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Preview: Blue Jay Barrens

Blue Jay Barrens

Updated: 2018-04-26T08:15:17.682-04:00


Split Season Wood Frog Breeding


During roughly the third week of February, the Wood Frogs of Blue Jay Barrens swarmed into the pond for their annual mating event. The behavior is typical for that time of year; however, weather conditions and the intensity of the mating activities were not what I have come to expect.February 17 – Six inches of snow falls. February 18 – Temperatures struggle to reach the low 40s. Snow melts slowly and is nearly gone by evening. Wood Frogs begin to enter the pond. February 19 – High temperature reaches 75°F. Wood Frogs continue courtship activities through the day and into the night. February 20 – High temperature reaches 80°F. Wood Frog courtship activities can almost be described as frantic and continue through the day. February 21 – high temperature around 35°F. Three inches of snow falls. Wood Frogs have disappeared.On March 28 Wood Frogs returned to the pond and were heard calling for the next three nights.  Weather was rainy and cool through the period.  This is the first time Wood Frog breeding activities divided in this manner.The swimming frogs seem to pull in their eyeballs when swimming with head submerged.In order to project the sound of their calls, the Wood Frogs inflate air sacs located on each side of the body.  The sacs act as resonating chambers for the call. In the above photo the frog is seen from behind, showing the twin air sacs in the foreground and the two bulging eyes behind.Surface tension causes the water to curve and ride up the frog’s body. The water then reflects the sky and the surrounding landscape, making it difficult to see the frog itself. I wonder if this might afford the frog a degree of camouflage and protection from water level predators. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='400' height='333' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />The short video above offers a view of a calling Wood Frog and a broader view of activity in the pond. The video can also be seen on YouTube by clicking HERE.[...]

Fall Project 2017


Each year during September and October, I tend to embark on a large scale management project at Blue Jay Barrens.  This year I worked to systematically eliminate all invasive shrubs from a 16 acre block that was historically used as a crop field in the early 1900’s.  Since all invasive shrubs of seed bearing age appear to have been eliminated from the property, I thought the next step should be to aggressively pursue the youngsters.  My primary problem shrubs are Multiflora Rose, Bush Honeysuckle, Japanese Barberry and Autumn Olive as shown in the lineup in the photo above.  I also find a few Privet and a couple of Winged Wahoo.My project area sits on a long south facing slope and is a roughly rectangular shape measuring 900 by 800 feet.  The area is currently a patchwork mix of large Eastern Red Cedars, mixed hardwoods, and barrens openings.  I began work at the east property line and worked my way west in a series of strips paralleling the fence line. Each strip ran from the creek up to the hill top, an elevation difference of about 140 feet.  The neighboring property has a growing population of invasives and birds bring plenty of seeds across the property line.  Invasive shrubs were especially within 100 feet of the fence.To make my search as thorough as possible, I produced a grid pattern by using marking flags to establish the strips and to show the corners of each cell within the strip.  Strips were about 20 feet wide and each cell was about 35 feet long.  This resulted in around 1,000 cells developed within the project area.  I began by establishing two strips using three lines of flags; one red, one blue, and one yellow.  As I completed each strip, I would move the line of flags west to make a new strip.  Within each cell I would walk a line about three feet in from the side, cross over at the end and walk about three feet in along the other side, and then travel up the center until I reached the next cell.  There’s no place within that 16 acres that I wasn’t within a few feet of while searching.  Every invasive shrub found was cut off at ground level and the resulting stump treated with glyphosate.  Most of the treated individuals were less than two feet tall.  If I could see it, I would treat it.Of course, that doesn’t mean I found every invasive shrub there was to find.  Surrounding native vegetation often hid the invaders.  Dappled sunlight could also be effective camouflage.  Despite these obstacles, I drastically reduced the number of unwelcome shrubs.Even shrubs that appear impossible to miss can be hidden from view.  This Bush Honeysuckle could not be seen from the other side of the tree.The concentration of invasives was greatest beneath trees used by roosting or resting birds.  The photo above shows an Autumn Olive, a Bush Honeysuckle and a Multi-flora Rose, three of a larger collection of similar specimens all inhabiting the same small area of ground. The cause of the infestation was a large Sycamore, the trunk of which can be seen here in the background.  Flocks of Robins and Cedar Waxwings seem to spend considerable time in the upper branches of towering Sycamores, often after making a large meal of fruits from surrounding shrubs.  While resting, they are also dropping seeds into the fertile soil beneath the tree.It’s common to find a clump of seedlings that has developed on the site of a seed filled bird dropping.  This jungle of Autumn Olive seedlings resulted from a single bird drop.  The seedlings must now compete among themselves for survival.  The plants at the edge of the cluster stretch out to capture sunlight.The clump may appear to be spread over a rather wide space, but clipping the tops reveals that all stems are originating from a single small spot.Invasives were cut and treated in this area in a slightly less intensive search conducted four years ago.  These two Bush Honeysuckle stems and the stump fro[...]

