Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mohican's Lyons Falls

Mohican State Park could well be called the center of the universe- for a tree hugger in mid-Ohio. Within a 90 minute drive for over 7 million- yes, that is million- Ohioans, it is a verdant forest, boasting of an unglaciated gorge bisected by the Clear Fork River. Equal parts Canadian forest and high-and-dry oaks of a southern forest. The best of both worlds, hosting a multitude of breeding birds, including warblers, Bald Eagles and Osprey. Unusual plant communities include many species of ferns and several varieties of orchids.

Big Lyons Fall is accessed from the picturesque Covered Bridge trail.

It was a special treat to revisit this local landmark with a visiting friend from Belgium. We Americans tend to forget how truly extraordinary our State and National Parks are. For the first time in history land was set aside - for the pleasure of the common man- not kings or queens. It is our legacy and gift to preserve for future generations, and it is up to us to leave it unspoiled for those who follow.

Colm was appreciative of Little Lyons Falls as well. A steady stream of hikers passed through this area while we photographed the jagged rock and waterfall. One has to wonder if they know our Ohio state parks and forests are in danger of becoming industrial sites? How many fracking wells or timber sites will it take to mar the beauty and quietude of our pristine gorge?

It seems a poorly thought out plan to tout industry within a park to achieve finances for long deferred maintenance. Once the roads are over-burdened with semis hauling fracking fluid and timber, where will one go for the peace and sanctuary we have come to cherish? After all, who will want to visit our state parks? Will there be a need for improved lodging and facilities for anyone but the few gas workers and truck drivers?

Our natural areas are best kept natural. That gas has been in the ground for a long time now, and will keep for a few more years until we learn how to extract it safely without contaminating water and creating huge gas drilling "footprints" through out the park. If the state parks belong to the tax payers of Ohio, maybe some one should ask us how we feel about this plan.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Loons at Clearfork

Most people were focused on a turkey on Thanksgiving Day, and our family did indeed participate in a food fest. But some unexpected birds also arrived in time for Thanksgiving.

Common Loon. Photo by Colm Otten.

Our nearby Clearfork Reservoir had a "fall out" of loons! Over 200 loons were found floating about on the day before thanksgiving, and continued on for two days. But even more impressive, two of those loons were Pacific Loons- extremely rare visitors to the state of Ohio.

Our family made several trips to see them, but there were a bit out of our camera's range.

Birders at Mansfield sailing Club. Photo by Colm Otten

There was much excitement among the birders, as we set up our scopes in front of the Mansfield Sailing Club. It provides a good overlook of the lake, which is need to sort through 200 loons. The Pacific is bit smaller, and more delicate looking bird than the Common Loon, a heavy bodied water bird. Pacific also have a distinctive "collar"marking just below its head. Bonus birds were a female Long-tailed Duck and 30 or so Red-breasted Mergansers swimming in formation.

Cheryl Harner and JJ Soski. Photo By Colm Otten

My daughters are home for the holiday, and JJ is visiting from Philadelphia- where she works at Adventure Aquarium. She is way more interested in fish than birds, but she humored her ma and visited the Clearfork with me.

If you have an interest in swimming with the sharks at her aquarium, JJ can fix you right up. It is a bit of a strange job, but someone has to do it. (I guess...)

Later in the day we caught this fabulous sunset on a hike from the other side of the reservoir. I must say this is one of my favorite views in Richland County, and I never tire of sharing it with friends and family.

Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sky Cranes

World weary and battered by the bad news on so many of Ohio's environmental fronts, a few of us went search of solace, healing and respite that only nature gives our souls. Steve McKee of Gorman Nature Center offered a woodpecker walk into the ravines of Mohican which provided some much need exercise and an end-of-day birding trip to the Funk Bottoms/Killbuck Wildlife areas south of Wooster provided an additional lift for our mood.

Sandhill Cranes aloft. Photo Greg Cornett

Nothing could be more magical than watching Sandhill Cranes in descending flight. Hanging mid-air, gently tipping outstretched wings to drop altitude: poetry in motion.

I have often watch Canada Geese perform this ballet while descending toward pond or corn field. The sheer size of these four-foot cranes magnify the seemingly impossible flight of these giant birds. Although I do not understand the principals of aviation (nor do I imagine the cranes know or care) the slow motion balance work is a miraculous sight. Legs dangling, delicately preparing for contact, these sandhill cranes remind me of living hang gliders.

