Thursday, January 16, 2020

Advanced Naturalist Workshop Series 16

The preserve is very excited to announce the 2020 Advanced Naturalist Workshops Series 16. The topics cover a wide range of interesting organisms with the usual amazing list of instructors. The topics and dates can be found on this page. Check them out!

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

BBC film UPDATE: Change of date!

An update to the post below.  The order of the new BBC film "Seven Worlds, One Planet" has been re-arranged due to the wild fires in Australia.  Australia's episode will air first on Jan. 18th and North America with firefly footage is now scheduled to air on Jan. 25th.  Same time, same channels.
See post below for details!

Thursday, January 9, 2020

The Edge's Fireflies Shine in new BBC Film!

UPDATE as of JAN 14, 2020: Due to the fires in Australia, the BBC decided to air their episode first on Jan 18th.  The North America episode described below is scheduled to air on Jan. 25th, 9PM eastern. 

In the summer of 2019, a film crew shooting for the BBC spent 3 weeks on the preserve.  They were capturing footage for a new nature series, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, titled "Seven Worlds, One Planet".  This major film project, following their Blue Planet series, features interesting animal stories from every continent and airs on January 25th at 9PM Eastern.  The film worked in 41 countries with the help of 1500 people.  Our film crew came all the way from England to film the magical world of fireflies at the Edge of Appalachia Preserve in the rural hills of Adams County, Ohio to represent North America!

BBC filming at the Edge Photo by: Lynn Faust

The crew filming firefly interactions with spiders and their webs.
How did they end up here?  Our friend and firefly expert Lynn Faust sent them our way.  Lynn is the person people contact when needing firefly info and she told them about the wonderful firefly displays at the Edge.  So two incredible nature videographers, Alastair MacEwen and Olly Jelley, along with producer Sarah Whalley showed up with an SUV full of special cameras that film fireflies twinkling in the night.  The goal was to capture footage of carnivorous fireflies (Photuris sp.) feeding on prey fireflies that have been caught in spider webs...and all behaviors in between.  After 3 weeks of shooting day and night, only breaking to eat and sleep, they got all the shots they needed.

Once a spider web is found with a prey firefly in it, the crew filmed it hoping for a predator firefly to pounce.
A lot of luck was needed to find fireflies caught in spider webs. But the harder part was predicting whether a carnivorous firefly would fly in to eat it, scaring away the spider that also wants the food. The spider did all the work creating the sticky web trap, but the predator firefly opportunistically steals it away!  Luckily, The persistence of the crew paid off.
When the film crew left Ohio there was no guarantee that any of the thousands of hours of footage they filmed would even make it into the movie.  We were delighted this year to hear some of their work had made the cut, even if only seconds of footage.

The 2 firefly experts, Lynn Faust on left and Laura Hughes on right take a break from scouting for the crew in background.
The entire series will display wonderful stories from each continent airing on separate nights. North America is the first of the series showing on Jan. 25th on channels BBC America, Sundance, IFC and AMC at 9PM Eastern.  The other continents will follow the next 6 Saturday nights.  Not all footage of fireflies you might see in the film are from Ohio.  They also shot wide landscape footage in Mississippi.  But any close-ups of fireflies and spiders should be Edge actors (fireflies).

Lynn Faust helping find and capture other unique fireflies while the crew awaits dark.
Thanks go out to Lynn Faust for this golden opportunity for the preserve to work with the BBC, and witness the hard work it takes to make these unbelievable films.  And thanks to the film crew mentioned above.  Their incredible work ethic and skill was unimaginable.  Even if only 10 seconds of footage makes it into the film, the fireflies of Cincinnati Museum Center's Edge of Appalachia Preserve will be the shining stars we know them to be.

For more information about the "Seven Worlds, One Planet" visit link below:

Posted by: Mark Zloba

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Box Turtle Update: A Goodbye

We have to say goodbye to one of the first Eastern Box turtles we decided to research on the Edge.

EOA2 (Hoffa) 2019  Photo by Sam James
EOA 2 (see previous blog post from January 22, 2016) was found expired at the end of November.  This was a few weeks after our first freeze accompanied by the first snow of the season on Nov. 11 2019.  Possibly, this Eastern box turtle, froze to death before getting to its over wintering spot for the season.  But it did turn up the past summer missing a leg, which may have led to complications with movement or infection.  No other visual evidence of attack, disease or fungus appears to be the cause, but freezing is an assumption.  EOA2 was the second turtle we glued a transmitter on in 2014 and have been following its activity for 5 years.

