Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Nesting Woodcock

I was doing some work around my barn this afternoon and scared up this American Woodcock from a small clump of grass and Japanese Honeysuckle vines.

The Woodcock only flew a distance of about 8 feet and then came down in the grass. It froze in place, and I did the same. It had jumped into the air what seem like mere inches from my feet. That, along with the fact that it seemed reluctant to leave the area, suggested that there was a Woodcock nest very close to where I was standing.

I didn’t dare to move my feet for fear of stepping on a nest. While pulling my camera from its belt pouch, I carefully scanned the ground in front of me. The nest was just 18 inches away. Not wishing to disturb the Woodcock anymore than I already had, I took a couple quick pictures of nest and bird, and then slowly backed away. I returned about an hour later and got close enough to see that the female had returned to her nest.

I don’t know if this is the full clutch or if the Woodcock will still add another egg or two. A clutch of four eggs is typical for the species. I’ll have plenty of opportunity to keep an eye on this nest. It’s located only 12 feet from my barn door and only 4 feet from the path I travel every day around the backside of the barn. For the next few weeks, I’ll limit my activities in that area, so the bird can tend to the job of incubating her eggs in relative peace.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Spotted Salamanders

I’ve had exceptional luck finding salamanders at Blue Jay Barrens so far this year. The most recent species to enter the breeding pond is the Spotted Salamander.

This is the first time in many years that I’ve found the Spotted Salamander en route to the pond. I most commonly see this species after it has already made it into the water.

The past month has produced several warm nights with long duration gentle rains. This, combined with the fact that soils are both unfrozen and saturated with water, has produced ideal conditions for amphibian migrations. The conditions are also ideal for humans anxious to witness these migrations.

This is the first year that I have managed to find multiple individuals of the species. Males are generally the first to arrive at the breeding pond, and each salamander I found was a male. The question now is when the weather will be suitable for the females to make their migration. The forecast for the next week or so is for cold, dry conditions. The males may just have to wait for a while before they get company.

The temperature was around 50° F the night I found these salamanders. All were making rapid progress towards the pond. This one paused just long enough for one quick shot before it slid into the pond and headed for deeper water. Now, any fresh egg masses I find of the pond should be those of the Spotted Salamander.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Blooming Leavenworthia uniflora

Leavenworthia uniflora is also setting a new early bloom record this year.  First bloom appeared on March 3, about ten days earlier than the previous record.

Leavenworthia has a basal cluster of leaves that develop horizontally outward from a central point. The collection of leaves generally does a pretty good job of shading out competitive vegetation, at least near the center of the whorl.

The plants all have a fine collection of developing flower buds. Each flower will be held aloft individually atop a thin, branchless stalk.

This individual grew to resemble a tightly woven beverage coaster. Despite its slightly unusual growth pattern, there are still plenty of buds developing.

None of the other Leavenworthia plants have yet reached this stage of development. I expect it will be a couple of weeks before the next plant in line begins to display blooms. By the end of March though, I expect all the plants will be flowering profusely.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Blooming Draba cuneifolia

The Blue Jay Barrens Draba cuneifolia have set a new record for early blooming.  First full blooms appeared on February 26, more than two weeks ahead of the prior record.

In some places the Draba almost completely carpet the ground.  Not a bad showing for a plant considered to be Threatened in Ohio.  Lack of snow cover and above average temperatures allowed these plants to put on some impressive growth over the winter.  A couple of really cold nights resulted in a discoloration in some of the leaves, but that hasn’t slowed them down any.

This looks like an aerial shot of a forest landscape, but the photo was taken with the bottom of the camera sitting on the ground.  All of the plants are Draba cuneifolia.  With nothing in the shot for scale, it’s hard to realize that the largest plant in the bunch stands less than an inch tall.

Only a few plants currently have open flowers, but there will soon be more.  The majority of the plants have at least one bud opened far enough to show the white petals inside.

There are also plants that are at a stage typical for this time of year.  These buds will most likely open around the middle of March, a more normal time to expect the first flowers to appear.  A little frost or snow won’t slow these plants down now.  I’m expecting an impressive seed crop this year.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Marbled Salamander

Yesterday, I added a new species to the Blue Jay Barrens salamander list.  Marbled Salamander, Ambystoma opacum, is a species that I read about and was fascinated by while I was in the fifth grade.  After decades of waiting, this is my first ever wild encounter with this species.

Like other Ambystomas, Marbled Salamanders utilize temporary pools as egg laying sites.  The thing that sets this species apart though, is the fact that it breeds in the fall and places eggs in the pool while the site is still dry.  Eggs hatch when winter rains fill the pools.  This gives the Marbled Salamander larvae a head start and slight advantage over those species that place their eggs in the pool later in the season.  Marbled Salamander larvae can sometimes be serious predators of smaller salamander larvae and frog tadpoles.

The black and white coloring of this animal is quite striking. Thick rain clouds cast a decidedly gloomy pall over the forest floor, but this bright little salamander glowed as if carrying an inner light. If the coloration is intended as a type of camouflage, it was certainly falling short of the mark on this day.

It’s certainly exciting to have this species is a local resident. I hope to encounter many more of its kind in the years to come.