Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Shock and Surprise in a Buckeye Tree!

Earlier in September, while walking on the Little Miami Trail, I stopped to admire a Buckeye Tree. The buckeyes were still encased in their spiny capsules, and I wanted to get a photo of their neat texture. As I was zooming in on a branch with three buckeyes hanging off, a squirrel parted the leaves and came face to face with me. He froze in total shock. He didn't know what to do! I was shocked too and also had that delayed motor response that accompanies total surprise. It was pretty cool--we both froze for a micro second, each reading a thousand thoughts in the other's eyes. Then I snapped a photo, and at the same moment, he skedaddled out of there (yes, "skedaddled" -- no other word will do). It all took place so fast, and that look of sheer terror and surprise on the squirrel's face made me laugh out loud!

When his little foot pushed that leaf down and he saw me, he froze! He truly was shocked and surprised to see me. He had been so intent on running up and down the branches knocking off the buckeyes he wasn't paying attention to what was on the other side of the leaves.

In a flash he was gone...turning and running up that branch where he looked at me from a safe distance.

I stayed around to watch what he was doing. He would run to the end of the branch and knock off a buckeye. He wasn't gathering the seeds because they were still encased in the husks, which hadn't even started to ripen and split. Instead, he would hang there at the end of the branch and gnaw on the part of the twig where the buckeye had been. What? I had no idea what that was about, so when I got home I did a little research. I found buckeyes are poisonous to most animals, but squirrels can eat them. They don't particularly like them, but they will do in a pinch. I also found many references to squirrels eating the pith from terminal twigs, and one direct account of Fox squirrels in Illinois eating the pith of Buckeyes (Havera, Stephen. 1976. The American Midland Naturalist, 95(2):462-464). Yeah! Maybe that's what my little squirrel was doing. From the USDA Forest Service of the Northeastern Area:
"Buckeye pith contains 66 percent raffinose, a sweet-tasting 18-carbon sugar that is much sweeter and contains potentially more energy than sucrose." I'd go for sweet sugar over a bitter seed any time! If you're wondering what pith is, it's,"the soft, spongy, innermost tissue in a stem" -- as defined in my "National Audubon Society Field Guide to Trees," Eastern Region.
The Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra) -- Ohio's state tree

My cousin, Mary Ann (the one from California--I have three!), just sent me a link to "The Cheeky Squirrel Photo Crasher." Click here...it's pretty cute!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Caspian Terns on the shores of Lake Erie

Birding at the Midwest Birding Symposium in Lakeside, Ohio.
One of the water birds I most enjoyed watching along the shores of Lake Erie was the Caspian Tern. I loved how they would skim over the water with their bills pointed down…always busy, always looking around, never content to just soar with their bills pointed forward looking out at the horizon. Often they would fly directly over me, and it would look like they were watching me, but I knew they weren’t. They were looking for fish, and when they found one, whoa…that soaring plunge headfirst into the water was always fascinating. The Caspian Terns were hard to photograph. They were always moving fast and flying high, so I painted one today for a closer look.

Watercolor of a Caspian Tern, Lake Erie

Caspian Tern from the Lakeside Pier
It doesn’t matter how high he flies,
that carrot bill stands out!

The Lakeside Pier is a great place to just sit and watch
the birds fly by. I saw my first Caspian Tern here.

For more birds from around the world, head over to

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fitness for Birding and Photography

Guest blogger, Bill of Wellness Reality and MGB Strength
Back in April, while I was on a birding trip at Clifty Falls, my brother, Bill, wrote a guest post for me on fitness and birding. Bill is a personal trainer, a fitness motivator and a wellness advocate, and he is very good at what he does, so check out another guest post by the very talented and funny, Bill…

Hey All You Birders!

I recently came across an interesting post on the web site Professional Photographer. The title of the post was “The Healthy Photographer: Injury Prevention Optimizes Business Success.” It is an excellent article, and a good reminder about how physically demanding both birding and photography is.

As some of you know, Kelly (aka “Peanut”) is my sister. I have learned quite a bit about strength training from trying to work around her various injuries. She does not talk about it much, but she was quite the athlete in her youth, plus a fall in the Black Forest of Germany did not help things. Anyway, I wanted to take a minute to remind everyone that now is a great time to begin focusing a bit more attention on your physical conditioning. (BTW – My first post to Kelly’s blog, “Will your fitness training enhance your birding experience today and tomorrow?” only received 6 comments. It’s OK, I didn't take it personally. My writing is not quite as captivating as Kelly’s, and I didn't have any cool photos. The article was posted on April 16, 2009 if you want to review it.)

