Saturday, December 28, 2013

All Glory and Glare

There are plenty of birds to see in California.  I don't want to say that "birding is easier than botanizing", but honestly- even with different plumages and dimorphism of the sexes- it is far less confusing than sorting thousands and thousands of native vs. non-native plants.

Western Grebes are as common as they are beautiful.
 Two grebes that I hoped to get on this trip were the Western Grebe and the very similar Clark's Grebe.  The major difference is the location of the eye in reference to the black plumage on their heads.  Western Grebe can be found in salt, brackish, and fresh water.  Clark's can be in the same locations- however they are much rarer.

Many Westerns were seen, but the Clark's eluded me.  In all fairness, my birding was all-take-it-as-it-comes.  Never once did we set out to see a Clark's Grebe, and if we had made more of an effort we would have had more "success".

Males Surf Scoter in breeding plumage.
 Scoters come in several forms and both Surf Scoters and Black Scoters were easy enough to see along the coastal beaches.  This particular bird was feeding in the shallow waters of Bolsa Chica Wildlife preserve.  Although we do see Surf Scoters in Ohio, we do not get them in this breeding plumage.  The Californians call these boys "skunk heads".  The outrageous clown-colored bills are used for foraging shellfish, i.e. clams.

American Coot and Cinnamon Teal (male)
Cinnamon Teal is a western bird and a real rarity in Ohio.  In fact, I have only seen one before- and it was a female.  To witness this attractive cinnamon colored male was just "duckie".  It is best to see birds where they belong and learn about their behaviors and foraging habits in their native range.  Outlier birds are fun to chase, but one should study a species in their normal range when opportunity allows,

Surfbird!  This is a western speciality.  Honestly, when I first saw this bird- I didn't know what it was!  What I did know: it was something I had never seen before.  A little diligence with a field guide soon made its identity clear.  The stubby, two-toned beak was the biggest clue for me.

Surfbirds foraging along the breakwalls.
Surfbirds forage the mosses and rocks along breakwalls.  My first thought when encountering them was how similar their shape and behavior is to Purple Sandpipers. However, purple pipers are not found on the west coast and Surfbirds are not on the east coast.

Black Oystercatcher
This bird was as obvious to identify as it was to locate! It is rather difficult to hide from birders and non-birders alike when one flies about with an orange beak and piercing golden eye.  Their loud piping calls draw attention as well. Black Oystercatchers- unlike their eastern counter parts, the American Oystercatcher- forage on break walls and rocks.

 My daughter took to calling them "Orange-beaked Flotsam Chickens." She is generally better at identifying fish species.

While this is by no means representative of all the birds we saw in and around Los Angeles, it is but an overview of the most memorable water-related birds. I am still trying to "recover" from all that sunshine and glare off the blue waters.  Thank goodness I am back in cold, cloudy Ohio!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Plant or animal?

 This could well be described as a "botanical" sea creature.  The most delicate member of the family  Syngnathida, a  group of tiny, whimsical horses-of-the sea.

Leafy Seadragon is the plant-camo king.
(Now turn the photo a 1/4 turn to the right.  They float along with their "snout" to the floor of the ocean.)
Of course this is no horse, or plant for that matter.  It is the Leafy Seadragon, an impossibly ornate 3-5 inch creature that lives in the sea  of the Down Under, Australia.  It is modeling the best sea weed camouflage ever created.  This species was first bred in captivity at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California.

Weedy Seadragon
Another beautiful sea creature found at the aquarium is the Weedy Seadragon.  One might imagine them to be the odd looking love-children of sea horses and plants.  A little less ornate than the "Leafy" shown in the first photo, they are members of the same family, but a separate genius.  Weedy Seadragons  have no clasping tail  to hold onto plants like their cousins the seahorse.  Therefore, they slowly drift along while feeding from the ocean floor.

The best known from this family of creatures is the Seahorse. There are over fifty separate species ranging from less than an inch long, up to 14 inches. Males bear live young, making them one of the most interesting fish in the sea.

JJ Soski at work, feeding sharks.
Special thanks goes to my favorite fish guide and daughter, JJ Soski.  I have been enjoying some time visiting with her in California. The personal tour of the Aquarium of the Pacific has been one of the best stops on this trip,  although the birding has been pretty amazing, too.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Birds in Paradise

Weedpicker has escaped the cold of Ohio for a week-plus trip to sunny California to visit Shark-girl, my daughter who is an aquarist working at Aquarium of the Pacific.  We toured around a bit in Santa Monica and enjoyed balmy 70 + degree weather.  Of course I am smitten with the botany, but have little knowlegde of California plants.  There may be more non-native plants growing in California than there are native plants.  These warm zones can be a botanical challenge.

