Sunday, November 29, 2009

Without leaves, these sweeties are a lot easier to see!

As the leaves fall, the view gets better, so I'll be able to see a lot more of the resident Pileated Woodpecker pair that flies the stretch of the Little Miami River I walk frequently. Every time I'm there, I hear their calls, but viewing in the summer is a lot more limited. Now, without the leaves to absorb sound and obstruct my view, I can often narrow in on the birds shortly after they squawk out one of their calls.

There is definitely beauty in every season. Mrs. Pileated Woodpecker can't hide from me as easily in the winter!

...what a rush when a Pileated Woodpecker swoops in! This female was about 25 feet from me in a dead tree between the river and the trail I was on.


...listening on the other side...

...enough lollygagging, time to get back to work.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Red-shouldered Hawk at Fort Ancient

After finishing the Mound Trail loop, I walked up the gravel road toward the Twin Mounds, and there, across the street in a large tree at the forest's edge sat a Red-shouldered Hawk. He was beautiful, and his red shoulder patches really stood out.

This gorgeous Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) was perched near the second mound across the street. He surveyed the land, keeping watch with a sharp eye.

I stood there and watched him. Eventually, he grew bored, or maybe suspicious of me, and flew to the tree closest to the second mound. He was beautiful in flight, and although not the best or sharpest photos, they show his lovely field marks fairly well.

Look at that flash of rusty red on his shoulder. I always love to see that field mark, and the narrow white bands on his tail feathers.

I don't get to see Red-shouldered Hawks quite as often as I do Cooper's or Red-tailed Hawks, so I always stop and watch them for as long as I can. I love the stockiness of this bird and his shorter tail.

...underneath, the contrast of the black and white striped wings and tail with the pale orange wash of bars on his chest and belly, always catches my eye.

Last winter we had a Red-shouldered Hawk drop in for a bite twice. Click here for those accounts. I wonder if we will see him again this winter?

The second mound of the Twin Mounds.
I'm going to have to do a few more posts on Ft. Ancient to talk about the mounds and show more shots of them. It's amazing to me to know this mound was built over 2000 years ago... We're so lucky it still remains.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Rick, Matty and I got to work early this evening and made two apple pies (Mom will be making the pumpkin pies!). We peeled, and cored, and sliced...mixed in the spices and raisons...and popped them in the oven. Then we had to sit there and smell all those wonderful sugary and cinnamonny smells. Mmmmm....when they were done, we sliced the second pie and all had a piece. Quality is very important to us, and we had to run a test to make sure the apples and spices held up. They did (yum!). Matty and I are heading down to mom and dad's early in the morning to start cooking. Rick will join us a little later in the day. We will spend all day in the kitchen laughing and talking, slicing and dicing, and relaxing...and being thankful. It will be a wonderful day, and I wish everyone the same.

Monday, November 23, 2009

I saw something really creepy at Ft. Ancient yesterday...

...a Brown Creeper--one of my favorite winter birds! I love the high-pitched peeping noises these tiny little pieces of moving bark make. Perfectly camouflaged, they are sometime hard to spot.

I am the tree...

Sunday, when Rick and Matty took off for hockey games in Columbus, I took off for Ft. Ancient. Hoping to catch a few new winter birds, I picked up the Mound Trail through the meadow by the bird blind. The leaf cover on the ground was heavy, and I had to slow down several times to inch my way across the ground because I was making more ruckus than one person should be able to make! At one point I came to a complete stop to just listen, and as I did, the woods seemed to come to life with the peeping of Brown Creepers. I would hear one to the right....another to the far away...close...behind me....and on and on. It was as if 50 birds were hiding on 50 different trees, calling to each other and making sure they remained invisible to me. Finally I started seeing movement as a bird would leave one tree and fly down to the bottom of another. I was able to keep track of eight birds at this time, but one bird I couldn't find. He was very, very close, but I couldn't seem to track his call, then suddenly he appeared! The little wood chip materialized right in front of me and almost seemed to pause for the camera!

