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Showing posts from December, 2012

Beaver, oiling up

The following video shows something that I bet you've never seen. It was definitely new to me. Those ultimate cam-masters, David and Laura Hughes, sent along a new crop of animal videos from one of their magical Monroe County game trails. This one depicts a Beaver, Castor canadensis, maintaining its pelage. Dave and Laura had sent along another Beaver video previously, and I expounded a bit about their engineering feats IN THAT POST.

This time around, the Beaver has the good manners to stop right in front of the trail cam, plunk down, and begin oiling its fur. Beavers have a pair of glands located near the tail - the castor glands - that exude an oily water-repellent secretion known as castoreum. The castoreum is the fourth tier of protection insulating the animal from the icy waters of winter. A beaver has a dense layer of fat, overlain by a dense cloak of short underfur. Overtopping that are longer and coarser guard hairs. The final protective coat is the castoreum, which we see…

A crab spider hug

Winter brings its charms, but as I get older I also find myself pining for spring, warmer weather, and the explosion of life, earlier each year. Here it is in late December and I'm already longing for bugs, flowers, warblers and all of that other stuff of the balmy months. The good thing about taking, and keeping, reams of photos is that I can beam myself back in time via pictures. I clicked into a folder from an Adams County, Ohio foray of last August 18th - that day was MUCH warmer than it is right now - and ran across these crab spider photos. The animal had staked out the discoid flowers of a Wingstem, Verbesina alternifolia, and was awaiting its next meal. Any tiny flower fly or other well-intentioned pollinator would die a grisly death soon after alighting on this blossom. The spider was a juvenile, and tiny, and I don't know the species other than it's some sort of crab spider. Good enough for now.

As the front glass of my lens neared his eight-eyed grill, the itsy…

White-tailed Deer bucks

This is an oft-viewed vista at the Wilds - the landscape as seen from the birding platform at Jeffrey Point. I was exploring the 10,000 acres of this massive reclaimed strip mine area last Saturday as part of the Chandlersville Christmas Bird Count. Towards day's end, a few hardy teams went to favored Short-eared Owl hunting meadows to tally these strange birds. Chilly and windy as this spot may be, I was not disappointed - five owls were hunting the grasslands before me, at times so close that I could hear their curious terrierlike barks.

Owls weren't the only thing in view...

White-tailed Deer, Odocoileus virginianus, abound within the Wilds, and it's not uncommon to sizeable herds of the beasts grazing in the fields. There are always some good-looking bucks sprinkled in, such as the fellow above. While he's a fine-looking specimen, the animal probably isn't much above average size, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 lbs. That's a far cry from the…

Long-tailed Weasel caught on video!

David and Laura Hughes are trail cam masters, and have been getting the coolest video footage that I've ever seen by way of cams. They've got some magical spots in eastern Ohio's Monroe County that are teeming with critters, all of which the Hughes' seem to capture on film.

Brief as it may be, the video below is incredible and shows an animal that is seldom seen by most of us. In all of my time afield, I believe that I've only encountered four Long-tailed Weasels, Mustela frenata, well enough to get any sort of decent look. They aren't rare and occur across Ohio, but weasels are normally nocturnal, and as we shall see, quite speedy.

Note the insane speed with which this weasel locomotes! I wouldn't want to be a mouse or some other lesser creature, and get caught in the sights of this thing!

Thanks as always to Dave and Laura for sharing their stellar work.

Hedgehog, cute as can be, and Billy Gibbons

A North African Hedgehog, Atelerix algirus, looking like some sort of bizarre cocoon with a face. I had the good fortune to cross paths with one of these strange beasts on a recent excursion, and just had to share some photos. Normally I avoid blogging about captive fare such as this, but this little critter is just too cool. This one was part of a small collection at an animal research and conservation facility.

North African Hedgehogs are indigenous to the northernmost rim of Africa, and apparently are plentiful in the right areas. When threatened, they instantly roll into a perfect ball, and all one sees is an orbicular spiny mass. When wrapped up tight, the hedgehog resembles a spiky baseball. In this shot, the animal just poked his face out, to see what's going on.

I really know next to nothing about hedgehogs, and from a quick perusal of various literature sources, this little guy may actually be a cross with the aforementioned North African Hedgehog and one of the other sp…

Rick Nirschl discovers new U.S. dragonfly

Photo: Rick Nirschl
Rick's done it again. Mr. Nirschl, of Toledo, Ohio, made the above photograph last Tuesday, December 18th, in Mission, Texas. Rick has taken to migrating south to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas for the winter, and just as he routinely does here in his home state, he makes amazing finds in the Lone Star State.

The dragonfly in the photo is a tropical species of dragonlet known as Erythrodiplax fervida. I wish I could also cite a good English name for the beast, but it doesn't seem to have one. Rick was working the grounds around the National Butterfly Center when he spotted this dragonlet, which was unfamiliar to him. He didn't know it with good reason - no Erythrodiplax fervida had previously been seen in the United States! Within a day or so Rick had figured it out and Voila! Another new species for the United States.

