Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Wilds

Yesterday the Ohio Ornithological Society hosted a rather massive field trip to the Wilds of Muskingum County. We originally had 135 people signed on, and about 120 folks made it over and endured cool temps and blustery winds. It was cold, but after watching the New York Giants rout the Packers in Green Bay - it hit -4 with -24 windchills there- yesterday didn't seem so bad.
First and foremost, I want to thank those people that made this safari possible. Top of the list is Marc Nolls and Cheryl Harner, who really put a lot of thought and planning into this event. Their hard work showed, as everything came off flawlessly. Getting seven different trips launched simultaneously from the same parking lot with everyone organized into their assigned group is no easy feat. Yet, they pulled this off and people were good to go and leaving for the field within ten minutes or so of the rendezvous time. Kudos to Marc and Cheryl.
Also, we really appreciate the Wilds making their buildings available to us for lunch and restroom breaks. They've been very good to the birding community over the years. Also, Al Parker, who is their education coordinator, helped lead trips AND gave back to back talks on raptors to each of the lunch groups. Thanks, Al.

Finally, big thanks are in order to all of the expert birders that worked with us to lead field trips. Ohio is really fortunate to have a strong birding community with many people that give selflessly of their time and talents, and many of them helped run the show yesterday. In no particular order, that was Dan Sanders, Aaron Boone, Jim & Bret McCarty, Dan Sanders, Glenn Crippen, Julie & Ken Davis, Marc Nolls, Janet Creamer, Cheryl Harner, Bill Thompson, Tom Bain, Jason Larson, Bill Heck, Bob Placier, and Peter King. I hope I'm not forgetting anyone, and thanks to all of you.

The bleak winter landscape of the Wilds and surrounding American Electric Power lands. Barren as it may appear, this habitat is fascinating to bird and raptors can abound.

We had decent numbers of birds and pretty much all of the usual suspects. These three Rough-legged Hawks amused our group for some time. The two birds that are close together were apparently male and female, and getting a bit frisky. They were engaging in some awesome display flights, where (presumably) the male would dive at her, then they'd both launch into tandem power dives. After dropping rapidly earthward for some distance, they'd pull out, all the while staying just feet from each other. The third bird seemed to be odd man out, staying nearby but not really getting in on any of the action. Althogether we saw perhaps 12 - 15 Rough-legged Hawks, including several gorgeous dark morphs.

We checked out a grove of Austrian Pines that were off the beaten path, and found evidence of some pretty heavy owl roosting. No owls, though, but the pellets were pretty fresh. This tree had a ton of pellets and white-wash under it. Short-eared Owls possibly, but I'd be more inclined to think Long-eared Owls, which are more apt to be roosting in pines. And I've seen them in similar situations elsewhere in and around the Wilds. These huge reclaimed strip mine grasslands undoubtedly support more Long-eared Owls than any of us suspect, and searching suitable roosting cover in these sites during the winter would likely turn them up.

The group was too large to fit into the Wilds restaurant/gift shop building for lunch, so we went in in two shifts. Our group was in the first shift, and it was nice to have a place out of the cold and wind to eat. Also, Al Parker gave a great program on raptors. Right as Al was nearing the end of his talk, having just gone over eagles, one of our sharp-eyed birders spotted the GOLDEN EAGLE soaring outside the building. Mild pandemonium ensued, and everyone rushed to the windows and were treated to about the best looks you could ask for of this very rare Ohio bird. That's what they're doing in the above photo, and I got too excited to remember to snap a photo of the bird, which I probably could have done. Our group had already been treated to excellent views of this subadult Golden earlier in the morning, and I think everyone that came out got to see one of the apparent two Golden Eagles that is present. This species is a major score in Ohio.

About 60 people stayed until dusk, to see the Short-eared Owls. These crepuscular barking beasts can be reliably found at the Wilds, and are best sought right before sunset. We weren't disappointed; a cooperative bird flew nearby the group, and landed in a tree where good looks could be had by all through the scopes.

The usual party-closers - first ones there, last to leave. From left, it's Janet Creamer, Jason Larson (played the birder in the Village People :-), Cheryl Harner, Marc Nolls (blue), and Bill Thompson. While we don't usualy recommend standing around rapping on state highways, being on State Route 34o at this point is like being in the middle of an Arizona desert. We stood around looking for short-ears until the sun dropped, and by then it was pretty cold.

All in all, a great day afield with lots of good birds. All of the expected raptors were seen and everyone could study them well. The Golden Eagles were a show-stopper, and unusually cooperative. And from what I gathered talking to people, everyone seemed to have a really good time.

This is the third Wilds expedition that the OOS has organized, and I expect there will be more.


Tom Arbour said...

Very "cool" post Jim.


Bill of the Birds said...

It WAS a great day at The Wilds, Jim! Thanks to the OOS team that made it happen.

I only wish we'd found some long-eareds to go with those pellets.

Anonymous said...

We were very bummed to have broken down with a failed transmission just outside of Newcomerstown. Our Honda Odyssey is usually reliable. We were tempted to try to rent a car to finish the treck, but instead headed back to the Cleveland region. Very glad that you had a day to be jealous of. See you next time.

Kathi said...

Some day, I will make it to this event. I'm still looking for my Ohio Golden Eagle. This year, I was in sunny central Florida, where it was slightly warmer.


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