It was a whirlwind weekend of Christmas Bird Counting. First, it was off to Portsmouth and the magnificent Shawnee State Forest to participate in the Portsmouth CBC along with some friends. That was Saturday; Sunday was the Cincinnati CBC were I was able to connect with a number of Cinci-area birders and help scrape up some decent stuff. Four Cackling Geese were nice finds on the latter count. These pint-sized geese are the Mini-Me's of the Canada Goose world; elfin in the extreme.
Shawnee produced some nice finds, too, not all of which had feathers. A few of those are below.
Foreboding terrain, a reverting few decade old clearcut is tangled with young saplings, down trees, and thorny greenbrier. Tough going for humanoids, but the favorite haunt for that most tasty of birds, the Ruffed Grouse. We had stopped along a forest road, and soon heard the whuf-whuf-whuf-whuf of a male grouse drumming. To me, they rather sound like a distant lawn mower firing up, but in a VERY deep pitch. One almost FEELS the grouse; the wing-induced thumps seem to resonate in the core of your being.
Our "singer" was on a distant slope, out of reach, but the gnarly tangles in the above photo looked too good to resist so I darted in to try and kick out some of the secretive partridge. Grouse, if you are unfamiliar with their wily ways, love to hide in places that would turn back a coon hound. And, speed is NOT of the essence if you wish to find them. Step lively and move in a straight line, and they're liable to just sit tight and you'll cruise right past. Walk slowly and erratically, with plenty of short stops, and they get nervous. Many times I've had birds whirl from nearby cover just as soon as I started walking again after a brief pause. Anyway, no luck finding any other than the drumming bird this day.
The emerald patch in the backdrop is Ground-pine, Lycopodium digitatum, a very primitive plant whose ancestors were trampled by dinosaurs. But it wasn't this common tripe that caught our eye...
But in and around Shawnee, there are colonies like the one above, far off the beaten path and in perfect habitat. My suspicion is that at least some of the boondock-dwelling Shawnee cane is wild, but hard and fast proof is lacking. This is the stuff that Swainson's Warblers use as nesting habitat in some areas.
Many species of seed-eating birds make great use of goldenrods, and old fields thick with the stuff often have plenty of sparrows. American Tree Sparrows, down from the tundra, love to swing like little acrobats from goldenrod heads, piggishly plucking the abundant fruit.
The frugivorous set - berry-eating birds - absolutely love Poison Ivy berries. We had a number of Yellow-rumped Warblers on the Cincinnati count, and all were around berry-laden ivy vines. I watched these toughest of warblers plucking the fruit of the vine like nine year olds plopped down in an M & M bush.
Thanks to everyone, if you are reading, who took me along on the CBC's this weekend!