Monday, March 30, 2009

Springtime at CNC

I think I walked the same trails at the Cincinnati Nature Center at lunch today that Nina walked this weekend. At least, I found a lot of the same flowers, mostly the non-native spring flowering bulbs that are the legacy of Carl Krippendorf, who owned this property many years ago.

I did find one non-native that Nina didn't report - Anemone or Windflower.

A native plant, Virginia Bluebells are just beginning to bloom.

Another native, Spring Beauties, are emerging, too.

And, best of all, one of the earliest trees to leaf out - the Buckeye, of course!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Take a rest

A spoon rest, that is. This is a simple pattern that I saw at another potter's studio and figured out how to make on my own. I did 12 before I felt like I had it down pat. The 8 below were all made of white clay.

L: Grape jelly surrounded by yellow - a "custom order" by my sister. This was the first one I made.

R: Forest satin. I disliked the matte
finish, so over-glazed it with a clear coat after this photo.

L: Textured kiwi. I love this color. It will be a gift, along with the matching pitcher.

R: Blue rutile, painted on too thin, leaving this olive green color with hints of brown.

L: A new color for me, "Ironstone," with the rim painted in "Saturation Gold." I am still figuring out what to expect from these glazes.

R: "Textured Navy" and white. I was aiming for that feathered edge.

L: Chun plum. I can always count on this glaze to cooperate.

R: Seaweed and white. I was hoping for more feathering here.

After several problems (the rim of the ironstone rest is not right, the green/white and blue/white ones are too small at 4" diameter, and several of them are warped) I felt like I had worked through most of my troubles. Here are my last four attempts, all on brown clay.

Light green shino
The only spoon rest which cracked.

Sunrise shino
This rim got weak and sagged a bit.

Goldenrod shino
Very reliable and quickly becoming a favorite
Size and shape is perfect

Blue rutile
Finally, the color I wanted!
This one's all mine.

Countdown to the New River Birding Festival (4)

Birder-Blogger Roll Call - Who's coming to the New River Birding and Nature Festival this year?

The Flock:
Susan W. from Susan Gets Native
Nina of Nature Remains
Hasty Brook's Lynne
Laura, from Somewhere in New Jersey (What's that smell?)
Mary of Mary's View
Sycamore Canyon's Kathie (as in Kathiesbirds)
Wren, aka Jane, from Wrenaissance Reflections
Susan M. of Lake Life
From the Faraway, Nearby - Tim, our token male
the quiet one, Kathy D, also from SW Ohio. You might know her as the commenter "Denapple." Check her out at Life, Birding Photos, and Everything
and Beth, former lurker, Hasty Brook's groupie, and our newest birder-blogger. You can find her at My Life with Birds

Have I forgotten anyone?

Oh yeah, and me.

Trip leaders, expert naturalists, and all-round party people:

Our idol, The Zick herself, Julie Zickefoose! (Better watch out; you'll be mobbed by fans yelling "Blog!") And her side-kick, Chet Baker (It's all about the dog, Jules.)

Her hale, hearty
, handsome, and helpful hubby,
Mr. Bill Thompson, III

from beautiful downtown Columbus, Ohio, ODNR's own
Jimmy Mac, Jim McCormac

anticipated, but maybe not coming (Say it ain't so!)
Jeff Gordon

Just 4 more weeks till the beginning of the Festival -
I can't wait!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Shades of blue

I have not been paying close attention to my bluebirds this spring. Imagine my surprise when I did a quick nest check this evening on my way to the barn and discovered this:

Turning around, I found more blue in the late afternoon eastern skies:

Spring is really here.

Name That Duck

Since I didn't bring any duck photos back from Lake Erie, I spent some time trying to digiscope a decent picture of this pair at East Fork Park on Thursday. Can you ID them? Here's a closer view.

One of the things that helps in duck ID is knowing when and where they were found - these are on Harsha Lake, a fresh-water reservoir, in Clermont County, SW Ohio, in March.

female mystery duck
Note the white area between bill and eyes.

If you have trouble with female ducks, look at the male she is swimming with.

male mystery duck
Check out the blue bill.

One more hint: These are diving ducks, not dabblers.

So now, the challenge is on to -



Edit, 3/29/09: And the mystery ducks are - Greater Scaup.

When I first saw these ducks on Wed. morning, it was raining and the light was poor. I came home with a vague impression of "scaup - species unknown." This is often a legitimate call, since scaup can be tricky under the best of circumstances. I went back Thursday afternoon in better conditions, spent quite a while studying them and taking pictures, then checked the local bird list to see what others thought.

