Friday, March 29, 2019

Bill Thompson III (1962 - 2019)

A pensive Bill Thompson III gazes over the waters of Lake Erie, on the ferry from the Marblehead Peninsula to Kelleys Island. This was on September 8, 2009, and we were on a field trip for a fall warbler symposium organized by the Ohio Ornithological Society.

As many of you know by now, the birding community lost one of its great leaders last Monday night, when Bill lost a tough battle with pancreatic cancer, a battle no one wins. His diagnosis last December came like a punch in the gut to everyone who knew him, but Bill being Bill bravely faced up to it and continued with his typical productivity for as long as he possibly could.

His wife of 25 years, artist and author Julie Zickefoose, wrote an elegantly descriptive synopsis of Bill's life in the Marietta Times, and you should read it RIGHT HERE.

I could add nothing beyond Julie's thoughtful conspectus, other than to relay some of my personal experiences with Bill. In 1978, a small fact-packed and delightful magazine hit the presses - Bird Watcher's Digest. As a lad of 16 and thoroughly hooked on birds, I got my mitts on the inaugural copy and ate it up. I did not yet know the Thompson clan, who started and published BWD, but did in a way through their magazine for many years before making any personal connections.

In 1997, I finally met Bill at a Midwest Birding Symposium at Lakeside, Ohio. By then, we knew each other by reputation, and upon actually meeting, hit it off. We're only a few weeks apart in age, shared the same passion for birds and spreading the word of birds, and a similar corny sense of humor and fondness for bad jokes. Over the years, we spent a lot of time together, in leadership roles in the Ohio Ornithological Society (both of us served as president), on trips far and wide, and just hanging out. Eventually, Bill offered me opportunities to write for Bird Watcher's Digest, the magazine I had long eagerly devoured. And I still wield a BWD pen to this day - in fact, the current issue's cover story is about Wilson's snipe, and it's mine, thanks to Bill. Only a few weeks ago, he sent me a nice note about being part of the Bird Watcher's Digest family, and in spite of his struggles was still working hard with the publication he loved.

Like many of you, I have so many good memories of Bill and time spent in his company that I could write a book. Instead, I dusted off some of the numerous photos that I managed to take of our adventures over the years, and a pictorial remembrance follows. I'll miss Bill dearly, as will so many others. Again, read Julie's wonderfully written obituary for an excellent recap of Bill's life and accomplishments, HERE. Also, back on February 6, Bill and I recorded one of his This Birding Life podcasts. The wide-ranging discussion was posted on March 6, and can be heard RIGHT HERE.

My condolences to Elsa, Julie, Liam, Phoebe, Wendy, Andy, Laura, and everyone else in Bill's extended family, and I know my sympathies are shared by thousands of people around the globe who personally knew Bill.

The following photos are all just quick snaps taken with phones or point & shoots, unedited, and in no particular order. They all bring back fond memories.

Bill (L) and possibly our guide Hugo slog through a heavy downpour in a Guatemala jungle, March 4, 2008. The man was nothing if not hardcore, and had enough adventurous treks around the globe to last ten lifetimes.

I took this snap of Bill (far L) and the staff of Bird Watcher's Digest out front of their Marietta, Ohio offices on July 31, 2008. Bill served for many years as editor, and unparalleled front man.

Bill peeks through Guatemalan jungle foliage on our epic March 2008 trip to this fabulous country. We were on our way up a rickety canopy tower.

Bill points to another ornithological luminary, Jon Dunn. The glacial grooves of Kelleys Island form the backdrop. This photo dates from September 9, 2007.

This shot from the streets of Flores, Guatemala, was either right before or after Bill saw his first bat falcon. He didn't see new birds often, because he had seen most everything, and as the bat falcon is one of the world's coolest birds of prey, this was cause for special celebration. March 2, 2008.

Your narrator and Bill serve as scale models (and darn good looking ones I would be tempted to say) for an amazingly enormous palm leaf. Near Flores, Guatemala, March 3, 2008.

Bill shares a laugh with the one and only Greg Miller. We were at the offices of the Hebron (Ohio) Fish Hatchery for a board meeting of the Ohio Ornithological Society. September 16, 2006.

This is a screen cap from a presentation Bill gave at a 200+ person Ohio Ornithological Society raptor conference in Zanesville, Ohio, on December 3, 2005. Bill is a slide to poke fun at my botanical proclivities, and provide clear differentiation between birders and botanists.

