Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Mohican Thaw

A hemlock gently hangs above a thaw-swollen river.  Rivulets of snow-melt are coursing down the sandstone embankments of the Mohican Gorge, filling our river to over-flow.

Eastern Hemlock, place holder for the Mohican's Clear Fork river bank.
Riparian trees are place holders, against the currents of time and water.  They are soil stabilizers and embankment safe-guards, leading the fight against erosion and siltation of our state listed Scenic River.
Jim Davidson studies lichens along the trail.
My friend Jim Davidson and I took a spring-thaw hike along the Hemlock Gorge trail.  We didn't get far,  for the melt water soon made the path impassable.  But we studied both the lichens and trees along the way.
Smokey-eye Boulder Lichen
This four inch lichen, commonly found on rocks had discrete spots he called apothecia, which are gray-blue in this species.  This particular lichen often grows in conjunction with mosses. Jim believed this to be Smokey-eye Boulder Lichen, which is one of the lichen featured in ODNR's excellent new booklet: Common Lichens of Ohio.  I recommend that you call 1-800-WILDLIFE to order your own free copy.  They will mail it right to your door!

Clear Fork State Nature Preserve
Next we ventured to the Clear Fork State Nature Preserve.  This piece of Mohican is most heavily protected from timbering, and it has some old growth trees. Jason Larson will be leading one of our Flora-Quest trips into this very special preserve. His trip will also feature Hog-Hollow, a lovely hike that follows a stream down the hillside to the river.

Joe and Jim stand next to a massive White Pine.
White pine was native to this area and many excellent examples remain along the Clear Fork State Nature Preserve trail. Breath deeply.  This place is good for both body and soul.  It is rather mind-expanding to be in the presence of these giant trees.  It is also pretty awesome to spend a day with giants the likes of Joe and Jim, too!

An over-the-shoulder look as we leave the preserve.  It is almost remarkable how the Hemlocks condition the air in this woods.  It generally feels a good ten degrees cooler than the surrounding woods and reminds us of a hike in Canada.  This is where you will experience the importance of our evergreen Hemlock, a key-stone species.

Turkey Vultures
Oh yeah, these locals said they can't wait to meet you, too!  In the summer, both Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures hang out by the Pleasant Hill Dam and enjoy drafting-off the upward air currents created by the rock formations and the dam.

Feel free to stop-by and have lunch with them, but it is B.Y.O.C.  Bring your own carrion!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Adams County Birding- Amish style.

Adams County Ohio is known for quaint country roads, patch-work quilt barns and unique flora.

It is as far south as you can get without plunking into the Ohio River. It lies between Portsmouth and Dayton.  Generally it is about a month ahead -weather wise- from the rest of the state.  Some might say it is a decade or two behind, in other ways.

 Country roads are likely to wind along creek bottoms and gullies, until crossed by a bridge.  Likely as not, it may be a covered bridge. This scenic crossing is in Harshaville.

The Murphin Inn

 There is a country Inn on Murphin Ridge Road where hospitality is not a lost art form.  The food is excellent and the comfy rooms are well appointed.

Adams County also hosts a great birding event each year.  Folk art abounds and several vendors display their goods, from bird feeders to paintings and they offer a variety of  authors and educational exhibits.

Emcee- Jim McCormac and speaker- Cheryl Harner
Jim McCormac, well-known speaker, author and bird expert was our emcee for the Amish Birding Symposium.  He gave one of these beautiful hand-painted plaques to each of the speakers.  I was the first up, presenting a program on Birding by Habitat and Habitats for Birds.  We got a little conservation message in as well. 

The Nature Conservancy's Dave Mehlman
 Dave Mehlman gave a wonderful program on bird conservation with an emphasis on birds and migration.  Birds need protection on their breeding habitats and on their wintering grounds.

Amish Birding Symposium packs the house with about 300 folks each year.  It is a high tech event, run on a generator and a prayer. Folks don't seem to mind and are content to enjoy the rustic atmosphere.

Katie Fallon speaks on Cerulean Warblers.
 Katie Fallon joined us from West Virgina to speak on the topic of her book, Cerulean Blues.  She follows one of America's most beloved and declining warblers.  It is no secret mountain top removal coal mining has destroyed many of the mountains where Ceruleans were known to breed.

