Thursday, February 28, 2013
In spite of all the conspicuous avian action, our attention was riveted to the innocuous looking willow thicket above, at least for a memorable while.
Take a close look at this owl. A very cool and almost surreal element of owl physiology is on display.
Long-eared Owls are not a rare bird, and are common throughout much of the northern boreal forest. They stage poorly understood southward movements in winter, and are regular visitors to Ohio and other states south of their primary breeding range. There are undoubtedly FAR more Long-eared Owls around than is supected, and when one sees these masters of camouflage imbedded in a dense willow thicket such as this, it becomes apparent just how easily they can be missed.
I think many Ohio birders have a skewed perception of Long-eareds' winter habitat, because so many people are used to seeing them in the pine groves at Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area and other select conifer groves. But it should be remembered that, with the exception of the Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana, and Virginia Pine, Pinus virginiana, conifers are rather local and limited in distribution in Ohio. And even the two aforementioned species are not common statewide, and the other five native species suitable for owl roosting are very limited in distribution. In several areas where Long-eared Owls regularly turn up roosting in conifers, such as Killdeer Plains, there are NO native conifers or at best a smattering of Red Cedar. The birds are roosting in artificial plantings.
On several occasions, I've seen Long-eared Owls roosting amongst the dense gnarled branches of Pin Oak trees, Quercus palustris, and I suspect that's where the Killdeer Plains pine grove birds retreat when the human presence becomes too much. Pin Oaks are often very common in and around good Long-eared sites. They also favor dense grapevine tangles, which are found nearly everywhere, and good luck spotting owls in such haunts.
A key to devining possible locations for Long-eared Owls involves suitable hunting habitat. They hunt over open and semi-open ground, and if an area has Short-eared Owls and Northern Harriers, there is a good chance that Long-eareds are also in the immediate vicinity. The latter are strictly nocturnal, though, and thus much harder to discover. It involves lots of peeking and peering into dense vegetation, and/or much luck.
I want to thank Jeff Finn for pointing these birds out to us, and taking us to the spot. It's an interesting story as to how they were discovered, which was quite serendipitous. The location cannot be divulged, though, as the owls are on lands that are not publicly accessible, and I am always loathe to reveal Long-eared Owl roost sites as human pressure can become heavy once they're known. But now that we've seen these deciduous willow-roosting birds, we have a good search image for a "new" habitat in which to seek owls.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
The fruit of the stickseed, shown above, are a marvelous adaptation for mammalian dispersal. The exterior of the fruit is heavily armored with stiff hook-tipped bristles - ideal for adhering to passersby. Many a hiker has had the misfortune of inadvertently bumbling through a patch of this plant, only to look down and see that his/her legs are covered with burs.
Just as surely as tanagers and warblers migrate, so do plants. Plants have all sorts of migratory ploys in their bag of tricks, including wind and water dispersal, transport by all manner of insects, forceful physical ejection of seeds, and more. People probably tend to notice the mammalian dispersal plant tactics the most, because these plants don't discriminate against the various mammal species so we get involved in the process too.
Next summer and fall, when you pause to pluck burs from your clothes and cast them to the ground, just take note that you've been outfoxed by the plant world.
Sunday, February 24, 2013
Speaking of the title of this post, and skunks, the mammalian form is also in full spring fever. You'll be smelling their pungent musk frequently, and seeing the aftermath of skunks who were unsuccessful in crossing the road. But this story is about Skunk-cabbage.
While it may only be late February, now that the Skunk-cabbage are at the pinnacle of bloom, there is no denying the impending Spring.
Friday, February 22, 2013
Enter the New River Birding & Nature Festival - the best way for birders and others interested in nature to immerse themselves in the flora and fauna of southern West Virginia. This year, the festival ranges from April 29 - May 4 and YOU should be there!
GO HERE for a roster of the guides.
We see a lot of repeat customers at the New River Birding & Nature Festival, and small wonder. I think this'll be my seventh consecutive year leading trips, and it is without doubt a highlight of the season for me. I think you'll like this part of West Virginia, too. For the complete festival lowdown, including registration inormation, CLICK HERE.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Barns Owls are certainly not common in Ohio, and are officially listed as threatened. I suspect there are many more than we know about, though. They are strictly nocturnal, and only likely to be found when roosting during the daytime, and the roost is likely to be in someone's private farm outbuilding, and such places are not frequented by birders.
Thus, I was delighted to get a recent email, telling me of an owl in residence in the aforementioned Knox County. The homeowners are nice as can be, and were willing to allow me to visit and have look at their owl.
