Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christmas Botany Counts

Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and weedpickers... gotta look at botany. The Christmas Bird Counts provide ample opportunity for winter bontanizing, and knowing plants can actually be helpful in finding birds.

Poision Ivy, Toxicodendron radicans produces white berries that are favored by the birds. This particular vine had been hosting Eastern Bluebirds, this Red-bellied Woodpecker and a delightful Pine Warbler!

But remember- people should avoid white berries! Another member of the itch-inducing, Anacardiaceae family- Poison Sumac, Toxicodendron vernix berries festooned the perimeter of this portion of our CBC territory. If you find the much rarer Poison Sumac, you'll know with certainty you are in or near a bog or fen.

And indeed, Ryan Steiner was scaning for sparrows near the entrance to Brown's Lake Bog, a TNC property that hosts the rarest and most unusual native plants found in Wayne County.

The Pitcher-plant, Sarracenia purpurea is well adapted to capture nutrients unavailable in the acidic soil. These little cauldrons of death will neatly drown and dissolve any insects misfortunate enough to venture in. However, the layer of ice within these "pitchers" would prevent winter feedings, even if if there were any insects available.

And one for the reptile lovers: Jeff Spaudling does a visual necropsy on an unfortunate garter snake, who looked to be the victim of some violent death. Several puncture injuries consistent with claws or teeth were found along its body. Jeff is our CSI of the CBC! But unlike the CSI, we left the body for the winter birds. Raptors have to eat too, you know!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

White-winged Dove enjoys a White Christmas

Another astonishing bird has landed in the GMAS area, and became the star of the Wooster Christmas Bird Count. This count is compiled by Roger Troutman, one of Ohio's great count compilers and author of a highly anticipated book about Ohio's CBCs. Several birds of note were found on this year's count.

Jeff Spaulding, Ryan Steiner and I took the south-western section of the circle. Early on Jeff and Ryan identified a Pine Warbler hanging out at a seep off Wells Rd., and we were mighty pleased. Su Snyder and crew found 3 Cackling Geese among the thousand or so Canada Geese in their quadrant. But things got even better in the afternoon...

back a long lane, down one of the barely paved county roads, the owner had reported seeing a White-winged Dove during Christmas Eve and Christmas day. We generously volunteered to double check it and try for a photo for documentation. The Beerys have a wonderful feeder set-up and a flock of 20 or so doves hang out in their woodlot. It took a bit of searching, but we finally located the bird, comfortably resting in the myriad of branches. We took a few snap-shots and marvelled at this southern wonder so far from its home. It must have wanted to experience its own White Christmas!

White-winged Doves are a real rarity in Ohio. When they have been sighted, it is generally a short term thing. Never much more than a day or so. As you can imagine birders will be chomping at the bit to see this beauty, and the owner is planning for the happy masses of people that are certain flock to his feeders to partake in viewing nature's Christmas gift to birders.

...................................................... Photo by Su Snyder
A few fellow Christmas Bird counters joined us for a gander at this southern species and we celebrated our good fortune with a photo. Bianca, Ryan, Jeff, Cheryl (the Weedpicker) and Marcia huddled under a white pine tree for this photo.
The best news, the home owner is now allowing folks to visit. Watch the Ohio list-serve for details. Please park out at the buildings by the road, and walk the 1/2 mile into the house, as the drive is narrow and serve several other homes as well.
Hopefully, many other birders will be able to enjoy this winter's White-winged Wonder. Ho Ho Ho! It was a Merry Christmas indeed!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Doves

We certainly didn't circle the globe like old Saint Nick yesterday, but I did log a considerable number of miles during the holidays. One part of the trip required a day in Celina Ohio, which provided the perfect opportunity to drive past the granary on Mill St. where Eurasian Collared-Doves have been seen by other birdwatchers in the past year.

And although it was raining and spitting snow, there they were- a small flock of seven total- hanging out in a tree across the street from the grain silos.

Eurasian Collared-Doves were originally found in Europe and Japan, but apparently they colonize quicker than a contagious disease. They were introduced to the Bahamas in the 1970's, spread to Florida by the mid-80's, and are now moving north.

We have had several small groups reported in Ohio, and it is worth taking a second look through flocks of doves for their neck-bands and characteristic square tails, unlike the Mourning Doves' long pointed tail. Birdwatcher's Digest just published a great article written by Alvaro Jaramillo (Jan. 2010) on the difference between these two species, and a few other close relatives.

One of the doves in Celina was considerably lighter in color (rear left) than the others, and Alvaro wrote of possible variants of this species or the interbreeding with Ringed Turtle-Doves. Ringed Turtle-Doves are the domestic dove breed most commonly used by magicians. Maybe someone near Celina can get a few better shots than these sorry, damp doves cowering in the wind, and we could have a closer look at this mystery dove.

Either way, it was interesting to see them first-hand, and they provided some of the magic in my Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wishing you...