This isn't Rick Nirschl's first major Texas find. Back in February of 2008, he discovered the first U.S. record of Slender Clubs…

Snow Goose, at cement plant

As we have for quite a few years now, Dr. Bernie Master and myself headed afield last Sunday to scour our turf for the Columbus Christmas Bird Count. This annual foray takes us into some of Columbus, Ohio's most industrial terrain. The view above is from the long drive back to the Columbus Impound Lot, where illegal parkers and other motorized mischief-makers have their vehicles towed. The impound lot was recently moved to this site, and we like it because we can now get access to this huge stand of Giant Reed, Phragmites australis, and other wetland plants. We found Swamp Sparrows in there, and last year a Rough-legged Hawk was present - a very hard bird to find on this count.

Not far away is the vast grounds of the Anderson Cement Plant, and the Anderson folks always kindly allow us access. While this site looks rather bleak, we routinely find interesting birds here. There are some quarries with fowl, and the mighty Scioto River flows past. We fully expect to someday find a Nor…

"Golden Eagle" attacks baby! Not

I can't even bring myself to write about this latest YouTube silliness that duped about eight million people into believing that a "Golden Eagle" roared out of the sky and snatched up a toddler. How it is that people believe such stuff is beyond me; maybe I am too cynical... Anyway, if you somehow, SOMEHOW, managed to miss this latest globally viral video hoax, CLICK HERE.

The hoaxers 'fess up HERE, allowing babies worldwide to breathe a bit easier...

Crow roost

I found myself in this spot, in rural Jackson County, Ohio, last Saturday at twilight. I was down there to cover my turf for the Beaver Valley Christmas Bird Count, so-named for the sprawling metropolis of Beaver several miles to the south. That forested ridge across the field is one of many in the area. The topography of this immediate region still shows the effects of a massive river system long obliterated by past glaciation. The mighty Teays River, which arose near the present day Great Smoky Mountains National Park, coursed northward and into Ohio. Its main channel and side tributaries left behind broad flat valleys, such as above, interspersed with sharp ridges.

If you are an American Crow, these razorback ridges make great roosting spots. The birds can see everything for some distance in every direction, and potential enemies have no chance of sneaking up undetected. Click the photo to expand it. All of those specks are crows, and this is but one tiny part of the local roost. …

Christmas Bird Count season

Jackson Lake, Jackson County, Ohio. A brief respite from gray skies and drizzle allowed me a scenic shot. Minutes earlier, a rainbow arced across the sky, but I was not in a good position to capture that scene.

I was down in the Hill Country last Saturday to participate in the Beaver Valley Christmas Bird Count, just as I have for many years now. Yesterday, in stark contrast to the beauty of this scene, Bernie Master and I covered our turf for the Columbus CBC. Our terrain there is mostly highly urbanized or industrial, yet we managed a number of interesting finds.

As usual, my camera was in tow and I recorded some things of interest. More to follow...

A brief essay on the House Centipede

The Columbus Dispatch
House centipedes creepy but cool Sunday December 16, 2012
NATURE Jim McCormac
You and your family aren’t the only animals in your house. Many other critters lurk in the hidden nooks and crannies of your dwelling. These creepy-crawlies are often out of sight and out of mind, but every now and then, one bursts forth in spectacular fashion to remind us we share quarters with some undesirable “camp followers.” As humans have marched about the globe, we’ve unwittingly carted along all manner of hangers-on — creatures that are so adapted to Homo sapiens that they rarely, if ever, live out of our fold.

Depending on your inclinations, one of the coolest or creepiest of these unwanted domestics is the house centipede ( Scutigera coleoptrata). If one of these many-legged arthropods scuttles out of the woodwork, it is sure to be noticed. Its creep factor is enormous. House centipedes don’t walk or run as much as they glide, sort of lik…


I received my brand spanking new edition of Bird Watcher's Digest today, cracked it open, and was pleased to see this full-page ad for the upcoming Midwest Birding Symposium (MBS). Not only that, the ad features Dave "Birds From Behind" Lewis and his infinitely better half, Laurie Boylan, both of whom are stalwart Ohio birders.

If you've been to MBS, I don't have to sell you on this birding extravaganza, and I trust that you'll be back in 2013, September 19-22 to be exact. If you've not been, well, please do put MBS on your calendar. It may not be the biggest avian fest, but it's the best! And with some 1,000 birders converging on the idyllic Lake Erie village of Lakeside, Ohio, MBS is certainly no small potatoes! There's outstanding speakers galore, an amazing vendor's hall, excellent local birding at the peak of fall migration, and so much more. CLICK HERE for a pictorial recap of the 2011 affair.