Eliminating Invasive Plants – Summer Activities


As the seasons change, my management activities change.  Summer is a time to hunt and eliminate invasive forbs and grasses.  Sweet Clover was my initial target several years ago.  As Sweet Clover numbers dropped, I added other species that could be controlled by pulling prior to setting seed.  Now, Yellow and White Sweet Clover, Wild Carrot, Teasel, and Oxeye Daisy are all on my summer pulling schedule.  Not all invasive species can be controlled by pulling.  Sometimes, like in the case of Crown Vetch, the aid of a chemical herbicide is necessary to eliminate the plant.This is my second year using the chemical Clopyralid in the treatment of Crown Vetch.  Clopyralid kills only broadleaf plants, and is particularly effective on legumes.  Grass is left unharmed, so no bare spots are left in the field after treatment.  The areas I treated this year were fewer in number and much smaller than what I dealt with last year.  Shown above is the largest patch of Crown Vetch I had to spray this year, and it covered only about 40 square feet.Crown Vetch found its way into my fields as seed that was produced along the edges our township road.  I eliminated the roadside vetch last year, but some of the affected field areas are going to take a bit more work.  Crown Vetch growing beneath the canopy of tall Indian Grass is hard to spot.  The best time to search is when the plants begin to flower.Unfortunately, peak flowering time for Crown Vetch coincides with flowering of other lavender bloomed plants such as Monarda.  Shown above is Crown Vetch on the left and Monarda on the right.  Colors are almost identical.Monarda flowers are held above the Indian Grass leaves.  Good luck trying to spot a couple stalks of Crown Vetch hidden down in the grass.Johnson Grass is another species that requires some herbicide assistance if it is to be eliminated.  I’ve been after this species for several years and only found seven small clumps growing this year.When dealing with Johnson Grass, I first cut the stalks down to a manageable height and trim back any long, flowing leaves.  This allows me to spray the complete plant with glyphosate, without spraying a lot of neighboring plants.Johnson Grass is another invasive species that can trace its origin back to the roadside.  Even though the roadside along my property is free of this invasive grass, seed produced along other sections of the road are easily caught and transported by vehicles traveling the roadway.  I expect passersby will replenish my seed supply on an annual basis.Johnson Grass is hard to miss when it sends up a flower stalk.  This species puts on height in late July, long before the tall prairie grasses, so it doesn’t take much searching to identify new infestations.When the plant is blooming, tops can be cut and just left in the field.  There is no chance that these flowers will produce viable seed if removed from the plant at this stage.  If treatment is done after seed has formed, it is best to remove the seed heads from the field to eliminate any viable seed being left behind.I began pulling Wild Carrot six years ago.  I’ve had a lot of success in reducing the numbers of this plant.Areas that once yielded hundreds of plants, are now producing only a few plants each year.With fewer plants to pull, I can cover more area.  This is the last of the Wild Carrot infested barrens, an area that I have never had time to get to before.  I was able to finish off this field just as the pulling season came to a close.Wild Carrot seeds were just beginning to darken during my last week of pulling.  Not knowing if these seeds were developed enough to finish ripening on a pulled plant, I removed the seed heads and bagged them for disposal somewhere other than the middle of my field.A single Black Swallowtail caterpillar was found on one of the pulled carrots.  I transplanted it to a domesticated carrot va[...]

Cycnia inopinatus Caterpillars


I’m always pleased when an uncommon plant or animal species shows up in unusually large numbers. This year, I am finding the caterpillars of the Unexpected Tiger Moth, Cycnia inopinatus, to be several times more abundant than they have ever been in any past year. Having a bright orange body decorated with tufts of black hairs, this species is hard to miss when it’s around.The Unexpected Tiger moth is listed as an endangered species in the state of Ohio. Its caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweeds, with Butterflyweed, Asclepias tuberosa, probably being the most common host plant. So far this year, I’ve found caterpillars on Butterflyweeds scattered over about a 30 acre area.In late spring and early summer I’ve seen the caterpillars feeding on Spider Milkweed, Asclepias viridis. Recently, I’ve found several caterpillars feeding on the leaves of Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca.A five-year-old clump of Butterflyweed growing next to my driveway is currently hosting a half dozen caterpillars. Later this year the caterpillars will move into the leaf litter at the base of the plant and pupate. They will remain there through the winter and emerge as adults next spring.The Common Milkweed being used as a host plant is growing at the edge of my water garden. So far, this is the only Common Milkweed plant that I have found hosting any Unexpected Tiger Moth caterpillars.Oleander Aphids have been abundant on all of the milkweeds this year. Caterpillars seem to avoid leaves that are excessively covered with aphids and honeydew, but there are enough clean leaves that the caterpillars do not seem to be lacking an adequate food supply. I hope this abundance of caterpillars results in record numbers of adult moths next spring. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='400' height='333' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />The above video shows some of the typical caterpillar activities.[...]

