Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cuddlin' in Cleveland

Our North Coast- Cleveland, Ohio- has been rocking the news all across the state with the new opening of the Greater Cleveland Aquarium.  Today my daughter sent a photo of a couple of baby gators cuddlin' under the heat lamp.  I intend to see them in person later in this week.  That will make me feel a bit better about missing the Space Coast Birding Festival this year!  Hey Florida friends- we got gators too!

Brr, it is cold in Cleveland! 

These cuddle bums are still babies, about 3 months old. American Alligators, commonly called gators, grow
about a foot a year. Gators max out around 16 ft, but are usually less than 10 feet.  If you get close enough, and take a good looky at their smile you can tell these are gators, not crocodiles.  Gators have a more rounded snout and their teeth fit nicely in the mouth. Crocs have gnarly teeth hanging out all over the place. Florida is the only place you can find both, although alligators prefer brackish water.

A big shout out to my daughter, JJ, for the photo from the new aquarium and congratulation to her for landing a job as a biologist/aquarist back home in Ohio.  It is nice to have her back after stints in Miami and Philadelphia.  I am looking forward to the full tour at her new job.  More photos to come!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Cawing all Crows

Everyone respects the intelligence and resourcefulness of a crow.  Some people just don't know it yet.  It is not their fault; they just didn't understand the mystique of the bird, until now.

 In an effort to enhance the American Crows' standing in Mansfield, Gorman Nature Center and Greater Mohican Audubon dreamed up an educational experience to banish all the ignorance surrounding crows.

          The first sampling of 45 Richland County folks to be inoculated with "crow love." 

Steve McKee offered a program about the winter roosting habits of our American Crows, starting with their collective name.  A group of crows is called a "murder".  How cool is that?  Mansfield is one of the mid-sized cities to be blessed with a mega-murder winter roost in Ohio.  This year it was estimated to number 30,000+ crows.

Why do crows roost together in the winter?  For protection and security, perhaps even for heat.  Urban areas offer a bit of ambient light and warmth. Crows gather at night, wary against their main predator- the Great Horned Owl.  To learn much more about crows, click on this Cornell "crowfacts" link which is filled with fabulous information.

 After the program, Steve lead the attendees out into Mansfield for a wild car chase- in search of crows! Irene is smiling just to have survived long enough to tell the tale!

The crow-active crowd gathers on the street.  Passers-by ask, "What's the excitement about?"


The wing beats and cawing of a thousand crows is a breath-taking sight.  The bats in Texas or Sandhill Cranes in Bosque del Apache have nothing on our Mansfield Murder.

Jan Ferrel and the JNATS (Junior Naturalists) are all over it!

As the birds settle in for the night, we mid-Ohioans counted ourselves lucky and rich in crows.

And what is the "plus" of a winter crow roost?  Besides the sight of a natural history wonder, and the resonating "coos" of a late night roost, crows do great community service.  They are the ultimate recyclers.  When the Turkey Vultures take off for the winter to seek more temperate climes, the crows remain.

Who removes the dead 'possums from the roads?  Crows do.  Who eats thousands of rodents and snakes? Crows do.  And if you stop to wonder what our world would look like with no "recyclers"  to do our dirty work, consider the crow.  And you will become a fan too.

Maybe they need a Facebook page.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Mohican John's River

Mohican's Covered Bridge is an icon of the natural areas in my parts.  And as many times I have been there in the last 6 years, it always offers something new.

Recently, the tale of "Mohican John" was unfolded to me.  The first surveyors encountered him on the river, and the rest is history.  Or at least frequently told folklore.

But the real story of  Mohican revolves around the water.  Water that trickles through the sandstone and  forms rivulets coursing down to the river.  Water that nourishes spring wild flowers and fruit along the riverine corridor.

Flowering Raspberries grow near the covered bridge,  enlarged, soft purple flowers that far surpass the beauty of most members of the Rubus family. 

                              The water flows cold and free.        
                      The fish are (almost) fearless.

And hemlock line the trails, giving shade to the hikers and creating habitat for Winter Wrens.

The waters of the Mohican are pristine and pure.  It is one of Ohio's Scenic Rivers.  And those of us who live here feel it is important to keep it that way.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Thinking about...

It is a dreary day in mid-Ohio, our six inches of snow has melted into standing water and soggy lawn.  But have no fear!  We are reaching in to the grab-bag of photos I have been using to build some power-point programs I'll be giving in a month or so.  

  So prepare yourself for some sunshine from the Buckeye  State!

A Common Buckeye butterfly on Riddell's Goldenrod.

