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Showing posts from March, 2009

Lake Erie Wing Watch

I should have had this out on the wire a while back, but better late than never.

The 17th annual Lake Erie Wing Watch will be held this Saturday, in Port Clinton, Ohio. Hard on the shores of Lake Erie, this is the self-proclaimed Walleye Capital of the World. But it's also a great area for birds, and as an attendee, you'll be a mere stone's toss from the Buckeye State's great cradle of wetland biodiversity, the vast marshes of western Lake Erie.

But wait. There is more. Saturday features a star-studded cast of speakers, or at least a constellation of flickering flames headed by a genuine celeb of the bird world: Mr. Chuck Hagner, editor-in-chief of Birder's World magazine. You won't want to miss Chuck's talk, as the protagonist is a bird named for an Ohio town: that rarity of rarities, the Kirtland's Warbler.

But wait. There is more yet. Other speakers include Tom Hissong on bird song; Mark Witt on waterfowl; Sharon Cummings on photography; Jen Brumfield o…

Shreve Migration Sensation

Saturday, March 28 marked the ninth annual Shreve Migration Sensation. This event is a doozy – perhaps the largest single-day birding festival in Ohio. This year, a jaw-dropping 915 attendees showed! The epicenter is the little Wayne County, Ohio burg of Shreve, which welcomes birders with open arms. The above photo shows evidence of this – one of many signs placed throughout town. The welcomed birders in the backdrop are, L to R: Marc Nolls, Cheryl Harner, Jimmy Sloan, and Jason "Grapefern" Larson.

A huge doff of the hat to all of the organizers of this great event: Kevin Higgins, Joe Edinger, Bill Fought and all of the rest who organize and run the show. Kudos too to the ODNR Division of Wildlife; Friends of the Killbuck Marsh, Inc.; The Wilderness Center; Greater Mohican Audubon Society; Triway Local Schools; Shreve Library and Shreve Business & Community Association for their support and sponsorship.

Every light pole on Shreve’s main drag is festooned with banners pr…

A Poisonous Mammal

Not long ago, one of my friends approached me to report a "mole" raiding her bird seed supply in the garage, and making a cache of the booty on a nearby shelf. This certainly didn't sound like the hijinks of any Eastern Mole that I've ever met, and I figured it was probably an even more interesting and little-known mammal.

As with the Meadow Vole I recently encountered, fate was not kind to our mystery seed-raider, but did intervene to allow us another learning experience. When I was quizzing the mole-person about field marks, she let on that the beast had expired. "What! You have it?" enquired I. And she did, so I convinced her to bring in the carcass, which has languished in the freezer until today, when I brought it out for photos.

And here it is - the mole-like thief of seed. This tiny little brute is a Short-tailed Shrew, Blarina brevicauda. They are surprisingly abundant throughout Ohio and the upper midwest. And as we shall learn, they are indeed pois…

Shreve Migration Sensation

I have been remiss in plugging the annual Shreve Migration Sensation, which will be held this Saturday, March 28. Ground zero is the small but charming Wayne County community of Shreve, where, incidentally, my mother hails from.

This is a fantastic birding event, and a wonderful example of birding ecotourism. Every year, hundreds of birders descend on Wayne County to enjoy the festival, look for birds, eat good Amish food, socialize, and hear a variety of programs. Last year, I think there were something like 700-800 attendees. The vast wetlands of Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area are but minutes away from the school in Shreve where the talks are given and vendors are headquartered, so it's an easy matter to go birding, retreat for a program or two, and go back out birding.

And the birding is great. Probably every species of regularly occurring waterfowl will be found, many in big numbers. I won't be surprised if a rarity such as Eurasian Wigeon is found, too. There'll be other …

Last of the Darters

We'll make one last pictorial visit to the clear, rushing waters of Big Darby Creek, and take a look at a few more darters. I've got one more ichthyological mission scheduled in early April, and if all goes well, I'll return with even better fish photos.

Speaking of photos and fish, a number of people have asked about techniques for getting shots. This has been my first stab at shooting fish, so I can claim no expertise, but am glad to share what I've learned. Ideally, a photo of a fish should look as if the photographer were in the stream and under the water with the fish. I wasn't.

No real trick to getting the shots, but it is a bit of work. We lugged a small aquarium down to streamside, and fixed it up with rocks and gravel from the very riffles where the fish were caught. I found it is vital to really clean those rocks, or you'll have lots of suspended solids floating around. Then, just fill it up with clear water from the upper column of the stream. Next tim…

Darters, Part II

I offer some more photos from Sunday's aquatic excursion - images of those beautiful little fish known as darters. It would be a better place if everyone could see these colorful little jewels in person - any life would be enriched.

Banded Darter, Etheostoma zonale. These elfin beasts lurk in the cobble of riffles, seeking out, attacking, and eating small stream life. I suppose it would be an honor to be consumed by such a beautiful creature. Better than being eaten by a catfish!

