Thursday, January 31, 2013

An Environmental WIN!

This "green" footprint started it all!  The Midwest Birding Symposium hosted the very first Carbon Offset Birding Project in 2011, in my old hometown of Marblehead, Ohio.  It was our interest in this wetland that brought the Black Swamp Land Conservancy and their capable staff on board.  Isn't it wonderful to celebrate good things happening in the environmental world?

Read the complete news release below:

Black Swamp Conservancy Donates Property for Danbury Township Preserve

Marblehead, OH – Black Swamp Conservancy has acquired an 80-acre tract of land and donated it to Danbury Township in Ottawa County, Ohio. The property, located on the Marblehead Peninsula, is adjacent to the township’s existing 111-acre Meadowbrook Marsh Preserve and will expand the size of the preserve to more than 190 acres.

The existing 111-acre preserve, owned and managed by the township, includes trails, picnic facilities and an observation platform for wildlife viewing. The new addition connects to the existing preserve to create a cohesive corridor and preserves the remainder of the marsh, which contains a diverse mixture of habitats and harbors a number of rare species. In addition to the land donation, Danbury Township and Black Swamp Conservancy have entered into a perpetual land conservation agreement on the entire 191-acre preserve, to ensure the significant natural resources on the property remain in their natural state forever.

“Meadowbrook Marsh Preserve is a grand slam for land conservation. It is open to public use, has scenic beauty, protects wildlife habitat and wetlands, and provides a terrific location for bird watching, which is an important part of the tourism industry along Lake Erie,” said Kevin Joyce, executive director of Black Swamp Conservancy. “We are really pleased to partner with Danbury Township and the Ohio Ornithological Society to nearly double the size of Meadowbrook Marsh Preserve – at no cost to the township.”

Black Swamp Conservancy, based in Perrysburg, Ohio, is a non-profit land conservation organization dedicated to protecting and preserving natural and agricultural lands for the benefit of future generations. The Conservancy preserves land mostly through perpetual land conservation agreements known as conservation easements. Through such an agreement, the landowner gives up the right to develop the property in order to protect its conservation values, which might include its value as habitat for native plants and animals. The Conservancy serves sixteen counties in northwest Ohio, including the Lake Erie islands, and has protected nearly 13,000 acres during its twenty-year history.

“This is a very meaningful project for Black Swamp Conservancy,” said Rob Krain, its conservation director. "Meadowbrook Marsh is a truly unique site, of exceedingly high biological value. We commend the Danbury Township trustees for having the foresight to set this place aside for wildlife habitat, public recreation and environmental education. It is a real pleasure for us to assist with this expansion and permanent protection of the preserve.” 

While the Marblehead Peninsula is under considerable development pressure for permanent and seasonal homes, it is also a focal area for a number of conservation organizations. The close proximity to Lake Erie and major migratory flyways makes the preserve a haven for bird species and a hotspot for local bird watchers. Inhabiting the property are a number of rare and threatened species including the bald eagle, early buttercup, narrow-leaved summer bluets, black-crowned night heron and deer’s-tongue arrowhead. Area organizations such as the Ohio Ornithological Society and the Black Swamp Bird Observatory have utilized the preserve extensively for educational programming.

"Meadowbrook is a magnificent wildlife oasis in the heart of one of the most popular destinations in the state of Ohio,” stated Danbury Township trustee Dianne Rozak. “It offers an excellent experience for passive recreation while maintaining natural areas for species that make their home in its woods and grassland. The trustees are very pleased to acquire additional land for this preserve and look forward to a rewarding partnership with the Black Swamp Conservancy."

The Ohio Ornithological Society and Carbon Offset Birding Project (COBP) played a key role in the project. Recognizing the ecological significance of Meadowbrook Marsh, and fearing the property might soon be lost to development, the Ohio Ornithological Society contacted Black Swamp Conservancy for their expertise in land protection. Before this land donation, the majority of the marsh and surrounding natural habitat was not protected from development or conversion to agricultural use. The Ohio Ornithological Society also contributed money for the purchase of the property, which they raised during their Midwest Birding Symposium held annually in Lakeside, Ohio.

“Protection of our rapidly diminishing wetlands is critical for Ohio’s wildlife and migratory bird species,” stated Cheryl Harner, past Ohio Ornithological Society board member. “The Ohio Ornithological Society and the thousands of birders in Ohio applaud the actions of the Danbury Township trustees. They are protecting the last great wetland in the township and providing access to this important area. Marblehead is a better place today because the trustees were proactive in working to attract more bird watching tourists.”

