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Showing posts from 2013

Snowy Owl in urban Columbus!

The urban jungle of Columbus, Ohio, about ten minutes from my office. I was peacefully eating my lunch at my desk today, when word came down from Scott Albaugh that one of his students had just seen a Snowy Owl. The bird was sitting high atop a water tower along Huntley Blvd, right where the yellow stick pin in this map is. Whoa! This I had to see!

I asked one of our administrative assistants, Vicki, if she would like to see (hopefully) a real live Hedwig, she said of course (who wouldn't!), and ten minutes later we were on the scene.

This is the street view, courtesy my Droid's camera. I had driven my non-field car into the office today, and it was clean as a whistle - no scope, binoculars, cameras, nothing. I borrowed a pair of bins before leaving, but upon arrival found another dozen birders there, with plenty of optical power.

Scott's student deserves the Medal of Eagle Eyes for spotting this owl. This unmagnified view shows the tower, from where we gazed upon the owl…

Raccoons well-suited for survival

Columbus Dispatch
Sunday, December 29, 2013

Jim McCormac

Edward Crump presided over Tennessee’s political machine for much of the first half of the 20th century. The former Memphis mayor, in campaigning against political foe Estes Kefauver, portrayed the Democratic challenger for a U.S. Senate seat as being “raccoonlike” and a “communist puppet."
In response, Kefauver wore a raccoon-skin cap when on the stump and stated, “I may be a pet coon, but I’m not Boss Crump’s pet coon.”

Kefauver won the 1948 election handily.

Being compared to a raccoon isn’t such a bad thing. It’s more flattering than being compared to a skunk.

Raccoons are abundant and range throughout Ohio. Close relatives of bears, they are instantly identifiable by their black bandit mask and ringed tail. A big one can weigh 35 pounds. The wily mammals occur in all habitats and may thrive best in citified landscapes.

Raccoons are consummate omnivores, meaning that they’ll eat almo…

Golden Eagle on deer carcass!

I received an interesting email this afternoon, accompanied by photos, from Fred Rau of the Dayton area. Fred, who owns property in rural western Pike County, runs a trail cam on his land, and of late has had its lens pointed at a White-tailed Deer carcass. What a surprise he got when he checked it recently! Trail cam photo courtesy Fred Rau
A Golden Eagle, its namesake nape aglow, eyes the venison steak. This photo and the others were taken on the morning of December 22nd - last Sunday. The cam is motion-activated, and will run for a few weeks before its batteries die. Fred will be back down to check it soon, and it'll be interesting to see if he has any additional shots of the eagle.

Trail cam photo courtesy Fred Rau
This spot is on an upland ridge along the edges of a clear cut. What looks to be American Beakgrass, Diarrhena americana, provides the ground cover. An amazing shot, this one, as the eagle mounts its carcass. To my eye, it looks to be a subadult bird, but not a juven…

Woodpeckers boom, probably because of invasive pest

The skeleton of a Green Ash, Fraxinus pennsylvanica, is tagged with a sign telling us what caused its demise.  The Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), Agrilus planipennis, is an Asian wood-boring beetle in the Buprestidae family. It was first detected in southeastern Michigan, adjacent to Ohio, in 2002. The bug quickly spread like wildfire, and was found in Ohio in 2003. It's gone far beyond Ohio; as of early December, EAB has been documented in over 20 states (CLICK HERE for a current distribution map).

EAB larvae are phloem feeders, and these grubs bore elaborate galleries just under the bark, as seen in the photo above. The end result is that the tree eventually can no longer uptake water and nutrients and it dies. In the Midwest, Green Ash and White Ash, Fraxinus americana, are the most common ashes and thus the most frequently killed, but EAB does not discriminate. Our other three species (in Ohio) are also destroyed.

The ash borer lays waste to ash trees on an incredible scale. The ab…

Birding (and mammaling) at the Wilds

Yesterday was the Chandlersville Chistmas Bird Count, ably orchestrated by compiler Scott Albaugh. Scott's been running the count for the past five years or so, and I've been along for all or most of them. The day dawned overcast and rainy, and it didn't abate until the very end of the day. At least it was fairly warm, with temperatures in the upper 50's. Such wet balmy weather allowed us to add an amphibian to the count list - Spring Peeper.

The 15-mile diameter count circle is quite diverse, including large tracts of woodlands, numerous ponds and wetlands, and vast grasslands. It's a lot of ground to cover, and we don't have too many people to deploy. If you enjoy bird counts, put the Chandlersville count on your calendar for next year.

Most birders know this region of southeastern Muskingum County because of the Wilds, a sprawling 10,000-acre large animal conservation and research facility. The Wilds, and thousands of acres of surrounding lands, were cleare…

Theft of images. A real problem!

