Sunday, February 21, 2021

Harvester Ants

In late October I came across an industrious group of Harvester Ants.  These ants of the genus Pheidole exhibit dimorphism, having two different sizes of workers; a smaller size dedicated to food gathering and general nest chores along with a larger version that uses its extremely large head in defense of the colony. They are primarily seed gatherers and were busy moving spent flowers into their nest.  I assume there were some edible seeds included with the flowers.


The ants had located their nest in a shallow mound of bare soil.  The plants in the upper right of the photo are Draba cuneifolia, a rare winter annual.  I’ll be checking this plant population later in the year, so I’ll take some time then to see if I can identify these ants to species.

 

As usual, I was behind on the amount of work I had hoped to accomplish for the day, so I only took the time to get a couple of still shots and a short video.  The huge headed individuals seemed to be constantly on the move.  My presence may have disturbed their normal behavior, but I didn’t notice them until I was almost on top of the nest, so I don’t know what they were up to a few seconds earlier.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Yucca Removal Success

I took a little time to evaluate the success of my earlier efforts to eradicate Yucca from my fields.  Dead stumps where I had cut the stem and applied glyphosate to the exposed tissue.  This photo was taken in October, about six months after herbicide applications were made.  In most cases, there seemed to be a total kill of Yucca plants.


In a very few cases, there was some regrowth, but regrowth was not the normal situation.  It won’t take a lot of effort to go through to cut and spray the young shoots.  For the next few years an annual check will have to be made to find new plants growing from seed.  New plants will be a possibility for quite some time, but it should be fairly easy to keep the area practically Yucca free.


I only had time to cover about two-thirds of the Yucca infected area before I had to move on to higher priority management activities.  I finished my work in the open field and then began working my way down a cedar filled waterway.  This is where I stopped and this is where I will begin next March.  Weather permitting, I will have eliminated Yucca from the area by next April 1.


One thing I hadn’t expected was the ability of the cut plants to continue growing.  This is what my plant pile looked like after six months.

 

The Whitetail Deer treat it as a salad bar.  I never saw this much deer browse on the Yucca in the field.  Young Yucca shoots must be more palatable to the deer.


Pulling a shoot out of the pile reveals white roots growing from the cut stem.  This illustrates a good reason for removing the cut plants from the field as they are treated.  The Yucca may flourish in the pile for a couple of years, but I am always adding to these piles, so the plants will eventually be covered and smothered by other plant material.

 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Interesting Items Found While Working on Fall Projects

When actively engaged in management tasks, I’m unlikely to stop to take photos.  Completing the activity of the day is usually considered a higher priority than documenting what I do or see.  However, at times when there are natural breaks in the work, I’m quite likely to pull my little Canon G11 from its belt holster and capture some of the interesting items that catch my eye.  Most of the photos illustrate changes that have occurred as a result of my land management activities over the last few decades.  The Little Ladies-tresses, Spiranthes ovalis, is a good example.  This uncommon orchid was represented at Blue Jay Barrens by only a few individuals 30 years ago.  It is now seen commonly across dozens of acres each fall.


One of my favorite plants, Indian Pipe, Monotropa uniflora, was in abundance this year.  These plants are parasites on fungi and have no chlorophyll.  The new stalks are bright white and almost appear self-illuminated against the background of forest floor leaves.


Carolina Buckthorn was once listed as a potentially threatened species in Ohio.  Being a species of the South-eastern United States, its range just reaches into the southern counties of Ohio.  In 1990 Blue Jay Barrens supported just two small populations of this species, with one of those populations consisting of a single individual.  With the removal of non-native invasive shrubs, Carolina Buckthorn seedlings had a chance to become established and flourish.  Mature fruit bearing individuals are now common and seedlings are coming up everywhere.


Flowering Dogwood was eliminated from the Blue Jay Barrens woodlands when Dogwood Anthracnose decimated the population in the early 1990’s.  A few small specimens survived in the open fields and have been producing fruit and seed for many years now.  Mature dogwoods are finally beginning to recolonize the woodland.  The red and orange of their autumn leaves is hard to miss.


