Monday, June 29, 2009

Calling all flower detectives

This post is for all the plant lovers, botanists and Science Chimps out there. I've got a mystery that needs solvin'!

UPDATE: Mystery has been solved thanks to help from my blogging friends. The flower is Leather Flower, also called Vase Vine and Bluebill (Clematis viorna), a type of Clematis, member of the Buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). Thanks to botanist Tom Arbour of the Ohio Nature Blog for the specifics. Turns out I was on the right track with the Virgin's Bower similarity, as that is a type of Clematis, too. Just needed to dig deeper.

Every year I come across at least one flower that I've never seen before and cannot find in my National Audubon Society Field Guide to Wildflowers (Eastern Region). It frustrates me to no end when I can't find something in an ID book. Sometimes it's because I'm looking in the wrong place, but most of the time it's because it's just not in there (as was the case with the Carolina Cranesbill in my Lunchtime Nature Walk post , which was kindly ID'd by Jim McCormac - thanks, Jim!).

And so here I am again, left scratching my head about another flower. At least with the Cranesbill I knew it was something in the Geranium family, but this one... I have no clue. Can anyone help me here?

Whatever it is, the honeybees like it.

Clockwise from upper left: tiny flower bud; bigger flower bud, not yet opened; view of flower from below.

And these are the leaves.

I'm guessing this is the fruit of the flower. This part reminds me a whole lot of Virgin's Bower, but it is not similar in any other way (well, other than the fact that it seems like it might be a vine).

The flower as it matures and goes to seed. I love the deep purple color, and how the texture has changed from something shiny to something more like sandpaper.

And here's a nice close-up look. It's a very "girly" looking flower, don't you think?

I'd appreciate any help I can get on this one. Thanks in advance!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

"Local couple saves wild snake"

One recent evening Dave and I were minding our own business, picking blackberries from the canes growing wild across the road, when we came across a snake in our path.

Well, part of a snake.

At first we thought it had had an unfortunate encounter with the bush hog when the field was mowed a few days earlier. We prodded it a little, and found that it was intact and alive but mostly buried under brush and grass clippings. We had a Black Racer hanging around in "our" berries. No big deal. We'll just let it go on its way and come back to picking that section of canes later, we thought.

But it couldn't "go on its way." Because it had experienced an "unfortunate encounter" of a different kind - it had gotten itself utterly and hopelessly tangled into the black netting that we had draped over the berry canes to keep the birds out.

The thing at the top and running through to the bottom right of the photo is the snake. The thing on the left side is a piece of garden hose. The big black clump in the middle is the netting the snake was trapped in.

At this point we forgot about the berries. What do we do about this snake? We stood around, we prodded it some more to see how responsive it was. We could see that the netting was constricted around the snake, and were worried that it might get squeezed to death or something. We stood around some more, and the snake got plenty tired of us poking at it with a stick. It darted its tongue about and even "rattled" its tail, so it was strong enough to scare us into backing off. But it wasn't going anywhere.

Was either one of us brave enough to try to cut it loose? Yes and no. We (and by "we" I mean Dave) succeeded in cutting the snake's portion of the netting away from the main part covering the canes, so now at least if it moved it wouldn't have the weight of some giant swath of material and foliage pulling against it. But now what? Neither one of us was comfortable with the idea of getting in close enough to actually cut away the net from around the snake.

Then Dave had the idea to call up a fellow by the name of Dave Sagan who works with snakes and raptors at the Nature Center at Hocking College in Nelsonville, OH. We were hoping he might be able to offer us some advice as to how to handle the situation. By the time we spoke with Dave it was about 9pm. He suggested we wait it out for the night and that he'd check back with us in the morning. If the snake was still alive at that point, he would come out and deal with it.

It was, and he did.

I emailed my boss and told her I would be in late that morning because we had a "snake situation" that I had to stay home to watch be resolved. How often do you call in late with an excuse like that?! Luckily I have a cool boss, and she was very understanding.

I would estimate it took Mr. Sagan about 10 minutes to cut all the netting away from the snake. Unfortunately, I don't know how long he has been working with snakes, but I would go so far as to call him the "snake whisperer." During the entire time he worked with and held this snake, he was not bitten. He handled it with true ease and grace. He told us that if you don't approach a snake like a predator, it doesn't quite know what to do, and thus won't be aggressive toward you (not that I'm advocating that any of you kids try this at home).

The trap from which the snake was freed.

Once it realized it was free, the snake started to perk up. This Black Racer was probably about 4 feet long.

