Sunday, November 29, 2009

Birding at East Fork

I spent the morning birding the south side of East Fork Lake today with the Cincinnati Bird Club. Lots of the usual people were there, and a couple of new faces, too.

trekking down to the lake

We started at the lake, looking for waterfowl and gulls. Bob, our trip leader, was hoping for a 3 gull day, but was anticipating Ring-billed, Herring, and Boneparte's Gulls. Imagine our surprise when the third species of the day turned out to be a rare Franklin's Gull instead of the more likely Boneparte's.

scanning the gull flock for rarities
Two of these things are not like the other,
two of these things don't belong.

Mary Ann, you can see better
if you look through the scope!

A planned walk along the "turkey trail," our favorite sparrow haunt, was abandoned when we discovered recent bush hogging had cleared the weedy field, but representatives of the four expected sparrow species - Song, Field, Swamp, and White-throated - were found in smaller patches across the road. This spot was lucky though, for a tree full of Eastern Bluebirds,

and a cooperative American Crow.

I saw 8 deer during the course of the morning. Here's is one of the does:
and this is the only buck. I wonder if they know that gun season starts tomorrow?
We had a decent trip list - I got 41 species, including 6 of the 7 expected woodpeckers, and at least two people on the trip had Life Birds (Black Vulture for one woman, Red-headed Woodpecker for another man.) A six-woodpecker day is reason for celebration in my book, even if the Pileated was "heard only." The only woodpecker I missed was the winter visitor, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Common Loon
Horned Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe
Canada Goose
Lesser Scaup
Ring-necked Duck
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Franklin's Gull
Great Blue Heron
Red-tailed Hawk
Turkey Vulture
Black Vulture
Mourning Dove
Red-headed Woodpecker (several!)
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow

Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Brown Creeper
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird (lots!)
European Starling
Northern Cardinal
Dark-eyed Junco
Song Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Friday, November 27, 2009

Identifying Trees from a Distance

The Larch

The larch is the only deciduous member of the Pine family. A deciduous evergreen - now that's an oxymoron for you.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Succession Happens

This post is one I started back in the spring, after my visit to Oak Openings, a Toledo Metropark. I thought I would stir it up, reheat it, and serve it to you this fall.


The Girdham Road sand dunes of Oak Openings are famous, or they should be, for their unique flora and fauna. Lark Sparrows, Red-headed Woodpeckers, and Summer Tanagers are only a few of the regulars that birders can find in one stop.
These sand dunes, surrounded by huge oaks, are the last remnants of what used to be the beach of Lake Warren, the huge forefather of the current Lake Erie.
However, nature abhors a vacuum and successional plants are constantly waging a war against the barren dunes, looking for a toehold to colonize this apparent wasteland.
Sedges are the first to make inroads. This growth pattern, in outward rings, creates a tiny windbreak, allowing the shifting sands to accumulate, and paving the way for other successional plants to follow.
Wild Blue Lupine, a specialist here in northwest Ohio.Dwarf Dandelion, another rare species, found in the Oak Openings region.
From tiny acorns, great oaks do grow, and here is an oak sapling, trying to make its way in a veritable desert.
Want proof you're in a desert? How about a cactus plant? Prickly pear cactus, that is, the only cactus native to Ohio.
The Black Oak habitat along Girdham Road, between Sagar and Monclova, is home to my favorite woodpecker species - the Red-headed. A colony of nesting birds lives here, and you are guaranteed to see at least one, if not more, when you visit. I found two willing to pose for me, although further away than I would have liked.Also on that visit, I had a lovely encounter with a bluebird family, including this charming juvenile.
It seems like Oak Openings is always an afterthought with birders visiting northwest Ohio. So much time is spent at places like Magee Marsh and Ottawa NWR that this unique treasure is overlooked, and that is a pity. There is so much going on here that it really should be the main entree of your next birding and nature trip, not merely the dessert.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Just Brew It

Coffee. It's as essential as air or water to millions. Many of you can't face the day without your morning cup or mug. It's even spawned a whole culture, involving social etiquette and a mysterious language.