Dave FitzSimmons also gave an engaging program on photography and offered several books for sale.  My apologies to him for not getting my own shot during his program. I must have been too wrapped up in the program to think about it!

Thanks to the committee who works so hard to host this event, especially against the odds of this years difficult weather. The snow piled up, but it was not too big of a challenge for the men and women who shoveled snow, prepared the meals and set up endless chairs and tables for the crowd.

Killdeer in the snow covered fields.
There were plenty of jokes about not being able to bird at Adams Lake due to the iced over conditions.  No one seemed to be in a hurry to birdwatch in the cold, anyways.  The ten to twelve inches of snow which fell just days before the event had evenly coated the county in a magical blanket of white.

But spring is coming, as foretold by the Killdeer  working the fields as we pulled out of town on Sunday morning.  

It cannot be far away now that the rains have come to mid-Ohio and as much as I like the snow, it is time for it to be gone. After all, spring always follows the Amish Birding Symposium.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Lessons in the Longleaf Pine

A short respite is in order, for all of us who are tiring of endless snow and bad news in Ohio's forests.  Strictly as educational nature therapy, I booked a trip to Florida and met up with birding buddy, Greg Miller.

Red-headed Woodpecker
 It was not long before he suggested birding in the big pines.  Old Growth Forest in Florida?  Count me in.  The first half mile of the walk was filled with rambunctious Red-headed Woodpeckers. Six of 'em.  Go ahead, throw me in the brier-patch.

Our location in the Ocala National Forest

As orientation, we were north of Orlando and west of Daytona.  The Daytona 500 was going on, but the only races that interested us was seeing who could find the first rarity.

Paisley Woods
Pro-tip: take a photo of the map in the parking lot.  I can't tell you how many times this has come in helpful, especially once you are away from the parking lot ... and lost. It also is a good way to document where you saw that magnificent life bird or plant.

The overview of  piney woods habitat

The importance of Longleaf pine habitats is lost on most tourists to Florida.  While thousands crowded the stands at the Daytona 500, Greg and I virtually had the woods to ourselves.  These old growth pines were once the predominant species of inland central Florida as they tolerate and thrive in a fire ecology.  Once common place, now scarce due to lumbering and urban sprawl. These rare spots of protected forest harbor other rarity species, too.   For interesting info on Longleaf Pine ecosystems: go here.

Bachman's Sparrow serenades from a deadwood perch. 
A high pitched song which I could not recognize turned our attention to the grassy woods on our left.  There teed-up singing, "Here kitty, kitty, kitty" was a Bachman's Sparrow. It is easy to miss this grassland bird in the winter, but the pleasant ambient temperature (high 60's) must have convinced this male to burst forth in song.  Well played, Bachman, well played. You were a worthy life-bird.

Look for white bands painted on "nest trees".
We were after another bird however, the elusive Red-cockaded Woodpecker.  The pines marked as nest trees pulled us deeper into the woods.  This is another bird I have tried to see, and missed, before.

The towering Longleaf Pine
Have you ever heard of Warbler-neck?  One can really get a cramp from too much tree top scanning in an Old Growth woods!  These trees are so magnificent, I wouldn't have even cared if we did not find the bird.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker
But we did find the bird!  A female was fussing about feeding in the pine and she posed for my brief and lucky shot.  The large white cheek patches are the diagnostic mark of the Red-Cockadeds, both female and male.  As you can see, she doesn't have any visible "red".

Greg Miller birds. 
A big thanks goes out to my friend and pro birding guide, Greg Miller.  Check out and his upcoming trips! I wouldn't have found these birds without his expertise!

Once a Weedpicker...
The giant plates of bark, over sized cones and the nearly foot long needles of the Longleaf Pine were nearly as exciting to me as the two life-birds.  These Old Growth forest habitats are under the protection of our National Forest system.  Unfortunately, National Parks and Forests often fall under the latest whims of industry and politics.  Many of our so-called protected  forests are under the siege of gas-lines, fracking and timbering.  The eco-services provided by Old Growth woods cannot be understated.  We must permanently protect the last of these amazing trees and the fragile ecosystems they harbor.  Once common place throughout the south, the Red-Cockaded is a high prized sighting for any serious birder.

