Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Ohio Brush Creek: An interesting valley

A friend took this panoramic picture of the Ohio Brush Creek (OBC) this winter.  I thought it made the creek look very mysterious, and reminded  me of how interesting this valley really is.  The OBC flows down the length of the Edge of Appalachia Preserve, and much of the preserve property borders this compelling stream.
Panoramic view of OBC.  Photo by Abe Myres
When I think about many of the unique and rare creatures on the preserve, a good number of them are found in the OBC valley.  In fact, most of the topics archived in this blog are of organisms associated with this valley.  Past blog characters like:  the unknown Amblycorypha katydid species, chuck-wills- widows, Antrostomus carolinensis, incredible firefly displays including the rare Photinus sabulosus firefly, eastern smooth earthsnakes, Virginia valeriae, and the extremely rare Lea's bog lichen, Phaeophyscia leana can all be observed within the area pictured below.
A view of OBC valley from the Eulett Center.
So why is this part of Adams County so unique?  We often give the geology of this area the credit for producing such abundant diversity on the preserve.  OBC cut through the land after the melting of the last glaciers thousands of years ago. This exposed the geology which in turn supports the immense diversity of plants. Those plants then create the different habitats which support the unique fauna.  Presently, as the land continues to change, this valley showcases windows into many rock layers like brassfield limestone, estill shale, Lilley, Bischer and Peebles dolostones, Ohio black shale and Waverly sandstone.  That is an abundant amount of rock layers that turn into different soils utilized by a wide variety of plants!
The last glaciers stopped just beyond the furthest hills in the distance.
Humans have been using this valley for at least 10,000 years.  Artifacts and earthworks found along OBC hint at its importance to humans.  Some of the first settlements in Ohio occurred nearby as  early surveyors like Nathaniel Massie traveled right up the OBC valley in 1790.  There is a long history of humans interested in the offerings of OBC.

Today, humans benefit from the OBC mainly through recreation.  Maybe so much diversity is found here because so many people with an interest in nature convene in this part of the county.  But I would say folks visit this valley mostly for the scenery.

OBC in winter.
Even in winter, the OBC valley produces interesting shows.  It the cold season, there have been more and more bald eagle sightings along OBC.  In the past 10 years, these giant birds have been found more frequently in this valley.  It used to be a big deal to see one eagle a year.  Now folks can easily see one a week if they're looking.  In December of 2018, there were nine bald eagles sitting in trees taking turns feeding on a deer carcass laying in a nearby field.

A bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus sitting above Ohio Brush Creek.
Even though some parts of the OBC can measure 45 feet deep during the dry season, it is not a river.  Its length of 60 miles makes it too short to be called "river".  But the fact that it supports many of the creatures that should be living in Ohio's waterways ranks OBC as one of the cleanest streams in Ohio.  The EPA has designated parts of it as Exceptional Warm Water Habitat.

A pink heelsplitter mussel, Potamilus alatus, shell laying on the bank of OBC.
The diversity of fish, aquatic insects and mollusks living in the creek are quite impressive,and are good evidence of the creek's high quality of health.  It is easy to walk the banks of OBC and within minutes find shells of numerous species of freshwater mussels, as seen below.  Forty-three mussel species have called OBC home at some time, and just as many fish swim its waters.  
2 minutes along OBC produces a wide variety of mussel shells like mapleleaf, plain pocketbook, deertoe, white heelsplitter, wartyback, pimpleback, fat mucket, black sandshell and fragile papershell.
Slenderhead darter, Percina phoxocephala , once rare in Ohio, fairly common in OBC due to its water quality. 
You may not see nor hear the rare flora or fauna of the Edge of Appalachia Preserve while visiting the OBC valley, but it is there.  Next time you are visiting the preserve, stop in at the Creek's Bend Picnic Shelter on Waggoner Riffle Rd.  While looking out at the Ohio Brush Creek, you should know that you are standing in the middle of one of the most naturally unique places in the state, and extremely rare species are not far from your feet.
The Ohio Brush Creek, new discoveries await.

