Thursday, August 14, 2008

Nature Walk at Crooked Run

Come, take a walk with us!

"Can't you just smell the nature?"

Except for a few lunch breaks spent sitting at a picnic table at the Cincinnati Nature Center, I haven't been out in the field much in the last month or so. This "not driving to save gas" kick of mine has put a cramp in my style. Today, I was off, the weather was great, and I realized I needed a Nature Day to shake the dust out of my brain and cure myself of the blues. So
at 8am, I packed up my camera, my binoculars, and my best hiking buddy, and headed out for Crooked Run Nature Preserve, on the Ohio River in SE Clermont County.

"Let's go, Mom. I've already smelled everything here!"

This little gem of a preserve along the Crooked Run estuary, about 5 miles from my home, never fails me when I need a nature fix. Several of my Life Birds were found here - Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Palm Warbler, Orchard Oriole, Hermit Thrush, American Woodcock, Double-crested Cormorant, Warbling and White-eyed Vireos - and I still remember the exact spots where I found most of them.

As I drove in, I was greeted with the ringing call of a Carolina Wren - "TEA-kettle, TEA-kettle, TEA-kettle!" (Is it just me, or does anyone else hear "CHEESE-burger" instead of "tea-kettle?") I usually head right into the woods, but today, I started birding around the little wetland and then
took the path through the prairie.

The wetlands area is small, but mighty. I have seen a lot of different waterfowl here, including a
Snow Goose once,

(BAD photo of my Crooked Run Snow Goose)

and Sandhill Cranes have been reported to stop over during migration. A Green Heron hung around the wetlands until sometime in January during the winter of 2006-2007, a new state record.

Today, it was slow. The water level is low, so no waterfowl, and the only shorebird I had was a fly-over Killdeer.
I kept hearing a rattling call and finally looked up:

Now, we know no one has ever gotten a good photograph of a Belted Kingfisher, so I don't want to hear any complaints about this one.

I had several good field birds as we walked along, all too distant for my camera. Field and Song Sparrows and American Goldfinches predominated. (Most people hear their calls as "per-CHICK-or-y!", but I hear "po-TA-to chip!" Sensing a theme here?)

A Gray Catbird (not this one)

"meow-d" at me from a large clump of pokeweed, and an
Indigo Bunting was using this same spot as a perch to sing his heart out. Oh, for a better camera and a great big lens - he glowed in the morning sunlight. I wish I could have shared him with you.

Eventually, I did move into the woods. How could I not - the cool shade, the trilling of insects, and the sun-dappled paths were calling my name.

Since this was officially designated a "nature walk" not a "bird walk," I was free to investigate any old thing that struck my fancy. (On organized bird walks, I sometimes get in trouble for looking at wildflowers.)

Like this bug I found on a milkweed plant.

click to em-biggen

Wonder what it is? Hmmm ..... It's a bug on a milkweed; could it be a Milkweed Bug? I'll look it up when I get home.

What do you know? It's on the cover of Kenn Kaufman's Field Guide to Insects.
But, what is it?

It's a Large Milkweed Bug, on a Common Milkweed. Now, isn't plant and insect identification easy? (Well, sometimes.)

I love to see the trunks of trees that have been shaped by vining plants, like wild grape vine or Virginia creeper. Isn't this cool?

And how about these two trees, embracing each other?

[Perhaps we should leave them alone.]

Along the gravel road, we happened upon
this box turtle.

This has been a great year for turtles for me. I have found more this year than I can ever remember finding.

Even though this lane is a private drive, and the only cars on it are those belonging to Chris, the director of the Clermont County Parks Dept. and his wife, Suzanne, and even though I can count on them to avoid hitting turtles, I still moved this guy across the road. Since I had the freedom of time and a safe place, I took the liberty of studying him more closely.

Of course, he closed up the minute I got too close, but I was able to get good looks at his shell, both carapace (top)

and plastron. (bottom)

When I first saw the turtle, I thought it had brown eyes, so I was surprised to find the plastron was concave.

Female box turtles have brown eyes, males have red eyes, which is one way you sex them. An easier way for me is to look at the underside. Female box turtles are flat on the bottom, males have a concavity (an interior curve) to allow them to fit the female during breeding.

For a moment, I thought I had found some sort of gender-bender turtle, or one who was "transitioning." On closer inspection of my photos when I got home, I realized his eyes are red after all.
Whew! Don't you feel better, knowing all is right in the turtle world?

