Thursday, November 29, 2012
Anyway, the three aforementioned snakists spent a fair bit of time flipping objects, and one of them (can't remember who) eventually produced this beauty, which was carefully placed on this rocky runway for a modeling/photography session.
Ring-necked Snakes are common in parts of southern and eastern Ohio, where they inhabit rocky streams such as where this one was found, moist forested slopes, regenerating clearcuts and other such wooded habitats. They're a bit of work to find, though. Occasionally I just stumble into one that is out and about, but apparently ring-necks are primarily nocturnal. Hence the need to go poking under hiding spots in good habitat to find one.
I'm sure that I'm preaching to the choir here, but I want to reinforce that snakes are beneficial and should be protected at all costs, whether relatively "cute" species such as this Ring-necked Snake, or less enchanting behemoths such as Black Rat Snakes. If you don't like them, let them be and they'll do the same. If a snake is somewhere you'd rather it wasn't, such as an Eastern Garter Snake in the garden or an Eastern Milk Snake in the shed, please just relocate it to somewhere else. Or have someone move it for you. I get a disconcerting number of photos sent to me each year from people wanting to know the identification of a snake, often thinking it might be a venomous species. They're invariably harmless species, but what bothers me is how many of the snakes in these photos are dead - slaughtered by the blade of a shovel. The ignorant killing of snakes absolutely disgusts me, and it is almost never, if ever, neccesary to slay them.
If everyone had firsthand exposure to a gentle Ring-necked Snake, and could see up close and personal just how cool snakes are, I'm sure our tubular reptiles would have many more fans.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
I'm on a bit of an owl jag, but one can never get enough of owls! A friend shared the following video with me, and it is amazing. It features a Barn Owl, Tyto alba, that was raised from a chick and trained for falconry, of all things. The owl is named Gebra, and her most unlikely buddy is a black housecat dubbed Fum. These animals live in Spain, and were born in early spring of 2010. They were introduced when only a month old, and as you'll see, hit it off rather grandly.
Sorry, for some reason YouTube won't allow me to embed this video, so just click on the following link to view it: http://youtu.be/mWhD5bc6Fmg
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
This is the owl's home turf, as seen from the edge of the bike path. The spot that is circled in red marks the owl cavity about 20 feet up in a Box-elder, and it would be extremely easy to walk right by and never notice. Scores of people do just that every day.
That doesn't mean that they'll be missed by everyone. Tree-gleaners such as chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice often stumble into roosting screech-owls as they go about their business of inspecting tree trunks. When this happens, quite the hue and cry will be made and before long an entire gang of noisy chickadees and other songbirds will form a conspicuous twittering crowd around the hapless owl. Many a birder has discovered a roosting owl with the assistance of mobbing tree-gleaners.
These owls are very common throughout Ohio - easily our most common owl species. They have a strong affinity for streamside habitats, and places such as the site depicted in this post almost always have them. This is in part due to the Box-elder trees, which often form good roosting cavities. It's a great irony that tree species that are typically derided as worthless by loggers, foresters and the lumber industry are often of the greatest value to wildlife.
If you are interested in owls - and who isn't! - mark your calendar for the weekend of February 15-17, 2013. That's when the Ohio Ornithological Society and Greater Mohican Audubon Society will be holding its Owls of North America Symposium at beautiful Mohican State Park. The event is headlined by the incomparable Denver Holt of the Owl Research Institute, and what a speaker he is! In addition to talks, there'll be field trips, owl-banding for Northern Saw-whet Owls, and much more. GO HERE to register.
Saturday, November 24, 2012
Lawrence Woods State Nature Preserve in Hardin County, Ohio. We're looking east down Township Road 190, with the preserve lands on the right, and a big prairie/grassland on the left, the latter courtesy of Pheasants Forever. The big woods - the preserve's namesake - can be seen way off to the right. This preserve encompasses over 1,000 acres, and roughly half is the woods, and the rest is meadow. The owls were hunting the field on the right, and were easy to view until conditions grew too dark.
