Thursday, February 28, 2013

Winter turns to Spring

Maumee Bay and the back roads near Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge offered up what might be considered the Littlest Week of Birding  (1 full day.)  The sky alternated spitting snow and pouring rain, but that only dissuades normal people.  We had a short period of time, and birds to see!

 Several Snow Buntings flaunted the rules at Maumee Bay.   These winter charmers resembled giant snowflakes flying wildly across the frozen beach to suddenly land in the most unexpected places.

Snow Bunting "parks it" on a bench.
Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs will soon be packing their bags and headed back north.  The pack ice on Lake Erie is breaking up and the blustering winds, too, will give way to the sweet songs of spring.

Ice pack on Lake Erie at Metger Marsh

"I hate winter."

This is quite possibly the saddest looking Bald Eagle I have ever seen, nearly worse off than our economy! It seems unpatriotic to post such a pathetic-looking example of our national symbol.  

He couldn't get any wetter. Wading at the edge of an ice flow, water lapped about his feet as the rain pours down. I was as relieved as he, when the precipitation let up for a short while. 

Red-winged Blackbirds have returned.
Photo, courtesy of Wiki

Clear song gave way, Konk-ka-ree...and the skies were filled with wave after wave of blackbirds.  Mostly Red-wings, with the occasional Grackle and Cowbird mixed in for good measure.

When the rains stopped, the waves of Red-winged Blackbirds... 

hop-scotched across the field, forging for seed.

A rollicking ballet of spring, with red emblazoned on the wing.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Social Networks and Biodiversity

Is it possible that a so-called smart-phone can help us preserve rare plants and animals?

If you love nature, you might be interested in "saving" biodiversity (all plants and animals).  And if you are reading this blog, it is likely that you   A.) have an interest in nature   B.) would like to see it conserved for future generations.

So, you may wonder how can a computer help save this?
Ashland Wetlands Biodiversity:
Hickory Hairstreak on Butterfly weed, Asclepiaa tuberosa 
I photographed this unusual butterfly on a "bio blitz" back 2008.  A bio-blitz is a form of citizen science;   volunteers spread out to study and catalogue the biodiversity of a given area.  It gives us an "snapshot" of the nature occurring in our local park, forest or wetland on a particular day.

A traditional bio blitz takes a lot of effort to organize, but now we can record data every day, conveniently on a smart-phone.


 One of Ohio's most prestigious biological institutions held a conference at the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus, yesterday. The overall theme of the conference was the use of technology in the reporting of data.

Key note speaker, Scott Loarie of Carnegie Institution
Scott Loarie gave a compelling program titled, "Can Social Networks Save Biodiversity?"  He had several well documented examples to share.

Most of his stories included photos or data provided by non-professionals, your basic citizen scientists- who are quite frequently kids!  We lovers of nature seem to have an inborn need to know, or what-the-heck is this bug (or plant, or animal) I just saw? provides a place to post those photos and ask questions.  This citizen science group has  unearthed several exciting finds and helped log information regarding the range and populations of countless species.  Birders may be more familiar with the concept, due to our use of  for bird population data gathering and processing.

GLEDN- Great Lakes Early Detection Network
Another new and exciting program for the Great Lakes was outlined by Kathy Smith, of The Ohio State University, Extension.  It is for reporting invasive species, like Emerald Ash Borers, garlic mustard, and even feral hogs!

Imagine if all of our garden, tree and flower friends logged in and added to this data base!  We could quickly get a clear idea of threats to botany throughout Ohio.  From Flora-Questers in Shawnee to The Biggest Week warbler freaks in Northwest Ohio, we already have an army of citizen scientists in the field.

Consider downloading a reporting app and joining the ranks of volunteers.  This information could prove most valuable as our climate continues to change and scientist look to preserve species unable to adapt or move to favorable habitat.

Technology is opening a whole new world of citizen science, and I hope you consider adding your knowledge and experience to the mix!  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Good Birding, Good Friends

 Its been a whirlwind week, and a full schedule of birding and programs culminating with the Ohio Ornithological Conference in Mohican.   Winter birding and the love of owls gathered 175 hardy souls into the Mohican lodge for 2 days of festivities.

