Thursday, January 31, 2013
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 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.
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
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.
Monday, January 28, 2013
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
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!
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.
I'll have a fuller accounting of this trek, along with more photos, in the near future.
Thursday, January 24, 2013
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Sunday, January 20, 2013
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Friday, January 18, 2013
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.
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.
Thursday, January 17, 2013
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.
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.
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.
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
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.
(I think the cam's date stamp is not set - pretty sure this video was shot a few days ago, in 2013)
Sunday, January 13, 2013
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.
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.