Thursday, January 31, 2013

Some more gulls, and beautiful creatures they are

An adult Ring-billed Gull with gizzard shad. Like a kid in a candy shop. This and the following photos were made last Saturday at Cleveland's East 72nd Street park on Lake Erie. There, the shad pile up in the wake of a power plant's warm water effluvia like scaley locusts in an aquatic wheat field. Unfortunately for the nonnative shad, most die and are consigned to be expelled as gull guano.

At most seasons and in most areas in Ohio, the Ring-billed Gull is, if not the default gull, certainly the most common. This adult in flight shows its clean white tail, and mostly black outer primaries. Of course, that black ring around the bill is a pretty good clue to its identity. The bird is in winter plumage, as indicated by the light brown flecking on the head and neck. As it enters breeding condition in spring, those areas will become bright white.

This is a "second cycle" Ring-billed Gull. When "cycle" is applied to a gull, it indicates a distinct plumage sequence within a series of molts. All gulls take multiple years to attain full adult plumage, which is one of the reasons that they're confusing to identify. Different ages of the same species can look like completely different species.

Ring-billed gulls require about three years to achieve fully adult plumage, as in the birds in the previous two photos. This second cycle animal differs from an adult in its almost entirely black wingtips, and the prominent black terminal tail band.

This is the largest gull that you'll see on Lake Erie, or anywhere in the world. It is a Great Black-backed Gull, and one of these bruisers weighs three times as much as a Ring-billed Gull. The "GBBG" in the photo is a first cycle bird - mostly brown but showing the semblance of a dark mantle on the back. The head and neck are suffused with a dirty brown wash. Note the gargantuan bill.

I suspect that this Great Black-backed Gull is a second cycle bird. Its mantle is darkening up, and shows less of he checkerboard pattern caused by the copious white flecking of a younger bird.

No problem telling an adult Great Black-backed Gull, with its sooty-black upperparts and giant size. These birds are so large that nonbirders sometimes mistake them for Bald Eagles. The individual in this photo would be at least four years old - it takes that many years to achieve fully adult plumage. If it makes it to this stage, it could live for a long time. The oldest known wild bird lived for nearly three decades, and some of the large gull species probably manage to survive for far longer than that.

Big, pale, and ghostly, a Glaucous Gull sticks out like a sore thumb. This is another big boy, second in size and scale only to the Great Black-backed Gull. The Glaucous dwarfs the adult Ring-billed Gull directly behind it. Most of the other birds in the shot are Herring Gulls of various ages. The Herring Gull complex is an interesting group, and we found a real oddball Herringwhatever in this crowd. More on that later.

This is a first cycle Glaucous Gull, with dingy white plumage throughout, no obvious gray mantle differentiation, and a dark eye. Glaucous are among the "white-winged gulls", which includes the Iceland Gull. These Arctic-breeding birds of the far north lack, or mostly lack, dark pigment in the wingtips as can be seen on this bird.

They don't call 'em white-winged gulls for nothing. Glaucous Gulls are always a treat to find. While they are regular along Lake Erie in winter, we don't get very many. They're big, fierce animals capable of domineering the lesser gulls. This is another "four-year" gull - like the Great Black-backed Gull, it takes a Glaucous that long to reach maturity. This was the only of its kind at East 72nd on this day, so I was unable to make images of other age classes. But they look large, white, and cool no matter their age.


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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

New moth discovered for U.S.!

Photo: Rick Nirschl

Ohioan Rick Nirschl, who migrates south to Texas for the winters, has done it again. This time it's a moth species that he's added to his ever growing stable of United States firsts, which include dragonflies and a bird. CLICK HERE for more on Nirschl finds.

While patrolling the National Butterfly Garden in Mission, Texas, Nirschl noticed and photographed the shiny animal in the photo. It turned out to be Napata leucotelus (no common name insofar as I am aware), which has not previously been documented north of the border. It belongs to the huge family Arctiidae, or the tiger moths, and is in subfamily Ctenuchinae. Moth enthusiasts may notice its similarity to a related species common in these parts, the Virginia Ctenucha, Ctenucha virginica.

