Monday, December 31, 2012

Counting down to a New Year

As each year goes by, it seems that I am having more and more fun.  I think that is a good thing. But honestly, it doesn't take much to make my day.  

 This little American Kestrel, for example, was one high-light of my Crawford County Bird Count.    Out of the corner of my eye, I caught it flying into this protected corner of a barn.

It was perfection in my mind. The right bird in the right place, with his gorgeous colors in perfect contrast to the stark white building and a snow covered barnyard.  I just had to stop at the edge of the road to take his portrait.

After a few photos of the Kestrel, I wanted to document the whole scene.  Consider the distance of the barn from the road. Now you see why I was thrilled to have noticed that movement, that smallest of falcons, as it found shelter from the winter winds. Simply amazing.

Suddenly, the farmer called out, "Hey! What'chu doing over there?"  I backed up my car and spent a few minutes explaining my joy for these little mouse-eating falcons and our Christmas Bird Counts.  He apologized for being gruff, and asked, "What's that bird's name again?"

Seems there were some break-ins recently, but he held his dog and we talked birds for a spell. I admired his handsome farm and his good fortune to have a kestrel on it, and explained why we citizen scientists keep track of the little guys.

I like birds and I sure enjoy birding.  But it feels especially good when we can help someone else see our joy and feel good about the role they play in the life of an American bird.

What could be a more perfect way to end the year?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Art reflects life.

What would you guess is the most valuable book in the world?  The Gutenberg Bible? You would be wrong, and birders throughout Cleveland weep for you.  

Back in November my daughter and I attended a fabulous program at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History (CMNH)  in Cleveland, Ohio held by the Kirtland Bird Club.  

CMNH Librarian Wendy Wasman and Dr. Henry Adams of Case Western Reserve discuss the Audubon double-elephant folio.  
The guest speaker, Dr. Henry Adams gave a presentation on Audubon as we were in the presence of a rare- indescribably valuable - Audubon "double-elephant  folio," (think: really big!) We stood breathless as they turned the pages on these life-sized portraits of America's birds.

Dr. Adams explained why Audubon's art, beautiful as it is, represents the best printing and coloring techniques of his age.  These books are so rare because the individual prints are highly sought after as art.

For Christmas I had the good fortune of receiving my own copy of Audubon's prints.  OK, it is a bit smaller than CMNH's.  Daughter J.J. describes this as the "pygmy-hippo" version.  No less beautiful as it adorns my antique library table, I can assure you.

And lookie- the page is turned open to show EVENING GROSBEAK!

Not to be out-done, daughter Shelly also had a very special Christmas present in mind for her mama.

Audubon reproduction prints of Great Blue Heron and Blue Jays. 
We had spotted an old copy of Audubon's Blue Jays in an antique store.  It is now gracing my living room mantle, until I can get it re-framed in a more appropriate and acid free style.  The Wood Duck decoy is my beloved conservation award from the Ohio Ornithological Society.

So as you can see- it is all blue birds of happiness for me this year.  I hope you enjoyed your family and holiday time as much as I have enjoyed mine.  Good birding (and booking) my friends!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Birds Count!

 We just can't help it, birders love to have our  "Merry Little Christmas" Bird Counts!

And doggone if we don't see some of the best birds that way.  A couple years back we had heart-stopping views of White-wing Crossbills at the Mohican Gorge Overlook.  You can read a great post about it- over at Jim McCormac's blog.

White-winged Crossbills in Hemlock
 I am no photographer, but here are a couple crossbills scampering around at eye-level.

Roger Troutman compiles both Wooster and Mohican CBC data.
It is a challenge to get a photo of the participants at the Mohican CBC, as our Amish friends prefer not to be photographed. They are a huge part of this count and do much of the leg-work.  They leave the driving to the non-Amish, or "English."

Northern Mockingbird
Historically, Northern Mockingbird is a great bird for the Wooster Count.  This year we had four in my territory alone.  That seems like a significant change.

Keeping consistent data, year after year tells us which birds are rising in number- like the Mockingbird- and which are in decline.  We have over 100 years of information, thanks to "citizen scientists", folks like you and me.

Evening Grosbeak
We'll hope for some Crossbills again, and you can bet we will be trying hard for the Evening Grosbeaks in Mohican as well.  I spotted them this week, and maybe we can find them again for our big day next Saturday.  See the Greater Mohican Audubon website for details.

I hope you'll join a Christmas Bird Count this year.  I do four counts each year, and find them both rewarding and fun.  The best part: this year there is no charge.  Audubon will compile the information and post it on-line.  Since there will be no magazine printed, they have eliminated the fee.

