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Brambling in Ohio!

The Ohio birding network went aflame on the afternoon of Monday, December 28, when word went out about a Brambling that was discovered in Medina County. In this part of the world, a Brambling is a mega-rarity of the highest order. There had only been one prior Ohio record, WAY back in 1987. The current bird and the one of 28 years ago share some eerie similarities. More on that later.
Recently retired Medina County Park District naturalist Dan Bertsch found the bird, and must have nearly flipped his lid when he realized what he was looking at. Dan's discovery sparked a Great Medina County Brambling Rush, as listers from far and wide dropped everything and sped to the locale. 
Photo courtesy Leslie Sours
That's the Brambling, on the left, consorting with some much more familiar fare (for us), three American Goldfinches. Perhaps the Brambling feels comfortable with them, as they're all in the same family (Fringillidae). I suspect that this is a scene similar to how Dan first…

A forest in a raindrop

A small stream rushes and gurgles through a wooded ravine in Tar Hollow State Forest in southeastern Ohio. I found myself in this woodland recently; a place I seldom get to these days. At 16,000+ acres, Tar Hollow is one of Ohio's great biological hotspots, harboring a vast array of flora and fauna. On this day, steady rains vacillated between mists, sprinkles, and showers, which made finding critters tough. But all that moisture brings its own charms, such as turning this normally dry creek into a showy waterscape.

There is an old school fire tower in Tar Hollow, and visitors are free to climb it. I did, of course - such structures are irresistible lookouts. The boxlike cabin at the summit was locked, so I had to make due with the view from just below.

From the tower's (near) summit, a grand vista of the sprawling forest can be had. As is to be expected in late December, the surrounding deciduous woodlands are leafless and bare, but a couple of towering pitch pines (Pinus ri…

Pickaway Plains sunrise

Dawn's first light paints a gorgeous palette of colors over a Pickaway Plains prairie near Circleville, Ohio. The local landowner put about 1,000 acres into native tallgrass prairie about a decade ago. The results have been stunning. On this quick visit, there were several Northern Harriers and Short-eared Owls, and a few dozen Eastern Meadowlarks, among many other species. Since this ground was restored to prairie, the spike in biodiversity, perhaps most noticeably birds, has been breathtaking.

The Pickaway Plains was once one of Ohio's great prairie provinces. The region was about seven miles long and three miles wide, centered on the Scioto River and stretching from approximately the city of Circleville south into Ross County. Over 99% of the former prairie has been converted to agriculture or otherwise developed. This grassland shows that if you restore it, they will come.

American Shieldback

The wet, slushy worst of Ohio's winter is upon us. Right now it's about 50 F with rain. Today featured the leaden skies that we see so much of in winter. Temperatures have been yo-yo'ing all over the place, from semi-balmy to downright frigid.
Fortunately, tomorrow is Winter Solstice, and after that the days grow longer, leading us by our Seasonal Affective Disordered brains ever closer to spring and the re-emergence of life. Especially insect life! I dip into the files to share a cool bug that I meant to write about long ago, but just never got around to. It may evoke memories of warmer, longer days.
A Road Warrior of a katydid if there ever was one. Back on June 11, I found myself at the always amazing Edge of Appalachia Preserve in Adams County, hanging out at the Eulett Center. It was past dark, and we were doing some nocturnal field work. Both Mark Zloba and I had noticed a discreet rasping husky broken trill, and were flummoxed by its identity. We thought it might b…

Various photos, various techniques

I'm always playing with different photographic techniques. A few different (for me) attempts follow.

A 1st-cycle Ring-billed Gull prepares to drop onto the water. Bernie Master and I headed to Springfield Lake near Akron yesterday, to try and see a Kelp Gull that has been in the area for over a week. We were joined by well over a hundred other birders, but no luck - the rare gull stood all of us up. Such is life on the rare bird circuit.
We arrived before it was light, and as dawn brightened the landscape and it became ever more apparent that the Kelp Gull was not on the lake, I turned the lens to much more mundane Ring-billed Gulls. The light was horrid in nearly every way - wasn't much of it, and what there was came from a suboptimal direction. Normally I'd probably not even click the shutter in such a situation.
But what the heck. I decided to try for some "creative blurs". I've seen photos dubbed as creative blurs which to me have been bad photos masque…

Hyptiotes cavatus, an interesting spider indeed

Today was unseasonably balmy indeed, the thermometer striking 70 F here in central Ohio. I spent the afternoon with David and Laura Hughes in the beautiful and biodiversity-filled Clear Creek Valley searching for interesting things. Of which we found plenty, and Dave and I came away with many "keeper" photos.

This tiny spider was at the top of the heap of fascinating subjects. Laura, with her eagle eyes, somehow spotted the small web which the animal had stretched between beech tree saplings. The spider is just right of the pointy beech bud, with its elegant triangular web flaring out through the rest of the image, and beyond. The spider is quite tiny; it measures only a few millimeters. In addition to its manner of capturing prey, which we will soon see, it is also a representative of the family Uloboridae, which are noteworthy for being nonvenomous.

The spider is holding several silken lines, which connect to critical parts of its web. She will remain motionless and keepi…

Appalachian Filmy Fern, a rarity indeed

An obscure sandstone alcove - a cavelet, if you will - along a Hocking County, Ohio lane. I stop here every few years to check on its rare inhabitant. As fate would have it, that was last Saturday. To seek our quarry, we must go over and peer into the deepest recess of this large overhang - middle of the photo, just right of center.

Yes! There it is, hanging from the ceiling just as its done for many decades and probably far longer. The stalactitic growth is the very rare Appalachian Filmy Fern, Trichomanes boschianum. This patch has been known for far longer than I've been into plants, and who knows how long it has occupied this perpetually dim niche before it was discovered. The few and widely scattered populations of this curious fern are thought to be very old in most cases.