I don't often get a chance to photograph these masters of camouflage. They move up the tree so fast and jump from here to there. I usually just watch them through the binocs. I like how he's following the angle of the bark here.

I thought he might stop and look in the hole, but he didn't. He was too busy looking for bugs to bother with an empty hole...for heaven's sake...

...and it's a good thing he didn't because if you look closely, you can see a big fat bug in his bill, which he found and ate shortly after passing the hole. Eww...creepy!

Click here for one of my earliest posts. It's about a Brown Creeper and the info about him from my first "field guide" from 1968, "Teach Me About Birds--Flash Cards in Full Color!" (The cards are gorgeous, and have really cool facts. I loved them back then when I was just in the first grade. )

For posts about Fort Ancient, click here. Fort Ancient is located in Warren County in Ohio and is on a gorgeous wooded plateau perched 245 feet above the Little Miami River. It is the largest prehistoric earthen hilltop enclosure in the United States. Built 2000 years ago by Mound Builders, the earth walls stretch 3.5 miles, enclosing over 100 acres of hilltop. Mound Builders used small baskets to move more than 553,000 cubic yards of soil to form the earthen walls that reach from 4 to 23 feet in height. Amazingly, most of the earthworks are still visible and retain the same form they had over 2000 years ago! Archeologists estimate it took about 400 years (100BC – 290AD) to build the entire complex.

Check out Bird Photography Weekly to see birds from all over the world.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sing out little wren...

...I like knowing you're out there as I work at my desk.

Carolina Wren singing on a small trellis on my deck.

What a happy little bird the Carolina Wren was today, or if he wasn't, he at least made me happy. This morning as I fried an egg, he sang, and hopped and sang again. Busy with unknown duties, he sometimes would break from his constant busy twitching and sing out. I could see him on the trellis in the flower pot, almost eye level with me. Every now and then he would grab a seed or a piece of fruit, only to return to his perch later to sing again, and I would stop what I was doing and watch him...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Common Loon

...continued from the Large Milkweed Bugs post.
Let’s hop back a week to Saturday, Nov 7, when I went to Caesar Creek State Park with the Cincinnati Birding Club and saw 10+ Common Loons. My photos of the loons were horrible. We were so far away that they just looked like little silhouettes, so to get a decent view I had to paint one. The Common Loons we saw that day were not in breeding plumage, they were much duller in their basic plumage of gray and white, but if you’re going to paint a loon, he might as well be wearing his finery…

Common Loon in Breeding Plumage

In Cincinnati, we only get to see loons during migration, and even then, if you’re not in the right place at the right time, it’s hard, so I’ve never heard the incredible mating calls you hear so much about. I want to head up north one of these summers during breeding season so I can experience that. I would love to see a nest as well…

Since I’m not that familiar with the Common Loon, I got out my “Birds of Ohio” book by Jim McCormic to see if he had any interesting tid-bits about the bird. Part of the reason I like McCormic's book is because he throws in interesting facts you don’t find in standard field guides. The Common Loon is a diver, and if you’ve ever watched one, you know he can swim great distances under water. You probably also noticed he sits noticeably low in the water. Mr. M explains why,
“These divers are well adapted to their aquatic lifestyle: most birds have hollow bones, but loons have nearly solid bones that make them less buoyant. As a result, loons float low on the water, resembling partially submerged submarines.”
I would assume the extra weight helps them stay under the water as they dive for food, and probably has something to do with the fact they have to run across the water for so long (like an airplane on a runway) before they can become airborne. I remember reading somewhere that loons never glide when they are flying...I guess they have to flap those wings non-stop to keep their considerable heft aloft! Their wings are also fairly small for their bodies--all to help them dive and swim under water.

Flap oh hefty one, flap!