EOA2 out and about flaunting the transmitter on its back.

See EOA2 buried in the soil to the right of a the GPS unit.  This is all the deeper it needs to be to survive winter.
This turtle was visited via telemetry by at least 100 students helping to track its movements. From 2014 until 2019, EOA 2 was followed to better understand the habits of Eastern box turtles on the preserve.  The map below shows the recorded range of the area this turtle moved in 5 years.  It was never found outside the yellow circle on the map which is over 30 acres and a perimeter of almost a mile.  Robyn Wright-Strauss, who has been researching the turtles here commented that this is a much larger range than estimated in publications.  EOA2 liked to move!
On this Northwestern slope of the preserve, the turtle used 2 overwintering spots over the five years, marked as orange dots in the map above.  We learned that it would bury itself shallowly under the leaves in these two depressions in the ground and remain there from November until April.

Multiple locations were documented over the 5 year period
This box turtle was first picked up in the parking lot of the Eulett Center.  It was never found accidentally over the 5 years, but only when we searched for it via radio telemetry.  We have transmitters on other box turtles in the same area, but we have learned the most from this original capture.  We will learn more in the future from the other turtles, but as our first, EOA2 will always be the example of turtle behavior.  For us, this turtle was the leader.

Posted by:  Mark Zloba

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Found: Timber Rattlesnake resides on the Edge

For many years, the preserve has been searching and hoping that a state endangered timber rattlesnake, Crotalus horridus,  was living  its long life on our property.  As the preserve grows, and property to the east is purchased, we now own  more land in the middle of suitable rattlesnake habitat.  Locals have told tales of timber rattlesnakes crossing the roads near our property, and even a few pictures have been sent our way.  We always assumed rattlesnakes were on our property, but we wanted proof.  So the preserve put a lot of effort into finding rattlesnakes in 2019.
And after many hours searching, on July 26th, we finally found a rattlesnake! 

The snake was found crossing a road, unfortunately one half mile from preserve property.  But it was close enough that we thought we should catch it so the state wildlife biologist and herpetologist, Doug Wynn, could process it and decide if it was a suitable candidate for a transmitter.  With a transmitter implanted inside it's body, we could monitor the movements of this snake and potentially find its den site, leading us to more rattlesnakes!

The snake was brought to the Eulett Center where Doug Wynn met and picked it up.  Determining it was a male, he decided to take it home to surgically implant a transmitter.

After being anesthetized, Doug  placed a transmitter under the snake's skin.  This device will produce an audible signal for about 3 years.  With this implant, we can follow this snake long enough to learn its habits.
Transmitter with antenna (Photo by Doug Wynn)

Transmitter inside snake's body (Photo by Doug Wynn)
The rattlesnake recovered well, and was ready for release on August 5th.  Released in the same spot it was captured, it instantly moved up a hill and into a hole under a rotting tree stump on the side of the road.

Timber rattlesnake making its escape.

Rattlesnake moving towards tree stump (Photo by Robyn-Wright Strauss)
Rattlesnake entered hole, little did we know that its head went in first, but came right back out while rattle was still out.

For the next 2 months, our job was to follow this snake and cross our fingers that it ends up spending most of its time on the protected lands of the Edge.

(Photo by: Rich McCarty)
The day after release, the snake moved about .3 miles uphill, and surprisingly, towards our property!  By day 3, it had entered Edge property and was easily located using antenna and receiver which picks up the beeps from the transmitter. 
We then tracked the snake over the next month which moved 1.7 miles in one direction before settling down on a south facing slope of the preserve.

Notice the person in the middle of the picture, deep in brush listening to beeps of the rattlesnake.  (Photo by: Rich McCarty)
The area it has settled was not a friendly piece of land. The steep slopes were full of thorn laden Rubus sp. and greenbrier vines that not only made it difficult to walk, but difficult to see a snake on the ground.  Not to mention, this snake could ruin your day if you stepped on it.

It is not easy to see the snake on the ground.  There is a rattlesnake pictured above.....but where. (Photo by: Rich McCarty)
This is how we typically found the snake.  It sits still in this position never moving, no matter how close we may have been. (Photo by: Rich McCarty)

Below is a video with some rattlesnake encounters.

