Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sure Signs of Spring

Winter has had a death grasp on Ohio this year.  It came early and in an act of defiance to all weathermen, it struck one last blowing snowstorm yesterday.  It least I hope it is the last of this year!

Turkey Vultures have returned.
One sign of spring is the return of Turkey Vultures. The City of Hinckley Ohio has an entire festival based on the return of Turkey Vulture. They do not migrate far south, but the do leave Richland County.  There are a few winter-holdouts found in Southern Ohio, but now that Turkey Vultures have officially returned to northern Ohio, spring can't be far behind.

Everyone I know who has worked with Turkey Vultures adore them.
Turkey Vultures are said to be incredibly smart and everyone I know who has worked with TUVUs adore them.  They must make up in personality what they lack in looks.  It was a pleasant surprise to have two roosting this morning in the tree at the back of my wood lot.

Gorman Nature's Woodcock Walk
 Spring is back when the Woodcocks return to the Gorman Nature Center.  Last night Jason Larson  led us out to  the prairie to listen for their "peent" call and whirling sky displays.  It is all about courtship.  What a male woodcock won't do to please the ladies!

Guy Denny, King of Ohio Prairies

Spring is here when Guy Denny travels throughout Ohio burning prairies!  He is certified to do the job safely and legally, and in great demand.  He tries to beat those spring season showers, and hopes to have the prairies ready for the April rains.

Jason Larson (G.N.C. new Director)  as the ultimate "Water-boy."
 This is the first time in ten years the Gorman Nature Center prairie has been burned.  Fear not, no Woodcocks were harmed in the controlled fire.  They might enjoy the open spaces for their courting displays.  It will be interesting to see.

Open water on the Clearfork Reservoir
Just in time for duck migration, there is now open water on the Clearfork reservoir.  It had the hardest freeze in years this winter!  It is a thrilling sight to have the gulls and ducks working the ice sheets along the edge of the open water.  The parking lot next to the dam is a prime viewing location for waterfowl watching in Richland County.

Witch-Hazel is now in bloom.
Last but not least, the Witch-Hazel, Hamamelis vernalis,  in my yard is in full bloom.  This is the earliest bloomer of all our Ohio shrubs and a welcome sight for the botanically deprived.

This may seem like a strange list of spring "firsts" but it is reliable, without question!  Weedpicker officially declares: Spring is here!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Cleveland's Birds and Birders

Cleveland has much to offer, especially if you enjoy a bit of winter birding.  This winter has proven, once again, Cleveland is the place to be.  There are plenty of top-notch birders reporting their sightings and helping folks get fabulous "looks" at everything from gulls to owls.  

Jim McCarty covers all the birding highlights in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Cleveland Metropark's darling, Jen Brumfield, keeps us up to-date with stunning photos on her NorthNW / Lake Erie birding blog.  Many of those photos are taken by our friend, Chuck Slusarczyk.  Chuck's photos* capture the all excitement of a bird on the wing or a good fight over fish-scraps.  Nobody does a better job catching in-flight shots and freezing those grand moments in perpetuity.  

*ALL bird photos in this post are the property of Chuck Slusarczyk- and I thank him for allowing me to share them with you.

Pomarine Jaeger is a rarely seen arctic bird. 
A Pomarine Jaeger, an arctic bird which generally winters at sea, has been working the river at Scranton Flats and Chuck has been there to document it.

The Pomarine Jaeger feeds on his ill-gotten goods.
This aggressive pirate, whom Chuck has dubbed "Bruiser," is not above stealing meals from gulls.  He is the bully of the flats.  He will indiscriminately harass gulls and dive bomb unsuspecting waterfowl. He doesn't mind eating a rat or two, either. Think of a black wolf roaming amongst a field of sheep, and you are getting close to nailing his psychological profile. 

"Bruiser" the Pomarine Jaeger is the bad boy of the flats.
Most Ohio birders, of the very lucky ones who have ever seen a jaeger, only get distant views of an off shore bird during fall migration.  With this bird haunting the flats on a regular basis, hundreds of birders have ventured into the heart of Cleveland's old industrial area to get up-close views of this magnificent arctic predator.

A glamour-shot of an Iceland/ Kumlien gull.
Even gulls look winsome when Chuck does the photography.  This winter has provided a boat-load of unusual gulls in the Cleveland area. The all-white gulls are of particular interest to bird watchers.

