Last Monday, Debbie DiCarlo and I were doing some pre-casing of field sites for our photo workshop (CLICK HERE for more info), which began the following day. She had not seen the fabulous and expansive Clear Creek Metropark, so we buzzed in for a quick overview. We weren't long on Clear Creek Road, which follows the stream of the same name, when an eastern red bat zoomed out of nowhere and right over the vehicle!
I tossed the Jeep to the side of the road and out we leapt, to better see this amazing aerial beast. It didn't disappoint. The bat was actively feeding on this unseasonably warm winter day (mid-70's F!), and was patrolling a regular section of road. Plenty of moths, flies, and other insects were out, so the hunting was good.
This image was made with the Canon 7D II and the amazing little Canon 300mm f/4 lens. The latter is fantastic for flying objects, as long as they are fairly close. Settings were f/5 and 1/1000. Light was dim by this point in the day, necessitating a too high ISO of 1600. But I'll take it.
Good thing I didn't blink. The bat made an astonishingly rapid jig and flew right into the boughs of a small deciduous sapling right in front of that evergreen hemlock on the roadbank in the above photo. Despite seeing almost exactly where it went, it still took us five minutes to discover the roosting bat. They blend astonishingly well with plants, looking much like a hanging dead leaf.
While the bat that we found last Monday may have been an early migrant, stirred by the warm snap, I suspect it was one that was wintering locally. The warm day brought it out of hiding for snacks, most likely. In any event, it provided us with an interesting 2+ hours of bat-watching.
Sunday, February 25, 2018
Thursday, February 22, 2018
I just returned from a wonderful excursion to the beautiful Hocking Hills of southeastern Ohio. This region is a gem, and is richly endowed with stunning rock formations, streams, forests, and waterfalls.
For the better part of three days, Debbie DiCarlo and I led a photography workshop in which we visited some of the iconic Hocking Hills features - and some little known jewels. Debbie and I have a full slate of interesting workshops for 2018, and I invite you to check them out RIGHT HERE. We keep groups small, to ensure that everyone sees and shoots everything we find, and to better work with people on composition and technique. You can be assured we find lots of COOL THINGS, big and small.
We had planned this week's excursion long ago, and had given it the reasonable title of "Winter Wonderland", figuring that mid-February would bring ice and snow. While the Hocking Hills is gorgeous when clad in the frostings of winter, it also shines when wet. And wet is what we got. Temperatures were unseasonable, ranging from the 40's into the 70's. Lucky for us, the rains occurred largely at night and we dealt with little of the wet stuff when out shooting images.
Following are few quick edits of some shots that offer a glimpse into the grandeur of the Hocking Hills. Most of our participants had not seen these places, at least for a long time, and it was fun to share them and work with everyone to help them photographically capture their beauty.
As always, click the photo to enlarge
The lower falls at Old Man's Cave. I had never seen this falls looking so good, with a near perfect volume of water. And we had the place to ourselves, which is not often the case at this popular locale.
A raging river appears to burst from the rocks at the upper end of the Conkles Hollow gorge. This water wonderland doesn't last long. I'd say one has only a few hours following a hard rain to see these high water flows. The watershed that feeds the hollow is small, and the water dissipates quickly.
Sunday, February 18, 2018
Red crossbills (female above, male below) have primarily stayed north of Ohio this year
February 18, 2018
Crossbills are highly nomadic, a lifestyle forced by the irregular production of cone crops. Most conifers — spruce, pine, hemlock, etc. — produce bumper crops of cones only every other year, or at even longer intervals. Thus, what might be excellent habitat one year could be nearly lacking in food the next.
