Leaves for Wildlife Native Plant Nursery in Delaware County (Ohio) yesterday and was pleased to learn from owner Patty Shipley that the herons had recently taken up residence. The pond is about an acre, and it's amazing the spike in biodiversity that even a small water feature stimulates. There is also nesting Wood Ducks, Prince Baskettails and other interesting dragonflies, multiple Red-winged Blackbird nests, and much more. And scads of interesting native plants are available at the nursery as a bonus.
Monday, May 29, 2023
Thursday, May 25, 2023
Fawns, like THIS ONE, have been born in my yard every year I've been here. That's probably a testimony to the comparative wildness of my property, in contrast to most of my neighbors. I have no problem with suburban deer like these, and I think they know it. Thus, my property is a welcome haven. Many gardeners, somewhat selfishly one might argue, protest the ungulates' depredations of their various garden plants, most of which are nonnative Eurasian species. In other words, we have displaced tons of valuable native habitat to create our neighborhoods, largely replaced the once rich native flora with mostly alien species, and then rise up against the native animals that dare to try and eke out a living in this strange new world.
Have at it, deer, say I.
Thursday, May 18, 2023
As every year (other than two Covid off years) for the last nearly 20? years, I spent a week in southern West Virginia to participate in the New River Birding & Nature Festival. Along with a star-studded cast of characters (present company perhaps excluded), I help lead trips to local hotspots each day, and give a talk one evening. The event is a blast, and if you want to have a good time and see LOTS of interesting flora and fauna, GO HERE for more information.
Sunday, May 14, 2023
Nest boxes, game laws bring wood duck back from brink of extinction
May 7, 2023
Few birds, in Ohio or anywhere else, can rival the drake wood duck for sheer gaudiness. It’s as if a team of great artists was commissioned to design and color the fowl. Rodin sculpted the graceful neck, ornate crest and rudderlike tail. Picasso laid out the duck’s ornate Cubist patterning. Dali added whimsical flourishes to complete the flashy package. As is usual with waterfowl, the female is much more muted. She has her own charms, though, just not the over-the-top gaudiness of the male.
As exotic as the wood duck may seem, it is a common bird in our parts. But it wasn’t always so. During the Wild West days of unregulated market hunting, the bird’s fate appeared much grimmer. By the early 1900s, wood duck populations had plummeted so badly that some ornithologists were predicting its extinction by 1930.
Fortunately for the birds — and us — game laws were enacted and enforced, which stopped the carnage. Today, the “woodie” is once again a very common species.
On April 26, I visited an excellent local natural area called Emily Traphagen Park, which is owned and managed by Preservation Parks of Delaware County. Soon after strolling into an older-growth woodland featuring a number of massive American beech trees, I saw some large birds high in the limbs.
Wood ducks! A pair was investigating the upper reaches of the beech for suitable nest sites. The aptly named wood duck is one of a half-dozen species of North American fowl that utilize cavities for nesting. In Ohio, the common and hooded mergansers are the only other cavity-nesting ducks.
Nest boxes played a key role in the relatively rapid recovery of wood ducks following implementation of hunting regulations. The rocket-shaped structures mounted on poles or trees are common sights around rivers and wetlands. Untold legions of boxes stipple the landscape within the range of the woodie, which is mostly the eastern U.S. and adjacent Canada. The ducks take readily to them.
However, the birds are probably more prone to use natural tree cavities if they’re available. The pair I watched spent much time flying from cavity to cavity, with the female doing all of the house inspections. The male stayed close at hand, perched on a limb and offering his two cents. The female calls the housing shots, though. He is just an interested observer.
Some holes were too small to squeeze in, although she tried. One that seemed to be especially pleasing was a large cavity about 40 feet up a beech. The hen spent a few minutes checking it out and upon emerging, several minutes of debate was had between the birds.
Once a hole is chosen, the hen will lay 10-12 eggs, which will hatch about 30 days later. Wood duck chicks are precocial — they can move about almost immediately. About a day after hatching, the chicks are ready to leave the nest.
Therein lies the rub if you are a wood duck chick. The tiny birds must get from a lofty arboreal nest to the ground. How so? They jump. Life begins with a bounce. The hen flies to the ground and makes soft clucks to goad the youngsters from the hole. With little hesitation, the ducklings scramble from the hole and freefall to the forest floor.
Regardless of the height, the tiny fluffballs are seldom if ever hurt. The highest documented nest height was 291 feet and those chicks jumped without incident. Once all have landed, the hen marches them to the closest water to begin the next phase of their life.
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.
Wednesday, May 10, 2023
Between travels and the general busyness of spring, I have been remiss in posting about the upcoming Mothapalooza. It takes place from July 14 thru the 16, at the gorgeous Highlands Nature Sanctuary in Highland County, Ohio. As last year, it is hosted by the Arc of Appalachia. The mothing in this region is superb, and participants can expect to see scores of interesting species including a number of crowd-pleasing giant silk moths. Daytime field trips will produce much in the way of interesting flora and fauna. Photographers are sure to net scads of interesting images.
Doug Tallamy will be returning, as will the incomparable Sam Jaffe and his caterpillar lab. There will be many knowledgeable guides to help lead you through the labyrinth of moths and their identities. For complete details and registration information, CLICK HERE. Hope to see you there!