Napata leucotelus ranges widely throughout Mexico, Central America, and into at least northern South America. South Texas, where Nirschl made this find, has proven to be highly productive for finding southern moths and butterflies previously unknown in the United States. The proliferation of planted gardens specifically designed to attract Lepidoptera, and the ever-increasing sophistication of skilled observers such as Nirschl, have led to numerous new U.S. finds in recent years. Congrats to Rick, and I suspect this won't be his last major find.

For a major mothing adventure closer to home - at least if you live in or near Ohio - check out Mothapalooza, RIGHT HERE.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Major Gull-fest on Lake Erie

The fabled East 72nd Street park, along Cleveland's Lake Erie shoreline. This site is one of the best places to seek gulls in the Great Lakes, and North America for that matter. And why, you might ponder, would anyone in their right mind want to chase after "sea gulls"? Well, because gulls (decidedly NOT "sea gulls"!) are among the coolest, most visually stunning, aerobatic, and interesting of any of our bird families. Throw in the fun, and at times majorly vexing, identification challenges and the ever-present possibility of a major rarity, and what's not to like?

Reports of massive gull concentrations were coming hot and heavy from E. 72nd last week, and I could finally stand it no more. So, last Saturday I departed from Columbus at O'dark:thirty and arrived in Cleveland bright and early.

Intrepid birders scan the waters. This type of birding is not for the fair weather binocular-toter. Gulling is at its best when frigid temperatures have caused Lake Erie to ice over, and the hot waters (more on that in a bit) is the only open water in the immediate vicinity. It wasn't so bad this morning, actually - temps were in the low 20's, and the wind was fairly mild.

video
This video reveals a bit of the ambiance of gull-choked waters. The scene is one of constant cacophony and action, as the gulls loaf, fight, fly, spar, and bugle. It's a bit like packing thousands of thugs, all representing rival gangs, into a small room.

This power plant, located across I-90, is the reason that E. 72nd is so good for wintertime gulling. As part of its operations, the plant discharges warm water into Lake Erie, which causes a sizable open water area to form, even in the coldest weather. The warm water also attracts scads and scads of a fish species known as Gizzard Shad, Dorosoma cepedianum. The shad are not native to the lake, and fair poorly when water temperatures plummet. They're easy pickings for the opportunistic gulls, who make the most of the fishy bounty.

It's always worth scanning the tops of the power plant's stacks. The broad-shouldered lump on the left side of the stack is one of the local Peregrine Falcons. All is as tranquil as can be in gull land as long as the falcons remain dormant. When one makes a pass over the waters - they feed on gulls and ducks - hold on to your hat! Pandemonium is likely to ensue.

It doesn't take an ornithologist to determine when a falcon is afoot. Most of the gulls explode skyward, creating a fabulous visual spectacle. Last Saturday, there were perhaps 20-30,000 gulls in the immediate area; certainly enough to create a cloud when spooked. Die-hard Cleveland birders were tallying as many as 100,000 a few days prior!

Although it is exciting when a falcon or perhaps a Bald Eagle sends everyone aloft, it is often maddening for the birder. It takes a lot of time to scope through the masses, and some tricky individual gulls require detailed study. When you've found something especially noteworthy, say an Iceland Gull, and all of a sudden the birds explode into the air like 20,000 pieces of confetti caught up in a hurricane, it can be a chore to relocate the bird when they all settle back down.

The shot above reveals a taste of the interesting gulling that E. 72nd can offer. Most of the birds are Herring Gulls of various ages, along with a few Ring-billed Gulls. These two species are far and away the most common, with Herrings often dominating when weather conditions are at their most brutal and wintry. There are also a few Great Black-backed Gulls, and a Glaucous Gull.

When there are so many birds constantly milling about, photographers all too often end up with shots like this. I was after a first-cycle Herring Gull when this Ring-billed Gull had the bad manners to fly right in front of my camera. The intended subject can be seen as a brown lump with a foot sticking out, directly below the offending gull.

I clicked off 1,450 images this day, and a few of them were keepers. Gulls are lots of fun to photograph, and I'll share some of my images of specific species, including a few of the rare species, in later posts.

This turned out to be a fun shot. I was after the bird in the direct center of the shot, with the bright yellow bill and gleaming white head and neck. It turned out to be the most interesting gull there, and I'll share more about it later. When I reviewed this image later, I was pleased to see that I had inadvertently captured a young Herring Gull kamikaze'ing at the water in a very steep angle of attack. Gulls are extraordinary aeronauts and spectacular aerobatics are just part of their daily routines. I sometimes wonder, as Jonathan Livingstone Seagull's cohorts failed to do, if they realize just how good they really are. Regardless of what thoughts or consciousness streams through the minds of gulls, they sure are fun to watch.

