Sunday, November 15, 2020

Northern Black Widow

Blue Jay Barrens is located in a part of Ohio that has an ever increasing population of Whitetail Deer.  As a result, I commonly find deer bones, particularly skulls.

Skulls tend to remain intact longer than any other part of the deer skeleton.  This longevity makes the weathered skull an ideal living space for a variety of small animals.  In this case the brain cavity is being used by a spider.

Closer examination shows the occupant to be a Black Widow.  I have found several of this type of spider and in every case they have been living inside an old deer skull.

The spider kept moving around and finally positioned itself with the ventral (underneath) surface facing in my direction.  The red markings on the abdomen allowed me to identify this specimen as a female Northern Black Widow, Latrodectus variolus.

Another view of the ventral surface showing the trademark red hourglass shape.  The top and bottom sections of the hourglass on the Northern Black Widow are separated by a black band.

The Northern Black Widow displays a variety of red markings on the dorsal (upper) surface of the abdomen.  The spider is upside down in this view.  A red stripe begins at the spinnerets and continues along the center line of the abdomen.

The red stripe transitions into a series of red spots, making for quite an attractive spider.

I found this spider living on a dry, south facing slope.  This provides the warm, dry conditions preferred by the Black Widow.  All of my Black Widow encounters have been in this same type of habitat.  Following my photo shoot, the deer skull, with spider alive and well inside, was replaced as it was originally found.


Friday, September 25, 2020

Little Pink Moth

I noticed a tiny pink blur floating randomly through the tall grass.  It took a couple of minutes before it finally settled atop an Orange Coneflower, Rudbeckia fulgida.  Once it was at rest, I was able to get a good look at this little pink moth.  Officially known as the Inornate Pyrausta, Pyrausta inornatalis, many people appropriately refer to this species as simply the Little Pink Moth.

This is a southern species that ranges as far north as Kentucky.  I’ve never before seen it at Blue Jay Barrens.  INaturalist shows a few scattered sightings in the southern half of Ohio.  It will be interesting to see if it becomes a permanent addition to the local fauna.

My grandmother’s house was painted the exact color of this moth.  Her house shined like a beacon among all of the others on the block.  If I had named this moth, I probably would have called it Gram’s House.


The short video shows the moth nectaring on the coneflower.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Hermit Thrush

I am trying to compile a photographic record of all plants and animals found at Blue Jay Barrens.  At the moment, I am capturing images only as opportunity allows.  Beginning next year, this photography project will share the top priority slot in my list of management activities alongside invasive species control.  While taking a break from my woodland management activities, this Hermit Thrush took up an easy to view position not far in front of me.

I usually have an awful time photographing birds anywhere else than at my feeder.  In this case, despite an abundance of sight obstructing tree trunks, thickly branched shrubs and fallen limbs, the thrush continually chose resting sites that afforded me an unobstructed view.

The Hermit Thrush is a rare nester in Ohio.  This one was probably on its way north.

I was lucky enough to view this bird capturing and consuming an earthworm.

In addition to still photos, I am attempting to get a short bit of video of each species.  So far I’ve captured a lot of video of unmoving animals that occasionally blink or swallow.  The Hermit Thrush was kind enough to capture a worm just as I got it in my view finder.  The video above has not been edited to remove the shaky portions, because that would have removed most of the video.  If camera motion bothers you, do not watch this video.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Bald Eagle

Yesterday morning, I put a dead raccoon near the edge of my lawn to feed the vultures.  Within an hour there were seven Turkey Vultures taking turns at the feast.  A half hour later I saw all of the vultures in the air and wondered why they had abandoned their meal.  A quick check showed the raccoon now in the possession of a young Bald Eagle.

I routinely move road-killed animals from the road in front of the house to the field behind the house.  I think it’s a lot safer for the scavengers and it provides me some interesting viewing.  I’ve seen Turkey Vultures, Black Vultures, Red-shouldered Hawks and Red-tailed Hawks feed on the dead animals, but this is the first visit I’ve had from a Bald Eagle.  This individual was keeping a close watch on the circling Turkey Vultures.

