Friday, December 31, 2010

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 partner, and thus we had access to some areas not always open to visitors.

We encountered a few platoons of Wild Turkeys, including the rather fearless group above.

There are a number of lakes in and around the Wilds, all of them created during mining operations. Some of them are fed in part by springs, and the constant upwelling of water maintains open pockets even in the most frigid of winter weather. This opening was packed with waterfowl: mostly Canada Geese, Ring-necked Ducks, and Mallards, but also a few Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck and even an American Coot.

The fowl had an unwanted visitor. This Bald Eagle made frequent recon passes, its massive silhouette creating waves of nervous jitters amongst the lesser birds below.

One thing a visitor is sure to notice at the Wilds are mammals - mostly, this species. White-tailed Deer are EVERYWHERE. Sometimes herds roam openly like cattle, other times one notices them peering like wraiths from the vegetation.

The Wilds' specialty IS large mammals; but not White-tailed Deer. Birding this place is rather surreal, as distant shapes morph into creatures that probably are not within your search image of typical Ohio animals. Even birders patrolling the perimeter of the Wilds are certain to spot some strange critters roaming within the fences.

The Wilds is a large animal research and conservation facility; among the best of its kind anywhere in the world. During the warmer months, tours are offered that'll get you up close and personal with the inhabitants, and I'd highly recommend it.
Przewalski's Wild Horse, or for ease of saying, "P-Horse". It's pronounced something like Shih-val-ski. However you say it, they are neat-looking beasts. This animal's native range is the steppes of China and Mongolia, and they have become critically imperiled there. The horses that we know so well today are ancestors of wild horses such as Przewalski's, but this species has never been successfully domesticated.

P-Horses, along with many of the other 25 or so species maintained by the Wilds, hail from cold climates and are extremely tolerant of frigid weather. In fact, some of them probably thoroughly enjoy the cold.

Here's a native: American Bison. There's a nice-sized herd that roams the grounds, and you are almost certain to see them.

A personal favorite: the Onager. Onagers are asses, native to extensive areas of Asia and Eurasia. Or at least they were. Half of the six subspecies of Onager are endangered or extinct, and the overall population has declined dramatically. They're basically big donkeys; a large one can tip the scales at nearly 650 pounds.

Up close and personal with an Onager. I shot this from the car. Onagers reportedly are ill-tempered and best left alone. Besides, this guy looked like it wanted to rumble.

Possibly the most surreal visual of all is stumbling across a pod of Bactrian Camels in the Ohio snow. Yet there they are, happily gamboling around the Muskingum County landscape. Unfazed by cold and snow, these camels have surprised more than one unsuspecting birder. They, like the P-Horse, are indigenous to the cold and windy steppes of China and Mongolia. Perhaps 800 of them remain in the wild, and they are considered critically endangered.

Bactrian Camels are instantly recognizable to most people, because there are nearly 1.5 million domesticated camels and their images are commonly seen. But, it's vital to protect the wild ones, too. There is one other species of camel, the Dromedary Camel, which has but one hump.

Jenise says that the camels are quite the hams, and vie amongst themselves for maximum exposure whenever a camera is produced. That seemed to be the case.

A ton of camel, right at ya!


Vincent Lucas said...

The Wilds is such a cool place! I've only been there once but I did (distantly) see the camels! Awesome photos Jim. You're so lucky to get up close and personal with these animals. . . . Happy New Year (belated). Your bud B. Master is down here. Planning on chasing a Kelp Gull in the next few days. . . .

Jim McCormac said...

Good luck on that Kelp Gull, Vince, and give my regards to Bernie!