This was a fun scene, and it unfolded in the Vista Real Hotel in Guatemala City on March 2, 2008. Bill, I and others were down there for a birding tour, when Julie Zickefoose unexpectedly (to Bill) showed up to join us, and surprise him.

I know when and where this was - May 4, 2011 in West Virginia at the New River Birding & Nature Festival - but I have no idea what Bill is doing with that cantaloupe or whatever it is.

Fun times, and in no small measure to the guy front and center in the blue hat, mugging for the camera. Ohio Ornithological Society annual conference at Shawnee State Park, Ohio, April 27, 2014.

Bill, in his semi-mulleted phase, enjoys the company of Hugh Kolo-Rose and Jen Sauter at an Ohio Ornithological Society conference at Mohican State Park in Richland County, Ohio. May 19, 2007.

Bill co-leads a field trip with Greg Miller (just right of the scope) at the OOS conference at Mohican in 2007. No one did field trips better than Bill.

Bill serves as emcee and resident minstrel at an Ohio Ornithological Society event in 2006. He nearly always would sing a song either before or after the main event. Sometimes he would even modify the words of a well-known song to fit the speaker he was introducing. Like so many other things, he was a one of a kind when it came to emcee'ing and entertaining crowds.

Bill sends me a signal at the OOS raptor conference in Zanesville, Ohio. December 3, 2005.

Bill takes to the lectern at the aforementioned raptor conference. Notice the expressions on the participants faces. Very typical reactions during a Thompson performance.

Bill, along with Dr. Bernie Master, present Carl Slater with a prize - Brian Wheeler's excellent raptor guide - at the aforementioned OOS raptor conference. On one epic day in May in the early 2000's, Bernie, Bill, Dan Sanders and myself set out to break the Ohio Big Day record (most species seen in a 24 hour period). We came close with 185 species (if memory serves), just missing the mark, but it was an incredible day of companionship, jokes, madhouse birding, and hundreds of miles traveled.

Bill and Peter King, OOS treasurer at the time, present a young Ethan Kistler with a check to help fund Ethan's attendance at an American Birding Association birding camp in Arizona. This was at an OOS conference in April 2005, and fourteen years later Ethan is a world call birder leading trips around the globe, and especially in Africa. Bill was HUGE into encouraging young people to engage birding, as epitomized by his book The Young Birders Guide to Birds of North America.

Hamming it up, Bill poses with Paul Kammermeier (I think) and his longtime buddy McCarthy. This was at The Wilds in Muskingum County, Ohio on an OOS field trip. December 6, 2005.

Bill is bookended by your narrator, and Peter King (the little fellow). This was at an OOS event in 2005 and we had a barrel of laughs at these things. Man, am I going to miss these times.

Bill, with hat, looms large from the fantastical birding tower that he and Julie appended to their house in Whipple, Ohio. You can see everything from up there and lots of good times were had in that aerie. This was on October 9, 2011, while we were conducting a "Big Sit" (an effort to see how many species could be recorded from an area no larger than a 15-foot diameter circle in a 24 hour period).

A photo of part of the Big Sit group, atop the tower. I'll let you guess which one is Bill.

A group shot from the Big Sit atop the birding tower. These things were a blast, in large measure due to the energy that Bill injected into them. The guy was indefatigable. I remember on a few occasions being the first one to arrive for a Big Sit at the Tower, in pre-dawn darkness. There would be Bill, his silhouette visible atop the tower, already at it and identifying flight calls of nocturnal migrants. He'd be the last one done at the end of the day, too.

Bill snuggles the legendary Boston Terrier, Chet Baker, at his Whipple estate. October 7, 2006.

A human chain forms around the buttressed base of an enormous jungle tree, with Bill on the right. Tikal, Guatemala, March 5, 2008.

Bill poses with his longtime editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Lisa White. Bill authored or coauthored many books on birds, and penned scores of articles over the years.

Bill (orange hat and lugging scope) leads a crew of birders up magical Bobolink Hill in southern West Virginia as part of the New River Birding & Nature Festival on May 5, 2006. A consummate field trip leader, Bill always strived to ensure that everyone got good looks at everything. Like thoughtful leaders do, he would carefully watch the group to see who was having troubles seeing things, and prioritize his assistance accordingly.

A renaissance man with a remarkable memory and many interests, Bill loved music and sang, and played guitar and bass guitar. He and his band - the Rain Crows and other iterations - were a staple at birding events. Here he poses with wife (also an excellent musician, and bandmate) Julie Zickefoose on the left. At this gig in West Virginia in May 2006, they played with Jesse (sorry, can't recall her last name) in the center.

