Thursday, September 29, 2011


I'm currently taking a respite from social media (blogging, Facebook). I'll be back, don't fret. Just need a little break.

In the meantime, please enjoy one my favorite signs of fall: asters. These grow at the edge of our driveway every year. This is most likely Panicled aster, Symphyotrichum lanceolatum, also called Lance-leaf aster. Same shot, presented 2 different ways.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Midwest Birding Symposium 2011 - photo highlights

Well, this year's Midwest Birding Symposium was a huge success. I had lots of fun, but still didn't get to spend enough time birding, nor did I spend enough time with my friends. But there's always 2013. That's right, the date has already been set for the NEXT Midwest Birding Symposium, which will take place once again in Lakeside, Ohio, on September 19-22, 2013. Mark your calendars now!

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Sorry I didn't blog during the event. I did post some photos to Facebook and Flickr, but for those of you who don't follow either of those social media outlets, here are some of my best photos from the event.

Sunrise at Marblehead lighthouse. I birded at this location, but the main attraction, I must admit, was the chance to view something as beautiful as this.

The same morning I was at Marblehead I took this photo of a juvenile Bald Eagle. Sorry for the photo quality. One of the greatest things about the symposium this year was that I saw at least one Bald Eagle every day I was up there. Pretty cool.

On Thursday evening we took a sunset cruise on the Goodtime I. This is the view as we were preparing to leave the pier at Lakeside.

While on the sunset cruise, we looked for gulls, terns, and other water birds. Here, a smattering of Ring-billed Gulls follows behind the boat.

A Ring-billed Gull caught in the beautiful light of dusk.

Sunset on Lake Erie.

Great Egret flies over the water at Meadowbrook Marsh. This is a relatively new birding hotspot in the area. I'll tell you more about it in an upcoming post.

Monday, September 12, 2011

It's a bug-eat-bug world out there

Shortly after returning from a recent expedition to seek out the fantastic Amorpha Borer Beetle in Scioto County (click the LINK if you missed my report of the successful mission), I was talking to my mom, who asked, "So, when did you get so into bugs? I thought you were into birds. What happened to the birds?" A perfectly legitimate line of questioning for a girl who started out interested in "just birds and flowers, thank you very much." In answer to my mom, and to the rest of you, if you care to know: a number of things have contributed to my burgeoning interest in insects. Having macro capabilities on my camera has probably been the most direct influence. My macro methods are a bit crude, but they do the job for me. Once you start photographing flowers at a macro level, you see things you've never noticed before, and it's only a matter of time before you start appreciating insects from a whole new perspective. Having friends who are into insects helps, too.

I should also mention that studying birds and botany has been a gateway to so many other aspects of the natural world for me. At the upcoming Midwest Birding Symposium, I look forward to hearing my friend Jim McCormac's presentation, "Birders Going Beyond Birds," which will address this very topic!

So, let's take a look at how I view insects as a birder. From a birding perspective, I think about insects as being food for birds: worms for robins, caterpillars for cuckoos, vireos, and warblers, cicadas for Mississippi kites, and those are just a few of many examples I could give. Part of the reason so many birds migrate is because once bugs die off for the year in the northern climes, their food source has dried up, so they better go somewhere else where the eatin's good if they want to survive.

Up until recently, I haven't really thought about bugs from a much broader perspective. So it has been a slow realization to me over the last 6 months or so that, while birds are serious insect predators, perhaps the bigger threat to insects are... other insects. Whether it's falling into the waiting jaws of a praying mantis, getting caught in a spider web, or perhaps the more gruesome fate of having some other insect larva eat you from the inside out (that's what parasitism is all about folks), it's tough to make it as an insect! The following snap-shots were taken during the beetle expedition in Scioto and Adams Counties. Obviously, we saw lots more than just the Amorpha Borer Beetle.

This is a very tiny (think size of a fingernail tiny) robber fly, commonly known as a gnat-ogre. They stalk their prey by hanging out on the tip of a blade of grass or the very edge of a leaf. This gnat-ogre looks to have just gotten started on a meal, and didn't seem to mind having some cameras shoved in its face.

Next up we have a grasshopper-hunting wasp, which is to say a species of wasp that specializes in hunting grasshoppers. The grasshopper blends in pretty well with its surroundings, but the camouflage apparently was no match for the keen eye of the wasp.

