Monday, March 28, 2016

One of my favorite birds, Agelaius phoeniceus

A male Red-winged Blackbird surveys his domain from atop a broad-leaved cattail. He was one of hundreds of territorial birds in this 500+ acre Hardin County, Ohio wetland.

I spent all day yesterday in this marsh, photographing birds. Arriving well before sunrise, I knew it would be a good day when a Short-eared Owl was the first bird that I encountered, hunting atop a dike.

I managed to secrete myself fairly well in a highly productive spot, which meant that the birds did not know I was there. The advantage of that is they go about their normal business without the fear of a giant hominid affecting their behavior. This Red-winged Blackbird was displaying right outside of my hide, and I couldn't resist making numerous images.

Even though I photographed what some might regard as "sexier" species on this day - Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Wilson's Snipe, lots of waterfowl and others - I'll always point the lens at showboating Red-winged Blackbirds. The fellow in the above photo is flaring his scarlet epaulets, feathers apuff, while delivering his gurgling conk-a-ree! song, a classic sound of marshlands.

This is the object of his desire - the female red-wing. She is not nearly so flashy as he, nor even remotely as pompous. As an aside, female red-wings certainly are one of the more puzzled over birds. Many a newer birder has seen one, turned to the sparrows in their guide, and scratched their head trying to decipher its identity.

While I kept tabs on my local red-wing out of the corner of an eye, I noticed a rival fly into close proximity and take up on a nearby cattail. The other guy immediately took umbrage at the interloper, pointing his bill in the air and sleeking his feathers.

A second later, with a bow and a flourish, he turned to the invader, flared his wings, and flashed those gaudy epaulets while delivering a menacing conk-a-ree!! The point was taken, the interloper left, and our protagonist went back to wooing the girls.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A hodgepodge of vernal biodiversity

It was a well-traveled weekend just past for your narrator. The planning committee for the annual Midwest Native Plant Conference, of which I am a member, met on Saturday at Cedar Bog. This will be the 8th year for the conference, and it's proven to be popular, selling out in all years but the first. This year, it was filled within ten days of opening registration. You can read about the conference HERE, and perhaps plan on attending the 2017 event.

The reason we meet at places like Cedar Bog is so that we can have an interesting field trip after the meeting. Following are a few snapshots from our journey into the fen.

I find this dilapidated red barn an irresistible subject, especially as it is color-complimented by the reddish-maroon stems of red-osier dogwood. This shot was clicked off from a fairly great distance with my Canon 100-400mm telephoto at full zoom. I hope the Cedar Bog managers allow it to remain standing until it crumples on its own.

Even though I've been in the "bog" dozens and dozens of times, it never loses its allure. I know that, without exception, when I enter the site I will see COOL THINGS. Doesn't matter the season, or the weather. About a mile of planking spans many of the most interesting habitats.

And here we have it - Exhibit A of COOL THINGS on this day. Sharp-eyed Debi Wolterman was the first to notice one of these caterpillars, and we eventually found perhaps two dozen. Almost all of them were noshing on the newly emergent leaves of golden ragwort, Packera aurea, a common spring wildflower. Air temperature: low 40's F.

Thanks to Brian Menker, I have an identification. I thought that the cats might be those of the Smeared Dagger Moth, Acronicta oblinita, but Brian correctly pegged them as LeConte's Haploa, Haploa lecontei. That makes much more sense, as I see lots of the adult moths here later in the year. But the caterpillar is a new one for me. As I said, always lots of cool stuff at Cedar Bog.

Sunday it was off earlier than early to be in southernmost Ohio at first light. First stop was a place in Brown County that I hadn't been to in 15-20 years, Indian Creek Wildlife Area. A fellow photographer was with me, and we found a sweet hiding hole in the edge of a marsh and managed some decent images.

Here a pair of stunning drake Blue-winged Teal float in tranquil waters in the beautiful golden light of early morning.