A while back, the inimitable myrmecologist Alex Wild made a post about Google's reverse image search capabilities. Alex captures absolutely stunning macro images of ants and other small things at his blog, Myrmecos. He, like me, has a lot of money and time invested in his photography and equipment. Anyway, Alex's post was on his other blog, Compound Eye, and dealt with the frequency with which people steal images from other people's websites and use them without permission or attribution. It's a good read, and the post generated scored of comments about the issue of using others work without credit. Read it HERE. Sometimes, these thefts are fairly innocuous: people sharing them on Pinterest or on personal blogs. Other times, less savory types are trying to pass other people's work off as their own, or even attempting to sell it.

After reading Alex's post, I meant to delve into The Google's reverse image search, and see what photos of mine might have been pi…

Nettie Bay, Michigan: May 2014!

For the past four years, I've been leading natural history tours in Presque Isle County, Michigan in conjunction with Mark and Jackie Schuler, the owners of NettieBay Lodge. I've written about past trips many times here, and if you type in "Michigan" in the search box in the upper left corner of this page, you'll easily find those accounts. I'll be guiding trips there again next year, on the dates of May 15th thru 18th, and a second trip from May 19th thru 22nd. The lodge is our base of operations, and we make forays throughout the county each day, as well as nocturnal trips for those who are interested. By the way, epicures will become rapturous over Jackie's cooking. She's world class and the food is out of this world. I can't find a restaurant around here that can produce such scrumptious fare.

That's the grounds of NettieBay Lodge, above, with its lakefront cabins bordering Lake Nettie. Towering oaks and white pine support lots of birds, …

Sumac creates biological hotspots!

Your narrator's car, perched along the verge of a Jackson County, Ohio lane, deep in the boondocks. I was down there yesterday to participate in the Beaver Christmas Bird Count - about the 20th year that I've done this count. Tis the season for bird counts; the count period began Saturday. I started doing CBC's when I was just a young lad, long before I had a driver's license, and have participated in nearly 100 to date.

The weather isn't obvious in the photo, but it was dismal. The temperature at 8 am was 34 F, and rose to only 37 F. Frosty temps are no problem, but the nonstop rain that ranged from light to moderate showers was an issue. To me, there are no worse weather conditions than drenching rain at temperatures just above freezing. Makes it much harder to find birds.

One unfortunate aspect of covering the same turf for many years is the negative changes one sees. Last year, the open area above was a wet thicket buffered by goldenrod meadows. For many years…

The origin of all these Snowy Owls?

As about everyone who is into birds in eastern North America knows, this is the winter of the Snowy Owl (I wrote about them HERE, and am keeping an updated map and numbers of the owls in Ohio). Even scores of nonbirders are aware of the incursion of these massive tundra owls, thanks to intensive coverage in the media. A common question surrounding this phenomenon centers on their origins. Just about everyone I've talked to about Snowy Owls wants to know where they originated.

That's an easy question, in a general sense. The Arctic tundra. But that answer covers a lot of ground. The tundra, of course, blankets the upper rim of the entire North American continent (not to mention polar regions around the entire top of the world). So, the refined question becomes: "Where exactly are these owls coming from?". That's often a hard thing to pinpoint. It's not like the Arctic is crawling with birders, and vast regions of the tundra see few if any people, especially pe…

Cool Altocumulus Clouds

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of getting afield with Joe Faulkner and Vicki Derr. They gave me a tour of the Rehoboth Reclamation Grasslands in Perry County. This massive strip mine complex is an interesting place, and already producing interesting bird life. I've got a lot of photos from our journey, and will hope to cobble together a piece when time permits.

At one point, we dropped into a valley full of wetlands, and got out to check for Swamp Sparrows and whatever else might be around. After a bit of searching, I turned the other direction, and Whoa! The sky was ribbed with a fantastic formation of clouds, as if a giant pinwheel was centered on some distant point and slowly revolving through the sky. It was a striking atmospheric spectacle, and I tried to capture the clouds with my camera.

As always, click the photo to enlarge
These, apparently, are classified as Altocumulus Clouds. They typically form between 7,000 to 20,000 feet, and can take on the look of rolling uniform la…

Snowy Owl report for Ohio (with regular updates)

UPDATE NOTICE: I first created this article on December 10, summarizing all of the Snowy Owl reports that I was aware of in Ohio. I then shared this with the 2,200+ member Birding Ohio Facebook page (Kudos to Jeff Loughman for founding that group). More reports came in, and the owl tally is now up to 70birds in 30 counties. I have been hearing about new owls daily, and I will update the map and running tally below as new information arrives. LAST UPDATE: December 19th. Photo: John Howard, Highland County, Ohio, December 1, 2013
I wrote about the ongoing irruption of Snowy Owls HERE on December 1, and at that time about a dozen of the big white(ish) birds had been reported in Ohio. Well, they just keep on coming! To date, I've heard of 70 owls in the state, and they are attracting attention far and wide. Most of the local newspapers in areas where the owls have appeared have written about them, and Snowy Owls have made national media as well.

One particularly noteworthy story involv…