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Showing posts from December, 2008

White-winged Crossbills

Yesterday was the Mohican Christmas Bird Count, and I went along for the ride. Our 15-mile diameter circle encompasses some of the most beautiful terrain in the central Ohio area, with the centerpiece being Mohican State Forest.

Many good birds were found, and at our lunchtime get-together, 76 species were reported with nearly all teams checking in. I'd think the count broke 80, but I haven't yet heard a final tally. Noteworthy and exciting were White-winged Crossbills, the biggest celebrity among this year's crop of winter finches. Twenty of them flew over our heads at lunch, and small roving flocks were seen elsewhere for a couple dozen birds in all.

Mohican State Forest, view from the top of the fire tower. I'm really glad that they've fixed this structure up and allow the intrepid to climb to the top. A commanding vista can be had, and in this photo we're looking in the direction of the Clear Fork Gorge - the heart of this 5,000-acre forest.

After hearing a …


November 19th was a great day to be birding along the cold, blustery Lake Erie shoreline in the Cleveland region. Massive packs of Red-breasted Mergansers created the appearance of low-lying, fast-moving storm clouds scudding just above the horizon. Bouyant squeaking buzzy throngs of Bonaparte's Gulls swirled in the harbors, members of the gang stooping occasionally to deftly snag an emerald shiner or some other piscine treat. Among their ranks we spotted a rarity: Little Gull, jumping out from afar due to its sooty charcoal underwings.

And there were other great finds. Pomarine Jaeger, a falcon of the gull world and inveterate kleptoparasite, riling the Laridians to no end when it enters the scene.

Two insanely tame Purple Sandpipers, bumbling about icy, moss-cloaked limestone boulders of riprap, literally at our feet. Both Black and Surf Scoters, bulbous-billed clam-crackers, a small flock of which moored themselves over a zebra mussel encrusted reef. Above the scoters, in a backy…

Baltimore Oriole goes Brrrr!

Today, I saw the startling orange and black blaze of Lord Baltimore's colors in the form of this gorgeous Neotropical blackbird. The date is December 21, the temperature was hovering around 25, and Arctic blasts of frigid air made conditions seem far colder than that.

And there was the gorgeous adult male Baltimore Oriole, busily cramming bits of frozen pineapple, suet, and other assorted fare into its gaping maw at the feeders of Becky Schmitt, in Worthington, Ohio. A far cry from where most of this oriole's brethren are right now.

Not a typical sight for late December in Ohio, but by no means unprecedented. This is at least the 30th winter record for Baltimore Oriole. Yep, these are the tough guys. They don't need no pina coladas by the pool in sunny tropical Costa Rica, whiling away the winter in chaise lounges. And I still hope this oriole feels that way after tonight, when low temperatures will dip to 7 degrees.

Becky provides an ambitious culinary palette for orioles …

Pine Warblers and Short-eared Owls

The above species are not normally considered in the same sentence, at least hereabouts, but I saw both today. It was the Beaver Christmas Bird Count today - 18th year, I believe - which takes place around Jackson, Ohio, in parts of Jackson and Pike counties and has ably been compiled by Tom Bain since its inception. I do a section just north of Jackson, and it is very rural and full of interesting habitats. Today, Edie Miller was along and we had plenty of good birds.

Driving by a small creek in a rather scruffy area, I heard the distinctive chip of an Eastern Phoebe, and we stopped to track the bird down. These are by far our hardiest flycatchers, and regularly persist well into December in southern Ohio if conditions remain even halfway moderate. They'll even attempt to overwinter if possible.

McCune Cemetery, a small burial ground carved out high on an isolated oak ridgetop. Such cemeteries are often full of interesting and valuable native plants, and that means more birds, as…

Dream Bird

A perennial and favorite topic, whenever serious birders band together, is the NEXT GREAT BIRD. Such chatter reaches the level of a psychosis, really. We all fervently dream of the NEXT BIG ONE, and of course, secretly or not so secretly hope that we are the ones to find it. Rarely happens, though. Once in a while it does, and most of us who have been peeking through the bins long enough have some cool find or finds to claim.

But the one depicted below MAY be the most coveted AYTBSUTMRTITLACORB (as yet to be seen ultra-thrilling mega-rarity that inflames the listserv and cements one's rep bird) for Ohio birders. We're due, and it'll happen eventually. They've been seen everywhere else in the Midwest, it seems.

I know it's first on my list of rub the bottle genie pops out and grants any wish bird.

Have a look

Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Tyrannus savana. It occurs widely in Central and South America, but wanders regularly far to the north. One or at best a few might appear …

Bushes of M & M's

(Footnote: I understand the role of a paragraph in writing, really, I do. They're great. Paragraphs break up long blocks of text and make things oh so much more readable. But those of us that are longtime users of Blogger, the wondrous machine that enables us to make these posts, know of its foibles. And one of those is the occasional inability to insert a space between paragraphs. I tried, but the Blogger Gods kept scrunching everything back together. Maybe it's some act of stupidity on my part. Maybe a more knowledgeable Blogger Pilot can tell me what is going wrong and how to fix it. In any event, I apologize for the run-on paragraphs)

I was afield today, helping find birds as part of the annual Columbus Christmas Bird Count. The south side of town is my domain, and I get into some spots that I normally don't frequent. The above is one of them. We are looking west down Hart Rd., which runs off of Harmon Avenue. This year, the extreme fruit production of the Amur Honeysuc…


I've long been infatuated with ducks. Even as an elementary school lad, I would pore over the accounts of sea ducks in the books and references that I had, trying to learn more about them. To me, growing up in landlocked Columbus, Ohio, birds like scoters and eiders had an exotic and wild aura, and I would even attempt to sketch them in what I imagined their cold coastal Atlantic haunts must look like.