Immature Cooper's Hawk


An immature Cooper’s Hawk has been hanging around beside the house for the past week.  Its usual perch is atop the stump of a limb rising from the body of a downed Silver Maple.  This puts the hawk in plain sight about 5 feet above the ground and 15 feet from my bird feeder.

Intermittent showers from the remnants of hurricane Irma have kept the young hawk looking rather bedraggled the last two days.

The hawk is vigilant about checking out any animal movement nearby.  A pair of Cooper’s Hawks has been hunting around the bird feeder for years.  It’s possible that this bird first visited here with its parents.

This may seem like the best place to sit and wait for a meal to come by, but it doesn’t work at all.

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The above is a short video highlighting some of the hawk’s behavior.  Mostly looking and preening, with a nice tail fan in the last half.  The video was filmed from inside the house, so there are no interesting nature sounds to be heard.

Camouflaged Loopers


This is a perennial favorite of mine, Camouflaged Looper, the larva stage of the Wavy-Lined Emerald Moth.  There are two caterpillars in the photo, one to each side of the central disk.  Camouflaged Loopers commonly feed on the disk flowers of species in the Aster family, so spend much time exposed to view.  In order to look less like a tasty morsel to passing predators, this caterpillar adorns its body with bits of the plant on which it is feeding.  To the casual eye, it looks just like a part of the plant.

At Blue Jay Barrens, Orange Coneflower, Rudbeckia fulgida, seems to be the plant of choice for this species.  I encourage a large patch of Orange Coneflower to grow outside the front door of my house, so I can enjoy the Camouflaged Loopers through their entire season.

This looper was cleaning its mouth or doing some similar facial area grooming.  I gave it high marks for doing what I thought was a superb Godzilla impersonation.

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The above video shows some typical Camouflaged Looper behavior.  If you turn your sound on, you will notice the chatter and buzz of Hummingbirds passing over my head.  My Hummingbird feeders are only about eight feet from me.  I posted a longer version of this film to YouTube which you can view by clicking HERE.

Solitary Sandpiper


Blue Jay Barrens is an excellent example of a xeric environment, meaning that the shallow, well drained soils cause the ground to be exceedingly dry.  It’s always a treat to see a visiting shorebird, since no shores occur here in a typical summer.  Solitary Sandpipers occasionally stop here, but this is the first time I’ve ever been in position to photograph one of these birds.

The flood of July 6 is responsible for a trace of the pond to still be present in early August.  It’s not much more than a large puddle, but it is the type of place a Solitary Sandpiper will go to forage for food. 

The bird seemed to be finding plenty to eat in the shallow water.  Most of what it caught was tiny, but a couple items were large enough that I could discern a dark form disappearing into the bird’s mouth.

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Above is one of the videos I shot.  I spent about 20 minutes watching this bird.  Not once during that time did it give any indication that it was concerned with my presence.  About ten seconds into the video, the bird turns a quick 180 in response to a Mourning Dove winging just a few feet over its head. 

Silvery Checkerspots


I usually don’t see more than a half dozen Silvery Checkerspot butterflies at Blue Jay Barrens in any one year.  This has been a constant situation for over 30 years, even though we have an abundance of Wingstem, the Silvery Checkerspot’s host plant.  For some reason, Silvery Checkerspots are everywhere this year, and I am enjoying the spectacle.

A couple of days ago, I sat beside a patch of Orange Coneflower that was being visited by about a dozen of the small black and orange butterflies.  I just watched the show for quite a while before turning on the camera.  I had never had any luck getting a good photo of this species, but I knew that was about to change.

After a few minutes, the butterflies resumed their nectaring and chasing activities as though I was just another part of the landscape.  That’s one of the neat things about many animals.  Their brains don’t interpret inanimate objects as threats, so if you can get yourself situated without scaring them away, the animal will soon continue with its normal activities.

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The above video shows an interesting behavior associated with nectaring on the coneflowers.  The butterfly would pivot atop the flower head and probe each open floret as it went.  Some butterflies turned clockwise, while others turned the opposite direction.  Individual butterflies that I followed from flower to flower, each turned in the same direction as it had on the previous flower.  My sample size wasn’t large enough to make any valid statistical conclusions, but I began to wonder if butterflies could be right-handed or left-handed.

