Saturday, June 30, 2012

Painting and drawing Bay-breasted Warblers at Magee Marsh...

I always look forward to seeing Bay-breasted Warblers as they migrate through our area in May. Their beautiful chestnut-colored flanks and black mask are striking, and they are not quite as hyper as other warblers as they move through the branches gleaning insects, so I usually get wonderful views of them. Problem is they are few and far between around my house, so when I headed up to Magee Marsh this May for The Biggest Week in American Birding warbler festival, I had my fingers crossed that a few would head my way...

A Bay-breasted Warbler (Dendroica castenea) perched in a tree just above me along the boardwalk at Magee Marsh. 

...field sketches of the Bay-breasted Warblers I saw while at Magee Marsh in Toledo, Ohio.

...more field sketches of Bay-breasted Warblers from the boardwalk.

Last Sunday I went back through my sketchbook looking for a few sketches to paint. I liked a few of the Bay-breasted Warbler drawings, so I grabbed my watercolors and headed outside on the deck. Matty had mentioned earlier that he liked the two sketches of the bird looking up, so I made sure I painted them. It was gorgeous outside--warm but not too hot (not like today and yesterday's 101 degrees F), and two Cedar Waxwings were overhead in the mulberry trees trilling and buzzing and chirruping in their special way. Listening to the birds while painting was nice. I even heard a Bobwhite (which is incredibly rare for our neighborhood. I haven't heard one since 1992!! 1992!!! The Bobwhite called out his name six separate times before moving on. I even called Rick out to listen. It was so awesome to hear the Bobwhite's call. Growing up, I heard it all the time.). In all, I did three quick watercolors of a Bay-breasted Warbler...

Painting 229. Bay-breasted Warbler above me...
(watercolor, hot-pressed paper -- this is Matty's favorite painting)

Painting 228. Bay-breasted Warbler watercolor sketch...
(watercolor, cold-pressed paper)

Painting 227. Bay-breasted Warbler, side view...
(watercolor, cold-pressed paper)

Click here to learn more about The Biggest Week in American Birding. You will be amazed at all the warblers you'll see!

I did these paintings for my monthly contribution to the Birding is Fun! blog, so you'll find a similar post there.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The very dapper Golden-backed Snipe Fly... the insect world, if any fly could claim the title "fashionista," it would be the Golden-backed Snipe Fly (Chrysopilus thoracicus). This coal black fly sets the cut of his coat with striking accents. His yellow-tipped thorax appears to have been dipped in gold, and his abdomen follows suit with a geometric pattern of tailored white dashes. The contrasting colors draw the eye in, and there's no denying this lovely fly cuts a striking figure...

A Golden-backed Snipe Fly (Chrysopilus thoracicus) rests on the bike trail along the Little Miami River. His contrasting colors of yellow, black and white are striking, and his geometric design appears crisp, modern and even trendy...what a fashion plate! 

...the dark wing venation just adds to this snipe fly's appeal. He's definitely no ordinary house fly...

...but this fly is not all show. The bright yellow patch on the thorax and the white splashes on the abdomen serve a defensive purpose. They help him mimic a bee or a wasp, but don't worry, he can't sting; however, according to my "Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North American," by Eric Eaton and Kenn Kaufman, some species can bite. This guy ignored me and didn't try to bite. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Empty shell...

While walking on a rocky beach along the Little Miami River, I saw a small exposed spinal column and what looked like ribs lying abandoned on one of the rocks at the water's edge. It only took a second to realize it was all that was left of a baby snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentine). The little turtle had had a very short life, but another creature went on to live another day. Maybe a fox, a raccoon, or a skunk found the little turtle while out on its nightly wanders and ate the tender flesh under the plastron, discarding the carapace (upper shell) and moving on to find its next bit of sustenance... empty baby snapping turtle carapace on the rocks at the edge of the Little Miami River. 

...all the ridges and sharp points on a snapping turtle's carapace (upper shell) are distinctive and make it easy to identify what type of turtle this was. 

Once snapping turtles reach maturity, they have few natural predators, but as hatchlings they are vulnerable to predation. When baby turtles hatch and leave their nest, they have to make a dangerous overland hike to get to to the water. They often travel at night and encounter foxes, owls, raccoons, and skunks along their way. During the day, Great Blue Herons think they make a tasty treat, hawks like them too, and once they make it to the water, adult snapping turtles can get them, or even large fish.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Cute, sweet, fuzzy bunny in the wet grass at Magee Marsh.....