Your spirit lives large, Bill, and thanks for the profound impact you had on so many lives, in so many ways.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Wood frogs erupt

Dozens of male wood frogs sing in the waters of a small woodland pool. These frogs are explosive in their vernal breeding habits. Over a period of a few days they enter the pool, sing and mate, leave egg masses, and depart.

I was in the Killbuck Valley of Wayne County, Ohio yesterday, mostly photographing waterfowl and other birds. While slowly driving along a country lane, I heard the frogs and of course had to stop to admire the frenzy.

A male wood frog "sings" while floating. The pouches along its sides are inflated in this shot, and the frog calls with such explosive intensity that it creates conspicuous ripples in the water. A pond such as this, full of singers, is awash in rippling frog aqua-tremors. Standing amongst a chorus of wood frogs in spring is something everyone should experience. The sound reminds people of, variously, distant ducks quacking, chuckling, or turkeys gobbling.

Here's a video of one of the frogs singing away.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Devil's Courthouse sunrise

Sunrise in the Blue Ridge Mountains, as seen from the summit of the Devil's Courthouse near Asheville, North Carolina a few mornings ago. Debbie DiCarlo and I had a great time scouting the region for a possible 2020 photo workshop. Fantastic vistas abound. We're thinking about doing this in late June, when myriad rhododendrons are in bloom. This is also one of the richest regions in the world for salamanders, both in diversity and numbers. Interesting Appalachian flora abounds, including many rare species, especially atop the mountain balds. Send me an email if you might be interested (jimmccormac35 AT we'll add you to our monthly newsletter. You can also follow our Focus on Photography Facebook page by clicking RIGHT HERE.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Short-eared Owls

A short-eared owl courses low over grasslands in a reclaimed stripmine in eastern Ohio. It and three comrades were mousing, or perhaps more accurately, "vole'ing".

The short-eared owl is one of my favorite birds. Everything about them is cool. Their looks, behavior, and even the vocalizations. Last Monday I ventured to some "reclaimed" strip-mine grasslands in eastern Ohio that have been hosting a handful of these open country owls. Whenever opportunity allows, I'll go out of my way to commune with short-ears, and I got to do a lot of that on this day.

Quite often, short-ear owls don't take wing until dusk, and often so late that it's nearly dark. On such days, the viewing window is short, and what there is, is dim and shadowed. Not this day. The owls emerged around 5 pm and alternately rested on fence posts or the ground, or actively hunted, giving me a few hours of daylight to observe them.

I have noticed that short-ears seem antisocial and irascible, but this churlishness adds to their charm. If two owls come near one another, a spat is likely to erupt. Ditto for any northern harrier that ventures by, and these two raptors are frequently hunting companions in the same meadows. When an agonistic interaction occurs, the owls will rapidly fly at one another like giant enraged moths, barking like terrier dogs. Sometimes you'll hear the strident yips before spotting the dueling birds.
One perk of being in the presence of short-eared owls is having the opportunity to photograph them. Making good shots is often not easy, in large part because of poor light at or near dusk. The light in this situation was okay. By the time the owls commenced flying, the blue skies of earlier had clouded over to the all too common white skies found in Ohio. While I used to hate white skies as a backdrop for birds, I've come to rethink that stance. Sometimes raptors, cranes, waterfowl and other species can be portrayed quite pleasingly against such backdrops.

At times, short-eared owls will soar and circle high in the air, and that's what the animal in the image above was doing. I was tracking him with my tripod-mounted telephoto as he came ever closer. There's a tip for shooting flying birds: pick up and lock focus on your subject as far out as possible - even when it's still out of range - and grab the subject using AI servo tracking mode, then when the quarry comes into range (if it does), start firing away.