I would like to share a story. Some time ago a gentleman in his early to mid thirties called me to get some information about my gym. He sounded nice enough and after we talked he said he needed to think about it. Some time passed, and he contacted me again, asking pretty much the same questions. It did not take long for me to realize that there was something he wanted to share with me, but for some reason he just could not. Eventually, I was able to convince the gentleman to come in, and just check it out.

One of the very first things I have people do when they start training is write out 10 reasons why they want to exercise (btw, “losing weight” never counts as it is too easy!) The gentleman started a routine and we were making progress, but he was having difficulty completing his top 10 list. I’d ask every session, and he would say “I’m working on it, almost done," etc….. I finally got to the point where I had to let him know that there was no way I could do my job unless I knew what he wanted to accomplish. After some thought on his part, it came out. It started with “I would like to be able to do ______________ again." That’s it!! That is what I am looking for--the emotion. In my opinion nothing ever starts or stops until an emotional attachment or detachment is made. This person was no different than any of us. A few years of sitting behind a desk, eating fast food and managing the stresses of everyday life had eventually taken away one of the life activities he enjoyed. He could no longer physically do it without pain and fatigue and the underlying feeling of sadness and failure.

I’m happy to say that this individual is now back doing what he enjoys when he has the time. The emotional connection is back, and his physical condition allows him to participate. The reason I write this is because what would you do, or how would you feel if you could no longer “bird” or photograph the birds you love to see? I’m sure a part of your identify is being a “birder.” If you take that away, you will have lost a piece of yourself.

If you’re not currently involved in a strength training program, now is the time to start thinking about it. It does not have to be super strenuous, just something that helps you maintain your muscle mass, flexibility, balance, and cardiovascular fitness.

One of the easiest locations to judge fitness is mountain hiking and birding, and if you add on a camera, multiple lenses, a tripod, and other accoutrements, you are really talking about a physical challenge. So, if any of your future adventures require climbing to higher altitudes to get a glimpse of a special bird, start planning now. It would be a shame to miss out on a lifer because weak quads or lack of stamina force you to stand at the bottom of the hill and tell everyone, “Go on without me. I have to sit this one out.”

Good Luck, and always, if you need any tips, please let me know.


Thank you, Bill!!! You're such a good brother!
Bill has a blog called Wellness Reality.
If you have any questions, feel free to email him.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Evening Fisherman at Magee Marsh

Birding at the Midwest Birding Symposium in Lakeside, Ohio.
Saturday evening, while the sun still hung at a respectable level in the sky, Heather (of Heather of the Hills) and I stole over to Magee Marsh. It was a forty-minute drive, which ate up a bit of daylight, so when we arrived we knew we would have to hurry if we wanted to see anything. Almost as soon as we stepped onto the the boardwalk we were rewarded with a sweet glimpse of a Gray-cheeked Thrush. Sitting on the rail, he almost seemed surprised in a "what are you two doing here so late in the day?" sort of way. The last time I saw a Gray-cheeked Thrush was on the Little Miami trail at the height of spring migration in May. Who knows where this little guy had spent his summer--maybe as far north as the upper reaches of Alaska! With fall migration in full swing, our little Gray-cheeked Thrush might have been a new arrival, or maybe he had been hanging around for a few days to fatten up for the rest of his journey south. We watched him through the binocs for a bit until he flew off, then we walked on. With the sun sinking ever closer to the horizon, we started to think this trip was going to turn into nothing more than a reconnaissance mission, but we shouldn't have worried, because as we neared the end of the boardwalk, a beautiful Green Heron stepped into view. He was perched on a mossy log just to the left of the boardwalk on a small pond. A gorgeous bird, his focused stare as he watched tiny fish move beneath the water was mesmerizing. I cranked up the ISO on my camera and took a few shots, but the sun had already given up the fight and was rapidly sinking below the horizon. As the wet log, spongy with green growth, started to darken in the fading light, so too did the heron, making it nearly impossible to capture a clean shot....but...that's what flashes are for! I had never used my flash and had to think about how to activate it. I assumed the heron would fly away as soon as the flash went off, but he didn't. He actually came closer. Maybe the flash was attracting the fish and bringing them to the surface of the water, because he was suddenly able to pluck one out right in front of us--too fast to capture on film. He hung around for a long time while Heather and I, and then another gentleman flashed away. After he was full, he slunk back to the shelter of branches and leaves, deep in the darkness. With that...we three slunk off too. We still had enough light to see through the leaves, but that was about it.

