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Showing posts from November, 2015

Woodpecker sleeking, sparrow seeding

As chance would have it, my route yesterday took me (somewhat) near the legendary Sandy Ridge Reservation in Lorain County (a Lorain County Metro Park). Scores of notable birds have been seen here over the years, in large part because of the reservation's sharp-eyed and knowledgeable naturalist, Tim Fairweather. A two mile long path cuts through mature woods then circles some large wetlands. I had only been to the nature center once or twice to give talks, and had never seen the real meat of the park. Time to correct that, so I grabbed some camera gear and took to the loop trail to see what I could see.

I had barely broke free from the woods when a distant menacing shape caught my eye. There, perched on a snag in a dead tree out in the wetland, was a Merlin. These muscular little falcons are among a small bird's worst enemies; feathered Freddie Kruegers. I had scarcely registered the Merlin when the male Downy Woodpecker in this photo bounded in low over the marsh and swooped…

Falling waters, revisited

Today is something akin to a national holiday in these parts - the annual Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Michigan Wolverines football game. This matchup has taken place since 1897, interruptedly, and annually since 1918. It's huge; easily the most important game of the year for these schools. I wouldn't miss it if at all possible.

Since it was a noon game, there was little time for any sort of full blown excursion. But my trigger finger was itching, and I really wanted to shoot something. Fortunately, a light rain had fallen more or less steadily all night and into the morning. The precipitation made for prime conditions for the photos that follow.

By the way, OSU easily walloped the team from up north, 42-13.

Back on October 29, I made a visit to a local hotspot and one of Ohio's most beautiful waterfalls, the Hayden Run Falls. I wrote about that, with photos, HERE. That trip came on the heels of a torrential gulley washer, and the falls were raging. The above photo is one that …

Huron revisited, with rare birds

The mouth of the Huron River on a beautiful late November day. The Huron Municipal Pier stretches off into the distance, ending in Lake Erie. Look closely, and you'll see a white lighthouse-like signal tower at the end. I journeyed back to this locale last Sunday, arriving around 8 am, and immediately headed out to the signal tower at the pier's end. Temperature at the start was about 27 degrees F, warming to a high of 33. Still a bit too nice weatherwise for producing crazy bird numbers and diversity, but much better than my last Huron trip in that regard.

Some of the photos in this post are certainly not award winners. They are purely documentary, of rarities that did not cooperate with the photographer. While conducting lake watches and tallying the birds that pass by on Lake Erie is fun, it often does not produce great photo ops, at least of the more unusual stuff. Many of the birds are simply too far out for that.

Birds swarm the mouth of the Huron River. Most of them on…

Sandhill Cranes over Indiana

I made a whirlwind trip to the state next door last weekend, Indiana. The Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society was holding its annual meeting, which is a big affair. In this photo, which I made with my iPhone from the balcony of the conference room at Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis, Doug Tallamy orates to the group. It was a packed house - about 350 attendees. They take their flora seriously in the Hoosier State. I was flattered to be asked back (3rd or 4th time!) to speak, especially given the otherwise star-studded lineup: Doug, Rick Darke, Mike Homoya, and Kevin Tungesvick. It was a great time, and fun to catch up with lots of people and hear some great talks. Kudos to all of the conference organizers and volunteers for the usual bang-up job.

Mid-November in Indiana means crane time, though, as in Sandhill Cranes. And the Mecca for Hoosier State cranes is Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area, which is in only two hours or so northwest of the conferen…

Walkingsticks blend so well, they're easy to miss

A pair of northern walkingsticks in their mating embrace Walkingsticks blend so well, they're easy to miss COLUMBUS DISPATCH November 15, 2015 NATURE Jim McCormac
When it comes to mimicry, few bugs rival walkingsticks. They are twigs come to life, moving with a lackadaisical swaying gait and chewing the leaves around them.

A walkingstick must be seen to be believed. Even the family name, Phasmatodea, points to their nearly magical appearance. It’s derived from the Greek phasma, which means phantom — an allusion to the insects’ incredible similarity to sticks.

