Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A warbler extravaganza at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area!

I spent the weekend up in the marshland region of western Lake Erie, and am darn glad that I did. Saturday was excellent, with many notable bird observations, but none to rival the amazing Curlew Sandpiper that Steve Jones found. The bird was in its breeding finery, and wowed hundreds of birders. Kudos to Steve for producing the 6th Ohio record of this Eurasian vagrant. I've got plenty of photos of the bird, and will try and post some of them here eventually.

Sunday dawned COLD - a nippy 35 F at sunrise. Brisk winds didn't make things feel any warmer. As the fabled Bird Trail at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area had seen an influx of birds on Friday evening, I figured that they'd all still be around, augmented by any new arrivals on Saturday night. The migrants would be resting and refueling, building fat deposits and energy for the flight across Lake and on to points north.

No one who was at Magee on Sunday morning was disappointed. The birds were absolutely incredible. I've been going to Magee since before there was a boardwalk, and have seen years of bounty and bust. This was BOUNTY with a capital B. Of the myriad birders present that day, I'm sure there were plenty of greenhorns, and they must have been blown away by the spectacle. I know I was.

Following is a montage of warblers (I saw MUCH more than warblers!) that I photographed along the boardwalk on Sunday morning. The only camera that I used was the Canon 7D II, coupled to Canon's incredible 100-400 II lens, and handheld. I've probably said it before but I'll say it again - this is one of the best rigs for handheld shooting. A plus is that this lens will focus down to 3.5 feet. Believe it or not, there were times when birds were too close for other photogs to focus on, but my setup allowed me to.

SHAMELESS PLUG: If you're interested in learning more about photographic techniques, for birds and many other subjects, David FitzSimmons, Art Weber and I will be teaching a photo workshop at beautiful Lakeside, Ohio on September 20-22. We've got all kinds of cool stuff to show attendees, and plenty of birds will be passing through in their fall transit. Details and registration are RIGHT HERE.

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Bay-breasted Warbler

Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warbler, female

Yellow Warbler

Another Yellow Warbler (because they're cool)

Blackpoll Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

Black-and-white Warbler

Nashville Warbler

Palm Warbler

Northern Parula

Prothonotary Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler


Eastern Box Turtle, with orchids, and others

An Eastern Box Turtle clambers over a branch in a rich Hocking County woods, last Thursday. Handsome Pink Lady's-slippers, Cypripedium acaule, provide a photographic flourish.

I have covered major ground of late, which is always great, but such travels make it tough to offer up blogs of much substance. West Virginia for a week; one of the best single-day forays I've had in some time (the Hocking County trip where I made this turtle image); a very rare Curlew Sandpiper (thanks Steve Jones!!) and many other interesting birds along Lake Erie; the best warbler day in recent memory at the fabled Magee Marsh Wildlife Area; thousands of Lakeside Daisies, Tetraneuris herbacea at their finest, eight hours in a helicopter covering what seemed like half the state, and more.

A Small White Lady's-slipper, Cypripedium candidum, vividly punctuates the early spring Castalia Prairie in Erie County.

Yellow-breasted Chat, fresh from bath. Hocking County.

A stunning male Prairie Warbler peeks from a thorny snarl of blackberries. Hocking County.

Next, and soon I hope, will come a montage of warblers from last Sunday's INCREDIBLE day along the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area's Bird Trail.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Grassland Bird Workshop: June 17 & 18

A Henslow's Sparrow bursts forth with its 3/5th's of a second insectlike hiccup. This declining species is a charismatic grassland bird, and one that is much sought by birders.

On the weekend of June 17 & 18, the inimitable Ohio Ornithological Society is hosting a grassland bird workshop. Complete details RIGHT HERE. This is a perfect time for such an affair. The birds will be active and singing, the weather should be great, and participants are certain to see lots of avian diversity. Oh, never be put off by the "OOS's" rather distinguished name - it is a very user-friendly bird club that welcomes all skill levels to its ranks.

A charming blackbird if there ever was one, the Bobolink. Even William Cullen Bryant was so moved by the effusive gurglings of this species that he comemmorated it in a poem, Robert of Lincoln.

