Thursday, August 22, 2019

Fireflies through Sam's eyes

Now that summer is over, the fireflies have pretty much ended their luminous show for the year.  Two years ago, you may have read a post about the fireflies of the Edge.  We are now up to 21 species, thanks to our friend and firefly leader, Lynn Faust, and her book  Fireflies, Glow-worms, and Lightning Bugs.  Many hours were spent this summer searching the preserve for new species, and new locations of rare species.

A photographer friend, Sam James, has been becoming more and more intrigued by these beetles. He spent some time observing the different species with us around the preserve. So I asked him if he could take photographs of the firefly shows we showed him.  Oh boy, did he. I had no idea his product would be so incredible.

Firefly displays are pretty much something you have to enjoy in person.  Even though they communicate with butts that illuminate, they are very hard to photograph and/or video to capture the actual experience.  But I think Sam has done an amazing job capturing their displays.  He was gracious enough to share his photos with us, which we would like to share with you.  Here are some of the firefly shows around the preserve.
One of the first fireflies to fill the fields of the Edge are Photuris quadrifulgens, the spring 4-flashers, which you can tell by this picture. 
More spring 4-flashers over a field in May along with a deer enjoying the show.

This scene shows the different patterns the spring 4-flashers can make.  Some flicker, some flash 4 times and some do a long glow.

Later in May, Another firefly with quick, single flashes fills the fields and surrounding trees.  These are Photuris tremulans, or the Christmas lights. This picture really shows why they are called Christmas lights!

Here, Sam caught a single Photuris quadrifulgens flying across a pond.

Photuris fireflies flash in the background while The Big Dippers, Photinus pyralis float upwards out of the field.

Some species are more secretive, flashing less often and hidden in the forest like these Photinus marginellus curtatus, or the little grays.

By mid-June, the newly discovered Photinus carolinus,  commonly called synchronous fireflies come out.  
By late night, a few preserve locations display hundreds if not thousands of these synchronous fireflies.
The synchronous fireflies flash together hence the name.  Here, Sam leaves the eye of the camera open exposing how many beetles flash in twenty minutes.

Photuris species showing their long glow with a unique perspective with the stars.  Looks like shooting stars!
More slow glowing Photuris looking like shooting stars.
We may never get to see the Aurora Borealis in southern Ohio, but shows like these might be the next best thing.

By late June and early July, the fields around the preserve become electric with a species called Photuris hebes, the Heebie- Jeebies.  Their single flashes occur every second and thousands of them blanket the field and shrubs
Late June and July starts the Big Scaries, Photuris lucicrescens.  They flash like a light bulb, or do a long slow glow lasting up to 3 seconds.
More Photuris sp. doing the "Chinese lantern" or slow glowing that produces a hypnotizing show. 

If you would like to see more of Sam's photos, click the video below for a 2 minute slideshow.

Thanks to Sam James for taking the time to get out at night and use his expertise to capture and share the wonders that are fireflies in the eastern United States.  Not every part of the world gets to enjoy the bioluminescent beetles that most of us grew up with.  But through photos like these, people can get an idea of the immense communication show that is going on not far from our own backyards.  Sam's picture are wonderful and can't be beat....except for witnessing the beetles in person!

Posted by: Mark Zloba
Photos by: Samuel James

Thursday, July 4, 2019

2019 Bird Surveys

May and June are the months of birding on the preserve.  May brings migrant bird species traveling through the preserve to their breeding grounds in the north.  June begins the surveying and censusing of breeding bird populations found at the Edge.

In early May, we counted 120 bird species in one 24 hour period called bird-a-thon.  The day we chose to count as many bird species as possible, migrants were sparse but we found many of the expected fauna during peak migration.  The spring weather and temperatures were ideal for the migrants to spread out their migration, making a fallout day hard to predict.
But the return of birds to the Edge was exciting as ever, never knowing what would show up next.  Finding 120 species in one day is a great day for any bird watcher

In early June, a 25 mile survey of breeding birds for the USGS counted 70 breeding bird species in one morning.  Another survey covering 25 stops on the Edge of Appalachia Preserve properties counted numerous individuals of 64 species.