I also tried to tell his age by counting his rings, but it is a little hard to do with bifocals. I got one number when I counted the actual turtle, and another when I counted the rings in this photo. [Edit #2: The Science Chimp says this theory doesn't hold water - see comments.]

Can you guess this box turtle's age?

After my inspection, I put him down on the grass and continued my walk. I wanted to leave him a "thank you" gift, but couldn't find any ripe berries to surprise him with, a la Julie Zickefoose.

When we came back through, he had come out of his shell, but hadn't moved too far from the spot where I set him down. I laid on my belly and slowly crept up on him to get this final photo.

Total turtle disapproval
"Oh, no, she's back again."
(said in an Eeyore tone)

For me, no nature walk is complete without an appreciation of whatever wildflowers are blooming. Ironweed is one of my favorite late-summer flowers, and it was abundant.

While most of the teasel has finished blooming, like these dried seed heads,

and these

I was able to find a few stragglers still in bloom.

I also took a ton of photos of a whole bunch of yellow flowers, most of which are yet to be identified, but they will have to wait for a later post.

Also unidentified were any number of confusing fall warblers, vague little flittery yellowish birds with small bills, which quickly appeared, then disappeared into the thick foliage. I let them all go as CFW (Confusing Fall Warblers.)

My last bird at Crooked Run was a Black Vulture that flew over the road as I was leaving.

Bird List:

Belted Kingfisher (1)
Killdeer (1)
Gray Catbird (many)
Indigo Bunting (many)
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
American Goldfinch
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Northern Cardinal
Carolina Chickadee (1)
Carolina Wren (lots)
Common Yellowthroat
Green Heron (1)
White-breasted Nuthatch (heard only)
Eastern Towhee (heard only)
Northern Flicker (heard only)
Yellow-billed Cuckoo (2, heard only)
Black Vulture (1)

Finally, here's a real treat: Nature's answer to those spiral mobiles that twist in the wind. A golden leaf on a silken strand.

Mesmerizing, isn't it?

Hope you enjoyed your walk with Holly and I. We'll have to do it again sometime soon.

Edit: Lynne asked about the bird singing in the video above. It is a Carolina Wren. I couldn't get any photos of them today, but here is one from two winters ago, eating Zick dough at my backyard feeder.

Carolina Wren


Lynne said...

Kathi- Who is that calling during your video? I don't think it's a song I've heard up here.
I had to laugh- for some reason your catbird picture reminded me of a mug shot!

KatDoc said...


Mostly it's a Carolina Wren ("CHEESE-burger, CHEESE-burger, CHEESE-burger") but at the 3-4 second mark, there is an American Goldfinch in the background. ("po-TA-to chip")

Or, "TEA-kettle, TEA-kettle, TES-kettle" and "Per-CHIC-or-ry" to use the official mnemonic devices.

No, I guess the Carolina Wren doesn't make it up your way. Funny, to think that a bird I practically trip over every time I go birding wouldn't be known to everyone.

I'll add a picture of the wren for you.


Lynne said...

Thanks Kathi. Carolina wrens are quite uncommon up here. Pretty song though.
I've never seen a box turtle either...

jeery said...
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Julie Zickefoose said...

Oh, I love that golden leaf twirling away, and the soundtrack of the CAWR--I think he's singing Placido!Placido!Placido!

I wish you could tell the age of a turtle by counting rings, but alas they aren't necessarily added annually. A young turtle might add two or three in a single season, and an old turtle might not add any, so at best it's a very rough guide to the animal's age.

I've "saved" a lot of turtles this year, too. They move after or during rains--leapt out in a lightning storm yesterday afternoon in fact to help one cross--and there's been a lot of favorable weather for turtle travel this summer, which is why we're seeing so many. May they live long and prosper.


KatDoc said...

Huh. Another nature myth busted. I was sure I read (somewhere reliable) that the rings on the shell could be used to age box turtles. At least I got the eye color thing right, right?

Thanks for setting the record straight, Julie.


Mary said...

I heard that little Carolina Wren's tea-kettle... Kathi, this is the best nature walk I've taken. The first wetland photo is so great - my kind of place. I had forgotten that female box turtles have brown eyes, males have red eyes... You know, I've always had luck with them opening up to me if you tickle the front of the bottom under their neck with you fingernail. Never fails.

Keep walking - it really does shake the blues :o)

KatDoc said...

I would love to take everybody here on a nature walk at Crooked Run. It is such a sweet place, and so totally overlooked.