U.S. 68 can be seen on the left of the photo, and the city of Kenton is a few miles to the north. This site is less than an hour from Columbus, and makes for a great field trip. There is a fabulous boardwalk through the woods, and traipsing its length prior to nightfall should produce Red-headed Woodpecker and all of the other expected woodpeckers. Barred, Eastern Screech, and Great Horned Owls are also present, so with a bit of luck and careful listening you might tally four species of owls at this site.
Thursday, November 22, 2012
A Beaver slices through the still waters of a pond that he and his predecessors created in northern Michigan's Presque Isle County. Few mammals are as at home in the drink as are these flat-tailed swimmers. A Beaver's entire life is spent in or adjacent to water, and all of their efforts go towards manipulating the hydrology of streams to better suit their purposes.
The animal in the above photo was a big 'un. A robust specimen can tip the scales at 70 lbs., although 40 lbs. would be a more typical poundage. You'll often hear a Beaver before seeing it. When danger is spotted, the animal will often slap the water's surface with its paddlelike tail, which creates an astonishingly loud SMACK! That sound alerts his fellows to potential peril, and then the tail-smacker will submerge. Extraordinarily oversized lungs allow it to remain below for up to 15 minutes.
This Google Earth photo shows an incredible Beaver-engineered and maintained wetland complex in southern Ohio's Lawrence County. Two huge dams (traced in red) back up two ponds in the small valleys of a forest. The area outlined in blue - which disappears off the left side of the image - is a fantastic wetland spawned in the soggy overflow from the Beaver's primary ponds. A well-developed dam can be in excess of 50 feet in length, and often has a sinuous shape as these two dams do. The Beaver are dligent about maintaining these structures and keeping water levels at precisely the levels that their needs dictate.
I stumbled into the wetland complex above in 1999, and was awestruck by its compexity. The wetlands in the wake of the dams' outflow contained a remarkable diversity of flora; far more plant species than would have been present had the Beaver not taken up residence. The botanical diversity in turn sparks an enormous spike in animal diversity. We found American Bittern and Prothonotary Warbler in this wetland, both of which are rare in that part of Ohio. Dragonflies and other aquatic insects abounded, as did scores of other wetland-dependent animal life. When I first saw this Beaver wetland about a dozen years ago, it was obvious that the dams had been in place for some time. And as the Google Earth image is a recent one, they're obviously still there, and hopefully will be for some time to come. I want to make a return visit next summer, and marvel at this engineering feat firsthand once again.
If you regularly follow this blog, you may have seen the exceptional videography of Bobcat and River Otter made by David and Laura Hughes, which they kindly allowed me to share. Well, they've outdone themselves with this video, also made in Monroe County, Ohio, which shows a Beaver hard at work as it labors to drop a tree. Turn up the volume and you'll hear the sound of gnawing as the oversize rodent busily endeavors to bring down the tree. Note too the size of the wood chips that spew from the animal's maw as its huge incisors make mincemeat of the wood.
Thanks again to David and Laura for once again sharing their work with us.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Plume moths are very distinctive as a group. When at rest, their tightly inrolled wings and cylindrical body form a T-shape. As you may have guessed from the common name, the caterpillars of this moth feed largely on members of the morning-glory family, although they also apparently eat a number of other low weedy plants.
Diffusers such as this device soften the flash, and can help achieve some really remarkable photographs.
Monday, November 19, 2012
Until the mid-2000's, no one had any clue as to just how common Northern Saw-whet Owls were in Ohio. If one were to go only by the relatively few reports made by birders who lucked into roosting birds, you'd have had to assess their status as rare, or uncommon at best. Of course, it stands to reason that such a secretive animal would largely go undetected. In my guide, Birds of Ohio, which came out in 2004, I made the statement: "...the vast majority of Northern Saw-whet Owls no doubt go undetected in Ohio".