Chuck Slusarczyk, the photographer and his photo
of one of the many Snowy Owls seen this winter.

It is my good fortune to have Chuck as a friend and you can see many of his photos improving my program at the upcoming Shreve Migration Sensation. It it a mix of programs, vendors and wetland birding.  Mark your calendars for March 29th, 2014 and head just south of Wooster, Ohio to Ohio's Amish country for this educational and fun filled event.

You can find the entire agenda and a list of speakers at or read this summary for more details.  We sure hope to see you there!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Some "Cool" Cleveland Birds

 Cleveland has been called the "mistake on the lake."  Granted, it is an industrial city. Once its busy ports bustled with freighters and tug boats- the modern day version of tall ships and canal boats. Like any big city it has its problems.
Its been trying to live down the 1952 Cuyahoga River Fire for a long time.  Eventually, they even turned that sow's ear into a silk purse, by naming their most popular locally-brewed beer: Burning River.

Parts of Cleveland, especially in the old industrial "Flats" still look pretty rough. You'll not find this area in the tour books...

Birders gaze onto the avian life "working" the Cuyahoga River.

...unless you are reading a birder's tour book.  Then you may find places like Scranton Flats, Whiskey Island and 72nd St. bridge.  

But Cleveland is making some big, progressive changes.  They are pouring money into these areas, creating corridors for people, and whether they realize it or not, they are corridors for birds and wildlife as well.

Pomarine Jaeger takes flight.
 The big attraction this week has been a Pomarine Jaeger, who puts on quite a show.  We will spend more time on jaegers in a future blog, but for now, just remember most people never get to see a jaeger up-close-and-personal.

Pomarine Jaeger takes a rest.
 Jaegers are wicked fast, birds of prey.  It is a rare thing indeed, to get to witness one at rest.  And look at that new landscaping!  Seems like our "Pom" in interested in the improvements going on in this neighborhood.

A MUST SEE movie!
 My original purpose for traveling to Cleveland was to see this movie, "The Lost Bird Project."

Please, host this at your local birding club or nature center.  It was a very moving and meaningful program that I highly recommend. See it as soon as possible, especially since this year is the 100th Anniversary of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon.

The movie played to a packed house in Cleveland.!
 Thank you to the Audubon Society of Greater Cleveland, the Kirtland Bird Club and the Western Cuyahoga Audubon Society for combining efforts for the marvelous program, "The Lost Bird Project" and Saving Species, held at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. These people are the "coolest birds" in Cleveland. They proved that you get a full house of engaged bird watchers to attend conservation program!  

Too often the false statement is said, “bird watchers want to pursue birds, and do not care about conservation.”  Bird watchers do care and can be motivated to help protect species and habitats.

Screen shot of the haunting statue of a Great Auk placed in Newfoundland.
 It is a powerful story, and it has a joyous reveal in Newfoundland. For some reason, the final scenes of Martha's Island just made me want to cry.

Maybe tears of sorrow for the lost birds, or tears of joy for a project to prevent these bird from becoming "extinct" from our memories.  Either way, like a good environmentalist, it inspires me to do more than cry into my Burning River beer.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

 It is that time again!  Our Flora-Quest friends will be gathering to learn more about Ohio and some of our native plants.  This year we are convening at a new location.

To learn more about the event ( being held on a Monday and Tuesday) go to our web page at,  You will find a registration on-line, and you best be quick.  We are only allowing 60 participants this year- so it will fill to capacity in short order.

Marblehead Lighthouse
This is the first time Flora-Quest is being held in northwest Ohio and it is more of a workshop format, but wait 'til you see what is in store!

Everyone will visit our favorite locations and see the rare Lakeside Daisy.  You can learn all about alvars  (sneak peak on alvars- here).  We have two hotels lined up, and it is perfect timing to see the most migration of neo-tropical birds!  

Black-Swamp Bird Observatory hosts its annual event, Biggest Week In American Birding,  where you can also pick and choose from  wonderful guides, speakers and trips- a mere 20 minutes from our location in Lakeside/ Marblehead.  Our pricing is more reasonable than ever this year, and I can't wait to share some of my favorite places in the world with you.

Remember to bring your camera!  We will be visiting Ohio's most photographed location: the Marblehead Lighthouse!