Fraternizing with the blue-wings were the even smaller Green-winged Teal. I was pleased when a pair lined up in this way, with the hen front and center. Everyone (almost) wants to shoot the gaudy drakes and pays scant attention to the muted hens. I am trying not to be completely guilty of such avian sexism and find myself shooting more hens. Although, the light is making the drake's colors fairly explode and it isn't hard to see why he might be the center of attention.

On the shrubby verges of the wetland were several territorial Field Sparrows, and it was of course necessary to pay these handsome sparrows some mind. This particular animal was especially cooperative. One wants a singing shot, naturally, with throat feathers apuff and head thrown back. It was quite easy to know when he would sing, and be ready for it. Another male was singing in the distance, and immediately after that bird would sing, this one would deliver its silvery cascade of trilled notes. That's counter-singing - males talking back and forth, letting each other know the boundaries of the invisible fence that separates their turfs.

At one point I spotted this Giant Leopard Moth, Hypercompe scribonia, caterpillar high-tailing it across a country lane. I slammed on the brakes and we jumped out to investigate the bristly tube of goo. I removed him from the roadbed and placed him on a soft bed of moss. The caterpillar immediately began tunneling into its depths, perhaps to escape the 44 F temperature.

I have been remiss in not featuring more pixie cup lichens on this blog, something that I'm sure has had you scratching your head. So, here we go. This one, I believe, is the Pebbled Pixie Cup, Cladonia pyxidata, but I gladly stand correction from those more knowledgeable. While these tiny lichens of dry soil do resemble elfin goblets, to me they look like crusty golf tees.

The aforementioned pixie cups were growing with this amazing plant, the Trailing Arbutus, Epigaea repens. These odd little heaths are one of the first wildflowers of spring. The leathery oval leaves overwinter, and always look liver-spotted and beaten by the time the blossoms appear.

Sunday was a cool day, with temperatures unable to eclipse 50 F. The coolness kept some wildflowers at bay, although they were trying hard to push their petals apart. This is Hepatica, Hepatica nobilis, petals still folded together. Lest some botanist take me to task for the name, I am a lumper in this instance. Many feel that there are two species, the Round-lobed Hepatica, Hepatica americana, and Sharp-lobed Hepatica, H. acutiloba. Were you in the splitter's camp, this would be the Round-lobed Hepatica.

A Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, springs from the soil. The leaf still enwraps the stem, and the flower has yet to open. It would have opened the following day, and the petals would have shed shortly thereafter. Bloodroot is one of only two native species in the Papaveraceae, or Poppy Family, in Ohio.

A steep bluff overlooking the Ohio River in Adams County was already bursting with wildflowers, including the Dwarf Larkspur, Delphinium tricorne. The flowers are fantastic photo subjects, with their witch's hat shape and stunning magenta coloration.

The ever-popular Dutchman's-breeches, Dicentra cucullaria, a true harbinger-of-spring. We saw lots, but it'll be another week or so before it hits its peak.

Finally, one of our major botanical targets and it was in peak bloom. This is the tiny Snow Trillium, Trillium nivale, a rather rare species that is the first of the trilliums to rear its head in spring. It grows where limestone rock is at the surface, and is quite scattered in distribution. It's well named - spring snow squalls often blanket the flowers. Although I've seen Snow Trillium many times now, rare would be the spring that I failed to make a pilgrimage to see it.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Woodcock's looks, gait laughable, but courtship display showy

The American woodcock courts females with dazzling aerial displays

March 20, 2016

Jim McCormac

"I'd rather be a little weird than all boring."
— Rebecca McKinsey (perhaps speaking for the woodcock)

There is nothing normal about an American woodcock. Even its nicknames bear this out: bogsucker, Labrador twister, timberdoodle.

The woodcock is a sandpiper, but it shares little in common with its kin. Even its habitat is different: damp thickets, shrubby meadows and young woods. For most of the year, woodcocks are out of sight and out of mind, concealed in the undergrowth.