Here is wishing you the happiest of holidays. It is the season when blogging needs takes a back seat to...

spending time with friends (Hugh and Judy Kolo-Rose on the Avon lakefront-2005) and family.

Sometimes it is a difficult balance for those of us who prefer the outside to shopping and wrapping presents. A recent death of a loved one has served notice to me, not to forget that balance.
Remember to enjoy time with family, and cherish your time with people as well as the plants, birds and beauty of nature which we find so comforting. And yes, enjoy those Christmas Bird Counts and the fellow nature enthusiasts we love to visit with each year. It is a bit of a balancing act, but I wish you the love of a family, the kindness of friends, and if at all possible...

your very own Snowy Owl. Merry Christmas friends!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Conservation and CBCs

It was a soft falling snow that covered our county yesterday, and it only enhanced the scenery for our local Christmas Bird Count. CBCs are an annual assessment of birds and their population trends, and those numbers are certainly impacted by human population trends as well.

A sepia colored world.

Think like a bird and find open water in the morning; birds are attracted to water. Just like the rest of us, they gotta drink. On the far north edge of town, this babbling creek was a welcome sight: soothing to both eyes and ears. I stayed to commune with the birds.

Most of my Mansfield CBC route is urban, and becoming more so. The Mansfield Reformatory (home to 12,000 crows and 500 Canada geese), trashed out trailers, run down homes- sometimes it felt like the "Oxycontin Heights" tour.

Woodlots are becoming farther and fewer between in this quadrant. And where construction has not wiped them out, signs indicate it is on the way. Birds in decline? People are making impacts.

Another new gas staion, another housing development- and yet within a mile- houses and stations are already abandoned. Maybe we need to re-think the impact we humans are making?

Two places were highlights on my urban and industrial bird tour, the OSU Campus and a Sportman's Club. The OSU campus has a natural landscape and should be emulated by homeowners. I'll feature some photos in an upcoming blog.

And hurray for the hunters! What can I say? The best piece of habitat I saw all day is a huge hunt club, conserving vast acres of woods, grassland and wetland. Ok, Bambi and the pheasants are living on the edge here, but the benefits to other wildlife was obvious. The raptor count soared!

Birders and hunters- we all basically want the same things. Clean water, natural habitats and healthy animals. Let's do a better job of all just getting along!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A day at Johnson Woods

It was a fine day to visit one of Ohio's best known old-growth forests, Johnson Woods. Located in Wayne County, between the metropolises of Marshallville and Orrville, this 155 acre preserve is a wonderful place to study winter trees...

and the inhabitants therein. We found this Barred Owl on our way into the preserve, and were even more surprised to find its mate in a limb not 20 feet away. Masters of camouflage, this day time snoozer was taking advantage of the cover provided by a squirrel's nest. He awoke long enough to let us know he disapproved, but would tolerate our presence.

This forest contains specimens of amazingly large oaks, hickories, maple and beech trees, and a sampling of other species. Some of the trees closest to the trail are well marked, providing an excellent opportunity to study winter tree ID. The bark of black cherry is quite distinctive, and looks a bit like black potato chips glued to the tree. However, sometimes bark on old growth trees look a bit different than the bark which we are accustomed to seeing.

The overwhelming size of the slow growing oaks was most impressive. Towering overhead and long ago maxed-out in height, their canopies spread across the winter sky, much to our delight. White, red and pin oaks grow here in good number, but as the oldsters decline, they are succeeded by maple and beech. Oak requires more light for germination and growth, whereas the maple and beech are more shade tolerant.

What could cause the scaring on this tree? Lines of damage mark this tree and if you click to enlarge this photo you may see small holes. This appears to be the healed over work of a sapsucker drilling for liquid gold.
A different type of pest is making much smaller D-shaped holes in our ash trees. Many of Michigan and Ohio's trees are loosing the battle to the Emerald Ash Borer. Tom Arbor wrote a particularly good article on EAB today, go here to read it. You'll want to make time to visit Johnson Woods while there are still some massive ash trees to see. It is likely they will go the way of the elm and chestnut trees, also victims of non-native pests and disease.
This forest is a good representation of Ohio's woodlands 200 or 300 years ago, and we felt fortunate to spend the day admiring these beautiful, bodacious trees.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas Wish: an Allen's Hummingbird

Today many of Ohio's birding community have written on the top of their Christmas wish list, the hope Ohio Bird Records Committee will accept the Allen's Hummingbird in now being seen in Sugarcreek as Ohio's first Allen's!

Here is our hummingbird visitor from the west, as in California. Our normal fall hummingbird (if there is such a thing) is the Rufous which is found in the great Northwest- Oregon and Washington state. Allen's was occasionally suspected but never before recorded, until this one was banded and IDed by Allen Chartier, Michigan's far traveling expert on hummingbirds. Nine of our GMAS members witnessed this fall/winter rarity, and this hummingbird is bound to make a huge stir! For more info on hummingbirds see Scott Weidensaul’s blog .