It's never too early to plan one's …

Inquisitive otter investigates camera

Back at the tail end of October, I shared a wonderful video of a family unit of River Otters, Lontra canadensis. The videographers were David and Laura Hughes, who have taken trail cam cinematography to a fine art and are achieving amazing results. The previous otter video can be seen HERE.

Well, Dave and Laura have done it again, with the following crisp vid of momma otter rooting around with two of her offspring. The sharp-eyed elder otter spots the camera, and takes a gander at it. This film was shot at the Hughes' now legendary Monroe County, Ohio game trail.

Thanks, as always, to Dave and Laura for sharing their work with us. Their videos offer glimpses into the lives of mammals that are normally very hard to observe, at least for very long, in the field.

Owl Symposium! February 15-17, 2013

Mark your calendars in ink for the weekend of February 15th thru the 17th. The Ohio Ornithological Society is putting on a conference that's all about those wisest of birds, the owls. The venue? The fabulous Mohican State Park lodge, nestled in the thick of a 5,000-acre forest full of wonderful birds. GO HERE for details about the Owls of North America Symposium. A sleepy Barred Owl, Strix varia, fails to acknowledge your narrator. I photographed the animal as it slumbered in a gnarly Swamp White Oak along a back road in the Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area. Barred Owls are one of only two owls that occur in Ohio that have dark eyes. I'm sure you can guess the other. We'll be out looking for owls in their natural haunts at the symposium, and there's usually an obliging pair of Barred Owls a mere stone's throw from the lodge.

This Burrowing Owl, Athene cunicularia, did acknowledge your blogger, although I wasn't nearly as close to the animal as the photo suggests. …

Coyotes caught on camera!

Once again, the amazing trail camsmanship of Laura and David Hughes is on display here. This time, they've bagged a pair of Coyotes, Canis latrans, at their traditional Monroe County game trail hotspot.

Coyotes, while very common in most areas, can be quite furtive and are prone to doing most of their wandering at night. Thus, we don't often get to see how they operate, especially when the "dogs" are unaware of our presence.
Thanks again to David and Laura for another awesome peek into the secret lives of Ohio's mammals!

Caterpillars are fascinating - really!

A pair of jumbo Cecropia Moth caterpillars, Hyalaphora cecropia, make mincemeat of a black cherry sapling. This spectacular "cat" is but one of about 3,000 species of moth larvae eating their way through our woods and fields.

I'm giving a program entitled "Growing Caterpillars: A Tale of Birds, Plants, and Conservation" at the Columbus Natural History Society next Monday evening, December 10th. The price of admission is just right - free! The Society meets at the Ohio State University's Museum of Biological Diversity at 1315 Kinnear Rd., Columbus, Ohio 43210. Doors open at 7 pm; the show gets under way at 7:30 pm. All are welcome.

A Checker-fringe Prominent caterpillar, Schizura ipomoea, does its best to become one with a black maple leaf, and it's doing a pretty darn good job if you ask me.

I've had a casual interest in caterpillars for a long time, but really started becoming passionate about studying them in the last five years. Why? I began to …

Bohemian Waxwing!

A trio of Cedar Waxwings, Bombycilla cedrorum, silky and dapper, pauses from plundering an ornamental crabapple. I made this image almost exactly four years ago in Wyandot County. Then, as would be the case now, I was excited to see these animals and lingered to admire them. To me at least, just about all birds are worthy of admiration, but waxwings require an extra glance. They are avian Clark Gables: sophisticated, impeccably tailored, unflappable and refined. A waxwing is the model sashaying down the runway; chickadees, robins, and jays are merely coarse and ill-mannered louts shouting and gawking from the seats below.

The family Bombycillidae is a small one:it represents just .0003 of the world’s birds. Pictured above, courtesy WikiCommons, is the Japanese Waxwing, Bombycilla japonicum, one of only three waxwing species on the globe and the one least familiar to North American birders. This eastern Asian species gives up nothing in the looks department to its American counterparts.

A Merlin in the prairie

An immature male Merlin, Falco columbarius, surveys his domain. This is the third winter in a row that I've found a Merlin in this massive restored prairie, and in every case I've found the birds sitting on this very fence post.

I stopped in this Pickaway Plains prairie last Friday after work, stopping along the way to pick up a fellow raptor enthusiast, Deb Bradley, who doesn't live too far from the site. Our primary mission: Short-eared Owls. It seems to be shaping up to be a decent flight of these floppy-flying grassland hooters, so I wanted to check this locale for them. We weren't disappointed; at least four short-ears emerged from the tall Indian Grass at dusk, and began hunting. There were also about five Northern Harriers working the grasslands.

I took this shot several years ago, and it shows the Merlin's favorite fence posts. If you visit, you'll have a darn good chance of seeing the speedy little falcon atop one of these posts. Just slow down and ch…