Weird is an understatement when it comes to woodcock looks. It’s as if a drunken scientist assembled the creature during a fit of creative madness. An enormous Pinocchio-like bill juts from the bird’s face (useful for drilling worms in soft soil).

Woodcock eyes are huge, inky pools of blackness located closer to the back of the head than the front. Short, stubby legs support a rotund body topped by a large, domelike head.

The overall package’s comical impression is only bolstered by observing the woodcock's walk. It locomotes with an odd, mincing gait, each stride punctuated with rapid upward bounces.

We are entering prime time to see the woodcock’s spectacular courtship display. Beginning in early spring, these camouflaged shrinking violets burst from their shells in a major way.

Males establish a “dancing ground," which is really more of a helipad, usually near brushy cover. Come dusk, the male struts from the thicket and occupies his stage. He begins to issue loud nasal buzzes: peent! peent!

To ensure that any female observers hear him, the woodcock slowly spins as he calls, projecting to all corners.

After he has garnered prospective mates’ attention with his buzzing, his display takes a turn toward spectacular. Launching himself, the woodcock hurtles toward the heavens in great looping spirals. As he ascends, he delivers a constant series of rapid chirps caused by wind rushing through the outer primary feathers.

After reaching the apex of the flight, which might be several hundred feet in the air, the bird suddenly reverses course and swoops earthward.

During the descent, he twitters. When the aerial arias and sky-dancing are complete, the woodcock plops down on his dancing ground, and the cycle begins anew.

This display must be quite impressive to the Ms. Woodcocks. Insofar as the males are concerned, the more girls, the merrier. Male woodcock are polygynous; they will mate with more than one female.

The end game of this crazy courtship is the production of little woodcocks: puffballs on stilts.

Woodcock are found in much of eastern North America and are common in many areas of Ohio, including local Metro Parks. Woodcock walks take place at 7:30 tonight at Battelle Darby Metro Park and at 7 p.m. Saturday at Blacklick Metro Park. For details, visit

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

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Goose Pond, Indiana: Part II

As mentioned in the previous post, I spent the weekend past at the amazing Goose Pond in Indiana. You can read why, and see other photos from that foray, RIGHT HERE.

Two particular challenges face the photographer at Goose Pond, at least during our weekend. One is distance. This is a huge wide-open space, and waterfowl and other wild birds are not dummies. Getting within good range for tack-sharp photos can be tough. The other challenge was weather-related. Skies were heavy and gray the entire time, often delivering a wet mist or spitting rain. As much of photography is about light, such conditions are distinctly suboptimal, especially when shooting birds where fast shutter speeds are often a necessity. But as noted in the prior post, we probably learned more by having to work in these conditions.

Following are a few more photos from the Goose Pond weekend.

Hundreds of American White Pelicans mass in the distance. There were over 1,000 birds present; so many that the large roosts looked like distant snowbanks.

Occasionally small pelican squadrons would pass by on the wing near enough to shoot fairly well. Note the large "horn" or flattened tubercle atop their bills. American White Pelicans develop these odd bumps during the breeding season.

By FAR the most common waterbird in the marshes was the American Coot. Thousands of them were everywhere. They did make for good wingshooting practice.

A trio of Greater White-fronted Geese passes over. Hundreds were present. It was neat to see so many of these birds, which occur largely west of Ohio. The semi-musical piping squeaks of flocks filled the air on occasion.

In the previous post, I discussed the challenges of exposing birds in flight that are backdropped by a colorless leaden sky. To make this image, I cranked the exposure compensation two stops or so to the right (positive) to try and get a decent exposure. The end effect can be rather painterly.

A hen Green-winged Teal rockets by. These tiny ducks are a challenge to capture in flight. This one surprised me as it came from behind as I stood partially hidden amongst some cattails. I was using my Canon 7D Mark II with the superb 100-400 II lens, handheld. This was the first shot I got off, and the only keeper. This camera shoots ten frames a second on burst mode, and I kept the trigger down. But the bird saw me just about the time that I took this photo, and quickly veered off.