Bill Thompson III of Bird Watcher's Digest is a most entertaining emcee.
Bill's band The Rain Crows kicked off the weekend Friday night, while a few Saw-whet Owl fanatics endured the cold to net our first (in Mohican history) Saw-Whet Owl.

 A very special thank you to Tom Bartlett, Bob Scott Placier and Steve McKee for setting up their nets.

Saw-whet Owl, micro-mouse trap in feathered cuteness.
The reward was great, and thirty people were charmed by their very first up-close and personal Saw-whet.  What a life experience!

Gail Laux,  director of  Ohio Bird Sanctuary
Saturday morning,  our very own Gail Laux of the Ohio Bird Sanctuary gave a delightful program on the various owls at their Oweiler Rd facility.  If you have have not visited this Mohican area treasure, I suggest you remedy that right away!

Many other programs on owls were well received, especially the Keynote Denver Holt, of the Montana Owl Institute.

Field guide Gary Cowell, Jr. holds a sign to lure in hardy birders.
 Field trips- aways a popular event at our conferences and many of the guides were provided by Greater Mohican Audubon Society. We spanned the corners of Mohican and beyond to see Barn owls, Evening Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls and all of the regular winter time birds of Mohican.

The Big Year's Greg Miller and co-leader Kyle Carlsen,
photo provided by Kyle Carlsen 
 My buddies Greg Miller and Kyle lead the Barn Owl trip, and it was a great success!   The owl was seen by over fifty people!

Author and lecture Jim McCormac gathers our group.

I had the good fortune to pull guide duty with Jim McCormac (in brown jacket.).  He is a wealth of information, and I always learn something new on a walk with Jim.  You will find his excellent blog here.

Common Redpoll  and Pine Siskens at Feeder, photo by Anna Wittmer
Another highlight, and "life bird" for many was the Common Redpolls visiting a local feeder.  Mohican has it all!

Weather was a bit of a player, some roads were closed and the guides stepped up to lead trips to other interesting places, and get the maximum sightings of birds.  Our trip was scheduled for hemlock Falls at Mohican Outdoor school, but the trail was icy and dangerous.  We simply could not risk dragging the narrow, icy pass.

Ice formations at the Mohican Outdoor School, photo by Michael Godfrey.

 However, a few of us had scouted out the path and the ice formations were breath taking.  This is a winter wonderland of the highest order.  I have traveled all about our country, and can safely say- the beauty of Mohican is a treasure worth preserving.   We are truly blessed to be able to share these wonders with all of our birding friends.

Monday, February 11, 2013

In Columbus, Tonight!

 If you are in the Columbus vicinity, you may want to attend the Columbus Natural History Society tonight.  I will be talking about Mohican State Park and showing a couple of short film clips related to our natural history and its place in American history as well.

Here is the promo.  If you double click on the page it should get larger.

One film I will be showing is Tim McKee's:    
Mohican- The Long View

It is a heart-touching presentation which has over tipped over thirty thousand views on its home at  That is an incredible accomplishment!

It is the movie so good,  Ohio's Chief of Forestry said he, "wished they had made it."

Here's the details, or follow the link at the top to their website.  Hope to see you there!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Killdeer Plains... unraveled

What good is a love of nature, if we do not share it?   People want to see "good birds", and that is fine as long as we also teach them to become advocates for protection of habitats and species.

It is all about education,  and no one does bird research and education better than Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Ohio.  

This weekend they rounded up tons of  Young Birders and a good number of adults (about 60 people in all) for this well organized trip at Killdeer Plains. Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area has long been noted for its "owl grove." 

It is posted on the ODNR web pages, and Jim McCormac refered to Killdeer Plains in his  Columbus Dispatch article. 
Since its location is no secret, isn't it best to offer these supervised trips?

 The main owl grove had a Saw-whet Owl peacefully sleeping in the pine boughs.