The eagle had no trouble taking what it wanted from the carcass.

The amount of white mottling makes me think this is a two year old bird.  However, my eagle experience is minimal, so I’m basing that assumption on what I’ve read in various bird field guides.

In between feedings, the eagle spent time sitting in a large fence row Black Walnut.  I saw it visit the carcass three different times.  It stayed in the area for about six hours before moving on.

Above is a short video of the Bald Eagle feeding.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Yucca Removal

Yucca, Yucca filamentosa, has slowly been encroaching on one of my prairie areas.  Yucca filamentosa is a North American native plant originally confined to the south-eastern portion of the United States.  It is considered to be a naturalized species in Ohio, with populations generally spreading from sites of human habitation where Yucca was planted for such uses as food, medicine or ornamental purposes.  Since I manage for native populations, the Yucca, non-native in my area, has always been on my list of plants to eradicate, but there have always been more serious matters for me to deal with.  A few years ago I began to notice new Yucca populations popping up hundreds of feet from the original infestation.  That discovery caused me to move Yucca removal to a higher level on my priority list.  After a couple of years testing treatment methods, I began in March 2020 to eliminate Yucca from Blue Jay Barrens on a large scale.

The long pointed leaves have fibrous strands that give the plant a rather worn look.  These are the filaments from which its scientific name derives.  The leaf edges can sometimes be abrasive and the leaf tips are often sharp.  I got plenty of scrapes and pinpoint wounds while dealing with this plant.

The vertical stem is generally quite short, but can sometimes reach up to a foot in height.  The leaves grow in a whorl from the stem with new growth coming from the tip.  The old leaves die to form a thick mulch that eliminates any competing plants from growing near the Yucca.

Here is the point of original infestation.  This open hilltop allowed for seeds to easily spread down hill.

I thought the origin site to be an excellent beginning point for Yucca eradication.  Especially since I have a well used walking trail running along the edge of this area and I was tired of seeing Yucca every time I went by.

From the top of the hill, Yucca spread down the slope to the west.

With this area cleared, I really had to stretch my neck to see any Yucca from the trail.

Yucca spread out near the base of the hill.  All cut Yucca plants were moved to a brush pile seen just to the right of the center of this photo.

At this point, all Yucca plants in the prairie area have been removed.  Those plants showing on the right side of the photo were removed the day after this picture was taken.

 As I cut off the Yucca plants, I piled the tops for future collection.

Cut plants were loaded onto a tarp and dragged out of the field.  Fortunately it was a down hill drag to the brush pile.
This pile, roughly six feet high and twelve feet wide, was made of plants cut from about one acre of prairie.  The pile will quickly shrink in size as the plants decompose.

Deer will generally not browse Yucca plants.  However, they seem to very much like the stems and treat the brush pile as a huge feeding station.  Individual plants are pulled out of the pile by the deer. They dine on the normally unreachable stem and leave the tops strewn about, sometimes a long distance from the pile.  Cut Yucca plants will easily root and continue growing if left on the ground, so I have to periodically gather up the tops and replace them on the brush pile.

I’ve removed Yucca from about one and a half acres of open prairie.  I still have about a half acre of Yucca growing in a shaded drainage area.  Other priorities have temporarily taken me away from this work, but I hope to continue the Yucca removal job later in the summer.  At a minimum, I will cut the flower stalks to eliminate seed production for this year.

A clump of mature Yucca plants appears to be a formidable adversary, but pushing aside the lower leaves reveals a soft underbelly.  Although the stems may reach a diameter of two inches, they are very soft.  I had no trouble slicing the stem with a pair of standard hand pruners, often severing the stem by simply pushing the pruner blade on through.