Sandhill Cranes aground. Photo Greg Cornett

We spent a portion of our late afternoon with Sandhill Cranes, 104 at our last count, as they gathered for an evening roost. While this may not be the numbers of birds seen in Jasper-Pulaski, or Bosque del Apache, it is certainly a sight of merit within striking distance for mid-Ohioans. I know it set my world right.

As John Muir said, "Everybody need beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul."

Here our map to Rt 95 ( Blachleyville Rd) and S. Elyria Rd. near Funk-Bottoms Wildlife area with the bird site in red. The birds generally move around that area, sometimes seen in the corn stubble south of the church on the corner of Blachleyville Rd. Circle that block, and chances are good you may find a gathering. Or keep an eye skyward, and you'll likely see two or three coming and going during daylight hours.

Here's to Ohio and to all of the natural areas for birds, and nature's wonderous healing. May it continue to be so.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Clifton Gorge

Lest you think colder weather would stop a Weedpicker, I assure you there is plenty to do and see in Ohio and beyond during the winter months. My lack of posting has more to do with some family celebrations and home repairs which have conspired to keep me house bound for a while. I did escape long enough to bring you some photos from one of Ohio's geologically significant locations, and a darn beautiful hiking trail: Clifton Gorge.

The Gorge is a melt-water ravine reminder of those glaciers a few years back- say 16,000 years ago- that cut a swath through the area that has become Clifton in Green County. The water runs through a deep channel, compressed into speeding rapids, which can NOT be recommenced for kayaks, unless you are in to sudden-death boating.

It is best to traverse these significant areas with guides who are familiar with the local flora and geological formations. You may well call this crew my three "wise-guides." Jim Davidson heads up these various daytime trips where we explore all manner of out-door offerings. Here they cast trained eyes upon the rock outcroppings along the trail.

Maidenhair Spleenwort, Asplenium trichomenes is still a lovely shade of green in spite of the cold. The Aspleniums come in many forms, the more common Ebony Spleenwort is more vertical in stature and fairly common throughout woodland edges. This unusual form is a rock-loving, diminutive species, which does look fairly similar.

Here is the Cliton Gorge Holy Grail! Wall-Rue, Asplenium ruta-mararia grow only on vertical faces of rock walls. This fern's pinnae do indeed resemble the common garden rue.

In the past we have nearly stood on our heads and hung off of cliffs to find samples if this significantly rare plant. Today, we stumble on a grouping in plain sight along the trail.

Maybe late fall/ winter is a good time to go a' ferning. We won't get distracted by the other botany!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Standing Stone

High above the city of Lancaster, Ohio a piece of history remains nearly as fresh today as it was for the Native Americans who once inhabited this land. This rock bluff is a silent sentinel to ages past and affords a spectacular view of the bustling city below.

It may well be considered the gateway to the Hocking Hills, as it rises above Lancaster which was founded on Ohio's earliest highway- the Zane Trace. Located on the edge of unglaciated Allegheny Plateau and the intersection of a band of Illinoian till crossed by the Hocking (Hockhocking- meaning "bottleneck" or "twisted" to the Adena Indians) River.

The best view for a perspective of the massive standing sandstone is taken from the fairground's race track. A coincidence? I think not. The Fairground is a vibrant part of the society of Lancaster and the location of one of Ohio's oldest fairs. The view from Mt. Pleasant would be an awesome "box seat" at this track.

The biggest surprise was at the apex of the mount, accessed by a well worn trail-head found at Rising Park. The weather worn black-hand sandstone created bonsai miniatures of the Virginia Pine, Pinus Virginana giving one the uncanny feeling of a western landscape and Pinyon pine.

Here we spent a good deal of time enjoying the antics of Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice foraging in the evergreens. I was expecting a Bridled Titmouse at any moment!

Your blogster and daughter, Lancaster citizen Michelle Goodman, test the safety rails at the edge of the mount. I recommend this hike to anyone traveling through the fair city of Lancaster, and was pleasantly surprised at this mostly unblemished monument to nature, unscathed and undeveloped in the heart of the city.

A view of the valley below from the edge of the Standing Stone (Adena's name) or Mt. Pleasant. Quite a view of that race track, the city below and many miles of farmland beyond.

It felt like a peep-show into history. Step back from the edge and one was surrounded by idyllic wilderness. At the edge, lies an early settler's fairground with some buildings well over 100 years. On beyond, urban sprawl and modern day Route 33 bypasses the city to eat into the country side.

