Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Cornish Rex cat. He looks scary, but he is so sweet!
Halloween cat...

This Jack-O-Lantern is on our front porch. We had fun carving him out, and went for a classic pumpkin face!
Halloween pumpkin...

I created this electroBird in PhotoShop using Glowing Edges. It creates a cool neon-like image.
Halloween vulture...

Happy Halloween

Have fun and don't eat too much candy!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Immature Little Blue Herons, photos, sketches, and a watercolor

Once a month, I'm a contributor on the Birding is Fun blog. I often forget to publish those posts on Red and the Peanut, so I'm going to try to add them in every now and then. Here's a post from way back in July:

Little Little Blues are white...
Early this June, Matty, Rick and I went to Hilton Head, SC for our vacation. I visited the nearby Pinckney Island NWP every day to watch the birds nesting at the Ibis Pond rookery. The Little Blue Herons were especially active this year, and the deep slate-colored adults could be seen sitting on nests, preening while they perched at the end of branches, flying overhead with long twigs destined for other nests, or just fluffing up to transform themselves into ridiculously attractive birds, but it was their snowy white offspring that I really paid attention to. The white-feathered young Little Blue Herons were busy flapping their wings, hopping from branch to branch, and waiting and begging for food...

Two young Little Blue Herons stretch and flap their wings. If you look at the tip of the wing feathers, you can see the identifying blue-tipped feathers.
Two young Little Blue Herons stretch and flap their wings from branches near their nest. They were not yet airborne, still gaining strength for their first flights. Here they were watching an adult that had just landed a few branches over, no doubt hoping for food!
Notice the identifying field marks of young Little Blue Herons: greenish legs and feet, and dark-tipped wing feathers
Little Blue Herons have white plumage while they are young and retain the white color for their first year. They often nest with Snowy Egrets, but it's not too hard to tell the two white birds apart. Look at their legs, Little Blue Heron babies have greenish legs and feet. They also have dark blue-gray tipped wing feathers. It's often hard to see the dark-tipped feathers when the birds are at rest, but when they stretch, it's easy to spot the dark tips on the wing feathers.
With the wings folder, it's hard to see the dark-tipped wing feathers that identify this bird as an immature Little Blue Heron, but they are there.
...with the wings folded it's a little harder to see the dark-tipped wing feathers on a young Little Blue Heron, but if you look closely at the farthest end of the wing, you can see the dark tips among all the white.
The nice thing about a rookery, is the birds stay put for you! All this posing and sticking near the nest makes it easy to sketch and draw them. At Ibis Pond on Pinckney Island I love to sit down, set up the scope, and get out the sketchbook. Here are a few quick sketches of the two babies...

...from my sketchbook, pencil sketches of young Little Blue Herons.
...pencil sketches of immature Little Blue Herons
...quick field sketches of immature Little Blue Herons still clinging to the nest site.

...a very quick watercolor painting/sketch of an immature Little Blue Heron
Immature Little Blue Heron (watercolor heightened with black and white conte crayon).
...painted this from a sketchbook drawing earlier this summer.

...and adult Little Blue Heron in full blue plumage is puffed up to a full display of feathers and color.
...and here's papa fluffing up in all his blue grandeur!
(I took this photo last year at Pinckney, but it's one of my favorite fluffing-up shots.)

II have lots and lots of Hilton Head birds sitting in the archives patiently waiting to get out. I need to hunker down, focus and bring those photos to life! (...I still have lots of cool birds, insects, turtles and snakes to write about from Magee Marsh in Toledo, Shawnee State Park in Ohio, and Greenbo Lake in Kentucky too...I'll never get caught up!)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Canoeing Greenbo Lake State Park in Kentucky...with two little stinkpots...