And to this day, the diving ducks remain amongst my favorite groups of birds.

About two years ago, I was invited to speak at the Canton Audubon Society's annual Christmas Holiday meeting, which featured a raffle. I was instantly struck by two of the raffle items: a pair of beautifully carved and finished Long-tailed Duck decoys, one a male in alternate (breeding) plumage, and the other a drake in winter plumage. I found out that they were the handiwork of longtime birders Laura and Tim Dornan, and at the time I had no idea that they were carvers. Tim sculpts the birds from a block…

Fowl-choked Lead

It's been cold around here. Cold enough to put a glassy veneer of ice across the surface of some of the local rivers and lakes. But that makes for excellent waterfowling, whenever one finds the open leads. And that I did the other day, at a nearby quarry.

Open water patch, Watermark Quarry, and birds. Lots of birds. I absolutely love stumbling across mixed flocks of waterfowl. They are fun to pick through, and see who is who. And I just like watching ducks. This pack had seven species in its ranks, six of which are visible in this shot. I'll tell you the seventh right now: Lesser Scaup. See if you can recognize the others. Some, easy - some, not. At least in this shot. We'll quickly dissect the scene below.
Miss this one, and we'll honk at you. Canada Goose. No brainer, but rendered slightly more problematic with the 2004 splitting of the species into two, with the micro-honkers now separated as Cackling Geese. Good cacklers aren't too tough - they are just about Ma…

Randy Rogers and Iraq

One of the great things about being involved with the Ohio Ornithological Society is the opportunity to work with a really great bunch of forward-thinking folks. While our primary work is here in Ohio, and that's where the bulk of our effort goes, every now and then the chance arises to do something beneficial beyond our borders.

An OOS member, Randy Rogers, is a Major in the National Guard, and is currently deployed in Iraq. A one man tour de force, he hit the ground running over there, and has made incredible strides in getting fellow troops involved with birds and nature, as well as forging alliances with Iraqis with conservation being the initial common ground.

Ann Oliver, our wonderful and talented Cerulean newsletter editor, took up Randy's cause with a passion, and has spread word of his efforts far and wide. Because of her efforts, the OOS has raised about $2000 to date to further Randy's work, with more to come. And Ann's hard work led to a wonderful article in …


My lucky day. I stepped out of the beautiful chapel at Green Lawn Cemetery about 10 am this morning, after a meeting of our Board of Trustees. In a manner common to birders worldwide - convergent evolution, I suppose - I immediately did a quick once-over of the landscape. And there, not too distant, was a Merlin teed up prominently at the summit of the dead skeleton of a Norway Spruce. No shrinking violets, these boys (actually girl in this case).

After alerting those of my fellow board members who were handy and showing them the fierce little falcon, I ran around in a manner that was probably suggestive of that John Belushi scene in Animal House, except I darted from monument to monument rather than car to car, trying to sneak up on the bird. She could care less. Fifty feet up and with still warm breakfast, the Merlin had better things to do than worry about the antics of some bipedal clown hiding behind tombstones. Still, I kept a respectful distance.

Green Lawn Cemetery in winter. Th…

Lichens Alive

Along with Ray Showman and Brian Gara, I made an expedition into southeast Ohio's rugged hill country today. We had a great time, and made many interesting observations and finds, until the snow and ice forced us out. Today brought the worst winter weather yet, and in many areas the roads were ice sheets.
But our main targets were lichens, and for the tree-dwelling species at least, snow and winter are not obstacles to observation. They look just fine at this time of year. Along the banks of Handley Branch, a small stream in Lawrence County. The multi-trunked Silver Maple, Acer saccharinum, in the foreground was liberally festooned with lichens, including a very rare species. We walked as much of this habitat as we could before increasing snowfall started us worrying as to whether we'd be able to navigate back out the hilly gravel lane that brought us here. Several factors probably conspire to create an Eden for lichens at this spot. The slight difference in micro-climate caused …

Invasion of the X-bills

The chittering horde has arrived. Bedecked in pinks and greens, with bill tips crossed over as if torqued with a pair of vice-grips, the White-winged Crossbills have invaded Ohio. No one is complaining.

Indeed, few winter finches cause the stir amongst birders that crossbills do. Doesn't matter if they are White-winged or Red (we've had a few of the latter, too) - either species is exciting. Of course, the Reds bring their own set of problems. It seems as if there are eight "types", someday to be species? If these entities are ever foolishly split, and suddenly we've got eight "species" of Red Crossbill roaming the landscape, crossbill madness will ensue among the listers and all sorts of crossbill experts will arise from the mire of dubious taxonomic decisionry. Have fun, bird records committees. But that's another story.

Yesterday, Aaron Boone found one White-winged Crossbill at Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus. Today, Bernie Master found about three…