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Showing posts from February, 2015

A cold sky indeed!

Last night was bitterly cold here in central Ohio, as evidenced by my car's thermometer. Yes, it says -20 F, as in MINUS TWENTY. I knew it was going to be about as cold as I've ever experienced, and I wanted to experience such frigidity. So, after getting home from work last night, I took a nap. Then got up, prepared, and headed out the door around midnight.

The only way that I could think of to try and visually portray the brutally cold temperatures was with sky shots. As is usually the case when the mercury plunges to extreme lows, the sky was bright and clear. I headed north, with a few locales in mind. The goal was to get away from city lights, and find a VERY dark spot, perhaps with some interesting scenery. As I worked north of Delaware, the temperature fell until it hit the reading above, which was at the spot where I made the following image. As an interesting footnote, the extreme cold noticeably effected the way that my car drove. It felt wooden and clunky, and fuel…

The Gadwall, a study in understated aesthetics

The tail waters of Hoover Dam, northern Franklin County, Ohio, last Monday. There was a wee bit of a nip in the air - it was about 10 F - creating a steam cloud from the flume of warmer water exiting the dam. As the catch basin remains ice-free, it is a great spot to observe and photograph waterfowl at reasonably close range.

A drake Mallard tips up to scavenge algae from the rocks. One must admire the hardiness of fowl on a frigid day, as they cavort in water barely above freezing on the downside, and air that is far frostier yet on the upside. The geese and ducks go about their business as if it is a summer day. Less hardy human observers shiver and shake, and would quickly perish if they fell into this drink.

There were several species of ducks plying the waters on this day, including this handsome pair of Northern Shovelers. Note how the hen swims with her rotund spoonbill skimming the water, seining up food. She could easily be dismissed as some other species of somberly hued he…

Vanilla Ice meets Cooper's Hawk

This is the front page of one of the sections of last Sunday's Columbus Dispatch, and I was pleased to see my column, Nature, got the banner treatment. As did my Cooper's Hawk photo. This isn't the first time that I've managed to come up with something interesting enough to get bannerized, but IT IS the first time that any of my work has shared space with Vanilla Ice.

Yes, THAT Vanilla Ice. He of the explosive 1990 hit Ice Ice Baby, complete with its unmistakable stuttering bass line. Sorry, I imagine that little rapster ditty is now incessantly circling some of your brains, and it may not soon go away. And if his big hit isn't yet wedged in your mind, CLICK HERE.

Well, it turns out that Mr. Robert Matthew Van Winkle (no wonder he goes by Vanilla Ice) is an accomplished home remodeler. That's why the Dispatch featured him on the front page of the At Home section. But as I can't help noting, below my stuff.

Sharing the page with Vanilla Ice. Wonder if this …

Cooper's hawk is songbird assassin

Cooper's hawk is a songbird assassin
February 15, 2015

Jim McCormac

Few visitors to backyard bird feeders are as polarizing as the Cooper’s hawk.

Many songbird lovers have recoiled in horror when one of these feathered furies has barreled into the yard and plucked a cardinal from the air.

The Cooper’s hawk is the common backyard plunderer of songbirds.

Bad attitudes toward the magnificent raptor go way back. Early ornithologists disparaged them, adding legitimacy to efforts to soil the bird’s reputation and provide fuel for hawk shooters. Said William Dawson, author of the 1903 book Birds of Ohio: “THIS is the real culprit! Punish him who will (for its) . . . evil deeds/"

Waxing anthropomorphic about Cooper’s hawks is irresistible. The hawk possesses the strategic genius of Genghis Khan, the slick agility of Wayne Gretzky and a punch like Mike Tyson.

Cooper’s hawks feed almost entirely on songbirds. Their short rounded wings and long rudderlike tail al…

A gorgeous winter sunset

A fading sunset paints the sky in warm hues, reflected off interesting cloud formations. Big Island Wildlife Area, Marion County, Ohio, February 7, 2015.

Wildlife Diversity Conference: A perk for attendees

I recently wrote about the upcoming Ohio Wildlife Diversity Conference, which will take place in Columbus on March 11. CLICK HERE for that post and additional conference details.

It is customary to unveil new Division of Wildlife publications at this conference, and this year will be no exception. Scroll on down...

Conference attendees will be the first to receive a showy new publication entitled Milkweeds & Monarchs. This slick little booklet describes the current plight of our most iconic butterfly, lays out its ecology and the integral role of milkweeds in the butterfly's life cycle, and details many of the other benefits that milkweeds provide. Above all, the publication outlines ways in which people can easily and directly help the Monarch.