Some amount of positive exposure compensation is required for birds against a pale backdrop, and that's what I did here. The latter shot was made with the tripod-mounted (Gitzo, with Wimberly head) Canon 5DSR and Canon 800mm f/5.6 lens. The camera was in manual mode, wide-open at f/5.6, and 1/1250 shutter speed. ISO was 1000, and in Auto ISO mode. Manual Mode and Auto ISO are by far my favorite bird settings. I want to be able to alter both shutter speed and aperture instantly, but do not want to worry about manually manipulating the ISO. As the latter is always displayed in my view finder, I can quickly rein it in if need be by opening the aperture and/or slowing the shutter speed. In the case of this shot, I didn't want to go any lower than 1/1250 because I know from experience that if I dip below that my percentage of sharp shots of flying birds will suffer. I had nowhere to go on the aperture, as f/5.6 is wide open on that lens. So, given the less than optimal light I had to settle for ISO 1000 - a bit over what I prefer but not too bad.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

In the Footsteps of Conant: Herping Ohio’s Hill Country/Guest blog by Ryan Wagner

NOTE: The following piece is a guest blog written by Ryan Wagner, a student at Ohio University studying Wildlife Biology and Conservation. He is an exceedingly good naturalist, with a special appreciation for the scaly crowd as we shall see. Ryan is also a superb photographer - his images speak for themselves. It's a pleasure to host some of his work here, and please visit his "Field Life" blog to see much more of Ryan's work.

In the Footsteps of Conant: Herping Ohio’s Hill Country

“Also, there were many objects to overturn, and there was always the chance of finding something unusual beneath any log or rock. Springs and both clear and muddy streams abounded. In short, there was a great variety of habitats to be explored. The net result was that we probably spent more man hours in the hill country than in any other part of the state. Southeastern Ohio was unquestionably our favorite collecting area.”

—Roger Conant
Herpetology in Ohio—50 Years Ago

Northern Red-bellied Snake.

Gravel crunched under our tires as we pulled off Route 50 onto the first backroad of the day.  The morning sun was already beginning to bake away any evidence of last nights rain, but by midday, our sweat-stained shirts and hair would look as if a storm had caught us by surprise.  My backpack held two full water bottles, a tablet of dissolved electrolytes in each.  A third and a fourth were stashed below the rear seat next to Carls water-filled orange juice containers.  Neither of us wanted to tempt fate by running out of water in the heat of Ohio's Hill Country.

As we pulled to a stop along the roadside, the fluttering hum of cicadas died down and the air hung still for a moment as if the forest was waiting to inhale.  I grabbed my snake stick from the bed of the truck as Carl slipped his backpack over his head.  We both knew the drill.  The hillsides all around us held promise of snakes, lizards, and turtles hidden below cover.

Eastern Black Kingsnake.

During each of our treks into Ohios backwoods, I cant help but feel we are a small instance of history repeating itself.  Just shy of a century ago, Roger Conant might have hiked these very same hillsides and ravines.  In the 1930s, Conant was the first to attempt an exhaustive survey of Ohios reptile diversity (an undertaking sorely in need of updating since the previous survey by Kirtland in 1838).  During his six years as Curator of Reptiles at the Toledo Zoo, he would eventually make it to 87 of Ohios 88 counties, drive some 41,000 miles, collect countless voucher specimens, and publish his collective work in The Reptiles of Ohio in 1938. 

Weekends were Conants designated field days.  He would travel from his home base in Toledo, accompanied by a small and variable band of zoo colleagues, local naturalists, and a few wide-eyed teenagers, all eager to indulge their persistent childhood urges to catch the scaly and slimy.  The crew would pack snake bags and collecting jars into Rogers 1931 Chevy and set out for the unknown.  Their findings were quintessential, helping to verify species records and contributing to the states first range maps.

Eastern Smooth Earthsnake.

Conants work wasn't limited to Ohio alone.  Take down your copy of A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America and youll find a conspicuous authorship.  For most of us fascinated with reptiles and amphibians (Carl and myself included), this field guide was our ticket into the world of herpetology.  Anyone who herps Ohio today (or anywhere in North America) is indebted to the work of Conant and his colleagues. 

For over 15 years, Carl Brune has spent his free weekends and rainy evenings ‘filling in Conants gaps.  Originally from California, Carl moved to Ohio to teach physics at Ohio University.  He has helped to expand the known ranges of species from copperheads to streamside salamanders, and has even authored two chapters in the Amphibians of Ohio Textbook. 

Northern Copperhead.

I began herping with him in late August 2017.  Growing up in a suburb of Cleveland, reptile diversity was somewhat lacking.  For as long as I can remember, Ive dreamed of seeing the creatures hidden among the rolling hills of Ohios southern counties.  In 2016, I moved to Athens to study Wildlife Biology and Conservation.  By luck or fate, I found myself in the middle of one of Ohios most herpetologically diverse regions.

A map of the physiogeographic regions of Ohio from Conant's The Reptiles of Ohio.