Greater Scaup, Aythya marila, and their smaller relatives, Lesser Scaup, Aythya affinis, are diving ducks commonly found on large bodies of deep water. Both are found in Ohio from late fall through early spring, when they migrate to their breeding grounds. Both species, and the similar Ring-necked Duck, Aythya collaris, present an identification challenge to waterfowlers.

Like Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, there is a size difference between Greater and Lesser Scaup, but only a couple of inches seperate the two species, and it isn't a helpful field mark unless the two are in close proximity. Greater Scaup are said to have a greenish irridescence to their heads while Lesser Scaup appear more purplish. To me, both their heads look black, so that doesn't help. Some books say that the sides of Greater Scaup are whiter than Lesser, which are a more dirty gray, but lighting conditions can influence that, so it is not a reliable indicator. In flight, the white wing stripe extends from the body through the primary feathers in the Greater Scaup, only part way in the Lesser. This doesn't help with our swimming ducks, though.

Your best bet for scaup is to look at the shape of the head - rounded in Greater Scaup, peaked in Lesser. So, Denapple (Kathy) wins with her first comment, although I think we have to give bonus points to Lisa, for her (non-birder's) answer of "Oreo Duck."

Thanks to all who played.
Admittedly, the poor quality of the photos made this contest harder than it had to be, but soon, I hope to have better pictures to share with you. My Canon Rebel XSi camera and 70-300 IS zoom lens is on the way - due to arrive on Wednesday! Whoo-hoo!!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Magee, Metzger, and Ottawa

More from my weekend of birding Ohio's North coast. I realized I have ZERO duck photos, so if you want an ID course on ducks, you will have to attend Kenn's waterfowl workshop. I am getting pretty good on male ducks floating on the water, so-so on female ducks (helps when they are swimming with the boys!) and useless when it comes to ID'ing ducks on the wing. Saturday's talk helped me "use bird structure to understand what I am seeing." (This is Kenn's mantra.)

Kenn Kaufman, educational and entertaining

Highlights were: Dabbling ducks (the kind which up-end themselves and feed along the bottom of shallow waters) have a longer wing-to-body ratio, so they fly with slower wing beats and can spring straight up from the water when they flush. Diving ducks (the ones which completely submerge in deeper water) have shorter wings in comparison to their body size. When flying, they have flap their wings more rapidly and they have to run along the surface of the water before they can take off. Dabbling ducks are close relatives, especially the Mallard/American Black Duck/Mottled Duck trio, which commonly interbreed. The Wood Duck, while classified as a dabbing duck, is a bit of an oddball, being the only dabbler not in the genus Anas. The divers are a more diverse group than the dabblers, and have different sizes, shapes, and behaviors.

Fun fact: Female Redheads are nest parasites. They will lay their eggs in the nests of other ducks, coots, and there is even one report of Redhead eggs being left in the nest of a Northern Harrier. Now, that's a supremely bad idea!

rapt birders take in Kenn's valuable info

After Saturday's talk, the group was ready to put their new-found knowledge to work on Sunday morning. Here, several of my companions gather around in preparation for our walk along the dikes of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. Nearly everybody brought a spotting scope, which is an essential piece of equipment for waterfowl observation.

Although our official goal was waterfowl, I kept getting distracted by raptors. From this spot, we could see 4 perched Bald Eagles, including one adult on a nest and one 3rd year bird staring down a Red-tailed Hawk. In the distance, the Great Horned Owl nest from the last post was barely visible.

Birders from northern Ohio who regularly visit this area look at Bald Eagles as "trash birds," since they have become so common. I was enthralled every time one soared overhead, although I must admit that when I saw my 11th Bald Eagle in two days, I glanced at it and then went back to searching through the rafts of ducks for rarities.

A view across the marsh at Ottawa. There are lots and lots of ducks in this photo, but I'm sure you can't see them. I can't, and I was there.

A view of Magee Marsh, from the causeway leading back to the boardwalk.

Can you find the Great Blue Heron in this photo of Magee Marsh?

Where's Waldo?

How about now?
The coldest place I was during a relatively warm weekend: The dike that divides Lake Erie (left) from Metzger Marsh. As well as lots of coots and the multiple duck species I could see on the marsh from this point, I also observed Ruddy Ducks, Lesser Scaup, and a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers on the lake. The bonus bird was an Eastern Phoebe in the weeds on the right side of this path.

I had two target birds for this weekend: Eurasian Wigeon - Kenn saw one at Metzger earlier in the week and on Sunday Philip Charon saw what was likely the same bird - and Northern Shrike. Several shrikes had been seen along the causeway at Magee and one was found on the trail behind BSBO, but I struck out. The shrike would have been a Life Bird for me. I have seen a Eurasian Wigeon in Scotland, but this would have been my US/Ohio bird. Ah, well - there's always the next field trip.

