Monday, May 30, 2016

The Point of Conservation.

They call it Winous.  Winous Point.

It may well be the best kept secret in Ottawa County.  It had its origins as a shooting club in 1856. That makes it the oldest continuously operating hunt club in America. Impressive, to be sure, but it may seem an odd place for a Weedpicker and her fellow conservation enthusiasts to visit.

The main Clubhouse at Winous Point,
complete with Canada Goose weather-vane.
Winous Point Shooting Club is a repository of history of hunting. Through limited use, it protected the shores from development along the Sandusky Bay near the Sandusky River and Muddy creek. Winous Point conserves about 5,000 acres of wetlands and shorelines, providing some of the last remaining places for the massive water fowl and shorebirds migrations, as well as year round habitat for all forms of wildlife.

Historically, Winous Point is a Shooting Club, but in 1999 the Winous Point Marsh Conservancy was formed to study the marsh and the inhabitants therein. We will particularly focus on their on-going rail study. 

Rail habitat- is the edge habitat. 
Winous Point is key to the educational experience Flora-Quest and the Ohio Ornithological Society have planned for birders and plant lovers this fall. Several members of our OOS Conservation Committee visited the Winous Point conservancy experts to see their rail study in action. We ventured out to the sedge meadows and edge habitats where lures were set to attract these secretive birds.

Oliver Cornet discusses the plant life at Winous Point.

One of our guides for the morning, Oliver Cornet, specializes in the management of invasive plants. It was fascinating to learn more about the efforts to improve vegetation and create viable habitats for various shorebirds birds, rails and waterfowl. 

Brendan Shirkey demonstrates the rail trap.
 Brendan Shirkey will be one of our guest speakers at the OOS Rally for Rails in October 1 and 2nd.  You will not want to miss the details of their humane live trapping and data tracking of Ohio's most secretive birds.  We are just starting to peek into the lives of these marsh inhabitants, and the Winous Point study (partially funded by Ohio Division of Wildlife) is providing much of the critical data.

Brendan retrieves a Virginia rail unharmed.
 The third trap of the day held a surprise: a Virginia rail which was already outfitted with a radio transmitter!  This bird was a recapture.  Brendan returns to the awaiting trucks with the unharmed bird.
Virginia rail seeking companionship.
As Brendan said, "This guy must be looking for love in all the wrong places."

After the rail was gently bagged we returned to the station to take its general health updates for the study.  We learned this bird has been found in the trap three times! After gathering their data, the birds are returned back to the area in which they were originally found.  Apparently, the experience must not be too traumatic or this Virginia rail would have likely avoided the trap the second time.

- To be continued.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Wetlands at work.

If you love plants, birds and mammals  -biodiversity in general-  you should seek out wetlands. Often called the "cradle of biodiversity," these places are crawling with life!

One of Ottawa N.W. R. newer projects
 A few years back, during the Midwest Birding Symposium held in Lakeside, Ohio, we collected donations for Carbon Offset Birding Project.  The Ohio Ornithological Society also kicked in funds to seed some efforts on a wetland restoration in Ottawa county. This previously wet county was part of the Great Black Swamp. It had been mostly drained for farming, but now a few of those fields are being re-purposed back in to wetlands for wildlife.
Dottie McDowell enjoys the boardwalk and viewing platform.
 The area was enhanced with a viewing platform and parking area, as well as native plantings- both forbs and trees.

This reconstructed wetlands is attracting loads of migratory birds this spring.  It has been educational to watch the tranformation from corn field to natural looking wildlife habitat in just a few short years.

Mystery plant!
Certainly of the  Ranunculus family.
The mystery plant has been solved!  Check the comment below- by Helen.  It certainly is in the buttercup family, and commonly called Cursed Buttercup or Cursed Crowsfoot, Ranunculus sceleratus.  It is reported to cause blistering - especially in the mouth- when eaten by mammals. Hence the "cursed" part. BUt then again, most of the buttercups are rather toxic when eaten.

This is exactly why Flora-Quest 2016 is undertaking wetland plants as the topic for 2016.  Too often we learn the Spring ephemerals and never learn about the amazing botany driving the wetlands in Ohio!  Time to broaden your plant horizons.  Sign up now, as quests are filling!

Just a few of the birds being sighted here!
Wetland birds and mammals need wetlands.  Ohio has lost over 90% of our wetlands to development and agriculture.  Our federal dollars and the massive work of conservation minded hunters has protected the few significant wetland remaining in Ohio.  If you have not yet visited Ohio's Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, sign up for the Flora-Quest which offers a bus ride to normally off-limit sectors.