Bird of Paradise
 Some plants I recognize from my years in the florist trade. Birds of Paradise, Strelitzia reginae, seem to bloom in every park and garden.
Santa Monica from Ocean Ave.
The traffic is rather intense, but I manage to head directly to the oceanfront parks and beaches.  There is much beauty to be found, even in these urban environments.

Fully equipped BSBO backpack.
A fully prepared urban birder takes a backpack equipped with layers of clothing, water, sunscreen and bird field guides. One surfer even commented on my nifty BSBO back pack, expressing some awe that I was a "birder" and continued to  ask me about warbler migration. 

Heermann's Gull
 The main order of business was to find a Heermann's Gull.  It is a west coast gull that I have been dreaming of seeing on this trip.  This stunning gull has a white head (in breeding plumage) and a distinctive orange bill with a black tip.  Juveniles are all smokey dark, with a back bill.  They are close in size to our common Ring-billed Gull.

Heermann's Gulls breed to the south of California in Mexico and migrate north for winter.  Their population is considered near threatened, and 90- 95 percent of them all breed on one island. Isla Raza has recently been protected in an attempt to stabilize their numbers. 

One Heerrmann's in a sea of Western Gulls

Another "life gull" (since I have never been on the west coast before) was the stately Western Gull.
It is a large-bodied bird with a dark mantle, yellow bill and distinctive pink legs.

It is of no small concern to me that I have arrived at a stage of birdiness that I enjoy sorting gulls on the beach.  Who knows what depravities I will succumb to next?

I am headed back to the beach today, maybe I will get better photos of the sea lion "surfing" just off shore. Maybe not. Either way, it is all an adventure to me.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Harlequin Duck a Delight.

Harlequin Duck at Bay Village, by Chuck Slusarczyk, Jr.
There is a seldom-seen-in-Ohio, rare duck which recently graced the jetty at Hunting Reservation's beach in Bay Village, Ohio.  Top notch Cleveland birder, photographer and all round good-guy, Chuck Slusarczyk, Jr. has been kind enough to loan this blog a few photos of this amazing visitor to the Greater Cleveland Area lakefront.  (Chuck's photos are the gorgeous close-ups, noted with his byline. The general snapshots found in this article are mine, and not to be blamed on him.)

The tower at Huntington Beach, Bay Village
 Harlequins are sea ducks.  They are born to rough waters and seek out pounding surf in their wintering grounds.  Occasionally the better birders will have "fly-bys" on their Cleveland Lakefront watches, but the bird that stays long enough to be seen well, now that is a rare duck. Recently, a Harlequin was seen at Huntington Beach in Bay Village.

View from the parking lot: birders have gathered on the beach to pay homage to our Harlequin.
The last time such a bird lingered in Cleveland was in 2008.  It is a sad story, as it ended in tragedy for the duck.  Although these unusual birds are protected in all of Eastern Canada and the US, they are not protected from hunting in our flyway. This loop-hole in hunting laws has probably been overlooked, as Harlequins are not commonly found in our area.

But first the gauntlet of icy stairs...
 Our recent bird was first  reported on the Ohio Birds list serve on Dec.5th.  Soon word got out that, again, hunters were taking an interest in this duck. The birders decided the safety of the duck was more important than reporting its location for birdwatchers. The Ohio-birds list-serve became silent on its whereabouts.

Harlequin Duck fears no crashing waves!  Bring on the sea-surf!
The Huntington Beach Harlequin Duck appeared on-and-off-again, for the next two days. The winds had gathered by my second trip to the beach, where we found the Harlequin gracefully bobbing in mighty Lake Erie's crashing waves. 
Inset: our little hero rides the waves.

Photographers and admirers lined the shore, a duck hunter would have to think twice.
It is nice to think this phalanx of birdwatchers may have created a "safe zone" for a duck of "conservation concern" from Canada's Northeast. It paddled about, fed and rested on the jetty.  We felt honored to witness this beautiful bird at close range.

If a hunter even thought about taking this "trophy," our numbers (and cameras) would have given great pause.

