Sunday, January 18, 2009

Crazy, page two

Well, I'm back from The Wilds of southeastern Ohio. I survived the fourth annual "Winter Birding at The Wilds" trip, cosponsored by the Ohio Ornithological Society. If I were asked to describe this adventure in five words, they would be:

Very cold.
Crazy fun.

To elaborate:

Very cold: The morning started out bitterly cold and it didn't warm much throughout the day. According to those with car thermometers, it was -12 degrees F at 9am when 115 or so intrepid souls gathered for a full day of birding. The wind chill factor must have made it feel at least 20 degrees colder. Our high was a balmy 18 degrees, "real feel" still around zero.

Nearly 200 were registered for this trip. The smartest ones bowed out. As for the rest, well, you have heard Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest, right? The (fool)hardy ones who made the trip were bundled up to the eyeballs in all varieties of foul weather gear, from Carharts to Columbia to a mish-mash of every warm thing in the closet.

brave birders huddle for warmth

your blogger, looking her best

All the rest save one, that is. Jim McCormac spent most of the day sans hat, scarf, or gloves, with his coat unzipped. He was wearing blue jeans and regular shoes. I can't believe he didn't freeze solid before the day was out.

"A hat interferes with my hearing."
What about boots, gloves, and a scarf, Jim?

Birding group one, lined up along Zion Ridge Rd., working the terrain for a Golden Eagle.

What are they all looking at?

This barren landscape, which looks empty, held native White-tailed Deer as well as The Wilds exotic cervine residents, Sika and Pere David's deer.

The skies were filled with raptors, including Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawks, Northern Harriers, and American Kestrels, not that you can see any here.

To get these birds required work, and a lot of it. This is not a birding trip for the faint of heart.
A few intrepid and energetic folks hiked this hill for a better view.

birders scouting along a ridge

Coming back down, Troy did a face-plant in the snow, and came up birding. Now, that's dedication!

His vision was temporarily obscured in the aftermath.

This was an IBA (Important Bird Area)

so off we went down the hill to find out why.

This wetland was more like an Iceland, but held the only Swamp Sparrow of the day.

Crazy fun: The most fun was sharing the day with a collection of lunatic birders. The craziest one of the bunch was OOS President Jim McCormac, here seen optimistically trying to pod in a Common Yellowthroat.

(for the record, he didn't get it)

Best of all was meeting and birding with the owners of this vehicle:

The famous and funny Rondeau Ric and his wife,the lovely Lady Anne.

my chauffeur for the day
"Thanks for the lift, Ric!"

Anne waves while Ric obligingly does the stereotypical "birder point" pose.

Other OOS'ers I saw were Ethan Kistler, Brad Wilkinson, Ann Oliver (no photo) and Hugh and Judy-Kolo Rose (below.) A brief "hello" at the lunch break was all I could manage.

Jimmy Mac eats his lunch while conducting the morning's count.

"Anybody get a Prairie Falcon?
No? How about a Barnacle Goose?"

Cheryl Harner tunes Jim out while scanning for raptors.

The other extra special part of the day was when Troy, an educator/naturalist at The Wilds, took us on a little detour. We were permitted a rare look at one of the park's resident carnivore species.

African Wild Dogs

They have a family group of 8; 2 parents and their 6 children, nearly two years old and ready to strike out on their own.

It wasn't clear who was watching whom.

Disappointment: No birds. I never drove so far or worked so hard for such a short Trip List. I had such high hopes for this trip, including my first Ohio Golden Eagle and my Life Northern Shrike. I was aiming to up my January totals by adding
Eastern Meadowlarks, Horned Larks, Snow Buntings, or maybe even Lapland Longspurs, but no joy. While others saw the Golden Eagle (not our group) or a Merlin or waterfowl or passerine species, I missed all of those.

There was very little open water, and the one lake which held a collection of waterfowl was only visible through two windows looking out of the visitor center. With the number of bundled up people crowding around, and their tripods spraddled about, I could never get a decent view. I was afforded one quick scan with my binoculars, enough to see the Trumpeter Swans, but was not able to see, let alone study, the rest of the birds.

