Sunday, March 23, 2014

Magnolia Warblers at Magee...

This evening I was working at my desk when Rick came in and said we might have snow on Tuesday. Really? More snow? After a sigh, my mind decided to ignore the snow announcement and went instead to Magee Marsh in May. It will be green there, and sunny, and small twittering birds will fly from tree to tree before landing right in front of me while I walk the boardwalk. ...yes, yes, Magee in March...that's good! Much better than snow now...

A brightly colored Magnolia Warbler (Setophaga magnolia) sang in the tree above me. I was walking the boardwalk at Magee Marsh during the Biggest Week in American Birding 2012 warbler festival when I saw him. So beautiful...and close! 

Magnolia Warblers are just passing through Ohio when we see them in the spring. They are headed much farther north to their nesting grounds in Canada. A few might nest in the hemlock gorges in eastern Ohio, though, because the microclimates in the deep ravines mimic the cooler climates of the north, but most are headed north and rest up along the boardwalk at Magee before they make the big trip over Lake Erie.

Magnolia Warbler (Setophaga magnolia) on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh near Toledo, Ohio.
With a beautiful black necklace and striking black stripes on a yellow chest and belly, this neotropical migrant is a standout. I see Magnolia Warblers along the Little Miami River during spring migration as well, but they usually don't come as close as they do along the boardwalk at Magee Marsh! 

Yes, my little colorful friend, you are much better than snow.

...the flurry and hurry of spring migration. I like this photo because it captures that constant movement and excitement of the season. Birding at the Biggest Week is always an adventure. You never know what kind of neotropical migrant will show up. The birds are exhausted from the first leg of their trip, so they stop off along Lake Erie and Magee Marsh to fuel up and rest a bit before they depart for the last leg of their journey north.

If you'd like to see a video of a Magnolia Warbler singing, click here for a video on YouTube.

I can't wait for the Biggest Week in American Birding. This year it runs from May 6-15. I'll be there birding and blogging, and I'm going to teach a class on field sketching for beginners on May 12 and May 15. If you want to learn how to sketch in the field and create a nature journal, click here for info on the class--you do not have to be an artist to learn to create field sketches!

Hope to see you at 
The Biggest Week!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Bladdernut trees along the Little Miami River...

Just steps off the Little Miami bike trail near the Peter's Cartridge Factory, a small colony of Bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia) trees grows along the river on the north-facing slope. In winter when walking along the trail, you might mistake the fruit that still clings to the trees as dried leaves, but on closer inspection, you'll find not leaves but unique three-lobbed bladder-like pods! In the spring, festive bell-shaped blossoms droop in large panicles from the branches, but in winter, the dry and brittle pods look more like faded and brown Japanese lanterns from a long-forgotten party...

Bladdernut pods are brown and brittle in winter, but they still hang on to the trees.
Brittle and papery bladdernut pods still cling to the tree in the dead of winter. 
...aglow in the late afternoon sun, this bladdernut pod stands out in the winter landscape.
Bladdernut pods are interesting. They are not truly pods; instead, they are air-filled seed cases or capsules that float! Since Bladdernut shrubs grow along rivers, being able to float seems like a logical means of dispersal. In late spring, bladdernut capsules start to form after the blossoms have been pollinated. At first the capsules are green and the seeds are attached to an inner lining. As summer progresses, the pods start to turn brown, and by autumn the seeds have broken away from the lining and rattle when you (or the wind) shake the pods. The rattle sound is very pretty, so be sure to pick one up and give it a shake!

Bladdernut pods rattled in the winter wind as I walked past them on the trail. The small seeds inside the papery pods create the pretty rattle sound when the pods are shaken.
In "Ethnobotany of the Meskwaki Indians," by H. H. Smith (published 1928), Smith writes that the Meskwaki tribe used bladdernut seeds in their rattles. Bladdernut seeds were sacred to them, so they were put in gourd rattles used for dream and medicine dances. the Meskwaki also used the twigs from this tree to make pipe stems. (Click here (p 248) and here (p 274) for online links to the bulletin.)

A fallen bladdernut pod in fresh snow.

Growing along the Little Miami River, Bladdernut pods are easy to spot in winter when the trees are bare.
Bladdernut trees are actually large shrubs. They rarely get more than 15-20 feet high. Here you see one of the "trees" in the colony. The rest are further down the slope, closer to the river.

...if the pod falls off into the water, it will float away for a new destination.
Bladdernut seed cases in winter.

Small holes form in the bottom of the bladdernut pods where the seeds fall through.
As winter moves into spring, the brown papery cases start to break down, and eventually, the seeds fall out and onto the ground.  

Warmer temperatures are right around the corner, so I'll keep watch on the bladdernut trees and get photos of the flowers this spring and the light green seed cases this summer. Hummingbirds are attracted to the flower, and maybe I'll get lucky this spring...I'd love to watch a hummingbird sipping nectar from the tiny bells!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

"Two-second" bird sketches...

Nothing says spring like the love song of the Mourning Dove, so I was very happy to hear a male singing on our deck today. I had my sketchbook nearby, so I grabbed it and did a few "two-second" bird sketches to record the spring-is-finally-here event.  These little scribble sketches are fun to do, and as the name implies, take only seconds to complete. Tiny, non-detailed field sketches help you get the "feel" of a bird and capture behavior and movement. When you're out in the field, two-second sketches are a great way to record what you're seeing.

tiny thumbnail sketches that take only seconds to draw help capture a bird's personality.
Small "two-second" bird sketches of the mourning doves on our deck. Each little sketch takes between 2 and 10 seconds. I call them "two second" sketches so I keep moving fast and am not tempted to stop and throw in detail.

This May I'm going to teach a class on basic field sketching techniques for beginners at the Biggest Week in American Birding warbler festival. Fun!!! We'll learn several ways to draw and write about birds (including the two-second bird sketches, as well as ways to draw detailed bird renderings with accurate field marks). We'll also work on techniques for drawing  flowers, leaves, and even landscapes. If you're not an artist, don't worry. The goal of field sketching is not to create finished pieces of art, it's to learn how to get better at observing nature...and develop a deeper appreciation of nature. 

A sweet male mourning dove sang his love song on our deck. Spring is finally here!
...keep singing those spring love songs Mr. Mourning Dove.
I'll keep sketching you!

Spring Migration 
at the Biggest Week in American Birding!

While I'm at the festival, I'll be blogging too. Hope to see you there!
For more information on the field sketching 
and nature journaling class and bus tour, click here!

Check out the new BSBO Swamp Shop! 
All proceeds go to the Black Swamp Bird Observatory:

Pencil sketches by Kelly Riccetti
Spring Migration at Magee Marsh is so much fun. I'm looking forward to walking the boardwalk and seeing all the warblers!!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk in the snow...

A juvenile Cooper's Hawk surveys his surroundings...

With snowflakes falling all around, this Cooper's Hawk looks beautiful
A Juvenile Cooper's Hawk sits in the snow...

5-8 more inches of new snow will be on the ground by Monday morning, Coop!

...I think he's ready for spring!