There will be other perks for attendees as well. Be sure to attend, and get your Milkweeds & Monarchs booklet, hear a bunch of great talks, and share with hundreds of other like-minded nature enthusiasts. And please, pass the word.…

Rough-legged Hawk

Teed up like an angel ornament crowning a Christmas tree, a Rough-legged Hawk surveys its surroundings from atop a scraggly locust at Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area in Wyandot County. Students of raptors soon learn of this hawk's propensity for perching at the very tip of whatever surveillance point the hawk chooses, often mounting impossibly small twigs. Such perching behavior can give the observer a strong idea as to what species is involved, long before any field marks can be seen. Years ago, I had a new birder in my car, and as we drove through the wintry Ohio landscape, I espied a raptor perched on the extreme uppermost branches of a large oak in the middle of an otherwise barren field. "Rough-legged Hawk!" I proclaimed, even though the bird was very far off and just an undefined speck. She was stunned, and demanded to know how I could possibly be sure of its identity. I launched into an utterly - but unbeknownst to her - fanciful description of how the legs were fe…

OSU Museum Open House! This Saturday!

If you're looking for a fascinating way to spend part of a day - and who isn't? - stop by the Ohio State University Museum of Biological Diversity this Saturday, February 7. From 10am to 4pm, the museum's doors will be open to all; a rare opportunity to visit the fascinating collections that reside within.

The museum's contents are robust. Get a load of these figures:

Mites & ticks (acarology): well over one million specimens
Bioacoustics (sound recordings): over 40,000 - mostly birds, but also insects, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and fish (yes, fish!)
C.A. Triplehorn Insect Collection: over 3.5 million (Million!) specimens (this is worth the visit alone)
Fishes: 10's of thousands, I think
Herbarium (plants): about 500,000
Molluscs: nearly 100,000
Birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles (tetrapods): over 2,000 species

Not only will you get to see all manner of strange and bizarre stuff you never knew existed, the museum's experts - some of the best in the world -…

Heron inhales large fish

The tail waters of Hoover Reservoir in northern Franklin County. The dam impounds a large reservoir that extends north into Delaware County, and when it freezes, the open waters below the dam teem with birds. A brief stop here last Saturday produced some interesting observations, but none bested the hungry heron that follows.

As the torrential outflow from the dam always keeps some water open, hardy Great Blue Herons overwinter here. There are usually at least a half-dozen or so at any time. Lots of fish get sucked through the dam's tunnels, and are expelled relatively unharmed in the basin below the dam. They make for easy pickings for the herons, and the bird above is stalking fish.

It didn't take long for the heron to spot prey, and quicker than you might think possible, he was out in deep water and instantly bagged a good one.That's a hefty white bass, Morone chrysops, in its bill, and it hardly seems possible that the bird could swallow that thing.

Apparently the her…

Horticulture Symposium: The Living Landscape

On Saturday, February 21, the Indianapolis Museum of Art will host an interesting event that's all about native plants: Horticulture Symposium: The Living Landscape. For all details and registration info, CLICK HERE.

I will assure you that this will be a fun, informative, and interesting day. For one, the event is nestled within a truly world class art museum that boasts some 54,000 individual works in its collection. There are always major exhibits; CLICK HERE for a roster of current exhibitions. I became connected with the museum in 2013, when I was invited to come and give a pictorial lecture entitled Nature as Art. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the museum, to me, is their living collections. The museum sits on 150 acres of grounds, and the plants - and animals - found there are treated as living art. Thanks in large part to the hard work and vision of Chad Franer, the grounds are heavily planted with native species.

And that's the theme of this symposium - native …

Birds in Flight

Yesterday was a rare blue (mostly) sky day here in wintertime central Ohio, and I took the opportunity to go to some local hotspots and point the camera skyward. While I took a lot of shots of many different things - nearly 1,000 images, most of which got chucked into the digital dust bin - I found that I was somewhat fixated on flying birds.

Shooting birds in flight isn't very easy, and requires purposeful adjustments to the camera, among other tactics. Following are a few images from yesterday, with some info on how each was made.

An adult Ring-billed Gull gives the photographer a sideways glance from up in the blue ether. Gulls are always great practice for aspiring birds in flight photographers. They're big, often fly rather languidly, and sometimes nearly float in place. Plus, they are often rather predictable in their movements, which allows the photographer to prepare for the moment when the subject enters optimal air space.

All the shots in this post were made with a C…