Another one of my favorite Ohio bird books is “The Birds of Ohio,” by Bruce G. Peterjohn. This is a must-have book. He lists records of sightings going all the way back to the 1800s, but what’s really helpful is the array of breeding bird atlas maps. If you have a question about a breeding bird in Ohio, it’s a great place to start. I always read this book to find out non-field guide information. It’s huge, too…coming in at 637 pages. this photo is any better!
(Do you see why I had to paint this dude?)

If I want to get out and see some more of these birds, I had better hurry. According to Peterjohn,
“Common Loons are most numerous in autumn. The largest movements occur during November, when these loons become common to abundant along Lake Erie and fairly common to locally abundant on large inland lakes. During most years, numbers of Common Loons are greatly reduced by the first week of December. Most December sightings are of 1-8 loons, with occasional flocks of 15-40. The last flocks disappear by mid-December, although scattered individuals will remain into the first half of January as long as open water remains available.”
P.S. I just read on the Birding in Cincinnati website that 225+ Loons were on the river at Crooked Run Nature Preserve to the Meldahl Dam. I need to find out where this place is!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Those beautiful little snowbirds...

I love it when the Dark-eyed Juncos arrive. The have such a sweet twittering song, and they look so pretty against the snow. They also help mark the shift in the season. Riding the northern winds down to us, they seem to usher in the cold, reminding us it's time to get out the coats...and letting us know Thanksgiving is on the way!

Surrounded by green, this little snowbird looks out of place...

This little Junky was part of a small flock twittering away in a field bordering the forest near the Caesar Creek State Park nature center the weekend before last. The field was filled with grasses and weed seeds and sunlight, and the juncos seemed very happy to find it.

It was 65 degrees F when I took these photos. Too warm for a Junky (but I'm sure he's not complaining).

It has been a very strange fall here. This morning as I was putting seed in the feeders I heard another of our winter snowbirds, a White-throated Sparrow, singing in the brushy area at the back of our garden. It wasn’t a full song, more of a half song (Oh sweet Canada...), but he sang over and over, and he sang sweetly. It was 50 degrees, so not very cold. In this extended Indian Summer my flowers have re-greened and the petunias are blooming again. Listening to the White-throated Sparrow singing and seeing the fresh blooms made it feel like a spring morning. snow in the front of me...

...none to the right...

...none to the left...

Rick told me there are more and more record highs being reported. It used to be a 50/50 ratio between record highs and record lows, but now, it seems to be 3 to 1 record highs to record lows. He said in the next 10 years it's reported it might reach 300/1 ratios. At least I think that's what he said. I should look it up, but I don't have time. I have to unpack all my shorts...

(Writing this is probably the kiss of death to our unseasonably warm weather). It has been so warm we have not yet had to turn on our furnace! Our house is well insulated, but even so, this is the longest stretch into fall we've ever had without turning on the heat.

(If you want to see some older posts of Junkys in the here.)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Artistic Cooper's Hawk...

…for me, fuzzy photos = artistic photos, so this batch is as artsy as they come…but I love them! I took these through the screen of the kitchen window in glowing late afternoon light. I had to climb up on the counter, sitting half in the sink to capture them because he was almost out of view. The strange angle of the lens against the screen put a soft halo around the bird…and the low-angled sunlight lit the grasses in the background with warm golden tones.

This is a handsome bird. When I look at his eyes and beak I see beauty, but the little birds in my yard don't see that. Instinctually, they see danger. So starts the love/hate relationship with hawks and other birds of prey.

I'm a fluffy bird. I like to fluff. Fluffing is my favorite...

I like how the camera captured his eye in this photo...just a sliver.

I am a formidable bird. Look into my eyes and tell me I don't make you tremble...

I have no idea what he's looking at here. He obviously dropped in to pick up some some fast food at our feeders, but all of our little McTitmice, McJuncos and McChickadees were long gone.