Posted by: Mark Zloba

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Howards receive Friends of The Timber Award

John and Vince Howard of Adams County, Ohio received the first-ever Friends of The Timber Award from the preserve for their tireless dedication towards timber rattlesnake conservation. The brothers presented a riveting talk on the snake's biology and their efforts to document them on preserve lands to a large crowd at a Eulett Center After Hours program. The brothers duo have put countless hours of their personal time into trying to locate the state endangered snake species on preserve property with hopes of initiating more in depth research on their over wintering habits. They use boots on the ground to cover many rugged miles, as well as deploy innovative remote cameras to try to detect where these snakes may be calling home. Their dedication to snake conservation is exemplary and their enthusiasm for these regal snakes contagious. Both brothers received a specially created, hand pulled print of the timber rattlesnake by Xavier University Professor of Art faculty, Suzanne Michele Chouteau. Professor Chouteau's award-winning works include the recently created Buzzardroost Rock Mural in downtown West Union, Ohio. The preserve staff would like to thank her for her endless hours of dedication and inspiration on the preserve's behalf.
Vince Howard (left), Suzanne Michele Chouteau (center) and John Howard (right).

Monday, November 12, 2018

Spooky things found around Halloween!

It's only been a week since Halloween, but this time of year on the Edge does get a little spooky.  It seems that Autumn is when many of the critters we have decided are "scary" come out to play.  The cast from our childhood horror stories are easily found right around Halloween. 
Not only does Autumn produce some pretty landscape scenery, but pretty scenery on a smaller scale as well....pretty scary!
Autumn on the Edge
If I had to pick a cast of scary creatures we find in the fall, I'd have to start with spiders.  First thing you might notice when hiking on the Edge around Halloween is all the spider webs.  The orb weavers seem to be large and make larger webs after summer has past. 
The banded garden spider, Argiope trifaciata waiting for the morning dew to evaporate.
Without fail, many orb weavers spin their webs face high.  If you have ever eaten web while walking in the woods, the culprit may have been the marbled orb weaver, Araneus marmoreus.  Don't feel bad if you walk through its web during the day, the spider is usually hidden in a leaf structure on the side.  Many spiders make new webs every day.  Some even eat their webs in the morning to regain some of the proteins the web contains.
Araneus marmoreus rebuilding its web.  You can see its back leg pulling the web from a spinneret on the abdomen tip.
Found around houses, Neoscona crucifera is one of the most common orb weavers people encounter.
Another Neoscona crucifera. Notice the glue droplets on some of the web strands.  Not all web is sticky, but even the spider can get stuck in its own web if not careful.

Ocrepeira ectypa hangs out on the tips of twigs and looks just like a bud of a tree when still.
The next cast of critters found commonly this time of year would have to be Reptiles and amphibians.  Beside spiders, nothing is more hair raising and heart pumping to many folks than snakes, frogs, toads and salamanders.
An orange and black color variation of the Eastern hognose snake, Heterodon platyrhinos.  Notice the flattened head of the snake on the right side. (Photo by Chris Bedel)
Gray rat snake, Pantherophis spiloides, found on side of road.  They use the warm roads in fall for temperature regulation.
Careful while driving the roads in October.  Although it is a great time to get out and see the fall colors, it is also a busy time for reptiles and amphibians crossing roads!  At this time of year, especially on warm days and nights, many of these creatures are on the move to their wintering spots.  In one day/night, I encountered 45 brown snakes, Storeria dekayi, 1 spotted salamander, Ambystoma maculatum, 4 garter snakes, Thamnophis  sirtalis, 2 black rat snakes, Pantherophis spiloides, 2 rough green snakes, Opheodrys aestivus, 1 Kentucky spring salamanders, Gyrinophilus porphyriticus,  1 E. box turtle, Terrapene carolina, 10 American toads, Anaxryus americanus and 7 gray treefrogs, Hyla versicolor crossing the road.  This occurring in about 9 miles of road.  Imagine how many animals crossed that road throughout the day.  And yes, unfortunately many of them were roadkill.
2 brown snakes on the road.  One was inflated and acting aggressive, which shows a more striking pattern through its scales.