More on the gulls of Lake Erie to follow.

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Quite the cardinal, this one!

Photo: Bruce Hayes

Every now and again, the common becomes decidedly uncommon, and that's certainly the case with this Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis. Bruce and Mary Hayes, who live in northwestern Franklin County, Ohio, glanced out their window and were stunned to see this cream and pink showstopper hitting the bird bath. Bruce managed a few photos before the oddball cardinal took flight, not to be seen again.

This Northern Cardinal is leucistic, and I've written about this pigment abnormality numerous times, such as HERE. In fact, CLICK HERE to see a very similar cardinal, which Paul Hurtado found about a year ago elsewhere in Franklin County. Paul's bird is nearly a match for this one, although he found it about four or five miles away. Could it be the same bird? I'm not sure.

Thanks to Mary and Bruce for sharing their find with us!

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Lake Erie birding

An intrepid crew of birders endures temperatures in the low 20's (F) to scan for rare gulls at Cleveland's East 72nd Street park. A nearby power plant releases warm water into Lake Erie at this point, creating an opening in otherwise frozen Lake Erie.

I did over 350 miles yesterday, exploring a couple of Lake Erie's best wintertime birding haunts. The Canon was click-clicking away, to the tune of 1,450 images. Most are NOT keepers; some are, but I've not yet separated the wheat from the chaff.

A Lesser Black-backed Gull, Larus fuscus, glares at your narrator. It was one of a half-dozen species of gulls seen, along with a few oddballs who at least for now shall have to remain nameless.

I'll have a fuller accounting of this trek, along with more photos, in the near future.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Mothapalooza! Registration Open!

 Mark your calendars and get your registration in! Although it's about 10 degrees outside as I write this and summer seems far off, the weekend of June 14th - 16th will be on us before we know it. And that's the weekend of Mothapalooza, which surely will be one of the more interesting natural history conferences yet conducted in Ohio. All of the details are RIGHT HERE. Read on for more about Mothapalooza, interspersed with photos of just a tiny sampling of the myriad moths that we'll encounter in and around Ohio's greatest wilderness lands, Shawnee State Forest and the adjoining Edge of Appalachia preserve.


We are especially pleased to be a part of, and collaborating with, National Moth Week. Our only hitch with this partnership is that scheduling conflicts don't permit us to hold Mothapalooza during the actual NMW, which is officially July 20-28. But we're still plugging NMW, and NMW is plugging Mothapalooza, so it's all good! Besides, every day is or should be a Moth Day! Be sure and visit the National Moth Week website, which is brimming with good stuff - RIGHT HERE!

Dave "Mothman" Horn sets up a light trap for moths while paparazzi document his work. Dave is one of numerous experts who will be part of Mothapalooza. Light traps will be set out at eight different locales throughout Shawnee and the Edge, and they'll draw scores of interesting critters. Guided trips via vans will take participants out into the black of night to visit the moth traps, and see some of the interesting creatures of the dark. NOTE: Brightly illuminated sheets such as above do not harm the moths, it only attracts them and makes it easy for us to admire and photograph the animals.

 Delicate Cycnia, Cycnia tenera

Mothapalooza will be based out of the stunning Shawnee State Park lodge, and the aforementioned Dave Horn will be giving a program in the conference room about, what else, moths. We are very fortunate to also have world call lepidopterist and "Mr. Caterpillar" himself, Dr. David Wagner from the University of Connecticut. Dave will be giving a presentation on caterpillars and how they make the natural world go around (moths come from caterpillars, you know). Dr. Wagner is truly a fabulous speaker, and you'll love his talk. He'll also be helping to lead field forays.

Little Beggar, Eubaphe mendica

In addition to Dave Horn and Dave Wagner, there'll be a Who's Who of the moth and natural history world involved with Mothapalooza. Many of the state's top experts have agreed to help with our specialized nocturnal field trips. Nary a moth should go unidentified, and that's saying something since we're likely to encounter hundreds of species.