After waiting out a passing thunderstorm, I climbed out of my car and walked up towards the boardwalk at Magee Marsh. Avoiding the parking pavement, I stuck to the grass at the forest's edge because I could hear a noisy Ovenbird calling out "teacher, teacher, teacher!" over and over. I was hoping to catch sight of him, which I did, but while I was watching him, I noticed movement in the grass about five feet from where I was standing. On my second glance, the cutest of the cute, cute, cutes came out to munch on the rain-soaked grass...

...when this young rabbit came out of the woods to nibble on the wet grass I froze. He was adorable, so I hunkered down in the grass and hoped he wouldn't hop away! He didn't. He watched me for a bit and then started nibbling again...

...stop with the head tilt, bunny. It's unfair use of the cuteness factor!
(This is my favorite bunny photo in the series.)

:-) ...that little nose makes me smile!

These photos are all from the week I spent this May at Magee Marsh in Toledo, Ohio during spring migration for the Biggest Week in American Birding festival. Click here for all the Magee Marsh Biggest Week posts.

(...also... Magee Marsh is one of the sites on the Nature Conservancy's Natural Treasures of Ohio sweepstakes (May 22 - August 8). Click here for details.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

House Wrens feeding nestlings...

...House Wren babies! A sweet House Wren couple has taken up residence in our yard and is working tirelessly to feed their demanding brood of nestlings. Their nestbox is located in the plum tree in our side yard. We can hear their constant bubbly chatter throughout the house. Earlier in the season, I watched the male bringing little twigs to the nest box regularly and was hopeful a female would choose it as their abode (at the beginning of the nesting season male House Wrens build several nests hoping to catch a female's eye). After a while, I noticed two little House Wrens buzzing around, bringing nesting material to the nest box, and I kept my fingers crossed that the female would lay eggs and they would hatch out...and they did!
A video of the House Wrens in our yard bringing insects and spiders home to the nestlings. Every time mama or papa would enter the nestbox, the babies would erupt in frantic chatter, "food, food!"

House Wren (Troglodytes aedon)
We love listening to their constant chatter and scolding. 

...the parents developed a flight pattern going to and from their "hunting grounds," which are a part of our yard I let go wild. Seems like there are easy "pickins" there, and the wrens preferred the weed patch to any other part of the yard. It's fun to watch them fly into the weed patch, glean an insect, and fly back using the same route to the nest box (calling out the whole time...).  

...such a fierce little House Wren!
Actually...House Wrens really are ferocious fighters. This little male successfully fought off repeated attempts of a House Sparrow to usurp the nestbox, and a little Carolina Chickadee had designs on the digs too, but the House Wren talked him out of it.

I hope the little family survives their nestbox time. Raccoons are in our area, and they sometimes raid nestboxes. This one is well protected, hanging from a branch on a tree, but you never know with raccoons...

Our little wren family survived...the fledglings flew the coop and moved on to the big, wide world!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Butter Butts...

This female Yellow-rumped Warbler was flitting through the branches at the edge of the woods. She was low in the trees and very busy looking for insects. Suddenly she stopped and stared up at something. She looked backed and forth, eyeing it from different directions, sitting still...and giving me a great shot of her namesake...

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronata), aka Butter Butt...
It's easy to see how this warbler got its nickname! 

The yellow feathers on top of her head account for the scientific name of "coronata," which is from the Latin "corona," which means "crown."
Yellow-rumped Warblers have a beautiful broken white eye ring... 

...but it's that lovely little pat of butter that makes it easy to identify this beauty!

Yellow-rumps do not nest in our area, but they are plentiful and common during migration, and you can find them here in the winter. I've seen them every now and then along the Little Miami and at Winton Woods too.

...and their bellies are pretty too! 

These photos are all from the week I spent this May at Magee Marsh in Toledo, Ohio for the Biggest Week in American Birding festival.

Click here for another post on the sweet Butter Butt.

Note: Magee Marsh is one of the sites on the Nature Conservancy's Natural Treasures of Ohio.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Mama and papa Robin feeding their nestling at Magee Marsh...

