Tuesday, April 28, 2015

OOS Conference in Shawnee

There was no limit to the good times being had in Shawnee State Park and Forest during the Ohio Ornithological Society's 11th Annual Conference.  It was cool and often cloudy, but our spirits were not dampened.

Birding at Picnic Point, with leader Tim Colborn (left, in blue) with conference speaker
Lisa Rainsong next to him. Marilyn and Michael Shade, and Dwayne are warbler watching.
Tim Colborn was the bird leader on our field trip, Birds and Butterflies. Tim expertly led us though the low lands and forest, accruing a decent bird list in spite of some overcast and occasionally downright wet weather.  

Female Purple Finch vocalizing against a gray sky of doom.
We had some great looks at a Worm-eating warbler and this female Purple Finch who was vocalizing from an elm tree.  She was burbling her little heart away and  might have been mistaken for a young male- due to all of that song.  But fortunately for our group, Wil Hershberger was along and knew exactly who we were dealing with.  In fact, he was somewhat impressed by the efforts of this female.

Clusters of Slippery Elm seeds.

Our group was wondering what type of tree that finch was perched in.  Those nearly floral-like seeds were throwing me for a loop.  They looked to be an elm, but quite unlike the American Elms with which I have a familiarity.  

Daniel Boone (yep, he is related to the one-and-only) and Andrew Lane Gibson set me straight. The Slippery Elm, sometimes called Red Elm,  Ulmus rubra has very robust seed grouped in large clusters. Thanks to that Purple Finch, we gained a botany lesson as well!

Wil Hershberger, walking toward us in camo.  Can you see him?
This is a good time to explain that author, Wil Hershberger, was our conference keynote speaker.  He gave an amazing program on the songs of birds and his recordings were a joy to hear. His expertise in the field of sound recording is undeniable and his field knowledge: encyclopedic.

Lisa Rainsong also spoke on bird song during the break out sessions of the conference.  She was amazing as usual, and the other offering was Andrew Gibson's program on Orchids.  Being the weedpicker that I am, it was my privilege to introduce Andrew's program and see his gorgeous orchid photos. 

The late afternoon speaker was the OOS' past-president, Jim McCormac.  He delighted the audience with photos of birds and all other manner of nature.  He taught us quite a few tips, which should improve our photos from the field.

Weedpicker, Cheryl Harner holds a Tiger Swallowtail
We heard and saw a myriad of singing birds, but butterflies were a little harder to produce.  The temperatures were downright unfriendly to them, as lepidoptera are flightless under 50 or so degrees.

However, one sharp eyed member of our group found this Tiger Swallowtail going for a swim in a mud-puddle.  She thought it was dead, until the temperature of her hands warm the poor fellow's body temperature.  Once it started to crawl around a bit it was passed off to me. Our group showed proper admiration for its stamina.  After our close inspection he was safely retired to a nearby hemlock tree.

Using the binoculars to magnify caterpillars.
 Although we were near skunked on butterflies, both days we were able to get good views of Eastern tent caterpillars.  The pre-moth life forms live communally in a white, sticky "tent" and tend to specialize on wild cherry trees.  Viewing them though a reversed binocular allowed our folks to see the stiff hairs which make them unpalatable to most birds.  However, the Baltimore Oriole and both Cuckoo species are known to whack them about to remove the hairs before eating them. So even our lepidopteran studies were placed into a birding context.

The streams of Shawnee were lined with blooming Redbud, Cercis canadensis.
The beauty of Shawnee is startling, with picturesque natural stream-beds where nature abounds.  Yet it is a fragile ecosystem which deserves our concern and protection.  It is subject to invasive plants, insect and even bird species when the canopy of the forest is pried open by man. Subtle changes in road maintenance, forestry practices and mowing have profound results on the land.  Most of those results are negative, like erosion, siltation of streams and reduction of biodiversity.  Our treatment of this very special land should be gentle. We will want to leave something beautiful for our children, and their children to visit as spring unfolds in the decades and centuries to come.

These babbling brooks with flowering banks, the morning song of birds and the flight of colorful butterflies should make us reflect upon the honor endowed to our species.  We were given the ability to care for this land. 

Let us not disappoint.


  1. Thanks for the kind words Cheryl. After the sun warmed the forest up on Sunday afternoon, the leps came out in droves just as you predicted. In addition to the small lick we saw on the road, I found a lick with more than 20 Duskywings and 8 Tiger Swallowtails. It was a great weekend - always great to be out in the field with you!

  2. A nice recap of a great weekend/

  3. Thanks John and Tim.
    It was great to see both of you at the conference. I get to meet the nicest people while birding!