I spent about an hour and a half last night looking through my books of nature poetry trying to find a poem about a hawk. Seems poets shy away from the power of the bird or the fact that he kills for a living. I found a few, but nothing struck me with the beauty I see in this bird. Not even Emily Dickinson or Thoreau came through for me. Walt Whitman has a nice poem about a hawk, but the line...
“The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab and my loitering.”
…didn’t capture what I felt when I saw him. I think Emerson's essay on nature and beauty probably comes a little closer:
A NOBLER WANT OF man is served by nature, namely, the love of Beauty.
The ancient Greeks called the world Cosmos, beauty. Such is the constitution of all things, or such the plastic power of the human eye, that the primary forms, as the sky, the mountain, the tree, the animal, give us a delight in and for themselves; a pleasure arising from outline, color, motion, and grouping.
(from "Essays and Poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson.")

...there is no denying the beauty in his form and eyes, but even though I'm drawn to him, I have to acknowledge his power and his ability to kill the little birds I feed.

....I think I'll forget about that part and remember his job is to pull the sick and slow birds out of the population. Mother Nature has a plan, so I'll admire the fierce glare in his eyes and sleek tilt of his brow...and shoo him away every now and then as I try to get closer with my camera (because I don't think Mother Nature envisioned her Cooper's getting fat at the local fast-food joint!). Good thing our Blue Jays sound the warning and the healthy birds get out fast.

Be sure to visit Bird Photography Weekly for cool birds seen all around the world.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Kitchenhawk in the plum tree...

...a Kitchenhawk is an accipiter that sits outside my kitchen window. His size is a bit iffy---he's about halfway between the size of an Obvious Sharp-shinned Hawk and an Obvious Cooper's Hawk. A week or so a go, an Obvious Sharp-shinned Hawk (juvenile) landed outside my kitchen window. He was small--really no larger than a Blue Jay. A few days later, the same munchkin landed on the deck, followed about an hour later by an Obvious Cooper's Hawk (juvenile). She was very large! But for the past couple of days, this in between-sized hawk has been visiting the plum tree and hockey net on the kitchen side of the house. My guess is he is a small, male juvenile Cooper's Hawk, but sometimes he seems small enough to be a Sharp-shinned. I do not know enough about hawks to make a decision. His tail feathers seem rounded and uneven, which points towards a Cooper's but.....any experts out there? I'll have more photos of him over the next couple of days.

When I showed this photo to Rick, he sad it was a shame the tree was in the way, but I sometimes like these peeping-through-the-woods shots. You'd never know this fellow was sitting about 10 feet outside my kitchen window. Although the fuzziness has that shooting-through-a-screen feel.

I would hate to be a tiny mouse or bird and be on the receiving end of that stare!!

...that beautiful orange-buff head makes me lean towards a small male Cooper's Hawk.

...another Peeping Tom shot! I love the intense focus that always shows up in a hawk's eye.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Large Milkweed Bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus)

Saturday I went on a very exciting field trip with the Cincinnati Birding Club to Caesar Creek State Park in Warren County, Ohio. We saw some fabulous birds and the weather was perfect, but while searching for birds, I saw these Large Milkweed bugs...and they were close and immobile, and photographed infinitely better than the Common Loons, Hooded Mergansers....and American Bald Eagles I saw along the way (more on those pretties later)!

Large Milkweed Bugs on a Common Milkweed pod. One adult is at the top (he has wings), two fifth instars are at the bottom (they are nymphs, or immature versions of the Large Milkweed bugs--notice that they don't have usable wings yet.)

Milkweed bugs molt five times (nymphal instars) before they become adults. During these stages, the nymphs look similar to the adults except their color pattern is a little different and they do not have fully developed wings (during the middle instars black wing pads start to form, but they can not use their wings until they are adults--a great way to keep the kids at home and safe until they grow up).

Close-up of a middle instar. You can see the black wing pads. He's definitely not flying anywhere with those things! Eggs hatch in about a week if the temp is 75 degrees F or above. The bug goes through the five molts to become an adult in about a month! The adult then lives for about a month.