 False Crocus Geometer, Xanthotype urticaria

Photographing moths at night can be a bit of a tricky business, but the rewards are great. Moths tend to be hugely under-appreciated, as they are largely out of sight, out of mind. Yet they are totally eye candy for the camera lens, and even the least expensive digital cameras excel at documenting the often ornate markings that adorn most species. John Howard and myself, who if nothing else have spent scores of hours afield at night trying to make images of moths, will conduct a workshop on photographic techniques, including the use of flash. My hunch is that there will be more moth images taken this weekend than will be made during the same time period in the states of Idaho, Rhode Island, and North Dakota combined.

Grapeleaf Skeletonizer, Harrisina americana

Dave Horn will also offer a workshop specifically on moth identification, and another special treat: Dr. Jaret Daniels, author of the Butterflies of Ohio, will be in the house. Jaret is giving a workshop on butterflies, and mid-June is phenomenal for the moths' daytime counterparts. There will also be daytime field trips to the highly specialized and extremely biodiverse habitats that are found around Shawnee and the Edge, and barring a monsoon (unlikely in mid-June) we'll see blizzards of butterflies. Some specialties such as Edward's and Juniper Hairstreaks, Hayhurst's Scallopwing, and Golden-banded Skipper should be findable.

Huckleberry Sphinx, Paonias astylus

It won't be all moths and butterflies, although those groups will be the focus depending on whether it's day or night. Shawnee and the Edge also support well over 1,000 species of native plants - that's why the butterfly and moth diversity is so great - so we'll also get an immersion into the world of botany. There are many rare - and VERY rare! - plants in this part of the world, and we'll certainly cross paths with some of them.

Imperial Moth, Eacles imperialis

There are also over 100 species of breeding birds in the area, and we'll be in the midst of breeding season. It'll be tempting to occasionally turn the binoculars to the feathered crowd, which includes species such as Blue Grosbeak, Hesnlow's Sparrow, and Prairie Warbler. We're almost sure to encounter those strange moth-eating goatsuckers of the night, too: Eastern Whip-poor-will and its much rarer (in Ohio) relative the Chuck-will's-widow.

Luna, Actias luna

While giant silkmoths such as the Luna are in decline in parts of their ranges, no such losses seem evident in Shawnee and vicinity. In fact, the nightlights at the entrance to Shawnee lodge often attract all manner of interesting moths, and it can sometimes cause delays leaving the building is one is tempted to gawk over whatever has flown in and landed on the walls.

Modest Sphinx, Pachysphinx modesta.

Moths are truly one of the most fascinating components of natural history, and without doubt one of Nature's most underappreciated elements. Without them - and their caterpillars - disaster would befall us, so important are the roles that these insects play.

Rosy Maple Moth, Dryocampa rubicunda

I vividly remember the first time that I encountered a Rosy Maple Moth. I was stunned to learn that such a gorgeous pink-and-yellow beast existed, and then equally stunned to learn that they are quite common. We'll see Rosy Maple Moths at Mothapalooza, and if you've never seen one I suspect you'll be as smitten as I was.

Snowy Geometer, Eugonobapta nivosaria

Even though we're still a ways out from Mothapalooza, think Spring and get your tickets now! This should truly be a memorable event full of interesting natural history experiences, moths and otherwise. All of the details are RIGHT HERE!

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Wilds Winter Raptor Extravaganza

Yesterday dawned bright and unseasonably balmy for the 9th annual Wilds Winter Raptor Extravaganza, organized by the Ohio Ornithological Society. As if heralding the beautiful day to come, three Eastern Meadowlarks lit on the wires just beyond the telephone pole as I made this photo. Filled with the promise of spring, the males burst forth with their clear whistled songs - a classic melody of the grasslands. I didn't make any photos of the meadowlarks, or any other birds for that matter. The Canon largely stayed in the car, as we were too busy finding birds and sharing them with our group, and photography had to take a backseat.

Temperatures were in the 30's at starting time, a far cry from a few years ago, when it was an insanely cold minus 12 when participants mustered in this parking lot. Highs would reach into the low 50's, and coupled with the clear blue ether overhead it made for a fabulous mid-winter day to be afoot with bins in hand.

The primary allure, as you've figured by the name of this event, is raptors. Lots of birds of prey frequent the many thousands of acres of grasslands that blanket the Wilds and surrounding American Electric Power lands. We saw American Kestrel, Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk and many other species, including a very special performance by the most coveted of the talon-bearing set.