Enjoy some of the breeding and non-breeding birds captured digitally this year.  A little eye candy of bird diversity is always good for the brain.  And now that July is here, the breeding birds are harder to find as they sing less and concentrate on caring for their young.

Blue-winged warbler, Vermivora cyanoptera

Blue-winged warbler, Vermivora cyanoptera again.
Chestnut-sided warbler, Setophaga pensylvanica

Grasshopper sparrow, Ammodramus savannarum
Grasshopper sparrow, Ammodramus savannarum again.

Mourning dove, Zenaida macroura

House wren, Troglodytes aedon

Orchard oriole, Icterus spurius

Osprey, Pandion haliaetus

Prothonotary warbler, Protonotaria citrea
Prothonotary warbler made a dummy nest in my backyard birdhouse.

Watch for upcoming post on this prothonotary warbler who did make a real nest in a vase on my porch.
Blackburnian warbler, Setophaga fusca

Red-breasted nuthatch, Sitta canadensis

Common yellowthroat, Geothlypis trichas

Red-shouldered hawk, Buteo lineatus feeding a lizard to its chicks.
Indigo bunting, Passerina cyanea
Red-headed woodpecker peeking out of hole in tree.

Red-headed woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Swainson's thrush, Catharus ustulatus

Eastern kingbird, Tyrannus tyrannus

Worm-eating warbler, Helmitherosvermivorum

Rough-winged swallow, Stelgidopteryx serripemmis Photo by: Rich McCarty
These surveys are wonderful reminders of the numerous habitats and vast numbers of animals protected on this large, privately owned nature preserve.  The Edge of Appalachia Preserve is one of Ohio's best places to find eastern forest and field birds.  Links on the top of this webpage has info to trails open to the public where you can enjoy these, and many more bird species.

Posted by: Mark Zloba (Thanks to my friend who lent me her Sigma zoom lens to hunt these birds for photos!)

Thursday, May 23, 2019

A Big Thanks to the West Union High School FFA and BETA

FFA and BETA club members from West Union High School help work on EOA trails. Photo by: Donnie McCarty
Every year students that are members of the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and BETA Club visit the preserve for an end of the year work project.  They volunteer their services and lend their hands and backs to make much needed improvements to the preserve.  They have: cut trees out of prairies to help keep the prairies exposed to the sun, picked up trash form illegal dump sites, improved trails by building boardwalks and have even helped pull invasive garlic mustard taking over the bottom land forests of Ohio Brush Creek.

Photo by: Donnie McCarty
This year, the crew arrived early in the morning with smiles on their faces and good attitudes in their brains, which always makes for a pleasant workday.  In fact, although they worked hard on this long, hot day, I never heard one complaint from any of the participants!  And these are teenagers!!
They helped us remove old boardwalks from the retired portion of the Buzzardsroost trail, and carry all the old wood out of the forest.  A job that would have taken 4 of us many days to accomplish.

Photo by: Donnie McCarty
Thankfully, although crowbars were prying, hammers were swinging and nails were exposed, no one got "too" injured.  A few minor scrapes were expected.  But these incredibly hard workers disassembled three boardwalks and marched the remains out of the forest with the precision and organization of an ant colony moving its mound.  I was impressed.

Photo by: Donnie McCarty
After lunch, the team proceeded to carry the same wood they removed earlier, BACK into the forest on the new Buzzardsroost trail to build temporary boardwalks over muddy spots.  Again, no complaints for the group!  This trail becomes unbelievably muddy in the spring, and these wooded tracks will help hikers manage the slick spots.  Along with some fresh gravel placed along the trail, these students helped us improve at least 400 feet of muddy areas.

I cannot say enough about the work ethic of these students.  They worked hard all day, and although it was not easy, they kept on pushing.  Thank you to all who participated, including their teachers Donnie McCarty and Tess Holloway.

