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Showing posts from November, 2014

Black-legged Kittiwake in central Ohio!

The upper end of Deer Creek Reservoir in Fayette County, Ohio, where beautiful little Deer Creek begins to become impounded by the big dam some distance to the south. Bob Royse found a Black-legged Kittiwake here on November 26, and the wayward gull is still sticking. I was finally able to run down there this morning and ogle the animal. The light never was great - the end of the day would be a much better time to shoot images from this spot - but I did what I could to record the rarity. But mostly I just watched the highly entertaining bird, for nearly three hours.

It took all of a nanosecond to find the kittiwake, seen here stretching its wing. Bob's directions and description of the scenario were spot on. The bird is fixated on a spot where a seldom-used park road comes very near the creek, and access could not be easier. I saw the bird from my car, pulled over, and set up shop. The kittiwake cared not a whit for my presence, nor that of the other birders that stopped in durin…

Northern Shrike, aka "Butcherbird"

Big fluffy cumulus clouds drift across a blue prairie sky. This is one of my favorite places in Ohio, Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area in Wyandot County. I've been coming here since I had a driver's license (before, actually) and have made scores of trips to Killdeer over the years. It's only about an hour from my house, so if time is tight and I need a short trip, this is often my destination. Rare is the trip to Killdeer Plains that doesn't produce something exceptional, no matter the time of year.

Tall prairie grasses lit golden by the sunset. Killdeer Plains is a 9,000+ acre remnant of the Sandusky Plains, which was a massive swath of prairie that blanketed parts of Crawford, Hardin, Marion, and Wyandot counties in north-central Ohio. Once John Deere devised a tool capable of busting the thick prairie sod, it didn't take people long to figure out that this was some of the richest soil to be found. In the relative blink of an eye, farmers transformed the staggerin…

Progress = Cinnabons!

Western North Dakota, just north of the small town (pop. about 1,750) of Watford City. All of those square or rectangular pale patches are fracking pads. The boom is on in the Roughrider State (so nicknamed to help promote tourism), and has been for the last eight years. In spite of ranking 48th among the states in overall population, North Dakota boasts the nation's best economy, and lowest unemployment rate. Want to rent a four bedroom modular home in Watford City? Be prepared to shell out up to $4,000.00 - a month! The high times are here.

This growth has come with a steep price. The New York Times has published a series of articles detailing the woes of the Bakken Shale boom; you can (and should!) read them RIGHT HERE. Thousands of wells pepper western North Dakota's landscape, and in addition to an oil and gas bonanza, they've brought lots of problems. Pollution, corruption, cronyism, catastrophic accidents, habitat destruction, and spills - lots of spills. An estima…

Some encounters with mammals

A herd of Bison grazes the vast grassy plains of the Wilds in Muskingum County, Ohio. Their captive herd seems to be expanding, and there were a number of bisonlets among the ranks, so reproduction must be going well. The scene offers a tiny snapshot of the days of yore, when countless thousands of Bison roamed the Great Plains.

Participate in the upcoming Chandlersville Christmas Bird Count on December 20, which covers the Wilds and surrounding areas, and you can marvel over the massive Bison, too. Details about the bird count are RIGHT HERE.

I have noticed that people have an inordinate interest in mammals, and most Homo sapiens will gawk at something like this huge Bison before casting their eyes to, say, a Winter Wren or Henslow's Sparrow. I think this tendency is hard-wired, as after all other mammals are closer to us on the evolutionary tree than other groups of organisms. Also, mammals - at least large ones - can mean one of two very important things: food, or danger. It i…

A rough day on Lake Erie

Lake Erie, as seen from the fishing access parking lot just east of the power plant in Eastlake, Ohio.

I traveled to the Cleveland area and specifically Holden Arboretum yesterday, to give a program for the Blackbrook Audubon Society. The subject, fittingly, was "Birding Ohio's North Coast", and the talk largely outlines the Lake Erie Birding Trail guidebook, which was released earlier this year.

The program was in the evening, but I went up early to meet with Brian Parsons, the Holden Arboretum's Director of Planning and Special Projects. The arboretum is engaged in some very exciting work, and Brian was good enough to give me a tour. More on that in a later post.

As fate would have it, Eastlake was only 20 minutes from the site of my talk, and I had a bit of time in between things to run up there and do some gull-watching. The weather was tough. Gale-like winds raged, and the temperature was in the teens. These conditions transformed the lake into a raging cauldro…

Odd looks of jumping spiders belie fearless predators

A mustached jumping spider will stalk its meal
November 16, 2014

Jim McCormac

Jumping spiders are the extroverts of the arachnid world.

Most spiders prefer to stay out of sight and out of mind. Many remain well-concealed or emerge under cover of darkness.

That is a good thing for the legions of arachnophobes. Such people would rather not know that more than 600 species of spiders occur in Ohio and that they are the most abundant predatory animals in the state.

Many species are outrageous in appearance. The mustached jumping spider (Phidippus mystaceus) resembles a cross between Justin Bieber and Sid Vicious, endowed with three extra sets of eyes and legs and imbued with a homicidal bent.

Most jumping spiders are active during the day and behave like eight-eyed leopards, stalking and pouncing on victims. They shun web building but do make intelligent use of silk.

Before leaping at a victim, the jumping spider attaches a silken belay line. Thus, if the jump were to…

Sandhill Cranes at Jasper-Pulaski

A gaggle of birders packs the viewing platform at Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area near Medaryville, Indiana. I made a whirlwind trip here last weekend, connecting with a friend from Chicago, Joyce Pontius. We were there, primarily, to observe the noisy and conspicuous spectacle of thousands of Sandhill Cranes on temporary hiatus from their southbound journeys.

I highly recommend this trip. From my town of Columbus, Ohio, it is only about a four hour drive, and the Chicagoans need only travel half that distance. Jasper-Pulaski is in easy driving range from much of the Midwest, and you'll meet people from all over the place who have traveled to see the cranes.

This is what the crowd on the deck is ogling - thousands of noisy Sandhill Cranes. The birds hit their peak numbers in November. Yesterday (November 12), about 8,000 cranes were present, and nearly that many were there last weekend when I made these images. There are probably more to come, although the frigid Arctic b…

Robins, waxwings, and honeysuckle

Amur honeysuckle, Lonicera maackii, cloaks the understory of an Ohio woodland. This plant, and a few other closely related species, would get my vote as worst invasive species of upland habitats. This post is meant only as a (mostly) pictorial offering of evidence as to how the honeysuckle gets scattered far and wide. If you would like to read in more detail about the evils of these shrubs, CLICK HERE.

The first photo in this post was made in early spring, when the honeysuckle was just leafing out. Later would come (admittedly) very showy flowers. Pretty flowers and beautiful fruit are the main reasons that these shrubs were imported to the New World. What a mistake that was. Honeysuckle now runs rampant, and chokes out all manner of native species.

An American Robin perches jauntily in a sea of tasty berries. It, and many others, were plundering a small patch of Amur honeysuckle shrubs in Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Area last Saturday. I was in Indiana to see and photograph the spectacu…