Since the grasshopper blends in so well, I thought it might be helpful to isolate the two actors in this scene: wasp is circled in pink/purple, grasshopper is circled in green.

Here you can see that the grasshopper is almost twice as large as the wasp, but she carried it with relative ease, at least to our eyes. We watched her haul this grasshopper several yards toward her burrow in the dirt.

She repeatedly stopped on top of the grass in an effort to locate her burrow, which she eventually found. We watched her excavate the burrow in preparation for the grasshopper (which she presumably would bury inside, where her young would eventually hatch and have a feast waiting for them). After observing that she had trouble finding her burrow, we also noticed she had difficulty relocating her prey after she had excavated the burrow. We finally surmised that our presence may have been the thing that was throwing her tracking off. We had originally hypothesized that she was using some kind of scent queues to help her find burrow and prey, but perhaps she was using visual cues instead, and our movements kept throwing off her bearings (i.e. her landmarks kept changing). At this point we backed off and left her to her job in peace. (Our apologies to you, Mrs. Wasp.)

Here, a praying mantis looks on innocently after it has just caught some species of ambush bug. We watched the ambush bug walk right into the mantis's well-camouflaged trap.

A face that only a mother could love. I've never seen mantis mandibles up close until now.

Chomp! Once again, a very cooperative subject, busy with its meal and obviously not feeling threatened by all the big creatures looming toward it with cameras.

I have some other buggy stuff to share, but we'll take a break and deal with birds for the foreseeable future. Stay tuned for reports from the Midwest Birding Symposium!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Counting down to time on the Lake

I'm getting anxious for the Midwest Birding Symposium. As I write, it's just a few hours over being 9 days away. I can't believe it will be here so soon! And trust me, I really cannot wait!

This year I hope to spend a little more time out in the field looking for birds, and to that end we'll be heading up a little early to check out places like Magee Marsh and the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. Don't get me wrong, there will be birding field trips going on during the symposium, but I learned my lesson at the last symposium 2 years ago: allow extra time for exploring on my own!

While I hope to pick up some new water and shore birds while I'm there, I will also welcome opportunities to see the more common birds, like the ever-present gulls and herons.

Lone gull flying over Lake Erie

Gull silhouette

Gull wanna cracker?

Great Blue Heron in early morning light

Yes, the birds are the main draw for this event, but don't forget the sights, too. And local businesses!

We love this place for the food and the atmosphere. They will be seeing plenty of us.

Be sure to check out the Marblehead lighthouse.

And make time to enjoy as many Lake Erie sunsets as you can.

There's STILL time to sign up for the World's Friendliest Birding Event, AKA, the Midwest Birding Symposium.

If you've already signed up, please come join myself and the other Official MBS Bloggers in the Den of Blogniquity in the north end of Wesley Lodge. We'd love it if you would stop by and say "hi!"

Official 2011 Midwest Birding Symposium Blogger

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Which of these items don't belong?

I'm always amazed at the way some creatures are camouflaged in nature. The disguise is so good that sometimes its hard to see the camouflaged object even when it's right in front of your very eyes.

For example:

Can you find the Greater Anglewing katydid in this picture? (It's a leaf mimic. Hint: look for the legs.)

And how about the tree frog in this picture?

We humans, on the other hand, do a pretty good job of putting things out there that are not the least bit camouflaged and that stick out like a sore thumb. Here's an example of two of the more bizarre bits of discarded waste that I have come across during my trips out and about this year:

Okay, finding beer cans along the edge of the road is not terribly uncommon (unfortunately), but I had never heard of Bud Light with tomato-clam cocktail juice in it before (there's also salt and lime included), so that made this one especially strange. All of these flavors together are apparently "the perfect combination," according to the can. Blech!! Found in rural West Virginia.

Now here's something you don't see every day - the original king of the Dark Side right out in the middle of the woods. Well, his head anyway. Have you figured it out yet?

I rotated the picture 180° so it's not upside down anymore. It's a Darth Vader mask. Hanging upside down in some trees. What in the world?! Found in Scioto County during the Amorpha Borer Beetle expedition.

What kind of odd things have you found while you're out and about in nature?