I did see many
Red-tailed Hawks, including a lovely leucistic bird, with a snowy-white body and white wings marked by dark brown bars, bearing the classic reddish tail. I saw some gorgeous Northern Harriers and a couple American Kestrels. I got an all-day clinic on identifying Rough-legged Hawks, which I had previously recorded in my Life List as an "unconfirmed bird." There were Rough-leggeds everywhere, and I got many terrific looks at them flying, perching, soaring, and even kiting (hanging in the air, like a kite on a string.) Beautiful!

But, no eagle and no owls, despite trying really hard for both.

This is one of three evergreen groves we tromped through, looking for Long-eared Owls.

One of the many trees where I did not see Long-eared Owls.

This is the Birding Station at Jeffery Point, where I didn't see Short-eared Owls.

My total trip list was a measly 12* species.

Trumpeter Swan*
American Kestrel
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk
American Crow
Downy Woodpecker
Golden-crowned Kinglet (heard only)
American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow

*The swans are technically "not countable" since they are part of the breeding program here and considered captive birds.

One final photo, for Susan Who Loves Dead Things. This Mourning Dove body dump.
My guess? A dove hunter who bagged more than his limit and discarded the bodies to avoid a fine. Such a waste!

Edit, Jan. 19: It has been pointed out to me by someone who knows that dove hunting season is over. Has been for a long time, thus the above work is that of a poacher, not a hunter. This is a very important distinction to responsible hunters who follow the rules regarding hunting seasons, bag limits, legal species/gender/size, etc. I apologize to him and other responsible hunters, and wish infestations of chiggers on the bad guys (and gals) who break the rules.


dAwN said...

Well what a disappointing freezing cold trip...I was right there with you hoping for more...burrr..

sorry to see those poor doves..why the heck are they hunted in the first place?

NCmountainwoman said...

Kathi, you are one fine woman. Not many other people would come home from a day like that full of humor and energy. You rock!

Susan Gets Native said...

Crazy. But fun.
That describes a lot of bird walks and trips, doesn't it?

Thanks for the Dead Stuff pic. Why didn't anyone throw a few up into the air to attract a Gyrfalcon or two?

Jim McCormac said...

Ah, c'mon, Katdoc - that was an advenure that those of us hardy enough to endure will talk about for years! TWELVE BELOW! No wonder so few birds were flying about!

I'm glad you made it, and next year's trip will be full of Golden Eagles, Feruginous Hawks, Long-eared Owls, and Painted Buntings, I promise!

Julie Zickefoose said...

Wild dogs--my heart aches for them in that cold. It dips to the 20's in South Africa during their (August) winter--but it's very rare--and I really feel for those pups! But what a thrill to see them. That's a good percentage of the world's population standing there. I had NO IDEA! You must tell me where they are...can you see them from outside the gates?

It's really too bad that slob hunters leave their evidence lying everywhere. It hurts the good hunters; it hurts hunting's public image, and it just confirms many people's prejudices. That mourning dove shot makes my blood boil. Dawn, although many will tell you that mourning doves are good eating, they pack barely one ounce--you read right-- of breast meat apiece. So you're looking at 9 oz. of edible meat there, about a half-pound, and nine doves had to die for nothing. Clearly these were killed for fun target practice and nothing more. May they go to feed a raptor, at the very least. My preference would be to find the hunters, line them up, and pelt them with the frozen carcasses at close range.

McCormac can't zip his jacket up over those abs and pecs. So don't even ask. And they don't make hats large enough to contain his encyclopedic natural history library. Take it from one who has tried to sneak a stocking hat on his head from time to time.

Tricia said...

The dead dove dump makes me cuss. What a selfish, ruthless, brutal, wasteful, cruel, idiotic thing to do! Grrrrrr!!!!

Kathiesbirds said...

Kathi, you are one dedicated and crazy birder! May I suggest a trip to Tucson next time? You can leave all that cold weather gear behind and just bring your shorts and a sweater!

I love that first photo of the snowy hillside with its fringe of naked trees. I probably love naked trees as much as Susan loves dead things. The shot of you all bundled up is priceless also!

dguzman said...

For someone who didn't see a lot of birds, this was certainly a photo-filled and fun post! I'm getting chills just reading about all that cold.

Hey! My word verif is "pigen." Did you see any of those?