This sweet little bird has to be the most photographed American Robin on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh. Her nest was located at eye level in the crook of a horizontal branch on a huge tree about ten feet from the boardwalk. She faithfully sat on the nest and was there every time I walked past. The robin's nest was so conspicuous that any person with a camera would stop to "oooooh" and "ahhhh" and then photograph her. She didn't care. She would sit and watch or close her eyes and doze. One afternoon in a light drizzle I stopped to photograph her. No one else was around, so I knew I could spend some time with her. As I focused in, I heard the chirp of another robin and watched her perk up. Suddenly her mate popped into view with yummy insects in his bill. I assumed he was delivering insects to feed the female, but she didn't eat. Instead, she got up, peered into the nest, and a little beak popped up...

An American Robin (Turdus migratorius) sitting on a nest at Magee Marsh. A gentle rain was falling and I could see the raindrops beading up on her feathers. I thought that would be interesting. Little did I know something more interesting would show up...

...suddenly, the male robin flew in with a tasty treat. 
(I am assuming this is the male because the color of his plumage was more vibrant that the female's.)

The male gave the female the insect--looks like some sort of damselfly!

...they both took turns feeding the baby (only one little bill popped up).

The female put the damselfly in the nestling's mouth.

...papa took a turn too.

"Do you have any more? The baby's still hungry..."

"You'd better hurry. Those insects aren't going to catch themselves..." 

The female returned to the nest, keeping the nestling warm. I was leaving, I noticed I could see her head on--always one of my favorite angles. You have to love robins on nests! 
These photos are all from the week I spent looking for warblers at Magee Marsh in May for the  Biggest Week in American Birding festival.

Note: Magee Marsh is one of the sites on the Nature Conservancy's Natural Treasures of Ohio sweepstakes (May 22 - August 8). You can enter to win a Honda Insight Hybrid after visiting Magee Marsh! Click here for details on how to win the car.

(These photos are classic "robin sitting on a nest" shots. They are great references for artists. If you're an artist, feel free to use them for inspiration.)

Monday, June 11, 2012

An Eastern Fox Snake at Magee Marsh...

I was walking along the boardwalk at Magee Marsh when out of the corner of my eye I saw movement to the left in a tree, but when I looked directly at the tree, I saw nothing but dark circles of dappled sunlight. "Hmmm...I know I saw something moving..." went through my mind, until suddenly the "dark circles of dappled sunlight" started sliding into the hollow of the tree. "Wow! Is that a Fox Snake?" I said out loud, and several people looked over...a few scurried away with a shriek when they saw the snake silently sinking into the dead tree, but a few others stayed to watch. "Yes, it is a Fox Snake!" said one older gentleman with a grin on his face. "I've wanted to see one of those for a long time," he continued. "I've wanted to see one for a long time too!" I said. "He looks just like the photos in the books! I've never seen one in the wild--life snake!" :-)

An Eastern Fox Snake (Elaphe gloydi) climbs silently in a dead tree along the boardwalk of Magee Marsh near Cleveland, Ohio. 
Eastern Fox Snakes are not common in Ohio. They are listed as "Species of Concern" by the Ohio Division of Wildlife and can only be found around Lake Erie and Lake Huron in the United States and Canada (Source: Ohio Department of Natural Resources, click here). I always assumed I'd never see one in the wild because I don't make it up to Lake Erie that often, but in the back of my mind, I was hoping to see one. Just like the Blanding Turtle I saw at Magee (here), I knew there was a chance I'd find an Eastern Fox Snake at Magee too.

The camouflaging colors of an Eastern Fox Snake help it blend into a dead tree. Unfortunately, the same colors sometimes fool people into thinking they are looking at a Copperhead or a Massasauga, both of which are venomous, but the Eastern Fox Snake is nonvenomous and completely harmless to humans. Unfortunately, over the years many have been killed out of fear and mistaken identity! I didn't get to hear it, but the Eastern Fox Snake can vibrate its tail when it's frightened, which often causes people to confuse it with a Timber Rattlesnake. (Source, Ohio DNR, here.)

Eastern Fox Snakes can get pretty big, and this snake was no slouch! I don't know if this snake was over the full-grown height of five feet because a lot of his body was curled in the hollow of the tree. He moved quickly, sinking down into the hole and out of sight much too soon... 

Some Eastern Fox Snakes have a reddish or copper-colored head, and our guy is a prime example. This coppery color is another reason Fox Snakes are often killed after being mistakenly identified as a venomous Copperhead Snake. Copperheads are one of the three venomous snakes found in Ohio, but are mostly found in southeast Ohio...far away from this fellow! 