A Green Heron in the fading light at Magee Marsh.

This guy liked the flash and walked closer toward me.

Look at his focused gaze. I love those eyes!!

Stepping through the green growth on the decaying log,
the heron carefully picked his way across the log,
completely stable on those lovely, huge feet of his...
very fun to watch!

I can see why birders love this boardwalk in the spring. It floats over a wet woods thick with trees, insects, ponds, and marshes. It must be a haven for warblers who need easy meals of protein to replenish their fat stores before getting ready to finish the last leg of their journey north over the Great Lakes. I will definitely head up to Lakeside some time this coming spring to catch a bit of spring warbler maddness at Magee Marsh.

The boardwalk in fading sunlight at Magee Marsh.

After stepping off the boardwalk, Heather and I walked to
the other side of the parking lot and down to Lake Erie.
This is what we saw. Lake Erie sunsets are spectacular.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

...just call me "Peanut!"

Up in Lakeside, OH, at the Midwest Birding Symposium, I'm not known as "Kelly," I'm known as "Peanut," because that's what my name tag says. Apparently I don't think like a normal bird. On the entry form, it said, "Name:" and I wrote, Kelly Riccetti. Then underneath that it said something like "Known as:" and I thought....well...I'm not "Known as" anything. Then it dawned on me, "Oh, I guess they want the name of our blog," so I wrote "Red and the Peanut," which got distilled down to "Peanut Riccetti," and I have to tell you....when your name is "Peanut Riccetti" you get a lot more attention than when it's just regular old "Kelly Riccetti," so I might just stick with it!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

It's fun at the Midwest Birding Symposium!

I am having such a great time here in Lakeside! I don't know the exact number of birders attending the symposium, but I think I heard somewhere around 800 people, which is pretty cool, because basically, birders have taken over the town. Wherever you walk you see the smiling face of another bird lover, and everyone is so friendly! Just tonight, I hung out at the water's edge for a while for the Big Sit. I met a family from New York and Michigan and we talked about hummingbirds...and another from Northeast Ohio whose daughter lives maybe 10 minutes from me, and we talked about Painted Buntings and Pinckney Island (and you know how much I love Painted Bunting and Pinckney Island)! It's just so easy to meet people here because everyone loves birds and everyone genuinely wants to talk about them!

...but I guess I had better get back to my Kirtland's Warbler story from yesterday....

...all the lovely people looking for the lovely bird...

...in this lovely tree...
(and he's there, but on the other side...)

...but who do we have here?
Some of my favorite bird bloggers! On the left is Chad
from "Birding! A Growing Obsession!," and in the middle is
Rob Ripma from "The Nutty Birder," and on the right,
Dave "Loopy" Lewis from "Birds from Behind."

...and who is that sneaking up on the right?
Why...it's the famous "Doodles," the other half of
"Birds from Behind" (I not saying which half...).
It really is cool recognizing bloggers you follow...
and when they recognize you too, it's just fun!

....at this point, I walked over to the other side, which was the wrong thing to do because as I was moving, so was the bird, and when I got back, look what The Loopy One captured:

...yes, oh yes...the Kirtland's Warbler!
Go to Dave's site for more photos of this little cutie.

...so I was in the near occasion of the Kirtland's Warbler, and that was good enough for me. Just knowing that little endangered fellow was up in the tree moving around, gleaning insects to help him beef up for his trip south, made him real, and I felt good. Today at lunch I went back, but he had already moved on. During the night, the winds shifted and were conducive to travel. Now I know what to look for...and it will give me something to do!

Have you heard? The federally endangered KIRTLAND'S WARBLER is at the Midwest Birding Symposium at East Harbor State Park!

"Run, don't walk, I tell you, to East Harbor State Park for
a glimpse of the federally endangered Kirtland's Warbler!"