Male (juvenile) Harlequin Duck, photo by Chuck Slusarczyk,Jr.
 Harlequin Ducks have a fascinating life history.  They also breed in the Northwest and some parts of Montana, but are unprotected in these areas.  The Eastern Canada population is under close watch, as declines are attributed to habitat and water quality degradation.

Harlequin Duck, photo by Chuck Slusarczyk,Jr.
Three cheers for the Harlequin Duck!  We wish this one safety in its travels and appreciate the opportunity to learn more about ducks, hunting and conservation.  Perhaps it is past time to consider protecting these blue beauties in our Mississippi flyway.

Having spent a good bit of time researching hunting information on Harlequins, I can attest that the non-uniformity of the hunting laws on this species is confusing and disappointing.

It would be a tragic loss to have this duck species go the way of the Labrador Duck.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Bad Weather = Good Birds

If one is into balmy weather, Ohio has been less than ideal this last week.  However, if you are into winter birding, Ohio has been "Oh-wow-oh" so far this December.

Snowy Owl at Burke Airport. 
Snowy Owls have been the headliners.  This photo was taken off the backside of the City of Cleveland's Burke Airport lakefront, a couple of years past.  It is a good stand in for any one of the nine Snowy Owls now appearing in Cleveland. Most of the owls are at the airport or on a lakefront break wall, so take your binoculars.  You don't often get to see them up-close.

If you would like to read a bit about this irruption of  owls in Ohio (and states beyond) go here  to read a news article written by Todd Hill.

Northern Shrike at Killdeer Plains
If you are willing to risk the back roads in some pretty lousy weather, Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area is a good place to see yet another winter rarity, the Northern Shrike.  This "butcher bird" arrives in early winter to stake out a territory and add small birds and mice to its larder.  This one seems to have set up housekeeping in a hawthorn tree.  The thorns of the hawthorn become a food "holder" the shrike.  It is the shrike's habit to store food items by piercing them upon a thorn.  Later it returns to feed at this cache.  Having a powerful bill, the ripping and shredding of game proves to be no problem, however its undersized talons are better for perching than gripping prey items.  Hence the need to make a shish-kabob with the haw's-thorns.

Michael Godfrey at work on the back roads of Killdeer Plains
This last week it was my privilege to play hostess a videographer at work.  My photos were not the best, as I stand back and attempt to stay out of the way while he works.  But it was a joy to see so many fabulous winter birds all across Ohio, especially in naturalized areas. Other than providing for the occasional Snowy Owl or Snow Buntings, farmed lands of corn and bean stubble does not provide much habitat.

Northern Shrike at Killdeer Plains.

These northern visitors to Ohio, the Northern Shrikes, Rough-legged Hawks, Short-eared, Long-eared and Saw-whet Owls all need mice or other live prey available to winter through.  You'll find them near grasslands and pastures, the exception being the Snowy who is habituated to the vast open expanses of arctic tundra. A wide open field suits him just fine.

So get out your long-johns and snow-suits.  Bad weather can mean good birds!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Small offering

If you were interested in the lacewing larva in the previous post, here is an opportunity for a brief closer look.

 I video recorded  the bug moving about on a tree trunk.  My friend, Michael Godfrey, did a little editing for me and now we have a small offering of the bug in action. Actually, it is a VERY small offering as the bug is about the size of only the head of Lincoln on a penny. It is a tribute to Michael that anything was in focus, but watch for the bug's tiny feet in motion.

Here it is for viewers at home, unless you you are using an Apple product, in which case you will want to click on the Youtube version: Lacewing larva on the move

If you are interested in watching some real videos, you might want to mosey on over to Michael's blog at Birding on the Farm.  He has been watching and video recording the birds on his farm in Virginia and has some interesting insights to share. Michael was our featured guest at Greater Mohican Audubon's  Benefit for Bobolinks this year, and you will want to note his posts on grassland birds.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Amble, hobble and stumble tour

We ambled along, making no great pace nor needing speed to accomplish our goal: just taking it all in.

Three amigos on an amble through a southern Ohio preserve.
Jim Davidson, John Howard  and Bill Marsh helped me investigate the winter botany along the trail. It is a whole new level of "challenge botany" to identify plants by their winter remains.

Blue blazes mark the Buckeye Trail.
 But where in the "blue blazes" are we?  We found ourselves on a portion of the Buckeye Trail, winding through the Davis Memorial State Nature Preserve.

It has been a recent goal of mine to investigate some pieces of the Buckeye Trail.  What serendipity that we would chose a site that achieved my goal!

