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Showing posts from March, 2014

A "white" hawk

Photo: Kathy Mock
One can only imagine Kathy Mock's surprise when she glanced out the window of her Akron home, and saw a snow-white raptor winging by. In this winter/spring especially, thoughts of Snowy Owl would come right to mind.

Photo: Kathy Mock
Kathy was laboring at the computer when shecaught a glimpse of this thing cruising by about two blocks away. She didn't tarry, rushing to grab optics and camera, and took off outside to track the ivory bird down. That she did, and obtained these distant but nice images.
Snow White turns out to be a gorgeous, highly leucistic Red-tailed Hawk. Vestiges of red tail feathers can be seen bleeding through, as can some dark pigment under the wings. This bird would make even a nonbirder whirl around and do a double-take.
Leucism is a pigment anomaly that causes normally dark pigments to become washed out and pale. I've written about this condition in more detail in other posts, such as HERE, and HERE.
Thanks to Kathy for sharing her i…

Frogs put on show with singing, mating

Before it sings its distinctive throaty notes, a Western chorus frog puffs its throat pouch
March 30, 2014

Jim McCormac

After the long, brutal winter, the spring explosion of frogs has been especially welcome.

March is the transitional period when Mother Nature struggles to throw off the shackles of winter. Bit by bit, the days lengthen, and warm and icy waterscapes thaw.

The frogs aren’t a species to be contained. With even the faintest hope of open water, frogs emerge from hibernation and set to song.

Leading the charge are Western chorus frogs and spring peepers. The two species create a distinctive wall of sound in our wetlands. The tiny peepers’ shrill birdlike whistles fill the air, and a vociferous pack can be heard from great distances.

Mixed with the peepers are the distinctive throaty notes of Western chorus frogs. The male puffs his elastic throat pouch to impossible dimensions. It is as if the inch-and-half amphibian has swallowed a golf ball. When ful…

Bombarded by Red-necked Grebes - more on the invasion

UPDATE: After posting a link to this article on various Facebook birding pages, augmented by a few new reports today on the Ohio Birds Listserv, the Red-necked Grebe total grew by 3 counties and 14 birds. Thanks to all who contributed their observations, and I'm sure we haven't heard the last of these grebes. I'll try and keep the map (below) updated as well as the running total of birds and counties. Thanks too to Vic Fazio, who reminded me that there was also a sizable invasion (about 200 birds in Ohio and many more elsewhere in 2003 - a big DUH on my part, as I saw a number of those 2003 grebes. Vic also made some good points about Lake Huron's Georgian Bay being another possible source of grebes. I've posted Vic's remarks in their entirety on the comments section of this post.

Red-necked Grebes are normally a rare sight in Ohio, or anywhere else in the interior U.S. south of the Great Lakes and away from the Atlantic Ocean. Not this March, however - these c…

OOS Annual Conference - Shawnee!

The stunning Northern Parula is one of at least 20 species of warblers attendees can expect to see.

Mark your calendars for the weekend of April 25-27, if you haven't already done so. That's the weekend of the Ohio Ornithological Society's 10th annual conference, to be held at the state park lodge imbedded deep within Shawnee State Forest in the rugged hills of southernmost Ohio. If you've never been to Shawnee, you're in for a treat. This is the largest contiguous forest in Ohio at 65,000 acres, and it nearly connects with the sprawling 16,000 acre Edge of Appalachia Preserve just to the west. The biodiversity of this region is beyond incredible. Over 100 species of birds nest in the area, including specialties galore such as Chuck-will's-widow, Summer Tanager, and Cerulean Warbler. Want to see (or at least hear) Ruffed Grouse? This is the place. The sheer numbers of breeding warblers is staggering. A good late April morning might produce dozens each of Worm-…

First amphibians of the year

A Western Chorus Frog, Pseudacris triseriata, sits in a wet pool, the upper half of his body above the water.

I should qualify the title of this post: First amphibians of the year (FOR ME)! This has been a brutal and prolonged winter, and even now, in mid-March, the frosty old man is reluctant to take back the snow and ice. Here in central Ohio, we've scarcely had any of the decently warm (50 F or above) rainy nights that amphibian-seekers pine for. It seems that the majority of frogs and salamanders have yet to make the vernal pilgrimage to the breeding pools, and individuals are just trickling in bit by bit - no massive migrations of yet.

Last night was one of the few warm evenings we've had, but it wasn't wet. Dryness inhibits major movements of amphibians; they much prefer to move towards breeding haunts when everything is nice and soaked. Nonetheless, I knew that at least some Spring Peepers and Western Chorus Frogs would be in the wetlands, and I really wanted crisp…

Snowy Owl update (the last?)