 But I hope you will join me and send them a little cash anyway. Go right HERE, and make a donation to the National Audubon Society today.  This is important work we do each year and helps scientist get a better understanding how bird populations change locally and globally.  Here's what they have to say:
The data gathered by this army of citizen scientists is critical to Audubon’s bird conservation work in the years ahead.  Past counts have shown that many common birds—ones we have grown up with—are rapidly declining in numbers. 
   The Evening Grosbeak has declined by more than 90 percent.

Female Evening  Grosbeak.
 So join our count and if you are really lucky- you'll get to see one of these!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Kingwood Christmas

Christmas is a spectacular time to visit Kingwood Center. The snow has adorned the mansion with the  Christmas spirit on the outside, but the holiday decorations on the inside are really festive!  It is a big deal around here.

If you can't come to Mansfield to visit in person, you'll want to go to their website and browse the lovely photos of Kingwood in all its glory.  Kingwood is an educational and horticultural resource unparalleled in mid-Ohio.

American Holly, Ilex opaca
Each week they pick a plant of the week.  This week they went with my suggestion of American Holly, Ilex opaca.  This is a native Ohio plant that looks wonderful in the landscape and feeds wildlife.  It is great for those Christmas table decorations, too!  This is the perfect plant to feature this week.

Chuck Gleaves from Kingwood Center  with guest, Cheryl Harner

Last night I was the guest on Kingwood Plant Talk program with their Executive Director Chuck Gleaves. You can bet I took the opportunity to talk about native plants, insects and some of the birds that utilize them.  Kingwood's and  WMFD's websites have links to the video-  or try this link:

It takes you right to the program.  Hope you enjoy the show, and now I must get back to making some table arrangements. You can bet they will have fresh holly in them!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Trees of Life

Trees have much to tell us, both of life and death.   Deadwood is not dead at all. It has a negative connotation of someone not "pulling their weight" or as a western town gone terribly wrong. However, nature teaches us that many life forms are nourished by the wood we have humans deemed "dead."

Trees can speak to of us life and hope.  These are the days, I find solace in the trees. The soft whispering of pines say, "Be still... and know."

It is no small wonder cemeteries are filled with trees.  Majestic trees make one look up toward God.  Evergreens speak to us of life- even in a season of rest.  We know that the world will go on, with or without us. Trees have been here all along, as witness to all of man's glory... and folly.  We are not in charge.

I find no shame in being a "tree hugger." Trees are something solid that one can hang on to.  It is times like these I go to the trees, to listen, to breath, and to heal.

Trees can't run away from their troubles.  They are grounded, in the truest sense of the word.  And when the rest of life makes very little sense, I look to trees. There is something bigger.

Yes, I place great value on trees.  They can easily out live humans, if we only let them.  They improve and enhance our lives in so many ways. They provide lumber, heat, paper, and cleanse our air.  They take a human's exhaled sigh, and in turn, create the very oxygen we need to survive.   But most of all, they provide incredible beauty which speaks directly to our soul.  We are part of this great forest, if we only open our eyes to see.

We need to hug one another- and if we are too timid for that- at least we can practice on trees.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Bohemian Rapsody

That's right.  We are all mad for Bohemians (waxwings) in Ohio.  Some of us are willing to drive for many miles, and sit for hours.  Waiting. Wanting.

We dipped.

Since I have no photos to share, you'll have to trot on over to Jim McCormac's blog for the details.
             Click here:    Ohio Birds and Biodiversity

Birding wouldn't be a challenge if we got the birds every time, right?

So, this is the best I can do. Remember, even the Muppets want you to:

"Open your eyes,
Look up to the skies and see..."

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Eye to the Future

Once numerous in mid-Ohio farm land, the Northern Bobwhite no longer sings in Richland or Ashland Counties.  What could be a better avatar for the restoration of farmland conservation ethics?

Northern Bobwhite, photo courtesy of Michael Godfrey
 With an eye to the future, Ohio Department of Natural Resources has committed a huge investment into Malabar Farm State Park.  Farming is about to undergo radical changes in the Midwest, forced by climate change and  farm run-off impacting our lakes and waterways.  

It is time to ask ourselves, "What would Louie do?"  

Louis Bromfield spent the last years of his life working for farm reforms to make agriculture better and more conservation minded.  We have come to realize it is not the environment or the economy.  Now we have learned:

What is good for the environment is ultimately good for the economy, too.