This snake was beautiful. He had a light brown to yellowish background that matched the dead tree's color perfectly, and the round splotches of dark brown to black color were striking. His reddish head just topped it all off!

I saw this fellow back in May when I was at the Biggest Week in American Birding festival. I spent a lot of time on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh looking for birds, but there's more that just birds living in the Black Swamp. Frogs, turtles, snakes, muscrats, moths, butterflies, the list goes on and on.  So if you have a chance this summer head up to Magee Marsh and the Black Swamp Bird Observatory.

Natural Treasures of Ohio sweepstakes
Magee Marsh is one of the sites on the Nature Conservancy's Natural Treasures of Ohio sweepstakes (May 22 - August 8). You can enter to win a Honda Insight Hybrid after visiting Magee Marsh! Click here for details on how to win the car.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Vesper Sparrows singing in the morning...

Vesper Sparrows are sweet birds. They are often described as plain, which I guess they are when you first look at the gray-brown feathers that help them disappear into the scrubby fields they like to haunt, but when they fly from perch to perch in the grass, a flash of white on the outer edges of their tail feathers is bright, and suddenly they are not plain at all. I love these little junco-like birds and enjoy watching them as they flit through the grasses, staying low and out of camera range usually. When I saw this male at Armleder Park, he was singing from one of the higher perches in the field, but he still was able to avoid the camera lens by perching behind grasses and sticks, so instead of photographing him, I did a few field sketches, concentrating on gesture rather than feather detail, etc...

Painting 224. Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus) in the Morning...
(This painting started as a pencil sketch. I added watercolor and a touch of colored pencil later.)
Vesper Sparrows love to take dust baths. I've read many accounts of that and was hoping to see one or two fluffing up in the dust and flapping around, but no luck. They are so well adapted to dry dusty fields that they don't use water for bathing or drinking! It's thought they get all the water they need from insects and seeds and possibly also morning dew on the grass.

Painting 225. Vesper Sparrow at Armleder Park
(This painting started as a pencil sketch. I added watercolor and a touch of colored pencil later.)
In bird literature, I've read over and over that Vesper Sparrows were named from the romantic view of naturalist John Burroughs that the bird sang more sweetly at sunset or dusk, which is the time for evening prayers or vespers, but I had never directly read anything about him naming the bird, so I wanted to check it out. I love naturalist writings from the 1800s and early 1900s that have romantic tendencies, so I was glad when I stumbled across the John Burroughs website and a page called "The Naming of the Vesper" (click here for the link). A list of references shows the transition of the bird's original name of "grass finch" or "bay-winged bunting" to the name "vesper sparrow," and although John Burroughs promoted the name, he did not coin it. In Burroughs' 1871 book "Wake-Robin," Burroughs gives credit to Wilson Flagg...
"They sing much after sundown, hence the aptness of the name vesper sparrow, which a recent writer, Wilson Flagg, has bestowed upon them." (Source: "Wake-Robin," by John Burroughs, page 212.  Click here for the free online ebook version of the book.)
...after reading what was on page 212, I started skipping through the book to read more, and I loved his colorful descriptions. Now I want to get a hard copy of "Wake-Robin" and a few of his other books. Here is a glimpse of Burroughs' introduction...
"Do such books as mine give a wrong impression of Nature, and lead readers to expect more from a walk or a camp in the woods than they usually get? I have a few times had occasion to think so. I am not always aware myself how much pleasure I have had in a walk till I try to share it with my reader. The heat of composition brings out the color and the flavor. We must not forget the illusions of all art. If my reader thinks he does not get from Nature what I get from her, let me remind him that he can hardly know what he has got till he defines it to himself as I do, and throws about it the witchery of words. Literature does not grow wild in the woods. Every artist does something more than copy Nature; more comes out in his account than goes into the original experience." (Source: "Wake-Robin," by John Burroughs, page xii.  Click here for the free online ebook version of the book.)

Painting 226. Vesper Sparrow Singing in the Morning
(...another painting started as a pencil sketch. I added watercolor and then gouache later.)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Visit Ohio's natural treasures...and win a car!