Blackgum bark.
 However, we are not the serious back-packing hikers who are attracted to significant trails.  We stumble, amble and creep along, occasionally commenting on our elderly knees. We take time to touch the bark of Blackgum, Nyssa sylvatica trees.  Big, chunky squares of bark are too tempting to pass by without tracing one's fingers along the lines.

Leatherwood bends without breaking.
We also bend the Leatherwood, Dirca palustris. This shrub is unknown to me from my region of the state. I was stunned to see USDA has records for Richland and Ashland Counties.  It is a natural wonderment, from the scooped-out bud scars to its bendable twigs.  Even in the winter it merits an extended look.

Leaf of the Shumard oak
 We stop to investigate the Shumard Oak, Quercus shumardii.  It's distinctive leaves have tuffs of "hair" on the veins of the back-side.  This is one of the many confusing oaks, previously unknown to me.

John Howard gets a closer look with his lens.
 The moss and lichen play host to a myriad of life. We were entranced by a well-dress bug, adorned with lichens. John photographs a greenish-white dot on the moss, as it creeps along.

Lacewing larva in full lichen camouflage
 This is the larva form of the Green Lacewing, found in the fall on trees with lichen. These clever insects cover their backs with minute pieces of lichen, thereby becoming nearly invisible to predators and prey.  This could well be the ultimate in Halloween costumes!  We may have more on this topic in a future post.

Meanwhile, get out and hike, or just amble and stroll.  Take your time to enjoy nature, before the winter snows cover much of the interesting botany and bugs now being found along the paths.

One might even consider following the blue blazes of the Buckeye Trail. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Away from my Desk...

My blog posts have been spotty of late, as I spent much of the last several months on the road.  It has been a grand time chasing butterflies, avoiding rattle snakes and seeking out fabulous flora.  I have selfishly been more concerned with "doing" than "reporting". 

Much of the travel has been with my daughter, who sent this post card to me before she left for Basic Training at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. Together we logged some miles on that map this summer and fall. Hopefully, in the next couple of weeks I will get my  photos out and show you some of the highlights of our trip.

Some of those travels were for speaking gigs, and I always enjoy sharing my love of nature and concern with the environment with new and old friends.  I will look forward to seeing many of you in person at up-coming engagements in Adams County, Canton and Columbus, Ohio.  Until then, please be patient as I readjust to my "normal" life. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fall wrap up

Fall has arrived in cooler weather and a rush of Kinglets.

My camera got left behind this weekend, so I only have a few snaps from my cell phone to keep you us to date.  The weekend started off with a Friday night Saw-whet Owl banding at Lowe-Volk park in Crawford county.  Sorry to report it was a bust. (Go here if you want to see last year's owl post.)  

The Saw-whets seem to be in short supply this year, but my friend Bob Scott Placier caught a few passerines on Saturday morning.

Golden Crown Kinglet
The kinglets are here in good number now.  They make the high pitched tse-tse-tse call you might be hearing as you pass through a white pine grove.  They are a true hearing test bird, and likely one of the first bird calls "lost" when your hearing starts to go.  They come in two flavors.  The Golden-crowned Kinglet as seen in the photo above, and the Ruby-crowned Kinglet as pictured in Bob's hand below.

Golden-crowns are a bit more common in Ohio, but both species regularly occur here in October during the fall migration.

Bob Scott Placier and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Both species of frenetic feeders are impossibly small, weighing less than the standard U.S. mint's quarter. Kinglets can hover feed off the tips of pines, or bounce from limb-to limb in search of insects. They are seen as a blur as they energetically feed and fly in tree tops.  It is a rare treat to have close-up looks like these.

Thanks to Bob Scott Placier (Dendrology professor at Hocking University and long-time Flora-Quest guide) for all the fine educational and scienticific  work he does while banding birds.  I encourage you to attend his one of his programs at Lowe-Volk Park next spring. Bob is truly one of Ohio's unsung heros!  He may be on the quiet-side, but do yourself a favor and engage this man in conversation!  He has much to say on birds and books, our two favorite topics of conversation.

Shelly and Mark Goodman gearing up for a run.
 On a personal note, I shared much of this weekend with one of my favorite couples: Shelly and Mark Goodman. If you haven't heard, Shelly (Michelle) joined the U.S Army and reported for duty at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma this very morning.  Of course we wish her the very best, and Mark will have to fill in for her on all my adventures.  Sure hope he is ready to hike, bike and paddle his way around Ohio and beyond!  Actually, Mark is a very fine teacher in a Columbus school, and we are very proud of him as well.