Our venue for field trips is the Wilds, a vast southeastern Ohio grassland that hosts more Bobolinks than one can shake a stick at. I've been there, at times and places, when their collective R2-D2 squeaks nearly drowned out lesser singers, such as the aforementioned Henslow's Sparrow.

A Common Yellowthroat, the masked Zorro of the warbler world. While not strictly a grassland bird, yellowthroats and many other species occupy wetlands and shrubby copses interspersed with grasslands. The Wilds supports a great many bird species, and this is one we're sure to see.

Festivities begin Friday night, with your narrator giving a program on grassland birds and their status in Ohio. The following morning, it's off to the field to see the real deal. A cookout should make for a fun lunch, then its back out for more birds.

Sparrows, like this Field Sparrow, may be subtle but they're stunning upon close inspection. We should have ample opportunity to not only bone up on visual identifications, but also practice our birding by ear.

I hope you can make it, and if so, I'll look forward to sharing time afield. Again, all the details and registration info are RIGHT HERE.


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Some West Virginia flora and fauna

As has been the case for nearly a dozen years, I'm spending early May down in southern West Virginia, leading field trips for the New River Birding & Nature Festival. Despite some rainy weather today, we're having a great time and seeing LOTS of interesting animals and plants amongst some of the most scenic habitats east of the Mississippi. Put this event on your calendar for next year.

A Swainson's Warbler peeks from a dense rhododendron "hell". Extensive snarls of Great Rhododendron, Rhododendron maximum, grow along mountain streams in this region, and the warblers are locally common. While Swainson's Warbler may be the least distinguished visually of our warblers, they have a wonderful whistled song that is reminiscent of a Louisiana Waterthrush. Because of its rarity, the Swainson's attracts many seekers. Only the Kirtland's Warbler is rarer amongst our eastern warblers.

I found a Brown Creeper nest a few days ago at Cranberry Glades high in the Monongahela National Forest. In this image, the animal is bringing nesting material to place behind the exfoliating bark of this dead yellow birch. The nest entrance is the v-shaped gap by the creeper's tail.

Our group today was pleased to find the Pink Lady's-slipper, Cypripedium acaule, beginning to flower. The high oak-carpeted ridges of Babcock State Park have plenty of these exotic-looking orchids.

An exceptionally showy specimen of Catawba Rosebay, Rhododendron catawbiense, warranted a photo. It was one of four native species of Rhododendron that we saw today.

More later.


Monday, April 25, 2016

House Sparrows nest in Osprey nest!

An Osprey wheels protectively over its nest, while the female is on the nest, incubating a clutch of eggs.

While on a whirlwind birding tour of central Ohio on April 16, Bernie Master and I stopped by Scioto Audubon Metro Park just south of downtown Columbus. We spent a few minutes admiring the Ospreys, which are nesting atop a light pole, just as conspicuous as could be. While making photos of the birds, I noticed something odd and unusual - House Sparrows were apparently nesting within the Osprey nest!

I resolved to return when time was more plentiful and document this excellent case of commensalism (relationship between two organisms, where one benefits and the other is unaffected). That day was last Saturday, in the perfect light of late afternoon.

An Osprey glares around from atop its aerie. The birds are quite protective. At one point, a Red-tailed Hawk flew past, and both birds rose to warn it off. But they are quite unconcerned with people. This is a high-use park and many people are everywhere, often quite near the nest. It doesn't seem to bother the "fish hawks".

If you are looking for a great place to practice in-flight photography on an easy, relatively slow moving subject, this is your chance. Plus, Ospreys are just cool to watch.

These European Starlings invoked a stern rebuke from the incubating Osprey. I saw this happen several times. A small flock of starlings would sail in towards the nest, no doubt thinking it a good roosting spot. As they dropped in, they'd spot the Osprey at the last instant, which would scold them with piping whistles and send the invaders packing.

Icy stares and stern rebukes have done nothing to dissuade plucky House Sparrows from thoroughly taking advantage of this Osprey nest. A male sparrow perches atop one of the lights, no doubt pleased with his cleverness and utterly unconcerned by the massive bird of prey glaring at him from a few feet away (look carefully at top right of nest).

