Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Winter Birding

You might have noticed it is cold. But that doesn't mean the fun has to stop, it only changes.  Let's focus on some of the special happenings going on in Ohio in the fall, and yes, winter.

Oh, this looks interesting!  
Bob Scott Placier gently handles a Saw-whet Owl.
Saw-whet Owls invade parts of the United States in the fall.  Leaving the forests of Canada, many cross Lake Erie to take up winter residence in Ohio, Pennsylvania and beyond.  Researchers are just getting a good understanding of the habits of these nocturnal creatures.  The group at Project OwlNet are the the primary movers and shakers of the studies.

In Ohio, we have Tom Bartlett banding these secretive owls on Kelleys Island.  My good friend, Bob Scott Placier recently did a night time banding at Lowe-Volk Park in nearby Crawford County.  He was able to band one of the elusive birds that evening, but in general, the numbers are down this year.  

Cackling Geese, now coming to a inland lake near you!
Note the stubby bill which is most diagnostic.
 Last week I had the opportunity to bird a bit at Maumee Bay State Park's inland ponds.  There were good numbers of Canada Geese moving through just in front of this weather front we are now experiencing.  Two mini-geese where associating with the Canada Geese, but maintaining their own space and distance from the larger birds.  Cackling Geese, once a sub-species of the Canada Goose   have been "split" out and are now considered a separate species.

Two Cackling Geese in the forground were about 65% smaller
than the geese with which they were asscociating
These Mallard-size geese are real stand-outs in a crowd. I spent a good bit of time studying the birds, and got some video as well.  I will try to post that later.

The whole science of splitting out Crackling Geese has been called "hopelessly muddled" by several of America's best birders.  So I will not attempt to explain them other than, when you see one- you will know it!

And with snow comes: Snow Buntings!  Keep your eyes pealed while driving back country roads for these farm-field wonders from the north. Every day we are getting reports of more winter birds arriving!

Snowy Owl
 This is a picture I took while on a Black Swamp Bird Observatory winter pelagic tour several years ago.  Experts are predicting another boom year for Snowy Owl watching and the Cleveland Lakeshore is a good place to start your search.  In fact, go here to sign up for your own  Lake Erie Freeze-fest!  They will pour the hot coffee and provide expert birding leaders as well.

Short-eared Owls are winter fare.
Birders will soon be seeking Short-eared Owls and Northern Harriers in grasslands across Ohio.  My photo was taken at Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, but Short-eareds are also frequently seen at The Wilds near Zanesville.  Ohio Ornithological Society will be offering a trip to the Wilds on January 17th, 2015. For those interest in winter grassland birding, go to the OOS website for all the details.

  • This weekend, the Ohio Natural Areas and Preserves Association will be birding at La Due Resivoir and I hope to see you there on Saturday Nov. 22, Please go to their website for details. 

  • The ONAPA birding is from 10:00-2:00 and following at 3:00 pm is Greater Cleveland Audubon's program and refreshments at nearby Novak Education Center, 382 Townline Road in Aurora, Ohio (3-5pm).  The speaker will be someone you might know, a Weedpicker.  I will be talking about Birding by Habitat, and Habitats for Birds.  

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Sowing Seeds for the Future

Have you ever struggled with germinating Milkweed seeds? A lot of folks wonder how to get those seeds started. Generally it is best to plant them in the fall or early winter, as milkweed (Asclepias sp.) seeds native to Ohio need to be stratified, meaning cold treated.

Elijah Martineau with his excellent poster.
 Yesterday I met an extraordinary young man and had the opportunity to discuss Monarchs and Milkweed seeds with him.  His poster showed a step by step process for easily germinating seed which need to be cold treated.