The GMAS group started the day's good karma by taking this group of kids birding on our walk at Malabar Farm. Yup, that is the ol' blockhead himself, Charlie Brown. His little sister Sally liked the Eagle Optics I let her borrow, and hopes to find a pair in her stocking!

After our birdwalk and Christmas party, we detoured through Funk Bottoms on the way to see the Allen's hummingbird. Su Snyder had scouted out this group of over 100 cranes in the distance, enabling us to see both extremes of Ohio's December birds: Sandhill Cranes and Allen's hummingbird. That is really the long to the short of it!

And here is our happy group claiming two "life"-birds in one day: Jean Taddie, John Precup, Marcia Kinnard, and Jan and Gary Kennedy. This is my favorite way to spend a day, birding and enjoying good friends!

No wonder we like to say, " GMAS- it is good birding and a whole lot more!"

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Lighthouse Tour

I awoke to the sound of gulls this morning, and realized I had been dreaming of the Ivory Gull.

Actually, I awake to the sound of gulls every morning, it is the nature sound set on my alarm clock. But the Ivory Gull, a polar rarity being seen in New Jersey has been in my mind. As several of us are discussing the possibility of a trip to the coast, it has turned my mind to winter gulls. Yes, it is craziness to pursue gulls on a blustery beach or breakwall. But because I do it, I have seen some of the most incredible lighthouses in Ohio- and beyond.

Marblehead Lighthouse, Marblehead Ohio
Certainly not a surprise that I would list first the "most photographed" location in Ohio. A favorite of mine, since Marblehead was my home for almost 20 years.

Huron Pier light, Huron Ohio
Not as well known or as striking, but this light holds many memories for me. This was a rainy miserably cold day, but I saw my life Sabine's Gull flying circles around this light.

Headlands Light, Mentor Ohio
Wonderful birds and botany at Headlands, and the winters are likely to yield Purple Sandpiper on the rocks.

Peggy's Cove Light, Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia
The Holy Grail for lighthouse aficionados. We visited this rustic coast in fall of 2008; it is a view that could change your life.

So if winter weather makes it too cold for plants, here's wishing you beautiful lighthouses, and good gulls!

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Night at the Museum

Complete with scary noises and giant shuffling dinosaurs, the movies don't have anything on the original: Cleveland Museum of Natural History. It was an exciting place to visit when the kids were little, and even more fun now that my daughter is a professional science-type! J.J. and I spent most of Wednesday afternoon banging around the museum, and we found the intriguing array of displays both entertaining and informative.

Calling all plant lovers! Fieldwork: The Rare & the Wonderful at Singer Lake Bog is a new exhibit you will want to see! Tons of photos and information on this N.E. Ohio bog which is chock-full of both plant and insect rarities: Elfin Skimmer dragonflies, Bog Willow are just two of the specialities. If you have not yet been to this bog, at least treat yourself to the display. You can enjoy some of Ohio's coolest plants, without donning your waders!

Getting up close and personal with Ohio plants is as easy as walking down the hall.

Since I was there for Dr. Andy Jones' fun and fascinating program on the latest bird journal reviews, hosted by the Kirtland Bird Club...
it was an awesome opportunity to study the bird "skins" in the lower hall. There is nothing like looking at the real thing for comparisons.
The Cleveland Museum has a wonderful display of Ohio's birds, and we studied these sandpipers pretty intently. Now if we could just get someone to put those little tags on the ones we see out in the field!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Big Tree Hugs

In case you haven't noticed, Ohio is full of trees, or at least it was. Historically vast portions of Ohio were wooded and big- very big trees- were the norm. Now it is a big deal to see an ancient tree. In fact "old growth" forests like Dysart Woods and Johnson Woods are cherished relics from our past.

Ashland County has a few goodies in the tree department as well. A complete data base of Ohio's Big Tree program is available on the Ohio Division of Forestry's website. As a young forester, Brian Riley traveled throughout our state updating this information a few years ago. If you are interested in seeing some of these beautiful trees that have withstood the test of time, the information on species and location is readily available- just click on the Big Tree link above.

Photo by Su Snyder

Gary Cowell, Jr. hugs Ohio's second largest Green Ash tree on a recent Greater Mohican Audubon Society Bird Walk at Byers Woods. Check out our GMAS website for the walk schedules, and you will find we look at more than just birds. Join us on a trip to Secrest Arboretum (home of Ohio's Giant Dogwood, Cornus controversa) or our annual spring visit to Fowler Woods (home of Ohio's largest Black Ash, Fraxinus nigra.)

For more fun, click on the GMAS Facebook link in the sidebar of this page, and become a "fan" of GMAS. You'll also find a fun photo of the group gathered at the base of this Green Ash at Byers Woods.

Buy a gift membership for a friend and soon you'll be saying, "GMAS is good birding and a whole lot more!"

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.