I’m unsure of the seed source, but young American Beech are becoming more common in the woods.  I’m happy to see this occurring since one of the historic hardwood mixes in this area was the Beech-Maple forest.  There is no shortage of Sugar Maple here and it would be nice to see a few mature Beech mixed in.


Partridge Berry is another species that has expanded its number greatly in the past few decades.  Historic grazing of cattle in the woodlands is one probable cause of this plant’s early rarity.  The absence of cattle during the past 35 years has resulted in much improved woodland soil conditions.


Fungi of many species were apparent this year.  One of the most noticeable was this Orange Fungus,   Mycena leaiana.  The orange fruiting bodies emerging from fallen logs rivaled the fluorescent blaze of the brightest hunting jacket.


Above average rainfall coupled with a forest of dead ash trees results in an abundance of fungi.  I believe this to be a polypore known as Dryad’s Saddle.


I must have appeared as though I was ready to collapse, because a large mixed flock of Turkey and Black Vultures moved in and began circling directly above me.  It was early morning, so the most likely explanation for the gathering was the development of a thermal current allowing the birds to ride the rising warm air to higher altitudes.  These thermals are common in areas where the rising sun warms bare southeast facing hillsides.  I’ve been known to generate a lot of body heat while working, but I doubt that it’s enough to change the atmospheric conditions above me.


Except for the early spring breeding congregations, Wood Frogs are seldom seen.  I’ve seen several during the past couple of months, possibly due to the uncommonly frequent rains during that time.


Spring Peepers have also been conspicuous this fall.  It’s not uncommon to hear a peeper or two calling on the first few cool days of autumn.  This year has been no exception.


The Giant Cranefly, Tipula abdominalis, is an impressive insect.  The larvae of this species live in upland streams where they feed on decomposing leaves.  Adults are typically found in woodlands, not far from the streams in which they once lived.


Jumping Bristletails are often referred to as prehistoric insects because they have remained relatively unchanged since their emergence approximately 390 million years ago.  My early elementary school days were filled with plans to become a paleontologist, so anything that may have walked with the dinosaurs still draws my attention.


Wooly Bears are the larva form of the Isabella Tiger Moth.  In my lifetime I’ve seen thousands of these caterpillars on the ground, in a hurry to get from one place to another.  This photo documents the first time I have ever seen a member of this species feeding.  In this case the caterpillar is feeding on the upper leaves of a Tall Boneset plant.


This is a female Carolina Leafroller Cricket.  These insects are generally considered common, but seldom seen creatures.  Part of the reason is their nocturnal habit, meaning that their active period is at night.  The rest of the reason is their method of hiding during the day.  As suggested by the name, the Carolina Leafroller Cricket spends its day rolled up in a leaf, making it extremely hard to find.  This individual seems to have been slowed down by an unusually cold night, and is warming itself in the first of the morning sunlight.


The tiny Pygmy Grasshopper is liable to show up anywhere at Blue Jay Barrens.  An adult specimen may grow to be as much as half an inch in length.  I don’t know that I would ever be successful at finding one by searching, but chance provides many encounters each year.


I regularly see Northern Fence Lizards, but I don’t always get out the camera during such encounters.  This time I noticed a fly on the leaf in front of the lizard’s head.  Thinking I had a chance of capturing an image of the lizard at the moment it captured the fly, I got my camera ready.  Unfortunately, things didn’t work out as imagined.


The fly flew and the lizard gave me what seems very much like an accusing look.


Eastern Box Turtles are opportunistic breeders.  They have no pheromones or calls to bring a couple together.  Breeding occurs when two individuals sharing a like mood happen to meet.  Females are capable of storing sperm for many months and using it when needed, so a positive encounter can take place long before the egg laying season.  I’ve seen an increasing number hatchling Box Turtles during the past few years, suggesting that the population is doing well.

 

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.