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Showing posts from November, 2013

Kittiwakes: A long, cold journey, including Cleveland

Photo: Chuck Slusarczyk
They've been finding great birds galore of late along Cleveland's Lake Erie coast, many of them practically in the shadow of the Cleveland Browns stadium. Chuck Slusarczyk, ace photographer who has shared his work with us many times, sent along some images of the latest batch of rarities. Viewing Chuck's work made me pine for a trip to the lake, but at least his images allowed me - and you - to live vicariously through his camera's lens.

Above, a first-cycle Black-legged Kittiwake, Rissa tridactyla, showing its distinctive sooty collar. Kittiwakes are mostly pelagic (ocean-going) and we get precious few of them in Ohio. In fact, this bird was Chuck's first kittiwake, along with many others, no doubt. We probably get far more kittiwakes than are seen, but most probably blow right down the middle of Lake Erie on the way to the Atlantic, and are never seen. Once in a while, one has the good matters to come to shore and hang loose for a bit, as …

Spanish Moss is not a moss

A beautiful early spring landscape, indeed, and it ain't Ohio. A project had me dipping back into the photo files, and I ran across this image from my trip to South Carolina last April. While down south, I made a point of photographing Spanish Moss, Tillandsia usneoides, one of the classic botanical symbols of the south.

I nearly sped by a gorgeous old cemetery on my way to Congaree National Park, but a stand of behemoth oaks and other trees festooned with Spanish Moss made me hit the brakes. Early morning sunshine and the clear blue ether made the photo ops that much better.

You just can't miss the hanging draperies of this plant; it's as if the trees wear grizzled beards. The name is a misnomer, though. Spanish Moss is not a moss at all - it is a monocotyledonous flowering plant. A bromeliad, to be specific. It actually looks more like a lichen than a moss, as suggested by the specific epithet of its scientific name: usneoides. When you see a scientific name with the ep…

Mammalian hummingbats swarm feeder!

Video by David and Laura Hughes
It isn't just hummingbirds that visit hummingbird feeders! If you live in the southwestern U.S. or points south, you might have some mighty strange after-hours visitors. These are Mexican Long-tongued Bats, Choeronycteris mexicana, which feed primarily on nectar and pollen. Obviously, they have learned about the sweet stuff dispensed by hummingbird feeders, too.

This animal has an amazingly long tongue - up to a third of the bat's total length. It's well named. Mexican Long-tongued Bats range from northern Central America north through Mexico, reaching their northern limits in southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Laura and David Hughes made this video back in August, when in Arizona. It's certainly worth sharing, and as always, I appreciate their outstanding videography and that they let me share their work here.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

A pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Larus fuscus, rests on the beach at Cape May, New Jersey. Horning in, lower right, is a first-cycle Ring-billed Gull, Larus delawarensis. I was pleased to see the Lesser Black-backed Gulls on my NJ trip of a few weeks back, and took the time to stalk up fairly close to make some images. The story of this gull in North America is an interesting tale.

The Ring-billed Gull is abundant throughout much of North America. This is the common gull in the interior, away from large water bodies, and is the gull that often flocks in mall parking lots. I noted that it is a first-cycle bird. "Cycle" refers to its molt cycle. This is a bird in its first year; a juvenile. It takes the Ring-billed Gull three years to attain (mostly) adult plumage. The larger gulls in the genus Larus take at least four years to develop adult plumage.

I made this image in December 2006, on a pelagic boat trip into the Atlantic Ocean off Belmar, New Jersey. We encountered t…

Butterflies, on temporary hiatus

A recent project had me dipping into the archives for butterfly photos. I found this exercise brought back memories of warmer times and places. The weather here has dipped into the 20's at night, and hasn't been warming much beyond that during the day. Butterflies are but a memory, until next spring (with rare exceptions). Most are overwintering in their chrysalis phase, or in a few cases as adults. We've got to go through the necessary winter dormancy, but this lull makes the appearance of next year's crop of butterflies all the better. Following are a few images of butterflies from last season, or in an instance or two, a season beyond that. As a related aside, I'll be presenting a program on butterflies on January 18, 2014 at the Master Gardeners of Summit County's Design & Beyond Conference. I don't have the program together yet, but it'll be a look at how butterflies interact with our native flora, and will feature plenty of images such as fol…

An awesome, must-watch feeder cam!