Let's make certain we provision them with enough habitat for future generations.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Okay, so it’s a blackbird. But it’s not just any blackbird…

It’s the Rusty Blackbird, and it is in trouble!
  Photo by Greg Cornett

 Rusty Blackbirds have experienced an 85-99% population drop in the last half-century. Over the last 15 years, research on Rusty breeding and wintering ecology has allowed us to develop conservation strategies to protect this vulnerable species. But many questions still remain, and Rusty Blackbird migration habits are largely a mystery.  Are there hot spots where many Rusties congregate during migration? Are similar migratory stopovers areas used by Rusties each year, and are these places protected?

  Photo by Greg Cornett

The International Rusty Blackbird Working Group, in partnership with eBird, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Smithsonian, and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, is launching a spring migration Blitz. The objectives of the Blitz are:
1. Identify migratory stopover sites
2. Determine consistency of numbers/timing of Rusty Blackbird migration
3. Strengthen relationships with state and federal agencies in order to advance Rusty Blackbird conservation
4. Engage the birding community and create increased awareness and excitement about Rusty Blackbirds

  Photo by Greg Cornett
    Rusty Blackbirds frequent wet woods. 

Go to for complete information and to help!

Photo by Greg Cornett

Will you accept a Rusty challenge?  

This spring, help advance our understanding of one of the most rapidly declining landbirds in North America!   

Special "thanks" goes to Judy Kolo-Rose for all text in this article.  Greg Cornett provided the photos.
Ken Ostermiller is Ohio's Rusty Blackbird coordinator for 2015.  

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

We are off to see...

We are off to see... NATURE!

We're off to see...
Attending natural history events is a good way to inform your experience and learn more about nature.  The next step is taking your new-found information out into the woods, fields or streams.

Here is a line up of some of my favorite spring festivals:

Adams County Birding Symposium  Saturday March 7th, held in Southern Ohio. This event has limit seating and it fills up quickly! Register now or you will miss out!

Many of us stay at the wonderful Murphin Inn Bed and Breakfast, a retreat to make your winter all better.  The granola must be experienced, 'nuff said.

Find the rare Snow Trilllium, Trillium nivale in Adams County
I intend to stay an extra day to do a little birding or botanizing.  This is the time to see Ohio's rarest Trillium, Trillium nivale, the miniature trillium oblivious to snow!

Katie Fallon is the Keynote speaker at this year's festival.  This is her wonderful book about the The Cerulean Warbler. The story connects us with the life history of a warbler species in great decline, the Cerulean Warbler. Spoiler alert: loss of breeding habitat is key.

Did you know the Cerulean Warblers breed in the Mohican Forest?  One more reason to keep our trees.

Then mark your calendar for April 25-27th, 2015
The Ohio Ornithological Society will be headed to Shawnee Park and Forest and registration is right here.

We have an offering of excellent speakers, including Lang Elliot, Jim McCormac and my personal hero, Martin McAllister!  Marty will tell us more about The Nature Conservancy's Sunshine Corridor.  

Slant Lined moth on Lady's-slipper Orchid
You know the "Weedpicker" is going to be looking at the flowers of the forest!  Register for a hike to see Spring Warblers and maybe a few early orchids!

All these are warm ups for the BIG event, The Biggest Week in American Birding- May 8-17th, 2015.  Registration will be opened soon. So get ready, get set, GO SEE WARBLERS!

Prothonotary Warbler at Magee Boardwalk
Come for the birds, but stay for the informational programs and some of the best (and a few of the wackiest) birders from all across America.  There will be spotting scopes for sale, birders in Kilts and if you look really hard you many spot the incog-negro* himself, Drew Lanham!

My Tribe, a mixed group of birders who I can't wait to see again.
Photo pilfered from Jeff Bouton's Facebook page.
 (Buy something Leica from him, so he doesn't get mad at me!)
There will be Pie!  The Biggest Week is the biggest celebration of birding held in America. If you have friends, sign them up and head to Oak Harbor!  If you don't have friends, you will after visiting this place!

Join us for the root'n toot'n-est time you ever had.  Oh yeah, there will be good birding too.  Sign up for trips to new places.  Meet a crazy conservationist (me!)  Or just come for the pie and meet Greg Miller.  Anyway you cut it, this is an action packed event.

* Drew's term, not mine. Frankly, I hope to spot him!