Last weekend, Rick, Matty and I, my parents, and my brother, sister-in-law and niece headed southeast for an autumn adventure at Greenbo Lake State Park in Kentucky. Every year we take a fall trip together to relax, hike and create memories. I think we've been to just about every state park with a lodge in Kentucky now. Next year the kids go off to college (sniff), but we made a pact to keep our autumn adventures going. Wherever the kids end up, we are going to take one weekend every fall and go somewhere together. This year was another perfect trip. The weather was wonderful, the hiking fun, and lots of memories were added to the memory vault...

Matthew Riccetti and Maria -- Cool temps and autumn color made this canoeing adventure at Greenbo Lake State Park in Kentucky especially nice.
The kids canoeing on Greenbo Lake in Kentucky. The temps were crisp and the leaves were already showing gorgeous autumn color. Being in the woods with my family is my favorite thing! (Sprinkle in a few birds, and it's icing on the cake. A female Belted Kingfisher flew right in front of us and across the lake just minutes after I took this photo.)
Canoeing Greenbo Lake State Park in KY on an autumn afternoon.
(Rick's the perfect canoeing partner. He always picks up the slack when I pick up the camera instead of the paddle!) Hi Rick!
The trees are just starting to turn colors at Greenbo Lake State Park in Kentucky.
Greenbo Lake is amazingly clear! You can see fish at deep depths, and you can see all the way to the bottom at least 15-20 feet from the edge. Rick and I spent a lot of time just paddling around the edges looking at fish and seeing what was on the bottom. We even saw two Stinkpot turtles (Sternotherus Odoratus) swimming and walking around...
A Stinkpot or Common Musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) walking and swimming along the bottom of Greenbo Lake in eastern KY
This little Stinkpot Turtle looks like she's in shallow water, but she's in water at least 8 feet deep. This photo shows just how clear Greenbo Lake is. I'm assuming this is a female stinkpot because of the short tail; males have longer tails. She was about 5-6 inches long and was covered in algae. 
Stinkpot Turtles are new for me. I'd never seen one in the wild. Stinkpots don't do a lot of basking in the sun on logs, so you usually only see them when they are moving around in the water, and water usually isn't this clear, so we were lucky to see them. The stinkpot's head is very large and triangular-shaped with an upward pointed snout that sort of resembles a snapping turtle, but it's clearly not a snapper because two noticeable yellow stripes run from the snout to the neck. The carapace is different too because it's smooth instead of spiky like a snapping turtle's. The yellow stripes on the head reminded me a bit of map turtles also, but the carapaces were too different. I was puzzled, so I sent the photos to turtle expert, Paul Krusling, who knew immediately what they were...stinkpots!   

A Stinkpot turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) lumbering along near the bottom of crystal clear Greenbo Lake in eastern Kentucky.
Stinkpot turtles aren't fast swimmers. Their short little legs produce a swimming stride that could almost be described as "lumbering," but they do move along, and I was soon pleading, "don't swim away so fast, turtle. I can't ID you yet!!"
When we got home, I pulled out "Amphibians and Reptiles of Indiana," by Sherman Minton, and started reading about stinkpots, also called Common Musk turtles. Soon all the field marks started making sense. These turtles really are distinctive once you study them. A few more descriptive field marks made the ID elongated carapace that is smooth and domed, webbing on the feet that goes all the way to the toenails, and weak swimming. They like slow-moving water with muddy bottoms, which definitely fits Greenbo. I also read Stinkpot turtles are nocturnal, so we were doubly lucky to spot them moving around on the lake's bottom in the afternoon! As the name implies, Stinkpots (or Common Musk) turtles get their nickname from their ability to secrete a stinky smelling defensive oil through their carapace when they are under duress.

Fragrant pines tower along the edges of Greenbo Lake in eastern KY. The scent is so sweet it causes you to linger and enjoy the pungent smell of autumn!
Tall pines border a good part of the lake, and when you canoe close to the shore, that fragrant pine scent sweeps over you and causes you to linger. 
Joni and Jerry (my parents) enjoy the scenery from a pontoon boat at Greenbo Lake. Piloted by my brother, they enjoyed the trip around the lake.
My parents, Joni and Jerry, taking a leisurely pontoon boat ride with Bill and Gail. 