Your narrator's admittedly somewhat cluttered desk. Exhibit A - the monitor on the left, in front of the window. It is running the coolest live feeder cam I've ever seen. Not that I've seen lots of feeder cams, or make a habit of watching them, but this one was so interesting that last Friday I just let it run on the secondary monitor while I (tried) to go about my work.

Someone tipped me to a new cam administered by the mighty Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and I'm glad that I clicked my way through to check it out. You can too, RIGHT HERE. This cam transports us - at least those of us down below the Great Lakes - to the Great White North and an ever-changing assemblage of northern birds that inflame Ohio birders with the twitching jitters. Of course, you'll have to wait until daylight to see much, but your patience will be rewarded.

The Cornell-sponsored feeder cam takes us far into the boreal, to a land of truly tough birds. I'm at location "A" on th…


On my recent New Jersey trip, I saw lots of tough late season shorebirds. I spent some time admiring these hardy little birds, and capturing their images. A few photos follow... A flock of sandpipers rest on a cold, wave-battered jetty. The Atlantic Ocean provides the backdrop. Two Dunlin take a fleeting catnap in the foreground, while a Purple Sandpiper stands dead center. Another purple is far right, rear. The rest of the birds are Ruddy Turnstones.

A Purple Sandpiper peeks from behind an algae-encrusted rock. Were you there, you'd be serenaded by the never-ending crash of surf. The sandpiper's scientific name is Calidris maritima - the epithet maritima means "of the sea". These birds are well named. So tightly wedded to the sea are they, that a Purple Sandpiper is almost never out of earshot of the low roar of the waves.

Bunched up tight, a pack of Ruddy Turnstones scurries over the rocks, mouselike. These opportunistic sandpipers can find food nearly anywhere, a…

Boobies at Avalon Beach

A breakwall at Avalon Beach, on the New Jersey shore. No, I didn't see Snooki, Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, or any other oddities from the cast of Jersey Shore. But I did see birder and longtime Cape May resident Amy Gaberlein, who graciously toured me around some of the southern New Jersey hotspots. I was over in the general vicinity of Philadelphia to give a talk, and what's a couple more hours to get to the shore, and some of the best birding on the East Coast?

Birds galore were floating, flying, and diving in the cold Atlantic waters at the end of that breakwall, and I had some fun attempting to commit some of them to pixels.

Just about everything with feathers that frequents the ocean likes sushi, including this Royal Tern, who has just caught a fish. The bigger Herring Gull also likes fish, and is engaging in a bit of attempted kleptoparasitism. It's gone all jaeger on the tern, trying to get it to drop its hard-earned meal.

The big tern eventually sho…

Adult Sabine's Gull in Ohio!

November 3rd was a memorable day for Chuck Slusarczyk and Mike Egar. While birding Wendy Park on the Cleveland Lakefront, they spotted a mega for Ohio - Sabine's Gull! That's Sah-been's, or if you prefer the proper German pronunciation, Sah-been-ah's. The latter has the best ring to it, in my opinion, as in "I just found a beautiful Sah-been-ah's Gull! Not just any old run of the mill Xema sabini, either, if such a phrase can be applied to a species that only shows a few times a year in Ohio. This was a full adult, and not only that, it is in some sort of delayed molt and still retaining its grayish-black hood, trimmed with an ebony collar! As of today, the bird is still hanging out along the Cleveland Lakefront, delighting scores of observers. Chuck and Mike got the word out pronto and people were on the scene in a blink. Shortly after spotting the bird, it headed east and out of sight, but was refound a few miles away at East 55th Street marina. The Sabine&…