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Showing posts from January, 2012

Merlin becomes TV star!

Ben Gelber, NBC4 meteorologist (L) and Buzz the camera man bask in the presence of a very extroverted female Merlin in Columbus, Ohio's Green Lawn Cemetery. The bird is perched in the gnarled boughs of a Kentucky coffee tree, only 30 feet above Buzz's camera.

NBC4 and Ben are great about airing short natural history segments, and I've worked with Ben on several of these episodes. After our last shoot, I suggested going after this Merlin and seeing if we could manage any footage of her. Ounce for ounce, this particular Merlin must be one of the world's most fearless birds. She's been in residence at Green Lawn all winter, and has been seen by hundreds of people. You can walk right under her perch, and she'll not even bother to give you a glance.

We managed to work some other sights into the shoot, including this massive bur oak, Quercus macrocarpa. About 90% of all of Ohio's native trees can be found in Green Lawn, which is also considered an arboretum. This …

A blizzard of gulls!

Photo: Chuck Slusarczyk, Jr.
A seemingly impenetrable thicket of gulls fills the air over Lorain Harbor. Lorain is a Lake Erie port city not far west of Cleveland, and is a legendary site for gull-watchers. As of late, Lorain has been especially dense with gulls, and Chuck Slusarczyk was there today, camera in tow. When I saw Chuck's amazing series of photos I had to beg permission to share them. Larophile (gull fanatic) or not, I think you'll be impressed!


I made this photo of the Lorain Harbor several years ago, while helping on an aerial waterbird survey. The Black River enters Lake Erie here, and wherever large rivers confluence with the lake, large numbers of ducks and gulls often congregate. The interaction of river and lake seems to supercharge prey populations such as shiners and other small fish, and the birds are there to feast on the bounty.

Lake Erie is world class when it comes to gulls. An incredible twenty species have been found in Ohio's Lake Erie waters t…

Cecropia cocoon

On a recent foray in search of winter birds, I found myself crashing through a dense thicket of gray dogwood, various well-thorned Rubus blackberries, and sundry other saplings and shrubs. I didn't produce any exciting avifauna during my brush wading, but the effort was time well spent. At one point I paused to look and listen, and there, nearly in front of my face, was the cocoon of a cecropia moth!

The cecropia, Hyalophora cecropia, is one of our silkmoths and every aspect of their life cycle is of great interest. Excepting the eggs, their cocoons are the least conspicuous phase of this moth's four-part life cycle. It's a hefty cocoon, but looks just like a leaf that has fallen and draped itself over a twig.

I was sorely tempted to carefully open it to photo-document the pupa within, but decided against it. Better to leave well enough alone and not hinder the stunning transformation that will take place this spring. Although the cocoon looks like nothing more than a dea…

American Alligator

An American Alligator, Alligator mississippiensis, cruises slowly down a blackwater canal in southern Georgia's Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

This post is a bit of a blast from the post - from my November 2011 trip to the Okefenokee. I had intended to share some gator photos shortly after the trip, but a crush of other subjects nearly relegated the giant reptiles to the scrap bin.


There are several thousand alligators in the Okefenokee's 438,000 acres, and if you visit, you're almost sure to see some. This stegosaurus-tailed bruiser was hauled out on a muddy embankment, and gave us his best repilian grin as we slowly cruised by in our swamp boat.


This old boy was in repose along a road, and apparently some fool tossed a pebble on its head. A "sleeping" gator looks dead and still as stone, but only an idiot would closely approach one. While attacks on people are very rare, only Darwin Award candidates test their luck.

An exceptionally massive old male can r…

Ohio Rules the Roost!

A young Eastern Bluebird, Sialia sialis, peers from its abode. Someone kindly made and placed this nest box, to the benefit of these Vinton County bluebirds.

One of the many valuable projects spearheaded by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is Project NestWatch. Participants in this program register nests with the Lab, thus helping to create a database of North America's nesting avifauna. The NestWatch e-newsletter just arrived today, and Ohioans can be proud.


This is the top 20 list - the species for which the most nests were reported. The Eastern Bluebird is Numero Uno and no surprise there. People love these gentle little thrushes, and have placed thousands and thousands of next boxes for them. And monitor the boxes diligently. I see the dastardly House Sparrow (one of my favorite birds, Shhh, don't tell anyone) checks in at #6. I suspect a good chunk of those sparrow nests were in boxes built for bluebirds and other far more desirable native species.


This chart lists the top …

The Undertaker in action

Photo: Hallie Mason
Hallie Mason, who lives in the northeastern portion of Ohio, saw my last post on the American burying beetle and sent along this photo. She walked out of her house to see this epic struggle taking place in her driveway. We should all be so lucky!

It's another species of burying beetle, and it looks like a roundneck sexton beetle, Nicrophorus orbicollis. I wrote about those last fall, HERE. The beetle has found an expired eastern mole and is grappling with the corpse in an effort to transport it to a suitable burial ground. Hallie reports: "I watched him valiantly move the carcass toward an area of dirt.  I finally went to bed and when I arose the next day, there was no sign of either rodent or insect."

Keep in mind the mole probably weighed 50 grams or so - dozens of times more than the beetle! In the strength department, one of these bugs makes Arnold Schwarzenegger at his prime look like an anemic Richard Simmons. Proportionately, a burying beetle i…

American Burying Beetle

What a bug! Clad in the colors of Halloween and sporting a huge pair of intimidating mandibles, an American burying beetle, Nicrophorus americanus, poses for my camera. These giant beetles have a lifestyle that those prone to anthropomorphism might regard as ghoulish. But Nature seemingly evolves an animal to fill every role, and burying beetles play an important part as Mother Earth's undertakers. Just about anyone who clapped eyes on one of these goggle-eyed chaps would prclaim it a handsome insect, although they might revise their opinion once they learn of the beetles' habits.

While at the Wilds back in December - see previous post - I begged conservation science director Jenise Bauman to give me the nickel tour of their burying beetle restoration project. She obliged, and into that unassuming little building we went.

The Wilds does not confine their research and conservation efforts only to the charismatic mega-fauna featured in the previous post. American burying beetles …

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 pai…

Winter flowers

This was the scene when I departed the office today. Winter has roared back into town, complete with icy temperatures and snow. But up until now, it's been unseasonably balmy in central Ohio and we've been completely lacking in snow cover.

So, yesterday I got a call from Ben Gelber (be sure and click his name!), legendary weatherman for NBC 4 tv. Ben is a total natural history buff and a great proponent of the environment. He regularly does little snippets about nature and once in a while he'll connect with me to do something. Because of the relatively Floridian weather around here, we did a thing about the response of plants to the balminess. I was able to find a few species in bloom right outside my office building, and brought my camera in today to photograph them, right before the snow hit.

In a funny coincidence, at the very time that Ben and I were outside filming our spot, Dave Horn emailed me the above photo of snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, ready to burst into bloom…