Monday, May 31, 2010

Prothonotary Warbler exhibiting courtship behavior and displaying his tail feathers...

It's no secret that I do a lot of birding on the Little Miami Bike Trail, and for good reason...every time I'm there I see something cool. I usually hop on the trail at the old Peters Cartridge Company (commonly called the Powder Factory) on Grandin Road in Kings Mills and walk toward Morrow, going as far as the Lebanon fork. This little patch is always productive. If you’re familiar with this stretch, you probably know the hillside stream not too far from the Powder Factory with the tiny “observation deck.” Over the years people have carted stones from the creek bed up the steep banks to create a rustic patio that lets you look down at the stream and follow its course up through the heavily wooded hillside. The water runs at a nice pace here and gathers in small pools along the way creating little watering holes perfect for sipping out of, especially if you’re a bird. I always check the watering holes to see what might be there. It's a great place to spot thrushes, and a Barred Owl is often hanging around too. I will see him well up the hillside sitting over the water, just watching. He’s usually so far up the hill you can only see him with the binocs, but if you know where to look, you’ll spot him frequently. Once, he sat in a tree about 10 feet from the patio. I stood and watched him, mesmerized, but this post is about a Prothonotary Warbler, so I had better get back on track! ...I had just walked back from the little patio, and as I stepped on the trail, a Prothonotary Warbler landed on the bridge railing about 15 feet from me. I was so surprised I froze! I watched him for a few seconds and slowly raised the camera to get his photograph. I didn't want to scare him off. This guy was so gorgeous and so close he unnerved me!

A Prothonotary Warbler perched on the wooden railing of a bridge spanning a small stream. I was a bit shaky when I took this photo. He surprised me by flying in so close, which sort of sent me for a loop! You know that're trying to move quickly and slowly at the same time while adrenalin floods your system and you forget to breathe... I didn't really pull this shot off, but you can see how he was fanning out his tail feathers to display for the female.

He soon flew down on the trail and started hopping around, spreading his tail feathers even more and leaning a little off balance. At first I thought he was hurt, but then I realized he was exhibiting courtship behavior and showing off his lovely tail for a female up in the tree. Every couple seconds he would look up to see if she was still watching him…

...this is the first time I've had a Prothonotary Warbler walking the trail with me!
He would hop a little and look up, then move forward and look up again. It took me a while to figure out he was looking up to make sure the female was paying attention to him.

...he continued to hop forward, fanning his tail.

...look at that cute little eye. He is soooo looking up to make sure his honey is watching him!

Eventually he flew up into the tree, and I walked on. If the couple was nesting close by I didn’t want to disturb them. Prothonotary Warblers are the only warblers in our area that nest in tree cavities, and they often nest over water, so this slow-moving stream would be a perfect place for a nest site. I read a long time ago that fledgling Prothonotary Warblers are born with the ability to swim. Since their nest cavities are often over water, it's not uncommon for them to fall out of the nest and into the water! The Smithsonian’s Migratory Bird Center’s site confirms this, as does the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Nestwatcher’s Resource Center.

Holy's been over two weeks since I posted!!
What is up with that? I have so many photos and half-written posts in the pipe. I really need to get cracking and get these things up. I also haven't been able to get out and visit anyone's blog. Things have been so busy, but there is light at the end of the tunnel (I hope it's not the train!).

...I thought I'd sneak this one in. If you look a third of the way down on the right, you can see the silhouette of the Barred Owl sitting on a branch overhanging the stream. I was shooting through a dogwood in blossom, and he was just a spec with the naked eye. I've cropped the image a lot to show him. In person, the view was gorgeous. I've found him in this exact spot many times...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Indigo Buntings at Kelley Nature Preserve

Rick and Matty played hockey together today at the Indian Hill Winter Club. This is the first time father and son have been on a team together. Matty is now old enough, good enough, and big enough to play in a men's non-checking hockey league, and yahoo to the fact the league is at the Indian Hill Winter Club--the most beautiful of all the hockey rinks in Cincinnati. Any hockey mom will tell you "beautiful" and "hockey rink" rarely fit together in the same sentence, but this time it's true. The Indian Hill Winter Club looks like a rustic ski lodge plucked right out of the wilds of Montana. Complete with two huge stone fireplaces and a cozy lounge, the Indian Hill Winter Club always gets a thumbs up from the moms, but.......I don't care about the bar, the food or the cozy leather couches--at all. I get excited because it's the only hockey rink in Cincinnati located on the banks of a reclaimed gravel pit that is deep and wide and attracts lots and lots of ducks...and recently has been hosting an American Bald Eagle or two. Even better, it's only two minutes away from one of my favorite birding spots, the Kelley Nature Preserve.