Working together for conservation.
Conservation leaders in Ohio, like Friends of Ottawa, Black Swamp Bird Observatory, Ohio Ornithological Society and Toledo Naturalist Association all pitched in for this project.  Flora-Quest is partnering with many of these organizations for our fall workshop in Lakeside. We want to help people understand some of the major plant players in these exciting and dynamic wetlands.  So go ahead, dive in and join us on Sept. 30, 2016.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Birder's Life for Me.

Fresh off a natural high from the Biggest Week in American Birding, here is an effort to encapsulate a week-plus of birding.  A special thanks to Rob Ripma and Lester Peyton for allowing me to drive and guide birders on behalf of B.S.B.O. 

Blackburnian Warbler. 
Once you have seen this bird, you are hopelessly hooked.
There are a hundred reasons to love this event!  We meet the neatest people and go to the best birding locations. Sure, you may hear how crowded the boardwalk at Magee Marsh is getting, but we take folks away from the boardwalk at Magee.  We know twenty other cool places to bird, and many of them have incredible warblers like this Blackburnian warbler!  In fact, many of our locations are private areas and you only get in to see them with a Biggest Week Tour.

Bird-in-your-hand birding. Crazy stuff!!!
Photo provided by Julia Plummer.
Take this location for example:The Arnold property.  We had a lovely time birding around the diked wetland, often seeing Wood Ducks and warblers.  The Yellows and Common Yellowthroats were everywhere! Can you imaging be tired of warblers?!

Then, in swoops  Scruffy the Black-capped Chickadee. The property owners, Robin and Gena, have the little guy trained to take seeds from hand.  Imagine how exited folks from California were to see this! Black-capped Chickadees were a life bird for them one day, and the next day we are posing with a chickadee perched on our hand!  Mind. Blown.

American Redstart at Pipe Creek Wildlife Area
We visit other locations, which are well-known and well-loved.  Pipe Creek Wildlife Area in Sandusky, Ohio has a long history of providing rarities.  The warblers were dripping off the trees the morning we birded at Pipe Creek!   Our guide, Tim, also has a knack for working the Soras! Good birding doesn't only happen at Magee.
The Erie County trip with Tim Jasinski  (far right.)
Meeting people, learning from other guides, enjoying the great outdoors, oh yeah, and birds.  Every day was different, every trip was wonderful!   And when the birding was slow, patrons were likely to get introduced to some local plants! 

New friends from New Mexico: 
Roberta Winchester (almost my twin!) and Linda Rockwell.
Much of the Biggest Week is about seeing friends, old and new.  My long time friends Hugh Rose and Judy Kolo-Rose put me up (and put up with me) for the whole week!  They should get extra hugs from everyone in the birding community that knows them.  They have also been sharing their knowledge and teaching others about birds for many years as well!  We birders love to share.

It is also about sharing our love of Ohio's special places with travelers.  I couldn't wait to get my friends from New Mexico on some gorgeous birds at Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve in Huron, Ohio. One can hardly believe that few minutes after I took this shot, it started to snow in mid-May! Agh, Mother Nature, give us a break.

Red-headed Woodpecker
It is not all about warblers.  This Red-headed Woodpecker (a non-migrant) made a huge impression as well. Even common-to-us birds, like Blue Jays are often a life bird to the visitors from the west coast. All of these birds are exciting and a part of our bigger ecosystem 

Whether you are a new birder or some jaded, old life-lister, the Biggest Week had something for everybody: Curlew Sandpiper, Whip-poor-wil in your face, Kirtland's Warbler! 

The Biggest Week in American Birding: Come for the birds,  stay for the love.    

Hi-diddle-dee-dee. It is a birder's life for me!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Our Public Land: Shawnee Forest

Each year a rush of naturalists head to Shawnee State Park and Forest in Southern Ohio.  It is the first blush of spring, in a magical land of forest and flowers. It was the home base of Flora-Quest for many years.
Pinxter Azalea, Rhododendron periclymenoides 
You'll notice a sweet smell.  Shawnee is home to the fragrant Pinxter Azalea, a southern specialty.  Look along the steep road-side embankments where they cling for dear life.

Squawroot, Conopholis americana
 Look along the base of Oak trees for the parasitic Squawroot, some times called Cancer-root.  Its sickly-white color attests to its lack of  green-pigment or chlorophyll. 

Yellow-breasted Chat

 Listen to wood song.  This Yellow-breasted Chat performed his entire repertoire in rapid fire. He would have been a welcomed sight for any of the birders on the recent OOS field trips which filled the lodge.