It is no secret that Roger Conant preferred the Hill Country over any of Ohios other physiogeographic regions.  Eleven of the thirty reptile species he documented there were found nowhere else in the state.  The Hill Country encompasses the southeastern third of Ohio and sits on the Unglaciated Allegheny Plateau at the base of the Appalachian Mountains.  Except for the blue grass region, the Hill Country is the only part of Ohio that was free of ice during the Pleistocene.  When the glaciers receded at the end of the last ice age, their melt waters carved out the labyrinth of ravines and hilltops that define the Hill Country of today.

Black Racer.

Before the arrival of Europeans, 95% of Ohio was covered by huge stands of old-growth forest.  Oaks and hickories cloaked the rolling hills and provided habitat for wolves, bison, elk, black bear, and even wolverine.  By the beginning of the 1900s, the states megafauna would be gone, and the forest would be reduced to 10% of its former grandeur.  The trees were cleared for timber and to allow access to the exposed layers of coal, iron, and oil.  Once these natural resources were fully exploited, industry moved on, and the forests were allowed to regrow.  Remnants of old coal towns and iron districts still stand in isolated pockets of the backwoods, totems to this past age.

Northern Ring-necked Snake.

By the 1930s, second-growth had returned to much of southeastern Ohio.  Conant described the state of the forest in his autobiography, “The charm of the hill country lay largely in the fact it was mostly wild in those days.  Agriculture was confined to some of the valleys, and second growth had re-clothed the hillsides and many other areas to the point where the forest had more or less returned to its original climax stage.”  As much as 70% of the Unglaciated Allegheny Plateau is now forested.  Glacial melt waters washed away most of the areas rich soil, sparing the land from agriculture.  Had the soil been more profitable, the Hill Country would likely be a very different place today.
Despite the disappearance of many of Ohios native fauna during this era of rapid and intense deforestation, there have been no documented extinctions for any of Ohios 47 species of reptile or 40 species of amphibian.  Just how and where these fragile creatures survived is something of a mystery.  Logging took place over many decades, and it is possible species found refuge in small, remaining tracts of habitat, recolonizing the surrounding land once the forest had regrown.  Considering the scale of habitat loss that swept through Ohio in the 1800s, it is remarkable any native herpetofauna survived at all.

Black Ratsnake.

One thing is clear, however, Ohios reptiles and amphibians are no strangers to adverse environmental conditions.  A year (or even a day) in Ohio can fluctuate wildly in temperature and weather conditions.  Winter lasts for nearly half the year, forcing ectothermic species to remain inactive for months on end.  Summer is prime herping season, but with midday temperatures easily reaching 90 degrees Fahrenheit in southern Ohio, most species are forced to seek shelter to avoid overheating or desiccating. 

Logs and rocks provide cool, moist places for snakes to hide during the heat of the day.  Nature, however, can be supplemented with a little human ingenuity.  In Conants time, logging operations left behind huge saw dust piles strewn along the steep slopes.  When covered with pieces of hacked-off bark, these damp, sturdy piles provided the perfect escape from the elements.  Conant recounts one exceptionally good find, “a large slab-covered pile in Hocking County yielded a fence lizard, three young broad head skinks, a northern water snake, eleven hatchling black rat snakes, and two juvenile copperheads.”   As mill practices shifted, Conants fruitful saw dust piles became a thing of the past.

Eastern Milksnake.

Today, man-made cover is still important for finding snakes.  Plywood boards and tins scattered throughout the roadsides and hilltops of southern Ohio are easily flipped and are a proven way to find scads of snakes in an otherwise desolate landscape.  Reptiles aren't picky; old pool liners, ratty carpets, deck chairs, smashed televisions, and gas tanks might be an eye sore for most hikers, but for folks like us, theyre a treasure trove.  A good trash pile always gets my blood pumping in anticipation of what might be lurking below.

During the course of our search, Carl and I might flip upwards of 100 pieces of cover and hike ten miles through the ravines and hilltops, all to find a handful of serpents.  Somedays, the snakes are plentiful, others require hours of work to find the most common of species.  There is really no telling where or when a species might turn up; it's often a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

Eastern Wormsnake.

Carl and I have been lucky enough to find more snakes in Ohio than most people will see in their entire lives.  Even where snake populations appear stable, however, the impacts of humans are plainly visible.  Whether it be road mortality, habitat loss, or direct persecution, "snakes engender mighty little sympathy from the general public," a statement that still rings true today.

