Sunday, November 29, 2009

Oh Say's, did you see?

A quick trip to Yellow Springs provided great looks at the latest Say's Phoebe to grace the State of Ohio. Although common and relatively easy to find in Arizona, this is a late fall-early winter rarity for our state, and it may well become only the fourth of its kind if accepted by Ohio Records Committee.

Acting in a manner you would expect from a fly-catcher, the Say's Phoebe darted out in short insect-seeking forays from his perch on a wire fence. The tail bobbing looked like the familiar Eastern Phoebe's- but the black tail, and orangy-coral tones on the flanks and belly make outstanding field marks.

And if you go to see the Say's, remember there are some fantastic natural areas to visit in the surrounding areas.

A mere 20 minutes from Yellow Springs is Charleston Falls, a park in Miami County. Jim Davidson and Janet Creamer recently gave me the grand tour, complete with bad puns and dormant plant identification. The trails are well-maintained, with boardwalks, stair cases and bridges making reasonably easy access to this rock canyon with a good assortment of mosses and ferns for winter botanists.

The water splashing on the vegetation created up-side-down icicles (ice stalagmites?) that glistened like white fringe in the sunlight. These moments of magic can only come from cold weather.
Winter? Bring it on!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

On Little Cat Feet...

THE FOG comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
................................Carl Sandburg
On holidays and weekend mornings I am often found cruising the back roads near the waters of Clearfork Reservoir. And standing deep in the early morning dampness, I await the sun.
Slowly the silent wetlands come to life. Cardinal chips, a nuthatch calls "ank" and on the occasional November morn... a haunting tremolo floats across the water.

As the fog lifts to reveal Common Loon...

.................................................I am thankful.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ohio Bird Sanctuary: hands on learning

We had a wonderful weekend with family, and some of the most memorable times were at the Ohio Bird Sanctuary. This avian rehab facility is open to the public and an amazing resource for learning more about birds. This excellent facility is clean and well-run, and they also sponsor a Jr. Naturalist group for teens interested in wildlife. Every time I visit this place I am more and more impressed.

The sign at 3774 Orweiller Rd., Mansfield, Ohio greets visitors.

The charismatic Blue Jay in the aviary is the best ambassador around! He is also a pretty good judge of character too. He would feed from the hands of the older kids, but knew to steer clear of the too enthusiastic toddlers! Good call Jay!

A budding bird watcher enjoys interacting with this handsome Jay. These educational facilities can go along way to promote conservation by helping people understand birds and their habitats. Real education, not just performing tricks and entertainment, is the key to engaging youth in a manner that will benefit wildlife in the long run. Bird banding stations and rehab-ers provide opportunities to see or touch birds. Once you have experienced the magic of a Saw-whet Owl, a delicate warbler being weighed and measured, or a Blue Jay's curiosity, you'll never forget!
Plan to visit soon, there are also excellent hiking trails for bird and botany people to enjoy. Greater Mohican Audubon will be leading a field trip to Ohio Bird Sanctuary during Mohican Wildlife Weekend- more details will be posted on the GMAS website.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Walking Fern: Poster Child for Climate Change?

Climate Change. Global Warming... yeah, yeah, you have heard it all by now. It is here, it is real and we need to get very serious about dealing with it.

One of the most hopeful programs I have seen for a while, Birds and Climate Change: On the Move was presented by National Audubon Society’s Director of Bird Conservation, Gregory S. Butcher, PhD. It was a pleasure to attend last night, as it was held at the beautiful new Grange Audubon Center in Columbus.

Greg Butcher spoke on bird populations and climate change.

Greg had all the facts, climate and bird wise, but he didn't stop there. He also had an understanding of the plants and ecosystems in the big picture. The grand-champion of northward movement is the House Finch- logging 433 miles of north-expanding territory in the last 40 years. But it is the American Robin's statistics that are a real eye-opener. These rufous-breasted ground thrushes are wintering in places like Minnesota and Nebraska, and creating the need for the constant update in field guide's range maps.

But what about the the botany?

Walking Fern, Asplenium rhizophyllum.. moving slower than climate change.

Even if our trees developed the ability to move like a walking fern, creeping ahead by planting sprouts wherever the tips of the parent plant’s leaves touch the ground, it would be too slow to keep up with the current climate change. Greg suggested man may have to do some interventive planting, since trees can't change ranges as rapidly as the birds and butterflies that need them. Man's past meddlings with nature leads me to skepticism on this point, but the Paw-paw trees planted in my yard suggests he may already have me on-board.

Greg believes we can make a difference. Just as we banned DDT, cleaned up polluted waters and addressed air-pollution, science has offered some success stories. It is our job to make good environmental decisions. Today our buildings are "greener" and more economical to operate than ever. Our cars are getting better gas mileage, and we have started to turn the political tide.

The Grange Audubon Center, photo by Tom Arbour - The Ohio Nature Blog

Visit the Grange Audubon Center in Columbus to learn more (watch for the upcoming OOS event to be held there in Spring 2010) and support efforts to stop Climate Change at

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Circle of Life

Plants, insects and birds. Pretty simple, it is that which occupies much of my time and thoughts. And as trite as it may now sound, it is all about the circle of life.

