Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Bluebird Sentinels of Serpent Mound...

If you see "Serpent Mound" in the title, you probably have guessed that Matty and I are back at Shawnee State Park doing our week of volunteering at the nature center with the fabulous and awesome naturalist there, Jenny Richards, author of Naturally Speaking from Shawnee State Park. If you want to see some of what Matty and I did last year at Shawnee click here. Rick is back at home working and holding down the fort, so he is missing out on the fun, but Matty and I are having a blast playing with the snakes and helping out at the nature center. If you're in the area, drop by! Tomorrow Matty and I are leading a workshop for the kids to teach them how to paint birds on rocks. It will be fun, and it's free!

Last year, Matty and I visited Serpent Mound the first day we arrived, and this year we did the same. We wondered if the Bluebirds that seemed to patrol the park would still be there, and they were...and there were more of them! Once again, the birds were hard at work, keeping a watchful eye on the ancient serpent effigy...

Serpent Mound is an ancient 3-foot high and 1,330 foot (nearly a quarter-mile) long serpent earthwork effigy built on a ridgetop overlooking Brush Creek in Adams County, Ohio. The grass-covered serpent effigy is 20-25 feet wide. I was at the top of the viewing tower when I took this shot, but the serpent is way too big to fit into one camera frame. Click here for an article on the Ohio Archeology Blog that details the mound and shows an arial view of the Great Serpent.

Eastern Bluebirds act as sentinels at the Great Serpent Mound, reminding us to stay off the earthwork mounds to preserve the ancient effigy. Papa Bluebird seems to be teaching his baby the's a very important job. Not just any bluebird can do it...

...later papa flew down to the eastern coil of the serpent mound for a personal inspection--all's clear to his right!

...all's clear to his left!

...more lessons for junior. The bluebirds at Serpent Mound are ever-vigilent. Afterall, their charge is the largest ancient earthen effigy mound in the world!

...of course, the Bluebird Sentinels were not the only birds guarding the sacred effigy. Here a Chipping Sparrow sings out an alarm from the path. Phoebes were perched all around, and huge American Crows flew regularly overhead to monitor the perimeter. Nuthatches, woodpeckers, and goldfinches were singing too...while Wood Thrushes and Ovenbirds had the steep hillsides that slid down to Brush Creek covered... :-)

...Matty and I are having so much fun volunteering at Shawnee. I will have more to post in the coming days. Today we watched two Timber Rattlesnakes being prepared for release back into the wild. They were fitted with little GPS chips under their skin so they can be monitored. The Timber Rattlesnake is an endangered species in Ohio, and Shawnee may be his last stronghold.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Savannah Sparrow chips in the High Meadow...

I was so happy when this little Savannah Sparrow flew up in front of me and perched within camera range. The wind was tossing him around, and it was fun to watch him hang on to the leaves. Although succession seems to be stealing a lot of the grassland away at VOA, enough of the High Meadow remains to keep the Savannah Sparrows around. I love their beautiful little faces and the yellow splashes behind their eyes...

...a Savannah Sparrow hunkers down against the wind and holds on tight! He's too sweet for words...

...the Savannah Sparrow gets his name from Savannah, Georgia--one of my favorite cities. No wonder I love this little bird. Alexander Wilson named this beautiful bird after Savannah because that's where he first found one in 1811 (click here for more info).

...the Savannah Sparrow is a newcomer to my town. According to "The Birds of Ohio," by Peterjohn, the first nesting pairs arrived in Cincinnati and Dayton in 1952. Previously they were only migrants in our area. southwestern Ohio, Savannahs are locally distributed and not that common, but you can always find them at VOA Park (at least for the time being). Unfortunately, the park has stopped mowing the High Meadow due to lack of funding, and succession is rapidly changing the grassland environment, which is really sad because the VOA High Meadow is one of the few areas in our populated suburbs where grassland birds (including Henslow's Sparrows) can live.

...psssst...little Savannah...look under the leaf...lunch is waiting!

Savannah Sparrow in the High Meadow from Kelly Riccetti on Vimeo.

...this little Savannah Sparrow is tossed around in the breeze in the High Meadow at VOA Park in West Chester, Ohio. You can hear him chipping if you listen carefully. The louder call is of the American Robin in the tree behind me. (Probably saying something like, "look behind you...I'm here...forget about that little Savannah...Robins rule...I have an orange belly...and I'm bigger...look at me!).