This is a working farm and a working barn, and apparently the owl has become thoroughly accustomed to activity. Twenty feet or so below the owl lurked Peter, Bruce, myself, and the lady of the house, although we spoke in muted whispers. At our feet gamboled several very active kittens, the progeny of a couple of adult barn cats. And there was Tig, a large and rather ferocious appearing "guard dog", who was nosing the kittens about and occasionally letting loose a bark. None of this hubbub caused the owl to as much as flinch, let alone open its eyes.
From my experience, there are basically two types of Barn Owl behavior regarding barn-roosting birds. Some, like this animal, are quite tame and not put off by people. They'll just remain perched high in the rafters or on the hay rail, and quiet observers - or even not so quiet ones - will not cause them apparent concern.
But there are plenty of spooky Barn Owls. These birds do not like intruders, and as soon as someone enters their dwelling they'll promptly catapult out the nearest exit hole and into the wide open outdoors. These are the birds to leave alone. A Barn Owl ensconced in the shadowy rafters of a barn is a safe owl. A Barn Owl flushed from its fortress during the day becomes far more vulnerable to those who would eat or otherwise relentlessly dog the bird. This is an almost strictly nocturnal owl, and forcing one to be exposed to hawks, crows, jays, the watchful eyes of Great Horned Owls and all manner of tormentors, some deadly, some just annoying, is not the thing to do.
The homeowner was very interested in these pellets and their composition, as any right-minded intellectually curious person ought to be. Just today, she texted me a photo of a pellet that she had much more painstakingly dismantled. It contained five (5!) vole and mice skulls! Apparently the owl is flourishing in its Knox County digs, and I hope there are many others in the area.
Sunday, February 17, 2013
DNAP, along with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and other partners, hosts the Ohio Botanical Symposium, which will be held on Friday, April 5th. This is the 13th year for the symposium, which began with about 35 people in a classroom at Ohio State University. From humble beginnings it has mushroomed into a can't-miss 400+ person botanical extravaganza. It's held at the Villa Milano in Columbus, and does fill up, so get your tickets soon. Organizers have put together another excellent agenda, as can be seen HERE, along with registration information. Don't dawdle; the symposium is an outstanding way to start the spring.
Shawnee State Forest in southern Ohio. Hard to believe this is the Buckeye State, eh? If you've read this blog with any regularity you've probably seen some of the scores of posts that I've made about Shawnee and its flora and fauna over the years. This is one of the best wilderness areas in the Midwest, and coupled with the (nearly) adjacent Edge of Appalachia Preserve, there is some 80,000 acres to roam.
The area teems with rare flora, and a staggering abundance of more common plants. A visit to Shawnee and vicinity is always rewarding, and once you've been once, you're almost certain to visit again. The best indoctrination into Shawnee and its multitude of nooks and crannies is with experts who know it well: enter Flora-Quest. This field trip focused botanical event will soon host its 7th consecutive conference the weekend of May 3-5. Early May is the peak of spring wildflowers, and by the end of F-Q your mind will be spinning at all of the magnificent plants that you'll have encountered. If you've got a camera, your cards will be stuffed with megabytes of digitized botanical beauties.
Space is rather limited at F-Q, and it does fill up, so this is another event to sign onto soon. All of the details are RIGHT HERE.
Although it is 20 degrees as I write this, the signs of spring are everywhere and the days quickly grow longer. By the time the two events plugged above roll around, flowering plants will be in evidence everywhere. Following is a pictorial taste of what's to come...
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
The annual Ohio Natural History Conference rapidly approaches! Mark your calendars for Saturday, February 23, and plan a visit to the Ohio Historical Society's intriguing building in Columbus. This event, as always, is sponsored and orchestrated by the Ohio Biological Survey, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary.
This year's engaging crop of speakers includes Andy Jones of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Kathy Smith of the OSU Extension Service, Herman Mays of the Cincinnati Museum Center, August Froehlich with The Nature Conservancy, Katrina Schultes with the U.S. forest Service, and keynote speaker Scott Loarie of Stanford University, creator of iNaturalist.
Technology is revolutionizing the way that we learn about and even interact with nature, and we'll learn a lot about the interplay between humans, the natural world, and technological gizmos. These conferences are always rewarding, and a good opportunity to meet many of your peers.
For the complete lowdown, and to register, GO HERE. And, walk-ins are always welcome so feel free to show up that morning and join the festivities.
Sunday, February 10, 2013
Sure enough, when we departed the lodge an hour or so later and motored back by this spot, our foxy friend was back, sprawled out on the lawn as before. Should you find yourself entering the lodge at Mohican, and it is a bright day, check the lawn behind the entrance sign and perhaps you'll also see this handsome beast.
If you would like to read more about Red Foxes, HERE IS an article that I wrote about them a while back.