"Was "Peanut" there? Did she get to see him?"

"She was there!!!! And almost got to see him.....
....three times!! But...she and three others were about
one inch too far behind a tree one time....on the wrong
side the other time...on the wrong side again...."

"But she'll see him today...same time, same place...we hope!"

More to come on this little fellow....and all the wonderful birders and bloggers I met while we searched for this incredible bird (I have photos of everyone)! I'm having such a neat, keen, super cool and groovy time up here. To be in the midst of so many birdy people is incredible!

P.S. A thanks goes out to the lovely Ring-billed Gulls on the Lakeside pier who shouted the news (Roy....thanks for helping me with the ID).

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Lakeside, Ohio and the Midwest Birding Symposium...I made it!

This sign greets you as you walk out on the boardwalk of Lakeside, Ohio, a beautiful little town established in 1873 on the shores of Lake Erie. About half way between Toledo and Cleveland, the town is filled with historic places to stay. I wanted to stay at Hotel Lakeside, which in addition to being a National Historic Landmark built in 1875, is brimming with birders, but the joint was booked. Unfortunately, I wasn't sure I could make it to the symposium until last week, so when I called for a reservation, I found slim pickings. Luckily, an efficiency apartment in an equally old three-story house (with very impressive woodwork) became available...and I can see Hotel Lakeside from the back deck! I'm within walking distance to Hoover Auditorium and a block from Lake Erie, so it's all good.

Lake Erie at Marblehead Lighthouse...if I didn't
know better, I would think I was at the ocean.

...just beyond the Marblehead Lighthouse, the waves
were huge! Lake Erie is our shallowest Great Lake,
and can get rather choppy from what I hear...

I can't wait to meet lots of birders tomorrow and listen to all the wonderful speakers. It's so exciting! My mom and dad drove up behind me today and are staying with me tonight before moving on tomorrow. Rick and Matty...poor souls...will be spending a perfectly gorgeous day in Cincinnati in an ice rink where Matty will be playing hockey, so I'll be a solo birder. Although with all the birders around here, I'm sure I'll find someone to bird with. This evening I already met up with Heather, from Heather of the Hills, and her husband (remember my trip to Hocking Hills this summer where I visited with Heather?). I also briefly met Donald, from Donald the Birder, another Cincinnati birder!

Oh...Oh...a Lake Erie gull! Beautiful...
and flying right over my head!

Oh...Oh...a Lake Erie Cormorant! I saw lots of
these guys, and I love them. At one point a flock of
about 15 flew past...very fast...and very blurry.

Hopefully I'll find some nice birds to photograph tomorrow...or at least some nice birders talking about them!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hints of Autumn at Fort Ancient

Birding at Fort Ancient
Even though the afternoon sun is hot and sweat is dripping down my back, as I watch a goldfinch rip through the silken strands of a ripe thistle head, I can sense the gentle shift of summer to fall. It's dryer now, and the reds and yellows of autumn leaves are just starting to push through the deep greens--just a little--tints of color here and there. I'm always reluctant to let summer go, but standing in the meadow with the tatty, molting goldfinches all around me, and with glimpses of fall color peeking out at the forest's edge, I can feel my defenses dropping as fall lures me in with her charms.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Carolina Chickadee catches me in the act...

I put a tiny little ceramic water bowl on my deck railing hoping to lure in a Carolina Chickadee. The chickadees around our house love tiny water bowls and tiny feeders. I also placed it fairly close to the door...only 7 ft. out. Sure enough, Chiggy showed up for a drink, and I fired off a few shots. I was shooting through glass, but all of our windows were open and every time the shutter clicked, he would stop drinking and look directly at me through the kitchen door. Have you ever seen a Chiggy head on?

I love this shot. He has near perfect symmetry--
the eyes, the bill, his little black cap--all perfect!
He definitely seems to have spotted me too.

...not quite head on...more of the old crazy eye look....

Oooh...caught again!

I'm just going to go back to being cute.
I don't have time for all this shutter clicking nonsense...

For more great bird photos from around the world, see:

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Barred Owl in the Cataloochee Valley of the Great Smoky Mountains...and a bear in Asheville, NC!