This one was luck, at least in part, depending upon your viewpoint. I shot it from the same cattail blind as the previous image, and was smoothly panning this flock of Redheads as they passed by my position. When I later evaluated the images, I saw that one of the birds was caught in the act of releasing a flume of fecal effluvia.

Several interesting questions are raised by this, on which I suspect there has been little to no research. Ducks in flight are fast, and these Redheads were probably doing 40 mph or faster. It would be distinctly disadvantageous to be a duck that was closely following a bird when it forcefully expelled. Have waterfowl evolved a staggered flight formation to avoid such mishaps? Do birds that must "go" when on the wing drop to the back of the pack as a matter of etiquette? Do they prank their comrades with an expected blast?

Goose Pond has become an important resting and refueling area for Whooping Cranes in the recently established population that winters in Florida, and migrates to Wisconsin. At least seven were present this weekend. While the giant white birds can be seen a mile away, and they're fun to watch, most of the time the cranes were too distant for photos. While the bird and its companion were fairly far off, they were close enough to get fairly clear images. I was using the equivalent of an 1120 mm lens, and even then much cropping was necessary. Note all the bands adorning its legs, and there was even a leg transmitter for radio telemetry monitoring.

We figured the meadows and marshlands of Goose Pond were harboring Short-eared Owls, and sure enough, we saw about five of the charismatic raptors at dusk on the first night. As is often the case with these largely crepuscular owls, they didn't emerge until it was too dark for decent photography. The camera's ISO was 6400 when I made this image - far too high for a crisp shot. But the photo does show the general ambiance of the scene, and we greatly enjoyed watching the owls' antics.

I look forward to a return visit to Goose Pond, someday.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Goose Pond, Indiana: Part I

David FitzSimmons and I co-led a photography workshop over the weekend, at an amazing place known as Goose Pond, in south-central Indiana. Read more about this site RIGHT HERE. Dave is one of the best photographers that I know, and I was flattered that he would have me along. Ben and Anna Warner also were leaders and their bird-spotting and overall trove of natural lore was indispensable. Roberts Camera of Indianapolis organized the affair and Walt Kuhn did his usual topnotch logistical work.

Back to David for a second. He's created a brilliant series of books dubbed "Curious Critters", and you can learn all about those at his website, HERE. But there's more. Dave just released another book entitled Salamander Dance, and it's great. CLICK HERE to learn about that. These books are exceptionally effective at interesting kids in nature. Think about getting some for the kids in your sphere.

We have great fun at these workshops, and everyone learns a lot. Should you be interested, Dave, myself, and Art Weber are conducting another on September 20-22, at Lakeside Chautauqua on the shores of Lake Erie on Ohio's Marblehead Peninsula. It'll be a blast, with scads of interesting photographic subjects. DETAILS HERE.

There's no predicting Midwestern weather, and  our groups were challenged much of the time by spitting rain and leaden skies. These are not ideal conditions for bird photography - which was our focus - but one should strive to make lemonade from lemons. We actually probably learned more from shooting in such weather, as good photos can still be made, but one must work harder for them.

A male Red-winged Blackbird is not deterred in the least by the rain wetting his feathers. Red-wings, needless to say, abounded in Goose Pond's nearly 8,000 acres of marshland, and they made wonderful subjects.

We were pleased to see that many Eastern Phoebes had returned, and were setting up shop under bridges. These tough little flycatchers are the first of their family to return in spring.

This female Red-winged Blackbird posed beautifully for our group, allowing everyone to practice composition, and exposure in gloomy light. We had discussed optimal head positions and postures for interesting photos, and it was cool to hear the flurry of clicks from the cameras when the red-wing canted her head to a pleasing angle.

