Monday, July 16, 2007

Mohican Nests

In May, I attended my first annual meeting of the Ohio Ornithological Society. It was great! Fun-filled, action-packed, non-stop birding. I had so much fun, I forgot to take many pictures. As I was sorting through my files, I came across a few that I did take and that fit together.

The third annual OOS meeting was held at Mohican State Park, Ashland County, in the north-central part of the state. This is a fabulous state park, and I would love to go back and spend a week there, instead of just a weekend. Nature-wise, it is a pretty fascinating spot. The north-facing slopes are cool and the dominant trees are hemlocks, so you get all sorts of boreal species of flora and fauna. Had absolutely perfect looks at a very entertaining and demanding Canada Warbler, only my second ever, and my first Ohio sighting. (Both times, the trip leader was Bill of the Birds. Coincidence? I don't think so.) At one point, we had to ask him to go away and be quiet, so we could focus on other birds. (the warbler, not Bill!) Imagine- a Canada Warbler being annoying!
View of the Clear Fork Gorge,
which is 300 feet deep and 1000 feet wide.
You can trace the path of the river below
by the band of lighter-colored trees.
Those are sycamores, which like to live along water.

Part of one of my field trips that weekend was to an Amish farm in Holmes County, where we got to see incredible bird homes. These Purple Martin houses are similar to the T-14, a wooden martin house style designed by Mr. Andrew Troyer, a Pennsylvania Amish man, well known in martineering and bluebirding circles for his nest boxes and gourds.

At first, I thought they were T-14's, which have a total of 14 compartments, 3 on two sides and 4 on the other two sides. Then, I counted the rooms - there are 4 on each side. Some enterprising Amish carpenter has modified the plan to create a "T-16." That's Purple Martin landlords for you - always tinkering, hoping to build a better birdhouse and so attract more martins.
The martins were awesome, of course, and I was horribly jealous, as I had left my potential colony alone and in the presence of at least two starlings. I was in agony watching those birds and wondering how my pioneers were faring while I was not at home to protect them.

However, I forgot about them when I saw the Cliff Swallow colony. I had just seen my Life Cliff Swallows a week or so earlier, nesting under the SR 125 bridge over the Little Miami River, near Lunken Airport, but this colony dwarfed the one at home. The photo below might look like just another red barn, but wait till you see the close-up...
Look at all those mud jugs under the eaves of the barn roof! Everywhere you looked there were Cliff Swallows flying around, catching insects and feeding their young. If you can zoom in to this photo, you can seen nestlings in some of them.
On that same field trip, we visited a Barn Owl nest. When I signed up for this trip, no one explained that to see the Barn Owls, you had to climb a 14 foot, very rickety, old wooden ladder. And me with my irrational fear of heights!

I hung back, waited and watched, and tried to get up the courage to make the climb. It was faces like these that finally convinced me I had to try.
OOS members enthralled by baby Barn Owls

Many people took their cameras up and photographed the four young owlets in the nest box. I stripped off all non-essential gear: birding vest, binoculars, fanny pack, hat, even my name badge on a string around my neck. I wanted nothing that might snag and catch on that wobbly perch. Someone asked, "Aren't you taking your camera?" but I knew I wouldn't be able to pry my clenched fists off the rails long enough to snap any kind of picture, so I just shook my head. Two burly men held the ladder steady and I clambered up, slowly. When I got into position, I realized I had to let go of the ladder to lift the box lid. It was the moment of truth, but I prevailed. I saw three hissing, swaying owlets huddled in the back of the box, the fourth apparently hiding behind its nest mates. So cool!

Climbing down was worse than going up, but my support team encouraged me and cheered me on. Nothing like birders for helping you when you need it.

After seeing where the birds slept, it was time to find my nest. I had an image in my head of a state park lodge being a decent, habitable place to stay, but not a palace. Wow, was I wrong! This place WAS a palace. Look at my large and comfy room, with
an enormous bed and even a balcony. I slept like a baby.
And the view from the balcony was super. I sat out there during a (too brief) respite between morning birding and the afternoon program to enjoy the breeze and the birdsong.

These little alcoves off the hallway always had fresh water and glasses, games and books, no TV, and the most fabulous surroundings. They looked so inviting. Too bad I never had time to sit in one and relax.

Oh, yes, Mohican State Park is definitely on my list of "Must Do Again" vacation spots!

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