Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Cicad's & crayfish

I was fishing on Ohio Brush Creek a couple of days over the long weekend, and I observed three things (beside the bass biting pretty good), the crayfish are finally starting to emerge from under the rocks, the smallmouth are spawning late (at least in the main branch), and the cicadas are coming out of the ground. The ground around the area I was fishing was full of small holes from the emerging cicadas. 

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Good Day's Birding

On May 10th as part of the celebration of International Migratory Bird Day a group of us went birding in Adams County. Over a course of about an 8 hours we ended up seeing 96 different species (98 if you count the Whip o will and Chucks Will Widow he heard the night before). Birds that were seen included: 12 types of waterfowl and shorebirds ,19 types of warblers, 5 types of hawks and accipiters and 8 types of sparrows. There were numerous migrants that were just passing through

All of the birding was done along the Appalachian Discovery Birding Trail http://www.appalachiandiscovery.com/Birding_Trail.htm

We started out along State Route 41, birded the Wheat Ridge fields, headed down to Adams Lake State Park and ten went down the river and birded along it. I would recommend the trip to anyone who wants to experience the diversity of the county.

Monday, May 19, 2008

They're Heeeere

While out walking along the Ohio River yesterday, I came across this ADULT periodical cicada.  This means that the other million-or-so of his fellow insects are not far behind.  Soon the air will be filled with the buzz of their calls, and the ground beneath our feet will crunch as we tread over their cast-off skins and bodies.  

Here are few interesting cicada facts to pass along:

Cicadas are NOT locusts; in fact, locusts are more closely related to grasshoppers than to cicadas.  The cicada is a member of the leafhopper family of insects.

Only male cicadas sing.  

The sound male cicadas create comes from their abdomens, and scientists still aren't 100% sure how such a loud sound (120+ decibels) can come from such a small creature.  The noise of even one male cicada singing is enough to hurt the human ear at close range.  It is even more painful to the sensitive ears of birds and other wildlife (which is why singing is a good predator defense strategy for the cicada).  Cicadas have ears, too, so they must protect their version of an eardrum by creasing it as they sing, which keeps it from vibrating and injuring the ear.

Female cicadas mate then lay their fertilized eggs on the branches of trees.  They do this by piercing the bark with a special egg-laying device called an ovipositor.  The ovipositor can cause damage to trees by exposing them to disease, which is why we should cover our most vulnerable ornamental and fruit trees with netting BEFORE the cicadas arrive.  In Maysville, trees in the downtown area have been protected with green netting (not to be crass, but the locals are calling the netting "tree condoms").  

Once the eggs are laid, they will develop for about 6 weeks before dropping from the trees to the ground.  They will then burrow into the soil and remain there for  until they emerge to change into adults years later, sucking juices from plant roots for nourishment.  

There are many "broods" of periodical cicadas.  Broods emerge in different areas at different times.  Some broods emerge every 13 years, while others emerge every 17 years.  Some brood ranges overlap.  In Cincinnati, for example, Brood X emerged in 2004, and this year's brood (Brood XIV) will emerge there as well.  To add to the confusion, more than one species of cicada can make up a brood.  Brood XIV is made up of Magicada septendecim (85%), M. septendecula (13%), and M. cassini (5%).  

For more information on Brood XIV, please visit the University of Michigan's Cicada web site by clicking HERE.  In the meantime, enjoy this rare natural phenomenon, and keep an eye out for rare white-eyed cicadas!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Smallmouth fishing on Brush Creek

On a rainy Thursday evening, (May 8), I took my flyrod and waders and did a little smallmouth fishing on Ohio Brush Creek. I probably caught nearly a dozen ranging in all sizes from 5 to 15 inches. All were caught on olive, brown, or black, bead-head wooly buggers. Most fish were taken from the tail end of pools. Water was very clear with about 3' of visibility. I think I'll give the West Branch a try tonight or Saturday afternoon.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Black Vultures

The local West Union newspaper, The People's Defender, recently published an article about black vultures, Coragyps atratus, that was less than flattering to the species. Though black vultures are known to prey on weak or newborn animals, including calves and lambs, their greater role in the scheme of nature far outwieghs this negative character trait.

Vultures are scavengers. Their main niche is that of "clean-up crew". Consider the countless hapless creatures who lose their lives to our poor response time along the roads of America. If we imagine the reek of all of those decaying bodies lying in the humid Ohio River valley, we can finally appreciate the service vultures provide by clearing away that carnage. C.J. Maynard is quoted in "Life Histories of North American Birds of Prey" (Bent, 1961) as saying, "[Black Vultures] will seldom eat fresh meat but prefer to wait until decomposition has set in before beginning their feast... when the odor from the decaying mass became insufferable to human nostrils, they would eat to repletion."

Black vultures also possess traits normally attributed to better-loved species. Black vultures are extremely attentive parents. Both male and female help incubate the speckled eggs, which are laid on the ground in old buildings or in caves. The adults keep their young "gorged with food continually, the distended stomachs being plainly visible" (Bent, 1961). After fourteen weeks, the young vultures are finally able to fly. Until then, their best defense is to feign death if approached by a possible predator. If harrassed, vultures will regurgitate half-digested food. Considering the state of such food when it was eaten, the shock of its reappearance would certainly be enough to frighten away most creatures.

Black vultures are fascinating birds undeserving of their grotesque reputation. Hopefully, others will be able to forgive this bird its flaws and accept it for the natural - and helpful - janitor it is.

- Jessie Huxmann