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Showing posts from October, 2008

Late dragon and rare owl

Today was one of those glorious late fall days, full of sunshine and mild temperatures. Lots of those hardiest of butterflies still flying about, the Cabbage White and Clouded Sulphurs. Not to mention a Common Buckeye and some Orange Sulphurs. I ran across some other interesting critters, too...

Perhaps our latest dragonfly to regularly be on the wing, the Yellow-legged Meadowhawk, Sympetrumvicinum. They are frequently seen well into November, far past the flight dates for most other dragons. We even saw pairs in tandem today, so they are still shedding eggs. This individual, a male, looked quite fresh.Treat of the day was a rarity, and it is in this picture. Hint: it is perched just to the right of the trunk, peering out at you, exactly in the middle of the photo. The tree is a Norway Spruce and it offers good shelter, but is not this bird's preferred roosting habitat.There, I bet you can see it now.Barn Owls are quite rare as breeders OR migrants in Ohio, and seeing one is always…

Catchfly and Blue

I have really noticed the browning of the vegetation in recent days. Many - in places most - of the leaves have fallen, and goldenrods, asters, and other fall flora have senesced into shades of brown and tan. Coming back from Youngstown late last night, I caught the first dose of winterlike weather. Sleet/snow/rain spit down in irregular bursts on the drive home, and temperatures were downright cold.

Today, when going through my treasure trove of photos looking for something, I ran across some pics of an excursion into southern Ohio from last April. Like many, spring is my favorite time, and these photos reminded me that we have a long winter to get through before the vernal eruption of flora and fauna that makes April and May such an exciting time in Ohio. One of the best-looking wildflowers to be found anywhere is Wherry's Catchfly, Silene caroliniana var. wherryi. Also one of the rarest, at least in these parts. Considered threatened in Ohio, it is known from only a few sites in…

Mentor Headlands

While the birding was not so hot yesterday, and the weather was decidedly cool, I still had a great time afield with some northeast Ohio friends. I met up with Andy Jones, Jim McCarty, John Pogacnik, and Larry Richardson at the legendary Headlands Dunes in Mentor, Ohio. This small state nature preserve boasts an enormous bird list - it rivals that of the more famous Magee Marsh Bird Trail and vicinity - and has many other natural charms.

While our list was not enormous, it did include some quality beasts, and a number of interesting non-bird sightings. Following are a few snapshots of the day. Headland's beach in the early morning, looking east towards the lighthouse. I never tire of being along the shore of The Lake. The day started out clear and crisp, nary a cloud to be seen. By day's end the wind had kicked up, clouds had rolled in, and rain spit at us. Stable weather is not a virtue of Lake Erie. Yes, that's what it looks like. The surfer dudes were out, armored in wets…

Rail out of habitat

Deb Marsh passed along a cool photo; one that I can't resist sharing. She was contacted by Steve Cothrel, the superintindent of Parks and Forestry for the City of Upper Arlington, about an odd bird that one of his employees had discovered. It was skulking in between a fence and trash can at one of the local parks in late September, and fortunately a decent digital photo was snapped.

Here's our rail, no doubt wishing he had access to a dense cattail stand, but making do with the available cover. This site is an a very urban area, and most of the suitable natural wetlands that once occurred in Upper Arlington and vicinity have long been destroyed.
Zoomed in a bit, so we can see that smooth gray cheek and peach-brown breast. Steve and company could certainly be excused for not knowing what this secretive marsh bird is. Relatively few people have had a chance to study rails well. Virginia Rails migrate at night, and it is amazing that most of them travel hundreds of miles between su…


There, a much easier to type acronym for a sparrow with a name five times longer than it is: Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow. Whatever you call it, this secretive species is a real charmer, one of the best-looking of the North American sparrows. Not only does the finder of one get to revel in its subtle ochraceous tones, here in Ohio finding one is always a great coup. We certainly get them here, and undoubtedly in much greater numbers than is ever reported, but they still are among the rarest of the regularly occurring Ohio sparrows.

A bunch of us got a great fix of NSTS today, and on to that uno momento. I attended the Audubon Ohio biennial assemby in Bellville this weekend, and on Saturday was treated to some great talks. There were a number of others, and I heard all were good, but I could only make two of them. Dave Russell gave a great program on all of the work that the Avian Research and Education Institute is doing. This operation is based out of Miami University, and spearh…

Micro stuff with macro

I've had precious little time to get out and practice shooting with my new Panasonic FZ-50. The other day did offer a window to run over to my favorite local patch, Kiwanis Park on the Scioto River right here in Columbus. I am very pleased with the camera, especially the FL-360 flash tower that I got with it. The versatility of this flash far exceeds the camera's built-in flash, and the potential seems great. Following are some miscellanea shot with this setup.
No macro stuff here, but this shot shows the site. The color representation seems more vivid than with my old FZ-30, and I am really pleased with how scenic landscape shots come out. That's the State Rte. 161 bridge in the background. The large yellowing patches of vegetation in the river, such as in the foreground, is Water-willow, Justicia americana, a plant very important to stream ecology.
Up close with a Black-legged Meadow Katydid. Tiny and grasshopper-like, this male is perhaps an inch long. You've heard th…

A Remarkable Record

Some people have all the luck. Back on July 22, Sylvia and Gary, who live in southern Ohio's Pike County, found a Gulf Fritillary in their yard. You can revisit that extraordinary sighting right here. They have also had Cloudless Sulphurs, another more common immigrant from the south. Some amazing photos of these jumbo flying lemon wedges can be seen, courtesy of John Pogacnik, here.