The fronds are quite beautiful upon close inspection, but such inspection takes a bit of work. Very little light penetrates back to the area occupied by the fern, and one could easily glance into its alco…

Huron, on Lake Erie, is a bird-watcher's paradise

Huron, on Lake Erie, is a bird-watcher's paradise
COLUMBUS DISPATCH
December 6, 2015

NATURE
Jim McCormac

HURON, Ohio — I recently traveled to the Lake Erie town of Huron, population 7,000. Huron, which was voted one of “America’s Coolest Small Towns” for 2015 by Budget Travel magazine, is the epicenter of Erie County bird-watching.

Our second-smallest county is probably best-known as the birthplace of Thomas Alva Edison and the home of Cedar Point. It also hosts a remarkable suite of Lake Erie bird-watching hot spots.

Bookending Huron is Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Research Reserve and Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve. Three miles downstream on the Huron River is another state nature preserve, DuPont Marsh.

My destination was yet another hot spot, the municipal pier at the confluence of the Huron River and Lake Erie in the middle of town. The half-mile-long pier’s terminus puts observers in a fantastic location to spot birds.

November and December brings the most birds to …

Bonaparte's Gulls freighter-chasing

This is the mouth of one of the Great Lakes' most fabled rivers, and one its most varied when it comes to habitat. I made this image early in the morning last Sunday, standing at the end of the pier by the old Coast Guard Station by Wendy Park. The Cuyahoga River dumps into Lake Erie here, with the city of Cleveland as the background. Lake-going freighters enter the river at this point, and wind their way up the narrow crooked river to industrial operations in Cleveland. Rivers do not come more industrialized than the lower Cuyahoga, but its upper reaches are as wild and biodiversity-rich as any river in Ohio.

A post-sitting Bonaparte's Gull watches the world go by. It is a rare bit of isolationist repose for the animal. It spends much time in noisy packs of its brethren, fishing the waters of Lake Erie.

I've written much about Bonaparte's Gulls and will write much more, no doubt. These small delicate gulls are among my favorite birds. They are buoyant on the wing, an…

Red-breasted Merganser swarms on Lake Erie

Now that's a lot of birds! The waters at the interface of Lake Erie and the Huron River are darkened by thousands of Red-breasted Mergansers. Scores of gulls wheel overhead. Everyone is fish-seeking. Lake Erie is the most biologically rich of the five Great Lakes, and scenes like this bear out the aquatic bounty of Ohio's watery northern boundary.

A squadron of nine Red-breasted Mergansers rockets by the end of the Huron Municipal Pier. I spent much of the day here on November 22, and was once again blown away by the huge numbers of birds in the area. I've been to Huron in late fall and early winter scores of times over the years and know what to expect on a busy day, but never fail to be impressed. I wrote about some other observations from this trip RIGHT HERE. In that post, I focused on the numerous rare bird sightings that the trip produced. Here, I wish to focus on the hyper-abundant mergansers.

A mixture of molting males and female Red-breasted Mergansers bunch toge…

Woodpecker sleeking, sparrow seeding

As chance would have it, my route yesterday took me (somewhat) near the legendary Sandy Ridge Reservation in Lorain County (a Lorain County Metro Park). Scores of notable birds have been seen here over the years, in large part because of the reservation's sharp-eyed and knowledgeable naturalist, Tim Fairweather. A two mile long path cuts through mature woods then circles some large wetlands. I had only been to the nature center once or twice to give talks, and had never seen the real meat of the park. Time to correct that, so I grabbed some camera gear and took to the loop trail to see what I could see.

I had barely broke free from the woods when a distant menacing shape caught my eye. There, perched on a snag in a dead tree out in the wetland, was a Merlin. These muscular little falcons are among a small bird's worst enemies; feathered Freddie Kruegers. I had scarcely registered the Merlin when the male Downy Woodpecker in this photo bounded in low over the marsh and swooped…

Falling waters, revisited

Today is something akin to a national holiday in these parts - the annual Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Michigan Wolverines football game. This matchup has taken place since 1897, interruptedly, and annually since 1918. It's huge; easily the most important game of the year for these schools. I wouldn't miss it if at all possible.

Since it was a noon game, there was little time for any sort of full blown excursion. But my trigger finger was itching, and I really wanted to shoot something. Fortunately, a light rain had fallen more or less steadily all night and into the morning. The precipitation made for prime conditions for the photos that follow.

By the way, OSU easily walloped the team from up north, 42-13.

Back on October 29, I made a visit to a local hotspot and one of Ohio's most beautiful waterfalls, the Hayden Run Falls. I wrote about that, with photos, HERE. That trip came on the heels of a torrential gulley washer, and the falls were raging. The above photo is one that …

Huron revisited, with rare birds

The mouth of the Huron River on a beautiful late November day. The Huron Municipal Pier stretches off into the distance, ending in Lake Erie. Look closely, and you'll see a white lighthouse-like signal tower at the end. I journeyed back to this locale last Sunday, arriving around 8 am, and immediately headed out to the signal tower at the pier's end. Temperature at the start was about 27 degrees F, warming to a high of 33. Still a bit too nice weatherwise for producing crazy bird numbers and diversity, but much better than my last Huron trip in that regard.

Some of the photos in this post are certainly not award winners. They are purely documentary, of rarities that did not cooperate with the photographer. While conducting lake watches and tallying the birds that pass by on Lake Erie is fun, it often does not produce great photo ops, at least of the more unusual stuff. Many of the birds are simply too far out for that.

Birds swarm the mouth of the Huron River. Most of them on…