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Showing posts from February, 2011

Tigers of the air make tigerlets

Sharp-eyed Bob Baran spotted this old Red-tailed Hawk nest, high in the boughs of a silver maple, while stuck in traffic. See it? There, in the upper right corner of the photo.

Well, Red-tails made the nest but someone bigger and far tougher has come along and appropriated it.

Bob took a close look and spotted telltale ear tufts projecting above the nest. Great Horned Owl! Bob was good enough to let me know where the nest was, which turned out to only be 15 minutes or so from where I live in western Franklin County, Ohio. Look closely - she is staring daggers at your blogger, ears erect and visible on the nest's left side.
BOTANY LESSON: Those little red globules are the flowers of the silver maple, our first tree to burst into bloom. But the owl gives not a whit of such stuff. They are strict carnivores with no interest in namby-pamby vegetarian stuff. Had the owls even suspected that I knew about and was interested in such matters as flowers, they probably would have set upon me …

Red-winged Blackbird

A freshly arrived Red-winged Blackbird stakes his turf from the stubby crown of a Sandbar Willow in western Franklin County, today.

The floodgates of early bird arrivals really opened today. Warm southerly breezes ushered in temperatures pushing 60 degrees, and Turkey Vultures were riding the currents northward. Killdeers were loudly shrieking in every muddy field, and watery spots were filled with Canada Geese, Mallards and other fowl, and scores of migrant Ring-billed Gulls acted robinlike in the barren fields.

To me, no bird speaks spring like the Red-winged Blackbird. When the stunning males take up their posts and burble out their sputtery Konk-ah-ree-Onks, we've turned the corner and winter will soon be a distant memory. Where there were none of these last week, today, they are everywhere.

As a little kid, I was astonished that such an incredible bird could exist. While still in the single digits of age, no one was telling me that Red-wings were "trash birds", or s…

Frogs are nearly upon us

Come spring, and a boy's thoughts turn to frogs. At least mine do. Here in Ohio, we're still locked in winter's last gasps. It snowed a fair bit yesterday, and temperatures are projected to plummet to 19 degrees tonight in Columbus. But at this time of year, it's as if Mother Nature is shaking out a huge blanket, trying to cast off those last bits of sleety snowy nastiness and clean the sheet for spring.

March becomes a roller coaster ride of meteorological ups and downs, yo-yoing between winter/spring, winter/spring. Come Monday, it's supposed to hit near 60, but then plunge to much cooler temps again for a few days.

But the froggy set doesn't need much encouragement to float to the top of pools and ponds and start to do their thing. In fact, there have already been numerous reports of Spring Peepers piping up on the few warm days we've had thus far.

Within the next week or so, the outrageously loud vocalizations of Spring Peepers will resonate from wet spot…


For the fifth year running, the event known as Flora-Quest is back and better than ever. Held in the heart of the vast woodlands of Ohio's Shawnee State Forest, this is hands-down one of the most rewarding immersions into natural history that one could ask for. "F-Q" takes place over the weekend of April 29 to May 1 - a time when Shawnee is lush with growth, full of birds, and lots of other interesting fauna.

If you've not been to Ohio or have spent little time here, and love natural history, I really encourage you to consider attending F-Q. There are very few places in the eastern U.S. that can rival Shawnee State Forest and vicinity in terms of sheer plant diversity, rare species, great honking globs of butterflies, and over 100 breeding bird species, most in big numbers.

The event is organized to the nth degree and run flawlessly, and it's not like you'll be stuffed in some drafty tent - unless you want to be. Base camp is the wonderful lodge at Shawnee Sta…

British twitchers in a twit over rare dove

Oriental Turtle-Dove, photo courtesy Wiki Commons

Well, it seems an Oriental Turtle-Dove has appeared in the gardens of a gentleman in the United Kingdom, causing quite a stir. Hundreds of twitchers - that'd be "listers", stateside - have flocked to the scene to see the admittedly cool-looking dove.

This is apparently only the 2nd United Kingdom record, at least of this subspecies, and birders are going bonkers. The owner of the property where the dove appeared has a definite entrepreneurial bent and is charging birders five pounds apiece - a pound is about equivalent to $1.60 US. Bully for him, and he's giving the entire pot to charity.

Read the article and see a rather amazing photo of the line of dove-seekers RIGHT HERE, courtesy of The Sun.


Last post from Florida - promise. But with weather here in Ohio cold, rainy/sleety, and dipping down in to the low 30's, it's time to regurgitate a few more photos from the Deep South, these of a most interesting animal.

A familiar silhouette in the Florida swamps - a long-tailed, long-necked, long-billed Anhinga.

Sleek and ebony, a male Anhinga fans his wings dry after a fishing trip. Like the closely related cormorants, Anhingas lack waterproofing oils and thus are not very bouyant. This necessitates lengthy timeouts to dry the plumage, but decreased bouyancy is an asset if you wish to stay under water, pursuing piscine prey.

A female Anhinga, brown about the head and neck. It looks like she has donned a wool pullover.
Say, if you struggle with learning scientific names, and have always been dazzled by those propellerheaded techno-geeks that can spout them at the drop of a hat, this bird can be your entree to that rarified crowd. Anhinga. Scientific name: Anhinga anhinga.
Or y…

Spring is near here

Today and yesterday offered up a major dose of the impending spring. Warm and windy, with highs in the low 60's. I just returned from a 75 mile ride on my Ducati - not something I often get to do the day before my normally wintery birthday.

Turkey Vultures are funneling in, and I heard several Horned Larks passing overhead the past two days. Birders have been reporting displaying American Woodcock, and there are lots of waterfowl pushing north, close on the heels of ice-out.