Such opinions are speculative, however - concrete research is needed to prove or disprove such things. Well, 2004 was the year that the Chillicothe banding station whose work is featured here got fired up. Since that time, they have captured well over 300 owls, in a habitat and a locale that no one would have predicted as being optimal for saw-whets. Their efforts are not solo - a few others also focus on saw-whets in Ohio or nearby, and they too have captured a great many birds. Thesee banding stations are part of a systematic nationwide survey of Northern Saw-whet Owls known as Project Owlnet, and this research collaborative has revealed reams of information about the migratory habits of what was not long ago one of our most poorly understood North American birds.
Having an accurate knowledge of an animal is key to successfully conserving its populations, and in the case of the Northern Saw-whet Owl, it is the efforts of banders who have revealed the mysteries of what could be our most charismatic owl.
Owls caught and banded in Chillicothe have been recaptured numerous times at far-flung places across eastern North America, and the Chillicothians have captured a number of owls that were banded in other areas. All of this work via Project Owlnet has revealed a scope of migration that no one was previously aware of. October through mid-December is the tiime of the big southward push, and it appears that such irruptions are cyclical, and probably related to populations of voles and other small animals which are the owls' primary prey.
Few birds are as mellow as saw-whets. For the most part, they make no attempt to struggle or otherwise indicate displeasure; mostly just staring curiously at their captors. After all, most of these owls have probably never seen people, coming from the wilds of the vast boreal forest as they do. Furthermore, saw-whets have low metabolisms and are not high-strung or fidgety, which probably serves them well to conserve energy.
The bulletin board above is one of several in the research lab, and they are papered over with newspaper articles, stories from magazines, and above all, notes from kids who have visited. The latter crowd is especially important, if we want to grow a new crop of conservationists. Seeing a magical little owl that seemingly appeared miracously from the gloom of the nighttime forest is sure to make an impression, and I'm sure that some of the saw-whets capured at this station have served as "spark birds" for budding young conservationists-to-be.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
This photo was made back on August 18, and we found a veritable treasure trove of intriguing flora and fauna along this rocky little Scioto County stream. Such excursions into habitats rich in biodiversity generally net me far more blog material than I can get to in any sort of prompt manner, if ever, so sometimes I like to go back in time and revisit overlooked items.
It takes little imagination to infer the reason for the "long tail" part of the animal's name. Long-tailed Salamanders are incredibly alongate, slender, and whiplike. They're many, many, many times longer than wide and that incredible tail comprises over half the length of the animal.
The overall color and pattern of the salamander is exceptional. An adult is a striking shade of muted burnt-orange neatly marked with rows of small ebony blotches. Turning a rock and discovering a Long-tailed Salamander is always a momentous occasions.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Brash and bold, a Blue Jay swoops in to disrupt the ebb and flow of lesser birds at the feeder. Cut these extroverted corvids some slack, though - the avian Johnny Appleseeds play a major role in reforesting our oak woodlands.
I'm at least mildly tardy in giving up this plug, but should you find yourself in striking range of Westerville, Ohio tomorrow evening (November 14), I'm giving a talk in that fair city at 7:00 pm to the Herb Society of America. Said program is as follows:
Bird feeding is big business, and brings birds up close and personal to people who might not otherwise notice them. Nearly everyone who tacks up suet blocks or sprinkles sunflower seeds have seen the Top 10 most common feeder birds in
The venue is the lovely Inniswood Gardens, and the price of admission can't be beat - it's free!
Monday, November 12, 2012
Tom Sheley, who is the proprieter of the Wild Birds Unlimited store on Riverside Drive in northwest Columbus, brightened my email inbox by sending along two photos of an unexpected November feeder visitor.
This male Cape May Warbler, Setophaga tigrina, is visiting feeders in a Worthington, Ohio backyard well after most of his compadres are back in their Caribbean wintering haunts. Given that the weather here today was in the 40's and rainy, I would think this little tiger-striped beauty may be lamenting his decision to linger, if he is still about.
Tom made these images on November 8, and normally the last straggling Cape May Warblers are gone from Ohio by mid-October. It'll be interesting to see how long this bird toughs it out.
In spite of their primarily insectivorous diet - although Cape Mays do eat lots of fruit in fall and winter - these warblers can be surprisingly hardy. There are probably 15-20 early winter records, and a few Cape Mays have toughed it out at feeders well into January.
