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Showing posts from January, 2009

Big-headed Fishbeaters

Who doesn't like kingfishers? They're interesting, colorful, have fascinating habitats, and look, well, funny. Too bad they don't like us. Or anything else, for that matter. Kingfishers are one of the more antisocial families of birds - they don't even like each other, most of the time. Loners through and through, once the brief breeding season has ended, they revert to their solitary ways.

Ever been walking along a stream or lake, when you heard the loud rattling of a Belted Kingfisher? It was likely YOU that it's cursing. They don't like intruders in their turf, and will vigorously scold anyone or anything that irks them.

Female Belted Kingfisher. Males are less gaudy, having only one blue belt. This species is tough for a bird that depends on diving into the water to procure prey. They'll tough it out in northern latitudes, as far as they can dependably find water. If she spots a creek chub or some other tasty fish, she'll hover briefly over the target…

A "Lutino" Cardinal

On a bit of a blog tear here, as I leave for nearly two weeks in Costa Rica first thing Tuesday morning. Internet access is often iffy where we'll be, so hence the prolific - for me, anyway - posts. And please, do not feel too sorry for me, bailing on this subzero midwestern U.S. weather to spend time in lush tropical haunts in balmy temperatures with toucans, chlorophonias, sunbitterns, flowering plants, more butterflies than can be believed, etc., etc. Please, no crocodile tears for me.

Tom Ruggles of Muskingum County recently sent along a photo of a most unusual Northern Cardinal that has been visiting his feeders. It's yellow. Or at least strongly yellowish. Such a beast would certainly be eye-catching, and raise obvious questions.

Why is this normally brilliant red bird yellow?

Tom's lutino cardinal. "Lutea" is latin for yellow, thus the term lutino. This cardinal is exhibiting a condition known as xanthochroism, a genetic anomaly that causes an excess of yello…

Birding Ohio's North Pole

I am very grateful to be writing this from a place of warmth. Because, yesterday, it was anything but warm and I think I'm still thawing out.

For the past four years, the Ohio Ornithological Society has organized a Winter Raptor Extravaganza in partnership with the Wilds. The latter organizations is a large animal conservation facility that occupies some ten thousand acres of reclaimed strip mine land, and this habitat often supports lots of raptors. Birds of prey numbers vary from winter to winter, depending on population levels of meadow voles - little furry sausages with legs that have periodic peaks and crashes.

In total, we had just over 200 people register for yesterday's field trip. Mortality was high - about 115 ended up showing. The no-shows and cancellations were perhaps the smarter ones, and better able to understand weather reports. At our rendezvous time at 9 am, the temperature was about 10 or 12 BELOW zero! This is serious cold by any reckoning. But most everyone …

Skywatch Friday

Skywatch Friday.

Mentor Headlands, Ohio, October 29, 2006. A fearsome storm had just rolled in off Lake Erie, and was still clearing out to the south. To the north were clear blue skies; the southern part of the skyscape was still dominated by ominous black clouds.

For those of you in warm climes, be grateful you aren't in central Ohio right now. Temperatures plummeted to minus 12 degrees fahrenheit here last night. That's bone-cracking cold. Cars don't even work very well at those temps, as joints, bearings, and fluids never really get beyond the sluggish viscous stage. Nonetheless, the world's toughest Baltimore Oriole survived the night and is visiting his patron's feeders today. Go, oriole!

Costa Rica - leaving next Tuesday - has never looked so good!

Ohio Natural History Conference - February 28

The cavalcade of interesting conferences and symposia is rapidly coming down the pike, and I'll plug them here from time to time.

Here's one that you won't want to miss: The annual Ohio Natural History Conference, sponsored by the Ohio Biological Survey and the Ohio Division of Wildlife. This conference is always interesting, and full of great speakers on all manner of topics. To add to the allure, it is held at the always interesting Ohio Historical Society building, a very apropos venue for this affair. Just CLICK HERE for the complete skinny, and to register.

I was especially pleased to learn that Gary Meszaros is the keynote speaker. Gary is one of North America's premier wildlife photographers, and his images are sure to dazzle. We collaborated on a book entitled Wild Ohio: The Best of Our Natural Heritage, which should be released early this spring, from Kent State University Press. The book is a romp through forty of Ohio's very best remaining natural areas, a…

An avian Rich Little

On a recent foray into the backwoods of Hocking County, I had the good fortune of happening onto a most cooperative Northern Mockingbird. You may know the species, which is a mimic extraordinaire. Indeed, it's scientific moniker is Mimus polyglottos: roughly, mimic of many voices.

