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Showing posts from March, 2016

One of my favorite birds, Agelaius phoeniceus

A male Red-winged Blackbird surveys his domain from atop a broad-leaved cattail. He was one of hundreds of territorial birds in this 500+ acre Hardin County, Ohio wetland.

I spent all day yesterday in this marsh, photographing birds. Arriving well before sunrise, I knew it would be a good day when a Short-eared Owl was the first bird that I encountered, hunting atop a dike.

I managed to secrete myself fairly well in a highly productive spot, which meant that the birds did not know I was there. The advantage of that is they go about their normal business without the fear of a giant hominid affecting their behavior. This Red-winged Blackbird was displaying right outside of my hide, and I couldn't resist making numerous images.

Even though I photographed what some might regard as "sexier" species on this day - Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Wilson's Snipe, lots of waterfowl and others - I'll always point the lens at showboating Red-winged Blackbirds. The fellow in t…

A hodgepodge of vernal biodiversity

It was a well-traveled weekend just past for your narrator. The planning committee for the annual Midwest Native Plant Conference, of which I am a member, met on Saturday at Cedar Bog. This will be the 8th year for the conference, and it's proven to be popular, selling out in all years but the first. This year, it was filled within ten days of opening registration. You can read about the conference HERE, and perhaps plan on attending the 2017 event.

The reason we meet at places like Cedar Bog is so that we can have an interesting field trip after the meeting. Following are a few snapshots from our journey into the fen.

I find this dilapidated red barn an irresistible subject, especially as it is color-complimented by the reddish-maroon stems of red-osier dogwood. This shot was clicked off from a fairly great distance with my Canon 100-400mm telephoto at full zoom. I hope the Cedar Bog managers allow it to remain standing until it crumples on its own.

Even though I've been in t…

Woodcock's looks, gait laughable, but courtship display showy

The American woodcock courts females with dazzling aerial displays
NATURE Jim McCormac
"I'd rather be a little weird than all boring."
— Rebecca McKinsey (perhaps speaking for the woodcock)

There is nothing normal about an American woodcock. Even its nicknames bear this out: bogsucker, Labrador twister, timberdoodle.

The woodcock is a sandpiper, but it shares little in common with its kin. Even its habitat is different: damp thickets, shrubby meadows and young woods. For most of the year, woodcocks are out of sight and out of mind, concealed in the undergrowth.

Weird is an understatement when it comes to woodcock looks. It’s as if a drunken scientist assembled the creature during a fit of creative madness. An enormous Pinocchio-like bill juts from the bird’s face (useful for drilling worms in soft soil).

Woodcock eyes are huge, inky pools of blackness located closer to the back of the head than the front. Short, stubby legs support a rotund b…

Goose Pond, Indiana: Part II

As mentioned in the previous post, I spent the weekend past at the amazing Goose Pond in Indiana. You can read why, and see other photos from that foray, RIGHT HERE.

Two particular challenges face the photographer at Goose Pond, at least during our weekend. One is distance. This is a huge wide-open space, and waterfowl and other wild birds are not dummies. Getting within good range for tack-sharp photos can be tough. The other challenge was weather-related. Skies were heavy and gray the entire time, often delivering a wet mist or spitting rain. As much of photography is about light, such conditions are distinctly suboptimal, especially when shooting birds where fast shutter speeds are often a necessity. But as noted in the prior post, we probably learned more by having to work in these conditions.

Following are a few more photos from the Goose Pond weekend.

Hundreds of American White Pelicans mass in the distance. There were over 1,000 birds present; so many that the large roosts look…

Goose Pond, Indiana: Part I

David FitzSimmons and I co-led a photography workshop over the weekend, at an amazing place known as Goose Pond, in south-central Indiana. Read more about this site RIGHT HERE. Dave is one of the best photographers that I know, and I was flattered that he would have me along. Ben and Anna Warner also were leaders and their bird-spotting and overall trove of natural lore was indispensable. Roberts Camera of Indianapolis organized the affair and Walt Kuhn did his usual topnotch logistical work.

Back to David for a second. He's created a brilliant series of books dubbed "Curious Critters", and you can learn all about those at his website, HERE. But there's more. Dave just released another book entitled Salamander Dance, and it's great. CLICK HERE to learn about that. These books are exceptionally effective at interesting kids in nature. Think about getting some for the kids in your sphere.