Here is a large photo of Elijah's poster and below is a portion of his text:
The best time to sow seeds (also called seed stratification) is late January or early February. This is so the seeds get the necessary amount of cold temperature time.
Once warm weather sets in, you may need to tear the duct tape off so you can keep the soil moist.
Transplant the small plants when they have four leaves, either into the ground or into small pots.
 Keep the plants watered while they are developing their root system during the first summer.
It is unlikely the milkweed plants will flower the first year and may take 2 - 3 years to flower.  It can still be used as a host plant for Monarchs.  Try growing some nectar plants to provide food for adult butterflies. 
                                                            From Elijah Martineau's poster display. 
  Cutting drainage holes.

Watering the seed from the bottom. 

I hope Elijah's poster gives you some ideas for germinating Milkweed seed, but he was not the only conservation minded citizen I met yesterday.  He was just a small part of an incredible gathering at the Wilderness Center in Wilmot, Ohio, where the children were remarkable and the youth were taking charge!

It was my honor to attend the Ohio Young Birders Club Annual Conference.  These are some of the brightest and best of our future generation.  Lest you think they are only "bird brains," I'll dispel that notion rather quickly.  These youth may have united over birding, but they are budding scientists and conservationist!  OYBC empowers them with remarkable educational opportunities.  They are birding, butterflying, mothing, on land and by and kayak.  They check out plants, insects and all matter of life on earth.  This is the place for youth to meet other like minded youth and to be educationally encouraged. 

 If you, too, think kids should use their brains, I hope you will buy an adult membership or send the a nice $$ check to support the OYBC efforts! I can honestly say meeting these students is always a highlight of the year for me.  If they are our future, we will be OK after all.

ABA's Young Birder of the year, Alec Wyatt presented Taking Action for Birds.
The excellent programs ranged from Growth and Development of Blue Birds by Stephen Bischoff, The Impact of Plastic on Birds by Dakota Callaway, 4-H and Ohio Birds by Corrine Woods, Birding Costa Rica by Tyler Flicker and Ethan Rising, Soaring with Birds by Joey Tomei, Listing Research and Competition by Doug Whitman and Trevor Zook, and Alec Wyatt's, Taking Action for Birds.

Alec travelled to Ohio from San Antonio, Texas to give his presentation and I predict we will be hearing more about this young man in the future!

A young-at-heart Kenn Kaufman and his Bird ID Quiz was assisted by Cassidy Flicker, Helena Souffrant and Nate Koszycki.  May Martineau was an excellent M-C for the event.

 Thanks to all the students and the excellent staff of Black Swamp Bird Observatory for providing the platform to success for this incredible group.  I hope to see you all at the conference next year!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

VOTE for Monarchs

America is a great nation of democracy.  Since election day is on everyone's mind, it is a good time to stress the importance of voting.  You might think it odd that I would promote having a Monarch.  After all the jib-jabs back and forth, the ultimate insult to a President is to suggest he acts like a monarch or king.  Opposing politicians did it with Kennedy, the Bushs' reign and now Obama.  It cuts both ways.  But we do have one Monarch we should all vote for: Danaus plexippus, the Monarch butterfly. 

Danaus plexippus, Monarch   photo C. Harner
Once the reigning butterfly of America, the most recognized lepidoptera to take to the sky, our Monarch is in a tragic decline.  I wrote about it here  and gave a presentation on the midwest migratory Monarchs at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History's Conservation Symposium about a month ago.  The fact remains: Monarchs are in serious trouble.  

Monarch lifestages, by artist Ann Geise
Monarchs are members of the subfamily Danaus or Milkweed butterflies.  All of these butterflies use a milkweed as a host plant.  The caterpillars ingest toxins from the milkweed- cardiac glycosides. The main study on the host plant and the butterflies' toxicity were conducted by "Browers barfing Blue Jays." I had often wondered what scientist had the job of watching birds vomit and now I know: meet Dr. Lincoln Brower.

Milkweed authority Roger Troutman and Monarch expert Dr. Lincoln Brower
 It turns out, Dr. Brower and I have a mutual friend, Roger Troutman.  Not only an avid birder and excellent naturalist, Roger is an authority on Asclepias, or Milkweed.  Years ago he worked with Dr. Brower when they visited many milkweed patches in Florida and studied the toxicity of the various milkweeds.