Out of the norm birds often show up at feeders, such as Tom's beautifully photographed Cape May Warbler. If you ever spot anything that seems out of the ordinary at your feeders, such as a warbler in winter, please let me or another birder know.
Two-wheeled pedal-powered modes of transportation are also common. These bicycles were probably hurriedly cast aside as their riders rushed off to look for the Lark Bunting detailed in my PREVIOUS POST, as this is the scene of that great rarity.
Hallie Mason dropped me a note with more details of this buntiferous find, and also allowed me to share a few of her photos of the scene. Leroy Erb was the bird's finder, and did it in spectacular style. He was strolling along this very road when an unfamiliar call note reached his ears. Hmmm. He tracked down the bird, which was unfamilar to him, but before even reaching home and his guides, Leroy had sorted through the possibilities and arrived at the correct identification.
This humble green hunting stool, perched along the roadside, holds the sign-in log. Scores of visiting birders have made the pilgrimage to see Leroy's rare find.
Discoveries such as Leroy Erb's Lark Bunting are inordinately common northeast Ohio's Amish Country, which is primarily Coshocton, Holmes, Tuscarawas and Wayne counties. In recent years, this includes megas such as Allen's Hummingird, Long-billed Curlew, Swallow-tailed Kite, Yellow Rail, Black Rail, Green Violet-ear, and more.
Why such a preponderance of rarities? This region has no Lake Erie or Ohio River, nor is it ridged with mountains, carpeted with virgin prairie, nor cloaked with old-growth woods. While Holmes and Tuscarawas counties are not heavily developed, and have lots of agricultural, the human footprint on the land is far lighter than it is in the glaciated flatlands of western Ohio, where agribusiness has laid waste to the landscape. The Amish and others in the Holmes County area engage in land management practices that are far more environmentally friendly than is the case in most other farmland regions of Ohio.
But the real reason that so many rare birds turn up so consistently in this area is the people. Some 40,000 Amish reside in this region, and their ranks include some of the best birders in the state. Also, a high percentage of the Amish community is far more bird-literate than the average population, so there are lots of knowledgeable eyes and ears out on the ground. Little in the way of avian occurrences seem to be missed.
Also, the Amish shun cars, and that choice greatly frees one to become more in tune with the environment. When confined to a motorized, nearly hermetically sealed automobile, the occupant cannot hear nor see birds - or most other things - nearly as well as someone on foot, riding a bicycle, or even in an open horse-drawn buggy.
I want to point out two things of interest to birders that visit the Holmes County area. One, if you have any optical needs, be sure to visit Time & Optics, which is run by uber-birder Robert Hershberger. His place is, by far, the most well-stocked and comprehensive optics shop in the state of Ohio. As an added bonus, Robert is the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet, and he knows everything there is to know about anything that you peer through to better see birds. And while you're up there, you can go bird some of the local hotspots, and eat at one of the sensational Amish restaurants. Time & Optics info follows:
Time & Optics
6954 CR 77
Millersburg, Ohio 44654
Call for a catalogue
Finally, mark Saturday, March 16, 2013 on your calendar. That's the date of next year's ever-popular Shreve Migration Sensation, one of the highlights of Ohio's birding festival circuit. There's no better immersion into birding Amish Country than a trip to SMS. The organizers don't yet have next year's itinerary posted, but CLICK HERE to see the 2012 details - that'll give you a good taste of what SMS is all about.
Thanks to Hallie Mason for the added info and pics, and of course major kudos to Leroy Erb for discovering the Lark Bunting.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
Bird of the moment in the Buckeye State is a western vagrant, the Lark Bunting, Calamospiza melanocrys, which has occupied some brushy tangles in Tuscarawas County since last Saturday, November 3. I'm not sure who exactly discovered this easily overlooked bird, but Bruce Glick, Ed and Leroy Schlabaugh, and Leroy Erb were mentioned on what I think was the first email to announce the bird. It's a fabulous discovery of a very rare species (for us) that could have easily been overlooked.
