Monday, April 25, 2016
While on a whirlwind birding tour of central Ohio on April 16, Bernie Master and I stopped by Scioto Audubon Metro Park just south of downtown Columbus. We spent a few minutes admiring the Ospreys, which are nesting atop a light pole, just as conspicuous as could be. While making photos of the birds, I noticed something odd and unusual - House Sparrows were apparently nesting within the Osprey nest!
I resolved to return when time was more plentiful and document this excellent case of commensalism (relationship between two organisms, where one benefits and the other is unaffected). That day was last Saturday, in the perfect light of late afternoon.
If you are looking for a great place to practice in-flight photography on an easy, relatively slow moving subject, this is your chance. Plus, Ospreys are just cool to watch.
While House Sparrows have been recorded nesting within large raptor stick nests before - even Bald Eagles! - it is still cool to see firsthand. And thoroughly document with photos.
I really was wishing that she'd gotten her opening and darted up and into the sparrow nest. I'd have loved to have made photos of that! But House Sparrows are quite protective of their nests and the cowbird never got an opening, at least while I was there.
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Less than no time for proper blogging of late, between travels, talks, preparing for travels and talks, and myriad other things. So, a briefly captioned photo montage from last weekend's forays in central and southern Ohio follows.
Hope you're enjoying spring as much as I am!
Monday, April 18, 2016
This Saturday marks the 12th annual open house at the Ohio State University's Museum of Biological Diversity. You won't want to miss it. This is a rare opportunity to see fascinating collections that are normally inaccessible to the public. Hours are 10 am - 4 pm, and all the details are RIGHT HERE.
Sunday, April 17, 2016
About 50,000 people lived in Ohio in 1803, the year it became a state. They were greatly outnumbered by prairie chickens.
Two centuries ago, Ohio was far wilder than it is today. Most of the state was forested, but interspersed were vast prairies — about 1,500 square miles at the time of settlement.
Prairie regions blanketed vast swaths west of Columbus, south of Circleville, and in the Marion area. Noteworthy was the Oak Openings, a 300-square-mile mosaic of savannas and sandy prairie west of Toledo.
The prairies were exceptionally diverse in both flora and fauna. A standout among the prairie denizens was the greater prairie chicken.
Prairie chickens are related to wild turkeys and ruffed grouse, but they shun the forests preferred by those species. The treeless oceans of grasses and myriad sun-loving prairie plants are where the chickens roamed.
No one knows how many prairie chickens occupied Ohio in the early days. Vague settler accounts from the early 1800s cite “thousands” of prairie chickens in the larger prairies. They were undoubtedly a large part of Ohio’s prairie ecosystem.
By 1837, Ohio’s population had burgeoned to 1.5 million people. That year, a Vermonter turned Illinoisan named John Deere launched his steel chisel plow.
The prairies would never be the same. Deere’s device gave settlers a tool to cut thick prairie sod, and almost overnight, Ohio’s rich prairie was transformed into seas of crops.
Bolstered by agricultural and industrial advances, Ohio’s population passed 4 million people by 1900. Not coincidentally, that’s about when prairie chickens vanished from the state, unable to compete with the onrushing tide of humans.
I recently traveled to central Kansas to see and photograph prairie chickens, courtesy of Jackie Augustine of Ohio State University's Lima branch, who studies chickens in the Sunflower State.
Geoff Gould, one of Jackie’s doctoral students, escorted me to a blind on the edge of a prairie chicken lek, or dancing ground. After getting the lay of the land, I returned before sunrise the following morning.
As dawn cracked the horizon, the eerie whistled hoots of male prairie chickens began. Their mournful three-noted dirges were accompanied by frenzied squawks and clucks as the males jostled and sparred.
Shadowy silhouettes morphed into glorious prairie chickens, illuminated by a gorgeous sunrise.
The males gather on leks to court females. Strutting their stuff, they inflate air sacs on the neck that resemble egg yolks to create their telltale booming whistles.
The much plainer females strolled about, seemingly ignoring the pompous antics of the males. They’re sizing up prospective mates, though — the alpha male is likely to mate with almost all the hens, while lesser males might not get any girls.
Greater prairie chickens now occupy but a shadow of their former range. Fortunately, there are still places where they thrive, and I am grateful to have experienced the magic of a chicken lek in its full glory.
Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.blogspot.com.
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Spring is said to advance northward at a clip of about 16 miles a day. So take heart, ye tundra-people of Cleveland and other points north - you'll get some floriferous action soon enough.
The plants are really popping in southernmost Ohio, and the evidence follows in pictorial form. I was roaming throughout Adams and Scioto counties - Ohio River counties - last Sunday, where I made these images.
Thursday, April 7, 2016
Monday, April 4, 2016
I returned LATE last night from a whirlwind trip to Kansas. The expedition was filled with fascinating sites, noteworthy observations, and pixels and pixels of pictures. I'll be sorting, editing, and deleting for a while.
The main focus of the trip was prairie-chickens, and on that score it was phenomenally successful. More on those later. For new, here are a few of the many species of birds that were seen.
The clear, ringing whistles of Eastern Meadowlarks provided a tuneful soundscape in Kansas. At this locale, at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, nearly all were Easterns. About an hour to the west, nearly all were Western Meadowlarks.