About 155 people showed up for this year's event, which is about typical. In order to manage things and keep everyone out of each other's hair, we divide into eight groups and all head off in different directions. Having some 30,000 acres to fool around in allows for that. Mike Edinger and I led Group 4, and we did some bushwhacking. As part of the "reclamation" of these former strip mine sites, groves of pines have been planted here and there. Most of our group split up and furtively sneaked about these pines, on an owl quest.

We did have success, finding two Long-eared Owls. Unfortunately the owls were uncooperative and we could not get a long range bead on them as they roosted, so we moved the group out. Repeatedly flushing roosting owls is bad for their business; if you can't arrange a way to view Long-eareds from afar and out of their sphere of discomfort, it's better to just leave them be.

But we did snatch up a few pellets. A tiny Meadow Vole skull (I think) sits on a nice bed of digested and upchucked fur.

We also hit a few woodland habitats, in an effort to pick up new birds for the day list. We had a Red-shouldered Hawk at this spot, and a few other species that we found nowhere else.

Two groups meet up along Zion Ridge Road. Vultures were the main attraction here. Down the hill to the left was either a carcass of something, or perhaps fresh afterbirth from one of the cows that was frequenting the pasture. No volunteers could be located that would go down there and check it out. No matter, we had fabulous looks at numerous Turkey Vultures, and better yet, three Black Vultures. We rarely find vultures at this event - normally it is bitter cold and snowy, and the massive carrion-eaters are in balmier climes. I think these were the first Black Vultures that we have ever had.

A very happy group puts their hands in the air like they just don't care after being treated to an outstanding experience with a Golden Eagle. The Wilds is the only Ohio locale where one can go and have a reasonable expectation of seeing one of these magnificent raptors. At least one bird, and sometimes more, has wintered here every year for a dozen years or more. But just because they're here doesn't mean a sighting is guaranteed. The Goldens cover a massive range, and some years we find one, others not.

Following lunch shift #1, a good chunk of the people took a bus ride over to the Giraffe House to see the long-necked beasts up close. A few of us waited around on top of restaurant hill, when Larry Dow spotted the bird far off and on the wing. Closer it came, until the eagle settled at the edge of a distant pond and began digging into some sort of carcass. We rued the absence of the other people and wished for them to hurry back. Finally, we saw the bus pull out from the Giraffe House and head up the very road that skirted the pond where Golden Eagle was happily chowing down. Alas! The bird flew before the bus got within view, and quickly drifted behind a hill and out of sight.



Upon the return of the others, who were understandably disappointed to have missed the eagle show, we set up a vigil and hoped for the bird's return. And return it did, the succulent carcass apparently too tasty to leave alone. So now, nearly half of the entire group was treated to great views of the Golden, but another group had bused off to the Rhinoceros House. Deja vu, as we hoped they would return in time to see the bird. Finally, the bus came lumbering up the road towards the eagle pond, and we hoped they would spot the bird in time to stop and view it before it flew. Not to worry - sharp-eyed observers on the bus saw the bird and everyone on board had great looks, and from far closer than those of us on the distant hill. That's the bus in the distance; the eagle is not far to their right and just on the other side of the road.

The primary reason we limit the Raptor Extravaganza to 150 or so is the size of the restaurant. The Wilds staff kindly opens the building for us and it's a welcome lunchtime respite from the wind and chill. But it only holds 75 people, so we split the group into two lunch shifts, packing the place each time.

We're even treated to a brief presentation about the Wilds by the education department staff. Lunch shift #1 went smoothly. However, right in the middle of lunch shift #2's presentation, pandemonium erupted when the aforementioned Golden Eagle had the bad manners to fly right by the restaurant's windows. Apparently a shout went up and the place cleared in the blink of an eye. Well, at least that meant that nearly every participant at this year's Extravaganza got to see the eagle, and that certainly doesn't happen every year.

The Wilds Winter Raptor Extravaganza is always a blast, and brings birders from all parts of Ohio. This year there were quite a few young birders, some very young, and a fair number of new birders. We had a great time as always, with lots of interesting birds, including Common Redpoll and Northern Shrike in addition to those already mentioned. And of course part of the fun is seeing people only uncommonly encountered, and meeting new birders.