Today, after dropping Rick and Matty off at the rink, I hightailed it over to the preserve. The clouds above were dark and threatening, but I knew I could get a little birding in before the heavens let loose. I had about 35 minutes before the game would begin (and I could always be a little late...there are three periods after all). As soon as I pulled into the parking lot I could hear two Eastern Towhees singing back and forth in the trees to the left of the gazebo. What a beautiful call. With one of the most memorable mnemonics, the Eastern Towhee's "Drink your tea....." song always makes me happy. I spotted the orange, black and white high in the tree and listened for a while, eventually moving on to the path north of the gazebo that leads to the meadow. I was hoping to find Indigo Buntings at the forest opening, and they were everywhere.

A male Indigo Bunting was singing near the forest's edge. He would fly out into the meadow and sing, only to return to his perch high in the tree.

Can you tell this is a different male in a different spot. He is smoother and farther along in his molt. He was chipping back and forth with his mate, flying from branch to branch. is his sweet little mate. I first heard her chipping in the brush and found her in a small snag near where the tree limb hangs low over the trail at the meadow's edge as it re-enters the forest. Even though she lacks the brilliant blue of the male, she is so pretty, and I love her gorgeous eyes.

...the same little female flies up into the dead tree rimming the edge of the trail. Both birds would meet up and follow each other from branch to branch, constantly chipping to each other.

...yet another male Indigo Bunting. He was near the beginning of the meadow, in the area where all the saplings are growing. At one point there were four males hollering out their song in trees at the four corners of the meadow. It was wonderful to hear.

As I was leaving the meadow, a flock of 14 Cedar Waxwings, singing and squeaking overhead, flew into a large Mulberry tree and started to devour the berries. The mulberries weren't even ripe yet, but the waxwings didn't seem to mind.

I love the metallic squeaking and constant motion of a flock of Cedar Waxwings as they move through a tree eating the berries. The two birds on the left were feeding each other berries, never sitting still...

Kelley Nature Preserve is a small woodland of only 42 acres, but it hugs the Little Miami River (now you know why I love it) and is very close to the Indian Hill greenbelt. Surrounded by trees, it seems to be a magnet for migrating warblers. Every time I go there I spot something cool. I've seen more Ovenbirds there than anywhere else (I love that little orange stripe on their heads)...and Magnolia Warblers too... Raindrops started to fall, so I headed out. I think I got about 40 minutes of birding in. I'll take it!

...father and son on the ice together for the first time. Matty did so well, even grabbing the puck for a breakaway--and shooting and scoring--yeah!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Jack-in-the-pulpit at Cedar Bog

Spring wildflowers at Cedar Bog Nature Preserve in Urbana, Ohio
...continued from the Wild Columbine post.
Weather conditions weren’t the best when Teri and I walked into the woods. The boardwalk was slick with moisture and low, grey clouds rolled overhead, sealing out the sunlight and giving the woods the feeling of early evening. Plants were dripping with water from earlier showers and moisture hung in the air, but greenness is what you felt and noticed most. Maybe the lack of color everywhere else let the plants glow ultra-green in the low light, or maybe it was just early spring and green was still “new” in our eyes. Either way, the heaviness of the green was memorable, and I wondered if the place would look different in bright sunlight.

...water dripped from branches and leaves and soaked the wildflowers.
It was beautiful to see and hear the remnants of the earlier storms.

...deep shadows and dark green. Sometimes overcast, rainy days yield subtle surprises.

Jack! You have a wonderful profile...

...newly leafed, I love this bright, bright green.

The macro lens pulls me in so close I now see things I never saw before.

Is all the green getting to you? The plants are just as interesting in black and white, maybe more so...

...without the color, the delicate veining in the spathe is more pronounced.

...I like the quiet and stillness that show up in black and white photos.