The pugnacious attitude and beautiful color-spots on the buckeye has always made it a special butterfly for me.  As a child, it was a real treat when we found them in the mid-late summer. But they were not guaranteed every year. I suspect they are more commonly found in the last decade, as the numbers of many southern migratory butterflies are on the rise.  

Don't think that is an indicator of climate change?  Try taking that up with the Buckeyes.

Buckeye Caterpillars- Ah, what could be cuter than baby pictures?!  These are baby buckeyes in the making.  And if you are having a hard time thinking that caterpillars are your "thing," think of them as butterflies or bird food.  Or, biodiversity.

Nature doesn't live in a vacuum.  We don't get to pick and choose.  Just as we can't have kittens without cats, we can't have butterflies without caterpillars.  And we won't have birds without caterpillars either, since they are a primary food for growing young birds.  

Hope you will be joining me at one or more of the programs this spring, I look forward to meeting new friends and catching up with nature lovers of all kinds.  Check the side panel for dates and locations of some wonderful gardening and birding events.  

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A little birdie told me...

Spring may seem a long way away, but I assure you it will be here in no time. Nature lovers and bird watchers everywhere will soon be celebrating the annual migration of the most spectacular display of miniature rainbows- the neo-tropical warblers.

 Canada Warbler-  photo by Dave Lewis

Winging across the continent on northward flights to their breeding grounds, these tiny birds can catch the imagination of  the winter-worn environmentalist and even the most jaded industrialist alike.   The story is as old as time, and many of us hope to spread the story through tourism and educational programs.  Ohio has a wealth of natural areas, birds, trees, flowers and insects that need our attention and protection.

The future world would be a better place if we started to cater to the needs of these species, as many are bioindicators.  When life here on earth is no longer suitable for them, it will not be long until it will not be suitable for humans either.

 Blackburnian Warbler- photo by Dave Lewis.

To get the complete spring experience, one will want to start in Shawnee Forest in southern Ohio  in late April /early May.  Flora-Quest makes it easy for you- our experts guides will take you right to the plants, butterflies and birds you are longing to see. 

Greg Miller will be leading our birding trip, and also a Birding Road Trip for the Biggest Week in American Birding.  If you want to do a full-sweep of warblers in Ohio, you'll want to start with us in Adams and Scioto Counties.

Registration is now open for Flora-Quest and will soon be open for Biggest Week in American Birding.

>Be certain to visit Dave Lewis at Birds from Behind blog and you'll see Ohio's birds from a whole new perspective.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Where Cheetahs... prosper

It doesn't take much encouragement to talk me into spending extra time at The Wilds.   After our OOS outing on Saturday, several of us spent the night and lucked into a very special tour on Sunday morning.

A tour that had me seeing SPOTS....

on the Cheetahs at the Wilds!  Rather exciting to be within yards of these lean, not so mean, carnivores.  These boys are built for speed and unlike most cats do their hunting mid-day.  Hence the black eye-stripes a la pro-football players, possibly having evolved to reduce the sun's glare.   

 As we toured the mid-sized carnivore compound, we learned that some lucky "cheetahs" do prosper.  Especially the ones living here.  Not only do they get shelters with heated concrete floors, their meals are delivered to their door.  But this is no ordinary zoo setting, it is where the Columbus Zoo has an active breeding program.  Oh, yeah.  The big cats here have plenty of room and families are kept together.  Cheetahs males live and travel with their birth brothers, forming a "coalition" where they hunt and feed together all their lives.  Females live singularly.

 POOR Steve.  This bro has some broken toes so he is healing in a facility away from his brothers, for the time being.  As soon as he is better he will return to the large area where the cheetah boys run and play.

The Wilds' carnivore guy is Juston (on the right), he has a million stories to tell of these cats and it is easy to see how much he respects and enjoys the animals- and his job.

"Bolt" and "Cecelia" are Steve's siblings awaiting his recovery in the large grassy compound.  Note the cat walks high above the fenced in area, where tourist can enjoy unhindered views of the mid-sized cats at rest and play.  I am looking forward to returning to the Wilds in the summer, where I can watch the animals at length and hope to get a gander at the new cubs that were born on Halloween!  Go here for the news story.

Monday, January 16, 2012


Each year the Ohio Ornithological Society hosts a winter event that should be called-
"Birders- Gone Wilds!"
We meet up in Muskingham County, 15 or so mile east of Zanesville in the vast acreage of grass lands at the Wilds.  This is a restoration area from the days of strip mining.  The landscape has been drastically changed from the days of hill sides mined for coal to moonscapes replanted in grasses to reduce erosion.  The International Center for the Preservation of Wild Animals, Inc. has become an extension of the Columbus Zoo and a premiere spot for breeding endangered animals. 

