Turkey Vulture

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Turkey Vultures are majestic but unsteady soarers. Their teetering flight with very few wingbeats is an identification characteristic. Their ability to ride thermals enables them to move from one destination to another.

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These birds occupy a diverse range of habitats like roadsides, suburbs and farmlands. They are found in forested as well as open environments; they can be found just about anywhere they can effectively find a carrion food supply.

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Turkey Vultures usually roost in large community groups, but search for food independently during daylight hours. They are talented scavangers with an acute sense of smell.

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They have a well-developed sense of smell and are one of the only species of birds worldwide that uses smell extensively. Their sense of smell is so remarkable that they can even locate a dead mouse under a pile of leaves.

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Several Turkey Vultures may gather at a carcass, but usually only one feeds at a time.This large bird species has a six foot wingspan and has been around since prehistoric times.

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Turkey Vultures act as nature’s ultimate garbage collector and recycler.

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Furrow Spider

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These spiders are most often found in moist areas, especially near water. Their orb webs are typically low to the ground in shrubbery or between grasses.

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This creature can be extremely common near the shores of lakes, particularly Lake Erie (where the examples in this blog were found), but also occur in other parts of Ohio and in fact are are common throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

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Furrow spiders are known to overwinter as adults: this is noteworthy because typical orb weaver species live for only one year, dying before winter. Orb weavers comprise a huge family of spiders, with 3500 species worldwide, 180 of which call North America home.

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Individuals ingest their web each night, recycling silk material to rebuild daily damage. When food is scarce, these spiders may make more or larger webs in a single night, in an effort to catch more prey.

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Orb weaver males are generally much smaller than the females and commonly lack the showy coloring of their fairer sex, but that is not so with this species; the males are only slightly smaller, and are equally gaudily-decorated. This creature is also commonly known as the foliate spider, after its prominent folium, or pigmented design on the abdomen.

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Chicory

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This is a wildflower that I frequently see blooming along roadsides at this time of the year. It produces sky blue flowers after living through one winter. These plants actually prefer being near hot rocks or other debris in the soil – this is one reason it thrives along edges.

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Around here Chicory seems to spring up everywhere with its bright blue dandelion-like flowers that open and close with the sun. It has a long blooming period from mid-Summer into Fall.

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Its stems are thick and strong and 2 to 5 feet tall with few small long, narrow, and often upright leaves. This plant is not native to the United States, but has distribution all around the world.

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Chicory has been in cultivation since the days of ancient Egypt. Horticulture enthusiast and president Thomas Jefferson planted Chicory in his gardens, recommending it in a letter to George Washington as “one of the greatest acquisitions a farmer can have.”

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Many varieties are cultivated for salad leaves, in addition, its roots can be baked, ground, and used as a coffee substitute and additive.

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Chicory is also known as blue daisy, blue dandelion, blue sailors, blue weed, bunk, coffeeweed, cornflower, hendibeh, horseweed, ragged sailors, succory, wild bachelor’s buttons, and wild endive

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Channel Catfish

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While doing a little summertime fishing, I hooked one of these fine creatures. Channel Catfish are North America’s most numerous catfish species. In the United States, they are the most fished catfish species; their popularity for food has contributed to the rapid expansion of aquaculture of this species.

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Like other catfish, they have no scales, a single bony spine in each pectoral fin and the dorsal fin, and 8 barbels (whiskers) around the mouth.

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Channel Catfish live in a diverse array of habitats, including four of the five Great Lakes (Lake Superior excluded), inland lakes and medium to large rivers. Adult catfish typically inhabit deep pools with log jams or rocks for cover during the day and move into shallow water at night.

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They are capable of living more than 15 years, and individuals up to 24 years of age have been reported. In ideal habitats, Channel Catfish often grow to over 30 inches and weigh more than 10 pounds.

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Like all catfish, they will eat pretty much anything. Their diet includes insect larvae, crayfish, mollusks, small fish and clams, snails, worms and seeds. Channel Catfish mainly feed at night, and use their barbels to find food in the deep, dark water. Their impressive size and high quality flesh make these catfish deservedly popular as a sport fish.

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Silver-spotted Skipper

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This is Ohio’s largest skipper. It is long-winged and brown, with band of yellow-orange rectangular spots on forewings and unique, silver-white patch at center of hindwings.

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These butterflies are named for their quick, darting flight habits. Most skippers have antenna tips modified into narrow hook-like projections.

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The Silver-spotted Skipper is found throughout most of the United States and into southern Canada. In the West, it is more restricted to mountainous areas.

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The odd-looking caterpillar has an enlarged head capsule and a pronounced neck collar, making it look a bit like a cartoon alien. When disturbed, the caterpillars regurgitate a greenish, bitter-tasting, defensive chemical.

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Silver-spotted Skippers frequent edges of forests, swamps, brushy areas, and other open areas where nectar plants are found. We often have them visit our deck garden. Adults have long “tongues” and feed on nectar from a variety of flowers.

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I enjoy seeing these summertime creatures both at home and while out hiking.

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Cooper’s Hawk

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While doing yard work this week, I noticed this creature perched on a tree in my front yard. Copper’s Hawks often visit suburban homes to pick off songbirds from feeders.