Many of these brown snakes I find under cover boards occupied by ant mounds.  They are known to utilize ant burrows in winter.
An American toad crossing the road on a warm and rainy fall night.
Gray tree frogs were out in force the night of Halloween.
Of course, there is no more iconic critter that represents this spooky time of year than our misunderstood friends, the bats.
This fall Rich McCarty came across a bat roosting on the side of a tree.  This species of bat has only been observed a few times by the staff.  Usually it is viewed flying over the Ohio River, and can be recognized mainly by its size.  But on this lucky day, right after Halloween, Rich saw this bat...and if these pics don't induce shivering.....nothing will.
What would you think this hair ball on the side of a tree is?? (Photo by Rich McCarty)
A hoary bat, Lasiurus cinereus, hanging on a tree waiting for nightfall. (Photo by Rich McCarty)

These migratory bats move north in summer and back south in winter and hibernate in trees and leaf litter.
(Photo by Rich McCarty)

Okay, maybe this is why bats are synonymous with Halloween! (Photo by Rich McCarty)

Our largest bat, and I might say the most attractive bat with its bi-colored wings, frosty highlighted hair and buff colored face fur.  (Photo by Rich McCarty)
Autumn is a very interesting time of year, with plenty of animal activity.  Preparing for winter, many critters are moving about and easy to find.  I use Halloween as a reminder to get outside the last few warm days of the year and look around.  You never know what you might find.

DISCLAIMER:  The animals depicted in this post are not dangerous of course.  They have just been selected many years ago as the cast of our horror stories and nightmares.

Posted by: Mark Zloba

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Millipedes of the Edge

How many millipede species do you think live in southern Ohio?  I estimated there were at least 50, maybe even 80 species.  I was incorrect.
Millipedes are long and usually slow.  They are mega-legged armored trains!  Blindly feeling their way through the forest, they decompose leaf litter and use chemical warfare for protection. 
North American giant millipede pushing its way across the leaf litter.

Not to be confused with centipedes, millipedes have 2 pairs of legs per body segment (centipedes have 1 pair).  Millipedes do not bite using venom (centipedes do).  Millipedes eat decaying plants (centipedes are carnivorous).  Do not pick up a centipede or you may receive a painful pinch. 
Here you see a centipede showing its 1 pair of legs per segment. The first pair is adapted as pincers with venom. 

Here a millipede shows its rounder body with 2 pairs of legs per segment.  1st pair are simply legs, not pincers.

Earlier this spring, we hosted a millipede workshop taught by Derek Hennen.  Derek has been re-writing The Millipedes and Centipedes of Ohio.  This publication was printed in 1928 through the Ohio Biological Survey.  He has been traveling the state updating records, adding species, and has spent some time collecting in Adams County.  He was the perfect person to teach this class.

Derek Hennen teaching millipedes to Advanced Naturalist Class.
From the preserve's previous collection, and what the class collected in May, we identified 19 species of millipede with Derek's assistance.  He believed this to be a fair representation for this area, and it is possible to find a few more species on the preserve.  I was shocked to learn that this is all the taxa we should have in the area.  It turns out, the Appalachian Mountains are the epicenter of millipede diversity in the country.  The further you travel away from the mountains, the fewer species you will find.  Since we are literally on the edge of the Appalachian uplift, but not in the mountains, we have fair diversity.  The Appalachians, where Derek studies, has had new species discoveries, and house some endemic species living in small areas of the mountains.

Narceus americanus annularis, the North American giant millipede

Abacion sp., a common and very smelly millipede when handled.

Oxidus gracilis, the garden millipede is an exotic that can be found in very large numbers.

Pseudopolydesmus serratus, a fairly common millipede.
Here are the millipedes found on the preserve to date:

Abacion magnum
Andrognathus corticarius
Apheloria virginiensis corrugata,  cherry millipede
Blaniulus guttulatus,  spotted snake millipede
Cambala annulata
Cambala minor
Cleidogona sp.
Conotyla sp.
Euryurus leachii
Nannaria terricola
Narceus americanus annularis, North American giant millipede
Ophyiulus pilosus
Oxidus gracilis, garden/greenhouse millipede
Petaserpes cryptocephalus, slug millipede
Pseudopolydesmus serratus
Ptyoiulus impressus
Scytonotus granulatus, granulated millipede
Striaria sp.
Uroblaniulus canadensis

One of the most fascinating parts of millipede life history is the chemistry involved with their protection.  They are not ferocious creatures, they rely on distasteful and sometimes deadly gas exchange to keep predators at bay.  Researchers have discovered many compounds are produced internally, with more yet to be identified.  Even the sweet smelling cherry millipedes are not as pleasant as they smell.  The odor they emit is cyanide.