We have great fun at these workshops, and everyone learns a lot. Should you b…

Salamander (mega) migration!

In this part of the world, amphibian enthusiasts pay close attention to the weather at this time of year. Towards the end of the day, yesterday, it was apparent that Wednesday night would produce the warm rainy conditions that are conducive to salamander migration.

The annual run of the salamanders trumps all, so I and a photographer friend met up at 8 pm and headed to one of central Ohio's best vernal pools. Smart move - it was a river of salamanders.

Upon arrival to our destination, there was a light drizzle and the temperature was 60 F. Perfect, and it didn't take much exploring to see that moisture-loving critters were moving en masse. This is a crayfish, rearing up among the leaf litter and threatening me with its pincers. I often see crayfish moving overland in such conditions.

Amphibians were the primary quarry and we weren't disappointed. Upon exiting the car, chorusing spring peepers could be heard, along with lesser numbers of western chorus frogs. These tiny fro…

Two ducks, gaudily beautiful

Last Saturday was the 13th annual Amish Bird Symposium in Adams County. As former co-organizer Roman Mast always joked: "What's an Amish Bird?"

I was able to make the scene, and hear several great talks. Several hundred birders attend, and the main attraction is great speakers. This year's cast featured Alexandra Forsythe, Mark Garland, Eric Ellis, and a triumvirate of great wildlife artists, DeVere Burt, John Agnew, and John Ruthven. The symposium is always in March. Put it on your calendar for next year.

The lure of signs of spring was strong for this winter-weary flatlander, so I stayed down there overnight and headed afield the following day.

While the weather was cold and rainy at times, there's no denying the first wildflowers their blooms. This is the tiny Harbinger-of-spring, Erigenia bulbosa, and it was coming on in force. I made this image when the temperature was 37 F. The little parsleys were pushing through the leaf litter in good numbers. Several ot…

Longtime advocate for Ohio streams, Mac Albin, will be missed

John Tetzloff, left, and Mac Albin work a seine as they check life in Little Darby Creek in April of 2014.
Longtime Advocate for Ohio streams will be missed
NATURE Jim McCormac
Ohio lost its leading stream ambassador on Feb. 20. Howard T. Albin, who everyone knew simply as Mac, finally lost a hard-fought battle with cancer at age 68.

While Mac spent a long, productive career as Franklin County Metro Parks’ aquatic ecologist, his interest in things watery began much earlier.

In 1972, Mac’s thesis for his master's degree at OSU was accepted. The 99-page essay was labeled in dry academese: A Comparative Study of the Behavior and Ecology of Two Sympatric Darters in Ohio With Special Reference to Competition.

While the thesis missed the best-sellers list, it was infused with Mac’s passion for his favorite fishes, the darters. His dry humor crept in, too.

From the acknowledgments: “I wish the thieves who stole my car, notes and equipment the best of luck in f…

A stunning snowscape

I stepped out into a wintry wonderland this morning. An inch of soft wet snow blanketed everything. The snow's consistency was just so, and it clung to everything it touched. Every branch of every tree was veneered with ivory ice water, and the effect was stunning.

As I crossed the Olentangy River on the Henderson Road bridge, I could stand it no more. A minor tardiness to the office was in order. Fortunately I had the right camera gear with me, so I made a slight detour to Whetstone Park, where the following images were captured.

Opportunities to shoot a snowy landscape like this don't come along all that often. At least around here. And sure enough, by 10 am or so the arboreal snow had largely melted away, leaving me feeling all the more pleased that I had taken to time to capture the ephemeral snowy beauty.


I love experimenting with photography of all kinds. Even cityscapes, on occasion. And last night offered an unusual opportunity to shoot the city of Columbus from an unusual perspective - the roof of a 30+ story skyscraper.

As the sun set on a beautiful albeit nippy evening, there was a brief period of perfect golden light. I managed to create this image at the peak of magic light. Shortly before this photo was made, one of the local Peregrine Falcons came to investigate, and landed on the parapet of the roof. After glaring at us interlopers who dared to scale HIS building, the falcon dropped off the ledge, coursed by at close range, and retreated back into the concrete jungle.

After the rooftopping concluded, we went down to street level and over to the Rich Street bridge across the Scioto River. This is probably the best locale to shoot uncluttered images of Columbus's skyline. Once the sun drops and the lights come on, downtown takes on an entirely different look.