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Showing posts from February, 2014

New River Birding & Nature Festival!

The world famous New River Gorge bridge, as seen from Long Point on a misty May morning.

It's high time to get spring's schedule straight, and high time I plugged the New River Birding & Nature Festival! This event is centered on one of North America's great biological hotspots, the ancient New River at Fayetteville, West Virginia. This year's dates are April 28th to May 3rd, and if you want to start spring off with a bang, make this scene. The festival has no peer when it comes to beauty of the scenery, biological diversity, and quality of the guides and speakers (possibly excepting your narrator). Following are some photos of what you can expect to see; for the complete festival low-down, CLICK HERE.

A rushing stream cuts through Babcock State Park, one of our many field trip destinations. We find many species of interesting birds here, and lots of cool plants, including pink lady's-slipper orchids. There are NO bad field trips, and whether you attend for pa…

Black Skimmer, skimming

A Black Skimmer slices the water in a Florida wetland. I made this photo in 2011, and always liked it, in part because I really like this species. Black Skimmers have an elongated lower mandible, and are adept at doing just what their name suggests - skimming low over still waters, cutting the surface with their specialized bill, and harvesting whatever small piscine life is unlucky enough to be in the path. The bird is like a feathered crop duster of doom to the aquatic crowd, dropping from the sky and plowing a trail of destruction through the shallows.

We've never had a Black Skimmer in Ohio, and I don't expect that we will. But if one were to turn up here, now, it'd hurt its beak. Most all of our water is still in ice, and that doesn't make for good skimming. Here in the North it is the winter that won't end. It is 16 F as I write, and tomorrow's high will be 18 F, dropping to a low of 6 tomorrow night. For the most part, low temperatures such as those are…

Skunk-cabbage is up, spring is here

I post on this subject nearly every year, and make no apologies for redundancy. Come mid-February, our first true wildflower springs from the mire and goes about blooming in its own inconspicuous way. I am fortunate that I have a patch of Skunk-cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, just ten minutes from my house. So, come sometime in the midst of our second month, I make my way to the undistinguished piece of mire pictured above. Donning muck boots, I plod in, camera in hand.

I was at the cabbage patch last Saturday morning, and was not disappointed. A great number of the odd arums had thrust forth, and many of the liver-spotted spathes were fully developed. There isn't much variation in blooming time. You can pretty well be assured of finding the skunks in bloom, at least at this patch, in the second or third week of February. This winter has been brutal, with lots of cold and extended snow and ice cover. Had I gone here the prior weekend, much of the quagmire probably would have been…

Great Horned Owl

Photo: Gary Meszaros
A big female Great Horned Owl stands sentinel at the entrance to her nest site, a broken snag. Gary Meszaros took this photo the other day near Cleveland, and (obviously) gave me permission to share it. This is without doubt one of the coolest images of this species that I've seen. To see more of Gary's work, CLICK HERE.

Great Horned Owls are surprisingly common, and no doubt lurk near you. They are the nocturnal analogs to Red-tailed Hawks, so if you see the latter chances are good the big owls are around, too. In fact, the most common nest site for these owls, in these parts, are the nests of Red-tailed Hawks. If the larger more powerful owls decide to appropriate a hawk nest, tough luck to the rusty-tailed raptor. A distant second regarding nest sites are broken-off tree snags, such as in Gary's photo. A small percentage of owls will modify squirrel drays for nests. A dray is a leafy arboreal nest of tree squirrels. Occasionally an owl pair will com…

Sea duck invasion: Why?

The view from Deer Creek last Sunday morning; air temperature a frosty 14 degrees. That's the Deer Creek dam in the backdrop, which impounds a large reservoir in south-central Ohio. We've had a brutally cold winter, and there are very few streams or lakes with open water.

Moving upstream a bit, we come to the tail waters of the dam. Turbulent water flushed through the dam's portals keeps open a stretch of water, and that attracts ducks. Some of the best birding of late has come from streams immediately downstream of dams, including this one.

I arrived on the scene to find about 50 fowl loafing just below the dam. A smattering of Mallards, a male Canvasback, a group of Red-breasted Mergansers, and these boys. Two Redheads mix with a species that should perk the ears of central Ohio birders, the Greater Scaup. Normally, even in midwinter, it is the much less hardy Lesser Scaup that is the default scaup, but this winter we've had plenty of Greaters appearing at spots suc…

Snowy Owls get major coverage in newspaper

It's nice to see a bird species garnering more ink in the papers than most politicians. Today's Columbus Dispatch featured an article on Snowy Owls, peppered with photos from a number of Ohio photographers. The images are stunning, and a must-see. Read the article RIGHT HERE.

Snowy Owls have garnered lots of press this winter. Their irruption into the Midwest and eastern U.S. has been nothing short of phenomenal, and of such a scope that probably no one alive would have remembrances of a comparable event. It would probably be necessary to go back to the 1920's to recall an irruption of similar scale.

