The Wilds is a sprawling 10,000 acre parcel that houses an operation dedicated to research into large animals such as rhinos, giraffes, wild horses, painted dogs, cheetahs and many others. The ultimate goal is to help conserve imperiled wildlife, and keep them a part of the earthscape. This place is truly one of Ohio's unique treasures, and if you've not been here, put it on your agenda.
The view above is typical of the place. If you were beamed into the Wilds via a Star Trek-like teleporter, you'd be forgiven for thinking that you had landed in the plains of the Serengeti. This is not typical Ohio scenery, and the Big Sky country of Muskingum County is sure to impress.
The gargantuan grasslands are the result of strip mine reclamation. Although an unnatural habitat very different than what was here pre-mining, these plains do a great job of supporting the various beasts that the Wilds works with. Those distant specks beyond the lake in the above photo are American Bison, which lend an almost surreal backdrop as one birds the area.
And birds abound. Wild birds. The acreage encompassed by the Wilds also contains a great diversity of breeding avifauna, and I spent the weekend just past helping with the Birding by Ear workshop put on by the Wilds' Conservation Education staff. We tallied nearly 100 species, including some real showstoppers like the star of this blog.
Merrily swinging on brier and weed, Near to the nest of his little dame, Over the mountain-side or mead, Robert of Lincoln is telling his name: Bob-o'-link, bob-o'-link, Spink, spank, spink; Snug and safe is that nest of ours, Hidden among the summer flowers, Chee, chee, chee.
Thus goes part of the poem that flowed from the pen of the great poet William Cullen Bryant, who was so moved by the Bobolink and its gregarious cacophonous ways that he took it upon himself to immortalize the bird in the annals of poetry.
Our group was every bit as charmed as Bryant, and spent a good bit of time admiring these showy blackbirds bedecked in the colors of a skunk, and with a nape of gold. The boisterous males chuckle their R2-D2 mechanical gurgles from the tops of low plants, then often, as if they just can't contain their irrepressible enthusiasm, flutter skyward and cascade their bubbly melodies to a wider audience.
I remember telling someone in the group, that sacrilegious as it seemed to say, the crowds of Bobolinks could verge on the annoying. In places, so many of the exuberant males congregate that their collective singing nearly drowns out lesser vocalists, such as Grasshopper and Henslow's Sparrows. Ah, such are the hardships of birding at the Wilds.
I took numerous videos of the courting Bobolinks, especially trying to catch one as it did its aerial display. I did score one really cool video, which captures the incredible flight song. Fluttering on stiff wings in the manner of a meadowlark, the stud showers down song to the ochraceous females, who lay low in the grasses, presumably dazzled by these shows. But I have to figure out how to compress that one a bit before Blogger will upload it. The above video gives a taste of the melody of the Bobos, though. Turn up your volume and dig it.
Sweet and pure as these melodic blackbirds may seem, they are true players; feathered players seemingly devoted to charming as many of the girls as possible and notching up as many conquests as they can. Some of the older dominant males might have up to four females under their spell, all nesting in his turf. Competition for the hens is fierce; the above video captures two guys bookending a gal, vying feverishly for her attention.
If you get the opportunity, go visit the Wilds and as you roll down Zion Ridge Road, pause here and there to admire the Bobolinks. Do it soon, though. By mid-July or thereabouts, the "skunk blackbirds" will have largely fallen silent, and soon thereafter will begin preparing to head off to other grasslands very different from those of the Wilds. You see, the Bobolinks have traveled in an incredible distance to be with us - about 6,000 miles one way! - from Argentina and vicinity. This is about the longest migration undertaken by a North American breeding songbird, and hammers home the global impacts that result with the conservation of a place like the Wilds.