Removing the cut plant reveals the severed stems surrounded by a dead zone resulting from shading by the Yucca leaves.  In some of the larger clumps, lateral stems were poised to add to the size of the colony.  All parts of the stem in contact with the ground produce roots, so each new stem could become a standalone plant.  The roots are reddish in color and can be seen near the cut stems.

After cutting, I applied concentrated glyphosate, typically a 41% solution, to each cut stem.  Not knowing if the glyphosate would effectively eliminate the developing stems, I cut the tip from each young stem and treated it with glyphosate.  In my earlier trials, this method proved to be nearly 100% effective in killing the entire plant.

I treated a wide range of plant sizes.  Large plants were the easiest to find, cut and treat.  Smaller sized plants, such as that shown just below the large cut stem in the photo, were harder to locate.

Over the next few years I’m sure to be dealing with many small plants that evaded my search, but I’m sure the days of a widespread Yucca invasion are over. 

Monday, September 30, 2019

Pileated Woodpecker

Sometimes you don’t even have to search for an interesting photographic subject.  I was lounging beneath a large cedar tree, waiting out a light drizzle of rain, when I heard some activity in the vegetation almost directly in front of me.  About the time I got my camera set up, a Pileated Woodpecker stuck its head up and took a look at me.

This is the largest of our Ohio woodpeckers and is always a treat to encounter.  I thought my presence was going to drive it away.  I just kept still and waited.  Humans are much less threatening when their facial features are hidden behind a camera.

My presence apparently didn’t cause the bird any alarm, because it continued tearing into a rotten stump in search of insects.

I’ve been trying to shoot some video of my photo subjects when possible.  The video shows the woodpecker breaking into a nest of ants. It’s particularly interested in grabbing the white colored larvae.  It snaps up what is readily available and then uses its tongue to probe into crevices to haul out any hidden morsels.  I stopped filming when the bird shifted around to the back of the stump.  It stayed out of sight for a few minutes before flying off.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Pulling Wild Carrots

The flower head of the Wild Carrot, Daucus carota, is made up of myriad small individual flowers, each capable of yielding a single seed. Since each plant is capable of producing multiple flower heads, a single plant may produce hundreds or even thousands of viable seeds. This may be a lovely proposition for those wishing to expand their population of Wild Carrots, but it can be a headache for people trying to manage areas as native ecosystems. My management efforts aim towards creating conditions that favor the growth and spread of native species. While Wild Carrot may be attractive and a favorite of many people, it is not native to North America and can act to degrade areas into which it invades. In order to protect and improve the native integrity of Blue Jay Barrens, I remove non-native species from the property and that includes ridding the fields of Wild Carrot.

The Wild Carrot is not the only invasive species I work to eradicate during the summer months. Sweet Clover, Teasel and Oxeye Daisy are also on my list of invasive plants to be pulled during the summer months, but they mature at different times through the summer, so multiple visits must be made to each management site during the year.  The photo above shows a collection of plants pulled from a small Prairie area during the first week of June. Plants on the left are Sweet Clover, those in the middle are Oxeye Daisy, and the small pile on the right side is Wild Carrot. Wild Carrot is just becoming noticeable in June as its developing flower stalk begins to elongate.

By the time August 1st arrives, Wild Carrot plants are a few feet tall and supporting a nice collection of white flowers. All pulled plants are gathered up and placed on an existing brush pile. It wouldn’t hurt anything to leave the plants in place to rot down naturally on the prairie, but doing that makes it difficult to see all of the plants that have not yet been pulled.  I don’t want to risk leaving plants in place that are going to produce seed for future generations. Besides, I enjoy finishing work on a site and then immediately viewing the area in its improved condition.

I always carry a camera with me while I’m working and try to get a few before and after shots. Often the camera doesn’t come out of its holster because I’m racing to finish an area before I run out of time, or I’m sweating so profusely that I’m afraid I’ll ruin the camera if I try to use it. I did make a special effort to take this shot on a fine August morning when the temperature reached 90° F by 10 AM. This is a small section of a 1 acre opening that had never before received any carrot pulling treatment. My success in eliminating invasive summer forbs means that each year I have time to add new areas into my work schedule.

