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Showing posts from February, 2013

Long-eared Owls in willow thicket!

Yesterday, along with a few other folks, I found myself skirting along a large wetland complex in the western marshes of Lake Erie. It was a gloomy, overcast day, with wet snow/rain spitting constantly in hypothermia-inducing temperatures. Nonetheless, spring was in the air, if one were to believe the birds. Flocks of blackbirds were here and there, and the boldest of the early returning male Red-winged Blackbirds were teed up and proclaiming their territories with guttural conk-ah-REE-onks! Waterfowl were on the move, and scores of Tundra Swans were moving about, restless to push on north to their Arctic breeding grounds.

In spite of all the conspicuous avian action, our attention was riveted to the innocuous looking willow thicket above, at least for a memorable while.

This shrubby copse is just like acres and acres of the same stuff in Lake Erie wetlands, but this patch held a special treat. In fact, I suspect that many such thickets hold the feathered treats that we'll behold…

Mammalian Dispersal - those annoying prickly burs

While traipsing through Kiwanis Park last Sunday, where I made the Skunk-cabbage images of the previous post, I encountered the remnants of this plant. It is Virginia Stickseed, Hackelia virginiana, and it is a much cursed plant indeed. When young or in bloom amongst the crush of other summertime greenery, Virginia Stickseed does not stand out and is likely to be overlooked. With age and the ripening of fruit, even non-botanist explorers notice - and curse - this rather weedy borage family member.

The fruit of the stickseed, shown above, are a marvelous adaptation for mammalian dispersal. The exterior of the fruit is heavily armored with stiff hook-tipped bristles - ideal for adhering to passersby. Many a hiker has had the misfortune of inadvertently bumbling through a patch of this plant, only to look down and see that his/her legs are covered with burs.

While humans now play a role in moving stickseed and other plants around, our adhesive-fruited flora co-evolved with animals such …

The skunks burst forth - it is offically spring!

A springy quagmire a mere seven minutes from my house, and a place to which I make an annual pilgrimage each year to confirm spring's arrival. I know that I write about this every year, but I cannot help myself. This has been a long wintry winter, and I and many other northern tundra-boys and girls eagerly seek out definitive signs of spring.

Speaking of the title of this post, and skunks, the mammalian form is also in full spring fever. You'll be smelling their pungent musk frequently, and seeing the aftermath of skunks who were unsuccessful in crossing the road. But this story is about Skunk-cabbage.

The aforementioned boggy spring is Kiwanis Park, and I was there this morning to document the full-fledged emergence of the Skunk-cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus. I was at this spot for other purposes back on January 16, and was shocked to see that at least one of the Skunk-cabbage plants was already in full bloom. That one jumped the gun by a longshot; today, hundreds of plants…

New River Birding & Nature Festival, here we come!

The famous New River bridge at Fayetteville, West Virginia, as seen from Long Point. The deck of that bridge is about 877 feet above the roiling waters of the ancient New River, which is actually one of the world's oldest streams. The scenery in this part of the world is nearly unrivaled, anywhere, and the biodiversity is nothing short of astonishing.

Enter the New River Birding & Nature Festival - the best way for birders and others interested in nature to immerse themselves in the flora and fauna of southern West Virginia. This year, the festival ranges from April 29 - May 4 and YOU should be there!

This pleased group is in the midst of watching a male Golden-winged Warbler make its rounds, singing all the while. Topnotch and often hard to find birds such as the Golden-winged are a festival staple. Helping everyone to find the specialties is an all-star cast of guides, many of whom pull double duty as evening speakers. GO HERE for a roster of the guides.

The word "Natu…

Barn Owl!

Pastoral Knox County, Ohio. This is Barn Owl country, and some of the barns such as the one in this photo are haunted - haunted by monkey-faced owls. Whether or not this particular barn has an owl in residence I do not know, but it isn't far from a barn that does.

Barns Owls are certainly not common in Ohio, and are officially listed as threatened. I suspect there are many more than we know about, though. They are strictly nocturnal, and only likely to be found when roosting during the daytime, and the roost is likely to be in someone's private farm outbuilding, and such places are not frequented by birders.

Thus, I was delighted to get a recent email, telling me of an owl in residence in the aforementioned Knox County. The homeowners are nice as can be, and were willing to allow me to visit and have look at their owl.

So, on a recent Saturday, I piled Peter King and Bruce Miller in the car and headed up to meet the Barn Owl's landlords, and hopefully the owl as well. Upo…

Think Plants!

Daughmer Savanna in Crawford County, one of Ohio's newest state nature preserves. The Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves (DNAP) was instrumental in assuring the long-term protection of this stunning site, along with the Crawford County Park District.

DNAP, along with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and other partners, hosts the Ohio Botanical Symposium, which will be held on Friday, April 5th. This is the 13th year for the symposium, which began with about 35 people in a classroom at Ohio State University. From humble beginnings it has mushroomed into a can't-miss 400+ person botanical extravaganza. It's held at the Villa Milano in Columbus, and does fill up, so get your tickets soon. Organizers have put together another excellent agenda, as can be seen HERE, along with registration information. Don't dawdle; the symposium is an outstanding way to start the spring.

A snippet of the 65,000 acre Shawnee State Forest in southern Ohio. Hard to believe thi…

Ohio Natural History Conference!

The annual Ohio Natural History Conference rapidly approaches! Mark your calendars for Saturday, February 23, and plan a visit to the Ohio Historical Society's intriguing building in Columbus. This event, as always, is sponsored and orchestrated by the Ohio Biological Survey, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

This year's engaging crop of speakers includes Andy Jones of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Kathy Smith of the OSU Extension Service, Herman Mays of the Cincinnati Museum Center, August Froehlich with The Nature Conservancy, Katrina Schultes with the U.S. forest Service, and keynote speaker Scott Loarie of Stanford University, creator of iNaturalist.

Technology is revolutionizing the way that we learn about and even interact with nature, and we'll learn a lot about the interplay between humans, the natural world, and technological gizmos. These conferences are always rewarding, and a good opportunity to meet many of your peers.

For the complete low…

Red Fox, lazing in the sun

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of heading NNE to the wildlands of the Mohican region with Bruce Miller and Peter King. We had a few objectives in mind: investigating a report of a Barn Owl that had just come to light, seeing the now famous Evening Grosbeak flock, and searching for a Northern Shrike that has occasionally been seen along the route that we would be taking. We scored on the owl and grosbeaks - more, perhaps, to follow on those. But as is often the case when spending time afield, something cool and totally unexpected pops into view. This is such a story; a tale of a foxily serendipitous find. The boys and I had made our rounds, relishing the spectacle of a ghostly Barn Owl in its dimly lit haunts, and marveling over a flock of noisy and gluttonous Evening Grosbeaks. We had just circled about the area where the aforementioned Northern Shrike had been seen, but no luck on the butcherbird, although a consolatory Rough-legged Hawk put on a show. Well, two out of three ain'…