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Showing posts from January, 2017

Talk this Sunday - butterflies & moths!

A pair of Spicebush Swallowtails spar over blossoms of a pinxter-flower azalea. Swallowtail butterflies are a major pollinator of deciduous rhododendrons, or azaleas.

I'm giving a program at the fantastic Aullwood Audubon Center in Dayton, Ohio this Sunday, February 5th, at 2:30 pm. The title? "Butterflies, and Moths, Their Darker Side". It'll be a photo-intensive romp through the wild world of some of our most interesting insects. In addition to the eye candy factor, I hope to drive home the importance of this massive group of bugs, and why we should be interested in conserving them. Get all the details RIGHT HERE.

All are welcome, and I would love to see you there. Aullwood charges a nominal fee of $5.00 per adult/$3.00 per child - members are free. Such funds go to support the far-reaching educational efforts of this effective operation.

NOTE: The Super Bowl, should you be concerned, does not start until 6:30 pm. I can assure you we will be through LONG before the…

Great gray owls are magnificent birds

A great gray owl scrutinizes a visitor to a Minnesota bog
Columbus Dispatch January 29, 2017
NATURE Jim McCormac
Milton B. Trautman was the undisputed dean of Ohio birds. Trautman, who died in 1991 at the age of 91, hailed from the shotgun era of ornithology. In his early days, a significant bird record hardly counted if it wasn't collected.

Imagine, then, Trautman's surprise on Oct. 30, 1947. He was boating to his home on South Bass Island in Lake Erie when he spotted a huge bird perched in a scrubby tree on tiny Starve Island. Drawing nearer, Trautman realized it was a great gray owl - dimensionally, the largest North American owl.

Trautman must have been bouncing off the gunwales, especially when he realized the rocky surf made getting in range to shoot the bird impossible.

Although he didn't make a museum specimen of the bird, he carefully described one of Ohio's few records of this northern owl.

A great gray owl is a mind-numbing bird. It measures over 2 feet in leng…

Dawes Arboretum's holly collection - and its birds

A Northern Mockingbird guards "his" patch of possumhaw, Ilex decidua. There were plenty of would-be frugivorous marauders to fend off.

A few days ago, I ventured to the always interesting Dawes Arboretum, near Newark, Ohio. The arboretum sprawls over nearly 2,000 acres, and much of the landscape is natural habitats. But much of the site is also a showcase of various ornamentals, although some of these plants are native, at least to the eastern U.S.

My target was the holly collection, a colorful section heavily planted with a dizzying array of various holly species and their cultivars. I knew many of the trees and shrubs would be heavily laden with fruit, and there would be fruit-eating birds in photogenic settings.

A striking male American Robin tees up on American holly, Ilex opaca. Robins abounded, and I never tire of photographing them. The opportunity to present these handsome thrushes amid equally handsome plants festooned with colorful fruit was irresistible, and many…

Baby rhino!

Yesterday was the annual Ohio Ornithological Society's "Raptor Extravaganza" at the Wilds in Muskingum County, Ohio. This mid-winter event has been going on for about a dozen years, and always attracts a full house - 130 or so birders from all across the Buckeye State. The main thing is to seek birds on and around the Wilds' 10,000 acres, and the many thousands of acres of adjacent reclaimed stripmine lands. We divide into eight teams, and fan out through the area. It's a big logistics task organizing all of this, and kudos to Jason Larson for pulling it all together this year.

It was unseasonably balmy yesterday, with temperatures hitting about 60 F. A far cry from several years ago, when it was pushing minus 20 F in some local areas at the morning rendezvous time. I was co-leading one of the groups, and we found many of the usual suspects: Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Harrier, Golden Eagle (yes!!) and other raptors, singing Eastern Meadowlarks, and a host of oth…

Sax-Zim Bog and boreal birds

As seen in the previous post, a massive Great Gray Owl casts its baleful gaze on the photographer. I was glad indeed that I was not a vole.

While it is the allure of Great Gray Owls that lures many people to the Sax-Zim Bog of northern Minnesota, there are many other interesting birds to be found, as we shall see. I was up there for three solid days last week - my first visit - and was quite impressed with the place. January and February are obviously peak times for winter birding, but come prepared for icy cold. The first morning saw a low of minus 29 F, and the mercury was well below zero each of the following two mornings.

Sax-Zim is an interesting place. Its boundaries include black spruce bogs, cultivated fields, and mixed and deciduous woodlands. A wonderful organization, the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog, has built and staffs a new visitor's center. This building, contrary to many similar installations that see peak visitation in summer, is only open during the winter months.


Great Gray Owl!

Well, my blogging has certainly fallen behind! I was hoping for more time for this sort of thing, but travels and other stuff have made for less of it.

Anyway, just returned from a trip to the bog lands of northern Minnesota, and saw and photographed many interesting birds. Just time for this one photo now, but I'll try and put up some others soon.

A Great Gray Owl bayonets the photographer with its laser beam stare. Of all the birds that frequent wintertime Sax-Zim Bog, this spectacular owl draws by far the most attention.

It was nearly dark when I made this image. Dusk is an excellent time to find these massive owls, as that's when they typically emerge to hunt. The photo demonstrates the vast improvements in camera technology in recent years. It was shot with the amazing new Canon 5D VI, at an ISO of 12,800! Even so, and with minimal noise reduction applied in post-processing, the image still holds up fairly well. Such a high ISO was needed to harvest enough light to make t…

Female Northern Cardinal, in flight

A female Northern Cardinal nears a perch, and flares its wings. This species, which is Ohio's state bird, is very common in central Ohio where I live. They're pretty easy to photograph, at least when at rest, but are so striking I could probably shoot them all day.

One way to try and make photographs of very common species stand out is to capture them in unusual postures, situations, or in flight. Making a sharp image of a rapidly moving songbird on the wing (click the photo to enlarge) is not easy. In this situation, there was a feeder a few feet to the left, and that's where this bird is headed. As it was about 12 F when I made this image, birds were hungry and the feeders were quite active, and I saw an opportunity. By pre-focusing my camera at a point a few feet off the feeder's right side, I could wait, (frozen) finger on the trigger, for targets to enter the bulls-eye zone.

I got plenty of opportunities with several species, but the vast majority of images will …

Hocking County rich in bird diversity, as new book shows

Columbus Dispatch January 1, 2017
NATURE Jim McCormac
Hocking County rich in bird diversity, as new book shows
One of Ohio's smallest counties has long been a favored refuge of Columbus residents fleeing the big city. Hocking County is small, but its 421 square miles are packed with natural beauty.

It's the stunning sandstone gorges, their steep, rocky slopes carpeted in towering hemlock trees, that give the Hocking Hills their distinctive flavor. Iconic places such as Conkles Hollow, Old Man's Cave and Cantwell Cliffs are treasured by tens of thousands of visitors annually.

Because of Hocking County's varied habitats and extraordinary botanical diversity, birds also abound.

A recent book, "The Birds of Hocking County, Ohio" (McDonald & Woodward Publishing Co., 144 pages), does a stellar job of documenting the Hocking Hills' avifauna. The authors are three legends of Ohio natural-history exploration: John Watts, Paul Knoop Jr. and Gary Coovert.

Studies o…