For such a small preserve, Crooked Run has a wide diversity of habitats. The prairie, the pond, the wetlands, the estuary, the river and the woods all beckon me, and I can never decide where to spend most of my time.
I usually end up skipping through, picking and choosing what to focus on today.
I started at the small reclaimed wetland area, hoping for a Green Heron. One stayed here until some time in January a couple of winters ago, so I always check it out in the fall.
Unfortunately, not even a Red-winged Blackbird or Mallard duck could be found, so I headed on along the neighboring meadow path. This is prime sparrow country, and though the field was full of chips and flutters, I couldn't get a good ID on anything in the tall, thick weeds. Trips in October will reveal Song, Swamp, and Field Sparrows here.
That large green mound in the background is a huge thicket of Pokeweed, and the berries were ripe. Lots of little birds flitted out of it as I passed. Could I put a name to any of them? No.
Next stop - the Ohio River. In winter, there can be any number of interesting ducks on the water, but today, only this lone tugboat and barge. Flying overhead, I saw a large unidentified flying object, and pulled up the binocs for a closer inspection. As the bird wheeled and soared towards me, I realized it was an Osprey! First raptor of the day, and a goodie, to boot. I was so excited to watch it flying south, going with the flow of the river, that I forgot I had a camera slung over my shoulder.
Not long after the Osprey was out of sight, another large bird came behind, that I first mistook for a crow. I soon realized it wasn't flying like a crow, with long, deep strokes that looked like it was rowing a boat, but with shallow, graceful wing beats. As it shot passed me, the sharp, bent-back wings and long tail proclaimed it a falcon. Peregrine! Another great bird! And still, no photos. I know, I know - I'm a pitiful excuse for a nature blogger.
You want pictures? How about pictures of flowers? They don't move as quickly as birds, so I can admire them and then photograph them.
Wingstem was just about finished by the last week of September, but I did find a few in bloom.
gone to seed.
Want to know why it's called wingstem? Check out these "wings" on the stem of the plant.
Asters. Love 'em and hate 'em. Actually, I love nearly everything about the family Compositae, to use the older nominclature, except trying to put a specific name to them. Ever since high school biology, I have struggled with identification of fall flowers. I know these are some kind of aster, maybe New England Aster, but I doubt I will ever be sure of the exact name.
Still, they are beautiful, and as an old gentleman once told me, passing me on the trail while I struggled to ID a wildflower, "We don't have to know their names to appreciate them."
Leaving the wildflowers behind, we stroll along the wooded trails.
Chip notes of cardinals bounce above us, but we don't see too many birds. Never mind, a favorite stop is just ahead.
I like to visit this grove of pawpaws in the fall. When other trees are beginning to lose their leaves, the pawpaws are still cloaked in their summer greens.
These young saplings have grown up in this grove since I first started visiting Crooked Run, but this is the tree I really come to see.
She's the grandmother of them all, and the oldest pawpaw tree I have ever met, but here's her real claim to fame.She is riddled with sapsucker holes from the base of her trunk to as high as I can see. Generations of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers have tapped her every winter for her life-giving fluids, and yet she survives and continues to produce fruit and more offspring every year.
Looking up, the pawpaw leaves make me feel like I am in a jungle forest, a feeling accentuated by the exotic looking fruit over my head.
It's the last of its kind, the only pawpaw I can see in the trees around me, so I leave it where it hangs, and move towards the estuary.
Don't give me too much grief about the quality of the next picture. We both know it stinks, but it is the best one I got that included a Belted Kingfisher (on the wire, upper left) and a Great Blue Heron (in the water, lower right) both fishing the estuary.
I always wish I had a big black permanent marker in my hand when I see this "educational" sign. Along with other, correctly labeled, bird drawings posted on one of the bird blinds along the estuary is this one, of a chickadee. I can't help shaking my head in dismay when I see it.
The Black-capped Chickadee is the northern species, almost never seen in southern Ohio, where the Carolina Chickadee is our year-round resident. I wonder how many people have read this sign and been mislead.
Leaving the epic "Fail!" sign, I start back, planning a stop at the small woodland pond before leaving the preserve.
Creeping up on the pond as I made my way back to the trail head, I was hoping for something really special to end my morning.
Something flushed from the edge opposite me, but without the characteristic squeaky call of the Wood Ducks I was expecting. Instead, there was a harsh squawk and I caught a glimpse of a crow-sized bird fluttering awkwardly into the trees on the oppposite side of the pond. When it settled down, I got my look.
There you are!
I settled in and got comfortable. Knowing Green Herons to be much spookier birds than their larger Great Blue cousins, I knew that too much sound and motion would scare it away, and I really wanted some good pictures. So, I hunkered down and waited, with my camera on "burst" mode, to maximize my chances of getting just one good picture.
One word of caution. When skulking around in pursuit of a Green Heron, keep one eye on the edge of the pond. It may be slippery.
After a while, the heron moved to my right, ending up in a clump of wild grape vines. More waiting and fruitless shooting finally got me my picture.