And it won't be long at all until green things push from the soil! Following is a reminder of what our very near future holds in store.

Hepatica, Hepatica nobilis, photographed on March 8th, 2009, Adams County, Ohio.

Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, April 4th, 2010, Greene County, Ohio.

Wood Poppy, Stylophorum diphyllum, April 11, 2010, Adams County, Ohio.

Goldenstar, Erythronium rostratum, April 5, 2008, Scioto County, Ohio.
Some of us have a botanical foray planned for April 2 in southernmost Ohio, and by…

Ohio Natural History Conference

Sorry, a bit of a last minute reminder here, but the annual Ohio Natural History Conference is this Saturday. As last year, it'll be held at Big Walnut High School in Sunbury, just north of Columbus. The keynote speaker is the one and only Dr. Evan Blumer, past director of the Wilds, a place I have written about many times, such as HERE. Evan's talk should be worth the price of admission alone.

This is the 7th year for this conference, which features a wide variety of talks on various aspects of Ohio's diverse flora and fauna. All of the details can be seen HERE, and they'll take walk-ins, so if you are in the area and want to learn more of our natural world and meet other like-minded people, stop in.

The conference is organized by the Ohio Biological Survey, and if you've got any questions or want other info, visit HERE.

A razorbill of a different stripe

When I was in Florida recently, I apparently missed fellow Ohioan Dane Adams by a short leap and a bound. He and his wife were in the same area, around the same time, and of course Dane was making some of his trademark awesome photographs. Those of you who read this blog regularly will recall some of Dane's beautiful images that he has allowed me to share.

Well, wait'll you get a load of the one that follows.

This picture, of a chunky Black Skimmer, is mine. I took it near Sanibel Island as the odd-looking bird rested with a platoon of other skimmers. I would say that the first thing about a skimmer that grab's one eye is that bill. It's fat, asymmetrical, and bright orange at the base. Being nearly as thick as the bird's head, one might think that this appendage would be an awkward forward-heavy thing to have stuck to the front of one's face.

Here's Dane's photo. Wow! Look at the razor thinness of that beak! It seems as if the bill tapers to nary more t…

Scots Pine

Looking like a giant bonsai, an old Scots Pine, Pinus sylvestris, is a prominent landmark at Green Lawn Cemetery on the south side of Columbus, Ohio. I stopped in last Sunday, and couldn't resist making some photos of this gorgeous specimen. It's by the bridge, and I'll bet three bucks that at least a few of you have seen it, and paused a minute to take in the tree's complexities. Another shapely Scots Pine that is often noticed and commented on is along the northernmost road at Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area.

Someone long ago erected an identifying marker, which is a good thing as the tree is so striking that many observers wish to know what it is. One minor quibble: trees, I believe, like birds, should have but one formal common name. And for this pine, it should be Scots Pine. But the moniker is often put forth as Scotch Pine, but not in most serious botany books.
The sign-maker hit the scientific name on the head, though: Pinus sylvestris. And it's this genus - …

Skunkers and whistlers herald spring

A boggy spring, only minutes from my hutch. Visiting this gooey mire is a major spring ritual for me, and today was the day. Just as the famous groundhog Puxatawney Phil (or whatever his name is) is watched closely in a rather foolish shadow-watching ritual, I visit this spring in late winter to witness the botanical counterpart to the wedge-headed Pennsylvanian squirrel.

Yes, my peeps! Although it is only February 13, I declare Spring is Sprung! Out they were, our first true native wildflower to poke forth, the vegetable version of the groundhog. Skunk-cabbage!

Good ole Symplocarpos foetidus is thermogenic, meaning it produces heat. This gives it the ability to deal with low temperatures and persistent ice and snow. I've written about this oddball plant's mechanics in past posts, should you be interested.

Proof is in the pudding, or spathe in this case. Here, we peek through the doorway in this Skunk-cabbage's thick leathery and liver-spotted spathes, to the spadix. Thos…

Short-eared Owls join the Army

Major Randel Rogers, Ohio Army National Guard, sends along news of an interesting report. Some of his men discovered a gang of Short-eared Owls sitting around on a bunch of National Guard jeep hummers. Why these owls would choose heavily armored military vehicles as a roosting spot is open to speculation, but I have my theory.

Thanks to Major Rogers, and J. Valentine and T. Friend for bringing the owls to our attention and snapping the following photos. The owl spot is along James Road on the east side of Columbus – a stone’s throw from the vast and vole-filled fields of Port Columbus International Airport.

Photo: J. Valentine

Click the pic and look closely – at least four Short-eared Owls can be seen sitting around on the hoods of the Hummers. And there were several others. Trust me – none of these photos are faked; these owls really are roosting on Army Hummers in a heavily urbanized part of Columbus. Again, this odd behavior shouts out for answers.
Photo: T. Friend

A closer view of one…

Little Blue Heron

An adult Little Blue Heron stalks prey in the open waters of a Florida marsh. This is rather extroverted behavior; Little Blues often are inconspicuous, hunting from the shady verges of wetlands and waterways.

On my recent trip to the Sunshine State, I logged eleven species in the Ardeidae, or heron family, and most of them in good numbers. Many of these lanky-legged, dagger-billed, plume-bearing beasts are among the most conspicuous of Florida birds. Even the most casual observer of nature notices them.

Not so much the Little Blue Heron.

The name "Little Blue Heron" somewhat diminishes the true pizazz of this beautiful species. It suggests subservience to the - in the U.S. - much more widespread and commonly seen Great Blue Heron. The two are different as night and day.

Little Blue Herons are in the genus Egretta, which includes some of the world's truly gorgeous small herons. In the United States, discounting three species of major rarities that have strayed to our shore…