Roger and I recently travelled to Indiana to attend the INPAWS (Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society) annual conference.  Dr. Brower was a Keynote speaker, who entertained and informed the audience on the current standing of the declining Monarchs. We learned there is currently an effort to list Monarchs as a "Threatened" species.

To VOTE click : http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/
PLEASE take the time to click on the link above  to add your name to the petition. We simply should not allow the extinction of the greatest gateway insect for budding entomologists. The Monarch is an iconic species of America, you might even say it is the Bald Eagle of the insect world.

We need to pay attention to this dramatic decline, before Monarchs are completely wiped out.  Their population has fallen by 90% in just the last four years!  Scientists believe the problem used to be deforestation in Mexico, but now and even bigger issue is the combination of herbicides and pesticides being used in our farm fields.  It is time to realize the butterflies are bio indicators and Monarchs have become the "Canary in the cornfields."

"Weedpicker" Cheryl Harner and Dr. Lincoln Brower
Think about your yard and neighborhood.  Did you see Monarch butterflies this summer? How about other beneficial pollinators, were they AWOL?  Maybe it is time to plant some Milkweed and nectar plants in your yard. While you are thinking about helping us create a better world for those buzzing and flapping creatures who make our lives possible, remember pesticides kill ALL insects! Pesticides are non-selective; everybody dies!  Life is all about the food chain, kids.  If the insects don't eat, none of the higher life forms eat either.  This is a wonderfully complicated world in which we live.

If you want to know more about butterflies, host plants and nectar sources, please pick up a copy of Jeffrey Belth's book, Butterflies of Indiana.  His excellent book provides the information Ohioans need as well. If you would like to meet Jeff in person, join us at the January 17th, 2015 Ohio Lepidopterist meeting in Columbus, Ohio.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Plant Management

Our ecosystems are not frozen in time.  Every passing year and each natural or unnatural impact changes the way the land and its tapestry of plants respond. Left unmanaged, plants grow and change by natural succession. Natural or unnatural impacts may include flood, drought or fire. All are powerful forces upon our fields and forests.

Daughmer Prairie, just about to burn. 
Sometimes these forces are unexpected  and unwanted.  Other times, they are a tool for land management.  It is an accepted practise to use fire to maintain open places- like prairies.  This is nothing new, the First Nations of North American used fire as a tool long before white men arrived on the scene.
Cheryl Boyd Harner and John Boyd
Only now have I realized, I have grown up to be just like my father.  Dad has always been a bigger-than-life influence upon me, and he was a Plant Manager.  Now grant you, he is an electrician and mechanical wizard, who happened be be the Plant Engineer at a Goodrich factory.

As a Weedpicker, I am a bit of a plant manager too, albeit a more "hand's on" type.  I have often been involved in managing habitats for invasive species.  From chopping and popping Teasel at Daughmer Prairie to Garlic Mustard control at Magee Marsh, habitats often need a little help from their friends.

Winter creeper, Euonymus fortunei
Many of the plants that become problematic in natural areas were intentionally introduced, for example, Winter Creeper. Planting Winter Creeper must have seemed like a good idea to the past owner of my property and it was probably recommended by a landscaper as "easy to grow."  Unfortunately, just as easily, it gets out-of-control.

Winter Creeper up a tree...
Out it wanders, into native areas, climbing trees and coating the land in a thick matted blanket of green. It seems attractive enough until you notice it has eaten all of your plants, even Hosta does not stand a chance against this thug.

Weedpicker to the rescue.
Fall is a great time to manage invasive plants.  I am dragging the Winter Creeper out manually, as I do not want to kill the plants remaining beneath it.  Chemical sprays may have their place, but mostly I prefer to pull what is accessible and root or stump treat the remainder.  It is more of a surgical removal vs. nuking the whole property with chemicals.

