Skip to main content


Showing posts from June, 2010

Natural History Workshop

Last year, we had a whale of a time up at Killdeer Plains putting on a general natural history workshop for the Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalists and other interested people. It was a great way to learn about a variety of subjects, ranging from birds to plants to butterflies to dragonflies. We even had a nocturnal excursion, which turned up lots of interesting and seldom seen creatures.

Well, we're doing it again and see the bottom of this post for more details. Should be even better than before! You can e-mail directly to register:
or contact Rae Johnson at

A jumbo Cloudless Sulphur butterfly, just one of scores of neat animals that we found in 2009.

Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist workshop
Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, Wyandot County
July 16th – 18th, 2010

The Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalists (OCVN), in collaboration with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, is hosting a natural history workshop from July 16th – 18th. The venue is Kil…

Treefrog, sundrops, and skimmer

A bit of a mix of different finds follows, all recorded here in the great state of Ohio in recent weeks...

Cope's Gray Treefrog, Hyla chrysoscelis, Hocking County. I was at a friend's place, and several of these little charmers were utilizing the swimming pool. The frog above is perched on the lip of the pool. One of them had even taken up residence in a wren nest box, and would peer from the entrance at his admirers!

This is a male, and he was busy vocalizing. You can see his deflated throat pouch. Cope's Gray Treefrogs sound superficially like the visually identical Gray Treefrog, Hyla versicolor, but are pretty easy to tell by voice. They emit an astonishingly loud raspy trill. Note the animal's conspicuous toe pads, which allow it to readily climb trees and other objects.

Sundrops, Oenothera fruticosa. These little primrose are rather uncommon and local in Ohio, occurring in perhaps half of our 88 counties. It is one of the more diminutive of the primroses; certain…

Purple Gallinule recap

You may remember this lovely lilypad-trotting violaceous gem of a big-footed, candy-corn billed swamp beast known as a Purple Gallinule. The one above graced a pond in Columbia Reservation, Lorain County, Ohio, for much of the month of May and became quite the celeb.

Linda Paull, the park manager, was every bit as much a jewel as the bird was, and welcomed birders with open arms. The birding community owes a debt of gratitude to Ms. Paull; would it only be that every rarity had such a gracious host!

Linda sent me a nice summary of the Columbia gallinule, and I copy it below:

From: Linda Paull
Sent: Fri 6/25/2010 12:53 PM
Subject: purple gallinule

sorry it took so long for me to get back to you and say thanks for
coming out to visit Columbia Reservation and all the nice words about
the park, and posting all the good news for others. It certainly is
great to hear how people enjoy and appreciate it. I have been a
birdwatcher for a long time and was glad to have this experience to
watch how exc…

Some really odd-looking birds

Leucistic Turkey Vulture, Holmes County, Ohio area. Photo by Dane Adams.
Paul Hershberger recently sent along some interesting photos and observations from the Trail, Ohio area that he was gracious enough to allow me to share. All photos are by Dane Adams.

While out exploring last Saturday, Dane and Paul came across this striking specimen. Turkey Vultures are common enough, but individuals such as this certainly aren't. "Whitey" is a highly leucistic specimen, and must stick out like a sore thumb. Leucism is a genetic condition that causes dark pigments to be washed out, in a nutshell, causing excessively pale individuals. A true albino would have pink eyes, likely be stark white, but probably would not have made it out of the nest. Pure albino birds often suffer from greatly weakened feather shafts and other impediments caused by the albinism and don't survive to adulthood, at least species that attain this size.

It'll be interesting to see how long this bird las…

Alaskan Paul

My cousin Paul, perched on a rock high on a mountain slope on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula. That's his Icelandic Sheep Dog, Jonah (the smaller one). Paul used to live here in Ohio, but moved to Alaska about two decades ago and hasn't looked back. Can't say I blame him.

Paul lives in Seward, a town of a few thousand hard on the shores of Resurrection Bay, about two hours south of Anchorage. His house is the first one on the left, and the backdrop is magnificent. Black Bear and Mountain Goat are sometimes seen on that mountain - great animals for the "yard list"! Pine Siskin, Steller's Jay, Orange-crowned Warbler, Fox and Golden-crowned sparrows, Common Raven, and Black-billed Magpies were some of the daily locals. One morning, a Bald Eagle was hopping around in the neighbor's yard.
An incredibly gracious guy, Paul put us up for our stay, and provided lots of adventure. He is one of the more interesting people you'd ever meet.