This is the famous shrike spot - the third pull-off on the causeway, across from the duck signs. Despite all the birders who congregated here, (or perhaps because of all the people) the shrike stubbornly refused to appear. Tip for chasing unusual birds: Drive to the general area and look for a lot of parked cars.

And this is as close as I got to a shrike last weekend.

A picture from Norman Smith's slideshow presentation Saturday night. (And yes, he still uses slides. Three carousels' worth, to be precise!)

Here is the complete trip list of what I did see, at Magee Marsh, Metzger Marsh, and Ottawa NWR

Trip List:

1. Canada Geese - 3 places

2. Mute Swan - Metzger, Magee

3. Trumpeter Swan - Ottawa, Magee

4. Tundra Swan - Ottawa
5. Gadwall - 3 places
6. American Wigeon - 3 places

7. American Black Duck - Ottawa, Magee

8. Mallard - 3 places

9. Northern Shoveler - 3 places

10. Northern Pintail - Metzger

11. Green-winged Teal - Ottawa

12. Canvasback - Metzger

13. Redhead - Metzger

14. Ring-necked Duck - 3 places

15. Lesser Scaup - Metzger, Magee

16. Bufflehead - Metzger

17. Hooded Merganser - 3 places

18. Common Merganser - Metzger

19. Red-breasted Merganser - Metzger

20. Ruddy Duck - Metzger

21. Pied-billed Grebe - heard at Metzger

22. Double-crested Cormorant - Magee
23. Great Blue Heron - 3 places

24. Great Egret - (2) - flyover Ottawa

25. Bald Eagle - 3 places; 1 on nest

26. Northern Harrier - Metzger

27. Red-tailed Hawk - Ottawa

28. American Coot - 3 places

29. Sandhill Cranes - (4) - calling and flying; Ottawa

30. Killdeer - Magee, Metzger

31. Ring-billed Gull - Ottawa

32. Herring Gull - Metzger

33. Mourning Dove - 3 places

34. Great-horned Owl on nest - Ottawa

35. Downy Woodpecker - Magee, Metzger

36. N. Flicker - Ottawa

37. Eastern Phoebe - Ottawa

38. Tree Swallow - Magee

39. American Robin - Magee, Metzger

40. European Starling - Magee

41. American Tree Sparrow - Ottawa, Magee

42. Song Sparrow - 3 places

43. Dark-eyed Junco - behind BSBO
44. Northern Cardinal - Magee, Metzger

45. Red-winged Blackbird - 3 places

46. Rusty Blackbird - Ottawa

47. Common Grackle - 3 places

48. American Goldfinch - 1 male - Ottawa

49. House Sparrow - behind BSBO

Monday, March 23, 2009

Waterfowl ID

After the rockin' good time on Friday night, we had a late (for birding events) start on Saturday with a 10am seminar by Kenn Kaufman on waterfowl identification. When I spoke with Kenn during a break on Friday night, he said he hadn't finished preparing his talk yet, but it sure seemed thorough and polished to me. I thought I would share with you some of the tips and tricks that he imparted to us.

First of all, we need to define "waterfowl." While to many of us, waterfowl includes any bird on the water, the correct use of the term is limited to birds in the family Anatidae, the swans, geese, and ducks. Loons, grebes, and coots, while also found swimming around on the surface of the water, are not true waterfowl. This is something that my mentor, Jay Stenger, really stressed when I first began to study
waterfowl. So, when someone asks what waterfowl species you saw, you will be corrected if you include Pied-billed Grebe and American Coot on your list.

Next, you need to know that geese and swans are "good citizens." The male and female are very similar in appearance, they work together to raise the young, and there are few seasonal changes in plumage.

Ducks, on the other hand, are more difficult. There are more of them, for one thing, and their plumage changes with both gender and season. With ducks, the females are solely responsible for raising the young, which accounts for their more drab appearance. Most beginning waterfowlers have trouble with female ducks, which all look very similar. According to Kenn, when it comes to ducks, "Males are beautiful, females are confusing." He paused, then added, "That is true for more than just ducks!"

Kenn spent most of his time with the ducks, because of their beauty and the confusion associated with them. I'll start with geese and swans, because they are easier.

You all know this guy, the Canada Goose. Want to be labeled as a waterfowl newbie? Slip up and call it "Canadian Goose" which I did once by accident . You will get pitying looks at best and snarky comments at worst from other birders. (Not from me, you understand.)

