Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lilliputian Lovelies

Over the weekend, I attended a hike in Adams County, Ohio with the Midwest Native Plant Society. We were on a quest for some of the rare early blooming flowers of spring.

The flowers we were seeking always put me in a state of complete awe. Each year I have to remind myself just how small they are. These members of the mustard family are extremely tiny. Most reach a towering height of one to two inches tall! To view these flowers, one must be willing to get down on their hands and knees. But once there, the viewer is definitely rewarded for the effort. Each one is a delicate, miniature work of art. (All photos courtesy of John Howard).

Beautiful snow white blossoms that are smaller than my pinky nail. This flower is Michaux's Leavenworthia,  Leavenworthia uniflora. The diminutive flower with the huge, unusual title is named after two botanists, Andre' Michaux and Melines Conkling Leavenworth.

Another tiny masterpiece, Carolina Whitlow-grass, Draba reptans. The group of basal leaves, at the bottom of the plant, are smaller in diameter than a dime and densely hairy, reminding me of a teeny cactus. For more photos, check out the Ohio Flora blog.

Similar to the Draba reptans, this tiny wonder is just starting to bloom. We were a bit too early. This is Draba cuneifolia, Wedge-leaved Whitlow-grass. The leaves have tiny notches that Draba reptans lacks.

And finally, a very rare mustard called Little Whitlow-grass, Draba brachycarpa. We were crawling around on the ground in a cemetery looking for this one. A passerby would have wondered what in the world we were doing. :) I love the clump of flowers at the top of the stem, gathered like a miniature bouquet. Since the sandy deposits that it prefers are disappearing, this may be one of the only viable populations in the state of Ohio. There are only a few areas where it is found in Indiana, as well.
Such an enjoyable day in the field, enjoying nature on a microscopic level. It show that there are so many wonderful things out there if one just takes the time to look. If you enjoy looking at photos of these and other spring wonders, check out the blogs of others who were on the trip.
All photos on this post courtesy of John Howard.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Northern Goshawk at Eagle Creek-Blue Jays Show Me the Money!

Friday, I spent the majority of the day conducting bird programs for Eagle Creek's fabulous Home School Jamboree. Great program held in the spring and fall with lots of talented naturalists and professionals teaching various nature topics. If you home school your kids, I highly recommend this.

I was told that morning by Kevin Carlsen, naturalist at the Ornithology Center, that the juvenile Northern Goshawk had been seen again at the skating pond. I was hoping to get to see it.

There is an old skating pond in the park, now filled with cattails. Great place to view ducks, bitterns, and other goodies. I found Jeanette Frazier already there. She had not seen the bird that day, but had photos from another day. She also had photos of other similar birds, like a Cooper's Hawk and juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk for comparison. Very, very helpful to see these at that time. We heard a bunch of Blue Jays screaming like crazy off to the right of the skating pond. Jeanette remarked that they might have a hawk cornered, which is often the case.

Blue Jays and crows will mob large raptors, like owls and hawks. They will scream at them, whack them in the head, chase them in flight and give them no peace. Many raptors will eat other birds, so the jays let everyone in the vicinity know the raptor is around. Basically guard dogs of the bird world, if you will.

Jeanette departed and I decided to drive around a bit. I drove around to different areas in the park to see if I could find the bird, but I had no luck. I decided to swing by the skating pond for one last look. The jays were still squawking, even louder than before. I decided to check it out to see if they had cornered anything.

I wandered down a path near the pond, following the jays noise. Many highly agitated jays were sitting in the shrubs lining the path, close to 20-25 in all.  Right next to the trail was a large tree with a branch reaching over the trail. I stopped, lost my breath for a moment, then grinned like a Cheshire cat. There was the gorgeous juvenile Northern Goshawk, in all its splendor. A few jays were in the branches above the goshawk, screeching at it. It looked up, seemingly surprised, like it had no idea what they were fussing about. "Danger? What? Where?" The jays had "showed me the money! (No, I did not yell this at the top of my lungs, even though I felt like it :) )

I watched the goshawk interact with the jays for a bit. One finally got enough courage up and whacked the goshawk in the head. The goshawk had had enough and flew off across the trail to the north. I followed, hoping I would get another look.

This time, it was in tree a little farther away, but I could still see it really well with binoculars. It was perched with its back facing me, which was nice. I had a great look at its tail, which had dark bands that are not straight across, but zigzag a bit. Cooper's Hawks have straight dark bands across the tail. A crazy Fox Squirrel climbed onto the branch with the goshawk.  The squirrel froze, then unexpectedly ran up and touched the goshawk. I am not sure if it had a death wish or if it was making sure it was real. Weird!  The goshawk, startled, jumped up into the air. The squirrel touched it again and the goshawk decided to move to another branch.

Another squirrel came on to its branch and the goshawk decided to move again. This time it perched in a tree, much closer to me. I was able to view it for about 10-15 minutes. I was so happy! To be able to see a life bird, one I had never seen before, AND have such great looks, front, back, in flight, was fantastic!  I left the bird as it was finally getting some peace and quiet without any kamikaze animals bothering it.

I do not have any photos of the Northern Goshawk, but Ryan Sanderson took some great photos about a hour and a half after I left. His flicker page is here

As of this posting, the goshawk was not seen today. This bird is a true rarity with the last one seen at Eagle Creek in 2001, ten years ago! Hopefully, it is still hanging around and others will be able to enjoy it.StumbleUpon