More birding with Jim McCormac at the OOS Killdeer Plains event.
On Sunday, I joined up with my OOS friends at Killdeer Plains for birding and homemade soup.  Unfortunately, I forgot my camera, so I this is the only shot I have.

As always, it was great to be teamed up with my long-time mentor and friend Jim McCormac.  And for a special treat, I hope you will click the link to his blog post to learn all about the Red-headed Woodpeckers and Rusty Blackbirds that we saw.

Special thanks to Bob Placier and Jim McCormac for all the educational work they have done throughout Ohio.  I was fortunate to serve with both on the Ohio Ornithological Society's board and for many years at Flora-Quest. Thanks to their efforts, many people in Ohio have learned more and enjoyed the beauty of our birds, trees and native plants!

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Kill and Grill

It is not quite a scary as it sounds, we only "killed" invasive honeysuckle plants.   The grilling followed. It was a combined service project for some bio students from Wilmington College and the fabulous Cincinnati Wild Ones! 

 Ellen -the only student's name I successfully remembered- and some fellow students really went to work on the Caesar Creek Gorge invasive honeysuckle. They were an amazing team.

 The guys were cutting and treating the stumps with chemicals like old pros!

 The chemical treatment had a blue dye in it, so we could tell what we were spraying.  The ultimate goal is to treat only the stumps and not a lot of the surrounding vegetation.

Christine Hadley and Jim Mason

Thanks to some professional help and backing by the Cincinnati Native Plant Society, the tools and chemicals were provided by Jim Mason with help by Christine Hadley.

I guess I have failed blogging 101, because I did not get good ID photos of honeysuckle or the piles of the plant cuttings we left behind.  All I can say, I was impressed.  They students pitched in and did a mountain of good work, and were some of the nicest and most intelligent  kids you could ever want to meet.

 The "grill" portion held at the shelter house followed the morning "kill".

 These fellows dove right in.  I can assure you the food was great!

Debi Wolterman
 Here is the dynamo that organized the event, Debi Wolterman.  Thanks to her, the native plants at Caesar Creek have a little more elbow room to grow, now that the invasives have been removed.

Chris McCullough, Sandy Seiwert , and Barb Stiglar

The food was prepared by the members of the Cincinnati Wild Ones. We sure appreciated all they did, too!

Cincinnati Wild Ones is an extraordinarily active group who have hosted many educational events as well as the Midwest Native Plant Conference.  Special thanks to Kathy McDonald and Ned Keller for inviting me along!

We are excited to see similar events spreading across the state!  What area would you like to see rid of invasive plants? Another event is scheduled for November 2nd, 2013. See the details below.


Please contact Christine Hadley, president of the Cincinnati Wild Flower Preservation Society (founded in 1917 by Lucy Braun), at 513-850-9585 or email for information (See the list of volunteer tasks below.)
Volunteers needed for this day are:
*        Crew Leaders for honeysuckle removal teams
*        Honeysuckle Cutters: (Loppers, bow saws, non-power equipment)
*        Chain Saw Operators (must be pre-registered)
*        Steel Blade Trimmer Operators
*        Cut Stump Treatment (using spray bottles)
*        Registration: meet and greet participants
*        Lunch Crew: setting up tables and chairs, minimal food prep
*        Couriers: taking teams to their worksites
*        Plant ID: botanists and other knowledgeable volunteers to help cutters ID invasives and avoid cutting desirable plants, i.e. hydrangea, blue ash, spice bush, etc.
*        Rock Outcrop Specialists: volunteers with the agility to easily maneuver the rocks in the gorge to cut and treat woody invasives in, on and around the rocks. (Most areas are much easier to work than the rock outcrop areas.)

Bring your favorite tools of the trade: gloves, pruners, loppers, saws, trimmers and protective gear for power equipment. We will have tools and safety equipment for all those new to the volunteer effort conquering the alien, invasive, amur (bush) honeysuckle. Spray bottles and gloves for cut stump treatment will be furnished.
There will be an area available for your organization’s table display and literature.
Directions: Clifton Gorge SNP is located in Greene County on State Route 343, 3 miles east of Yellow Springs and 0.25 mile west of Clifton at the east end of John Bryan State Park.

Christine Hadley , President, Cincinnati Wildflower Preservation Society
513-850-9585 or email ,