the white colored beard-tongues. Beard-tongues belong to the genus Penstemon and show up fairly often as cultivars in the horticultural trade. These flowers are really great for many different kinds of bees. According to Heather Holm in her book, Pollinators of Native Plants, small carpenter bees, European wool carder bees, digger bees, sweat bees, mason bees, leafcutter bees and bumblebees all regularly visit these flowers. Wow!

Penstemon flowers are protandrous, which means on each flower the anthers release their pollen before the stigma becomes receptive. It is in this way that the plant can help ensure cross pollination.

Wild white indigo, Baptisia lactea, is primarily a tall grass prairie plant, but there are a few populations found in Ohio. It is listed as potentially threatened on Ohio's Rare Plant List. On the preserve, it is only found in a few of the prairie openings. Regardless, it is one cool plant! Queen and worker bumble bees,  Bombus, are the main insects who can effectively pollinate this plant. 

This queen bumblebee, Bombus spp., comes in for a landing on wild white indigo, Baptisia lactea.

When flying to the tall flower stalks, the bees typically land on the lower flowers and work their way up to the top most flowers. The flowers open and start to mature from the bottom up as well. This causes the bottom flowers to enter the female phase before the top most flowers. As the bees visit from bottom to top, the pollen from the top flowers is transferred to the bee who then flies to a different flower stalk landing at the bottom where the flowers are ready to accept the pollen. What a wonderful and elegant relationship between the plant and the bee!

The pollen baskets seem heavily laden with bright orange pollen on the legs of this queen Bombus.

Next up is a very common and somewhat "weedy" plant but nonetheless a native one. Fleabanes, Erigeron spp., are lovely tall plants with aster or daisy-like flowers. Sometimes tinged with pink, they are typically white and sport bright yellow central discs. There are several species and the preserve boasts four in total.

Common fleabane, Erigeron philadelphicus, is the first of the four fleabanes to flower on the preserve in the spring. 

Next up is a diminutive yet cheery group of wildflowers in the genus Hustonia. There are four different species found on the preserve and can be found in a variety of habitats. These flowers are often white but can range from a pale lavender to pink as well. Aside from being pleasing to the human eye, they are a good source of pollen and nectar to the smaller native bees such as sweat bees.

Collectively known as bluets, the genus Houstonia has many different species. There are four on the  preserve.

This lovely houstonia is a pure white making it stand out well against its narrow green leaves.

Moving on to a couple of outstanding native shrubs, first up is one of my absolute favorites. Ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius, is a fantastic shrub that I wish was used more in landscapes. It has a lovely shape, beautiful flowers and interesting bark. The flowers attract bees and other pollinators then later the seeds will attract birds.

Ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius, is a wonderful native shrub that is beneficial to wildlife and a pleasing addition to the home landscape.

The second native shrub I'd like to highlight is one that is only found on acidic soils. Mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, is an evergreen shrub with a gnarled and twisty appearance. It is a sure sign that you are in a forest with dry acidic soils. I just love this one. It is so distinctive in the way it looks and has so much character.

Bright white flowers against the dark, waxy, evergreen leaves makes for a beautiful contrast in the early summer forest.

Mountain Laurel can form pretty dense thickets and in some areas are a prime nesting spot for warblers such as the black-throated blue. Deer will browse the leaves and tender twigs and the fruits are eaten by songbirds. There are also many kinds of insects that feed upon the shrub, including a long-horned beetle that will bore into the twigs.

The flowers are in clusters and are often more towards the top of the plant.

Pollinated best by bumblebees, mountain laurel employs an aggressive strategy to deploy its pollen. Each stamen is firmly held against the flower petal until triggered by the touch of an insect (or anything else for that matter). Then the stamen is propelled forward launching a sticky glob of pollen at the insect! Talk about taking initiative! 

Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia, only occurs in a couple of places on the preserve. It prefers dry acidic soils.

For our last white flower, here is one that was new for me this year. This is low false bindweed (a terrible common name for such a pretty flower), Calystegia spithamea. This beauty belongs to the morning glory family as you may have guessed, but it is not a vine like the other morning glories. It is an upright plant with a fabulous, single large white flower. A real showstopper and wonderful plant for the last one our tour of the green and white season!

