Sunday, May 01, 2011

FloraQuest

Blue -headed Vireo Building Nest
You would expect a weekend called "Floraquest" to concentrate on flowers, and we did see many beautiful wildflowers at Shawnee State Park in Southeastern Ohio this weekend, but Floraquest is much more. After early morning bird watching, and a filling breakfast at the Lodge, participants set out on ten Quests, looking for butterflies, trees, rocks, Appalachia in Ohio, as well as the flowers. One group of hardy souls even rode off on bicycles, although I don't see how they survived if they used the same roads we did! After a solid week of rain, and basement floods twice in two weeks, we were overjoyed to have a little sunshine on Saturday.  Even showers on Sunday morning didn't stop us.

Blue-headed Vireo
Southeastern Ohio is known as the Little Smokies, sharing many characteristics of the Appalachians with West Virginia and Kentucky. We all know that the Ice Age glaciers flattened most of Ohio several times.  However, the southeastern third of the state manage to escape this fate, retaining a connection with the Appalachian Mountains, which were much much larger at that time.  The two mile high glaciers blocked the ancient Teays River, draining north through the current New and Kanawha Valleys, then north through the center of Ohio, and west towards the Mississippi (they think).  The glaciers put an end to this by burying the river in ice, so all northward flowing water had to look for a new outlet.  At one point, they backed up to from Lake Tight, almost as large as Lake Erie is today, while tips of the mountains, and what is now Adams County and Shawnee Forest, turned into islands.  After about 6,500 years, the blockage burst, and the lake drained. Given all the time I've spent studying geology at the Falls of the Ohio, this fascinated me, although some may have taken an after-dinner nap during the presentation.

Red Bellied Woodpecker
Over the entire weekend, Dick and I saw/heard a total of 79 species of birds, including all the woodpeckers except the Sapsucker!  Since the leaves are coming out, birding by ear was the method used by everyone, and we really got to practice up on our song ID's, especially for warblers - always a challenge for us, since they like to feed so high up in the canopy and are difficult to see at all.  If I didn't know their song, I'd have no idea at all what was up there.  Each year we listen to the cd, trying to add two or three more birds to our repertoire.  This year, I think I've nailed down the Yellow Throated Warbler and the Cerulean Warbler.  (I hope!)

My quest leader was Ohio's own Jim McCormac, author and knowledgeable about everything! His blog on Ohio Birds and Biodiversity is right on the target for his knowledge base. The Quest folks gave us not only a Birds of Ohio checklist, but a plant list for the area, with both common and Latin names for each plant.  Jim just rattled off the Latin like he speaks it at home every day, which he very well may do.  But I really appreciated his dedication to us birders.  Not only can he hear warblers through a closed van window, he made sure we recognized the song as well using a program on his phone. But he was very careful not to overuse the technology and freak out the little guys up in the treetops.  One of the hardest things about birding is finding the bird someone else has discovered.  Where is it?  In that tree... goes that standard answer. Sigh!  Jim carries a small laser pointer to trace the path to the correct three, and he can hold it steady on the appropriate branch.  I was so impressed!  Our birding was a big success because he patiently made sure that everyone saw the bird.  Just follow the green dot in this photo, and look to the right for the Blue-winged Warbler we found.

Prairie Warbler
The forest terrain only goes in two directions, straight UP and straight DOWN.  We took that large Ford van up and down the switchbacks, and across ridges barely wide enough for a one lane gravel road, then squeezed to the side without falling off when traffic came at us from the other direction.  Thank goodness I didn't have to do the driving! Sometimes this topology works to your benefit, because the upper levels of the trees are right at your eye level from the road.  Other times, I would lean backward to find the top of the tree with the bird, and the tree is also at the top of the slope above, making me doubly dizzy. With persistence, however, I got some good shots of several warblers, while finding others in the binoculars (including a LIFER Kentucky Warbler), and honing up on my warbler songs, calls and birding tips.  For example, although I know that eastern tent caterpillars are found in black cherry trees, I never knew that Baltimore Orioles and Cuckoos eat them, while other birds don't, so I can look for those birds where I see the tent caterpillars. Cerulean Warblers and Red Headed Woodpeckers like areas where the trees have been disturbed, and we saw both where the ice storms made clearings in the forest.  And have you ever heard the Kentucky Warbler's song described as sounding like a galloping horse?  Well, that may be a bit of a stretch...
Fence Lizard
Jim knew all the butterflies too, but we really enjoyed this fence lizard that rustled through the leaves and up the side of a tree. "Go look at his side, and try to spot his blue belly," Jim suggested, "that shows it's a male.  But the male Tiger Swallowtails don't have much blue, while the females do." Would you ever think to look at the belly of a lizard on a tree?  I will from now on.
Eastern Bluebird
More on the flora part of the weekend tomorrow....

1 comment:

Mary said...

Flooded basement twice;( bless you all and so many being affected from these storms. Our yard has looked like a pond for days off and on. Is it not amazing the act of nest building... I love watching birds build their nests. This year for second time, the R-S Hawks used a plastic bag as part of nesting material. Her young ones perished from the storms, hoping I can locate any new nest, and, or that she may take this one back up~