...more bird paintings

Painting 157, Prairie Warbler
(Watercolor heightened with colored pencil)

I saw this fellow back in March at Ding Darling. He sang nonstop and came in incredibly close for me. I fell in love with him...

Painting 156, Great Blue Heron
What Big Yellow Eyes You Have...

...this beautiful Great Blue Heron fished and walked the beach daily near our condo on Captiva Island, Florida. He's also the same Big Blue that showed up in painting 135, A Captiva Blue in Green.

Painting 155, Great Blue Heron
Grunge in Florida Light...

...the same fellow that's in painting 156, but I painted this version with a palette knife and very thick acrylic. The painting was too large for the scanner (16x20), so I photographed it. Unfortunately, it was a grey day and the photo is way too dark, not doing the painting justice. I need to rephotograph it when the sun returns....

Painting 154, Common Yellowthroat Hiding Along the Little Miami River
(Watercolor underpainting covered in oil pastel)

(the original Common Yellowthroat watercolor painting)

The original watercolor didn't have enough life in it for me, so I gave in and smeared color all over it, losing the leaves in the process...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Red-winged Blackbird singing in the High Meadow at VOA Park...

Tuesday morning I headed over to Voice of America Park to scout out the Bobolinks, Meadowlarks, and Savannah Sparrows. I was lucky on all accounts, but the first bird I photographed was a Red-winged Blackbird. He was singing and scolding from a tree he was vigorously defending...

A Red-winged Blackbird sings from a tree in the High Meadow at VOA Park in West Chester, Ohio. He sang and scolded nonstop...or at least until I walked past his territory.

Red-winged Blackbird singing in the High Meadow at VOA Park from Kelly Riccetti on Vimeo.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

She with the aqua-colored eyes...

...or possibly he...male and female Double-crested Cormorants look alike.

I found this juvenile Double-crested Cormorant in the willows across the mote at Ibis Pond on Pinckney Island.
I love that hooked bill...and even at a distance those aqua-colored eyes shine through!

...impressive! this angle, you can see his wrinkly gular pouch easily.

...most of the literature describes juveniles as brown, but this bird was rusty colored...almost reddish.
The sun was bright, maybe that was enhancing the interesting color.

...for being so young he or she looks a bit curmudgeonly! juvenile cormorants get older, their feathers turn darker until eventually they are all black. Cormorants do not breed until they are at least 2 or 3 years old. You can see black feathers emerging on this young cormorant, so he must be closing in on two years old. (For older posts showing adult Double-crested Cormorant plumage, click here.)

...this post is part of the 2011 Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge series. Pinckney Island is located just off Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. (Click here for the Pinckney Island 2011 posts, here for 2010, and here for 2009.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Painted Bunting eating grass seeds...

Sometimes I think I have a little bird fairy that sits on my shoulder and whispers in my ear when I’m missing something important. That was the case with this little Painted Bunting. I was photographing a beautiful Great Egret as he fished in the green waters of the mote in front of me, when I felt I needed to look to my left. There…about 6 feet from me, in the tall grasses that lead down to the water’s edge was this male Painted Bunting. He was busy foraging through the hanging seed tassels...

I can't believe he perched so close to me. Those little grass seeds must be very tasty to lure him in!

I hardly know what to say about this bird. He takes my breath away every time I see him...and the words seem to go with it.

Two years ago I photographed a Painted Bunting in the same spot! This little patch of grass grows all along the bank on the back side of Ibis Pond...the part of the pond where the birds don't seem to nest too often.

A sweet fellow...of course he lives on Pinckney Island!

I found this Painted Bunting at Ibis Pond on Pinckney Island NWR. When I first arrived, I could hear them singing at the forest's edge just off 278. They were all along that part of the driveway. When I looked up, one was even sitting on a wire singing! I knew it would be a good day when I spotted one seconds upon entering the refuge, but I had no idea I'd be able to stand about 6 feet from one!

...this post is part of the 2011 Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge series. Pinckney Island is located just off Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. (Click here for the Pinckney Island 2011 posts, here for 2010, and here for 2009.)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Birding with Pam…of South Carolina Low Country Nature Journaling and Art!