A very fresh flower of low false bindweed, Calystegia spithamea.

Posted by: Robyn Wright-Strauss

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

2020 Spring Bird Survey

Prothonotary warbler, Protonotaria citrea, ushers us into our 2020 spring bird survey.

May 11 into 12, 2020 was the 24 hour period picked for our annual spring bird survey.  Early May is the perfect time to try to find the highest number of species found in or around the Edge of Appalachia Preserve.  This time of year you can find straggling winter birds that have not gone north yet, breeding birds that just returned from the south and migrants that are passing through. Just the right time for a wide variety of birds.

Rose-breasted grosbeak, Pheucticus ludovicianus

The biggest observation of this year is the large numbers of certain birds like rose-breasted grosbeaks, scarlet tanagers and Baltimore orioles.  If anyone has been feeding birds using sunflower seed, they undoubtedly saw many grosbeaks this spring.  I have never seen so many of these birds in my 22 years birding...by far.  It was not uncommon for any of the preserve staff to see 30 grosbeaks at a time at our feeders!  And if you had oranges or jelly out for orioles, their numbers have been just as impressive.

Rose-breasted grosbeaks crowding the feeders.
Scarlet tanager, Piranga olivacea, feeding at ground level.
We started the afternoon in a grassland habitat.  This was the coldest day recorded for our spring bird survey.  The high temperature on Monday, the 11th was 48F.  The birds felt this cold day too.  In the afternoon, the birds seemed to stay low to the ground, and the insect were probably hanging low as well.  This year was the first time I've witnessed days of numerous scarlet tanagers perched and hunting low to the ground.  And the kingbirds, bobolinks and dickcissels of the fields were low to the ground, still and approachable.  Below are some of the species found in and around old fields and grasslands.

Eastern kingbird, Tyrannus tyrannus
Bobolink, Dolichonyx oryzivorus
Dickcissel, Spiza americana
orchard oriole, Icterus spurius
Indigo bunting, Passerina cyanea
Savannah sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
After scanning the field habitats for particular species, we headed to lakes, ponds and marshy fields to see what kind of water birds we could find.  Adams County has only a few large bodies of water, and is not known for its large numbers of water birds.  But we did luck out finding a blue-winged teal, our annual least sandpiper on a dam spillway and for the second time ever finding  Virginia rails in a marshy pond near the Ohio River.  Rails are unusual birds for us to find here, and there was a pair of them....which I believe were breeding!  This same pond has shocked us with the sounds of a sora (Porzana carolina) this year as well.

Blue-winged teal, Patula discors
Least sandpiper, Calidris minutilla
Virginia rail, Rallus limicola
I shouldn't forget the year-round birds that most of us see in our yards.  They count on the survey too, even though we spend most of the survey searching out the unusual or rarely seen species.  Yards around the preserve create an "edge" affect between the forests and openings.  Many birds prefer this kind of habitat.

Eastern bluebird, Sialia sialis
Gray catbird, Dumetella carolinensis
Brown thrasher, Toxostoma rufum
Song sparrow, Melospiza melodia
The biggest "hunt" in the 24 hour period has to be catching a glimpse of the hard to find and harder to photograph warblers of the forest.  We found 27 warbler species in total.  These tiny and generally colorful birds seem neurotic as they constantly move about the tree branches.  Eventually, I get lucky to catch some semi-clear shots of these fidgeting beauties.  Below are some of the highlights.

Prothonotary warbler, Protonotaria citrea
Magnolia warbler, Setophaga magnolia
Yellow warbler, Setophaga petechia
American redstart, Setophaga ruticilla
Chestnut-sided warbler, Setophaga pensylvanica
Palm warbler, Setophaga palmarum
Yellow-throated warbler, Setophaga dominica
124 species were seen or heard on or around the Edge.  This annual survey produces many of the same birds every year, documenting the movements of birds through this part of Ohio.  The preserve protects 20,000 acres of land crucial to the breeding, overwintering and migration stopovers for these bird species.  The diversity of birds found in one day correlates with the diversity of habitats protected.  If you would like to see different kinds of birds, visit different kinds of habitats and listen!  Interesting sounds can lead you to interesting sights.

Posted by:  Mark Zloba