Insects generally bring positive thoughts to my mind, as where would we be without them? Brighter minds than mine have addressed this question, and the answer is- life as we know it would not exist. We need pollinators, birds and other higher orders need insects for the food web. Insects are truly the heroes in life, not the villains many portray them to be.

Kentucky's efforts to raise money and awareness to combat Hemlock Woolly Adelgid.

And it is all good until things get terribly out of balance, and generally man has his hand in that part. When insects are introduced where there is no predator to keep them in check- all bets are off. The ecosystem goes wonky and something is gonna die. In large portions of the Eastern U.S., it is our Eastern Hemlock trees. Hemlock woolly adelgid has only tipped into Ohio, but if it continues it will be devastating.

Hemlock trees are a keystone species. With their demise we will see huge impact in many other species, birds and fish, for starters. So keep your eyes peeled for the white-fuzzies in hemlock trees and report any findings to Ohio Division of Forestry, or even me.

Let's work together for early detection, and prevent wholesale losses of Eastern Hemlock in Ohio.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Cedar Falls, Adams County

Having just returned from Adams and Scioto Counties from a planning trip for Flora-Quest, I am excited as ever to be a part of offering educational forays led by some of Ohio's best botanists. We are making some great plans, so mark May 1 and 2nd 2010 on your calender.

Just one of the locations I got to check out while in Adams County, the tour of Cedar Falls is a wildly popular Flora-Quest trip each year. Although it was not surrounded by spring wildflowers on my recent visit, it was certainly as lovely as ever, in a subdued sort of way.

Calm.... there is nothing like a waterfall for centering your perspectives. We are but a water-drop in the stream of life.

And the hike to the falls offered new perspectives in flora as well. This was the first I have seen Elliott's Beard Grass, Andropogon gyrans in seed. What a lovely wispy addition to the prairie flora! For those interested in learning more about the varieties of Andropogons- I suggest you go to The Vasculum for an in depth treatment of these grasses. He conveys the message so much better than I ever could. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Harris's Hawk

Mostly we follow botany stories here at the journal, but once again my other hobby, "Birding" comes to the forefront. As I tell stories from my recent visit to Arizona, once place remains as a stand-out in my memory. For anyone making travel plans, the DO NOT MISS site from Arizona was the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. It is a world-renowned zoo, natural history museum and botanical garden, all in one place!

We easily spent four hours there, and along with the Burrowing Owl, Javalina, and Cougar displays, a free-flying Harris's Hawk show was the most entertaining Education I have had in a long time! Four Harris Hawks, one seen here resting with his handler, preformed an open air display against the desert sky. Harris's Hawks are endlessly fascinating, partially because they are the only hawks that routinely live and hunt in family units. Their hunting technique is not unlike a pack of wolves, where cooperation and team work results in successful hunts. Watching the "pack" in the sky was equivalent to an aerial ballet.

Harris's Hawks display a beautiful rufus shoulder and a white band at the tail's base. These are true southern species, known in South Texas, Arizona, and predominately Mexico. This intelligent bird has carved out a niche, where there where no similar predators in the desert. They did not co-evolve with the desert, but rather became opportunist once ranchers moved in with Longhorn cattle and water-troughs. These Hawks would be unable to survive the desert with the additional water supply, but have won the west through their resourcefulness and teamwork. Go Hawks! My new favorite team.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

"Holiday" on Lake Erie

Last year a select group of crazy people endured sleet, rain, and Cleveland Brown fans to go on a Lake Erie Pelagic. We were wet and cold but the up close looks at a lakefront Snowy Owl made us think it was all-in-all a good time. Fortunately, some of the folks at BSBO decided it would be fun to try again.So they booked the Holiday, a boat a bit smaller than the ship we passed in the channel..

The up-shot? The record-setting beautiful weather made it a fun affair to share with friends. And the birds weren't bad either!
On the list serve John Pogascnik reported:
"There were a number of good sightings. We had an immature BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE that gave a brief but nice view as it headed west. We had a very cooperative PARASITIC JAEGER. It chased around a few gulls and gave some nice views... Other noteworthy sightings was a very cooperative white-winged scoter, and great looks at a Peregrine falcon putting on a spectacular aerial display. All in all a very enjoyable day. Many thanks to Bob Faber, Kim and Kenn Kaufman, and everybody else that helped put this together. Also thanks to the ship's crew. Now if next week can go so well."
I believe next week's trip is already full, but let the good folks at BSBO know if you would be interested in a future cruise, and buy one of those awesome Winged Journey calenders to help support them!
If you would like to see all my photos from the day : Click Here

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Alligator's Bark

Travel affords the opportunity to see our plants' relatives, not unlike visiting the cousins, of the Ohio native plants we know and love. Our Eastern Redcedar is a staple for wildlife, even leading its name to the Cedar Waxwing. Known by its prickly scale-like leaves (needles) and blue-toned berries, it is attractive to birds and a key ingredient in gin! Some of its western cousins can be easily recognized by most nature enthusiasts.