Pulling Teasel


In an effort to eliminate invasive Teasel from my fields, I have taken time each summer during the past several years to remove the ripe seed heads from the Teasel plant.  Results have been positive.  The Teasel population is notably diminished over what it was just three years ago.  Instead of large Teasel patches, I now just have individual plants scattered around the field.  The problem with this control method is that the timing for Teasel seed head removal is critical.  Ideally, the activity should begin when the most mature seed heads are just a couple of days away from dropping their seed.  Beginning too late allows mature Teasel seeds to be lost during the collection process, giving rise to another crop of mature plants in two years.  Beginning too early allows for the possibility that the plants will produce new flowers that will mature before the end of the season and scatter new seed in the field. I was determining the progress of Teasel seed production and found most plants to be about a week away from releasing mature seed.  As I looked at the plants, I began to wonder how easily a Teasel plant would pull from the ground.  If I pulled the plant, I would not have to worry about it producing any new flowers.  Pulling would also allow me to begin work earlier in the year and increase my collection window from a few days to a few weeks.  I figured that pulling was worth a try, so I headed for the barn for a pair of heavy work gloves, an absolute necessity if you are going to grapple with a spiny Teasel stalk.Despite its impressive root system, Teasel turned out to be fairly easy to pull.  There were a few that held tight, so I cut these off at ground level.  I’m betting that the root system won’t be able to produce a new mature plant before cold weather sets in.The work of plant pulling went much more rapidly than seed head collection ever did and piles of Teasel plants began to line the field edges.  I spent eight hours at the task and searched an area of about 12 acres.  Only about five of those acres actually yielded any Teasel plants.  I just wanted to make sure there weren’t any infestations that I had not yet discovered.I learned one trick that came in handy, especially in the tall grass areas.  I left one tall Teasel standing in the area that I worked and piled pulled plants at its base.  I then moved on to the next section and did the same thing.  The standing plant allowed me to easily find my cut pile when I was ready to haul the plants out of the field.This group of ten plants represented a new infestation.  Just beyond the trees in the background is the township road.  A culvert crosses the road at this point and dumps runoff water into the field.  Along with the trash and debris from the road are often a few weed seeds.All of the collected plants were consolidated into a single pile.  The pile is located at the field edge next to my vegetable garden and is used as a depository for any noxious plants that may drop viable seed.  I pass this pile several times a week and will destroy any undesirable plants that try to grow here.Even the most developed seed was not near maturity.  The seed shown here has shriveled considerably since the plant was pulled two days ago and may not be viable.Several of the plants had played host to some type of stem borer.  The borer doesn’t seem capable of killing the plant before seed matures, so it is not likely to be valuable as a control method.Tiger Swallowtail butterflies were especially numerous in the field.  I scared dozens from the Teasel as I worked.  Fortunately, there are plenty of native wildflowers that the butterflies like just as well.  Pulling Teasel and removing the entire plant turne[...]

Flood 2017 - Creek Impacts


The July 6 flood certainly had an impact on the creek.  Some sections lost all lose material right down to the bedrock.Other sections accumulated material brought down from upstream.Deposition of stone in the creek channel was due to the formation of debris dams that temporarily slowed the speed of the water.  As the water slowed, it lost the energy necessary to carry heavy objects and the gravel dropped out into the creek bed.Water diverted out of the creek channel carried its sediment load along with it.  A number of sand bars were formed well away from the creek. Where the creek left its bed with more momentum, gravel bars were left behind.There were even a few large flat rocks left stranded far from the creek.At one bend in the creek the flood water cleaned the face of this bedrock arch.  This feature has never been so easy to view.Water was deep enough that the meanders in the creek had little effect on the direction of flow.  The current went straight down hill, passing cleanly over every bend and curve in the creek channel.It was not hard to tell in what direction the water was flowing.  I don’t think a steam roller could have laid these plants down any more than this.  This particular area typically has a nice floral display in late July.  I don’t think that’s going to happen this year.In the broad, flat areas, water depth peaked at between two and three feet.  It’s going to take a couple of years before the visual effects of this flood event begin to disappear.[...]