The sweet smelling cherry millipede, Apheloria virginiensis corrugata.
Some can even release a chemical, staining your hand when they are handled.
Apparently a Narceus did not want to be handled this day.  It oozed a stain out of many pores that discolored my fingers for a week.  Not painful, just colorful.
Euryrurus leachii doesn't produce a good smell, but does produce enough chemicals to positively glow when exposed to ultraviolet light.  This is perhaps another way of warning predators to stay away.
Euryrurus leachii under normal light.

Euryrurus leachii under UV (ultraviolet) light.  Find these under logs with a black light at night.
Photo by Robyn Wright-Strauss
Mating occurs when a male and female find each other, probably through tracking pheromones.  The sexual organs are found between the 2nd and 8th pair or legs, so when they mate, they end up "chest to chest" facing each other.  Eggs will be laid soon after under debris on the forest floor.

Pseudopolydesmus serratus found mating in September.
Chemical warfare used by millipedes, to protect themselves is not fool proof.  One creature adapted to feed on these chemical laden subjects are glow worms.  Beetles in the genus Phengodes are silent assassins of millipedes.  The larva of the beetle sneaks up to the millipede and incredibly knows where to burrow in between the millipedes legs and cut the cord to the nervous system.  This prevents the millipede from using gas to deter the predator.  The glow worm can then dig its way into the millipede, eat it from the inside, and leave behind the exoskeleton.

Not a millipede (notice the 3 pairs of legs), this Phengodes plumosa larva feeds on millipedes.

Glow worm beetle larva bioluminescing (glowing) in the dark.  This millipede hunter produces light!

Glow worm larva sneaking in for the attack on a Narceus americanus.  It is burrowing its way into the center of the millipede.
Enjoy this video of a running millipede being chased by a predator (my camera) until all its legs get tired.  At the end of the video is a cute hatchling of a North American giant millipede.  The baby just hatched out of an egg which was enclosed in feces.  The feces ball, looking like a cocoa puff, is full of nutrients the juvenile eats to begin its life.  

Hopefully people admire the interesting millipedes they come across.  Not only are they a major player in decomposing the debris around us, but they are also interesting and attractive.  Even if their beauty is just a warning to stay away or you will be gassed.  Since their fossil records date back 420 million years, they are quite possibly the first breathing animals on land.  Now that deserves a little respect!
A big thanks to Derek Hennen for making the search for millipedes on our preserve so much fun.

Posted by: Mark Zloba

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Chuck on a nest

Every now again we accidentally stumble upon a nesting Chuck-will's-widow.  These nests are difficult to come by in Ohio because it is a rare bird in the state.  But the numbers of these birds have been increasing since the 1930's.  On May 24, 2018, I flushed a female Chuck, which flew about 30 feet and landed on a branch, swinging its wings to keep my attention.  From her lift-off spot I found 2 mottled eggs, placed directly on the ground since Chuck's do not build any kind of nest. 
Female Chuck-will's-widow swinging it's wings after leaving the nest to draw my attention to her.
Chuck-will's-widow eggs on the ground.
Since it has been a few years since I have found a Chuck nest, I thought this would be a fun place to set up a game camera.  I went back the next day, took a couple pictures of the Chuck-will's-widow now back on the eggs, then set up a camera facing the bird.
Cell phone picture of a Chuck-will's-widow through a spotting scope.
If all goes well, I should be able to watch these videos and see how long this bird sits on the eggs, how she or he tends to the eggs, when the chicks hatch, and how long they stick around after hatching.  I have now watched the hundreds of videos the camera captured, and am surprised how few interactions occurred with the Chuck on the ground and other animals.  There was one video of an adult and baby Eastern cottontail rabbit hopping by one night, and only one other interaction. An odd event happened with another bird.  Watch the video below of a wild turkey that enters the scene on May 27th, while the Chuck was still sitting on eggs.  The turkey obviously knows the Chuck-will's-widow is there.  