 But it is not the endangered animals that attract this crowd.  This is half  of our 100 plus crowd of bird watchers who come each year to see winter grass land birds like Northern Harrier, Rough-legged Hawk, and Short-eared Owls.

 Marc Nolls (above) helps us organize the event each year, while Julie Davis lined up the guides.  We couldn't make this event run without volunteers-  Especially the folks in the field leading trips..

like Kenny Davis!  He takes his job pretty seriously, even working through his lunch hour.

A couple of years ago the OOS Conservation committee worked the Wilds and AEP to install Kestrel boxes and raptor posts throughout the grass land.  It was exciting to see this Rough-legged Hawk teed up just was we had hoped.  There was also a Short-eared Owl perched atop a Kestrel box- barking his little heart out.  But DUH, I missed the shot!

The Wilds event is always a lot of fun and a great opportunity for many birders to see some unusual winter raptors for the first time.  It is one of the many excellent programs OOS has sponsored over the last 8 or so years.  Go to www.ohiobirds.org to learn more about this fine organization and good work we do.

Hope to see you next year at the Wilds!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Shawnee- Firetower Hike

Shawnee State Park and Forest, a breath taking view from the firetower.

Good fortune placed me near Portsmouth Ohio this weekend, in order to accomplish some Flora-Quest business.  The weather, low 60's in January, was too perfect to pass up on the opportunity to hike with some friends- starting at the firetower.

Speaking of breath taking, this is certainly the tallest firetower I have climbed. THAT was breath-taking!

 Jenny Richards led the hike and she started us out with a good look from the inside of the tower.  What a thrill that was!  I can't imagine the day when someone spent hours upon hour in that high roost top, watch for forest fires.

 Doug and Connie were along for the hike.  We have met before at Flora-Quest events.  One of the best parts of attending Flora-Quest in Shawnee is the interesting people you meet.

Bob Scott Placier and John Howard were along for the afternoon as well.  Both are excellent naturalist and guides for Flora-Quest. In fact, the top twenty reasons for attending Flora-Quest are the guides.

Most are full-time naturalists, many retired or currently working for the state. They have a wealth of knowledge to share and the small groups allow them to teach more about flowers, trees, birds, rocks and butterflies.

The trips descriptions for 2012 are nearly finished- and you will soon find them on line at http://www.flora-quest.com/.  Can't wait to see you there!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Mansfield's Well-traveled Rufous

Once again, Mansfield has hosted a winter Rufous Hummingbird!  
This shy gal was perched well out into the yard, difficult to photograph.

Her favorite roost was within the boughs of a Blue Spruce.  Nice an toasty in there, well out of the wind and snow.

 Our friend Allen Chartier traveled down from Michigan to band the bird, while homeowner, Barb, anxiously photographs the whole examination.  Even the surprise...

 This bird has already been banded!  After the surprise of having a winter re-capture hummingbird, Allen checks his files and find - it was his bird originally.     (The band in this photo is highlighted)

Proud homeowner Barb, releases the hummingbird unharmed, while Steve McKee looks on and expert bander Allen Chartier takes photos.   It was certainly a day Barb will never forget!
Allen's take on the full account it posted below: 

Date: Wed, 4 Jan 2012 19:52:39 -0500
Ohio Birders,

On October 20, 2009 I banded an adult female Rufous Hummingbird near 
Loudonville, Ashland County,Ohio where she was First Observed on October 24 and Last Observed on November 9, 2009.

On December 18, 2010, Fred Bassett recaptured her in Pensacola, Florida (I`don't have FO and LO dates).

Today (January 4, 2012), I caught her again, this time in Mansfield,
Richland County,Ohio. She has been on site there since about November 1. The homeowner prefers not to host visitors as they have a small house and`yard, with limited parking. This is about 15 miles NW of where she was`originally banded in 2009(and less than 2 miles from where another Rufous`was banded in 2007).

This is only the second Rufous Hummingbird confimed as a returnee to Ohio`(none yet in Michigan or Indiana).

Since she was banded in 2009, she has likely flown at least 15,000  miles,including two returns in summer back to her breeding area somewhere in the Pacific Northwest (from Oregon to southern Alaska). She is also at least 3 years 6 months old.


Allen T. Chartier
Inkster, Michigan
Email: amazilia3 AT gmail.com
Website: www.amazilia.net
Blog: http://mihummingbirdguy.blogspot.com/