Saturday, November 9, 2019

Two rare (for Ohio) birds

As always, click the photos to enlarge

A gorgeous first-year (I believe) female vermilion flycatcher hawks insects from a branch low over a marsh. While common nesters in parts of the southwest U.S. - with most birds wintering south of the border - the vermilion flycatcher is a major rarity in Ohio. The bird shown in this photo is about the 7th state record, I believe.

I finally had time to go look for it on November 3rd, but Levi Schlabach and Elias Raber first found the bird on October 25. A great find by the two gentlemen and one that may have had them temporarily scratching their heads. Female vermilion flycatchers are not nearly as distinctive as the brightly marked males, and when birding the Wooster, Ohio region in late October, this flycatcher would not be high on your list of expected species. Insofar as I know, it's still there as of this writing.

This bird frequents a small portion of a large marsh in Wayne County, which is northeastern Ohio. I spent over an hour observing her, and she seemed to be catching many a bug, in spite of cool temperatures. Most of our records come from late fall and early winter, with at least one or two lingering into December, so this species can endure frosty weather.

Fortuitously, this little animal was only twenty-five minutes from the aforementioned vermilion flycatcher, in nearby Holmes County. A stunning adult male rufous hummingbird and another western species, it turned up at the feeders of Martha Gingrich Weaver and family. I made this image as the bird perched atop prominent branch tips of an ornamental crabapple, from which it sallied after small flying insects. The bird also made regular trips to nearby hummingbird feeders for sugar-water fixes.

The first Ohio record of rufous hummingbird dates to 1985, and we've had dozens of records since. It's still quite the rarity, with only a few birds seen in any given year, and very few of those have been showy males as is this bird. Like the flycatcher, it's a westerner and the hardiest of the U.S.-breeding hummingbirds, nesting all the way into Alaska and at high elevations in the Rockies. Martha first saw it on October 23, and it's still there as of today. The Weavers have been extraordinarily gracious in allowing visitors and at the time of my visit, well over 100 people had been there to admire the spunky rufous hummingbird.

This November 3 rare bird safari offered the possibility of a trifecta, but alas, it was not to be. Right on my driving route from Columbus, and only 30 minutes or so from the vermilion flycatcher was a cooperative pomarine jaeger. The gull-like kleptoparasite was frequenting a large reservoir and was found by Sue Evanoff and Sue Snyder on October 29. The vast majority of jaegers that appear in Ohio occur on Lake Erie, and one on an inland reservoir is always extraordinary. Reservoir jaegers nearly never linger for any length of time, let alone five days as this one did. Alas, its final day was the day before I was there. It was seen late in the day on November 2, and I was there near daybreak on the next day. Somewhere in between it flew the coop.

Two out of three ain't bad, though.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Nature: 'Logan Oak' stands tall after five centuries

The enormous "Logan Oak" in Old Logan Cemetery in southern Ohio/Jim McCormac

November 3, 2019

Jim McCormac

On Sept. 28, I finally corrected an enormous arboreal oversight by visiting the legendary “Logan Oak.” Located in Old Logan Cemetery in the city of Logan at the gateway to the Hocking Hills, the gnarled white oak is a Methuselah tree.

Why I waited so long to pay respects is beyond me. The tree is splendid in every way. Huge gnarled limbs radiate from a skyscraper trunk, creating a gargantuan bonsai that must be seen to be believed. I had intended a brief visit, but my homage extended for more than an hour.

The Logan Oak is easily the largest and most ornate tree of its ilk that I have clapped eyes on, and I have seen scores of its species. It’s awesome from any angle, and I did my best to photographically illustrate the sheer majesty of this plant.

Similar nomenclature sometimes causes confusion with the former Logan Elm. That tree was just south of Circleville in Pickaway County, and was a huge and fabled American elm. Its name commemorates Chief Logan of the Mingo tribe. A storm brought the tree down in 1964, its vitality sapped by Dutch elm disease.

A placard near the Logan Oak puts its age at 600-plus years. I’m not sure how that was determined, and six centuries would put the oak at the extreme upper limits of life span for Quercus alba. Even if we estimate a bit more conservatively and age it at 500 years, that’s still an ancient organism.

Five centuries of growth makes for a big tree. It would take many people to join arms around the trunk, and lower lateral limbs would make big trees in their own right. The crown spread is an enormous leafy arbor that covers 9,000 square feet. That’s about the expanse of two Clintonville lots.

Amazingly, the Logan Oak is not the largest of its kind in Ohio. That honor goes to a tree in Mahoning County. Its circumference is 298 inches, the crown spread is 128 feet, and this oak is 94 feet tall. As impressive as those stats are, the Logan Oak is not far behind, and bests the official state champion in ineffable grandeur.

If we arbitrarily made the Logan Oak’s birthday today, Nov. 3, and accepted an age of 500 years, that means the tree sprung from its ancestral acorn in 1519. The oak’s inaugural year saw Cortes and his band of conquistadors invade Mexico and Leonardo da Vinci die at age 67; the Ohio country was still wilderness. It would be 284 years before Ohio’s statehood.

It’s hard to imagine all that the Logan Oak has seen. It was huge when Ohio’s sixth governor, Thomas Worthington, established the village of Logan in 1816 and even bigger in 1839 when it was incorporated. Scores of people undoubtedly have marveled at the tree through the centuries.

A mature oak can produce 10,000 acorns in a boom year, less in a lean year. As oaks are producing fruit within two or three decades, the Logan Oak has been an acorn factory for nearly five centuries. It likely has produced more than 2 million acorns so far.

As I photographed the tree, several blue jays — migrants, probably — cavorted in its upper boughs. It likely was a jay that planted this tree. Jays are inveterate cachers of acorns, which they bury. Many of these buried fruit are forgotten, thus the birds are avian Johnny Appleseeds of oaks.

Fortunately, interested arborists occasionally collect and grow acorns from the Logan Oak, ensuring that spawn from the mighty plant will continue its venerable legacy.

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

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Eastern Hemlock roots

The tentacular roots of an eastern hemlock tree, Tsuga canadensis, clutch a sandstone boulder at Old Man's Cave. Hemlocks do well on thin soil over rocky substrates, and over long time spans undoubtedly help break rock down by fracturing it, and calving big chunks from cliffs when ice and windstorms bring large trees down. The nooks and crannies within the root network also make great foraging areas for winter wrens. Hocking County, Ohio, yesterday.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Balanced Rock

This is "Balanced Rock", an interesting sandstone structure in Hocking State Forest. Softer rock comprising the lower portion of the pillar has eroded more rapidly than the cap at the top, creating this geological mushroom.

I had long heard of this amazing rock, but it wasn't until this morning that I hoofed it back to where it stands. It's a bit off the beaten track, but isn't particularly hard to reach and involves - if you took my somewhat circuitous route - about two miles, round trip. There are some other interesting sandstone features along the way, and plenty of nice scenery, as is nearly always the case in the Hocking Hills.

Today was our first truly cool morning, and I loved it. The temp when I first got out of my vehicle around dawn was around 32 F. I don't think it ever eclipsed 40 F while I was down there, and that was fine by me. We've crossed over into late fall, and winter will soon arrive.

Two rare (for Ohio) birds

As always, click the photos to enlarge A gorgeous first-year (I believe) female vermilion flycatcher hawks insects from a branch low ov...