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Showing posts from December, 2011

Raptor stamps coming soon!

In a beautiful tribute to five of the coolest birds of prey soaring about the globe, the U.S. Postal Service will release a series of raptor stamps on January 20, 2012.

Artist Robert Giusti created the beautiful images that will embolden your letters. All five species - Northern Goshawk, Peregrine Falcon, Golden Eagle, Osprey, and Northern Harrier - can be seen right here in Ohio, and far beyond.

I applaud the postal service for promoting birds through this eye-catching collection. Be sure to pick some up. For a bit more on the back story, CLICK HERE.

Pomarine Jaeger: An Avian Pirate

I was pleased to recently receive a raft of wonderful photos, courtesy photographer Chuck Slusarczyk of Cleveland. His stunning images of a Pomarine Jaeger, Stercorarius pomarinus, bear sharing and Chuck was good enough to allow me permission to post them here.
Photo: Chuck Slusarczyk
A beautiful, fierce subadult Pomarine Jaeger wings by Wendy Park near downtown Cleveland. This bird has been hanging out in this area for a while. In general, jaegers are rare in Ohio and nearly all records come from Lake Erie. Most birds are in rapid transit in fall and early winter, and probably quickly move west to east down the lake and remain out of sight to land-bound observers. Occasionally a "Pom" finds a desirable locale, and sticks around, like this bird is doing.

 Photo: Chuck Slusarczyk
Immature jaegers can be tough to ID, and this is a group where lots of comparative experience with the three species is very helpful (Great and South Polar Skua are also in genus Stercorarius, but they…

American Tree Sparrow

While traipsing through the winter-browned Sandusky Plains prairies today, I crossed the path of some American Tree Sparrows, Spizella arborea. Lucky me, and I had my camera in tow. These jaunty little sparrows rank high among my favorite birds, and I settled in to watch the little flocks as they worked over the seeds of goldenrod, switch grass and other ripenings.

I'm usually first alerted to foraging tree sparrows by their thin wispy tseet notes - contact calls by which they talk to each other. Sooner or later, the flock will take wing, blowing low over the ochre prairie like delicate little leaves on the wind. Their sweetly musical flight notes sound like tiny icicles shattering. The tree sparrow and its subtle melodies mesh perfectly with the barren prairies of winter.

Should you have an interest, I wrote in more detail about American Tree Sparrows HERE.

The beauty of starlings

Photo: Paul Lomax/Wiki Commons
The good ole European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, in nonbreeding plumage. This species, handsome as it may be, is one of the most reviled of North American birds.

Photo: Dick Daniels/Wiki Commons
In its breeding finery, the European Starling is actually a showy bird. Fronted with a bright lemon-yellow bill, the starling is a study in glossy iridescence, reflecting rich purples and deep greens depending on how the light strikes the bird.

European Starlings, however, have no place in North America. They were intentionally released in the early 1890's in New York City by the ecologically ignorant Shakespearean Society. These avid buffs of all things Bill got it in their minds that all animals mentioned by the legendary bard should be established here, so that these beasts might enrich our lives on a daily basis. Fortunately most of their introduction efforts failed, but the starling was a grand success and is now one of the most common birds in the lower…

Big bucks and big racks

Last Sunday, Bernie Master and I were patrolling the expansive Green Lawn Cemetery on the south side of Columbus, Ohio, tallying birds for the local Christmas Bird Count. Suddenly a bonus trotted into view - these three buck white-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus. They were accompanied by five anterless deer, does apparently.

These two were the studs, without doubt. Anytime the antlers (rack) flares outward beyond the ears, the animal will look impressive. By my reckoning, both of these beasts are 10-point deer. The terminus of each antler branch, or tine, counts as a point and in the eastern U.S. the custom is to add all of the points up for the point score. In the west, they typically count only one side, so on the other side of the Mississippi these would be five-pointers.

Eight of the points are obvious (the small central brow tines count). Look closely and you'll see a small spur tine on the forward right beam of the deer on the left side of the photo. Both of the big bucks …

A wintertime orchid

Looks can be deceiving. This trash-strewn Jackson County, Ohio gorge is actually a beautiful place, and would look nearly pristine were it not for the cascade of old appliances, bottles, mattresses, fast food containers and various and sundry other junk. It never fails to amaze me how people can so thoughtlessly abuse their own environment. But this is an all too common garbage disposal technique in southern Ohio - cast the rubbish down the steepest slope around.

We - Nina, Heather, and I - were standing roadside here last Saturday, doing our best to pick up the nasal tinhorn trumpets of a Red-breasted Nuthatch. We were tallying avifauna for the Beaver Christmas Bird Count, and our mission was to find as many birds as possible, and the little nuthatch had thus far eluded us. Across the steep-sided ravine was a wall of stately Eastern hemlock trees, their lacey evergreen boughs providing a jarring contrast to the avalanche of litter on our slope.