The wild turkey circled the motionless Chuck for 10 minutes and was not threatened by the bird on the ground.  I believe it was trying to make the adult Chuck flush.  Who knows what would have happened next.  Would a wild turkey eat those Chuck eggs??
I set up the camera on the 25th of May.  Turkey visited on the 27th.
On May 30th, there were no videos taken, and the first chicks were viewed on the 31st, so I believe they hatched out on May 30th.  This was 7 days after the eggs were discovered. 
Over the next 7 days, the chicks are fed in evening after dark, and early morning before the sun comes up.  Interestingly, both male and female Chuck's tend to the chicks.  This video below shows interactions of both adults and the tiny chicks on the ground.  Most of the video is in the dark, but if you watch the middle of the video, you can see the small chicks feeding from the adults

June 7th reveals last video of a chick hopping away, and there are no more videos of the birds.  The birds were still in the vicinity when I picked up the camera on June 11th.  The adult was making a guttural call which gave away the location of the birds. 
So the female sits on the eggs for at least 7 days, and the male and female feed the chicks for another 7 days before walking away from the nest (if you want to call it a nest). 
Two days after the birds left, I started getting videos of raccoons and squirrels walking by.  Odd that I never saw them enter the scene while the bird was on chicks, but it is possible the adult flew away from the chicks while a potential predator was approaching to lure it away, just as it did when I first approached.
Posted by: Mark Zloba 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Counting the Birds of Spring

Every year, preserve staff ventures out, in and around the Edge of Appalachia Preserve System to count as many bird species seen and heard in 24 hours.  It is part record-keeping, education, staff development and most importantly, competition.  Not only competition amongst ourselves to find as many birds as years past, but also competition with the birds themselves.  It is a sport to "hunt" down and view these animals that travel long distances, especially the migrating ones that have seasonal arrival dates.  The puzzle is to know where they are and when they will arrive.
Rose-breasted grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus)

So we pick a date in May when some of the wintering birds might still be around, and when breeding birds have returned, and sporadic visitors are migrating through.  This year, we set out on the afternoon on May 9 to the afternoon of the 10th.  Within this 24 hours, four staff members found 135 species.  Not a bad, as our total number has ranged between 125 and 142 in the past 20 years.

Getting out and searching for the birds awards us with great looks at many of the species, like this Baltimore oriole which was feeding on something in the seed clusters of a Box Elder tree.
Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)

Many migrating warblers are difficult to see.  Sometimes we just hear their songs and know they are here, but it takes some work to see a 3 inch bird at the top of an oak tree with leaves.  This year, Cape May warblers seemed to be plentiful, even hanging around long enough to get their pictures taken.
Cape May Warbler (Setophaga tigrina)

This Northern parula is a breeding warbler species on the preserve and decided to catch a Mayfly and eat it in front of me.
Northern Parula (Setophaga Americana)

Sitting still and listening to their songs and calls is the best way to observe bird diversity in your area.  It never fails, when sitting still for a while, some birds will show up and put on a good show right in front of you like these cedar waxwings did along the Ohio river floodplain.
Cedar waxwing's (Bombycilla cedrorum)

Just outside the preserves western boundary lays a grassy field that was loud with the songs of Dickcissel's.  This spot produced other great grassland birds like grasshopper sparrows, bobolinks and blue grosbeaks.
Dickcissel (Spiza Americana)

Luckily, this Yellow-billed cuckoo arrived the day we were counting birds.  It was the first one we had heard or seen so far in 2018.
Yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus)

A very loud migrant warbler called the Tennessee warbler is very easy to hear, but very hard to see.  So we were lucky to have one low enough to photograph.
Tennessee warbler (Leiothlypis peregrina)

Same thing goes with the hooded warbler seen below.  I hear them all over the forests of the preserve, but to find one in the open is rare.
Hooded Warbler (Setophaga citrina)

Of course, and easy way to find some of the birds is to simply watch feeders as we drive around the county.  Although we had some fly-by Ruby-throated hummingbirds on our count, this male was easy to watch at one of our feeders.
Ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

Early in the morning, on ridge tops you will hear the song of the scarlet tanager. And if you have some patience, one will usually appear and sit still for good looks at its stunning scarlet feathers.
Scarlet tanager (Piranga olivacea)

Of course we search into the night to find evening birds like Chuck-wills-widow's, woodcocks and owls.  This Eastern screech owl almost landed on my head after whistling once imitating its call.
Eastern screech owl (Megascops asio)

The majority of the preserve is  forested, with bordering successional shrub-land and old fields.  This habitat, along with the riparian forests of Ohio Brush Creek is a wonderful place to provide refuge for migrating bird stopovers, and suitable landscape for most of Ohio's breeding terrestrial birds.
The Edge of Appalachia Preserve System has been a birding destination for many years, and pride's itself as an important bird conservation area in Ohio.

Posted by: Mark Zloba