Of course, it is never totally luck when great finds are made, whether they be birds, plants, or butterflies. The observer must be in tune with their surroundings, up on common species so that they know when something is unusual, and intellectually curious enough to try and figure out what the oddball is. And then, hopefully, quick with the camera and able to document the find.

Sylvia recently sent along photos of a find that trumps even their Gulf Fritillary, which is a major find in Ohio. Their yard, without doubt, is an amazing place for butterflies.

Backlit beauty, a Long-tailed Skipper, Urbanus prot…


The onset of dawn over the hills near Whipple, Ohio, Washington County. Site of the 2008 Big Sit conducted by the Whipple Bird Club (WBC). History was made here this day, when the long-standing Big Sit record established by the WBC in 2005 - 65 species - was smashed. Of course, they had to bring in some professional ringers to do it.

The Big Sit is a long-established day of listing fun, spearheaded by Bird Watcher's Digest, in which participants count as many species as they can find from the confines of a 17-foot diameter circle. As one might expect, just as in real estate, it's LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. The site used by the WBC is a humdinger, as we shall see. I arrived well before dawn; about 6 am. This is in part because I enjoy the sight of the sun's first rays peaking over the hills of Appalachian Ohio, and in part to see if the ringleader, Bill Thompson III, is really in place and counting in the circle. He was. In fact, BT3 was up there at midnight, dedicated s…

Costa Rica 2009

Next January will mark my fourth trip to the little southern Central American country of Costa Rica. It is a birder's paradise. More than that, anyone with an interest in natural history will be awed and dazzled by the incredible diversity of life to be found in Costa Rica's varied habitats.

Our local guide, as in the prior trips, is the incomparable Noel Urena. Few if any know the birds of this lush country like Noel does, and he is a master at recognizing calls and finding even the hardest to locate of jungle birds.

We will be visiting four primary destinations, ranging from the Caribbean to the Pacific. Last year, we saw some 330 species of birds, not to mention all of the other fascinating biodiversity.

I like to keep these trips small, about eight people, so that everyone has maximum opportunities to see all birds and other wildlife. Due to two cancellations, we have room for a few more participants. Please let me know if you are interested, and I will send along additional …

Gooey Orange Dough

I bet few if any organisms that so many people know so little about elicit more oohs and aahs then fungi. Many species are dazzling eye-grabbers and nearly anyone who notices the especially showy fungi will take a moment for a closer view.

I do.

And did the other day, when an especially striking clump of orangish mushrooms begged for a look.

Golden Pholiota, Pholiota limonella. This is one of the wood decomposers, and an especially striking species. Fungi are rich and varied; some estimates put the worldwide species total at over one million. Of course, no one really knows, and if you want to enter a field that is ripe for new discoveries, become a mycologist (fungi scientist, or perhaps, a "fun guy").Golden Pholiotas feel funny. Touch one, and the sensation is just like sticking your finger into wet spongy bread dough. Kind of makes you recoil. And unlike good bread, you wouldn't want to eat it. This species wouldn't kill you, but according to firsthand accounts you wo…

Truly Wasp-waisted

It is said of some women that they are wasp-waisted. This, generally, is a good thing, I suppose. And probably a goal to attain for some. But I wonder if many coveters of the wasp-waisted physique know where the term is derived, beyond a very general sense.
Let's have a look. I had the good fortune to stumble upon one of our most beautiful wasps yesterday, and this one could be the originator of the term. The aptly named Yellow-and-black Mud Dauber, a real beauty. Most wasps are visually striking, if one can get over the fact that a lot of them can give a gnarly sting. Fortunately for us, few if any are adapted to kill people, and for the most part are quite docile to humankind. I had my macro lens within inches of this guy. He was still in a bit of an early morning torpor, but quickly came to and set about hunting spiders.
Some arbiter of fashion and style must have seen a wasp like this when he/she coined the wasp-waisted term. That is one threadlike abdomen, so small one wonders h…

Ohio Young Birders Conference

Yesterday marked the second annual Ohio Young Birders Club conference, and it was an event to be proud of. The inaugural conference was held at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge's new visitor, a fine venue but one in which we were bursting at the seams. So this year it was on to a bigger facility: the Chestnut Ridge Elementary School in Walnut Creek, smack in the heart of scenic Holmes County.

Hats off to Kim Kaufman and all of her able volunteers at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory for not only making this conference possible, but for spearheading the whole young birders agenda. It is a growing movement here in Ohio, and their example is migrating far beyond the state's boundaries. Several other states have been in communication with Kim and BSBO seeking tips for starting their own programs, and a few have already sprung up. The American Birding Association even sent along Steve Carbol, their education manager, to study the program. Steve is a fantastic addition to ABA and it wa…