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Interesting animals at the Wilds

If it looks cold in this picture, well, it was. The Wilds, a 10,000-acre former strip mine in Muskingum County, Ohio is wide open and windy. Braving the cold is worth it, as the birds are always interesting in any season, even winter.

I'm not sure if there is still space available, but you might check the Ohio Ornithological Society's website if you'd like to participate in a cool - literally - field trip to the Wilds in the company of many other cold-hardy souls. On January 15th, we'll have our annual foray there to seem raptors and other wintering birds. Just CLICK HERE for details.

I was at the Wilds last Sunday, where I made this interesting mouse observation. But I wasn't there for mice, although many of the birds that I sought were. It was the annual Chandlersville Christmas Bird Count, organized by Scott Albaugh, and I had the great fortune of being assigned to the innards of the Wilds. Jenise Bauman, their director of conservation science training, was my p…

Beautiful raptor photos

Dane Adams recently sent along a few of his typically stunning photographs, these of raptors that he found at Big Island Wildlife Area. And equally stunning is the Short-eared Owl photo, taken by Russ Reynolds and also at Big Island. All of them are arch-enemies of the mouse in the previous post.

Have a look.

Northern Harrier, Circus cyanea, male. Harriers can look quite owl-like when seen perched, as in this photo. They have exceptional hearing, and use this sense to track prey, probably to a much greater degree than most other hawks.

In flight, harriers are a snap to identify. They typically hunt low over meadows, rocking and tilting in a manner suggestive of a Turkey Vulture. Long pointed wings and a conspicuous white rump clinch the ID.

Short-eared Owl, Asio flammeus, photo by Russell Reynolds. These odd owls hunt open meadows, and often engage in comical conflicts with Northern Harriers, which hunt in the same places. Their ears are truly short, and rare is the opportunity to obser…

Mouse warms itself with space heater

When I was at the Wilds last Sunday, participating in the Chandlersville Christmas Bird Count, I had the good fortune of being paired with Jenise Bauman, their new Director of Conservation Science Training. She is a new birder, and got to see - and hear - some new members of the feathered pack. I got access to the Wilds' 10,000-acre innards, and I'll post some more on that later.

Over the past year, the Wilds has constructed a wonderful new conservation science training center, with seating for several dozen. This facility will be outstanding for classroom components of natural history workshops, and I hope to be involved in some interesting activities there in the future. Associated with the center are two brand spanking new cabins, perched on the shore of a small lake. Jenise offered me a nickel tour of the cabins, as no one was in residence, or so we thought.

One of the science training center cabins, so new you could still smell the freshly hewn pine from afar. To ensure th…

A blast from a warmer past

The Wilds, Muskingum County, Ohio - today. Windy as could be, temps in the low 20's, wind chills probably around zero, and often heavy snow flurries. I was there to participate in the Chandlersville Christmas Bird Count, orchestrated by Scott Albaugh. We saw some interesting things and more on that later.

I've been spending a lot of time in conditions like the above of late; I hope you'll forgive a trip back in time a few months, to a warmer place...

Adams Lake Prairie, Adams County, Ohio, last June. You won't freeze to death in this place, at that season. And it's packed with botanical goodies, and some interesting animals as well.

Downy Wood Mint, Blephilia ciliata, was in its full glory on that trip of last June, and all of us had to stop and admire it. This isn't a rarity, but who cares - Downy Wood Mint is a great looking plant, and you'll be admiring it in early summer, one of the best times of the year. We've got another species of Blephilia in Oh…

Red-tailed Hawk in white

Russ Reynolds, of Lima in western Ohio, found this stunning leucistic Red-tailed Hawk hanging out near home, and was good enough to send along a series of photos. As we can see, its strikingly different appearance hasn't led to a total shunning by the rest of the red-tail community. Red-tailed Hawk male and females look essentially the same, other than in the size department: females can be visibly larger. However, I can't tell who is bigger than who in this shot.

You can view another strikingly leucistic bird RIGHT HERE, and I discuss leucism a bit more in that post.

Leucism is a rare genetic condition that causes animals to be, essentially, bleached out. Beasts that are leucistic are often mislabeled as albinos, or in the case of raptors such as Russ's Red-tail in this blog, misidentified as white birds such as Snowy Owls.

Leucism is a genetic numbers game - the more frequent the animal, the more likely it'll show up in the population. And the more conspicuous the sp…

Harris's Sparrow

Harris's Sparrow, Zonotrichia querula, photo by Bruce Glick
Another Ohio rarity surfaced yesterday, and this one is far more chaseable than the Bohemian Waxwing of my last post.


Photo by Dane Adams
Bruce Glick reported an obliging Harris's Sparrow yesterday, and like most of these western strays, this one was visiting a feeding operation. The homeowner, Robert Troyer, is more than willing to share his find with birders. The address is 9041 Bear Hollow Road, Apple Creek, Ohio. This is in Wayne County, not too far from Wooster, and should be easy to find via Mapquest.

The bird is frequenting feeders along the east side of the house.

Photo by Dane Adams
Dane Adams was up there today, and sent along a few of his characteristically beautiful photos. This is a first-year bird, with just a ring of drippy necklace streaks across its breast. Later, it'll develop a much more extensive black throat and forehead.