Conant was well aware that with each decade, more species were pushed closer toward extirpation.  Fifty years after his surveys, Conant lamented that, “many places that once supported thriving colonies of various species have vanished.”  Rattlesnakes, spotted turtles, Kirtlands snakes—species Conant would have commonly encountered in his day—have all but disappeared from most of the state.

Timber Rattlesnake. 

Conant laid the ground work for our modern generation of herpetologists.  It is now up to us to protect the species and populations that remain.  Efforts to mitigate the damage we have done to our natural environment can often seem confusing and convoluted, but I have found there is something very down to earth about the study of reptiles and amphibians.  Even someone unaccustomed to the complex and long-winded jargon of scientific literature might be able to detect a hint of the adventure and mystery only thinly veiled behind tables of snout-vent lengths and scale counts.

Hobby, obsession, the weird cousin of birding, call it what you will, but herping has captivated my life ever since I first opened Roger Conant's field guide.  In a few months time, the snakes, lizards, and turtles will begin to emerge from their frozen retreats. Carl and I will soon be back among the rolling hills of Southern Ohio, flipping logs, boards, and carpets for the secrets hidden beneath.  Only time will tell what we find.

Carl and myself after a day of dip netting for salamanders in 2018.

Ryan Wagner is a student studying Wildlife Biology and Conservation at Ohio University.  He is an avid herper, birder, nature blogger, and wildlife photographer.  You can read more of his articles at or follow him on twitter @weeklywildlife.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Guide packed with info to hook Ohio fish enthusiasts

"A Naturalist's Guide to the Fishes of Ohio" (Ohio Biological Survey) 391 pages, $29.95 by Daniel Rice and Brian Zimmerman. For more information, visit: or call 614-457-8787

March 3, 2019

Jim McCormac

The fascinating underwater world is out of sight and mind to many. Its creatures are masked by a watery cloak, and the game fish tugged from the depths by rod and reel are just the tip of the iceberg of what lurks below.

The new “A Naturalists Guide to the Fishes of Ohio” brings this world to readers in an exceptionally user-friendly way.

Authored by Daniel Rice, the text is lively and informative. Brilliant color photos by his collaborator, Brian Zimmerman, pop from the pages. Virtually all of the fish photos are of live animals caught in the wild, imaged and released.

Both Rice and Zimmerman are veteran fish men, each having spent countless hours exploring nearly every body of water in Ohio. This experience comes through in the book, yet readers are not overwhelmed with technical information that could be deciphered only by an ichthyologist.

It is the simple yet engaging way that this book describes our fishes that helps make it such a treasure. Many such books are heavy-handed tomes packed with information, but are often dull reads and mostly off-limits to the general public. Not so this book, even though it includes everything you’d probably want to know.

The book’s introductory material is rich in information about aquatic habitats, the history of fish conservation and study, a map of Ohio’s major drainages, and a key to fish identification. Want to know the best fish streams in Ohio, the primary threats to fish, how to better observe them, or the top 10 most pollution-tolerant species? Such information, and more, is included.

The meat of the guide is its 170 species accounts, each of which covers two pages. Additionally, 17 one-page accounts cover nonnative fishes and hybrids. The primary accounts are well-organized and include easily interpreted information of interest to readers.

Each species account features a gorgeous color image of the fish in question, showing better detail than if you had it in your hand. Short sections detail identification and similar species, habitat, associate species, spawning and abundance. A perk is “best sites”, featuring the prime locales for the fish in question. Artful maps show, in detail, the fish’s distribution.

A standout of each account is Rice’s introductory text. In about 400 words, he paints an informative overview of the species, including interesting tidbits and factoids that would not be widely known. By doing so, he personalizes the animal in a way that few such books do.

Under each species’ photo is a colored bar that visually interprets the risk of extirpation (local extinction). It ranges from 1 to 10, with the lower end representing species that are secure. The higher the number, the more vulnerable the species is to threats. Although many fishes have declined, we learn that many others have increased dramatically in recent decades, such as bigeye chub, bluebreast darter and smallmouth redhorse.

The “Guide to the Fishes of Ohio” sets a new bar. Although information-rich — it includes about everything anyone would want to know about Ohio fishes — the guide is easy to absorb, infinitely understandable and a treat to peruse. Reading the accounts of species such as dace, darters, and lamprey is sure to fire anyone’s imagination about what lies below the water’s surface. I highly recommend this book.

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