Thursday, March 19, 2009

Smack my head and call me "Stupid"

I see lots of awards out there as I cruise through the blogosphere, but I have yet to see one for a birder-blogger who attends a birding event without her camera. I think I will invent one and bestow it upon myself. The UNthinking Blogger, perhaps, or maybe the Amnesiac Award. Whatever you call it, I certainly deserve the prize.

I attended the 6th annual Adams County Amish Birding Symposium on Saturday, March 7, my third year to enjoy this meeting, but forgot my camera at home. Without pictures, I will have to share this day with you in words only. To truly appreciate this symposium, though, you must visit in person.

The Amish Birding Symposium is held in the center of Adams County, in the heart of southwestern Ohio's Amish country. (Holmes County, in the eastern half of the state, is Ohio's Amish "ground zero.") The host facility is Dennis Yoder's pole barn, where he produces lumber for Yoder Log Homes. For this event, a gasoline powered generator is brought in to run the microphones and Power Point presentations, but there are no other modern amenities - no lights, no heat, no running water. Porta potties and Purell are the only comfort provided. Excepting for the food, that is. The homemade dounts from Miller's bakery called my name and I was forced to eat - well, let's just say I ate way too many donuts that morning.

The drive to Dunkinsville, just north of West Union, is picturesque. I followed State Route 125, aka Ohio Pike, east from Bethel. This is a broad, level, straight 4 or 5 lane highway from Cincinnati to Bethel, where it narrows to two lanes. It is still relatively straight through Brown County, but when you hit Adams County, the road changes dramatically. It dips and dives, swoops and soars, twists and turns through the rolling hills of the edge of Appalachia. Flatlanders grow white-knuckled on roads like these, but I learned to drive in the hill country of southeastern Ohio. For me, this trip is like coming home.

All the usual suspects were there. Susan brought her education birds from RAPTOR, Inc., including her newest acquisitions, Angel the gray-phase Eastern Screech-owl and Storm, a Barn Owl who came from Brown County. (click here for photo.) Of course, her beloved Peregrine Falcon, Lucy, was present, and even ate a rat to the oohs and aahs of a rapt audience.

Jimmy Mac, President Jim McCormac that is, represented the Ohio Ornithological Society and led the end of day field trip to Adams Lake State Park. Hugh and Judy Kolo-Rose brought their wares down all the way from the gift shop of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory on Lake Erie. The Amish community was well-represented, by Keim family Market and of course Mr. Hershberger, of Time and Optics in Holmes County, with his usual display of the best in birding glass and gear. Cincinnati area wildlife artist, Ann Giese and photog Jim Mundy showed off some beautiful images at their respective booths.

Local birding friends and acquaintances in the audience included Ann Oliver, editor of the OOS's newsletter, The Cerulean; Lois Shadux, Mary Ann Barnett, Debra Hausroth,
Ned Keller of the Cincinnati Bird Club, his wife, Kathy McDonald, and Jim Upson, one of my team members from the Cincinnati Bird Club's Christmas Bird Count.

After opening remarks by Chris Bedel, of the Cincinnati Museum Center and director of the Edge of Appalachia Preserve, and Roman Mast, representing the Amish community, our first speaker was David Kline, from the Amish community of Holmes County. One of the things I love about this symposium is the chance to hear about Amish life and their relationship with nature. Mr. Kline didn't disappoint. His discussion featured the connection between managing his artificial prairie, his hayfields, for both good production and grassland birds. He leaves part of his fields unmown early in the season, even though this is the top quality hay, in order to provide nesting habitat for bobolinks, horned larks, vesper sparrows and much more.

Steve Pelikan (yes, that's his real name!) of the University of Cincinnati's math department enthralled us with his talk on bird songs. Some of the factoids I gleaned were: Birds have 2 syrinxes, avian voice boxes, and so can sing their own harmony or back-up. Some birds, like sparrows, warblers, and thrushes, learn their songs by listening to their parent(s) while other birds, such as flycatchers, raptors, and waterfowl inherit their songs. These species are hardwired to sing one song, and there is little variation from place to place. Birds who learn their songs can have many variations in different location or among different birds in the same location. In fact, one individual can have many different songs in his repetoire. A good example of this are cardinals and song sparrows.

Celebrity birders in attendence were Jeff Gordon, our keynote speaker, and his lovely wife Liz, who I finally got to meet. Jeff's talk was on the Ten Greatest Birds of the last 30 years. I thought this would be about his top 10 favorite species, but after defining a "great" bird, Jeff went on to tell us about 10 individual birds who showed up in the wrong place at the right time, including the Pigmy Nuthatch (#3) that was found at a bird feeder in North Dakota, just across the river from Minnesota. An enterprising birder called this bird across the Red River, which makes up the state border, and into Minnesota, thereby ticking off the first Minnesota Pigmy Nuthatch and setting off a bird world controversy rivalled only by the return (or not) of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (great bird #1) Educational, amusing, and darned good fun, if you ever get a chance to hear Jeff Gordon speak, you must take it.

(New River Birding and Nature Festival participants: Fair warning - Jeff may not be attending this year. Please, take a moment to e-mail him or to fill up the comments section on his blog and DEMAND that he comes to West Virginia!)

After Jeff's talk, I left early. The sun was shining, the room was warm, and I wanted to be outside. I drove home via another scenic route and stopped at the water association's property just outside of Higginsport, Brown County, Ohio, to check up on the Bald Eagle nest. A parent bird was on the job, incubating the egg(s), but of course, I have no pictures, because I left my camera at home!

This weekend, I'm going north to Port Clinton for a Black Swamp Bird Observatory weekend, which will include a field trip to Ottowa NWR, a ID class on waterfowl by Kenn Kaufman, a lecture on Snowy Owls, and on Friday night, Kenn and Kim's band, 678-OH will be playing. I can't wait! (Hope I remember my camera!!)


Susan Gets Native said...

A great post. Which would have been even more interesting with photos.
We must surgically fuse your camera to your hand. You will just have to work around it, examining dogs and cats and stuff.

Mary Ann said...

Hello, great summary! We were forced to leave just after you did as well, the weather was just *too* wonderful. We birded the whole way home and it made for a great day.

Lisa said...

Shackle it around her wrist. That way she can swing it up out of the way when she's operating.

Hey, sis, when you gonna take me out that way so I can enjoy driving that road? (Is it perfectly banked, precious? Is it swoopable?)

littleorangeguy said...

Or you could look at it this way -- being on Amish land and all, you decided to eschew modern technology.

denapple said...

A spare to keep in the car is a good idea too. Get a new better one for most use, and keep the old one in the car. That's what I do with binoculars. Or maybe you could just ask the cat to remind you about it whenever you leave the house...

Gallicissa said...

You North Americans have so many birding-related activities to keep you busy year round!

I recommend you this article to broaden your horizons further about the bird calls...

Kyle said...

Heh. Great post and review, Kathi -- I'd especially love to get a chance to see/hear Jeff in person some day. But I must admit, I have trouble believing that the KatDoc who was this ready half a week before Cape May went off and left her camera behind! ;-b

Hope you have a blast in the swamp this weekend!

KatDoc said...

LOG: Yeah, I actually thought about using that as my excuse - "No technology works in Amish country."

Denapple: That's a good idea! I already have a spare pair of bins in the trunk, when I get my new camera, I can leave the point-and-shoot compact there, too, along with the spare dog leashes and toys, the cloth shopping bags, etc., etc.

Kyle: :P~~~~ You would bring that up!

Sis: It's a fun road, but nobody builds 'em like they do back home!