The Ohio Ornithological Society does a lot for Ohio's birding community, the Raptor Extravaganza being just one of many yearly activities. Consider becoming a member. We'll be doing the raptor event again next year, I'm sure, and I hope that you can be there.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Red Crossbills for the plucking

Photo: Chuck Slusarczyk

Red as a brick and plump as a sheep, a splendid male Red Crossbill, Loxia curvirostra, sits among the spiny orbs of Sweetgum fruit.

Chuck Slusarczyk of Cleveland sent along news and photos of Red Crossbills from Cleveland's West Park Cemetery. Chuck and Liz McQuaid discovered about a half-dozen of the x-beaks here on December 30th, 2012, and the boreal finches have been delighting scores of visitors ever since. A smattering of White-winged Crossbills, Loxia leucoptera, and Common Redpolls, Acanthis flammea, have also been seen.

Photo: Chuck Slusarczyk

A bit more somber than her male counterparts but no less interesting, a female Red Crossbill digs into the Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua (lik-wid-am-bar sty-ras-ih-flu-ah. Whoa! Nine syllables on that one!). Crossbills, siskins and other finches seem to really go for the fruit of this tree. I find this choice of food interesting, and wonder if irruptive finches from the Great White North have always noshed on Sweetgum. The native range of this tree barely extends to the latitude of southern Ohio; everything north of there is the result of ornamental plantings. Regardless of whether these birds have always known of Sweetgum's charms, or if it is a recent culinary discovery makes no difference to the finch-seeking birder - just check those bristly balls of fruit for birds!

Chuck kindly included a link to a map to West Park Cemetery: https://plus.google.com/109379624892144334838/about?gl=us&hl=en

If it's crossbills you seek, give West Park a go. Congrats to Chuck and Liz for finding these birds, and special thanks to Chuck for generously sharing his photos with us.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Skunk-cabbage in bloom?!?!

One of our weirdest flowers and the true harbinger-of-spring, the fleshy liver-spotted spathe of a Skunk-cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, thrusts from the mire. I was at a local patch yesterday, Kiwanis Park in Columbus, and was at least semi-shocked to see the skunkers up and doing their thing. This is the earliest that I've seen them in bloom, by nearly a month. I usually make my annual trek into the supersaturated springy sites where Skunk-cabbages thrive in late February, and am sure to find them beginning to bloom by then. To be fair, I'm not sure that I've been anywhere I'd cross paths with these foul-smelling members of the Arum Family this early in the year. Nonetheless, I can't imagine that they'd be this far along in a "normal" year. And for the most part, this crop of botanical skunks was not yet in full flower, but a few surely were. The strange dunce cap looking thing in the photo is NOT the flower - that is the protective spathe, which forms a tent in which dwells the spadix. The tiny flowers speckle the exterior of the spadix, and to see them one must peer into the gap in the spathe. I've written more about the workings of these vegetative oddities HERE.



I had but a few minutes to snap a some shots of the Skunk-cabbage, because I was at Kiwanis Park to do an interview with fabled NBC4 TV weatherman Ben Gelber. We were ostensibly there to talk about conservation of riverine habitats, but when I saw that the skunks were up, we couldn't let the opportunity pass by.

Ben Gelber is a real jewel. He's very keen on the environment and natural history, and works in pieces about nature when he can. Kudos to the leadership at NBC4 for running these sorts of stories on a regular basis, too. Our brief Kiwanis Park clip is above.

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Some heavy raptoring approaches!

Your narrator's car perches along a long and lonely stretch of highway near the Wilds, in Muskingum County. This is Big Sky country for Ohio: thousands of acres of "reclaimed" strip mine grasslands. Shortly after I made this image, several Short-eared Owls lifted from the snowy fields and put on a show.

This Saturday is the Ohio Ornithological Society's 9th annual Winter Raptor Extravaganza at the Wilds, an event that has become a high point of the winter season. Nearly every year since the event's inception, it has attracted about 150 birders from all quarters of the state. We might get even more, but 150 people is the most that we can accommodate. I've only missed one - last year - and am looking forward to being a part of the scene again.