…with “South Carolina Low Country” in the title, I bet you already figured out we weren’t birding in Cincinnati! Rick, Matty, his friend, Kedar, and I returned last night from a wonderful week in Hilton Head, SC. The weather was fabulous, the birding was extraordinary, and I met a fellow bird and nature artist, Pam Johnson Brickell! Pam lives in Bluffton, SC very close to Hilton Head and Pinckney Island National Wildlife Reserve. She paints and journals the low country in a beautiful style I love (check out her blog here). Pam also is a contributor in the new journaling book about to be released, “Artist’s Journal Workshop." I also got to meet Pam’s husband, Rob, whom he said came along purely as Pam’s “pack mule,” but I don’t think that was really the case. Rob also is an avid birder and exceptional photographer and writer!

Pam sketching at Ibis Pond on Pinckney Island NWR.
I love meeting blogging friends!!

When we arrived at Ibis Pond on Pinckney Island NWR, the evening sun had just melted into a warm glow. It was the first time I had seen Pinckney in the softer, golden light of approaching dusk, and I liked it. I normally visit Pinckney and Ibis Pond in the morning and early afternoon when the light is intense and harsh, and the ruckus and activity of the birds can almost seem frantic, but as the sun faded on the horizon, so did the hectic pace of Pinckney. The island was changing, and you could feel the birds were ready to end their day…

...the evening sun kisses the feathers of a Black-crowned Night Heron as he surveys his territory at Ibis Pond.

...even though the feel of the island in the evening light was subdued, the red of the Black-crowned Night Heron's eyes was anything but subdued! Here a shaft of gold seems to ignite those gorgeous red eyes! his name implies, the Black-crowned Night Heron hunts at dusk and at night. His large red eyes are sensitive to the light, giving him exceptional night vision. While the other birds are tucking it in for the evening, he's just getting ready to go (hmmmm, he sounds a lot like me...)! While breeding, Black-crowned Night Herons also hunt during the day. I've watched several catch fish in the morning light. They are very patient birds, sitting motionless until a fish swims into striking distance. In the past three years at Pinckney, I've seen day-active Black-crowned Night Herons every time I was there.

A White Ibis flies into the glow of evening at Ibis Pond, reminding us that the park would soon be closing! Yikes... We really had to hustle to make it back to the parking lot (a mile hike) and to the front gate before closing time.

The time went much too fast...unbelievably fast! Two hours on Pinckney is like 15 minutes in the regular world. Pam...I'm so glad we were able to meet and bird. I had so much fun and look forward to the next time we can bird on Ibis Pond!!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The big guys...

Alpacas are bred purely for their fleece. They are not pack animals like llamas and therefore are much smaller. Still...the herdsires of the Alpaca Bella Suri Farm looked pretty big out in the field...

...a beautiful Suri Alpaca herdsire stands tall in the field.

Alpacas are ruminants like cows, therefore, they eat grass and forage in pastures. They eat only the blades of grass and don't tear it up by the roots.

...these two males don't really qualify as cute! They are handsome...and sweet too, but not quite as sweet as the females and crias. Your teeth are definitely safe from cavities with this post!

...another post in the A Week of Alpacas series.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


...I know I'm going a little crazy with the alpaca photos, but I can't help it. I played around at Bill Vonderhaar's Alpaca Bella Suri Farm (located in Morrow, Ohio) for over 2.5 hours, and every alpaca there was photogenic!

Look at this wooly little face! Can you tell this is the other type of alpaca, a Huacaya Alpaca (check out the first alpaca post for a description of the two types of alpacas).

Teddybear face... baby (cria) Suri Alpaca nuzzling up to another.
(The babies were so each other and to me too!)

(A friend emailed me that with all of the recent "sweet" baby alpaca photos my blog needs to carry a "May Induce Diabetes" warning......hey!)

...hmmmm...she might be right!

...did you know alpacas don't have upper teeth? They just have a lower set of choppers, so they can't really bite you. Plus, in the 2.5 hours I was around them, not one (in over 30 alpacas) spit at me, so either Bill's alpacas are exceptionally polite, or llamas are bigger "spitters" than alpacas...

...a beautiful and soft muzzle. The alpacas were quick to come in close for a muzzle nuzzle...

...with such a smoky, smoldering look in her eyes, I think this one is headed for Hollywood...

...I can't get enough of an alpaca's profile.

With all the beautiful colors showing in alpaca fleece, there's really no need to dye the fiber. I had a lot of people write me about how they love knitting with alpaca yarn. It's soft and lightweight...and very warm too. Alpaca fleece does not have lanolin in it like lamb's wool does, so it's not waterproof, but a lot of people are allergic to lanolin, so alpaca fiber is considered hypoallergenic.

...another post in the A Week of Alpacas series...