The male sparrow brings in a load of dried vegetation to add to the nest. His mate can be seen to the right, hiding amongst the sticks. This is the entrance portal, on the west side of the Osprey nest. The sparrows would disappear completely into the bulky stick nest, and I suspect their nest is deep within the structure, likely only inches below the floor where the Osprey's eggs - and chicks to be - are located. While the Ospreys are totally aware of these interlopers, and probably less than pleased about the unwanted arrangement, there's nothing that they can do about it.

The female House Sparrow darts from the nest, having been spelled by the male. Judging from their behavior, I'd say the sparrows are incubating eggs, just like their much larger hosts. Say what you will about House Sparrows, but they are good parents. Males take on much of the nesting duties, including nest construction, incubation of eggs, and feeding of chicks.

While House Sparrows have been recorded nesting within large raptor stick nests before - even Bald Eagles! - it is still cool to see firsthand. And thoroughly document with photos.
Several times, a female Brown-headed Cowbird (or likely the same one) perched for an extended period in a small tree very near the Osprey nest. I have little doubt that she was keeping tabs on the House Sparrow activity. Cowbirds, as you likely know, are nest parasites - the female lays an egg in a host species' nest, leaving the unwitting parents to feed and raise the cowbird chick. Cowbirds are known to parasitize House Sparrow nests, too.

I really was wishing that she'd gotten her opening and darted up and into the sparrow nest. I'd have loved to have made photos of that! But House Sparrows are quite protective of their nests and the cowbird never got an opening, at least while I was there.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A hodgepodge of biodiversity

Less than no time for proper blogging of late, between travels, talks, preparing for travels and talks, and myriad other things. So, a briefly captioned photo montage from last weekend's forays in central and southern Ohio follows.

A gorgeous rose-pink form of Shooting-star, Dodecatheon meadia, at Miller State Nature Preserve in Highland County.

When seen well, the tiny flowers of Miterwort, Mitella diphylla, resemble snowflakes.  Miller State Nature Preserve in Highland County.

A tiny fly taps nectar from Star Chickweed, Stellaria pubera, and presumably provides pollination services. I do not know the fly's species, but there were many of them working the spring wildflowers. Native flies are enormously important in plant pollination. Miller State Nature Preserve in Highland County.

One of the smallest and rarest of Ohio's approximately 30 violet species, the Walter's Violet, Viola walteri, which is listed as threatened in the state. The entire plant would fit on a 50 cent piece. Adams County.

A gorgeous, diminutive member of the iris family, Pale Blue-eyed-grass, Sisyrinchium albidum. Adams County.

A close ally to Dutchman's-breeches is this Squirrel-corn, Dicentra canadensis. Adams County.

A stunning native solitary bee (unsure of species) pollinates Wild Hyacinth, Camassia scilloides. Adams County.

For all of their bad rap, mosquitoes also do good. This one taps nectar from a rare Ohio plant, the False Garlic, Nothoscordum bivalve (threatened). Judging by the pollen adhering to its leg, the mosquito helps pollinate, too. Adams County.

A young Great Horned Owl, only days from the nest, tries to become one with the cones of a European Larch, Larix decidua. Its nestmate was nearby, and mother owl as well. Franklin County.

An Osprey swoops into its nest at Scioto Audubon Metro Park near downtown Columbus. I was interested to note that House Sparrows are nesting within the Osprey nest.

An Eastern Cottontail gambols through a meadow at Stage's Pond State Nature Preserve in Pickaway County. The beautiful spring day had him all hopped up.

You may be pleased to know that the Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels have arisen! These prairie dog relatives go underground in fall, and don't emerge until April, spending winter in a state of extreme hibernation. A Pickaway County colony was active on this day, with squirrels busily attending to various tasks.

An Osprey from the aforementioned nest soars overhead, showing its classic M-shaped wing posture.

Hope you're enjoying spring as much as I am!


Monday, April 18, 2016

OSU Museum of Biological Diversity - Open House!

This Saturday marks the 12th annual open house at the Ohio State University's Museum of Biological Diversity. You won't want to miss it. This is a rare opportunity to see fascinating collections that are normally inaccessible to the public. Hours are 10 am - 4 pm, and all the details are RIGHT HERE.