Needless to say, I fell in love with Jack-in-the-pulpit. I don't get to see this plant very often. It is so beautiful and unique I hope to see more.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Wild Columbine at Cedar Bog Nature Preserve

Spring wildflowers at Cedar Bog Nature Preserve
Last Saturday I headed up to Cedar Bog Nature Preserve in Urbana, Ohio with my friend, Teri. I wanted to photograph the beautiful spring ephemerals, and Teri was starting to gather data for her doctoral thesis. I really didn't know what to expect. The only thing I knew about Cedar Bog was that it was a fen...not a bog and many rare plants thrived there. It didn't take me long, however, to find out Cedar Bog is incredible. Huge Skunk Cabbages spread out from the boardwalk that snakes through the fen, and as you walk into the woods it feels like you're walking through an ancient land. I joked with Teri that we should look out for Sleestaks because it felt like we had stumbled into the Land of the Lost...and it really wasn't that far from the truth. According to Eric Doerzbacher, the site manager, some the skunk cabbages we walked past were well over 1,000 years old.

A leaf of a Skunk Cabbage drips with water from an earlier downpour.

Cedar Bog is another of Ohio's natural anomalies. Complements of the retreating mile-high glacier of the continental Wisconsin glaciation (12,000 - 18,000 years ago), Cedar Bog has its own microclimate. Just like Clifton Gorge to the south, boreal relics, such as the White Cedar (arbor vitae), can survive here because of the cooler temperatures that mimic the north. (Click here for a post about the microclimate at Clifton Gorge.) In an article in The Ohio Journal of Science, March, 1974, Clara May Frederick writes,
"Microclimatic data recorded from 1963 through 1969 demonstrate that Cedar Bog has cooler temperatures and a shorter frost-free period than do adjoining areas. These two factors have resulted in the survival of plants unique to this part of Ohio." (Click here for a link to a pdf of the entire article. It was very interesting.)

The fen is fed by cold artesian waters that bubble to the surface with an average temperature 0f 53 - 55 degrees F. As you walk the boardwalk and look below, you can see the water is flowing--in some places it is more noticeable than others, but you can definitely tell it's not stagnant. "Fens flush" is a common theme on signs posted throughout the preserve that explain what is going on. The constant supply of fresh, cool ground water creates a cool, northern-like microclimate, which has allowed the relic boreal plants to grow here for so many thousands of years since the glacier's retreat.

A few of the many signs posted along the boardwalk.

I have a lot of cool photos of the spring wildflowers we found along the boardwalk. I'll start with these Wild Columbine. The Columbine grew along the boardwalk near the central area of the preserve flanking the clear waters of the west branch of Cedar Run creek.

For a slightly different view, I wanted to see how the columbine photographed from below.

...underneath a Wild Columbine blossom, looking up into the flower.

The light shining through the thin, silky petals from above illuminated the inside of the flower like sun through stained glass.

I would never have guessed such interesting shapes and colors could be seen from underneath the blossom. The skies were grey above, but bright, and the brightness coaxed out the incredible pinks and greens. veining and a glowing pink interior show another view of the beautiful Wild Columbine.

Cedar Bog is about 1.5 hours north of Cincy, and is definitely worth the drive. I saw so many beautiful spring wildflowers there. I want to go back for the next round of bloomers! Here are a few links to Cedar Bog if you want to make the trip:

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Painting #32 - Prothonotary Warbler on the Little Miami River

Painting 32 in the 100 Paintings in a Year Challenge
Prothonotary Warbler on the Little Miami River

I saw this fellow last Thursday on the Little Miami River. He was tucked deep in shadow, but his beautiful yellow-orange feathers could not be dimmed. He caught my eye as the perched in a tree near the river. I got a few photos, but they weren't that great. I opted for a painting of him instead. This is one of my favorite paintings so far!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Matty behind the lens...

Matty and I were in the kitchen when our beautiful Red-bellied Woodpecker flew up to the suet feeder. The day was overcast and grey, which seemed to be the perfect weather conditions for glowing red feathers. At first Matty and I just watched him, mesmerized by the intense red-orange, then Matty grabbed the camera and took a few photos. He didn't know if they would turn out because it was his first time to shoot. I think he has a pretty steady hand and good eye! He was shooting through glass too... Way to go, Matt! I LOVE them!

...and down below, two Mourning Doves were hanging out being sweet. They caught Matty's eye too...