For more information, visit  

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Florida Rarities

 Some things you expect to see in Florida: sand, sunshine, surf.

Other things you hope to see in Florida: Wood Storks. These strange looking birds are somewhat rare and always a thrill to see.

 Bridges, like the one that spans the Sebastian Inlet, are a regular part of our travels, too.  This particular inlet holds great interest for vacationers as it is known for marine life, fishing and very strong currents flowing out to the sea.

We sought out the inlet's calm and deep water, where the most unusual of Florida's visitors has been seen.  

No, I don't mean Canadians.  They seem gather here in good numbers; we met 2 couples on the beach taking in the sights. So, we showed them the sight that brought our group to Sebastian Inlet.

Razorbill at Sebastian Inlet, Florida - photo Cheryl Harner
This is the strangest sight one might hope to see in Florida this year, a Razorbill.   These members of the Alcid family of ocean birds are usually found in the northeastern waters like  Maine or New Brunswick.  Winter of 2012 has dumped flocks of them in Florida waters.  Unfortunately, they are dying off big numbers and generally giving the wildlife rehabbers fits. (Follow that link to a news article.)

The locals can't figure out why they are seeing these "penguin" like birds!  That is a great question.  Some suspect it has to do with Hurricane Sandy.  (We blame that "witch" for everything, don't we?)

Behold, the paparazzi watching the Razorbill swim past the boat docks.  Greg Cornet (in the photo above) graciously loaned his photo of the bird for your enjoyment, and was our tour guide for the day.  Hats off to Greg.

Jan Auburn, Cheryl Harner and Leslie Cornett at Sebastian Inlet.
What could be better than a little sand and sun among friends? A Razorbill- seen in shirt-sleeve weather!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Wings over Cocoa Beach, Florida

Multitudes of "snowbirds" have gathered near Titusville, Florida for the annual Space Coast Birding Festival.  We have great digs just off of Cocoa Beach, with miles of sand and sunshine (apologies to my friends left in Ohio.)
 Tonight we saw the most amazing sight as we were crossing the bridge to the island.  What "wings" were we seeing?

 It is a bird, a plane.. no-  it is a KITE!  (Not a Snail Kite, either.)

There were a handful of intrepid athletes, attached to surf boards, being towed along by kites.  They call this kiteboarding. Go here to see what is is all about.

They start out flat on their back in the water...

 The kite catches wind, and the lift begins.

 Here he is, hanging on for dear life!

What could be more awesome than scooting across the water with the sun setting at your back?

This gal was really cutting the moves...
                                maybe next time, it will be me!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Registration now open!

 In case I haven't mentioned it, and in case you haven't noticed I have been missing of late- let me explain.  Flora-Quest registration is now open! 

Some of the envelopes get pretty creative!
It is the busiest week of the year for me, with letters coming in and the phone calls requesting information.  

The "regulars" are getting a jump on the game. They know to get their registrations in quickly so they will not be shut out of their preferred "Quest". 

Andrew Gibson provided the photo for this year's card. 

We have prepared the advertising "hotcards" and we are ready to cart our display to all those great Ohio nature events!  The trips have been planned, the guides are dreaming about new botany...

Rick Gardner and Janet Creamer Martin browse the botanical list.
and hope you are too!
So, don't delay, and get that registration in soon. Details are found at .  Geico Insurance could  feature a commercial with these two and the caption:  "Our customers are happier than a 'botanist at Flora-Quest'!"
Sign up and see just how happy we are!   

Thursday, January 10, 2013

'Beaks and Box Elders

Since this is technically a botany blog, it might be time to get back to a little botany.

The Evening Grosbeaks in Mohican have had us all a-twitter, but I am always interested in what birds are eating. In the winter these 'beaks are granivores (No, I didn't make that word up, I heard  Jim McCormac use it. Maybe he made it up.)

The point is: they eat seeds.

In many of my attracting wildlife programs I talk about the Box Elder seeds (little dangley things called samaras)  and their admirers, the Evening Grosbeaks.

Yum, that looks like Evening Grosbeak food to me, and it is. The 'beaks love these seeds from trees in the maple family and the seeds (or "fruits") of the ash trees as well.  It was once believed these seed were the attraction to the east for the huge influx of Evening Grosbeaks- developing in the 1900's.  Before that time they were virtually unknown in the eastern US.