My cousin, Steve, who lives with his family in beautiful, beautiful Asheville, North Carolina just sent me these shots of a Barred Owl. He, Kim and Zander were camping in the Cataloochee Valley of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park when they stumbled upon this unsuspecting slumbering owl. Looks like he groggily opened his eyes for the second shot. What a beauty!

A Barred Owl sleeping deep in the woods of the Great Smoky Mountains...

(For close-up photos of a Barred Owl, click here.)

Here is another photo Steve sent me. This one from his backyard....what do you think?

Isn't that cool? This guy weighs about 400 lbs according to the wildlife biologist who measured its tracks and studied several photos of it. The picture is about 4 years old, but the bear visits his neighborhood regularly. There are also smaller bears that come around. Coyotes visit as well as bobcats. Last year a few neighborhood cats went missing... Also last year they had a hen turkey and 16 chicks staying in their yard. The fowl seemed to like roosting on their compost pile. If I list out all the birds that visit his backyard, the post would go on forever. Needless to say, I'm jealous... Asheville, NC is a birder's wonderland.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Chickadees keep us company at Fort Ancient

Birding at Fort Ancient
…continued from yesterday’s post.

The soft, gentle call of a chickadee buzzed from a stand of White Snakeroot as Rick and I walked the Little Miami Bike trail some 240 feet below Fort Ancient (from the North Overlook in the park, you can hike a quarter-mile trail down to the Little Miami Bike Trail). We stopped and watched the little bird as he landed on a flower, only to ride it slowly to the ground as the stalk supporting it bent under his weight. Fluttering and hanging on, the chickadee rested for a moment before gleaning an insect from its leaves and flying up to a branch to eat the juicy bit of protein. Several other chickadees buzzed and called all around us, one on a rusty fence wire, another in a tree deeper in the surrounding woods, another in a stand of white snakeroot on the other side of the trail. The little birds were busy. They seemed to know autumn was in the air and winter preparations were being discussed...

Is there anything sweeter or more soothing than the call
of a chickadee? For such a tiny and hard-working bird,
his call carries deeply, sinking right into the listener’s
heart, leaving traces of peace and happiness.

Sweet little Chiggy...do you know how
photogenic you are sitting on that rusty wire?

No matter how busy a Chiggy,
grooming should never be neglected...

Whenever I hear a chickadee sing, I slow down
and listen...and watch. Their song is magic.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The meadow at Fort Ancient

Birding at Fort Ancient
...continued from yesterday's post.

At the South Fort, just before the North Lookout, I found a lovely meadow filled with wildflowers, bees, butterflies and hummingbird moths...not to mention a bird or two!

Thistle is always willing to sit still for a photo
...unlike the little brown birds flitting around.

The tiny little spider on the right is yellow-green
and very pretty with reddish stripes and a red
head band. I have no idea what type he is...
(Click to enlarge...)

Note: Maree of Art & Creativity just wrote in and thinks this little fellow is a crab spider. She said crab spiders take on the color of the flower they are sitting on (see her comment in the comment section). A chameleon-like crab spider...how cool! I need to get a book on spiders and read up, but I have to admit they sort of give me the willies. I had a nasty little black spider live in my ear for about 12 hours one day, and it was truly horrible. I didn't know he was in there...I thought it was water. By the end of the day I had a fever and the crackling was driving me insane! I jumped up and down, shaking my head sideways while lightly pounding on my head to dislodge the "water." I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror. Eventually, a black spider crawled out of my ear canal and into my hand. Needless to say, it freaked me out, and I've been wary of the fellows ever since! I went to the emergency room because I was afraid he was a she and may have laid eggs. When you go to the ER with a spider in the ear, they jump to. Apparently if they bite you, since it's so close to the brain, it can be bad. So.....that's the reason I have not bought a spider book. I think I need to get over that!

Another lovely sign! Yeah...the meadow is being
maintained! I don't know if they are worried about
non-native invasive species, but they
are keeping it cut as a meadow...

Do you see the bit in the sign about Bobwhite quail? It's been years since I've heard one, and the last time I saw one was in 1991 at Clifty Falls in Indiana. When I was a kid we had a slew of them in our backyard. I grew up hearing their lovely song all the time! The horrible blizzard and severe winter of 1978 decimated their population, and their numbers have not been restored to those of the 60s and early 70s. I can't wait to hear them again (Bob...Bob....White!).