Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Samuel James

Ambystoma jeffersonianum © Samuel James

You've seen his stunning photographs on this blog before, but who is he? Sam is an incredibly talented professional photographer who has become a wonderful friend to the preserve and those of us who live and work here. Sam and his family found their way into the Ohio Brush Creek Valley in 2019. We quickly made their acquaintance and the rest is history!

Frontinella pyramitela  © Samuel James

Sam has a deep love for learning and has spent the past few years literally absorbing any and all knowledge about the preserve and the Eastern Forest and all of its inhabitants: plant, animal and other. I have yet to meet another human being with such a thirst to know about the natural world. It is continually a pleasure to explore aspects of natural history with Sam. 

Pyractomena angulata and Photinus carolinus  © Samuel James

I think this is just one reason why Sam's photographs are so captivating. Sam's ability to immerse himself in whatever subject matter he is making photos of comes through like a shining beacon. Then, of course, there are some photos that for whatever the reason, are just ridiculously excellent. There is one such photo of Sam's that is being featured in an exhibit opening this Friday at Cincinnati Museum Center. It is part of a series of mind-blowing, long exposure shots of fireflies. If I didn't personally know Sam, I would have had a hard time being convinced that the photo was the real deal. You'll really have to see it for yourself. 

 Cladonia cervicornis  © Samuel James

The aforementioned exhibit, A Year on the Edge, is getting a reboot by focusing on the nocturnal happenings on the Edge of Appalachia Preserve System. The stars of this exhibit are Sam's immersive photos of a vernal pool and it's inhabitants, nocturnal and bizarre-looking caterpillars, a superhero version of a spider and the dizzying array of firefly species found on the preserve. These amazing photos are complemented with a diverse display of nocturnal animals from CMC collections that are found on the Edge. The exhibit opens this Friday, February 5, 2021. Click here for information on visiting CMC.

Terrapene carolina  © Samuel James

Sam has given a tremendous amount to the preserve and to all of us who have had the pleasure of viewing his art and spending time with him. Please take a moment to see more of Sam's work at his website, http://www.samueljamesstudio.com/.

Cercis canadensis  © Samuel James

Posted by: Robyn Wright-Strauss

Wednesday, January 20, 2021


The other day a friend and I happened to be at the right place at the right time. We got to see something that is a cold weather phenomenon known by several names.

Crystallofolia on dittany (Cunila origanoides). All the following photos show this phenomenon on the same species of plant shown here.

Ice doodles, frost flowers and ice ribbons are all names that have been attributed to these beautiful and ephemeral frozen sculptures. Not all these terms are the most accurate as these have nothing to do with frost and they really aren't flower or ribbons, though the names are very descriptive. Professor Emeritus Robert T. Harms (1932-2016) from the University of Texas at Austin, proposed the name, crystallofolia. Taken from Latin and Greek roots, it simply means "ice leaf". He does not take credit for this as original thought though. He points out that the term "eisblatt", which means the same thing, was used in the past by German botanists.

Regardless of what name we affix to them they are beautiful, interesting and rare. Like salamanders to a vernal pool in the spring, conditions have to be just right in order for these icy creations to form. Dr. Harms lists only a few native North American plants have been documented as being able to produce the ice formations. They include, dittany (Cunila origanoides), frostweed (Helianthemum canadense), white crownbeard (Verbesina virginica) and marsh fleabane (Pluchea odorata). Why some plants support this phenomenon and others do not is not yet settled by scientists. However, the process by which the ice is formed is known as ice segregation. I won't try and distill that process here, as I will freely admit to not quite grasping the physics of it myself. However, Dr. James R. Carter, Professor Emeritus of Illinois State University, explains the process in an excellent article about ice flowers published in American Scientist. The article is titled, Flowers and Ribbons of Ice. Here is the link, but in the case that it becomes outdated, simply use your favorite search engine.

The science behind the these sculptures is fascinating and worth learning about. These are also rare enough that they provide ample motivation to explore the outdoors on cold mornings. In the meantime, enjoy a few more photos of these amazing crystallofloia.

Posted by: Robyn Wright-Strauss

Friday, January 15, 2021

2020 Adams County Christmas Bird Count

An eastern towhee (Pipilio erythrophthalmus) puffs up in honor of another CBC.

 The Adams County Christmas Bird Count (CBC) was held on December 19, 2020.  This annual count finds birders in predetermined locations recording every bird they encounter, sight or sound.  

A pair of bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) watch over their new nest site.

Eleven territories make up the Adams County circle.  Upwards of 22 people searched the fields and woods and neighborhoods of the county finding 76 species between 6:30am and 5:30pm on count day.  The weather was cooperative and the numbers of birds did not disappoint.  The total number of individual birds found that day was 23,625.  That's a lot of birds to count!

American tree sparrows (Spizelloides arborea) visit our area only in winter.

All habitats are searched for specific birds.  Ducks of course, as well as eagles are found near the rivers.  Fields are hang out spots for many sparrows like the American tree, white-crowned and field sparrows.

Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus)  Photo by Rich McCarty

Forests are checked for wintering visitors like hermit thrushes, brown creepers and golden-crowned kinglets.

Golden-crowned kinglet (Regulus satrapa) exposes its bright head stripe when excited.

Red-breasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis)

This red-breasted nuthatch is another winter visitor can be found in pine stands, but more easily found visiting bird feeders eating suet and black oil sunflower seed.