Flood 2017 - The Storm


Last month I was describing the drought conditions currently being experienced at Blue Jay Barrens. I believe it’s safe to say that that particular period of drought has come to an end. On July 6, Blue Jay Barrens was the recipient of 6+ inches of rain in a period of less than 12 hours. The resulting flood conditions far surpassed anything we have ever experienced here in the past. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='400' height='333' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />The rain began around 1:30 AM and continued until 8:30 AM. During that time approximately 3 ½ inches of rain fell. Our dry soils were able to accommodate most of that water and very little runoff occurred. The weather was clear for the next few hours, until a storm formed over the area around 12:20 PM. During the next hour, 2 ½ inches of rain was added atop soils which had nearly reached their saturation point. Runoff began immediately and the majority of that 2 ½ inches of water flowed overland across the landscape. The video above shows the runoff from a watershed only a few acres in size as it crosses the driveway in front of our house. The video begins during the most intense part of the storm and ends about five minutes after the rain stopped.Even though I was dismayed at the magnitude of the disaster unfolding before me, I got some pleasure at viewing the scene shown in the photo above. The clear water coming in from the left is flowing from my field that has been managed for the past 30 years as tallgrass prairie. The muddy water to the right comes from neighboring properties and the Township road. When I first bought this property, all of that runoff water would’ve been muddy. It’s nice to see that my management efforts are having some positive effects.The former access road, now grassed over, carries the excess floodwater past the prairie display garden and dumps it over the bank into the pond. Water from a more normal runoff event would all have gone through the shrubbery to the right.With the pond’s primary spillway overloaded, water overtops the dam. This is something that has not occurred since I moved here.During a year with more typical rainfall, the pond would currently be down to just a puddle and raccoons would be devouring the last of the tadpoles. Gray Treefrog tadpoles generally have a poor time of it in the pond. They breed later than most of the other frogs and the tadpoles generally don’t have time to fully develop before the water disappears. This flood event has been a boon to the Gray Treefrog population.Thanks to all this water, I’ll be seeing many more of these newly morphed Gray Treefrogs during the next few weeks.[...]

Wasps and Other Mud Puddle Visitors


During early afternoon on the day before the Toad Pool went dry, I spent a couple of hours photographing visitors to the rapidly shrinking puddle. During this session I concentrated more on short videos than on stills. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='400' height='333' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />A single, newly morphed toad is a couple weeks behind the hoard that emerged from the pool a few weeks ago. This little guy has only been a land dweller for a short time, but it already displays the mannerisms of an adult.  Click HERE for YouTube version.The most noticeable visitors to the pool were wasps loading up on water. The wasps were light enough to ride the surface tension of the water as they drank. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='400' height='333' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />Several species of paper wasps took advantage of this dwindling water supply. A few mud wasps also flew in, but they all left with only water.  Click HERE for YouTube version. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='400' height='333' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />The paper wasp in this video doesn’t seem to be intimidated by the beetle larva attacking it from the rear. It’s probably a good thing the larva couldn’t get hold of the wasp, or it might’ve been pulled right out of the water.  Click HERE for YouTube version.A small wolf spider stalked the mud flats.  It was particularly interested in the movement of what appeared to be a small insect near the edge of the pool. What wasn’t immediately obvious was the fact that the small insect was held in the jaws of a much larger aquatic beetle larva. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='400' height='333' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />The spider finally attempts an attack on the small insect, but is driven back when the beetle larva begins to thrash its head. Immediately after the head thrashing, the beetle larva scoops a small bit of mud into his breathing snorkel, located just to the right of the thrashing head, and shoots a mud ball at the place the spider had just been.  An interesting defense mechanism.  Click HERE for YouTube version.Several butterflies took advantage of the wet mud to imbibe some mineral laden water. The most persistent of these was a common Buckeye. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='400' height='333' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />The temperature at the time this video was made was 93°F and there was a strong wind blowing. You can see the puddling butterfly occasionally buffeted by the wind. I was pretty much baked all the way through by the time I called an end to this photography session.  Click HERE for YouTube version.[...]

Drought 2017 - Toad Pool


After several months of experiencing rain storms two or three times per week, the rain has stopped.  Three weeks of dry, hot weather has left the Toad Pool as nothing but a small patch of mud.  The last bit of open water disappeared on June 12.The water level remained good until June 2.  That is when temperatures began reaching 90°F and strong, dry winds began to blow.  Under these conditions, you could almost see the pool growing smaller.On June 5, an approaching storm front gave hope of some much needed rain.  When just a few miles away, the line of rain formed a gap that neatly slid over Blue Jay Barrens.  I could see the rain clouds to the north and south of us, but not a drop fell here. By June 8 the water depth was down to about two inches.  Forecast was for dry and windy conditions.  Fortunately, the bulk of the toad tadpoles had morphed into tiny toadlets by the end of May.  The pool had served its intended purpose well.An interesting pattern was left behind by the tadpoles.  While feeding, each tadpole would work its way down into the mud as it searched out algae and other tiny food items.  The tadpole’s head would remain stationary and the body would rotate around that fixed point.  The result was a depression in the mud.  This pattern of dimples covered the bottom of the pool.My photos of the depressions turned out to be good examples of the Dimple and Bump Optical Illusion.  Depending on how it is viewed, the pattern may appear to be a series of indentations or a series of raised bumps.  I can manage to switch back-and-forth between seeing dimples and bumps.  My wife sees only bumps, but she has taught High School English for 35 years so …A mixed bag of mammals and birds have been visiting the pool for water and to take advantage of any food morsels left vulnerable by the shrinking pool.  Rain storms began moving through the area yesterday.  Flash flooding has occurred just a few miles from our location, but we have only managed to get rains just slightly stronger than a drizzle.  I hope this doesn’t continue as a summer long pattern.[...]