After a few week dry spell of no new Snowy Owl reports, I've just received four new ones in the last two days. Some are old records being reported long after the fact; others are quite fresh. Two of these records are of owls seen as recently as today. Following is their info, should you be inclined to look:

HENRY COUNTY: Extreme eastern part of the county, being seen along County Rd. M between the county line (Wood County) east to County Rd. 7. Thanks to Todd Heilman for the report.

WOOD COUNTY: Near the intersection of Portage Road and State Rte. 235. This is about one mile SSE of the village of Weston. Thanks to Tammy Phares for this report.

As of now, we stand at 177 owls reported, from 60 counties. If you don't hail from Ohio, we've got 88 counties, so that's a big chunk of them. And I wonder how many other owls were out there that never got reported. Probably lots. Anyway you shake it, the winter of 2013/14 will probably go down as the largest documented irrupt…

The Red-necked Grebe invasion

A gorgeous Red-necked Grebe, Podiceps grisegena, plies the waters of Funk Bottoms Wildlife Area in Wayne County, Ohio, last Saturday.This big grebe could rightly be termed a rare bird in Ohio, and all sightings are noteworthy. We get them every year, but normally in very small numbers.

But not this spring.There have been dozens of reports of Red-necked Grebes in Ohio, from the Ohio River to Lake Erie. Anywhere there was open water, there was a decent chance that one of these swan-necked grebes could be found. I haven't attempted to add up all of the reports, but the number of birds must run into many dozens; possibly pushing 100. Without doubt, if it isn't the biggest incursion of Red-necked Grebes into Ohio (and throughout much of interior eastern North America), it is a near-record flight.

Map courtesy Birds of North America Online
 Red-necked Grebes winter in marine coastal habitats, and to a much lesser extent, on open waters of the Great Lakes. According to this map, Lake…

Shreve Migration Sensation!

Mark your calendars for Saturday, March 29th. That's the date of the now legendary Shreve Migration Sensation (SMS). This is the largest one-day natural history event in the state of Ohio, insofar as I know, and is always a memorable experience. Ground zero for the SMS is the bucolic Wayne County village of Shreve, population about 1,500.

Your narrator is seen here, leaning against a downtown street lamp in front of the Des Dutch Essenhaus, a fabulous Amish restaurant. Indeed, I clutch a bag of freshly baked cookies with an iron fist. If you make the SMS, you must visit the Essenhaus. The village of Shreve nearly doubles its population when the SMS comes to town; last year, there were an estimated 1,400 attendees.

Shreve is ideally suited to host the SMS, in part because it sits on the fringe of one of Ohio's largest wetlands complexes, Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area. The wildlife area covers nearly 6,000 acres, and is full of life by the end of March.

The school in the center …

Frigid winter drove rare waterfowl our way

Frigid winter drove rare waterfowl our way
Columbus Dispatch
March 16, 2014

Jim McCormac

This winter’s Arctic freeze brought a passel of unusual birds to Ohio.

There was an incredible influx of red-necked grebes, diving waterbirds that are usually rare in Ohio waters.

Scores of white-winged scoters turned up throughout the winter, wherever open water could be found. The scoter is a sea duck, and most of them winter in marine waters.

Best of all, perhaps, were the near-record numbers of long-tailed ducks. Dozens of the sea ducks turned up from Lake Erie to the Ohio River.

A drake long-tailed duck is a visual treat arguably unrivaled in the showy pageantry of the waterfowl world. The duck is pied in patterns of white, black and gray.

Most astonishing are the tail streamers. They resemble a pair of feathery scissors tacked to the rear of the bird. The duck often holds its streamer feathers, which are the length of its body, high in the air. The female is far more muted in tone, and h…

Your blogger, with large snake

Photo: Kristen Beck
Today marked the 30th anniversary of the Ohio Wildlife Diversity Conference, which is one of the largest one-day natural history conferences in the country. Nine hundred and thirty people pre-registered, and there are always a number of walk-ins. I didn't hear what the final count was, but it may have eclipsed the previous record of 955 people. Of course, Ohio or at least the northern parts of the state got pounded for the umpteenth time by snow and winter storms today, and that kept some of the northern tundra people from making it down.

I don't know the date of next year's event yet, but it'll most likely be the 2nd Wednesday in March, as usual. You'll really want to try and make it. The conference always has an interesting agenda of great speakers and topics, and today was no exception. Congrats to the organizer, the Ohio Division of Wildlife, and everyone who makes the conference happen.