Worldwide, there are some 3,000 species of walkingsticks. Peak diversity occurs in tropical regions. The longest known insect belongs to this group, the little-known Chan’s megastick of Borneo. One of six specimens of this near mythic bug is in the London Museum of Natural History. It measures more than 22 inches long.

The common stickbug in Ohio is the Northern walkingstick, Diapheromera femorata. Common as they may be, wal…

Gulls, doing interesting things

UPDATE: Note below that I lamented the too nice weather during my trip last Wednesday. Well, the weather changed big time the following day, and a few Cave Swallows, a Red Phalarope, and two Franklin's Gulls were found at this very spot yesterday. Then, 22 Franklin's Gulls were in about the exact spot where I photographed the Lesser Black-backed Gull this morning. Bad weather means good birding along Lake Erie.

I visited one of my favorite Lake Erie haunts yesterday, Huron, Ohio and its famed municipal pier. This is stop #46 on the Lake Erie Birding Trail, and one of the lake's true birding hotspots. I've been coming here for many, many years, and have seen lots of great birds from this pier.

My hope was for bad weather, and my plan was to perch by the lighthouse at the pier's end and conduct a "sea watch". Rough weather in November can produce lots of scoters, big numbers of gulls, and perhaps jaegers or other rarities such as Red Phalarope. Alas, the we…

Ring-necked Pheasant

A rooster Ring-necked Pheasant skulks through thick brush in north-central Ohio last Saturday. I saw a number of these flashy birds on this day, and many orange-coated hunters trying to bag one. Pheasants are as tasty as they look.

Ring-necked Pheasants are not native here, as I'm sure you know - they hail from Asia, but have been intentionally spread far and wide. Efforts have been made to establish pheasants in nearly 50 countries, with varying degrees of success. The only continent that has been spared the ring-necks is Antarctica, where they'd have no chance at all.

This spectacular bird can fare well in North America, if conditions are right. Indeed, South Dakota has become a Mecca for pheasant hunters, and the Mount Rushmore State even boasts the world's largest piece of pheasant statuary, a behemoth effigy standing 20 feet tall and extending 40 feet from breast to tail tip.

Apparently ring-necks were first released in Ohio in 1896, and while they've had their u…

American Tree Sparrows usher in Old Man Winter

Freshly burned over, Daughmer Savanna in Crawford County awaits botanical renewal with next year's growing season. Prairie ecosystems and fire are yin and yang, the fire performing many roles: keeping woody plants from choking out sun-loving prairie plants, discouraging nonnative invaders, providing a big infusion of nutrients to the soil, and heat-scarifying the seeds of plants.

I had chance to drop by here last Saturday, unbeknownst to me, hot on the heels of a controlled burn that was orchestrated by ODNR's Division of Natural Areas. The Division stepped in and purchased this gem a few years back, when it went up for auction. Daughmer Savanna is one of the finest prairie savannas left in Ohio, and one of the few that remain. About 99.9% of this habitat has been destroyed. Today, the Crawford County Park System oversees its management. If you ever get the chance, stop by and check out this relict of our prairie past.

Controlled burns seldom singe all of the vegetation, and …

Buck Moths fly again!

A gravel forest road winds through Shawnee State Forest in southern Ohio, as seen last Sunday. I spent the entire day down there stalking game with my camera. Fall's color had largely passed, and leaves were snowing to the ground. Temperatures were perfect for this time of year - about 60 F.

As always is the case when I am free to hunt down here unfettered, lots of interesting game was located. I returned with many "keeper" images of a wide diversity of subjects, both floral and faunal. The day started with a pretty cool bang, although I couldn't get documentary images of the incident. I located a sizeable mixed foraging flock of birds - chickadees, titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, Yellow-rumped Warblers, both kinglets, and others - and was hanging discreetly on their periphery waiting for photo ops. Suddenly, I heard a loud ruffle of wings close behind, and whirled around to see that a tiny male Sharp-shinned Hawk had barreled into the scene. Its arrival was acc…