Now the are totally attuned to bird feeding stations.  They come in great mobs, scarfing down the seed in huge quantities.  In the 1960-70's they were regulars; now their numbered have dropped drastically.  In fact, Audubon reports them in a 90% decline.

This excellent graph comes from Ohio Ornithological Society's  "The Ohio Cardinal" magazine.  Yes, it is brain food for bird geeks.  Jim McCormac put this graph together to illustrate the boom and bust cycle of the Evening Grosbeaks.  Even when the beaks were visiting Ohio with regularity- there were mini-cycles every two to three years.

Now we have a sudden drop off.  What is causing this? Some attributed the influx to the Box Elder seed, the botany types I know doubt that.  There was no great change in the B.E. population or its range.

There was, however, a huge out-break of Spruce Bud Worm in the boreal forest, so there were massive amounts of worms to feed to fledglings.  The 'beaks had very successful reproductive rates for several years running, which created a population "boom."  Now, something else must be going on.

Is this a naturally occurring "bust" after a boom cycle, or is some new "unknown" happening in the boreal forest?  That is the 6 million dollar question and when have that answer, we might better understand the cycles of the Evening Grosbeaks.

Until then, appreciate the birds while you can, as I predict they may be in short supply in the future. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

My, what a huge 'beak you are!

There's been a bit of a stir in the uplands of Mohican.  We have visitors from the Great North, the likes of which we have not seen for quite a few years.  The Evening Grosbeaks, Coccothraustes vespertinus have returned in good number again- for the first time since 2008.

And these eye-blinding photos, provided by uber photographer Dane Adams are almost better than seeing them in person!   These 'beaks are winter birds and they usually arrive in a blowing snow, or sleet or...worse.  But if the weather cooperates enough to get to them, they are hard to miss. They're the size of a black-bird, with the bill of cardinal and all colored-up like a summer goldfinch!

Evening Grosbeak, photo by Dane Adams
Evening Grosbeaks are a northern bird, well known for their winter visits to the lower 48. Perhaps, they enjoy a little break from the Canadian cold. It was predicted early on, this year would be a good for seeing winter finch and grosbeak irruptions into Ohio.  Many years past years it was not unusual for folks in New York, Pennsylvania and even some areas of Ohio to see the birds.  However, in recent years their appearances have dramatically declined.

Evening Grosbeak, Photo by Dane Adams
These gorgeous gluttons are known for cleaning out bird seed in record time!  They prefer flat surfaces for feeding, like a platform/tray feeder, or a picnic table or deck.  The are not as likely to come into traditional feeders with a covered roof.

You can't blame them for wanting to be out in the open, after all- they are quite glamorous! 
Grosbeak gathering, photo by Dane Adams

If you come to Mohican State Forest in Ashland County, Ohio in hopes of seeing the birds- let me give you a few tips.  Look for gatherings in the tree tops.  Evening grosbeaks like to T-up in the trees between feedings and they are pretty conspicuous, too!

Mohican map to Grosbeak treasure.

 You can download a map to the Mohican State Forest right here.  Park nearby in the Gorge Overlook parking lot; this is also a good spot for Red and White-winged Crossbills!

You will hike from the parking lot to the west, it is less than a 1/2 mile.  The tall pines along the road provide some of the best scenery and birding in Ohio. The optimum time of day is between 9:00 and 11:00 a.m., when this particular flock is known to feed. Watch all along the ornamental shrubs and crab apple trees.  I have seen the birds directly above me next to the road.

Evening Grosbeak (EVGR), Dane Adams
It is obvious why everyone has gone ga-ga over these birds.  The plumage on the males is nearly blinding!  The females are more subdued, but still a very good looking bird.

Audubon Christmas Birds Counts have noted these 'beak sightings are in great decline.  The numbers I find run around 90-91 percent reduction!  This could be a shocking warning to us that something is going on.  Are they irrupting into our territory less, or have their numbers totally plummeted?  These are questions for inquiring minds (but I doubt you'll read it in the Inquirer.

 If you are interested in the trends- go here for a fabulous study by BirdSource created by Audubon and Cornell University.  I think you will find the maps most entertaining, and maybe it does not reflect a true decline in EVGRs.  It might mean there has been a change in their territories and there are just fewer here. Either way, we need to be protective of  the visitors we currently have.

Again, a special thanks goes out to Dane Adams, for allowing us to enjoy these photos.  They are almost as thrilling as seeing the actual birds!