 Cattle?  Sure I love them, med-rare.   I'll have mine grass fed, please.  It is a whole new world out there, and Ohio has some of the leading experts on sustainable farming. Look into the writings of Gene Logsdon.

We love this land, and want the farm addressed with respect to farming and the future.  Bring back the buffer zones that protect our water and create habitat.  We'll have a side order of quail too, please.

These trees are witness to the changing land.  They survived the arrival of white settlers, the Great Depression and now we need to protect them for our children.

Sugar Maples will not do well as the climate continues to warm.  Our vegetation is changing, and the butterflies and birds around us are already adjusting to this change.  We need to listen and learn more form nature if we really have our "eye to the future."

Until we can get them back into Pleasant Valley, enjoy this little video clip provided by my friend Michael Godfrey.  I have not seen or heard a Bobwhite in Ohio since the 1970's.  They would certain be a welcome addition again.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Christmas in Pleasant Valley

 A very famous house in Pleasant Valley is dressed and ready for Christmas.

The windows are trimmed with garland and bows.

The trees are aglow, one for each room.

The family pets enjoy the party too.

The Postman, painting by Grandma Moses
Even the artwork reflects the season.  This painting  "The Postman" is by a famous American folk artist.  Ironically, Grandma Moses  said she first started painting (in her late 70's)  to produce a gift for the mailman's Christmas.

 So have you guessed who hosted the party I visited today?  The lawn has seen many gatherings and press conferences over the years.

This is Malabar Farm, home of the author Louis Bromfield.  One of Richland County, Ohio's brightest gifts not only to the literary world but, perhaps even more importantly, to conservation as well.  He wrote and talked about preventing erosion and improving soil conditions, long before it was the vogue.

ODNR's  Director James Zehringer, Park Manager Korre Boyer and  Assistant Director Andy Ware 

Today the party was given for Malabar by Ohio Department of Natural Resources.  The gift, totaling $500,000. has been promised for the restoration of  "The Big House," as we locals call it.  This home, the epicenter of conservation during the Great Depression, has seen better days.  But today marks a movement for change.

It was a moment of great pride and happiness for all of us gathered on that lawn.  We are looking forward to embracing the farm conservation ethic Louie promoted while living in Pleasant Valley.   Welcome Korre! We can't wait to get to work on the farm.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Cranberries: Thanksgiving elixir

It is such a sadness that a fruit as wonderful as the cranberry gets mentioned but once a year.  This Ohio native plant really has the goods.  Unfortunately, we have all but wiped them out in Ohio.

Large Cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon
 You'll only find them in bogs, like Brown's Lake bog near Shreve, or Cranberry Bog State Nature Preserve, a floating Island in Buckeye Lake. Well, actually it is sinking... but that is an interesting story, too.

Our family Thanksgiving jello recipe calls for ground cranberries.
 I am a big fan of the cranberry and I hope you are too.  They are really high in Vitamin C.  Unfortunately we in Ohio have to buy ones shipped in from Michigan or Maine- two of the bigger producers of this perfect fruit.

No matter how you prepare them, in a jelly or jello, or sauce- you'll want to add plenty of sugar.  These bad boys can really be tart, but that's why they are so perfect! 

Just boil 2 cups of water with 2 cups of sugar and add in 4 cups of whole cranberries.  Boil them for about 5 minutes.  Once they cool you have a delicious topping  for anything from a cracker with brie to sliced turkey.  (I can't believe I just gave out a recipe. It must be the Greg Miller influence!)

So how did they get the name Cranberry?  Could it be from the giant Sandhill Cranes known to inhabit wetlands and bogs?  We may never know.  But it sure makes for a great story.

Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.  Now pass the cranberry sauce!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fringetree: Nature through the lens.

Fringetree, Chionanthus virginicus is a southern species, best known from Virginia and the Carolinas.  If you want to see it in Ohio, you'll need to go south- to Scioto or Adams County.

Coincidentally, that is where we hold Flora-Quest, and we hold it when the Fringetree is in bloom: the first weekend in May.  Mark your calendar- this year's date is May 3-5, 2013.

Fringetree, photo by Andrew Gibson
 Knowing Fringetree is found in Scioto County is one thing, knowing where to find it is altogether another. That is why you'll want to book a trip with our experts guides, like Andrew Gibson and Ian Adams.

Fringetree, photo by Ian Adams

If you love to study nature, you may find it is even more enjoyable when you frame it as a photograph.  Whether it is the entire landscape that catches your eye, or some little detail you would like to examine with macro photography, today's "point and shoot" cameras do it all.

