The Rose-breasted Grosbeak is a medium-sized, stocky songbird with beautiful, bold plumage. It can be a tricky bird to find, as it often calls from treetops, but lately I’ve been spotting them.
Its beak is large, thick and cone-shaped. It serves the bird by enabling it to eat wide varity of food items. The diet of the Rose-breasted Grosbeak varies between seasons, with a higher percentage of insects being taken warm weather. In the Winter, more seeds, fruits and buds are consumed.
At the beginning of the breeding season the female grosbeak approaches a singing male, who in turn performs a courtship display involving flight and song. The pair is monogamous and builds a nest between May and June, with egg laying generally occurring between mid-May and July.
Like many birds, the females aren’t as brightly colored as the males. They are not the best nest builders; Rose-breasted Grosbeaks build such flimsy nests that the eggs are often visible from below through the nest bottom.
The Rose-breasted Grosbeak is relatively common throughout much of eastern and central North America and lives in forests and thickets, as well as alongside humans in parks and gardens.
They are long-distance migrants. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks fly from North American breeding grounds to Central and northern South America in the Winter.
Although often difficult to locate visually, its vocal abilities can often be heard. This bird’s sweet, robin-like song has inspired many a bird watcher to pay tribute to it. A couple of early twentieth-century naturalists said its call is “so entrancingly beautiful that words cannot describe it.”
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“Geranium” is derived from the Greek word “geranos,” meaning crane. Though this name seems curious, it actually refers to the shape of the seed pod, not the flower. The papery seed capsules, which split lengthwise into five long peels, resemble a crane or stork.
Typical habitat for this plant is in rich forests, fields, meadows and thickets. It is usually abundant in these locations. I’ve seen a fair number of them at several places I have visited.
One of the most surprising and beautiful aspects of Wild Geranium is the color of its pollen. Unlike most wildflowers with traditionally yellow, orange, or white pollen, when viewed under a microscope Wild Geranium’s pollen is bright blue. This attracts a variety of insects which come to pollinate the flower.
Upon pollination, the plant has adapted interesting and unique techniques for spreading its seeds. After the seed capsule has formed, it dries and begins to split. As it breaks open, the seeds are propelled into the air and can land as far as thirty-feet away from the seed pod.
The seed’s journey, however, does not stop there. Each seed has “tail” which curls when dried and straightens when wet. The “tail” allows the seed to slowly creep a short distance before becoming stuck in a hole or crack.
Early Native Americans recognized the value of Wild Geranium and used it as an ingredient in many medicinal treatments.
Today, Wild Geranium extract is marketed as an anti-inflammatory and anti-hemorrhaging substance. It can be found in products sold in herbal stores and online.
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While exploring this clearing in the woods, I came across a snake that I have not seen in quite some time and have never seen in Cuyahoga County.
This is Ohio’s smallest snake, growing to only 8-10 inches long. Northern Red-bellied Snakes feed mostly on slugs and snails. This species has jaw and tooth adaptations that assist in the extraction of snails from their shells.
A uniformly scarlet or red-orange belly and three well-defined light blotches immediately behind the head are this reptile’s most distinctive characteristics. It is very secretive and spends most of its life hidden. Females give birth to 7 or 8 tiny, live offspring in late Summer.
The Northern Red-bellied Snake has the curious habit of curling its upper lip and exposing its teeth when it feels threatened, though it is harmless and makes no attempt to bite.
Another defense is exposing its bright red belly, which may be enough to startle a predator momentarily and allow the snake escape.
Having and unexpected encounter with this remarkable reptile made for an excellent outing.
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The Least Brook Lamprey is an extremely unlikely-looking fish to encounter in the spring-fed creeks of our state. All lampreys have a long eel-like body and no scales. They have segments of muscles that are visible along their body and a jawless mouth.
As with all lamprey species, the Least Brook Lamprey spends the majority of its life as a worm-like larva. Larvae live burrowed in the sand at the bottom of a waterway for 3–7 years, feeding on microscopic plant and animal life.
This fish is found in clear brooks with fast flowing water and either a sand or gravel bottom. Prior to laying eggs, adults construct small nests by picking up pebbles with their oral disk and moving them to form the rims of shallow depressions.
Adult Least Brook Lamprey cannot eat. Since they have a nonfunctional intestine, they only live for four to six months. Instead of eating, they spend all their time building nests, finding mates and laying eggs so the next generation will be there to carry on.
Lampreys are a diverse and ancient line of creatures tracing back to over 300 million years ago. Of the many fish species native to Ohio, this is one of the least known, but most interesting.
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Eastern Redbud is abundant in the southern two-thirds of Ohio, with scattered distribution in the northern one-third of the state. It heralds the arrival of Spring with its showy, lavender-pink flowers that typically open in April, long before its foliage emerges.
Like Locust Trees and Wisteria, this tree is a member of the Bean Family. By late spring, the green fruits of Eastern Redbud take on the pod shape that is characteristic of beans. The alternate, smooth-edged, heart-shaped leaves make Eastern Redbud easy to identify, even when it is not flowering.
Eastern Redbud only reaches about 20 feet tall and 20 feet wide at maturity and is relatively short-lived. It many places it would not seem like Spring without this tree’s spectacular floral display.
I am fortunate enough to have one of these trees blooming in my backyard right now.
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This butterfly is named for its somber coloration. Mourning Cloaks have wings that are dark brown with pale, cream-colored edges, which often look ragged. Underneath, the Mourning Cloak’s wings are blackish-brown. It is camouflaged when it rests on a tree trunk with its wings folded.
This large insect has a 3-1/2 wingspan and breaks several “rules” about butterflies. It is often found in flowerless woodlands and can sometimes be seen flying around in the Winter. I have run into a few of these creatures in the past few weeks; they have a well-deserved reputation of being difficult to approach and photograph.
Adult Mourning Cloaks drink from some nectar-producing plants, rotting fruit, tree sap and mud puddles. On cold but sunny days, they rest on tree trunks and turn their dark wings toward the sun to absorb heat. When approached, they make a loud click before flying away from a resting spot.
Mourning Cloaks are one of the few butterflies that overwinter. Instead of dying or flying south, they stay here year-round. They find a tree cavity or crawl underneath loose bark. By hibernating, Mourning Cloaks get a head start over other butterflies in the Spring.
The Mourning Cloak is a widespread species with a worldwide distribution in the northern hemisphere from the subtropics to the Arctic Circle. This is one of my favorite butterflies because of it’s unconvential, yet successful lifestyle and seeing one on a sunny Winter day in the woods makes for a great hike.
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