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Showing posts from 2017

Beaver Valley Christmas Bird Count: December 16

Your narrator's car - several years back - sits along a rarely traveled lane in rural Jackson County, Ohio. I was searching for birds during the Beaver Valley Christmas Bird Count (CBC). This census, which is part of the National Audubon Society's massive effort to conduct winter bird surveys from roughly mid-December through early January, is one of several dozen such counts in Ohio. And it is one of the more interesting ones, as the Beaver circle is sparsely populated, and contains a diversity of habitats.

This year's Beaver CBC falls on Saturday, December 16 and you are invited. If you are interested in joining one of the teams, please send me an email: jimmccormac35 AT

Below is a (somewhat crude) map of the count circle:

Click to expand image
We nearly always find interesting species, especially half-hardy birds like pine warbler, Wilson's snipe, eastern phoebe, gray catbird, chipping sparrow, and more. In general, the count circle is a birdy place and …

Nature: Green Lawn Cemetery’s majestic old trees leave lasting impression

Randy Rogers provides scale for the Green Lawn Cemetery tree estimated to be about 313 years old
Columbus Dispatch November 19, 2017
Jim McCormac

A century before Ohio became a state, a white oak acorn fell on gravelly terrain in what’s now the southwest side of Columbus. The following year, 1704, the fruit sprouted and a seedling arose.

That year, the first regular newspaper in the thirteen colonies was printed: the Boston News-Letter. One hundred sixty-seven years would elapse before the first edition of The Dispatch appeared.

Seven decades after the oak’s emergence, Americans, chafing under British rule, would fight for independence. By the time the Revolutionary War broke out, the acorn had matured into a large oak.

When the acorn sprouted in 1704, Ohio was pure wilderness. The city of Columbus’ predecessor, Franklinton, would not be platted until 93 years later, and it was 15 more until the “Borough of Columbus” was established.

This oak still stands, aged an estimated 313 ye…

Sandhill cranes, in two photos

Pulaski County, Indiana, a few weeks ago...

Native bees do the heavy lifting

A sunny roadbank covered with a spring-blooming fleabane known as robin's-plantain, Erigeron pulchellus. The flowers of this species, and the similar Philadelphia fleabane, E. philadelphicus, lure scores of interesting native pollinators.

I have a massive archive of natural history photographs, and have learned to not let them pile up without curation. Nonetheless, a bit of a backlog has accumulated and I've been trying to spend some time each day whittling away at them. When everything is neatly labeled and placed in the appropriate folder, I can lay hands on anything in no time flat. Anyway, today I was working through an unprocessed folder of stuff from Shawnee State Forest (Scioto County, Ohio) from April 26 of last spring (2017).

Reviewing these images reminded me of the hour or so I spent prostrate on the ground, watching and photographing a constant procession of tiny native bees to the fleabane flowers. And once again, I was reminded just how vital these largely unnot…

Mink punks muskrat, scares ducks!

The tranquil waters of the pond at Char-Mar Ridge Park in Delaware County, Ohio. I made my second visit to this site yesterday, and left scratching my head as to why I've not been here more often. It's only 20-25 minutes away, and the place can be a goldmine for bird photography. There is a fantastic roofed observation blind - where I made the shot above - and it's one of the best-sited blinds that I've seen. Not only is it in a great location, but is positioned such that the light, especially in early morning in spring and fall, is ideally suited for lighting subjects on the pond.

UPDATE: A little while back, I wrote a piece about another Preservation Parks of Delaware County site, Shale Hollow Park. That column, which appeared in the Columbus Dispatch and which I shared on this blog, HERE, touted the virtues of the park district and its holdings. I am pleased to say that one week later, Delaware County voters overwhelming approved passage of a park levy continuation,…

Earthstar fungus

A bizarre but strangely showy earthstar fungus, Astraeus spp. (probably A. hygrometricus) graces dry sandy soil in the Oak Openings of northwest Ohio. From my experience these interesting fungi are not very common, and thus always a treat to come across.
Although I've got - as always - an abundance of material, it's been tough to make time to share much of it here. Lots of things going on, including some big new endeavors that are taking much time. More on that stuff later.
Back on October 19, I made an all too rare foray into the biodiverse habitats of the Oak Openings just west of Toledo, Ohio. This expansive sandy region, carpeted with prairies, wetlands, and savannas, is a treasure trove of unusual flora and fauna. I have spent untold hours in this region, but not much time in recent years. Thus, it was great to connect with local natural history enthusiast and fellow blogger Kim Smith and venture into a new addition to The Nature Conservancy's fabled Kitty Todd Prese…

Nature: Long-flying godwits make rare pit stop near Toledo

A juvenile Hudsonian godwit at Maumee Bay State Park

Columbus Dispatch November 5, 2017
Jim McCormac

The average American flies about 1,500 miles per year. That figure is dwarfed by the travels of certain birds.

In mid-October, I spent time with one of the world’s great long-haul migrants, the Hudsonian godwit. These Pinocchio-billed sandpipers travel more than 10 times the average annual air miles of jet-assisted humans.

Rick Nirschl, an ace naturalist in Toledo, had reported Hudsonian godwits from Maumee Bay State Park, just east of Toledo. As I had business in the area, I stopped to look for the birds.

Soon after arriving at the park beach, I heard the distinctive calls of godwits. The slightly comical sound is like an amped-up kitten putting the hurt on a squeaky toy.