Dane Adams made the scene a few days ago, and sent along some of his characteristically excellent photos. In the above image, the bird peers from the dense thorny shelter of a hawthorn tree; apparently it is fond of lurking in dense growth such as this.
Lark Buntings belong to the sparrow tribe (Emberizidae), and just about anyone might guess that by looking at this bird, which appears to be a juvenile male. But if you were to see this animal next summer, you'd not even think it to be the same species. Adult male Lark Buntings in their breeding finery wear a coat of jet black, offset by large white wing patches, thus transforming into one of our flashiest sparrows.
As can be seen from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's fine map, Ohio is a bit off the Lark Bunting's beaten path. This is a sparrow of the Great Plains that normally retires to the southwest U.S. and Mexico for the winter.
However, small numbers of Lark Buntings regularly wander well to the east of their normal haunts, and Ohio's current bird is by no means our first. This is probably the 13th or 14th record for the state.
Kudos to the finders of this bird, and congratulations to everyone who has successfully made the trek to see it. And of course, I appreciate as always Dane Adams' excellent camera work and his willingness to share his imagery with us.
Monday, November 5, 2012
Bob Rafferty reports five Evening Grosbeaks at his Knox County feeders on November 2, including this handsome male with a more somber female.
Last Saturday, November 3, Rosalyn Rinehart glanced out the window of her Logan County home to see five of the showy big-billed gluttons making mincemeat of her feeder's stock. Strangely, few people object to the hefty seed bills that will be incurred should a flock of ravenous Evening Grosbeaks descend and settle in at the feeders. An Evening Grosbeak is the feathered version of Joey Chestnut, and can gobble down the sunflowers like no one's business.
These weren't the only Evening Grosbeaks to be found. At least four or five other reports have come in from widely scattered locales. Keep an eye on those feeders. Thanks to Bob and Rosalyn for sharing their reports and photos with us.
Saturday, November 3, 2012
Other highlights from the Pogacnik "yard" included 119 Brant, 2 White-winged Scoters, 32 Black Scoters, 3 Harlequin Ducks, 61 Common Loons, and four birds that were probably Red-throated Loons. Believe it or not, this was slow compared to what John and some of the other veteran Cleveland area lake-watchers were seeing in the two days prior.
Fairport Harbor yielded more scoters, of all three species. This group is comprised of three White-winged Scoters on the right, and two Surf Scoters on the left. As always, click the photo to enlarge and see more details.
Conneaut Harbor, which is as far east as one can go on Lake Erie without entering Pennsylvania. The weather was rather inhospitable, as described previously, and as the gate was shut we had to walk a fair piece through the damp sand to reach the observation platform. Once there, we hunkered under the tower's modest shelter, and saw a fair number of interesting birds. About 20 Dunlin - one of our hardiest sandpipers - hunted the shoreline, and they were joined by two rather late Sanderlings. We were quite pleased when a Red Phalarope, pictured above, rocketed by and settled on a small pond not far away. It bathed and preened for a few minutes, then flew back out over the lake, That's typical of Conneaut Harbor - birds pop in and out constantly, and often don't linger for very long.
Note the flock of four Brant in this photo contains two adults, and two juveniles. The youngsters can readily be told by their strong white "wingbars" and the lack of white on the neck.
Fairport Harbor, and were greeted by 50 more Brant on the beach. John and I darted under the protective shelter of a building's alcove, which also acted as a blind. Something flushed the flock at one point, and they wheeled around and settled in right in front of our hideout. It was neat to hear the flock's collective low chuckling honks, and watch them bicker among themselves like old maids.
By now, I suspect these Brant and most of the ones that we saw last Wednesday have made it to the sea, which is their true domain. After all, the Brant's scientific name is Branta bernicla: the specific epithet means "barnacle". So tightly wedded to the sea are these small geese that legend has it that they hatch from barnacles. Their peregrinations into freshwater habitats are rather rare and brief, and it was our good fortune to experience such an unprecedented albeit brief invasion of these marvelous little geese.