I never picked up the habit myself, despite threats like, "You will drink coffee when you need to pull an all-nighter in college" or "work the night shift at the hospital" or "survive vet school" or "hold down the emergency clinic over New Year's Eve weekend when the local puppy rescue has a parvo outbreak." I may be the only adult on the planet who doesn't know how to stand in line at Starbuck's and order a tall mocha frappuccino, a grande double shot espresso,
or a venti latte half-caf no-foam, extra hot.

But, I know a lot of you like coffee, and a lot of you like birds and nature, too. And, if you do, you should be drinking shade grown coffee.

Let us backtrack. It used to be that coffee fincas (plantations) in Central America were practically nature preserves. Coffee, an understory plant, grew beneath the natural canopy of native trees and bushes, little or no chemicals were used during production, and the birds flourished. That included "our" birds, neotropical migrants like warblers, vireos, and tanagers that nest in North America and migrate south for the winter.

Now, things are different. Shade-grown coffee plants were replaced with sun-loving varieties, which required chemical fertilizers and pesticides for increased yield. Now, the native plants are stripped away, exposing the topsoil to erosion and sacrificing all that lovely bird habitat.

What's a caffeine-addicted birder to do? Why, drink shade-grown coffee, that's what. Bird-friendly, fair-trade, organic shade-grown coffees are becoming more widely available because of demanding eco-aware consumers. More than just buying and drinking it, promote shade-grown coffee at your local bird club meetings, nature centers, or specialty stores. Ask your favorite coffee shop to stock up on shade-grown coffee. And spread the word to others via your blogs by attaching the logo below to your site.

For more information on this topic, see Kenn Kaufman's article "Brew the Right Thing" in his Bird Watcher's Digest column "After the Spark," Jan/Feb 2009, and Paul Baicich's BWD article Nov/Dec. 2006. Or, go to Kenn and Kim's blog here, or to the Audubon Coffee Club via this link

Cheryl Harner, of the Weedpicker's Journal, inspired this post.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


For vulture lovers and wanna-bes: Vulture ID made easy.

Some of you have no problem with identifying vultures. The only one you see is the Turkey Vulture.
Those of us who live in the eastern US, roughly south of the 40th parallel, must separate Black Vultures from the more common Turkey Vultures. Here's how:

The photo below shows a Black Vulture on the left, and a Turkey Vulture on the right. From a distance, and disguised by the tree branches, there doesn't appear to be much difference. If you get up close and personal, though, you begin to seen the variations.

First, the head. The Turkey Vulture seems to be embarrassed. Look at that red face!

The Black Vulture's face is, well --- black.
The face alone can fool you, however, since immature Turkey Vultures will also have a black head, so look at the wings.

Turkey Vultures have a silvery gray color to the trailing edge of their wings, all the way from the body to the wingtips, when view from below. Since this is the most common way we see them, this is a helpful field mark.
Black Vultures, on the other hand, have white wingtips only.Next, look at the flight pattern. Black Vultures flap a lot more than Turkey Vultures do.
When a Black Vulture soars, it is only for a short distance, and it holds its wings flat.Turkey Vultures have to expend a lot of energy to get airborne, especially on cloudy days when there isn't enough sun to warm the rising thermals, but once aloft, they can soar forever, teetering back and forth in their classic dihedral. (A dihedral, for the non-birders who read this blog, is a wide, shallow "V" shape.)
Sometimes, it seems that none of your field marks help. You are too far away to see head color, and the lighting is too bad to be able to distinguish the underwing patterns. All you have is a silhouette. What's a birder to do?

There is one clue which is indisputable, one way to tell your two vultures apart that doesn't rely on good lighting, flight patterns, or a spotting scope. Check the bird's tail. Black Vultures have very short tails, just the length of their legs.

In comparison, a Turkey Vulture's tail is long and wedge-shaped.
Whether the bird is flying, soaring, or perched, tail length will always give him away.

Now that you are all vulture experts, try to ID the following two photos, which I deliberately chose for their poor quality and lack of obvious field marks. Do we have one species below, or two? And which is which?

mystery bird 1

mystery bird 2

Friday, November 20, 2009

To my Blog-fans

Sorry I have been so lazy lately. I promise to turn over a new leaf and get back to blogging ASAP.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

November Dawn

This is the sky that greeted me Monday morning, Nov. 3, as I walked back to the house after feeding the horses.
And here it is, one minute later.
One minute after that, it was gone. Discovering Beauty is all about timing, isn't it?

click for more skies