We focused (pun intended) a lot on flying birds. This represents a real challenge to proper exposure when the bird is backdropped by the "white sky of photographic death." Without really ratcheting up the positive exposure compensation, you'll end up with a black silhouette. It's often not intuitive for people to intentionally overexpose their cameras on a subject, but that's what must be done in such situations. This light morph Rough-legged Hawk gave me a few close passes. I shot it with the Canon 7D Mark II and the 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 II, handheld. Settings were 400mm, f/5.6, ISO 320, and 1/600. Smooth panning of the subject with the camera and the lens' brilliant image stabilization makes getting a sharp shot fairly easy. The key, though, was cranking the exposure up one and two-thirds stop.

It wasn't all birds. The warm rainy weather pulled out turtles galore, and many Painted Turtles were marching overland. Turtles do not require the blisteringly fast shutter speeds that birds often do, I have found.

At one point, a bunch of us had our big rigs mounted on tripods and focused on a group of distant American White Pelicans. These pelicans are feathered jumbos indeed: weight about 16-17 lbs, with a wingspan of nine (9!!) feet! They're not too tough to locate in the camera's viewfinder. While we were shooting those, I noticed a tiny dime-sized Spring Azure butterfly flit by and land on some nearby grasses. Many of us turned our rigs to the butterfly and it was amusing to see a bunch of 500 and 600mm lens - complete overkill! - trying to focus on the tiny insect. I suspect millions of azures could fit in a pelican's pouch. But it was a great exercise in locating tough to see objects with a large lens. This image was shot with the Canon 7D Mark II, 500mm f/4 II, and 1.4x extender - a focal length equivalent to 1120mm. I was standing about 15 feet away from the butterfly.

I had never been to Goose Pond prior to this excursion, so I spent Friday scouting before the first group arrived. At one spot I saw a thick stand of cattails in the shallows of a marsh, and waded out to hide in them, camera in hand. Sort of a makeshift blind, if you will. It worked, and I got some neat images of various waterfowl. But the highlight of this locale was some curious Muskrats. Apparently I had chosen an area important to them, and they either did not appreciate my presence, or didn't know what I was and were curious. They approached closely several times, and would swim around within two feet of me, emitting soft little squeaky whistles.

Next up I'll post some interesting waterfowl photos, and other waterbirds.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Salamander (mega) migration!

In this part of the world, amphibian enthusiasts pay close attention to the weather at this time of year. Towards the end of the day, yesterday, it was apparent that Wednesday night would produce the warm rainy conditions that are conducive to salamander migration.

The annual run of the salamanders trumps all, so I and a photographer friend met up at 8 pm and headed to one of central Ohio's best vernal pools. Smart move - it was a river of salamanders.

Upon arrival to our destination, there was a light drizzle and the temperature was 60 F. Perfect, and it didn't take much exploring to see that moisture-loving critters were moving en masse. This is a crayfish, rearing up among the leaf litter and threatening me with its pincers. I often see crayfish moving overland in such conditions.

Amphibians were the primary quarry and we weren't disappointed. Upon exiting the car, chorusing spring peepers could be heard, along with lesser numbers of western chorus frogs. These tiny frogs with their toe-capped suction cups were all over the place. This is a chorus frog, blending well with the bark of an oak.

The spring peepers blew any and all other noise-makers out of the water. As we neared the vernal pool, the noise grew in intensity. Standing along the verge of the pond was nearly painful, so loud and shrill is the collective mass of singing frogs. A barred owl had been calling fairly close by - and you know how loud those can be. The peepers completely drowned out the owl. I never fail to be amazed by the sheer volume of these Lilliputian frogs.

The spotted salamanders stole the show, though. We hit the BIG NIGHT, that's for sure. They were everywhere. Moving (carefully!) towards the vernal pool, salamanders would appear out of nowhere, moving through the leaf litter in an age-old spring ritual. A relentless drive propels the amphibians towards their breeding ponds, where male and female will meet and lay eggs. The adults won't remain long, but the larval salamanders will spend weeks growing and maturing in the pools.