All up and down the causeway at Magee Marsh, Canada Geese were pairing up, like these two. The male was very protective of his fiancee, honking and glaring at me.

The other goose species Kenn spent some time on was the Cackling Goose. I have yet to see one of these "miniature Canadas," so no photos. When it comes to distinguishing the two species, Kenn gave us two tips. First of all, if you think you have a Cackling Goose, then you don't. Like I always say about Purple Finches, you'll know one when you see one. The big clue is the cute factor. Cackling Geese are mallard-sized, substantially smaller than either the giant or the inland subspecies of Canadas, and their bills are tiny, just 25mm (1 inch) long. With big dark eyes in a small face and a little button "nose" of a bill, Cackling Geese are just plain cute.

In Ohio, we have three swan species. The Mute Swan, with its classic swan shape of curved neck and long tail, was introduced to the US from Europe to decorate private ponds and waterfowl collections. Because of its bullying nature, it is despised by birding purists. It is still a gorgeous bird, and I'm sorry that the ones I saw were beyond my camera range. Look for its orange bill with a black knob at the base to help you distinguish the Mute Swan from the equally large Trumpeter Swan.

Trumpeters are rare. Most of those in Ohio are released from captive breeding programs, or are the immediate descendents of released birds, and thus are not "countable" on your Ohio list. Rules, schmools, I counted these gorgeous creatures on my personal trip list. I saw two different pairs, one at Otttawa NWR and the other at Magee. Of these four birds, only one bore the classic "field mark" of a yellow, numbered collar around its neck. Sadly, my digiscoped photos were terrible. I was hoping to show you the actual field mark, a large, thick black bill that blends into a black mask at the lores (spot between the eye and the bill.) I got to hear the trumpeting sounds which give these birds their name as a pair took off. Stunning!

Tundra Swans should be your default swan along Lake Erie in March as they migrate back north to their breeding ground, which is in the tundra, of course. Here is a digiscoped photo of a pair of Tundra Swans. I hope that if you click it to enlarge it, the photo will show you the identifying field mark, a yellow spot at the lores.

The Tundra Swan is smaller than the Trumpeter, a field mark which only helps if the two obligingly pose next to each other. Their voices can be a key to ID. Trumpeters trumpet. Tundra Swans sound like Sandhill Cranes to me. In fact, I was expecting to see a flock of cranes when we turned the corner at the end of one of the dikes we were walking at Ottawa. Instead, we were greeted by this -

Every white spot in that photo is a Tundra Goose. And, that wasn't even all of them. I have never seen so many geese in one spot before. Awesome!

Here's a view of the habitat at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. A series of ponds and dikes, the water level at Ottawa is managed for ducks.

Leaving waterfowl, I wanted to point out that Ottawa and the surrounding area is also a haven for Bald Eagles. In two days, I saw 11 individual eagles, ranging from a first year adolescent to adults soaring high in the sky. We saw a young (third year?) eagle perched in one tree facing off against a Red-tailed Hawk in a raptor stare-down and an adult on its nest. And, we saw another raptor in an eagle's nest, one who usurped the nest from its original owner.

Can you see the Great Horned Owl in the nest above?

How about now, in this blurry enlarged image?

Well, she could certainly see us. I could practically feel the heat coming from her laser eyes, as she glared down on the interlopers who dared to walk within a hundred yards of her nest.

More to follow ...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Birders Rock!

I'm back from my trip to Lake Erie and will give you a complete birding report, after I unpack, do the laundry, clean the litter boxes, and sort through my photos and field notes. Until I double-check my check list, chew on this appetizer.


is sometimes used as a derogatory term, on a par with "geek," "nerd," and "Trekkie." (Actually, we prefer "Trekkers," but I digress.) Well, I'm here to tell you, birders can be cool, especially when they play in a rock band.

Here they are,
Mango Mama's house band, 6-7-8-OH, rocking out in Port Clinton.

Who is that oh-so-hot girl singer in front?

None other than the Executive Director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory, Ms. Kim Kaufman!

And, did you notice the brooding bass player in black, working the beat in the background?

Yep, that's her husband, birder-book author-blogger, Kenn. Is there anything this couple doesn't do well?

But wait - there more.

At the EXACT SAME TIME that 678-OH was shaking the walls in north-west Ohio, The Swinging Oranutangs were tearing up Marietta's Front Street in the south-east corner of the state. I can hear you. You are thinking, "You mean, there are TWO Ohio rock bands featuring married birder/blogger/writer/artists?" Oh, yeah. And they were both in action last Friday night.
What are the odds?

Here's my thought: Wouldn't it be fun to have an "Battle of the Birder Bands?"