Doug Wynn was there with his snake exhibit, including …

The Maumee River Rapids

The mighty Maumee River in northwest Ohio, as seen in yesterday's wintry conditions. The Maumee forms in eastern Indiana, forged from the confluence of the St. Joseph and St. Marys rivers. From there, it flows 137 miles east-northeast to Lake Erie. The Maumee River forms the largest watershed in the Great Lakes drainage basin.

I was flattered to be invited to speak at the inaugural Kuebeck Nature Forum, sponsored by the Bowling Green Parks and Recreation Department. The forum is a legacy of the late Dr. Edelbert Kuebeck, a great supporter of the environment. The talk was last night, attracted a large group, and we had a great time. I headed up a few hours early, to visit the Maumee River and see what I could see - a side trip that would have been heartily endorsed by Dr. Kuebeck, I am sure.

This spot is a famous locale in the annals of Ohio history. The rock in the center of the river, butting up to the abandoned bridge, is Roche de Bout (sometimes called Roche de Boeuf), a massi…

Photography talk, March 13, all are welcome

Blue Dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis
I am always flattered when asked to give a talk on photography, as I would think of myself more as a person that uses photographs to tell stories, rather than as a photographer. That said, I do try and constantly improve my skills, and enjoy shooting a wide variety of subjects.

The Lens & Leaves Photography Club has invited me to give a photography talk, and we're doing it next Thursday, March 13th. The group focuses on natural history, and is welcoming of guests of all levels of interest and skill. You are invited. The meeting commences at 7 pm, and will take place at beautiful Blacklick Metro Park on the east side of Columbus. CLICK HERE for details.

Blue-eyed Mary, Collinsia verna
 Rather than focus completely on technical aspects of photography, I will talk more about finding interesting subjects, composition, and light.

Eastern Fence Lizard, Sceloporus undulatus
I've got images from at least six different cameras in the talk, from…

Winter moths

Morrison's Sallow, Eupsilia morrisoni
Toward the end of last Saturday's epic waterfowling excursion to Mosquito Creek Reservoir (that post, HERE), I headed off to check some meadows in the nearby Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area. The habitat looked prime for Short-eared Owls, and they're best found around dusk. In spite of waiting until nightfall, no short-eareds showed themselves, but we witnessed a phenomenon that made cruising around after dark worth the while.

While slowly threading the car along some sparsely traveled lanes, I noticed a moth flutter through the headlight beams. Then another, and another. In all, we must have seen two dozen. In warmer months no one would think twice about this, but the air temperature was 36 F! Brisk, to say the least. After seeing a few of these moths, and realizing that some sort of flight was occurring, I had to know what species was involved. Fortunately I had an insect net in the trunk - what self-respecting nerd doesn't carry an…

Snowy Owl update

Well, here it is in the earliest days of March - the cusp of spring! - but it doesn't feel like it. The temperature is 12 F as I write this. Weather more befitting creatures of the Arctic than bipedal primates that are rather poorly evolved for life in the subfreezing zone. But I bring news of that most fabulous of Arctic wanderers, the Snowy Owl. Reports have predictably tapered off, but I received a small spate of new owls from a few articles that were published about the birds. These reports, alas, were of birds seen some time ago, and are not apparently present anymore at the locales of their initial sightings.

I recently saw wildlife rehabber Kristen Beck, and she filled me in a few injured owls that had been taken to rehabilitation centers. At least one of those was fixed up and released to the wild - Go, owl!

But by far the biggest breaking news on the Snowy Owl front is the nearly miraculous appearance of one in Geauga County! Geauga County, of all places! All winter long,…

Ducks, and more ducks!

This is quite literally the Mecca of waterfowling in Ohio right now. We're standing next to State Route 88, which bisects Mosquito Creek Reservoir. The vast lake is frozen solid, as is just about every other water body in the state. For some reason, currents no doubt, a freshwater polyna consistently forms under and on either side of the bridge and do the ducks and other waterfowl pack in here. The village on the reservoir's east side is named Mecca; the burg on the lake's other side is West Mecca.

Mosquito Creek is in Trumbull County, way up in the northeast corner of the state. It isn't an area I get to very often, and it's nearly a three hour drive from Columbus. I had been hearing scores of fabulous reports from this lake, and had to experience the scene firsthand. It turned out to be a 16-hour day but worth every minute. I was able to connect with a bunch of friends I don't often get afield with: Tami Gingrich, Dave Hochadel, Kristen Beck, Larry Richardso…