A gravid female moves across a turkey-tail fungus-encrusted log. Many pregnant females were moving to the pools, which were filled with writhing and dancing male salamanders. The boys had already deposited scores of spermatophores in the water, ready to fertilize the females' eggs as they arrive.

Peering into the water was incredible. At times, 30 or 40 salamanders were evident in a tiny area, and everywhere one looked there were more. Extrapolating to the size of the vernal breeding pools, I figured there might be five or ten thousand of the animals, but who knows. Anyway, you shake it, last night was a major salamander-fest, and I'm glad that I was there to witness the spectacle.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Two ducks, gaudily beautiful

Last Saturday was the 13th annual Amish Bird Symposium in Adams County. As former co-organizer Roman Mast always joked: "What's an Amish Bird?"

I was able to make the scene, and hear several great talks. Several hundred birders attend, and the main attraction is great speakers. This year's cast featured Alexandra Forsythe, Mark Garland, Eric Ellis, and a triumvirate of great wildlife artists, DeVere Burt, John Agnew, and John Ruthven. The symposium is always in March. Put it on your calendar for next year.

The lure of signs of spring was strong for this winter-weary flatlander, so I stayed down there overnight and headed afield the following day.

While the weather was cold and rainy at times, there's no denying the first wildflowers their blooms. This is the tiny Harbinger-of-spring, Erigenia bulbosa, and it was coming on in force. I made this image when the temperature was 37 F. The little parsleys were pushing through the leaf litter in good numbers. Several other species of native wildflowers were also in bloom in the Ohio River counties. As were nonnative daffodils (which, quite sadly, would be recognized by FAR more people than gorgeous native flora like this Harbinger-of-spring).

As I made my way back north on State Route 104, which borders the mighty Scioto River, I noticed a small pack of Hooded Mergansers in a slackwater oxbow of the river. I wheeled back, found a good hiding hole, and waited for the birds to forget about my presence. They did, and eventually drifted near enough for some passable images.

A drake Hooded Merganser with hormones coursing through its body and hens to impress is a sight to behold. They flare that elegant black-trimmed white crest, which apparently impresses the ladies. Half a dozen drakes were strutting their stuff.

This spot turned out to be a real honey hole. I could see incoming fowl flying up the river long before they saw me, and thus was ready with the camera. As you may know, big rivers are essentially highways for birds, and all manner of species navigate along them. In short order I saw several species of ducks, Belted Kingfisher, two Bald Eagles, and more. A group of Green-winged Teal dropped into the oxbow, the males' musical albeit slightly raspy piping notes much reminiscent of spring peeper frogs.

At one point I heard the high-pitched squeals of a female Wood Duck, and glanced over to see this trio spring from the flooded bottomland woods. I trained my big lens on the fast-moving birds, and flubbed most shots. But this one is a keeper. The female is bookended by attentive drakes, both of whom are no doubt vying for her attention.

Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers look a lot alike in flight, if just seen as silhouettes. Both species are cavity-nesters with long tails, and the tail extends behind the wings about as far as the head and neck on the other side. But Wood Ducks typically hold their head and neck up, above parallel, and thus look somewhat wary and watchful in flight. Hooded Mergansers hold the head at or below parallel, and that habit coupled with their somewhat faster flight gives the birds more of a look of speedy purposefulness.

This image was grabbed with Canon's amazing 7D Mark II. If you're looking for a great bird camera, check into one of these. It was connected to the 500mm f/4 II lens with a 1.4x extender sandwiched between, and the whole rig was mounted on a tripod. Settings were f/6.3, ISO 500, 1/2000. The exposure compensation was +1.3 stops. Without exposing to the right, the birds would have come out looking like dark silhouettes. Upping the exposure also whitens the sky, which lends somewhat of a painterly feeling to the image.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Longtime advocate for Ohio streams, Mac Albin, will be missed

John Tetzloff, left, and Mac Albin work a seine as they check life in Little Darby Creek in April of 2014.