Edwards' Hairstsreak Larvae - Night Feeding


Within the Blue Jay Barrens prairie openings are a scattering of medium to small sized Blackjack Oaks.  Some of these trees are decades old, but various environmental factors keep them from getting very large.  Dry site conditions limit water available to the tree, White-tail Deer find them to be the perfect choice for rubbing antlers, Periodical Cicadas cause a dramatic die-back every 17 years and a wide variety of insects find the leaves extremely palatable.  I make several close examinations of these trees each spring as I follow the development of the Edwards’ Hairstreak butterfly larvae, one of those species with a dietary preference for Blackjack Oak.Edwards’ Hairstreak eggs hatch just as the oak buds begin to swell in early spring.  The larvae feed on the buds and newly developing leaves.  On May 8, temperatures dropped to 29°F causing frost and freeze damage to many plants.  Damage to Blackjack Oaks varied between individual trees, but all suffered the loss of some new growth.  This was a setback for both the trees and the Edwards’ Hairstreak larvae.  Fortunately, buds were not affected and regrowth was rapid.When I checked the Blackjack Oaks three days ago, the leaves were showing signs of heavy predation by the Edwards’ Hairstreak larvae.  When this magnitude of damage occurs to the leaves it is a good indicator that the larvae have reached their final instar stage and will soon be pupating.  At this point it does no good to search the tree for larvae, because they do not spend the day in the open.Young Edwards’ Hairstreak larvae remain in the open feeding through the day.  When they become older, they feed only at night and spend the day at the base of the oaks, hidden in cavities constructed by Allegheny Mound Ants. Near sundown, the larvae leave their shelter and begin climbing the tree.Each larva is accompanied by its own cadre of ants. From the time they hatch until emergence as adults, the Edwards’ Hairstreaks are accompanied by ants.  The larvae achieve a degree of protection from the ants and the ants receive a sugary Honeydew solution excreted by the larvae.The larvae on the first tree went too high to be easily observed, so I switched my attention to a smaller tree that displayed feeding activity.  This tree was less than three feet high and struggling to regrow leaves killed by the freeze.The larva’s head is located near the top of this photo.  As the larva eats, an ant visits honeydew producing glands near the larva’s tail.It’s fortunate that pupation is near.  This tree was loaded with larvae.  At the rate they’re eating, the tree may soon be stripped bare of leaves. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='400' height='333' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />The above video is a compilation of several shots of moving and feeding Edwards' Hairstreak Larvae.  Make sure your sound is on, so you can enjoy the call of the Chuck-will's-widow while you watch.  This video, in a possibly clearer form, may also be viewed on YouTube by clicking HERE.[...]

Toad Pool Success - Part 2


Blue Jay Barrens is experiencing an influx of thousands of young Eastern American Toads emerging from the still under construction Toad Pool 2. This little guy has fully absorbed his tail and, looking every bit like the adult version of his species, is moving away from the pool towards the open fields.The pool experienced no shortage of water this spring. Frequent rains provided above average rainfall totals causing the water to regularly be at a level higher than intended.Toad eggs appeared in the pond on March 29 and began hatching on April 2. By April 5 the eggs had completed hatching, but the tadpoles were not yet mobile and their pattern on the bottom of the pool continued to match the strings of eggs that had been laid out a week before.After exiting the egg membrane, the tadpoles remain stationary for several days as they absorb their yolk sacs and mature into a more traditional tadpole form. Their first food will be the algae seen growing on the empty jelly strings and pool bottom.Once they become mobile, with tadpoles migrate upslope to shallower water where the generally warmer temperatures will aid in their growth and development. Their initial efforts cause them to congregate atop the slightly higher mounds on the pool bottom.A few days later their improved swimming ability allows them to reach the shallow water at the edge of the pool.The unfinished condition of the toad pool caused an unintended broad expanse of shallow water to become available to the tadpoles.The shallow area, which had been left smooth when construction was halted last fall, had become pocked with depressions caused by deer visiting the pool.As water levels receded during uncharacteristic hot periods between rainfalls, the depressions became isolated pockets that rapidly dried after their connection to the main body of water was severed. Tadpoles caught in these depressions quickly perished.Fortunately, I still retained the mud puddle engineering skills that I had honed as a child and was able to make periodic adjustments in the way of dams and channels to ameliorate the desiccation threat to the tadpoles. If weather conditions allow me to complete my construction activities is fall, the hazard should not exist next year.Transformation from tadpole to terrestrial toad form began a week ago and is now proceeding at a rapid pace.Once all four legs appear, the tail quickly shrinks and the young toad pushes himself free of the water.It spends a day or two near the water’s edge before heading off to begin a terrestrial lifestyle.The little toads are so numerous in the vicinity of the pool but I can’t walk in that area without stepping on a few, so I’m waiting until they’ve had a chance to disperse before checking the pool again. I’m looking forward to encountering these little guys through the summer. It will be two or three years before this year’s hatch is mature enough to return here to breed. By that time Toad Pool 2 will be completed and, with any luck, there should also be a Toad Pool 3.[...]