  • Remember those chemicals used to treat unwanted plants are NOT inert.  Milk is inert. When you buy a gallon of milk at the store you do not get a four page booklet warning you to wear gloves while "handling" milk.  Carefully read the booklet that comes with those so-called inert herbicides, as your family's health might be at stake.

Hosta- stressed and unnturally growing out of the ground.
 After the Winter Creeper was removed,  the Hosta is looking much worse for the wear.  The Winter Creeper must force the Hosta to do unnatural things in its search for nutrients.  I'll be treating this Hosta to a nice compost with plenty of pine needles, which  repel slugs and snails.

A chair-sized pile of removed Winter Creeper
 The Winter Creeper has been stacked in a pile and it will be making a trip to the compost pile.  Winter Creeper is pretty hardy stuff, so I recommend a good "hot" compost pile. Hot compost piles do a better job of killing weeds and seeds than a "cold" or passive compost pile.

The best news, my Hosta will be happy to have their competition removed, and the little Winter Creeper that may come up in the spring should be much easier to manage!

Hope you will join me in a little "Plant Management" this fall, or better yet, volunteer your time to a worthy group EVENT to remove invasive plants at the Travertine Fen State Nature Preserve.

To learn more about Winter Creeper- go here: Invasive plants
For management suggestions here is a link to the  National Parks plant invaders

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Modern-day Muir

 "There are few things in life as noble or as satisfying as preserving a bit of the living planet." Paul Knoop. Jr.

Paul Knoop, Jr. 
"At the age of 80, Paul continues to be a champion of the land through his eloquent writings on behalf of meadows and woodlands, parks and forests- his writing speaks directly to people's hearts. Like a modern-day Muir, Paul's sphere of influence is as far-reaching as his countless students and friends across the Midwest. He will long be remembered as the Patriarch of Ohio Naturalists." 
                                       Taken from the George B. Fell Award presentation text.

The National Natural Areas Conference was held in Dayton, Ohio this past week.  Some of the most outstanding minds from across the country gathered in the south-western corner of Ohio, to learn more about natural areas and to laud a few of their own.

No one was more pleased than I, to attend the banquet where Paul Knoop, Jr. received the George B. Fell Award.  This is the highest award given by Natural Areas and Ohio's favorite naturalist son, Paul Knoop, Jr. was an outstanding pick by the committee.

There was much joy in Mud-ville, Rock Hollow, and every other natural habitat found in Ohio!

Cathy and Paul Knoop, Jr. (holding award)
Paul and his bride, Cathy, are a significant force for nature education in Ohio.  His kind and gentle teachings lure students into the light of Natural Areas.  He provokes thought. He encourages, and supposes...  just the thing to warm-up the brain cells of a mind, young or old.

Paul and Cathy are staples at Camp Oty'okwa the Big Brothers and Big Sisters camp situated in the Hocking Hills. I had the good fortune to meet Paul through Flora-Quest.  He has always been one of our key leaders and a vital part of our program.  His main career was spent as an educator at the Aullwood Audubon Center in Dayton, where he started leading Audubon Society field trips when he was just 14 years old.

Dr. Reed Noss, Paul Knoop, Jr and Steve McKee
 This conference brought many luminaries back to Ohio, including Reed Noss (who once worked as a naturalist at Malabar Farm!)  Reed was a panelist for the discussion during the plenary session.  Reed has nearly 300 publications and is widely recognized as one of the 500 most cited authors in all fields.  It was an honor to witness this happy occasion where friends were reunited.

Three Cowboys, the good guys,  Paul Knoop, Jr., Eric Miller and Steve McKee
But this is where Paul is most comfortable- outdoors in the land he loves.  These three men have done much to conserve land in Central Ohio and comprise most of the board of the North Central Ohio Land Conservancy.  The Mohican area in particular has benefited by the land set aside by their efforts and the educational work they provide.

Nature has some excellent friends in Ohio, and one of them, Paul Knoop, Jr. has just been nationally recognized for being the unassuming super-star that we already love and respect.

Congratulations, Paul.