Longtime Advocate for Ohio streams will be missed

March 6, 2016

Jim McCormac

Ohio lost its leading stream ambassador on Feb. 20. Howard T. Albin, who everyone knew simply as Mac, finally lost a hard-fought battle with cancer at age 68.

While Mac spent a long, productive career as Franklin County Metro Parks’ aquatic ecologist, his interest in things watery began much earlier.

In 1972, Mac’s thesis for his master's degree at OSU was accepted. The 99-page essay was labeled in dry academese: A Comparative Study of the Behavior and Ecology of Two Sympatric Darters in Ohio With Special Reference to Competition.

While the thesis missed the best-sellers list, it was infused with Mac’s passion for his favorite fishes, the darters. His dry humor crept in, too.

From the acknowledgments: “I wish the thieves who stole my car, notes and equipment the best of luck in finding use for a current flow meter.”

His research site was Clear Creek at the northern edge of the Hocking Hills. Today, much of that stream is protected as Metro Parks’ second largest preserve, Clear Creek Metro Park.

Mac was possessed of a rare and remarkable intellectual curiosity. Few things in the natural world escaped his notice, and everything warranted inspection. A lunker smallmouth bass warranted no more interest than an obscure caddisfly larva or a faded mussel shell.

While Mac’s interests often tilted towards the arcane, he was wise to the superficiality of human interests. Thus, the colorful fish known as darters were his bait. Scores of people were instantly captivated when he reached into his net and produced a brilliant rainbow darter or emerald-colored greenside darter.

The darter became the springboard to teaching greater awareness of aquatic ecosystems and, above all, the importance of conserving our streams. Throughout his long career, Mac turned on thousands of people of all ages to the magic of darters, dragonflies, hellgrammites and myriad other beasts.

The Darby creeks were nearest to Mac’s heart, and he was passionate about their protection. The last of my many trips afield with Mac was to a special honey hole in Little Darby Creek not far from where he lived. That was on April 13, 2014, and he was already fighting the battle that ultimately brought him down.

Nonetheless, all was forgotten when we entered the stream. I’ve yet to meet anyone who could read a river like Mac. He would point out subtle variations in a riffle’s tempo, and tell you what fish to expect in each spot.

We’d wallow over and seine up just what he said we’d find. And he’d delight over the catches, just as he had a thousand times before.

I wish there were an army of Mac Albins safeguarding every stream. The world would be a far better place. We’ll miss you, Mac.

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

Friday, March 4, 2016

A stunning snowscape

I stepped out into a wintry wonderland this morning. An inch of soft wet snow blanketed everything. The snow's consistency was just so, and it clung to everything it touched. Every branch of every tree was veneered with ivory ice water, and the effect was stunning.

As I crossed the Olentangy River on the Henderson Road bridge, I could stand it no more. A minor tardiness to the office was in order. Fortunately I had the right camera gear with me, so I made a slight detour to Whetstone Park, where the following images were captured.

Opportunities to shoot a snowy landscape like this don't come along all that often. At least around here. And sure enough, by 10 am or so the arboreal snow had largely melted away, leaving me feeling all the more pleased that I had taken to time to capture the ephemeral snowy beauty.

Thursday, March 3, 2016


I love experimenting with photography of all kinds. Even cityscapes, on occasion. And last night offered an unusual opportunity to shoot the city of Columbus from an unusual perspective - the roof of a 30+ story skyscraper.

As the sun set on a beautiful albeit nippy evening, there was a brief period of perfect golden light. I managed to create this image at the peak of magic light. Shortly before this photo was made, one of the local Peregrine Falcons came to investigate, and landed on the parapet of the roof. After glaring at us interlopers who dared to scale HIS building, the falcon dropped off the ledge, coursed by at close range, and retreated back into the concrete jungle.

After the rooftopping concluded, we went down to street level and over to the Rich Street bridge across the Scioto River. This is probably the best locale to shoot uncluttered images of Columbus's skyline. Once the sun drops and the lights come on, downtown takes on an entirely different look.