Posted by: Mark Zloba

Friday, March 15, 2019

Where have all the bats gone?

A friend of the preserve, who happens to be a barge captain, asked an interesting question last year.  “Where have all the bats gone?”  He has enjoyed watching bats flying while piloting his vessel at dusk along the Ohio River every night in summers for over 25 years.  The numbers of bats he was used to seeing has dropped so significantly that it has prompted his good question.
Ohio River valley is a great place to watch bats hunting at dusk.
We have all seen movies where an unknown virus appears and quickly spreads throughout the world, quarantining individuals while scientists rush to find its origin and a cure.  A very similar scenario has been occurring under our noses (or bats noses) for the past 10 years, but this scenario is not science fiction.
Many bats hibernate in caves in winter.
In the early 2000’s, preserve staff started monitoring caves on the preserve.  Mostly to see what animals were utilizing caves in the winter, but also to look for new species like cave salamanders, cave orb weavers, Indiana bats etc.  While in the caves, we would count all roosting bats encountered and record species when possible while they were in their torpor (inactive state) for hibernation.  During hibernation they would slow their metabolism down to preserve energy.  Each year, we would find roughly 30-60 bats in our largest cave.  Species like little brown (Myotis lucifugus), tri-colored (Perimyotis subflavus), big brown (Eptesicus fuscusand long-eared (Myotis septentrionalis) bats were the most common.
In 2007, it was common to see 15 bats on one wall in some of our caves. (Photo by Rich McCarty)
Bats would sometimes congregate in clumps, unfortunately making it easier to spread diseases. (Photo by Rich McCarty)
In 2007, a fungus that kills hibernating bats called Pseudogymnoascus destructans or white-nose syndrome was discovered in New York.  It spread quickly, and by 2011 in was found in Ohio.  This fungus has been linked to the deaths of an unknown number of bats, undoubtedly millions.  Because of this, and the possibility of moving the fungus spores around, we stopped entering the caves in the winter.
Map showing the spread of white-nose syndrome since 2006. Copied from

The annoying fungus causes the bats to wake up more often during hibernation.  This depletes their energy reserves so much that they die before spring emergence.  Once a bat has the spores on them, they can easily carry the spores and transfer the fungus to other bats. This newly discovered fungus, origin unknown, started spreading throughout the eastern U.S. before anyone knew about it.  More than 10 years later, many bat species, like the ones mentioned above, have population densities only fractions of what they used to be.
A big brown bat Eptecicus fuscus, roosting in a crack

Bat researchers from Ohio University measuring temperature of a big brown bat in a cave entrance.
The Ohio Division of Wildlife has been re-surveying caves in Ohio to monitor the status of bats in the state.  This winter we guided them to some of the preserve’s caves previously surveyed almost 10 years ago.  Out of 4 caves visited, the crew only found one live big brown bat.  In our largest cave that used to produce the most bats, they found one dead tri-colored bat, with "white stuff" on its face.  It appears, like most of the state, White-nose syndrome has found its way here too.
Division of Wildlife employee Erin Hazelton squeezes into Fern Cave on the preserve.
After searching for bats, Erin Hazelton (ODW), exits Fern Cave.
It takes a lot of work and I'd say bravery to get into some of these cave openings.
Cave surveyor, Erin Hazelton, pictured above was excited to find an endemic isopod (Caecidotea filicispelunceain this cave, but did not find bats.  It used to be easy to find bats in our caves.  But this survey was a reality check.  The bats we have grown accustomed to seeing in our caves are no longer there and the decline of bats in the Eastern U.S. is happening faster than we realize. 

Unfortunately, there is no cure right now to protect bats exposed to white-nose syndrome.  The fungus is here and easily transmitted between bat roosts.  The state and federal agencies will continue to monitor and study this problem.  Time will tell whether hibernating bats will outlast this onslaught of an invading fungus.

Posted by: Mark Zloba