Purple finch (Haemorhous purpureus)

Although many of the winter visitors can be hard to find, this year produced large numbers of seed eating birds like purple finches and evening grosbeaks.  The latter has not be found on CBC in over 25 years but 8 were seen this year. 
Large numbers of red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) were found this year including this colorful young male.

This years count had record numbers of 9 species:  ring-necked duck, black vulture, American woodcock (new this year), red-shouldered hawk, red-headed woodpecker, northern flicker, European starling, swamp sparrow and red-winged blackbirds.

Winter wrens (Troglodytes hiemalis) are extremely hard to find, and see. And harder to snap a shot of!

Downy woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)

Above and below are a couple of our resident birds found every year on the count, so they rarely get cameras pointed in their direction.  But some birds like the downy woodpecker and American goldfinch have been counted all 40 years the count has taken place in Adams County.

American goldfinch (Spinus tristis)

One of the best places to count many birds at once is a house with bird feeders.  There you can find many common residents, or if you get lucky, find a wintering  rarity like the yellow-bellied sapsucker.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)

Not to be confused with the red-bellied woodpecker below, which also has yellow on its belly, but red as well.  Yellow-bellieds have no red on their belly.  And most male woodpeckers have red on their heads, but it doesn't make them red-headed woodpeckers.....I know, confusing.

Red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

Every year some unusual birds show up and make the count exciting.  This year was the first time that American woodcocks (not pictured, only heard) were displaying right before dark as they would in March.  Never heard before in December, and new for the count, this was a pleasant surprise.  And this did not occur just in one field, but two!  Miles apart!

Here are the birds recorded on Dec. 19, 2020:

Canada goose  544
wood duck  1
American black duck  17
mallard  154
green-winged teal  1
ring-necked duck  186
bufflehead  1
lesser scaup  3
hooded merganser  27
ruddy duck  1
N. bobwhite quail  1
wild turkey  39
pied-billed grebe  1
great blue heron  10
black vulture  417
turkey vulture  5
northern harrier  1
coopers hawk  2
bald eagle  6
red-shouldered hawk  22
red-tailed hawk  45
killdeer  17
American woodcock  3
rock pigeon  177
mourning dove  640
barn owl  1
eastern screech owl  6
great horned owl  13
barred owl  4
belted kingfisher  11
red-headed woodpecker  33
red-bellied woodpecker  79
yellow-bellied sapsucker  4
downy woodpecker  41
hairy woodpecker  17
norther flicker  72
pileated woodpecker  27
American kestrel  55
eastern phoebe  2
blue jay  350
American crow  411
Carolina chickadee  120
tufted titmouse  103
red-breasted nuthatch  7
white-breasted nuthatch  53
brown creeper  6
winter wren  5
Carolina wren  64
golden-crowned kinglet  15
eastern bluebird  89
hermit thrush  5
American robin  560
brown thrasher  2
northern mockingbird  24
European starling  16121
cedar waxwing  9
yellow-rumped warbler  39
American tree sparrow  12
field sparrow  19
fox sparrow  12
dark-eyed junco  206
white-crowned sparrow  9
white-throated sparrow  128
song sparrow  75
swamp sparrow  42
eastern towhee  29
northern cardinal  281
red-winged blackbird  273
eastern meadowlark  33
common grackle  1341
brown-headed cowbird  204
house finch  8
purple finch  27
American goldfinch  101
evening grosbeak  8
house sparrow  148

White-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)

Winter wren (Troglodytes hiemalis)

In all, it was a great day to be outside hunting for as many bird species as possible, and our number reflected it.  Thanks to all the dedicated participants that brave the winter elements every year to record numbers for long term data curated by the Audubon Society.  

Posted by: Mark Zloba

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

EOA Nature Nuggets


Getting up close and personal with some wildlife can get well….creepy. Many kinds of animals, especially insects, have alien-like qualities. Or, at least they have served as inspiration for aliens in TV and movies to the point that now we see them that way. The ways they have evolved, the adaptations they have and the ways they experience the world around them can be so very different from us – we can’t help but to see them as other-worldly. Take a look at some of these interesting and sci/fy like creatures from this past post.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

EOA Nature Nuggets


Ohio Brush Creek serves as a conduit for Bald Eagles hunting for fish in the wintertime. While not an everyday occurrence, it is not unusual to see a bald eagle perched in a tree somewhere along the creek. While eagles are well known for being fish eaters, they are also scavengers. Road kill, dead fish and birds are all things an eagle will take advantage of. A dead deer is real prize for hungry animals in winter. Check out all the animals one deer can feed from this past post

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

EOA Nature Nuggets

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) is a very common evergreen fern found throughout Ohio. It prefers cooler, moister soils, but is not as picky about its location as other ferns. True to its common name, this fern is still green at Christmas time providing some much needed color against the rich browns of the leaf covered forest floor. In addition, each leaflet has a pointed tip near the stem. With a little imagination, one can picture the shape of Santa’s sleigh!

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

EOA Nature Nuggets

Stiff Gentian (Gentianella quinquefolia) is a lovely late fall blooming wildflower. Found in EOA’s prairies and cedar barrens it can bloom well into the late fall and sometime winter! The 5-petaled, purple flowers only open when the sun is shining. This plant is usually an annual but can sometime live for two years. This is a delightful plant to encounter, especially late in the season when most other wildflowers have finished for the year.