the Wilds. Located in Muskingum County, this site is buffered by thousands of additional acres of strip mine reclamation grasslands, and the overall ambience suggests the plains of Africa.
I was there in late December to participate in the Chandlersville Christmas Bird Count - one of umpteen trips that I've made to this area over the years.
In regards to our bird count, I drew a plum assignment. Nina Harfmann and I were paired with Jenise Bauman, who is the Wilds' director of conservation science training, and that meant we had access to the fenced off grasslands. Vast tracts are surrounded by fences for a good reason, as we shall see. There's lots of great birds to be found within the Wilds' inner core and we found some goodies, but many an interesting mammal also lurks within the fenced confines.
Ohio Ornithological Society has hosted a winter raptor day in January, which has drawn upwards of 150 enthusiasts some years. Here, some birders take advantage of the massive birding platform which overlooks an enormous expanse of grassland dappled by ponds. The Ohio Division of Wildlife funded the platform to the tune of $55,000, and it is known as the Birding Station at Jeffrey Point. Oh, that's Bill of the Birds scoping things in the foreground.
This is but a sampling of the mammals that the Wilds works with. Birders who recently attended the Ohio Ornithological Society's raptor day were delighted by a special visit to see a baby rhinoceros. The Wilds has successfully bred rhinos on a number of occasions, as they have several other species of imperiled animals. There are also Fringe-eared Oryx, Cheetah, African Wild Dog, and many more. While we visitors delight at seeing such beasts in a huge landscape where the animals can free-range over vast areas, the major mission of the Wilds is research and conservation. Understanding the basic biology of animals is key to successfully protecting these animals in the wild, and the Wilds is working with the rarest of the rare.
If you've not been to the Wilds, plan a visit. Consider becoming a member, too - their work is some of the most important and innovative animal conservation and research in the world. Not only that, but they're protecting outstanding habitat for wild birds, and the staff of the Wilds strongly supports bird conservation and the birding community.