Suddenly, sharp-eyed Nina announced a ni…


A female Merlin, Falco columbarius, sits high atop a dead snag in Green Lawn Cemetery on Columbus, Ohio's south side. Bernie Master and I were canvassing the cemetery yesterday, doing our part to tally birds for the Columbus Christmas Bird Count.

This is now the 5th or 6th winter in a row that Merlins have returned to Green Lawn. They're generally a snap to find; just patrol the area immediately south of the bridge towards the cemetery's southwest corner, and you should spot one or more of the birds teed up on the most prominent dead snags.

I glanced over at another, more distant snag and there was yet another Merlin, an adult male, or tiercel.

And then, wham! An immature tiercel (falcon-speak for males) shot in like a cannonball and mixed it up a bit with the other male. So, three different Merlins were all in sight simultaneously - the largest number of birds that I have yet seen at Green Lawn. One must wonder if this is a family unit, and if so, where they nested. I belie…

A massive murder of crows

"The dusky bird is a notorious mischief-maker, but he is not quite so black as he has been painted" (William L. Dawson, 1903)

At the conclusion of a long day of birding in the remote hills of northern Jackson County yesterday, Heather, Nina and I found ourselves heading back north on route 35, not far south of the Ross County line. As twilight's gloom settled in, we glanced up to a distant ridge and saw some American Crows. Well, not just "some". Oodles, actually. "Stop! Turn around"! shouted your blogger, and we soon jagged off the highway onto a rural lane, and motored to a spot that offered a commanding view of the spectacle.

Crows have long had a big roost in this area. We were down there to participated in the Beaver Christmas Bird Count, and I've done nearly every count since its inception many years ago. On my yearly crack of dawn drives, I'd often see massive numbers of crows radiating out from their hilltop roosts on the high ridges j…

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Today was the always interesting Beaver Christmas Bird Count, which covers a very rural section of Jackson County in southeastern Ohio. I've been covering the same tract within this count for a decade or more, and today I had the good fortune of having Nina Harfmann and Heather Aubke along. We had a blast, saw lots of birds, and even some noteworthy plants. More on those later, perhaps.
At one point, Heather spotted a small raptor winging over a gap in the forest. We quickly glanced up to see a gorgeous adult Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus, tracing rapid circles. Note I did not say "languid" circles, as I might if the bird were a buteo such as a Red-shouldered Hawk. There is nothing even remotely languid about one of these little death-dealers.

This bird was almost certainly a male, as it was tiny. I managed to lunge skyward with the camera and manage this one OK shot. Note the bird's nicely squared off tail. In life, much more was evident that painted the rap…

Blast from the past: Ocellated Turkey

I was delighted to pick up my new issue of Winging It today, and see an article by Ohio's own Ashli Gorbet plastered across the front page. Winging It is the newsletter - "official!" - of the American Birding Association and as such, is probably the largest circulation birding info-sheet in the Americas.
Ashli, who was hatched in Westlake, Ohio, now hails from Albuquerque, New Mexico where she is secretary of the New Mexico Ornithological Society and works with the Rio Grande Bird Research, Inc. She's smitten with the tropics, and her Winging It article was all about birding in the tiny country of Belize, the northernmost Central American country. Belize is little more than 1/5th the size of Ohio, and its population is only 1/3rd that of my city, Columbus - about 330,000 people, the lowest population density of any Central American country.
A visit to Belize is high on my list, and I hope to finally make it there next year. Ashli's article mentioned some of the fab…


I have known this gnarled line of sentinels ever since I was a little kid, and old enough to range a mile away from the familial homestead. They're osage-orange trees, Maclura pomifera, and to me they exude a certain twisted charm. When I was just a lad, these trees stood tall, buffering one of Worthington, Ohio's main arteries. I've always harbored a niggling fear that the neighboring office complex maintenance staff would one day hack them down, disgusted with the trees' annual dump of large pulpy fruit.

But apparently others in the area have succumbed to the charm of the "hedge-apple", and so they remain.

As osage-orange trees go, these are titans. The state champ - biggest known specimen in Ohio - is a Coshocton County resident, and it stretches 60 feet skyward. These trees aren't all that far behind. Our line of trees was planted many decades ago, back when neighboring Wilson Bridge Road was just a rural lane. Now, the amoebic ever-expanding suburban …

Ovenbird continues

As reported here on December 8th, this Ovenbird, a Neotropical migrant warbler, was found at Inniswood Metro Gardens on December 7th by Jen Snyder and Jennifer Kleinrichert. As I am especially interested in warblers and their ways, I resolved to go visit the animal if it stuck around long enough for me to work it in.

Jennifer has been great about providing status updates on the Ovenbird, as it does not seem to have a Facebook page. As she reported that the warbler was still present yesterday, it was off to the gardens for me bright and early this morning. And a frosty morning it was, with rime glazing the earth's crust and temperatures hovering around the 21 degree mark.

The beautiful Innis House, located smack in the middle of this botanically diverse 123 acre metropark. Over 2,000 plant species can be found; an interesting palette of nonnative ornamentals mixed with native flora and habitats. Our destination? The backyard of this dwelling, which is to your left.

A battery of feeder…