Harris's Sparrow is one of four species in the genus Zonotrichia, the ot…

Bohemian Waxwing!

Photos of waxwing: Tom Bartlett Bohemian: wanderer, vagabond, or adventurer.A stunning Bohemian Waxwing, Bombycilla garrulus, plunders fruit from a crabapple on Kelleys Island, Ohio. This is a fantastic discovery in Ohio, and a bird that very few have on their Ohio list.

Discovered by the indefatigable Tom Bartlett last Sunday, December 19th as he and Sandy Tkach censused the island for the Lake Erie Islands Christmas Bird Count.

Here's the rub, should you be inclined to chase the bird. It's way out in Lake Erie, on an island (Kelleys Island circled in red). There are only two practical ways out there: boat, and airplane.
More bad news for the waxwing chaser: this is what Lake Erie looks like right now. I took this photo on December 14 a few hundred feet over the lake, in the vicinity of the Lake Erie islands. Since then, the ice has thickened up considerably and the ferry - the only regular public-access boat - has quit running. That means you'll have to hop a flight, and y…

One tough phoebe

Eastern Phoebe, Sayornis phoebe, Jackson County, Ohio. December 18, 2010, 21 F.
Phoebes are tough as nails, and I've seen them often in wintertime Ohio. But I was a bit surprised to find one last Saturday on the Beaver Christmas Bird Count. Extended freezing temperatures had created an icy winter wonderland, and the evenings have been downright frigid.

But there it was - a hardy little flycatcher, hanging out near the only open water that we saw. Even in the midst of wintery weather, some insects will remain active in such haunts, and phoebes will attempt to make it on what has to be meager pickings. Need be, they'll dine on fruits such as sumac to get by.

I admire phoebes.

The Merlin returns

Ah! A familiar silhouette greeted us yesterday, from the topmost boughs of a massive sycamore deep within Green Lawn Cemetery. The Merlin has returned!

While participating in yesterday's Columbus Christmas Bird Count, Bernie Master and I navigated the labyrinth of roads within the massive 360-acre cemetery, tallying all that we could find. Foremost on our wish list was the Merlin, which has now returned for at least its 4th winter.

One can never take these bulletlike speedsters for granted. A Merlin can cover some serious ground, and their hunting turf is expansive. Nonetheless, as we neared the sycamore in the photo, our hopes rose, as if the bird is in residence, it's likely to be ensconced at the summit. This lofty perch provides a commanding vista of its domain, and a good lookout from which to watch for lesser birds and potential meals.

It was a frigid morning, and our Merlin was fluffed against the cold, exaggerating its bodybuilderish dimensions. Even when we were nearly…

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow, Spizella arborea, Marion County, Ohio.
I've been spending a lot of time out in the field, mostly because it is Christmas Bird Count season. Did the Beaver CBC yesterday, and the Columbus count today, with two or three yet to come.

During a trip to Big Island Wildlife Area last weekend, I ran into a cooperative little pack of one of the most interesting birds to grace our wintertime landscape, the American Tree Sparrow.

These tough little birds have come a long way; they nest in the tundra of the North Country, and the bird in my photo above may well have traveled 1,200 miles or more to be with us.


I wrote a cover story for Bird Watcher's Digest on tree sparrows for their winter 2009 edition, and it was a fun piece to write. The article was complimented by wonderful artwork by David Plank.

There are few birds that I admire more than American Tree Sparrows. For one, they are fun to watch. The flocks greatly enliven somber fields of goldenrods, their tinkling c…

More Short-eared Owls

I found myself at Big Island Wildlife Area yesterday, and stayed until late afternoon, when the Short-eared Owls emerged. The number of owls using this nearly 6,000 acre wildlife area has grown steadily since I last reported on them. We saw about ten of them at once last evening, and many others were present elsewhere. There might be as many as 40 or 50, all told.

There's a reason that so many rather antisocial owls are packed so densely, and the answer dwells within this tunnel. If you find yourself at Big Island on an owl-seeking mission, take a moment to scan the snow-encrusted ground for holes such as this. Then look within, and if the occupants have been active of late, you'll likely see fresh grass cuttings and tiny feces that are shaped like Tic-Tacs.

The owl's favored fresh meat - Meadow Voles, Microtus pensylvanicus, the maker of the holes in the snow. Snowfall serves these chunky mouselike rodents well. It insulates their runways, and probably increases the tempe…

Finding a rare grass

McCracken Fen State Nature Preserve, Logan County, Ohio. This is a very interesting place, but you don't want to visit alone. It's probably the most potentially hazardous place that I've explored, and besides, one MUST get a permit to visit, and hopefully the permit issuers will note that the permitee must have company.

This blog has been sitting on the shelf for a few months. I often save photos from this trip or that, but other things come along and preempt their posting. Well, after spending a good chunk of today essentially outdoors, with temps never warming much past 20 F, it's time to go back to summer, at least virtually.

Back on August 30, I met up with fellow botanists Dan Boone, Jim Decker, Tom Arbour, and Brian Riley and set out in search of some rare plants. McCracken Fen certainly has them. Guy Denny showed this place to me nearly 20 years ago, and at that time, no one had been in it for a while as the fen was so thoroughly overgrown with thicket-forming s…