Thursday, February 15, 2018
A male eastern bluebird, fat caterpillar in tow, drops in to an old-school fencepost nest. The Ohio Bluebird Society is holding their annual conference on Saturday, February 24, at the Grange Insurance Audubon Center in Columbus. I'm giving a talk on cavity-nesting birds, and how people have helped - hugely, in some cases - with their conservation. I'm sorting through scads of images - this one included - in prepping for the gig. All are welcome and complete info is at: https://www.ohiobluebirdsociety.org/
Wednesday, February 14, 2018
I'm fortunate to live near a wonderful skunkery; a gorgeous spring-fed wetland that teems with the plants. So, in less than ten minutes I can be wetting my feet in the springy mire and ogling one of our strangest plants and a harbinger of spring if there ever was one.
One can be assured that these skunk-cabbage will be powdered with snow and crusted with ice, probably several times more. No matter, Symplocarpus foetidus is thermogenic - it creates its own heat, and thus defrosts itself. Nothing that dying Old Man Winter can throw at it is liable to do harm.
Take hope, winter is nearly vanquished, as the botanical skunks do not lie.
Monday, February 12, 2018
We've got a nice group of cheery photogs assembled for this one, but could take a few more if you pine for a Hocking Hills photographic adventure. February 20-22. All details here: https://www.debbiedicarlophotography.com/p/workshops-and-tours
Sunday, February 11, 2018
Interested, and qualified, applicants should contact Crawford Park District, HERE. This is a small but dynamic park system that is doing great things, and constantly growing in all aspects. It would be a great place to work!
Click the image to expand for easier readability
Sunday, February 4, 2018
An American marten hunts in Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario
February 4, 2018
Yet, wild, free-ranging mammals always generate excitement among observers. The thrill often seems disproportionate to their frequency. A coyote, striped skunk or white-tailed deer — all common – will nearly always grab and hold one’s eye.
Maybe we subconsciously recognize them as our distant kin in the phylum Chordata.
As a sad reflection on how the times have changed, nearly 20 percent of Ohio’s mammals that occurred at the time of European settlement are extirpated — vanquished from the state.
In the 1700s, the true wilderness of Ohio teemed with fish, fowl and various beasts. Its expansive forests, prairies and fruited plains harbored mammals that few modern Ohioans realize were part of our past.
American bison forged “buffalo trails” and ranged statewide. The last one was shot in Lawrence County in 1803, our year of statehood. Gray wolves and mountain lions were common predators, but they were shot out by the mid-1800s. Lynx roamed northern Ohio forests, but they couldn’t compete with burgeoning human populations and vanished early in our settlement era. Elk, once common and widespread, were hunted out by the 1840s.
A lesser-known animal once found here is the American marten. It, like the other vanished mammals, disappeared by the middle of the 19th century.
The marten is a fascinating carnivore belonging to the Mustelidae family, which includes minks, otters and weasels.
The first marten encounter was utterly serendipitous. I and a photographer friend were seeking birds in a campground when a marten dashed from cover and darted into a paper-recycling bin. We retreated to cover and waited it out in minus 2-degree cold.
Eventually the curious brute emerged from cover and offered fine looks. Martens are similar in size to a mink, but appear burlier — mildly bearlike. An adult measures about 2 feet in length. The bushy tail adds another half foot.
A hefty individual weighs about 3 pounds. Their tri-toned coloration is striking: whitish face and bib, black legs and tail, and yellowish-brown body.
We later ran across another, bolder marten foraging in the snow — it is the animal in the accompanying photo.
Martens are voracious predators, feeding mostly on small mammals such as mice and voles. But few critters up to its size or even larger are safe in the sphere of a hungry marten. They are known to take snowshoe hares — another mammal no longer found in Ohio — and these strapping bunnies can weigh 4 pounds.
Black bears are now routinely seen, especially in northeastern Ohio. River otters are thriving over much of the state. A bigger relative of the marten, the fisher, has been reported several times in recent years in eastern Ohio. So has the famously prickly porcupine. And bobcats grow more common each year: There were over 500 sightings in 2017.
But for Ohio marten enthusiasts, a trip to Canada’s north woods is required.
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 www.jimmccormac.blogspot.com.