Monday, March 29, 2021
Monday, March 22, 2021
Nature: Tracing Birds' lifespans is not an easy undertaking
March 21, 2021
The gull sees farthest who flies highest.
Richard Bach – Jonathan Livingston Seagull
The oldest wild bird known is “Wisdom”, a Laysan albatross that returns annually to breed on Midway Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. She was banded there as a five year old bird in 1956! Wisdom turns 70 this year, and is still producing chicks.
Older birds have been documented, but only in captivity where they are sheltered from the perils of wild living. A cockatoo, Cookie, lived to 83, and a captive common raven survived to 80.
It seems the larger the species, the longer it can live. Cardinals and many other songbirds live for 2-3 years on average while comparatively massive albatrosses, gulls and others can survive far longer.
Gulls (not “seagulls”, despite Bach’s famed protagonist) can be notably long-lived. Several European and Middle Eastern species have documented to eclipse three decades, and a herring gull survived for 49 years in captivity.
In this country, gulls are probably not as well-studied as across the pond, and less is known of the life spans of American species.
Enter Chuck Slusarczyk, Jr. A longtime Cleveland resident, Slusarczyk (sloo-sar-chik) lives in a gull paradise. At least 19 species have been recorded on Lake Erie.
Gull study is not for the faint of heart. There is a steep learning curve in regards to identification, compounded by different plumages at different ages. Smaller gull species take two years to develop mature plumage, while the largest species take four years. Also, good gull weather is often poor people weather: gale winds and icy temperatures.
Chuck took up gull study with a vengeance long ago, and is now one of Ohio’s premier experts. A renaissance man, he is also authoritative on aircraft, Great Lakes ships, moths, orchid raising, photography, and the history of Cleveland. Following a 28-year career in the aviation industry, Slusarczyk is now employed as a motorcoach operator.
Intellectual curiosity such as Slusarczyk’s is rare, and when Chuck aimed it at gulls he began to make notable finds. He regularly shares sightings of uncommon or rare species, often with helpful commentary on plumages or interesting life history observations.
But – in my opinion – Slusarczyk’s most significant gull find came on January 9 of this year, at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River. He noticed a ring-billed gull – Ohio’s most common species - with a silver band on its leg, and managed to get diagnostic photos of the band’s numbers.
A query to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Bird Banding Laboratory soon produced results. Chuck’s gull was banded as a chick in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on June 18, 1992! Nearly 29 years later, the gull is alive and kicking, enjoying a winter vacation in Cleveland.
This is the oldest known ring-billed gull, and one of the oldest documented gulls in North America.
Documentation of banded birds by keen-eyed observers like Slusarczyk offers a glimpse into the potentially long life spans of gulls and other species. And these reports represent a vanishingly small percentage of the species involved. For instance, the total ring-billed gull population is estimated at about 2.5 million birds. There could be a centenarian among their ranks.
Why do gulls live so long? If they make it past the juvenile stage, life expectancy skyrockets. They’re large and tough, powerful flyers, resourceful and intelligent, opportunistic feeders and have few effective predators. Such characteristics are fertile ground for spawning avian Methuselahs.
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.
Saturday, March 20, 2021
An American Toad sits on a damp road. Fortunately most of the roads that I cruised this evening have nearly no traffic on them at night, so amphibian mortality is low. That's certainly not the case everywhere.Last Wednesday evening turned out to be warm - temps in the 50's F - and rain started spitting around 9 pm. One often doesn't know whether conditions will be optimal for amphibian movements - warm and wet - until late in the afternoon the day of the show. That's how it was this day. I didn't pull the trigger to make the hour drive west to some productive back roads until late in the afternoon.
It was a fairly good call. I think a lot of the salamanders have already made their vernal runs to breeding pools, and departed back into subterranean haunts where they will remain out of sight until next spring. But enough amphibians were on the prowl that it was an interesting foray. In all, eight species were tallied: American Toad, Green Frog, Northern Leopard Frog, Spring Peeper, Western Chorus Frog, Eastern Tiger Salamander, Smallmouth Salamander, and Unisexual Salamander.
Monday, March 15, 2021
The 16th Ohio Botanical Symposium takes place on Friday, March 26, and all are welcome. It's via Zoom - as so many events are over the past year. The best part about this is it's free, and WAY more people can attend. The normal in-person venue in Columbus only holds about 400 people, and the symposium always sells out and fills quickly. But a virtual meeting can be far larger, so all are welcome to tune in.
Talks are varied and interesting. Subjects include rare plant conservation, famed Cincinnati botanist Lucy Braun, shifts in blooming periods related to climate change, and the ever-popular best rare plant finds of the past two years. I am giving a talk about the role of flora in growing caterpillars, and ultimately birds.
Please register if any of this strikes your fancy - we'd love to have you. All details are RIGHT HERE.
Saturday, March 13, 2021
Last Thursday's weather proved perfect to stimulate a big run here in Central Ohio. It warmed to about 60 F, and rain kicked in in the afternoon and continued into the evening. Such conditions spur the "mole" salamanders to emerge en masse from subterranean lairs and march overland to vernal pools. Once there, a breeding frenzy ensues, as we shall see.
Wednesday, March 10, 2021
matters - if the males have their red shoulders painted black they keep their territory, but if they can't sing, they lose it. The cool thing is that you can temporarily mute them by popping the vocal sac, and in a couple of weeks it heals. The male loses his territory for those two weeks, then returns full throttle and drives off the new male once his singing ability is restored. Females only care about real estate and don't relocate during this process."
Finally, for your viewing AND listening pleasure, following is a short video of the stud above countersinging with several neighboring birds.
Sunday, March 7, 2021
Tuesday, March 2, 2021
A handsome drake Canvasback loafs in frigid Lake Erie waters, off Miller Road Park in the city of Avon Lake, Ohio. I was there bright on and early on the morning of February 20. I recall the temperature upon arrival was about 9 F, and brisk winds off the lake made it seem much colder.
The "Cans" didn't care. Hundreds were present, and these hardy diving ducks thought nothing of the icy cold and near-freezing water. Ice had formed on some of the ducks in the drowsing rafts.The botanical proclivities of this animal is noted in its scientific name: Aythya valisineria. The specific epithet stands for the genus of eel-grass, or wild-celery, Vallisneria americana, a favored aquatic plant food source of Canvasbacks. Famed early ornithologist Alexander Wilson named this animal, but misspelled vallisneria.