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Showing posts from January, 2013

Some more gulls, and beautiful creatures they are

An adult Ring-billed Gull with gizzard shad. Like a kid in a candy shop. This and the following photos were made last Saturday at Cleveland's East 72nd Street park on Lake Erie. There, the shad pile up in the wake of a power plant's warm water effluvia like scaley locusts in an aquatic wheat field. Unfortunately for the nonnative shad, most die and are consigned to be expelled as gull guano.

At most seasons and in most areas in Ohio, the Ring-billed Gull is, if not the default gull, certainly the most common. This adult in flight shows its clean white tail, and mostly black outer primaries. Of course, that black ring around the bill is a pretty good clue to its identity. The bird is in winter plumage, as indicated by the light brown flecking on the head and neck. As it enters breeding condition in spring, those areas will become bright white.

This is a "second cycle" Ring-billed Gull. When "cycle" is applied to a gull, it indicates a distinct plumage seque…

New moth discovered for U.S.!

Photo: Rick Nirschl
Ohioan Rick Nirschl, who migrates south to Texas for the winters, has done it again. This time it's a moth species that he's added to his ever growing stable of United States firsts, which include dragonflies and a bird. CLICK HERE for more on Nirschl finds.

While patrolling the National Butterfly Garden in Mission, Texas, Nirschl noticed and photographed the shiny animal in the photo. It turned out to be Napata leucotelus (no common name insofar as I am aware), which has not previously been documented north of the border. It belongs to the huge family Arctiidae, or the tiger moths, and is in subfamily Ctenuchinae. Moth enthusiasts may notice its similarity to a related species common in these parts, the Virginia Ctenucha, Ctenucha virginica.

Napata leucotelus ranges widely throughout Mexico, Central America, and into at least northern South America. South Texas, where Nirschl made this find, has proven to be highly productive for finding southern moths and …

Major Gull-fest on Lake Erie

The fabled East 72nd Street park, along Cleveland's Lake Erie shoreline. This site is one of the best places to seek gulls in the Great Lakes, and North America for that matter. And why, you might ponder, would anyone in their right mind want to chase after "sea gulls"? Well, because gulls (decidedly NOT "sea gulls"!) are among the coolest, most visually stunning, aerobatic, and interesting of any of our bird families. Throw in the fun, and at times majorly vexing, identification challenges and the ever-present possibility of a major rarity, and what's not to like?

Reports of massive gull concentrations were coming hot and heavy from E. 72nd last week, and I could finally stand it no more. So, last Saturday I departed from Columbus at O'dark:thirty and arrived in Cleveland bright and early.

Intrepid birders scan the waters. This type of birding is not for the fair weather binocular-toter. Gulling is at its best when frigid temperatures have caused Lake…

Quite the cardinal, this one!

Photo: Bruce Hayes
Every now and again, the common becomes decidedly uncommon, and that's certainly the case with this Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis. Bruce and Mary Hayes, who live in northwestern Franklin County, Ohio, glanced out their window and were stunned to see this cream and pink showstopper hitting the bird bath. Bruce managed a few photos before the oddball cardinal took flight, not to be seen again.

This Northern Cardinal is leucistic, and I've written about this pigment abnormality numerous times, such as HERE. In fact, CLICK HERE to see a very similar cardinal, which Paul Hurtado found about a year ago elsewhere in Franklin County. Paul's bird is nearly a match for this one, although he found it about four or five miles away. Could it be the same bird? I'm not sure.

Thanks to Mary and Bruce for sharing their find with us!

Lake Erie birding

An intrepid crew of birders endures temperatures in the low 20's (F) to scan for rare gulls at Cleveland's East 72nd Street park. A nearby power plant releases warm water into Lake Erie at this point, creating an opening in otherwise frozen Lake Erie.

I did over 350 miles yesterday, exploring a couple of Lake Erie's best wintertime birding haunts. The Canon was click-clicking away, to the tune of 1,450 images. Most are NOT keepers; some are, but I've not yet separated the wheat from the chaff.

A Lesser Black-backed Gull, Larus fuscus, glares at your narrator. It was one of a half-dozen species of gulls seen, along with a few oddballs who at least for now shall have to remain nameless.

I'll have a fuller accounting of this trek, along with more photos, in the near future.

Mothapalooza! Registration Open!

Mark your calendars and get your registration in! Although it's about 10 degrees outside as I write this and summer seems far off, the weekend of June 14th - 16th will be on us before we know it. And that's the weekend of Mothapalooza, which surely will be one of the more interesting natural history conferences yet conducted in Ohio. All of the details are RIGHT HERE. Read on for more about Mothapalooza, interspersed with photos of just a tiny sampling of the myriad moths that we'll encounter in and around Ohio's greatest wilderness lands, Shawnee State Forest and the adjoining Edge of Appalachia preserve.


We are especially pleased to be a part of, and collaborating with, National Moth Week. Our only hitch with this partnership is that scheduling conflicts don't permit us to hold Mothapalooza during the actual NMW, which is officially July 20-28. But we're still plugging NMW, and NMW is plugging Mothapalooza, so it's all good! Besides, every day is or sho…

The Wilds Winter Raptor Extravaganza

Yesterday dawned bright and unseasonably balmy for the 9th annual Wilds Winter Raptor Extravaganza, organized by the Ohio Ornithological Society. As if heralding the beautiful day to come, three Eastern Meadowlarks lit on the wires just beyond the telephone pole as I made this photo. Filled with the promise of spring, the males burst forth with their clear whistled songs - a classic melody of the grasslands. I didn't make any photos of the meadowlarks, or any other birds for that matter. The Canon largely stayed in the car, as we were too busy finding birds and sharing them with our group, and photography had to take a backseat.