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I have also seen them in Brecksville Reservation – they among the bird world’s most skillful fliers – their short wings allow them to navigate through cluttered trees at high speeds in pursuit of other birds.

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Cooper’s Hawks are forest and woodland residents, but suburbs with enough trees are a favorite habitat as well.

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These crow-sized raptors mainly eat birds. Small birds tend to be safer around Cooper’s Hawks than medium-sized birds. They sometimes rob rodent nests and mammals are more common in diets of Cooper’s Hawks in the West.

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While they can soar in classic hawk fashion, when in pursuit of prey, their flight changes. It becomes becomes powerful, quick, and very agile, allowing the bird to thread its way through tree branches at top speed.

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Other common names for the Cooper’s Hawk include: big blue darter, chicken hawk, flying cross, hen hawk, quail hawk, striker, and swift hawk.

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Tamarack

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This tree often goes by the alternative common name American Larch. It is the only deciduous conifer that is native to Ohio, and it strongly prefers moist to wet sites in acidic soils.

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Tamarack’s green needles turn a showy yellow in Fall before dropping to the ground as Winter approaches. This is a medium to large sized tree that usually grows to 40-60 feet tall with an open pyramidal shape and horizontal branching.

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Its slender green needles grow in brush-like clusters which appear at the ends of short spur-like shoots spaced along the branches.

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Tamarack produces tiny rounded cones up to 1 inch, that start off red and eventually mature to brown. The bark on mature trees is a scaly, reddish-brown.

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Tamaracks are very cold tolerant and able to survive temperatures down to at least -65 °C (-85 °F). They commonly occur at the Arctic treeline at the edge of the tundra. It is one of the northernmost occurring trees in North America, as well as the world.

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Hummingbird Moth

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One of the coolest insect pollinators are Hummingbird Moths. They fly and move just like hummingbirds. They can remain suspended in the air in front of a flower while they unfurl their long tongue to sip nectar.

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To add to the illusion, Hummingbird Moths are rather plump and the tips of their tails open into a fan. They even emit an audible hum like hummingbirds.

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Honeysuckles are one of the favored plants of both the adults and the caterpillars. This moth seemed particularly fond of Bee Balm.

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Moths that are freshly emerged from their cocoons have solid-colored wings, nearly black in appearance. With first flight, their flapping wings cause most of the scales to fall off, especially near the center of each wing. The end result is wings that are nearly scale-less and therefore look clear.

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This insect belongs to a group known as is Sphinx Moths. This name came about from the habit the caterpillars have of rearing up (and looking sphinx-like) when threatened.

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Nature has many clever disguises and this is one of my favorites – a moth that mimics a bird.

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Hapalopilus croceus

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While hiking in the Cuyahoga River Valley, I noticed the orange glow of Hapalopilus croceus (this fungus has no common name) displaying its brilliant color.

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I have never encountered (or heard of) this organism before, so it was an unexpected find. This is a rather uncommon fungus found in Asia, Europe, Oceania, and North America. Hapalopilus croceus is nationally red-listed (threatened) in 11 European countries.

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When fresh, this mushroom has a vibrant orange color, but it tends to fade or brown with age. This conspicuous wood-inhabiting fungus has habitat confined to wooded meadows and pastures.

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The stalkless, broadly attached, fan-shaped fruiting body has a colorful cap and grows on decaying broadleaf wood, especially fallen Oaks.

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Like its polypore relatives, Hapalopilus croceus contributes a crucial role in nature’s continuous rebirth, by breaking down dead wood and turning it into useful nutrients.

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Fungi digest their food outside their bodies by releasing enzymes into the surrounding environment and converting organic matter into a form they can absorb; nothing else is able to perform the function of reducing dead wood back down into soil.

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Melanistic Eastern Garter Snake

Melanistic Eastern Garter Snake

Eastern Garter Snakes have a very large range, and within that range a number of color and pattern variations occur. Perhaps the most interesting being the version with no color or pattern. In northwest Ohio, populations of all-black snakes can be found along with their standard-looking relatives.

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Melanistic Eastern Garter Snakes are predominantly a deep black. Immediately after shedding their skin they can be extraordinary beautiful. Also, the underside is completely black. I came across several individuals on a recent trip to northwest Ohio, as well as many examples of striped garters, which would be considered typical in appearance.

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Often the chin, lip and some scales on the side of the head, can have their normal color of whitish or brownish. Melanism can be thought of as the opposite of albinism. While albinism is the absence of melanin (a dark colored pigment found in skin), melanism is the overabundance of melanin, leading to an individual with an abnormal amount of black coloration.

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Mutations that lead to melanism can arise randomly in any animal that has melanin; however, mutations that cause melanism and albinism are uncommon. This leads to sporadic occurrences of a color abnormality that randomly occur across multiple populations. For a trait like melanism to sustain itself in a population, being melanistic must benefit the individual in some way (give it an increased chance of survival).

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In the Eastern Garter Snake, being melanistic makes it faster for an individual to warm up while basking in the sun. The color black absorbs light wavelengths efficiently, resulting in the black individual gaining more heat energy than the yellow and brown striped individuals. This give them a competitive edge on the cool Lake Erie shore.

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