The Nature Conservancy of Ohio and Honda of America Mfg., Inc. have teamed up for a summer challenge and sweepstakes called the NATURAL TREASURES of OHIO. The Nature Conservancy and Honda developed the challenge to showcase 30 of Ohio's most beautiful and wild natural areas. Every time you visit one of the sites on the map below and take a photo of yourself with the designated landmark, you can enter to win a Honda Insight Hybrid (or one of five $500.00 REI gift cards)...

The Nature Conservancy's Natural Treasures of Ohio Sweepstakes takes place from May 22 - August 8, 2012. 
Visit just one of these sites to enter to win the car...or visit all 30 sites for 30 chances to win!
From the map, you can see there are several sites located close to Cincinnati. Mt. Airy Forest and Ault Park are actually in Cincinnati, so they are minutes away...and a great place to start! Just 45 minutes northeast of the city is Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve in Yellow Springs. It is gorgeous and offers wonderful hiking through limestone and dolomite gorges. If you drive west for about an hour, you'll find the Edge of Appalachia Preserve in West Union. Edge of Appalachia consists of 16,000 acres of forests, prairies, streams, and waterfalls, and is considered one of the most biologically diverse areas in the midwest. These are great day trips and give you a glimpse of the natural treasures of Ohio!

Since 1958 The Nature Conservancy has helped protect more than 55,000 acres of the most vital freshwater and forest habitats in Ohio. Josh Knights, the executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Ohio, wants to protect more and said the following...
"Natural Treasures of Ohio highlights the diversity of the Buckeye State's extraordinary natural areas, showing families that experiencing nature is closer and easier than you think. We believe that if Ohioans discover and come to know these areas, they'll be inspired to help us protect them."
Check out The Nature Conservancy's summer challenge, and then head out to the trails. You can learn about Ohio's natural history, see beautiful birds and gorgeous scenery, and have fun...and maybe win a car! Click here to learn how to enter and upload a photo of yourself with the designated landmark. Last day to enter is August 8, 2012. You must be an Ohio resident to participate.

I'm already making plans to visit several of the sites. I'll visit all the parks close to Cincinnati, but I also want to head over to Clear Creek Metro Park, Ash Cave at Hocking Hills State Park, and Conkle's Hollow State Nature Preserve. I visited all three parks three years ago and was amazed at the the gorgeous scenery and the wonderful birds. I've never been to Darby Creek, and I think I'd like to see it too... Wherever you go, you'll see beautiful birds and other wildlife. Here's a tiny sampler...

Black and White Warbler (Mniotilta varia)
I photographed this warbler up at Magee Marsh on Lake Erie, but you can find them all over Ohio. I see them regularly on the Little Miami River in the spring and summer, but the place I've seen the most in one day is the Clear Creek Metropark. I saw 14 in two hours--this cute little Black and White Warbler is part of the reason I want to head back to Clear Creek this summer.

Blanding's Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii)
If you live in Cincinnati, you're not likely to see this type of turtle any time soon (if ever--I've never seen one around our town). 
Blanding's Turtles stick to the northern counties along Lake Erie, so if you head up to Magee Marsh on Lake Erie, your chances of seeing one skyrocket! I saw this turtle on the same log every day I walked the boardwalk at Magee Marsh this spring. His bright yellow neck stood out like a beacon.  

Blue Gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)
You'll find these little dynamos in Ohio wherever you find large trees. They chatter and scold almost nonstop along the Little Miami Trail in spring and summer, and I love hearing and watching them. When autumn starts creeping, they head back south to the tropics for the winter, and I always miss hearing their whiny complaints. These birds are fun. If you make squeaky sounds by "pishing," they will come in for a closer look. If you look closely at this fellow, you can see he has spider silk in his bill. Males help build the nest. Blue Gray Gnatcatchers use spider silk to adhere lichens to their little shingles! I watched a couple building a nest two years ago in Ault Park.

Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus)
Around Cincinnati, I hear these birds along the Little Miami River a lot during spring migration, and I see them every now and then at the Cincinnati Nature Center in winter, but in the heat of summer, most are on their nesting grounds far north, so why do I have a photo of a Hermit Thrush in summer in Ohio? Because you can find them in the deep, cool, hemlock gorges in Hocking Hills and Clear Creek Metropark. Three years ago, one flew right in front of me at Ash Cave in Hocking Hills and started to sing! I was amazed I actually got to see one of the few nesting Hermit Thrushes in our state (and up close too). I also heard them at Clear Creek in July when it was about 92 degrees...another reason to's cool in the hemlock gorges!