Handsome mockingbird scopes us out. Curious and inquisitive, mockers will often closely investigate those who invade their turf. This one wasn't singing, but when they do, it's time well spent listening to their varied repertoire. An individual can retain something on the order of 200 distinct "songs", or imitatations.Like Rich Little, a skilled mockingbird can ape almost anything. I am fortunate to have a resident mockingbird where I live, and often pause to listen to him. You name it, he picks up it up and parrots it back. Predictable imitations are of common birds that he would frequently hear: Carolina Chickadee, Eastern Meadowlark, Northern Cardinal, Blue Jay, and so on. But I have …

Keith Archibald, 1921 - 2009

It is with sadness that I report the passing of Keith “Archie” Archibald.

Below are some of my thoughts about “Arch”, along with some information provided by his good friend, Dr. Bernie Master.

I first met Archie formally through Bernie, and he was one of those guys that everyone liked. Always unfailing polite and interested in everyone. It was fascinating to hear his tales from the old days, when he was often out in the field with the legendary Ohio ornithologist Milton B. Trautman. To the end, Archie remained smitten with birds, and still went afield looking for them up until the last year or so of his long, productive life.

He was the last of "The (Milt) Trautman" group. They birded every weekend and more covering all the known haunts and some not so known, during the 50's, 60's, 70's, and 80's. They made innumerable record contributions to the Ohio ornithological record. Archie himself remembered perfectly the rarities they would find and all the circumstanc…

Down with the House Sparrow!

Good ole Passer domesticus. Without doubt, one of the most reviled of North American birds, despised by bluebirders and anyone with a liking for cavity-nesting birds, and persecuted by various store-owning merchants. Personally, I admire these little beasts greatly. They are the avian counterparts of cockroaches. Survivors. If an ornithological Armageddon occurs, my money is on the House Sparrow as the last one standing.

They can live nearly anywhere. Deep in coal mines. The most urban of 'hoods. Isolated farms in agricultural boondocks. Enterprising House Sparrows now even eke out a living in the bowels of giant box stores, resting in the rafters and sweeping down for cleanups on aisle six. But the common denominator with these industrious survivors is people. They are seldom far from our shadow.

An interesting thread began today on the Ohio Birds Listerv by a gentleman who noted what seemed like a shortage of House Sparrows recently. This was an astute observation and he is exactl…

One Tough Thrush

Let's face it, most thrushes are pansies, at least those of speckled bellies. Shy and skulking, they retreat to hot and humid tropical climes to winter.

Not so with the most mellifluous of them all, the Hermit Thrush. These russet-tailed beauties have a song that is breathtaking; almost hard to comprehend in its richness and complexity. And for woodland specklebellied thrushes, they are tough as nails.

Hermit Thrushes breed in conifer-dominated boreal forests across northern North America, ranging south at higher elevations in the mountains. In Ohio, they are very rare breeders, with relict populations confined to our largest and most intact hemlock gorges.

But we get plenty of them in migration, and more than most people probably realize in winter. This is the only thrush in the genus Catharus that overwinters primarily in North America. But they aren't easy to find in winter, and a bit of botanical knowledge will surely help your efforts if you are interested in unearthing one …

A Very Rare Fern

Along with Jarel Hilton and Dave Minney, I participated in the fifth Hocking Hills Christmas Bird Count. We found lots of birds, including White-winged Crossbills, Pine Siskins, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Hermit Thrush. This count is really excellent, and you may wish to put it on your radar screen for 2010.

Fortunately for me, Dave and Jarel are great all-around naturalists and general biodiversiasts (I have coined a new word!). And it was much to our pleasure and good fortune that I realized that one of Ohio's only two stations for the incredibly rare Appalachian Filmy Fern, Trichomanes boschianum, happened to be in our assigned area.

This semi-subterranean beauty was a "life fern" for both of them, and I was most curious to see what it looked like in winter, so we detoured over to the top secret locale where it grows. Not all was naught on the ornithological front in regards to this detour, either - upon exiting the car, Jarel spotted a female Sharp-shinned Hawk high ov…

A Foxy Squirrel

It's New Year's Day, and predictably, the rabid - or is that avid - listers are feverishly ticking birds. Like racing Greyhounds released from the gate, birder-listers launch into forest and field first thing at the dawn of each new year, darting about notching marks on their checklist.


But why isn't anyone out there racking up a Big Mammal Year? This would be different; out of the box if you will.

If you embark on this furry quest, you will certainly want to add my personal fav, the Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger.

Dashing chap, eh? Those that live in regions that don't have Fox Squirrels are somewhat deprived. These giant orange-tinted mega-climbers are about as good-looking as it is possible to be and still remain a squirrel. Climbers extraordinaire, they nonetheless are rather Woodchuck-like in that they spend loads of time on the ground. Much more than the Eastern Gray Squirrel, our other large tree squirrel in this neck of the woods.Bold and inquisitive, this shot …