Wednesday, September 17, 2014

September on Lake Erie

Having spanned the country and visited countless parks, forests, natural areas and sea shores, I can assure you, it is nearly impossible to find anyplace more beautiful than Lakeside, Ohio.

 There is something about this town. First it gets into your heart and then silently creeps into your very soul. The call of shore birds and gentle slapping of the waves speak to me.  The vista of Lake Erie's Islands, floral gardens and these playful stone cairns  delight the eye. They won't last for long against Lake Erie's storms, but they balance the joy of "today" against the "forever" of rock.

Jewel-weed, Impatients capensis  on the rocks.
Lakeside is well known for its history and architecture.  It is a gated community in the summer, where children rule the streets and ice cream is considered the nectar of gods. It is a Chautauqua, and I could probably devote an entire blog to that alone, if I have not already. 

But it has a compelling natural history as well.  For example, these orange flowers growing in wild abandon on the lakefront attract Ruby-throated Hummingbirds which visit them for sustenance on their migration south for the winter.

Lakeside's administration has turned a serious eye to this issue and is promoting native plants and the "natural look" of our great lake, Erie. The fall migration of birds and Monarch butterflies both pass through these historic grounds. Our wildlife will appreciate the consideration we are giving to milkweeds for monarchs and bee-balms for pollinators in general.

Our native plant enthusiasts should be proud of the on-going effort to select Ohio native plants for the restoration of the west end's lakefront.  I hope you will join me for the Ohio Natural Areas and Preserves Association's Annual Banquet and field trips this weekend.  Keynote, Allison Cusick will be speaking about our native Sandusky Flora, and we will be leading tours on this lovely stretch of Ohio's Most Beautiful Mile.

The gales of September on Erie.
 And "weather" it is windy or balmy, Lake Erie and Lakeside is always my favorite place to be each fall. Every moment is to be savored...

especially, during the sun sets.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Point of No Return

For those of you who were unable to attend the recent Conservation Symposium at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, here is a little recap.  The line-up was a wonderful selection of people involved in or studying conservation in one form or another. Dr Bridget Stutchbury spoke on Conservation Triage, with an interesting twist.  Let's just say, we can and should make conservation a budget priority.

Dreams of Martha - Painting by Kristina Knowski
This year's topic of extinction plays well, as it is the 100 anniversary of the death of Martha, the last known Passenger Pigeon. Other topics discussed were Mussels, a program by Dr. Thomas Watters, and Conserving Plants by Dr Valerie Pence.

Chad Pregracke shows his photo of the pollution in the mighty Mississippi River.
The afternoon keynote was a real live wire!  Chad Pregracke, the founder of of Living Lands & Waters spoke on the efforts to clean up America's Rivers, from the bottom up. As CCN's Hero of the Year for 2013, there is some pretty awesome footage of this young man and his organizations efforts.  Do yourself a favor- and go HERE to see the CNN story.  It makes you realize one person can make a difference!  We can each be a force for positive change.  It was an honor to meet Chad!

Greg Lipps, one of Ohio's leading herpetologists, spoke on the effort to captive rear and re-introduce Hellbenders in Ohio's waters. Tim Krynack gave an update on the bats imperiled by White-nosed Syndrome, and Harvey Webster told the compelling story Of Mast, Men, and Memory, about the Passenger Pigeon and the lessons we should learn from its extinction.

It was my good fortune to play a role in the program as well:

My program featured the latest information on our Midwest Monarchs, and their flight for life. Generally, migration is a behavior that benefits a species, but now migration is putting our Monarchs in harm's way.  Our "migration Monarchs" are counted each year during their diapause- or rest period- in the central highlands of Mexico.  This well documented data shows a declining trend for the last 20 years.

Generally, the data is reported in hectares but World Wildlife Fund has converted that to acres and reports the population that inhabited nearly 10 acres in 2010 was a down to 1.6 acres in 2013.  In 2014 the surviving population occupied less than 1 acre. 

