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

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!)