April 26, 2013

A Spring Foray to Shawnee Forest

Earlier this week we drove to Kentucky for a few days of birding, butterflying, hiking and botanizing with a group of friends, old and new, at Carter Caves State Park. On the way we stopped in southern Ohio near the Ohio River for a half day in Shawnee State Forest. This area is well known to have many plant species that are at their northern limit, and thus supports many critters that are not found elsewhere in Ohio.

We focused our exploration on a road that has been closed to vehicle traffic for the past several years. As soon as we stepped out of the car we we greeted by one of the state's loveliest wildflowers, the birdfoot violet. There are at least 10 species of violets in Ohio and they are all beautiful but this is one of my favorites:

The common name refers to the finely divided leaves that some say resemble a bird's foot.

Speaking of beautiful violets, this one is also among my favorites. This is the longspur violet, lovely pale lavender in color:

As we walked up the road we looked back and marveled at the redbud display:

When in bloom these trees provide nectar for a variety of insects, and they are the caterpillar food plant of a butterfly that we were looking for on this trip, the Henry's elfin, which  we had never seen but friends had reported it earlier in the week on this road. Every time we saw a small, dark butterfly we hoped that was it, but invariably it was a Juvenal's duskywing, perhaps the most common species along this road:

Finally we spotted a butterfly much smaller than we expected. Not even the size of my thumbnail--Henry's elfin! That was great fun but getting a good photo was another story because they were so small that they were hard to find in the camera, and then they didn't stay still. Finally, we saw a cooperative one!

Many other butterflies were out and about along the road enjoying the warm sunshine:

We also got a good look at an eastern comma. Note the comma-shaped mark on the underside which gives this species its name:

Here are some more of the wonderful flowers that we saw along this road. Ohio's spring wildflowers are truly spectacular.

When we were nearly back to the car, we paused while Bill took another picture.  I happened to glance to my right and saw an absolutely perfect luna moth hanging on a tiny maple sapling:

We hadn't seen one in years so this one is the star of many photographs. The luna moth is nearly 4 inches wide from wingtip to wingtip--spectacular!

It was hard to leave this wonderful spot with all its biological treasures but we had to move on to Kentucky, where we had a wonderful time exploring a park that we had never been to and hope to visit again. Perhaps more about that in a future blog post...


  1. Love Henry's elfin and the luna is spectacular as are the violets and other flowers. You have wonderful eyes!

  2. Thanks! You'll have to tell Henry that he has his own butterfly!

  3. I really enjoyed all the flower and butterfly photos. It sounds like the trip was a lot of fun. :-)