Western Scrub-Jay flies out of a Rocky Mountain Juniper in the Sedona foothills.

The Southwest offers its own varieties of Juniper, some with berries, like the Rocky Mountain Juniper, Junipoerus scopulorum seen above.

And others reproduce not by berries, but rather by brown seed cones, which may take two full years to develop. This Alligator Juniper, Juniperus deppeana is found in the rocky soils less than an hour drive from the city of Tucson, Arizona.

The Alligator Juniper was easy to identify by its unique alligatored or checker-board bark. It was a standout among the evergreens and the roughened layers of bark on this well named tree were mesmerizing. The Alligator's bark was its most telling feature and it quickly became ingrained in my mental search image.
And not unlike our own Junipers, it provides shelter and habitat for many birds- including the Bridled Titmouse. Hope you are enjoying the Arizona adventures, wish I could have brought the sun back with me!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Birder's Mecca

Ever heard of the Patagonia picnic table effect?

This is the site where the saying was born. Patagonia, Arizona, located just a piece up the road from from Wyatt Erp's famous gun-fighting Tombstone, is a sleepy little ranch community with an edgy artistic fringe. It was placed squarely in the center of birders' mentality by the discovery of Arizona's first recorded Black-capped Gnatcatcher, one of the species I was fortunate enough to see on my recent trip.

And as the birders gathered at this rest-stop, other rarities were found, leading us to wonder- could rarities be everywhere and its only a concentration of great birders that will recognize the rarities (like the Kirtland's Warbler at MBS)? Or is this a blessed area, meant for finding rare birds?

In reality, it is probably all about the real estate and botany; across the highway from this famous roadside rest lies a 150-yard trail along a creek. Water, especially in arid desert-like regions, always increases the wildlife sightings.
Add the water related trees, Cottonwood and Sycamore (photo above)- and yes, you have a bird magnet.

But look again, this is not the Sycamore we know in the east. Although the bark shows the same Monnet-esque patterns of our familiar riparian corridor tree, the leaves have morphed! Behold, the Arizona Sycamore, Platanus wrightii with its elongated leaf and smooth fruits. This species provides habitat for Elegant Trogans and Violet-crowned Hummingbirds! Check it out in Sibley's new Guide to Trees- pg 104.
Better yet, I can check it off, as Mr. Sibley provides a tree checklist in the back of the book. Weedpicker could soon become... Weed-lister!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Winged Jewels

Hummingbird's feathers reflect the light with jewel-colored flashes, stunning not only potential mates, but enchanting bird-o-philes as well. We find them fascinating.

Ohio has one major player in the Trochilidae family, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Late spring brings many of these colorful dynamos to sip sugar-water at man-made feeders and nectar from my flower gardens. And while I have never had the good fortune of hosting a fall Rufous Hummingbird, several have been seen in the GMAS area this year.
Broad-billed Hummingbird is a staple in the southern Arizona desert canyons, and a beauty to behold.
While birding in Arizona provided ample opportunity to study Magnificent, Broad-billed and Anna's Hummingbirds, a trip to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum rounded out the billet with a few more. They have an enclosed area for rehabilitating hummingbirds, while educating the public. Usually aviaries and butterfly houses are a turn-off for me, but this one was so well done- I would consider it a must see.
Black-chinned female at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The educational signage at this museum and gardens was excellent as well. I enjoyed reading of the relationships of local plants the the fauna which interacts with them.
Ocotillo is the deadest, prickliest-looking plant you can imagine in October, so it was interesting to learn of its value to hummers. Never under estimate the value of worthless-looking plants!
One parting shot, and a beauty he was. Care to make a guess at the species?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

November Butterfly Bonus

November is a tough month to get new butterflies, unless one visits a clime much warmer than Ohio offers. And while temps were considered cool by Arizona standards, Tucson's weather fluctuated a bit. It was generally 65ish in the daytime- with frost threatening on some nights.

A life butterfly for most Ohioans, the California ( or Arizona) Sister. You'll find it in the Kaufman guide near the Admirals, which includes our Ohio staples the White Admiral (Red-spotted Purple) and the Viceroy. And like the RSPs, the Sisters are likely to be found on the ground sipping sap or reloading nutrients at a pond or mudhole; visits to flowers are occasional, and not their usual fare.

Glimpses of lavender lines make for a lovely under-view of the Arizona Sister, as seen from a flight high up into trees. Oaks, like this Emory Oak, are particular favorites as they are the host plant of the species.
Sorting these southern oaks is new to me, but the lance-shaped leaves, and rigid posture of the leaves suggest Emory Oak in this instance. But, I would be willing to entertain other suggestions... anyone?

At the same shallow stream seen in the first photo, a Mexican Yellow partakes in a bit of puddling. It was a bit far for a great diagnostic photo, but its quarter-size and cut of the wings made it a pretty positive ID.
Thanks to Melody Kehl, expert bird and butterfly guide, for getting me through the day and helping me find so many local rarities I would have otherwise missed. If you are ever birding in Arizona, do give her a call! She knows the best places and has a real ear for birds. Thanks again, Melody!