This photo was taken a few years ago, during the one Wilds raptor fest that did NOT attract a full house. There WAS a full complement of birders registered, but not everyone showed. That may have had something to do with the MINUS 12 Fahrenheit temperatures that morning! It won't be that way this Saturday - temperatures should be a far balmier 30 degrees when we meet, warming into the 40's as the day progresses.

With luck, everyone will see Golden Eagle, and perhaps Northern Shrike. We had a really cool experience with a shrike a few years ago, HERE. Northern Harriers, Rough-legged Hawks, and Short-eared Owls (for those who stay until dusk) will be a given, and who knows what else 150 sets of eyes will turn up.

Look forward to seeing everyone who makes the scene this Saturday, and you can expect a pictorial report here afterwards.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Bit of a sissy-boy, this Bald Eagle

David and Laura Hughes have done it again. If you follow this blog much, you've probably seen some of their camera handiwork, such as HERE, and HERE. This time they've hauled the trail cam out in to the open, and wisely set the camera's lens on some tasty deer carcasses.

In the following video, we see a hungry Red-tailed Hawk really ripping into the carrion, while a young Bald Eagle stands forlornly by, shuffling its feet. Early on in the video, the eagle lets loose with its effeminate little piping screech - the reason that ornithologically inaccurate TV ads typically dub in the fierce scream of a Red-tailed Hawk while showing a soaring eagle. The cry of the eagle has zero effect on the much smaller hawk, which doesn't even turn to acknowledge the bigger bird of prey.

The Red-tail, clearly the Alpha in this scene, later lets loose with its much manlier scream. Its impact on the eagle is comical - our national symbol quickly exits stage left, thoroughly punked.

Thanks as always to Dave and Laura for sharing their wonderful films.



Film by Laura and David Hughes.
Monroe County
(I think the cam's date stamp is not set - pretty sure this video was shot a few days ago, in 2013)

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Red-shouldered Hawks rebound

A stunning Red-shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus, peers curiously down at your narrator. I probably would have reacted the same, had some strange guy rolled up under my telephone pole and stuck a long cylindrical object out the sunroof. The mild-mannered raptor never even flew. It was one of nine Red-shouldered Hawks that Peter King and I found in our piece of turf for the Hocking Hills Christmas Bird Count, last Saturday.

Everyone has their faves, and when it comes to Buteo hawks, the Red-shouldered Hawk is hands-down my #1 pick. The bird in this photo was yet another that Peter and I found on the Hocking Hills CBC. It's easy to see how the "red-shouldered" label came to be.

This particular bird came coasting over the territory of a pair of Red-tailed Hawks, which quickly rose to push the interloper away. Red-taileds are easily the most numerous Buteo in Ohio, but in some regions Red-shouldereds are gaining ground fast, or have even eclipsed their rusty-tailed brethren. We had nine Red-shouldereds, and eight Red-taileds, on this bird count and the former outnumbering the latter has become the norm in our piece of the count.

This graph displays the upward surge in Red-shouldered Hawk numbers on the long-running Cincinnati Christmas Bird Count over the past three decades. There are peaks and valleys, but the general trend of increases is indisputable. Many other CBC's in Ohio would probably show a similar trend, at least in southern, eastern, and parts of central Ohio.

This wonderful Google earth map (thank you Google earth!) shows the section of Hocking County that Peter and I covered for the aforementioned bird count. Perfect Red-shouldered Hawk country. Red-shouldered Hawks are by and large forest dwellers, peaking in areas with a blend of older-growth woodlands, stream valleys, and occasional pastures. Their nighttime counterpart is the Barred Owl - if one of these species is present, the other likely is as well.

Hard as it is to believe these days, at one time forest cover in Ohio had been reduced to about 10%. All of those heavily forested Smokeyesque places, such as the Hocking Hills, Shawnee State Forest, Mohican State Forest, etc once resembled lunar landscapes. Forest-dependent animals such as the Red-shouldered Hawk did not fare well in those dark days of deforestation. As our forests recover and mature, the hawks are recolonizing the Ohio country in ever-increasing numbers. This is even true in heavily wooded urban and suburban 'scapes. Red-shouldered Hawks are not an uncommon sight in many wooded Columbus neighborhoods, for instance. They weren't there not all that long ago.

This is another piece of Christmas Bird Count data, showing the 30-year trend for Red-shouldered Hawks statewide. A good piece of news, to be sure, especially in light of numerous species that are going the other direction.

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