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.