This is the same area with carrots removed. Within a few years the area should pretty much look this way without my having to spend hours pulling carrots.

Wide area shots of these prairie openings rarely show the diversity of plant species present. Spiranthes orchids, such as this pair of Slender Ladies’ Tresses, Spiranthes lacera, were particularly abundant this year.  They are but one of many interesting little species hidden in the tall grass.

Pulling is an effective way of eliminating Wild Carrots because of the plant’s biennial growth habit. The lifespan of the plant is two years. During the first year the plant forms a cluster of basal leaves and establishes its taproot. The abundance of first year plants such as the one shown above gives a good idea of the expanse of plants to be expected in the next year.

A flower stalk develops in the second year. Following pollination, seeds begin to develop as the flower head closes in on itself. Pulling the plants eliminates seed production and reduces the number of flowering plants you will see two years later. Mature seeds that become incorporated into the soil may remain viable for five or six years. Seeds that remain on or near the surface of the soil generally parish if they do not germinate within a couple years. When you begin pulling plants on a new site it takes two years before you really begin to see the positive results of your actions.

Like many plant species that evolved in areas subject to grazing by herd animals, the Wild Carrot has a weak spot in its stem located roughly at the soil surface. If the stem is given a quick pull it breaks at this weak point instead of having its root pulled out of the ground. Just below this breakpoint is a cluster of buds ready to immediately begin producing new flower stalks if the top of the plant is lost. On most occasions, a steady pull will bring the plant up root and all. When you have a particularly tenacious plant or are working in ground that is extremely dry and hard, the carrot often breaks at its weak point. When this happens, I normally use my hand pruners to cut the plant off down into the root slightly below the ground level to avoid the rapid regrowth shown in the photo above.

Often it’s impossible to find the plant stump and regrowth is inevitable. This plant produced two flower heads within four weeks of the plant originally being pulled and broken off at its weak point. I try to make a run through my work areas at 4 to 5 week intervals to catch late developing plants or regrowth situations such as shown here.

Browsing animals, primarily Whitetail Deer, typically bite the plant off well above the soil surface. Browsed plants are particularly difficult to see when you make your first pass through an area, but quickly produce new flower stalks and often account for the majority of late-season flowers.

I found many mature plants that were lying flat on the ground instead of standing in an upright position, making them particularly hard to see. This was primarily a phenomenon of partially shaded areas near the field edges. In the above photo you can see two flower clusters almost at ground-level.  One plant stem comes from the lower right-hand corner the photo and arcs leftward to one of the flower heads and a second plant stem comes from the lower left-hand corner of the photo in a rightward arc to a second flower head. Despite their horizontal growth, both plants are still perfectly capable of producing viable seeds.

This particular area has received a lot of attention in the past few years. A mid-July photo shows no Sweet Clover, no Teasel, and no Wild Carrot. It shouldn’t be too many more years before all the areas have reached this level of control.

I always find a lot of interesting things while I am working and try to stop occasionally to take a few photos. One day I found a number of Poison Ivy Sawflies, Arge humeralis, feeding on the carrot flowers. They were impossible to miss with the sun shining off those bright red abdomens. I’m much more used to seeing the sawfly larvae, so I was pleased to get the opportunity to observe the adults.

The following day, I continued to see adult sawflies, but now I was seeing a different species. On this day it was the Sumac Sawfly, Arge coccinea, that seemed to have staked a claim to the local wild carrot flowers.

Every year I see a couple of Black Swallowtail butterfly larvae feeding on the wild carrots. I took this one and moved it onto a cluster of nearby first year basal leaves.  If they want to continue breeding at Blue Jay Barrens, they will have to select one of their few native host plants.