By the end of September, the snake had left the south facing hillside and the beep from its transmitter was gone.  The chase was on to relocate the snake and hope it was still on our property as winter approaches, and it should be headed to its den soon.
Unbelievably, we re-found the beep, and the snake had moved all the way back to the exact spot it was found on day 3 after release!  It was within feet of where we had already once found it.  It hung around this hillside for weeks, then on Oct 14, the transmitter had done its job.  It led us to its hibernaculum where it will spend the winter underground.  By the way, it was still on preserve property!

We would not have guessed that these small holes in the ground that go under a piece of sandstone would be a den entrance.
John Howard put a camera on the entrance to the den site so we could monitor anything coming in or out of it.  The video below shows some time lapsed photos of the snakes using the hibernaculum.  To our surprise, our rattlesnake was not the only rattlesnake using the hole in the ground.  A second rattlesnake was in there, along with some black racers and a copperhead who visited one night too.  This video was put together by John, and watching the center of the screen, you can see snakes going in and out.

This teamed effort has helped us learn so much about this rattlesnake in such a short amount of time.  The hard part was catching a rattlesnake.  But after the transmitter was implanted, the snake led us on an interesting chase.  We now know exactly where it traveled, how long it stayed in each place, where is hibernaculum is, what else is sharing it, whether or not it comes out to bask in the sun once inside and come next spring, we will learn so much more.  Thanks to Doug Wynn, John Howard and Vince Howard for assisting the preserve on the wild hunt and chase this snake has afforded.
Now we wait until spring and find out when the snakes come out of the den and what path our transmitted snake will travel in 2020.

Posted by: Mark Zloba

Friday, October 25, 2019

Prothonotary warbler neighbors

Sometimes it pays to leave junk laying around your yard, because you never know who or what will make use of it.  This year, on May 21, a prothonotary warbler (Protonotaria citrea) popped out of a decorative birdhouse in my yard which overlooks the preserve.   

I watched the male and female build a nest, bringing what appeared to be Thuidium sp. moss strands in for nest lining material.  But after two weeks I noticed the birds seemed to have abandoned the bird box.  I figured it was fun while it lasted.
Prothonotary warblers are riparian, or wooded floodplain loving birds that nest in tree cavities.  Fifteen years ago it was a treat to hear or see one of these birds along Ohio Brush Creek.  But in the past few years, they have become more and more abundant.

After a couple weeks of wishing the birds had stuck around the yard I had a surprise.  I walked out of my back door one day and had the feeling I was being watched.
In a decorative cup-like vase that was hanging on a porch post, a tiny yellow head peaked up and watched me pass by.  Around June 7th, the same prothonotary warbler had made another nest in this cup!

Not only did they make a nest in this cup, but they made another nest in a matching cup hanging on another post on the other side of the porch!
I can only assume that one of these nests was a "dummy" nest to fool predators or parasitic birds like brown-headed cowbirds?

Over the next couple days I watched and photographed as the 2 birds hastily made 2 nests, not knowing which one they would use.  I placed a camera on the nests videoing some of the action (or lack there of).

The birds lined both nests with mostly mosses, grasses and soft plant parts like the pictures above.

It became a dangerous task to walk out of the door and across the back porch as these birds were flying in and out with great speed.

On June 10th, there was 1 egg in the "real" nest!
On June 11th, another egg was laid, and on June 12th a third and final.

Unfortunately, on June 14th, a brown-headed cowbird was caught on video moving in and laying an egg at 5 in the morning.
Also unfortunate, I left home for ten days on vacation.  But all I seemed to miss from the videos captured were hundreds of trips by the male bringing food to the female while she sat with the eggs.

Around June 26 the chicks had hatched.  Both parents spent their days bringing food to them starting on June 29th.

On July 2nd I checked the cup and all the birds were gone.  I never got to see the fledglings.  Apparently, the birds grow up quick!  But it was an exciting month monitoring the birds and the surprisingly few interactions they had with other animals.  Videos captured rogue cats, raccoons and a rabbit walk by the porch under the nest cup.  And, beside the cowbird, only one other bird interaction occurred with a wren that picked the wrong place to land.

I knew there would be a good use for these decorative cups I hung on posts many years ago. I just didn't know who it would be useful to.  I hope these birds return next year and make use of more junk laying around my yard.

Enjoy this short video of my summertime neighbors, the prothonotary warblers, as they worked around the porch and yard.

Posted by: Mark Zloba

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