Three adult Large Milkweed Bugs and two instars.

At the tip of the Milkweed pod a group of adults are massing together to form a color warning to birds and other predators.

This behavior is thought to amplify the Milkweed bug's ability to broadcast a color warning. Since Milkweed bugs eat milkweed, which is toxic, they do not taste good. A young bird will think twice before downing another orange and black bug the second time it comes across one...and a great big mass of orange and black is a big warning to stay away! This is the same sort of protection Monarch butterflies receive because as caterpillars they too feed on Common Milkweed. Click here for an older post explaining how Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies and Monarch butterflies receive the same protection (and for a look at how beautiful Common Milkweed is as a flower in the summer).

I love how delicate their legs look against the silk of the milkweed seeds.

What do we have here? At first I thought it was a different bug, but if you look closely, you can see it's an adult with abnormally developed wings. For some reason they have shriveled and dried up. Perhaps on his final molt he was not able to pump hemolymph (bug blood) through the veins in his wings to unfurl them. I don't know...

Another view of our adult Milkweed bug's shriveled wings.

You can see how different the Large Milkweed bug looks without wings to cover his body.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Autumn Leaves

I cannot endure to waste anything
as precious as autumn sunshine by
staying in the house. So I spend
almost all the daylight hours
in the open air.

Nathaniel Hawthorne
I like the way that boy thinks!

...and as an aside.....when I was very young, my cousins Paula, Marianne, Marybeth and I would play a card game with Grandma Rose at her kitchen table. It was called "Authors," and I learned all the classic authors and what they looked like while playing that game. Well......old Nathaniel Hawthorne had incredibly blue eyes, and when that card would come up, Grandma Rose would say, "there's old Blue Eyes again," and we would laugh and laugh. To this day, when I read something written by Nathaniel Hawthorne...."Old Blue Eyes" comes to mind, and I smile. (Do you remember that Paula, Marianne, and Marybeth?)

About the leaves...
I'm taking a watercolor class called "An Imaginary Trip Through Autumn," and Laure Ferlita is my teacher. If you read my blog regularly you probably know Laure from comments. Her blog is Painted Thoughts Blog. If you're thinking about getting into watercolors, or you want to take an online watercolor class, head over to Laure's Imaginary Trips Website. I just started the "Autumn" class, and I'm finishing up the "An Imaginary Trip to Paris" class. She's a great teacher, and I'm learning a lot about painting on site and using watercolors. If you join, maybe we'll be in a class together! I know one of the classes coming up is "An Imaginary Trip to England," and "An Imaginary Trip to the Beach." I'm going to take both of those classes.

Here is the latest from my Paris class. You can see the subject matter is really interesting and fun. This is the Queen's Hamlet at Versailles...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Northern Flicker munching on Poison Ivy berries...

I love the call of a Northern Flicker, but don’t hear it as often as I would like. Luckily, Sunday, right after I saw the Red-bellied Woodpecker feasting on her store of berries, a Northern Flicker swooped across the trail, landing in a tree on the hillside. He wasn’t in the best location, but I was able to squeeze out a shot or two. He had found Mother Nature’s bounty as well, and was consuming his calories in the form of Poison Ivy berries. Poison Ivy leaves are so gorgeous in the autumn. Bright red wrapped around trees, I always love picking them out as I drive down the streets or walk the trail. I don’t see the little white berries as often, and these would have gone unnoticed too if the Northern Flicker had not pointed them out for me!

It looks like he's been to this stash before. Many of the little white berries have already been plucked from the Poison Ivy vine.

We have the Yellow-shafted variety of Northern Flicker here in Cincinnati. Isn't he the noble gentleman for turning around to flash us those lovely yellow tail feathers! If you look closely, you can even see the yellow shafts under his wings.

Now for the view of the beautiful red crescent on his nape.