Skip to main content

Big mammals make for interesting birding

If you want a novel Ohio birding experience, visit the 10,000+ acre former strip mine lands known as 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.

Wintertime on the Wilds. It does look rather bleak and inhospitable, and cold temperatures and unrelenting winds mean one had better bundle up. But the birding can be stellar, and raptors are the star of the wintertime show. Rough-legged Hawks, Northern Harriers, Merlin, Red-tailed Hawks, Short-eared Owls and more. Golden Eagles have wintered here for many years now, and one of Ohio's few Prairie Falcons returned to winter for two consecutive years (2004-05).

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.

Birders have long made the pilgrimage to the Wilds in winter, seeking owls and eagles and other feathered quarry. For seven years now, the 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.

Birding the core of the Wilds can be a surreal experience. Yes, those are camels on the crest of that distant ridge, Bactrian Camels to be specific. The Wilds' primary mission is as a wildlife conservation and research center, and they maintain about 30 species of large mammals, many of which are imperiled in their native ranges. As birders, we use landmarks to get our fellows on birds, and that makes for some interesting dialogue in this place: "Rough-legged Hawk, one o'clock and flying left - just shot by the camels!"

One of the most numerous mammals is one of our natives, the White-tailed Deer. They're everywhere, and their ranks include some impressively racked big bucks.

Here's a much smaller ungulate, the Sika Deer, which was once found throughout much of Eurasia. It has declined or disappeared from most of its original range. These are adults, which unlike our white-tailed deer retain their speckling into adulthood.

These lumbering brutes are my personal favorites at the Wilds: the Sichuan Takin. The musk-ox-looking mammals are indigenous to the slopes of the Himalayas, and are utterly impervious to cold. Even the most brutal winter day at the Wilds is nothing to them.

A Takin is rather charming in its own special way. Big bulls can weigh over 700 lbs, and they're not possessed of a very friendly temperament.

Cute as buttons, a pair of Persian Onagers buddy up. These asiatic wild asses are nearly gone from the wild, with only a few hundred left in two regions of Iran. Onagers are incredibly tolerant of temperature extremes, and can endure temperatures of well over 100 degrees - not an uncommon occurrence in their native range. In winter, they grow a thick coat of insulating fur and have no troubles dealing with frigid temperatures.

Completing the surrealistic Wilds landscape is the stunning Grevy's Zebra, which occurs in Ethiopia and Kenya. Less than 6,000 of these gorgeous mammals are thought to remain in the wild. This is the largest of the three zebra species, and a mature male can weigh nearly 1,000 pounds.

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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Pinching Beetle, a rather brutish looking bug

The world is awash in beetles, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Few of them can match the intimidation factor of a Pinching Beetle, Lucanus capreolus, though. Those formidable looking mandibles look like they could slice off a finger.

Today was one of those coolly diverse days. I started off down in Fayette County, visiting the farm of a friend. He has restored about 25 acres of wetlands, and the response by the animal community has been nothing short of phenomenal. Blizzards of dragonflies of many species, amphibians galore, and nesting Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, and Sora. Among MANY other things. And all in a short two years. Add water and they will come.

Then, working my way home, I ducked into a Madison County cemetery that has a thriving population of Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, and shot images of our native prairie dog. Then, I stopped at a spot along Little Darby Creek, waded on in, and procured some pretty nice shots of various stream bluets and dancers. …

Calliope Hummingbird in central Ohio!

A hatch-year male Calliope Hummingbird strikes a pose. Small but tough, the hummingbird was feeding actively yesterday in 39 F temperatures. It frequents feeders and gardens at a home in Delaware County, Ohio, about a half-hour north of Columbus.

Fortunately, the wayward hummer appeared at the home of Tania and Corey Perry. Tania is a birder, and knew right away that the hummingbird was something special. For a while, the identification was up in the air, which isn't surprising. The Calliope Hummingbird used to be placed in its own genus, Stellula, but has recently been submerged into the genus Selasphorus, which includes Allen's, Broad-tailed, and Rufous hummingbirds. The latter two, especially, are quite similar to the Calliope in subadult plumage. Rufous is the default "vagrant" hummingbird here, with dozens of records and birds turning up annually. There is but one Ohio record of Allen's Hummingbird, from late fall/early winter 2009. Ditto the Calliope Hummi…

Ballooning spiders

Fear not, ye arachnophobes. The subject of this entry is indeed about spiders, but the star of the show is about as cute as a spider can get. And you'll want to know what we're about to learn...

On my recent West Virginia foray, we were strolling down a seldom-used lane, when a bright yellow object caught our eye. It was a goldenrod crab spider, Misumena vatia, on top of a post! Not only that, she - it is a girl - was acting extraordinarily goofy. The spider would stilt up as high as she could go on her legs, weave back and forth, jig side to side, and otherwise engage in what appeared to be spider break-dancing.

Click the pic for expansion, and you can see two columns of silk issuing from her spinnerets. This is an important point, as we set about determining what this non-web-making spider is doing.


So fixated was our spider on her task that she even rejected what would seem to me to be a perfectly scrumptious meal. This little caterpillar climbed rapidly up the post and dire…