 Our group was enthralled- in a quiet and respectful way.  THIS is good education.  No stomping around or hollering here.  Just good birds and quiet birders.
Another grove offered distant, but acceptable views of  Long-eared Owls. I have a lot of zoom on my little camera, but you can see, I don't push the shot.  Here is a sleeping, plumped up owl.

If you see the bird stretched-out with ears standing (called "sleeking") you are too close.  Back off!
Enjoy the bird, but respect the bird.  I am the "Queen of Bad Bird Photography."  I don't have the patience to wait forever for a shot, nor will I hang around all day stressing a bird.

You can quietly take a shot and move on.  This is birding at its best.  We collected an owl pellet and explained to the beginners the process of  coughing up the bones and fur from those "mice" meals the owls enjoy.

Yes, kids are kids. They do get restless and goofy.  But these kids were well away from the birds and were waiting their turn to sneak quietly into the grove for their peak.  

All the book learning in the world, all the talk cannot add up to experience.  We each want to experience a Long-eared Owl in the wild.  Blessings to BSBO for endeavoring to create a "controlled" opportunity for learning.  If we left these kids on their own, I guarantee mayhem would ensue!  After all, they are still kids.  

But now they are kids with a new life experience under their belt, and a little more understanding and love for nature.  That will go farther to protect these species than a million games of "Angry Birds."

 Sunset at Killdeer Plains.  

Owls are wonderful, but nothing says "wet plains" like tall grass and the call of wild geese. 

It was my honor and privilege to share this location with young minds- and the potential future leaders.  To tease apart the layers of nature and to welcome another into the fold of responsible birders is a gift we must share to receive.

Killdeer Plains... unraveled to reveal the mystery of nature and shared with youth-  both blessings.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Gulls, gulls, gulls!

If ever there was a day for watching gulls, it was this morning on the Cleveland lakefront at 72nd Street. It  provided a spectacular opportunity to study gulls up-close and personal.  Today's clear weather and blue skies afforded the perfect light.

I spent a little time practicing moving shots of gulls feeding and looking for some rare white-winged gulls.  We had both Glaucous  and Iceland Gulls, but they were a bit far out for good photos.

 Something kicked the birds up and the resulting movement was fast and frenzied.

Photographer Ian Adams was making good use of the light.  I will be looking forward to his blog post on the topic. This guy is an artist with a camera.

 If you are interested in learning photography tips from the master, you should sign up for Ian's trip at Flora-Quest.  Don't wait, though- it is nearly full!

The lake is frozen over, so this open water at the hot water outlet at the 72nd Street power plant is ground zero for gull watching. If you haven't been there yourself- check out the video below to see what you have been missing.  It is mind boggling that one minute you feel as though you are in the wilderness of Alaska,  while just over your left shoulder lies the city of Cleveland.  


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Getting Green on Lawns.

Winter may seem like an odd time to think about your lawn, but I assure you, it is the perfect time to re-think your strategies for that giant green nitrogen-junkie lying outside your front door.

As a one-upon-a-time professional landscaper, I know a bit about lawns. My kids used to call my property "Kingwood West".

It was bound to happen, my father was a lawn fanatic.  Your family played sports?  We watered, fed, mowed the lawn in "stripes"...

...and used chemicals, chemicals chemicals.  

But it doesn't have to be that way.  You can enjoy a patch of green and still have a life.  In fact, I submit you will have a better life if you knock off stressing over your lawn and just start enjoying it for a change.

Think about the time and money you have spent on keeping that junkie green, and consider some alternative options.  

That goes for your garden, too.   You can learn to manage your pest problems and have a healthier product in the end.  Maybe this is the winter you will start educating yourself on organic practises for your lawn and garden.

I will be teaching some of those practises to the Richland County Master Gardeners and the Richland County Men's Garden Club.  If you are interested in enjoying you lawn more and working less, join me at the Midwest Native Plant Conference in July.  You'll find a link to their website in my side-bar.

Soon you'll be lounging around enjoying your spare time, or off chasing birds and butterflies, like me!

Whatever you choose to do with your newly found time and money, won't it be nice to know you'll never have to handle those chemicals again?