In a mere four years, we have lost 90% of our Midwest Monarchs.

There is currently a movement to get Monarchs listed as a "Threatened" species.  Because the two populations of Monarch on the coasts (both have very limited migrations) are doing fairly well, the species is not endangered.  It is the Midwestern Migration Phenomenon which is endangered.

We are certainly on the brink of having Monarchs extirpated from Ohio.

There are many factors at play here.  A loss of milkweed (Monarch's host plant) and a rise in the use of herbicides, pesticides and even fungicides are being implicated.  Add in climate change, which has dumped snow on wintering populations, and decimated the spring migration start-up in the drought impacted Texas.  Hopefully, the Monarch will rebound some this year, but only time will tell.

Even if their numbers increase this winter, it is time to look toward serious Monarch conservation. They should be considered the "Bald Eagles of insect conservation".  That which improves the chances for Monarchs would also benefit other insects, especially other pollinators.

So please, plant milkweed, but only if you discontinue the use of chemicals in your yard! Better yet, let's start asking our great State of Ohio to champion the cause of the Monarchs and actively manage milkweeds in Wildlife Areas, State Parks and Forests.

It would be a terrible loss to no longer have Monarchs to be tagged and raised in school programs. They are the best introduction to natural science and basic entomology!

It is far better to start conservation efforts now than to react after they are extirpated.  Please help us help the Monarchs.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Charismatic Marine Mammals

Monterey Bay is filled with marine mammals. California Sea Lions, Zalophus californianus are found along the rocks and near the wharf in the fall and the winter.  One of the best places to view sea lions is at the Coast Guard pier near downtown.

 This jumbo-sized male has seen a few fights. note the scaring and wounds around his neck and chest, not to mention the gaping hole in his back.  He must be more of a lover than a fighter, or I would hate to see the other guy.

Even momma sea lion is sporting a black eye.  If you believe in reincarnation, don't be in a hurry to return as a sea lion. Their lives don't look too tranquil to me. And their neighbors are a noisy lot, too!

The birds in the photo are Brandt's Cormorants, which are strictly a marine species. They are a dark brown overall, and just a few of them were still showing a metalic-blue coloration under their gape. These colored areas are more prominent during breeding season.

A couple of the cormorants were building a seaweed nest on the rocks, until some gigantic sea lion lumbered across it and laid down where it had been.  It made me wonder how the flock ever hatched out enough young to make up this group of several hundred inhabiting these rocks. Perhaps their only successful nesting occurs once the sea lions retreat back to the Channel Islands for their own breeding season.

The general commotion in the bay is due to the sea lions.  Watch the video above to hear the sounds under Fishermen's Wharf.

 Harbor Seals, Phoca vitulina are a much more peaceful group.  They are significantly smaller than the adult sea lions, and probably weigh about 100-200  pounds.  The have dog shaped heads, but do not have apparent ears. They lethargically lounge around on rocks, it didn't look terribly comfortable to me.  They were so sedentary I began to wonder, when do they feed?

Harbor seals do not make noise or move about much when resting in the harbor.  This young one made a bit of a show by grooming, it was about all the activity that went on that day. They are a very quiet lot compared to their cousins the sea lions.

The Sea Otter, Enhydra lutris is the smallest of the marine mammals found in Monterey Bay. . Once thought to be extinct, they still remain listed as an Endangered Species.  They feed early morning and evening, and it is great fun to watch them cavorting about the wharf and bay. If there was a contest for cutest marine mammals these guys would win by a landslide.  They are said to be the most popular exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is a must-see aquarium, I might add.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

California Dreaming

Having just returned from sunny California, I am still trying to get my bearings.  The three hour time change is not too much of an adjustment for me, but the laundry and e-mail catch-up is intense.