Banded Darters are a common stream species in much of Ohio, and have a distinctive pattern of uniform emerald-green stripes along the body.

While certainly not a candidate for the Elton John Award for Excessive Gaudiness amongst Darters, Johnny Darters, Etheostoma nigrum, have their own charm. Johnnys are often very common in Ohio streams, and have an interesting pattern of little W's along their sides.

The blue whale of the darter world, a Logperch, Percina caprodes. The average darter probably measu…

Warblers of the Underwater World

When I first began my career, I had the good fortune to make many trips afield with Ted Cavender and Dan Rice, two of the top fish guys in Ohio. Once they saw I was truly interested in stream ecology and fish, they let me serve as labor on fields trip far and wide. In the process, I got to see nearly all of Ohio's fish, and learn them pretty well.

But that's been a while, and circumstances haven't let me look for fish in a serious way for a long time. For a few years, though, I've been threatening to make concrete plans with Mac Albin, another true fish guru, to work some riffles in Big Darby Creek. Finally, today was the day, and we couldn't have picked a better one. Warm air temperatures and low water levels made conditions for catching fish just perfect. And we're not talking Smallmouth Bass or Bluegill - oh, no, much more interesting piscine targets than those were our goal.

Our main quarry were darters. These are tiny members of the perch family, and they mo…

Psychotic Homicidal Beast Friday

I saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk the other day, tracing lazy, languid circles high in the sky. A migrant, the "sharpie" was off to parts north, and this is about as placid as you'll ever see one of these birds behaving.

This got me thinking about "Sky Watch Friday". A lovely bit of goodness, this site allows photographers to post beautiful images of fluffy clouds, tantalizing sunsets, and other awe-inspiring views of the ether.

Very nice.

But there are winged savages up there in the sky, like the above Sharp-shinned Hawk. If these feathered balls of testosterone were the size of Trumpeter Swans, we'd all be dead. They'd run us down, pluck off our extremities, and feast on our innards. The sharpie is a fitting subject for Psychotic Homicidal Beast Friday, a blogger's tribute to the week's end that is very unlikely to catch on.

Sharp-shinneds like to attack things. They seem to be utterly devoid of fear. In migration, they'll routinely strafe larger, m…

Red-shouldered Hawks and toxic foliage

A great paper recently was published in the esteemed Wilson Journal of Ornithology by three Ohio researchers: Cheryl Dykstra, Jeff Hays, and Melinda Simon. They've been studying red-shouldereds for years in southern Ohio, and have unearthed some fascinating behavioral traits associated with nest construction. The title of the paper is: Selection of Fresh Vegetation for Nest Lining by Red-shouldered Hawks.

Dykstra, Hays, and Simon document the preferences of the various tree foliage that these hawks, arguably our most beautiful raptors, use to rejuvenate their nests at the onset of the breeding season.

Stunning Red-shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus, captured for banding. Photo courtesy of Bill Bosstic.

Young hawklets in the nest, northeast Ohio. Photo courtesy of Jim Dolan.

Of the twenty species of trees documented in the Dykstra et al paper as being added to nests, one stands head and shoulders above the rest in popularity amongst the red-shouldered crowd. Black Cherry, Prunus seroti…

Peeps and Rasps

It's not only the birds that are possessed of silky voices and interesting vocalizations, you know.

Anyone who is spending much time outside these warming days will have noticed other sounds - sounds from the amphibian world. If you are interested in learning about bird calls, you'll want to know about the above critter. It's a Spring Peeper, Pseudacris crucifer. These are tiny tree frogs, distinguished by that (more or less) X marks the spot on the back.

Peepers do just that - they PEEP, and at deafening decibels. Their "song" is created by the male, who inflates a sac of loose skin at the throat to herculean proportions, and lets loose. The resultant notes are rather bird-like, and if one manages to get themselves surrounded by a managerie of calling peepers, the chorus almost hurts the ears.

This time of year, Spring Peepers gravitate to wetlands to breed and lay eggs. Almost any little bathtub-sized wet spot will do, really. Here's what they sound like. I…

Furry Sausage with Legs

After spending yesterday sequestered inside, finishing off various things WHICH MUST BE DONE, today was ripe for an escape. And that I did, on a big blue sky day, warm and balmy. At least by early spring Ohio standards. Signs of winter's end were everywhere and very much in my face. Tallied singing Western Chorus Frogs, Northern Leopard Frogs, Spring Peepers, and noted Green Frogs leaping desperately from the bank as the giant humanoid approached. Even some Painted Turtles basked on sun-soaked logs. A real treat was hearing the sweet lilting whistled songs of American Tree Sparrows, tuning up before they strike out for the land of Midnight Sun and Polar Bears. I also saw a few Tree Swallows, bold scouts back before the mobs of their brethren arrive.

Destination: Big Island Wildlife Area. This place sometimes gets overshadowed by the better known Killdeer Plains, seven miles to the north, but Big Island is even better. I had scads of birds here today, especially waterfowl, which we…