I liked the view back away from the edge.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Ohio Young Birders Conference 2011

If ever you doubt the abilities of today's youth or think that all our teens are going to heck in a hand basket- let me invite you to join me at next year's Ohio Young Birders Conference. It is the most amazing event, filled with talented- and I don't mean just "talented for kids"- I mean talented youth! Meet Rachael Butek- ABA's Young Birder of the Year and the Keynote speaker of our Ohio event. Rachael kept birding journals, wrote stories, created artwork and did photography for the ABA competition. This young woman is the very definition of an achiever! I predict nothing will get in the way of Rachael's success and we can't wait to see the places she will go.

And speaking of far out places- young Lukas Padegimas, age 18 gave a program on "An Epic Adventure in the Alaskan Arctic." See those tents? See the bear-wire in front of them? Oh yeah, he spent the summer there. WAY out there. It is so humbling to meet these young men and women who are already doing studies on birds and achieving more that I have ever dreamed possible.

About 110 folks came out to enjoy these programs and become amazed at the talented kids we had in our midst. Since Black Swamp Bird Observatory first started the Ohio Young Birders, it has been a pleasure to associate with these young folks. And believe me, I learn so much from them!

Kenn Kaufman gives a bird quiz each year, and here are the kids that rocked it this year. It is pretty incredible for a guy like Kenn to spend time mentoring the birders of tomorrow. Heck, these are the birders of today! And it was a thrill to be there with this dynamic crowd.

A special thanks to Ken Keffer, John Sawvel, Delores Coles, Kenn and Kim Kaufman and the many other people who helped with this event. I can't wait until next year!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Whoo's Messing with Me?

If ever there was a chance to overdose on "cute" it would be around Saw-whet Owls. The good folks at Lowe Volk Park in Crawford County invited my friend Bob Scott Placier up from Chillicothe to try his hand at banding the night fliers in our neighborhood. Good thing we were prepared for cute.

It was well after 10:00 PM when he netted a bird, unfortunately the little kids had long headed home on this school night. We lamented, "What a shame." Saw-whets are a huge hit with the youngsters and a prime opportunity for hands-on time with an amazing creature of the night.

Even as this little gal was carried back to the banding station, she was clacking her bill in threats and curses. Not a happy camper, this one! These owls are generally noted for their easy-going attitudes, and often show little or no fear of humans.

Bob has handled tons of these micro-owls, but this one was not impressed by his credentials. Here she is giving Bob the evil eye, as if to say, "Make my day..." This gal doesn't even care if he did give her a "ring."

It is a good thing the kids had gone home, or little Miss Feisty might have terrified them!

After the weigh in and general health and size data has been collected, Bob calmed this hatch year female down by stroking here head. Saw-whet really go for this and studies have shown it is similar to the motions a mother owl might use in grooming young.

Finally, she responds to his kindness a little late, she had already inflicted holes in Bob's hand with her sharp talons and bites. Note his bloody knuckles.

Holding a Saw-whet Owl is an amazing thrill. But these birds aren't banded just so we can get our jollies (although we certainly do!)

Banding birds allows these professionals to track and better understand the movements of birds, their ranges, habits and habitats. I have been to numerous banding stations and I've always been impressed with the ease and ability the pros exhibit while handling the birds, collecting data and returning the birds unharmed into the wild.

Saw-whet Owl banders are a highly knowledgeable group of birders, who care enough about monitoring species to endure the coldest, darkest nights of the years- to learn more about these enigmatic birds.

I was just lucky enough to tag along.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hiking the Hills

Just a few more shots from last week's hike to Hocking Hills. If you have not been, please set aside some time to visit this jewel of Ohio. It may well stand in comparison to the most beautiful areas out west. Yes, our rock formations are on a smaller scale here in Ohio, but we still have... Rock outcroppings and slump rocks.

Box canyons with gently trickling water, ancient hemlocks keeping watch.

Mountain Spleenwort, Asplenium montanum A delicate lace of green, the
mountain spleenwort is a rarity found growing out of the fractured rock face in the Hocking Hills.

Hoo doos? Who knew Ohio had 'em? These weather aged rocks show the results of millions of years of wind and water.

Some of the formations are, *utterly* unbelievable. That was bad, I know.

Color - iron seeped into the forming rock to create interesting color patterns of orange and reds. Much of the sandstone is also inter-mixed with conglomerate.

These formations were noted as being 330 million and 37 years old, according to Paul Knoop. After all, the formations were 330 million years when Paul moved in 37 years ago, and he has been keeping meticulous track ever since then.

Hocking Hills is one of Ohio's most traveled destinations, you might be amazed what it has to offer.