Storm Damaged Orchid


The lone Blue Jay Barrens Yellow Lady’s Slipper Orchid sent up two stalks this year and managed to produce three full blooms.It’s hard to consider a population as being stable when there is just a single individual involved.  As in the past, I’ve been searching to discover another of this species somewhere on the property.  No luck so far.This plant manages to send up at least one flowering stalk each year.  Unfortunately, it seems a normal occurrence for disaster to befall the plant before it can develop a seed pod.  The flowers and top of plant have been eaten on several occasions, a large limb fell and crushed the single flower that developed that year, a strange wilting disease shriveled up the flowers another year.  It always seems to be something.  This year it was a particularly violent wind storm.This flower lost its slipper completely.A neatly storm cleaved slipper makes it easy to view the interior pattern.Only one of the three flowers was unscathed.  So far, the plants have only had to contend with a single disaster per year.  Though that doesn’t mean they are now really safe.[...]

Number 544 - Virginia Bluebells


Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica, has been added to the flora list as the 544th plant species known to reside within the borders of Blue Jay Barrens.  This is a rather common native species for this area that I knew was to be found growing in the floodplains downstream of my property.  Since the seeds of floodplain plants are generally moved by flood waters in a downstream direction, I thought it unlikely that Virginia Bluebells would show up here.  Four individual plants were discovered, but only one produced blooms this year.The other three plants exist as only a few leaves.To the West, Blue Jay Barrens tapers to a long narrow point which contains a short segment of Creek bounded on both sides by extremely steep slopes. I refer to this area as Farpoint because, at a distance of six tenths of a mile, it is the farthest point away from my back door. The length of the Creek from property line to property line is only about 160 feet. The thing that makes Farpoint interesting is the fact that the Creek is fed by a different watershed than that which maintains the Creek on the east side of the property. Several the plants on the Blue Jay Barrens flora list exist only at Farpoint and I credit the Farpoint watershed as being a major cause of that fact.I would guess these plants to be two or three years old. If they survive, I would not be surprised to see them flowering next year or the year after.All of the plants are growing in that precarious gravel bar area within the actual creek banks. A major flash flood event could easily remove both vegetation and gravel from the site. If I find that the flowering individual produces viable seed, I will probably take the liberty of scattering some of that seed in the more stable area about the creek bank. Perhaps in a few years, Farpoint will display a few nice clumps of Virginia Bluebells.[...]

End of Spring Invasive Shrub Treatment


There are two periods in the year when I aggressively attack the invasive shrubs at Blue Jay Barrens. First there is a spring season, which typically begins sometime in February and continues until about the end of April. Next comes the fall season, which begins sometime in August and runs through mid-November. These two periods are ideal for cutting and spraying shrubs because the shrubs are easy to locate and there is minimal chance of trampling nontarget species while searching out the invasive. Today is the last rain free day forecast for the near future, so I’m going to make good use of the dry weather and finish up my spring season cutting and spraying. The photo above shows the most common four invasive shrub species that I deal with. From the left we have Multiflora Rose, Bush Honeysuckle, Autumn Olive, and Japanese Barberry. Those four specimens are also representative of the size that I’m currently treating.  The hand pruners on the right have a total length of 8 inches. At least 75% of the invasives I now find are less than 12 inches tall. I’ve finally run out of the big guys.I’ve also found about a dozen plants of the European Privet. I don’t know where the seed source is for this invasive, but I do know that there are no mature shrubs of this species within the Blue Jay Barrens boundaries.The source of seed for my four top invasive shrub species is no mystery. All I need to do is look across the property line fence in any direction and I will see mature specimens of each of the local invasive species. I get particularly depressed at this time of year when the fragrance of Autumn Olive blossoms is so heavy in the air it almost makes you choke.Today I’ll be walking the Indian Grass fields looking for Multiflora Rose. It takes two or three years for the rose plant to grow large enough to be seen in the dead tallgrass stalks. A quick walk through the fields in the spring is all it takes to find the few roses that managed to take hold there. Fortunately, even though some of the plants get rather large, the roses don’t flower until they’ve pushed up out of the grass and into the sunlight. My annual field sweep insures that none of the plants mature enough to produce seed, and that is the key to control.It’s a little bit discouraging at this time of year when you stop to think that seeds from invasive shrubs will be forever dropped onto Blue Jay Barrens.  It helps brighten my mood when I revisit cleared areas previously choked with invasives. A photo taken eight years ago from this location would have produced nothing but a close-up look of a solid screen of Multiflora Rose leaves. Now this site cycles through a variety of native species each year and has a growing population of native rose species moving in. By August I’ll be ready to tackle invasive shrubs again, but for the next few months it’ll be nice to do something different.[...]