Three of the big shorebirds soon materialized, whooshing by at high speed as they investigated the situation before setting down. In flight, the godwits revealed their striking black-and-white wing pattern and lo…

Calliope Hummingbird in central Ohio!

A hatch-year male Calliope Hummingbird strikes a pose. Small but tough, the hummingbird was feeding actively yesterday in 39 F temperatures. It frequents feeders and gardens at a home in Delaware County, Ohio, about a half-hour north of Columbus.

Fortunately, the wayward hummer appeared at the home of Tania and Corey Perry. Tania is a birder, and knew right away that the hummingbird was something special. For a while, the identification was up in the air, which isn't surprising. The Calliope Hummingbird used to be placed in its own genus, Stellula, but has recently been submerged into the genus Selasphorus, which includes Allen's, Broad-tailed, and Rufous hummingbirds. The latter two, especially, are quite similar to the Calliope in subadult plumage. Rufous is the default "vagrant" hummingbird here, with dozens of records and birds turning up annually. There is but one Ohio record of Allen's Hummingbird, from late fall/early winter 2009. Ditto the Calliope Hummi…

Park in Delaware's backyard abounds with birds, beauty

Shale Hollow Park, part of Preservation Parks of Delaware County/Jim McCormac
Columbus Dispatch October 29, 2017
Jim McCormac

When I was a kid, my parents regularly packaged my brothers and me into the car and up Route 23 we went to Delaware. My grandparents lived there, and from our Worthington home it was a scenic 20-minute ride through the countryside.

Now, the northern reaches of Columbus nearly commingle with Delaware. There are few wild places left along the corridor.

In 2014, Preservation Parks of Delaware County acquired a surviving gem halfway between Columbus and Delaware just west of Route 23. On a recent glorious October day, I met Delaware County resident and spider expert Rich Bradley at Shale Hollow Park.

It wasn’t my first visit. I’d ventured there in the early ’80s, when then-landowner Ed Postle hosted a wintering northern saw-whet owl. I made another visit 15 years or so ago, when efforts to acquire the property were starting.

Now, fortunately, the 211-acre park …

Hudsonian Godwit, Franklin's Gull, and going facedown in the sand

A pair of Hudsonian Godwits rocket by at Maumee Bay State Park, hard on the shore of Lake Erie just east of Toledo. I visited this spot last Wednesday, with the big sandpiper being a primary target. Uber-birder, photographer, and all-around naturalist Rick Nirschl had been reporting godwits from the area for a few days, along with many other interesting species. Besides, I just don't get into that neck of the woods nearly often enough, and there are always interesting finds to be made. So, in the golden light of late day, I connected with local photographer and naturalist Kim Smith (see her blog HERE) and set out in search of robust sandpipers.

As always, click the image to enlarge
A Dunlin tends to its plumage. The chunky little sandpiper is in basic (winter) plumage. It's quite the different looking beast after molting into alternate (breeding) plumage. Then, it transforms into a coat of rusty-red above, and rich black below. It was once known as the "Red-backed Sandpip…

The Milky Way

As always, click on the photo to enlarge. If you're bored, try to count all of the stars.
The cloudy band of stars known as the Milky Way cuts diagonally across this exposure. I made the image a week ago in a remote southern Ohio forest, where light pollution is minimal. In much of the state, light pollution from towns and cities is now too intense to see many celestial objects. At this locale, on this night, the stars were visible to a degree I've seldom seen in Ohio, at least in a long time. As Carl Sagan would have said, there were "billions and billions" of stars. He wouldn't have been exaggerating. The Milky Way - our solar system - is thought to contain as many as 400 billion stars.

A cooperative Eastern Screech-Owl (with comments on low-light photography)

f/4, 1/100th, ISO 400, + 1/3rd exposure compensation
An Eastern Screech-Owl peers from its roosting hole - a cavity in a gnarled box-elder. I made this image and those that follow yesterday at a local park. James Muller, a sharp birder and regular at this place, was making the rounds the other day when he heard agitated chickadees and other songbirds mobbing something. Astutely, he sought out the source of their angst and found the owl.

Screech-owls tend towards the tame, but this one takes the cake. It could care less about people watching and photographing from the trail, which is only about 25 feet or so away. As we represent neither food nor foe, the owl would rarely even cast a glance our way. Fortunately, the owl has been spending a fair bit of time sitting at the cavity entrance during the day, allowing its admirers to fawn over it.

I saw an opportunity to make some images of one of my favorite species, and headed over as soon as time permitted. Making nice clean images of the …

A visit to a fen

Ohio Goldenrod, Solidago ohioensis, brightens a largely senescent prairie fen on an early October day. The goldenrod is well named. It was discovered and described to science from a prairie near Dayton in the 1830's.

The photo above is perfectly level, I can assure you. Pressurized artesian ground water provides hydrology for this place, and the main meadow is somewhat dome-shaped, thus the sloping meadow.

PHOTO TIP: Many cameras have a built-in level, and this tool is useful in framing landscape compositions shot from a tripod. That's how I know the above image is level. I use mine all the time. With Canon cameras, just tap your "info" button until the level appears on the camera's back screen (usually two taps). A horizontal line will appear across the screen. When it's red, the image is not level. Just adjust the camera until the line turns green, and you're level.

A photographer friend and I visited this fen in northern Ross County, Ohio, last Sunday.…