Yesterday the Ohio Ornithological Society hosted a rather massive field trip to the Wilds of Muskingum County. We originally had 135 people signed on, and about 120 folks made it over and endured cool temps and blustery winds. It was cold, but after watching the New York Giants rout the Packers in Green Bay - it hit -4 with -24 windchills there- yesterday didn't seem so bad.
The bleak winter landscape of the Wilds and surrounding American Electric Power lands. Barren as it may appear, this habitat is fascinating to bird and raptors can abound.
The group was too large to fit into the Wilds restaurant/gift shop building for lunch, so we went in in two shifts. Our group was in the first shift, and it was nice to have a place out of the cold and wind to eat. Also, Al Parker gave a great program on raptors. Right as Al was nearing the end of his talk, having just gone over eagles, one of our sharp-eyed birders spotted the GOLDEN EAGLE soaring outside the building. Mild pandemonium ensued, and everyone rushed to the windows and were treated to about the best looks you could ask for of this very rare Ohio bird. That's what they're doing in the above photo, and I got too excited to remember to snap a photo of the bird, which I probably could have done. Our group had already been treated to excellent views of this subadult Golden earlier in the morning, and I think everyone that came out got to see one of the apparent two Golden Eagles that is present. This species is a major score in Ohio.
About 60 people stayed until dusk, to see the Short-eared Owls. These crepuscular barking beasts can be reliably found at the Wilds, and are best sought right before sunset. We weren't disappointed; a cooperative bird flew nearby the group, and landed in a tree where good looks could be had by all through the scopes.
The usual party-closers - first ones there, last to leave. From left, it's Janet Creamer, Jason Larson (played the birder in the Village People :-), Cheryl Harner, Marc Nolls (blue), and Bill Thompson. While we don't usualy recommend standing around rapping on state highways, being on State Route 34o at this point is like being in the middle of an Arizona desert. We stood around looking for short-ears until the sun dropped, and by then it was pretty cold.
All in all, a great day afield with lots of good birds. All of the expected raptors were seen and everyone could study them well. The Golden Eagles were a show-stopper, and unusually cooperative. And from what I gathered talking to people, everyone seemed to have a really good time.
This is the third Wilds expedition that the OOS has organized, and I expect there will be more.