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Showing posts from 2017

Hocking Hills photo workshop: February 20-22

One of the most scenic regions in the Midwest is the Hocking Hills of southeastern Ohio, and late winter (really, early spring!) is a great time to be there. Debbie DiCarlo and I have planned a field-based photo excursion for February 20-22, and we'll visit some of the most scenic spots. Debbie is a sensational landscape photographer (many other genres, too), and an excellent teacher. Both of us love to work with photographers of all levels, especially those just finding their photographic feet.

To learn more about Debbie and her work, visit HERE. For details on the Hocking Hills trip, CLICK HERE, and for a list and descriptions of our other trips, GO HERE.

Following is a tiny pictorial sampler of Hocking Hills highlights, with brief commentary. Hope you can join us!

The Hocking Hills region is noted for its spectacular sandstone features. This is the inside of Rock House, a sensational cathedral of brightly colored rock.

The boulder-strewn lower gorge at Conkles Hollow. There are…

Horsefly eggs

Word to the wise (from the not so wise): keep up on your photo archival! If you're a frequently active shooter, as I am, it's MUCH easier to amass lots of "keeper" images than it is to neatly label and archive them. Eventually all of my photos make their way into well organized folders, and I can lay hands on anything in seconds flat. But, over the past year, I have let some photo archival duties lapse, and am spending lots of time getting everything caught up - with dreams of not getting behind on this stuff again.
One perk of sorting through and labeling material from the year past is reminders of great field trips. On one of these - a foray to one of my favorite regions, Adams County, Ohio - from last September, I had taken a photo of "mystery" insect eggs. Hundreds of the off-white cylindric eggs were neatly arrayed into a fortlike pile, artful in its arrangement.

I knew who I could ask about their identity - Laura Hughes, who I have mentioned many times…

Snowy owl photography tactics - and things NOT to do

A gorgeous juvenile female snowy owl briefly catches your narrator with its piercing gaze. It's doing its Linda Blair/Exorcist trick - twisting its head 180 degrees to look straight behind. Owls have 14 neck vertebrae - double our number - which allows them such flexibility.

These visitors from the high arctic have irrupted big time into Ohio and adjacent regions, with new birds coming to light nearly every day. Probably 80 or so have thus far been reported in the state, and some of them have stuck around favored spots and become local celebrities.

I went to visit one of these birds this morning - the animal above, which was found last Friday by Doug Overacker and Julie Karlson at C.J. Brown Reservoir near Springfield. In the four days since its discovery, many people have visited as is nearly always the case when one of these white wonders appears near a large population center or is otherwise very accessible.

And as is always the case, people want to photograph the owls. And th…

Nature: Snowy owls once again making their way into Ohio

A snowy owls rests atop a Holmes County feed silo/Jim McCormac
Columbus Dispatch December 17th, 2017
NATURE Jim McCormac
Four years and two days ago, I wrote a column on snowy owls. That winter saw a massive invasion of these stunning, white arctic predators. At least 170 owls were reported from 59 of Ohio’s 88 counties. Deja vu. In perfect harmony with an oft-cited four-year cycle, the owls are irrupting again. I’ve heard of about 50 owls so far, in perhaps 25 counties. One of these was a brief sighting of a bird near the Main Post Office on Twin Rivers Drive in Columbus. This winter’s irruption isn’t confined to Ohio. Scores of owls have been reported in a band from Montana and the Dakotas east to the Atlantic coast and in adjacent parts of Canada. The majority of Ohio reports come from Lake Erie, as is typical. Harbors and the lakeshore provide an abundance of food in the form of gulls, ducks and small rodents. Even in lean owl years, a smattering of birds are found near Lake Erie. Sm…

Snowy owls irrupt!

This winter is shaping up to be another decent-sized irruption of snowy owls in the Great Lakes region, and points east. We've had a few dozen reports here in Ohio - mostly along Lake Erie but a smattering well inland. Not all of which have made the birding networks. For instance, I heard about one that was seen at the main post office in Columbus. One wonders how many owls pass through undetected, or set up turf in remote agricultural country and never come to light.
Some owls do become celebrities, and this post is about one of those owls. On Thanksgiving day, a gorgeous snowy owl appeared at a farm in Holmes County, and has been there ever since. I finally made the pilgrimage last Monday, and photos from that excursion follow.
The family that owns the farm has been exceedingly gracious to visiting birders. Even their signs reminding people to stay out of the fenced fields are very nice, and prefaced with a big WELCOME. At least 700 people have visited thus far, and unfortunate…

Epic Green Lawn Cemetery tour!

A month or so ago, I visited Columbus's famous Green Lawn Cemetery with cemetery board member Randy Rogers. Our main mission was to look at some of the massive old trees that are harbored in the cemetery. I wanted to write one of my Columbus Dispatch columns about the cemetery's ancient timber, and did so RIGHT HERE.
As I penned the column, the thought occurred that some people might like the opportunity to visit the cemetery in the company of guides who know the nooks and crannies of the sprawling 360-acre park/cemetery. So, I messaged Randy and he agreed that this was a good idea, and would co-lead the excursion with me. Excellent news, as I don't think anyone is as well rounded in their knowledge of the cemetery - its residents and human history, trees, and wildlife - as is Randy. So, I slipped a note into the column about the field trip, and that any and all were welcome.
Last Saturday was the day for the trip. Any interested parties were to convene at the administrat…