Temperatures were in the 30's at starting time, a far cry from a few years ago, when it was an insanely cold minus 12 when participants mustered in this parking lot. Highs would reach into the low 50's, and coupled with the clear blue ether overhead it made for a fabulous mid-winter day to be afoot with bins in hand.

The primary allure, as you'…

Red Crossbills for the plucking

Photo: Chuck Slusarczyk
Red as a brick and plump as a sheep, a splendid male Red Crossbill, Loxia curvirostra, sits among the spiny orbs of Sweetgum fruit.

Chuck Slusarczyk of Cleveland sent along news and photos of Red Crossbills from Cleveland's West Park Cemetery. Chuck and Liz McQuaid discovered about a half-dozen of the x-beaks here on December 30th, 2012, and the boreal finches have been delighting scores of visitors ever since. A smattering of White-winged Crossbills, Loxia leucoptera, and Common Redpolls, Acanthis flammea, have also been seen.

Photo: Chuck Slusarczyk
A bit more somber than her male counterparts but no less interesting, a female Red Crossbill digs into the Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua (lik-wid-am-bar sty-ras-ih-flu-ah. Whoa! Nine syllables on that one!). Crossbills, siskins and other finches seem to really go for the fruit of this tree. I find this choice of food interesting, and wonder if irruptive finches from the Great White North have always noshed …

Skunk-cabbage in bloom?!?!

One of our weirdest flowers and the true harbinger-of-spring, the fleshy liver-spotted spathe of a Skunk-cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, thrusts from the mire. I was at a local patch yesterday, Kiwanis Park in Columbus, and was at least semi-shocked to see the skunkers up and doing their thing. This is the earliest that I've seen them in bloom, by nearly a month. I usually make my annual trek into the supersaturated springy sites where Skunk-cabbages thrive in late February, and am sure to find them beginning to bloom by then. To be fair, I'm not sure that I've been anywhere I'd cross paths with these foul-smelling members of the Arum Family this early in the year. Nonetheless, I can't imagine that they'd be this far along in a "normal" year. And for the most part, this crop of botanical skunks was not yet in full flower, but a few surely were. The strange dunce cap looking thing in the photo is NOT the flower - that is the protective spathe, which f…

Some heavy raptoring approaches!

Your narrator's car perches along a long and lonely stretch of highway near the Wilds, in Muskingum County. This is Big Sky country for Ohio: thousands of acres of "reclaimed" strip mine grasslands. Shortly after I made this image, several Short-eared Owls lifted from the snowy fields and put on a show.

This Saturday is the Ohio Ornithological Society's 9th annual Winter Raptor Extravaganza at the Wilds, an event that has become a high point of the winter season. Nearly every year since the event's inception, it has attracted about 150 birders from all quarters of the state. We might get even more, but 150 people is the most that we can accommodate. I've only missed one - last year - and am looking forward to being a part of the scene again.

This photo was taken a few years ago, during the one Wilds raptor fest that did NOT attract a full house. There WAS a full complement of birders registered, but not everyone showed. That may have had something to do with…

Bit of a sissy-boy, this Bald Eagle

David and Laura Hughes have done it again. If you follow this blog much, you've probably seen some of their camera handiwork, such as HERE, and HERE. This time they've hauled the trail cam out in to the open, and wisely set the camera's lens on some tasty deer carcasses.

In the following video, we see a hungry Red-tailed Hawk really ripping into the carrion, while a young Bald Eagle stands forlornly by, shuffling its feet. Early on in the video, the eagle lets loose with its effeminate little piping screech - the reason that ornithologically inaccurate TV ads typically dub in the fierce scream of a Red-tailed Hawk while showing a soaring eagle. The cry of the eagle has zero effect on the much smaller hawk, which doesn't even turn to acknowledge the bigger bird of prey.

The Red-tail, clearly the Alpha in this scene, later lets loose with its much manlier scream. Its impact on the eagle is comical - our national symbol quickly exits stage left, thoroughly punked.

Thanks …

Red-shouldered Hawks rebound

A stunning Red-shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus, peers curiously down at your narrator. I probably would have reacted the same, had some strange guy rolled up under my telephone pole and stuck a long cylindrical object out the sunroof. The mild-mannered raptor never even flew. It was one of nine Red-shouldered Hawks that Peter King and I found in our piece of turf for the Hocking Hills Christmas Bird Count, last Saturday.

Everyone has their faves, and when it comes to Buteo hawks, the Red-shouldered Hawk is hands-down my #1 pick. The bird in this photo was yet another that Peter and I found on the Hocking Hills CBC. It's easy to see how the "red-shouldered" label came to be.

This particular bird came coasting over the territory of a pair of Red-tailed Hawks, which quickly rose to push the interloper away. Red-taileds are easily the most numerous Buteo in Ohio, but in some regions Red-shouldereds are gaining ground fast, or have even eclipsed their rusty-tailed brethren. …