This is Paul's office …


A wildflower instantly recognizable to any Ohio botanical enthusiast, the Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica. It is the only of its ilk found here.

One of the great things about travel is seeing a broader spectrum of flora and fauna, which drives home the fact that there are often many more species in a genus such as Mertensia than what we see in our own backyards. Gaining a bigger picture view of plants and animals helps one to gain a better understanding of evolutionary lineages, differences among species, habitat niches, in addition to the sheer enjoyment of seeing interesting new relatives of well known and familiar species.

There are 18 "bluebells" in the genus Mertensia in North America, and this is Tall Bluebells, M. paniculata, photographed on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska a few days back. Most bluebells are westerners and northerners.

Tall Bluebells are rather gangly; not as stout as our Virginia Bluebells. Nonetheless, like most of its brethren it is a strikin…


Here I sit, at the Anchorage airport, waiting to leave Alaska. Planes have been a bit troublesome on this expedition, and the departure to Chicago has been delayed, and I'll undoubtedly miss the connector back to Columbus. Oh well, nothing one can do...

Black Bear, prancing along the shoreline of Resurrection Bay. Surprisingly, we only saw one, but did note plenty of fresh signs of bears on our hikes. Black Bears are very plentiful up here.

We also saw a Grizzly Bear, at fairly close range. One has to be aware of these beasts when venturing far off the beaten track, but adverse bear/human encounters are very rare.
Hope to be back in the Buckeye State sometime in the near future!

Alaskan miscellanea

Following are some of the flora and fauna that I've observed in the past week or so...

Glacial lake with beaver dam, mountain pass about two miles off the Sterling Highway, Kenai Peninsula.

Moss Heather, Cassiope stelleriana, remote valley near mouth of Resurrection Bay, Seward area.

Black-billed Magpie, junction of Seward and Sterling highways.

Intricate patterns of emerging Green Hellebore, Veratrum viride, alpine meadows of mountain pass, Kenai Peninsula.

Woolly Lousewort, Pedicularis kanei, rocky scree of ridge on St. Paul Island, Pribilofs.

Arctic Fox, St. Paul Island, Pribilofs.

Western Columbine, Aquilegia formosa, White Spruce/Balsam Poplar forest, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Rock Sandpiper, St. Paul Island, Pribilofs.

Rock Sandpiper nest, St. Paul Island, one chick hatched, one pipping out of egg.

Golden-crowned Sparrow near timberline, mountains in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Red-necked Phalarope on cold lake, St. Paul Island, Pribilofs.

Cow Moose with calf, …

Northern Fur Seal

Northern Fur Seals, hauled out on a beach along the shore of St. Paul Island, Alaska. One of the real thrills of visiting this remote place was the chance to see these massive seals. About 70% of the global population breeds on St. Paul - perhaps 500,000 seals - so they aren't hard to find. The bulls come ashore first, and establish territories. Later, the cows arrive and a real stud bull might have up to 40 in his territory.

A gargantuan male in repose. Inelegant and short of social graces, the bulls emit loud bellows that can be heard for at least 1/3 mile, and often spar with their neighbors. A real big boy might be over 7 feet long and weigh 600 pounds. They allegedly have the second densest fur of any mammal, bested only by the Sea Otter. I believe it, having now seen them in their element. Fur Seals spend up to 10 months at sea, and a frigid sea it is.

It must feel good to hit the beach once in a while.
Northern Fur Seals are the reason that the Pribilof Islands are now inha…

The Pribilofs

Your blogger, standing at the summit of cliffs 200 feet above the Bering Sea. Our crew spent three days out here, on the largest of the four islands that make up the Pribilofs, St. Paul Island. About 438 people live here, and the place is best known as a port of call for crabbing boats featured on the TV show Deadliest Catch.

Birders know St. Paul as a fabulous place to catch Siberian and Eurasian vagrants. Some years are better than others for that, and this has been a very lean spring for rarities. I could care less - the island is packed with incredible birds, and I'll share a few that were breeding on the cliffs behind me.

The most numerous of the alcids - penguin-like seabirds of the northern hemisphere that still have the power of flight - is the Least Auklet. Many thousands nest on St. Paul. They aren't the flashiest of the alcids, as we'll see, but this species is my favorite. They are only six inches long - same as a Lapland Longspur! - but cope well with the seve…