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.