Mr. Sagan observed and examined the snake for several minutes. He determined that it had a full belly, so sustenance wasn't an issue for it. He concluded that most of the damage was cosmetic, and that it should be just fine otherwise. In the picture above you can kind of see the damage to the scales on the portion of the snake that is just below and to the left of Mr. Sagan's wrist.

It truly is a beautiful creature. Look how sleek and shiny it is.

If you look real close in this photo, you can see me reflected in the snake's eye!

Here's a closer look.

After he finished examining the snake, Mr. Sagan took it across the field to a location that was in direct sunlight, and let it loose in a spot where it could bask, digest its meal, and recover. We were very grateful to him for helping us with this situation. And we were glad to know that the snake would live to see another day due to our kindness, concern and respect.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What, another Wild Silk Moth?

What started out as a fascination with wildflowers and birds has mushroomed into a curiosity for just about any living thing out there in the natural world. Isn't it funny how that works? It only makes sense, though, since it is all intertwined and dependent one on the other.

So, continuing with my quest to know all that there is around me, I looked up the ID of this moth that I encountered on our deck a while back:

This is an Io Moth (Automeris io), a member of the Wild Silk Moth family
(Saturniidae), subfamily Buck and Io Moths (Hemileucinae) (the first of 3 subfamilies).

It looks like there are about 34 species of moths within the Buck/Io subfamily (in North America) according to Butterflies and Moths of North America.

Remember that Polyphemus Moth that I posted about last week? He also belongs to the Wild Silk Moth family, but to a different subfamily: Giant Silk Moths. Probably the most widely recognized of the Giant Silk Moths is the Luna Moth (sorry, no photo - I actually haven't seen one yet this year!). I would say that this Io Moth is about 1/4 or 1/3 the size the Polyphemus Moth.

The 3rd and final subfamily within the Wild Silk Moth family is that of the Royal Moths. There is one from this subfamily that I would love to see/photograph in particular: the Royal Walnut Moth. Why? Because we encountered that species' freakish caterpillar stage last fall (read my post about the Hickory Horned Devil and you'll see where my bravery ends when it comes to picking up wild creatures).

Once again, another astonishing display of nature's beauty!

When I went to crop this down, I noticed several things. There's a strand of one of our dog's fur on the right wing, just above the eyespot; that right eyespot looks a little smudged; and the left wing looks a little wet. Hmmmm... now that I think about it, this moth did quite a bit of fluttering around before I got him where I wanted him for photographing, and one of the places he landed was right in front of Emmett, who gave him a big lick, so that would explain his roughed-up appearance. Mystery solved!

He landed on my pants leg

On my finger. He tickled me!

He also left behind some fuzz on my fingers. I put my lens cap back on my camera, then I noticed moth gunk on the cap, so I had to take a picture of said gunk on said lens cap.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Awesome Osteopernums

In mid-spring I purchased various colors of Osteopernum. I've had varying success with them as potted annuals over the years. This was not a successful year for them, unfortunately, but they are just beautiful flowers, and I got a few shots of them before they withered away...

left-right: 1.) Original photo (untouched); 2.) same photo with monchrome tint; 3.) same photo again with monochrome tint but w/color preservation turned all the way up, and "glow" effect added.

Which do you like best, and why? (click any photo to enlarge)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Juvenile Downy Woodpecker and the suet cage

Right now across much of North America many can probably hear the sound of nestlings and juvenile birds begging for food from their parents. I love watching the parents feed their babies, especially once the little ones start coming to the feeders with mom and dad. But it's also rewarding to watch them start to "spread their wings" so to speak, and to start getting food for themselves. The woodpeckers have been keeping our suet feeders very busy this spring, and now the little ones are finally latching on to the little metal cages and feeding themselves.

Isn't that the sweetest little face? Looks like he needs a napkin, though.

Ghost bird, I

Ghost bird, II

PHOEBE NEST UPDATE: The second brood of Eastern Phoebes fledged Saturday morning. We didn't catch it on film this time, unfortunately, but I hope they all made it out safe and sound.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Under construction

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm in the process of changing my template. This is definitely the layout I want, but I'm not entirely sure about the colors and how the header might change. Things may morph a little more over the next few weeks.... or maybe not, we'll see.

I would appreciate any feedback that you all might have, especially regarding the speed at which images load, as they might start getting larger. Do the images stand out okay against the dark background? And what about the text - is it overpowered by the images or the width of the post side of the blog? Comments are welcome.

Circle of Life

Tiny puzzle pieces, fragments of a life that once was.

"Let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life." -John Muir