Nature: Calliope hummingbird excites birdwatchers in central Ohio

A calliope hummingbird in Delaware County/Jim McCormac
Columbus Dispatch December 3, 2017
Jim McCormac

The most famous bird in Ohio right now is a tiny puffball that weighs little more than a penny. Nearly 650 visitors from at least nine states have fawned over the wayward visitor. The tiny bird even has its own Facebook page (with hundreds of “likes”). This avian notable is a calliope hummingbird, and it is only the second one to appear in Ohio. The first was in 2002, in Chillicothe, and both birds are among very few records east of the Mississippi River. A calliope hummingbird in Ohio is decidedly off-track. The species breeds in mountainous regions from British Columbia to Washington, Oregon, Idaho and nearby states. These sprites undertake an incredible migration proportionate to their size. Most of the population winters in southwestern Mexico. Some birds probably migrate nearly 6,000 miles annually. Only the familiar ruby-throated hummingbird regularly shows up and breeds in…

Photography workshops and expeditions 2018!

A Baltimore oriole is nicely accentuated by the flowers of a chokecherry, Prunus virginiana.
I am pleased to announce that master photographer Debbie DiCarlo and I are partnering to present a series of field-based photography workshops in 2018. Nearly all of the details have been settled, and you can see the offerings and details RIGHT HERE.

Both Debbie and I have extensive experience with helping others to improve their photography, and very much enjoy working with photographers of all levels. We each bring different skill sets to the table; Debbie is one of the premier landscape and night sky photographers, and plenty of evidence of her skills can be seen at her website, RIGHT HERE. I tend to specialize more in species-specific photography, but certainly cross-pollinate my work with forays into about every photographic facet, as does Debbie.

A colorful carpet of blue-eyed mary, Collinsia verna.
These workshops  focus on Nature and its many facets: spring wildflowers, butterflies, wat…

Beaver Valley Christmas Bird Count: December 16

Your narrator's car - several years back - sits along a rarely traveled lane in rural Jackson County, Ohio. I was searching for birds during the Beaver Valley Christmas Bird Count (CBC). This census, which is part of the National Audubon Society's massive effort to conduct winter bird surveys from roughly mid-December through early January, is one of several dozen such counts in Ohio. And it is one of the more interesting ones, as the Beaver circle is sparsely populated, and contains a diversity of habitats.

This year's Beaver CBC falls on Saturday, December 16 and you are invited. If you are interested in joining one of the teams, please send me an email: jimmccormac35 AT

Below is a (somewhat crude) map of the count circle:

Click to expand image
We nearly always find interesting species, especially half-hardy birds like pine warbler, Wilson's snipe, eastern phoebe, gray catbird, chipping sparrow, and more. In general, the count circle is a birdy place and …

Nature: Green Lawn Cemetery’s majestic old trees leave lasting impression

Randy Rogers provides scale for the Green Lawn Cemetery tree estimated to be about 313 years old
Columbus Dispatch November 19, 2017
Jim McCormac

A century before Ohio became a state, a white oak acorn fell on gravelly terrain in what’s now the southwest side of Columbus. The following year, 1704, the fruit sprouted and a seedling arose.

That year, the first regular newspaper in the thirteen colonies was printed: the Boston News-Letter. One hundred sixty-seven years would elapse before the first edition of The Dispatch appeared.

Seven decades after the oak’s emergence, Americans, chafing under British rule, would fight for independence. By the time the Revolutionary War broke out, the acorn had matured into a large oak.

When the acorn sprouted in 1704, Ohio was pure wilderness. The city of Columbus’ predecessor, Franklinton, would not be platted until 93 years later, and it was 15 more until the “Borough of Columbus” was established.

This oak still stands, aged an estimated 313 ye…

Sandhill cranes, in two photos

Pulaski County, Indiana, a few weeks ago...

Native bees do the heavy lifting

A sunny roadbank covered with a spring-blooming fleabane known as robin's-plantain, Erigeron pulchellus. The flowers of this species, and the similar Philadelphia fleabane, E. philadelphicus, lure scores of interesting native pollinators.

I have a massive archive of natural history photographs, and have learned to not let them pile up without curation. Nonetheless, a bit of a backlog has accumulated and I've been trying to spend some time each day whittling away at them. When everything is neatly labeled and placed in the appropriate folder, I can lay hands on anything in no time flat. Anyway, today I was working through an unprocessed folder of stuff from Shawnee State Forest (Scioto County, Ohio) from April 26 of last spring (2017).

Reviewing these images reminded me of the hour or so I spent prostrate on the ground, watching and photographing a constant procession of tiny native bees to the fleabane flowers. And once again, I was reminded just how vital these largely unnot…

Mink punks muskrat, scares ducks!

The tranquil waters of the pond at Char-Mar Ridge Park in Delaware County, Ohio. I made my second visit to this site yesterday, and left scratching my head as to why I've not been here more often. It's only 20-25 minutes away, and the place can be a goldmine for bird photography. There is a fantastic roofed observation blind - where I made the shot above - and it's one of the best-sited blinds that I've seen. Not only is it in a great location, but is positioned such that the light, especially in early morning in spring and fall, is ideally suited for lighting subjects on the pond.

UPDATE: A little while back, I wrote a piece about another Preservation Parks of Delaware County site, Shale Hollow Park. That column, which appeared in the Columbus Dispatch and which I shared on this blog, HERE, touted the virtues of the park district and its holdings. I am pleased to say that one week later, Delaware County voters overwhelming approved passage of a park levy continuation,…