Sunday, February 28, 2010

Waterfowl Symposium

This weekend past, Columbus Audubon and the Ohio Ornithological Society jointly hosted a "Waterfowl Symposium" at the fabulous new Grange Insurance Audubon Center in downtown Columbus, Ohio. In spite of inadvertently choosing one of the winter's worst weekends for snow, everything came off fine and nearly everyone made it. We were greatly looking forward to hosting Jesse Barry and Chris Wood of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and hearing their presentation, but the weather and aircraft gods conspired to prevent that. Jesse and Chris made it to the Detroit airport, where multiple snafus prevented them from making the next leg - either by car or plane - to Columbus. We missed you guys, and hope you made it back to New York just fine. Paul Baicich drove in from Maryland, and reported that the drive was harrowing in places. Planning late winter events in Ohio is always a dicey proposition, and we are grateful that everything worked out as well as it did.

Following are a few photos of the event, but first a few much-deserved acknowledgments. Pulling off events such as this one are a ton of work, and both of the partnering organizations are indeed fortunate to have numerous talented and hard-working volunteers that are willing to put them together. Their work makes it possible for the rest of us to just show up, have a good time, and learn about birds. The planning committee deserves major props; they were: Ann Oliver, Peter King, Andrea Cook, Julie Davis, Warren Grody, Jen Sauter, Nadya Bennett, Darlene Sillick, Randy Rogers, and Barb Fate. Many other volunteers helped in various capacities, as did a number of field trip leaders. Thanks to all, and a special thanks to Heather Starck, Doreen Whitley, and Wade Walcuut of the Grange Insurance Audubon Center for graciously hosting us. We hope to do future events at this facility.

We sponsored six young birders to attend, and major kudos go to the sponsoring organizations for committing the funds to make that possible.

Not deterred by the elements one bit, the amazing Swinging Orangatangs swung up all the way from Marietta, Ohio, and rocked the house on Friday night. That's Bill Thompson on the ar left, his much better half Julie Zickefoose is to Bill's left. If you haven't heard the SO, you must. It was a great time, the acoustics were superb, and the sound was hot.

We pretty much filled the facility with vendors, and thanks to all who came and pitched their wares or promoted their groups. The center is open and airy, with lots of windows and a really nice layout for hosting this sort of thing. If you are casting about for a venue, you might check them out.

The focus of the conference was Saturday's speakers. We had a bit of a wrench thrown in the gears when Jesse and Chris were unfortunately marooned in Detroit, making for a last-minute bit of improv. No problem; Randy Rogers stepped up and dusted off a sensational program and delivered it flawlessly. Keith Lott of the Ohio Division of Wildlife gave a synopsis of his work conducting aerial surveys of birds on Lake Erie as part of a wind power study. He has lots of great data, including information that is essentially new regarding the diversity and numbers of avian species on the lake at certain times of year.

Paul Baicich came over from Maryland and spoke about birds, birders, and conservation, especially the role that waterfowl have played. Great stuff, as always, and if you ever get the chance to hear Paul speak, do it.

A real standout was Dr. Gwen Myers of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. She's been involved in a project on Spectacled Eiders (some of us call them "Spectacular" Eiders) on Alaska's north slope. Her program was incredible and filled with standout images and information. So much so that I'm going to try and slap up a blog about that later.

After a wonderful catered affair, we sat back to listen to Dr. Azzam Alwash, who came in from Iraq. That's Azzam, with Ann Oliver on the left and Randy Rogers on the right. Randy and Dr. Alwash estabished a rapport when Randy - a Major in the Ohio National Guard - was serving his two tours of duty in Iraq. One of the upshots is that Randy helped forge a relationship between Ohio birders and Alwash's organization, Nature Iraq, which is dedicated to conserving the country's wildlife and habitats.

To say that Alwash is a passionate and knowedgable speaker would be an enormous understatement. He delivered a spellbinding program on one of the world's most significant wetland complexes, the vast marshes that flood the land where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers meet. Saddam Hussein did his best to drain the wetlands and nearly succeeded; Alwash is doing his best to put them back, and doing very well at it. Among many great photos, he shared a shot of thousands of Marbled Teal darkening the sky.

Dr. Alwash holds the ceremonial check, flanked by Major Randy Rogers on the right, your narrator on the far left, and Julie Davis, president of Columbus Audubon. Unfortunately, the check blocked Julie and this is the only shot I've got. She's far more photogenic than the rest of us!

As part of our conference, we were able to raise $1,500.00 to donate to Nature Iraq. I believe that over $3000.00 has been donated by Ohioans over the past year. This is money well spent, and has helped Iraqi biologists purchase optics, field guides, and other essentials. Thanks to everyone who has helped to support this important work!
Field trips radiated out this morning, scrabbling about for open water. Where ice-free conditions could be found, there were ducks. My group first went to the Scioto River at the Greenlawn dam, then shot over to Green Lawn Cemetery. We had lots of goodies, and that massive oak harbored one of them.

Ensconced within a hole in the tree was an incubating Great Horned Owl. Look closely. Through the scope, we had great looks of her piercing yellow eyes shooting needles at us. Most Great Horneds use old stick nests appropriated from raptors, but many also use semi-open tree cavities such as this one.

A highlight at the cemetery were great and extended views of the resident Merlin, which was a lifer for a few in the crowd. They express their jubilation with the Victory sign; either that or everyone is trying to make those stupid rabbit ears over people's heads.

Thanks again to everyone who came out, and all who worked to make the event a success.

1 comment:

Cathy said...

Jim, I love your blog. The variety of topics, photography, nformation and humor (love the comment about V for victory or rabbit ears) . . . .

So I'm getting after you the way I just chided my own son for the picture of himself on his blog.

How about having someone grab a shot of you out in the field - maybe just some nice tree bark as a background?

You're an outdoorsy kind of guy and this fan thinks your picture should convey that.

Just suggesting . . .