Black Huckleberry, Gaylussacia baccata
Even the simplest of under-story shrubs has a story to tell.  This is where the Newcomb's Wildflower Guides come out, and we note each detail of the low-woodland shrubs.  The berries to come will provide sustenance for forest foragers.

Trumpet Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens
 Look closer at the seemingly common vines.  This is Trumpet Honeysuckle a rarity to Ohio.  It is spreading along a forest opening created by an ice storm eleven years ago.  The first time I ever visited Shawnee was on a trip to document this rare plant!

Native pollinator on the Wood Betany
We forget the abundant pollinators in a forest.  As Ohio and the nation ramps up our efforts to protect habitat for native pollinators, we destroy the habitat we already own!  This forest is a buzz with pollinating bees, bumblebees, bee-flys, wasps and butterflies.  It is not just the forest flowers- trees provide pollen, too! 

Showy Orchis, Galearis spectabilis 
 Orchis are orchids, and they grow along the road. Look closely or you will miss this beauty! Good photos must be taken from a prone position.

Woodland flowers: Crested Iris and Wild Geranium 
 Shawnee park and forest are a reservoir of wildlife, both flora and fauna.  Bird song and insect hum fill the air.  Ohioans from far and wide travel to this far off corner of the state to revel in nature.  No one looks up and wonders how many board-feet of lumber this forest would make.  How much pulp wood can we send to China from our tiny 3% of Ohio's public lands?

Where have all the flowers gone?
We should ask ourselves, "Is this the way we want our lands managed?"  Do we need clear-cuts, logging roads and habitat destruction in our public forests?  This is not the way Ohio managed our public lands ten years ago.  Have we become so needy- or greedy- that we must sell off the last of our woods?

Why are we spring-mowing?
 More grass, fewer flowers.  Ecologists note the loss of flowering forbs in constantly mowed areas.  We are losing our forest flowers to grass maintenance. Certainly, road edges need to be cut in the fall to manage for woody sucessionals.  But deep mowing can wait- the birds and bees need the nectar and insects the flowers bring. Let's go back to the days of a two-foot clearance mow on the edge of the forest, and leave something for the bees... and me.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

OOS 2016 in Shawnee

When the Ohio Ornithological Society gets together for spring birding in Shawnee, you know we are going to have fun.  And we are going to see birds!

Our special guest- Terry the Turkey Vulture.
 However, 2016 may go down in history as having a bird for speaker. This is rather inventive even for us (oos?)

Julie Davis, our President
Friday night's introductions and announcements were given by OOS President Julie Davis. Our Vice President, Randy Rogers got in on the action as well.

Terry the TUVU and Randy Rogers introduce Katie Fallon.
Terry the T.V. was thrilled to introduce his favorite author Katie Fallon.  He has heard Katie is currently working on her second book, which is about Turkey Vultures!

Yes, Terry had a  little help from V.P. Randy.  Our board members are not above having a little fun at these events!  Even Katie seemed to be enjoying the show.

Katie Fallon, author of Cerulean Blues.
After all the silliness, Katie entertained and informed the audience on the plight of the Cerulean Warblers and their loss of habitat in both West Virginia and on their wintering grounds.  She is an excellent speaker and the perfect start for our event.  The OOS logo boasts a Cerulean Warbler and any effort we make to protect or conserve Ceruleans would be a worthy cause.

*Anybody have photos from Saturday night of Petey the 'Possom and me, or Harvey Webster?  Willing to share?

Our group- Birds and Butterflies- convened in the parking lot.
(Front)Shari Jackson and Ronnie Macko (back) Melissa Holewinski, Tim Colborn, John and Joanne Smale,  Someone hiding, Patty Kelner and Jim Heflich.  (not shown- Lloyd and Lois Kuck)
 Bright and early Saturday morning field trips met up in the Lodge parking lot for our field trips.  The weather was under 50 degrees all day, and quite drizzly in the afternoon. Here is our Birding and Butterfly group getting ready to head out.  Birding was pretty decent, with an unusual highlight of a calling Northern Bobwhite and plenty of botany along the way

Out in the forest we were able to locate many species of warblers, including this Kentucky Warbler.  One of our keen-eyed participants, Lois Kuck, noticed this Luna Moth hanging out on a wall near Roosevelt Lake's Mackletree shelterhouse. Good save, Lois!

Tim (the tallest one) Colborn was our main birding guide.
Photo by Susan Nash

Fellow OOS guide, Tim Colborn led us on an excellent course through the forest, stopping for various warblers preparing for spring breeding.  This particular location yielded excellent looks at a Worm-eating Warbler.

It just goes to prove, early birders get the worm-eater!