 But nothing is as intense as the blue of the Pacific Ocean.  Days later, I am still reeling from the sights and sounds along the Pacific Coast Highway.  Who knew nature had these hues of aquas and blues?  This sets a whole new standard for waterfronts. And just  think, this is free to all, it is part of Los Padres National Forest!  It goes to show that our National Parks may well be America's Best Idea, and this may well be the most beautiful park in America.

The West Coast is full of fun and aquatic themes.  It was a great honor to do this trip with my daughter JJ, who is a wealth of knowledge of all things aquatic. That is because she is an aquarist at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California. We made numerous stops along the Pacific Coast Highway, Rte. 101, and ended our first day's journey in Monterey, California.

Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey is a delight to the eyes and a wonderment to one's ears.  There was much bellowing and roaring going on beneath the pier!

 A closer look and we found the noise was coming from a congregation of California sea lions.  They seem like a comical lot, but J.J. informs me that they are not to be messed with.  Sea lions males weigh in the 600 pound range and most of the beasts carry scars from battle.  The females often show injuries as well.  They may seem harmless enough, but the best advice is this- they are wild animals- so keep your distance.

Fortunately, my camera has a decent zoom lens.  All seemed tranquil enough with this mother and her pups. Lesson one with aquatic mammals: Sea lions have ear tabs, seals do not. These little fellows are sea lions.

JJ Soski, Michelle Soski Goodman, and Cheryl Harner
As I go though my hundreds of photos and numerous videos, I hope to share a little of the wonderful sights and sounds we witnessed in Southern California.  Los Angeles is probably not a place I would choose to live, but I was thrilled to visit my "pups" who are both currently in California.

Hopefully, you too will enjoy the charismatic sea mammals, shore birds and rarities we discovered all along our trip.  The best part was sharing this time with two daughters who are both are unique and interesting  individuals.  

I would especially like to thank them for sharing this beautiful and bio-diversity filled coastal adventure! 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Re-thinking your lawn

 Today I had a marvelous time with the Ohio Association of Garden Clubs at their annual meeting, which was held at Mohican State Park Lodge. They asked for a program on attracting  critters into one's yard with native plants.  That happens to be my favorite topic!

 The program ended up entitled Native Plants Add Drama.  Believe me, they do!  I can hang out all day taking pictures and following the birds, butterflies and mammalian wildlife around in my yard.  It is an ongoing circus, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

This saying from "The Wild Ones" tells the tale best.  IF you don't have action in your yard, you need to re-think your plants and your chemical usage. One of my most requested programs is Butterflies as Bioindicators.  If your yard is healthy and chemical free you should be seeing butterflies.

Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philenor philenor
 The latest hatch in my yard was Pipevine Swallowtails. But before one can have these lovely insects, you must have their host plant. I believe my pipevine is Aristolochia tomentosaGood thing I planted one several years ago and it now festoons the side of my barn.

Prickly-ash, Zanthoxylum americanum in seed
 Another unusual plant on my property is the Prickly-ash.  It occurs naturally along the edge of my woodlot, and is the host plant for Giant Swallowtails.  Imagine my surprise when I realized there was already a well established population right in my own yard!

Giant Swallowtail, Papilio cresphones
These seven inch beauties have two broods each year.  The early spring brood loves to nectar on my Azalea plants, and the second brood heads for the Purple Coneflowers. I also had a Giant nectaring on a Common Milkweed a week or so ago.  It is important to cultivate milkweed for Monarchs, but other species of butterflies and bees will use milkweed too.  It is a staple in my home's habitat and vital to Monarch conservation.

Thursday Aug. 21th at 7:00 pm I will be previewing a program Midwestern Monarchs at the Gorman Nature Center in Mansfield.  I will also give this program for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History's Conservation Symposium- The Point of No Return- on Sept. 5th.  They have a stellar line up for that event, and I encourage you to go the notice in the side panel of this blog, and follow the link to register.  There is a lot of information on Monarchs that has slipped past the general public and I hope you will join me for one of these programs.