This year we are offering something entirely new:

                           Nature through a lens.

This isn't some difficult class filled with talk of F-stops and apertures!  You don't need a fancy camera, your cell phone will even do. This is a nature class.  Let the experts teach you how to get those photos you will want to share with friends.  Learn how we sneak up on butterflies or bees.  Get down on the ground for some exciting perspectives!   Ian and Andrew will help you understand nature, and see it in a new light.

So pick up this year's Flora-Quest card- and you'll notice a portion of Andrew's spectacular photo is featured on the front.

Join us and see all your favorite spring flowers: orchids, shooting-stars, Indian paint-brush and some exciting trees.  We are still in the planning stages, but the trips are coming together and we can't wait to share what our guides have in store for you this year!

Is it spring yet?

Friday, November 16, 2012


Is this some moonscape photo?  Not exactly.

It is the overhead tank of Moon Jellyfish at the Cleveland Aquarium.  It has a new addition: plastic bags.

Cleveland aquarist J.J. Soski (Look familiar?  She is my daughter) gave a program on the "Persistence of Plastics" on Wednesday night.  It was rather eye-opening. 

The problem with plastic, it persists for a very long time. Who "needs" a drink straw that lasts 10-20 years?

Several plastic bags are floating in the Jellyfish tank as an educational effort (not as a permanent display.)  It clearly proves how difficult it is to see the difference between bags and Jellies, even for people.

Another new feature is this giant Jellyfish created from used plastic.  J.J. stands in front of her artwork, to give perspective to  its awesome height.

Great Cleveland Aquarium has been hosting beach clean-ups at Villa Angela.  Go to their Facebook page to learn more about this volunteer effort.  This photo from JJ's presentation is an accounting of the junk plastic collected on clean-ups.

As a birder, I was already familiar with the terrible toll plastics are taking on our sea birds.  The death rate of Albatrosses is staggering, as her presentation showed.

Aquatic conservationist are deeply concerned for the small fish as well.  Sure, they can't eat a pop bottle lid or a six-pack ring, but these tiny shipping beads,called nurdles, are neutrally buoyant (they float IN water- not on it) and look like "tasty" fish eggs. 

 However, there it no nutritional value from plastic- only full bellies and sick fish result.

Be part of the solution!  Bring your plastic bags to the Cleveland Aquarium for recycling. Trade in twenty  or more bags for one of these nifty cloth bag with the Greater Cleveland Aquarium logo.  Get one of your own.

Hurry, this offer is only good while they last- and they are going fast!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

We Need Trees.

Trees have been foremost on my mind, and I am pleased to announce Dr. Joan Maloof will be the keynote speaker at Flora-Quest this year.  Go here to learn about the program she recently gave at Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

We need trees, now more than ever.  And not just for lumber.  Trees clean the air and old growth forests hold moisture even during droughts.  Trees just might the the key to saving our planet- or we mere humans living on the planet.

My challenge to you today is to slow down and look, really look at the trees around you today.  Do you see how the bark varies from species to species?  Note the buds, some are skinny and pointy while others are huge honking things. Most leaves have fallen, but some of the oaks and young beech trees hold their leaves into winter.

Look. at. trees.   Birds like them, botanists adore them, and there is much we can learn from them.

It is not a choice of the economy or ecology.   Good ecological practices are good for people, and cheaper in the long run.  There are  no clean up costs to pay! 

Join me in celebrating life- just a little- and go hug a tree!   

Sunday, November 4, 2012

"Owls make my face hurt!"

We had a grand time at Lowe-Volk Park on Friday night. 

Oh geesh, another human!

We saw several Saw-whet owls up-close and personal.  And they saw us... mostly making fools of ourselves.

"Owls make my face hurt!"
 Madison may have said it best.  When I noted every one had besmitten looks on their faces, she said she had been smiling so much that,"Owls make my face hurt!"

 And it is not just Madison that loves these pint sized birds.  Look at Kaily.  "Ah..."  She has been struck daft.  

It is not just children either:  grown adults, men, women.  They are all mesmerized.  Every time I have been in a roomful of saw-whet watchers, the reaction is the same.

Thanks to Bob Scott Placier for traveling to Crawford County to make it all possible.  He has banded owls three years in a row and we have had success each time. Thanks to the park for offering this wonderful outreach program for birders and non-birders alike.

After all, NO ONE can resist the charms of these little owls.  One you've seen them up close, your face will hurt too!