Draba Pollinators


The Draba cuneifoliahave been in bloom for over six weeks now.  They went unscathed through a week long bout of cold weather that included single digit low temperatures, heavy frost and a covering of snow.  They baked through several sunny afternoons of temperatures above 80°F, stood beneath the pounding of two inch downpours, and some even spent a few hours submerged during an uncommon upland flooding event.  Despite all this, the plants have continued to produce blooms and in turn, seed pods have been forming. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='400' height='333' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />Draba cuneifoliais an annual species that depends on its seed crop to produce the next generation of plants.  The flowers are capable of self-fertilization, so seeds will be produced even without pollen being moved between flowers.  However, sharing pollen is essential for the maintenance of a genetically diverse plant population, and the number one mover of pollen for these little Drabas is insects.  I recently spent some time sitting in the Draba patch, photographing the many pollinators visiting the flowers.  The rapidity at which the insects moved from flower to flower, along with it being a typical windy March afternoon, made it difficult to get many clear photos. The video above shows what conditions were like, but even though I only captured a few good images, the variety of pollinator species that I saw was amazing.Draba flowers are tiny, but they must be good nectar producers.  Most flower visitors behaved just like this small native bee, only stop moving when you are drinking.Another small native bee.  Small bees were the most common insect found on the flowers.A Paper Wasp.   allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='400' height='333' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />Paper Wasps were the only insects large enough to move from plant to plant without flying.Several species of flies were present.Flower Flies were the most common of the fly species.Plant Bugs were the only insects that spent any length of time at a single flower.  This one fed here for several minutes.  When it finally moved on, it went no further than the next open bloom.I saw two of these day flying moths.Not a pollinator, but this Carolina Wolf Spider is definitely interested in all of the activity only inches above its burrow.  Some of the flower visiting insects came by low to the ground, but none ever came within reach of the spider.[...]

Toad Pool Success


Keeping the toad pools full of water has not been a problem this year.  Two or three rainfalls per week has kept them filled to the brim. This is the fourth spring for Toad Pool 1.  Vegetation was quick to fill in here, but amphibians were slow to arrive.This is the second spring that water has been present in Toad Pool 2.  Last year the pool was still under construction and only had a depth of a few inches.  This year’s pool has a center portion with a depth of about one foot, and the soil was compacted during construction to minimize leakage. The pools were constructed with the primary goal of creating Toad breeding habitat.  This is the first year that toads have actually visited the pools.  During warmer nights, males move into the pools to call for mates.  I counted nine males ringing the shoreline of Toad Pool 2 on March 25.It took a few nights before a female made it to the pool.  This couple, with female in front, is ready to begin the process of depositing and fertilizing eggs.On the morning of March 29, I finally found strings of toad eggs in the pool.  The depressions in the bottom of the pool were made by deer hooves.  Whitetail Deer treat these pools as their private playgrounds.  I’m hoping that doesn’t cause a problem for developing tadpoles.Eggs began to hatch on April 2.  By the next day, hatching was proceeding at a rapid pace.This collection of egg strands is in deeper water and wasn’t noticeable until hatching began.  Everything seems to be going well.  Hopefully, the end result will be a mass of small toads leaving the pool.There was one thing different about the toad pools this spring that may have contributed to the toad visitations.  Both pools were surrounded by a mass of Spring Peepers creating a loud chorus.  I’m wondering if the Peeper song alerted the toads to the fact that a suitable breeding pool was available.  The newly hatched Peeper tadpoles shown above are just two of dozens hanging in the algae around the edge of the pools.  This toad pool venture may just turn out to be a success.[...]

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.

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.[...]

Blooming Leavenworthia uniflora


Leavenworthia uniflorais 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.[...]

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.[...]

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.