The Ohio total, insofar as I know, stands at 165 owls in 56 counties. New reports have tapered off, but still trickle in and I'm sure we'll learn of more. Many of these reports have come well after the fact, as observers learn that someone is interested in sightings after reading an article such as the one cited in this post. My updated map is below, and shows an inter…

Caterpillar talk, Worthington, February 20

Everyone likes butterflies such as this beautiful dime-sized Juniper Hairstreak, obligingly posing on your narrator's finger. Far too little thought is given to their caterpillars, however. If you would like to learn more about the magical world of butterflies, moths, and especially their caterpillar stages, come on down to the Worthington Garden Club's meeting at 7 pm next Thursday. It's free, and will take place at the Griswold Center, 777 North High Street in Worthington. I will endeavor to do justice to these most important of animals, in pictures and words. Following is a description of the talk:

A ghostly goldfinch

Photo: Ian Adams
These excellent images come courtesy of Ian Adams, celebrated landscape and nature photographer, and I appreciate him allowing me to share them. Shortly after Ian put out feeders at his Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio residence, he attracted this oddity to the tubed up thistle seeds. That's a male American Goldfinch up top, still largely in its somber winter colors. It won't be too much longer, and it'll shed those bland feathers and explode into the brilliant lemony hues of a wild canary.

The lower bird is not as clearcut an identification, and could be a stumper if it were seen by itself. The fact that it consorts with goldfinches helps on two counts: guilt by association, and the fact that we can readily compare it to other normally clad members of its species.

Photo: Ian Adams
We beam in on the ghostbird, and can easily see the trademark characters of a male American Goldfinch bleeding through. This individual is leucistic (loo-kis-tik), leucism referring to a gen…

A tsunami of Snow Buntings

At first blush, this rural farmhouse may not appear to harbor what may be the most extraordinary bird feeding operation in Ohio. But indeed it does. If there is anything out there that rivals this in terms of sheer numbers, and the atypical "feeder" species involved, I am unaware of it.

I visited this Delaware County residence yesterday, after being tipped off to the amazing assemblage of birds by Dick Miller, whose sister and brother-in-law, Mike and Becky Jordan, reside in the home. Mike and Becky have been very gracious in extending their hospitality to visitors, including your narrator, which is much appreciated!

I'm not going to post their address on the Internet, but Mike and Becky do welcome birders who would like to witness the phenomenon that unfolds in the following photos. If you would like to visit, just send me an email at:, and I'll pass along the pertinent information.

I arrived at 8:30 yesterday morning, and this was the very …

Birds eating BIG THINGS!

I made this photo in 2011, at a wetland in Florida. This Great Blue Heron was wrestling with some sort of huge catfish (I think it was a catfish). We were amazed that the heron could even pick the thing up. Circumstances dictated our departure before the drama played out. I don't know if the bird ever managed to wolf that thing down.

It seems that some birds have eyes bigger than their stomachs. If potential food swims along, they just can't resist grabbing it, even if choking it down may be problematic.

Leslie Sours sent along a fabulous series of images of a Common Loon successfully capturing and swallowing an impressively large fish. I can't tell what species the victim is; if anyone knows, let us know. If I remember the story correctly, this loon was frozen into a patch of water too small to take off from, and was captured and released elsewhere in the Columbus area.

The following images document the epic struggle between the gluttonous loon and the unfortunate fish.


Mothapalooza! Better hurry...

A Large Tolype (To-lip-ee), Tolype velleda, looking somewhat like a cross between a malamute and a bighorn sheep. The wide world of moths is endlessly fascinating, and full of exquisite creatures such as this tolype.

I was conferring today with Mary Ann Barnett today, who serves (quite well!) as CEO of Mothapalooza. CLICK HERE for a post I recently made about this event, and HERE to go to the event's website.

We opened Mothapalooza for registration about a week ago, and have already filled 84 of the 120 available spots. As anyone who gets involved in conference organization knows, this is an enviable spot to be in, especially as the event doesn't take place until the end of June. I must confess to being a bit surprised by this moth fervor. When we cooked up Mothapalooza I, which took place last year, and it attracted 120+ people, we all were a bit shell-shocked. But because of that experience, we weren't too surprised to see how rapidly Mothapalooza II is filling.


Snowy Owl update

Photo: Cheryl Erwin (near McGuffey, Hardin County, Ohio, today)
While Snowy Owl reports are slowing, I'm still regularly receiving new ones. Reports come in via the Ohio Birds Listserv, various Facebook groups, and personal messages. A recent article in Ohio Outdoor News triggered receipt of at least a half-dozen new reports, none of which would have probably made their way to the birding community. To date, we're up to at least 159 owls in 54 counties. There will definitely be more. I've heard of a number of injured birds that were taken to rehab facilities, but have not yet run down details on those birds.

An updated map is below. As always, if you know of other owls, please let me know. And of course, if anyone sees errors, omissions, numbers that need to go up, down, or whatever, please do correct me. There will always be some margin of error when trying to tally Snowy Owls, especially at certain Lake Erie locales where it is impossible to know with certainty…