A very short iPhone video of our autumn afternoon out on Greenbo Lake.

...another short iPhone video of canoeing on Greenbo Lake in Kentucky...this time, a short race.

If you live in Cincinnati or Mason, Greenbo Lake State Park is only about 2 hours and 45 minutes away and is a very easy drive. We enjoyed hiking on the deserted trails and basically had the lake to ourselves. We had a lot of fun, and the food in the lodge was good too (especially the cherry pie!).

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Images of autumn...

...colors are richer, shadows are deeper, and the warm oranges and reds of the season ignite anticipation of the ancient celebration of harvest and plenty...

An orangish-red maple leaf shines brightly on the forest floor after a soft autumn shower (from Spring Valley Wildlife Area in Waynesville, Oh). rosehips that border the marsh at Spring Valley Wildlife Area.

...raindorps bead up on an autumn leaf, which is just starting to turn yellow, along the Little Miami Trail at Spring Valley.

A bright read rose hip stands out against the marsh at Spring Valley Wildlife Area.

...small white asters at the peak of their blooming season, glow in the evening shadows along the wet edges of the Little Miami Trail.

Red, orange and yellow leaves stand out brightly against the deep colors and shadows of the forest floor.

...bright green pokeberry leaves and ultra purple stems offer interest in the autumn landscape. The strings of berries have already been pick clean, possibly by cedar waxwings, catbirds or robins.

...bright yellow kernels of corn peak from the dried husk of a stalk of feed corn. This corn was in the filed in front of the eagle's nest on the Little Miami river.

Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) grows at the forest edges along the Little Miami river.

These photos are all from the walk Matty and I took along the Little Miami River at Spring Valley Wildlife Area (from the previous post).

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The eagle's nest at Spring Valley Wildlife Area...

Sunday Matty and I drove up to the Spring Valley Wildlife Area, a beautiful wetland just past Waynesville, OH (about 35 minutes from our house). We wanted to hike out through the corn fields and windbreaks that border the wetland to check out what we hope is an eagle's nest. Before we set out on that hike, though, we took some time to study the marsh and look for birds on the lake. I went to the east and photographed some asters, and when I came back to the car, I found Matty writing in his journal...

Matthew Riccetti writing in his field journal at Spring Valley Nature Preserve in Waynesville, Ohio.
Matty writing down a few of his observations in his field journal (south parking lot, Spring Valley Wildlife Area).

A page out of Matthew Riccetti's journal from a Spring Valley Wildlife Area visit.
...nothing is sacred when you have a mom with a camera.
Journal entry from August 8, 2012 (by Matty Riccetti)
Spring Valley Wildlife Area
"It is an interesting day at Spring Valley marsh. The trees are beginning to blush red and orange in the cool air of the approaching winter, and the birds are finding nests (roosts/places) among the leaves to barricade themselves from the autumn frosts; however, the marsh looks the same. The lily pads still polka dot the surface, and frogs still hop in the water as I draw closer. The marsh refuses to alter its appearance for the coming season; the landscape thus is both picturesque and confusing. Although the marsh still clings to its summer ways, it is still indescribably beautiful the way it picks up the autumn hues from the trees. Seasons change, but the beauty and depth of the marsh does not."

The dedication sign at Spring Valley Wildlife Area in Waynesville, OH.
...birders from all over our area head to Spring Valley to see marsh species and wonderful displays of ducks. It's one of the best marshes in southwest Ohio. This summer I saw Marsh Wrens around the boardwalk, and I've seen Sora and Virginia Rails there many times. 

The Little Miami bike trail at Spring Valley Wildlife Area. The eagle's nest is located off the bike trail on the Little Miami river.
...another reason I love Spring Valley--it's on the Little Miami bike trail! After viewing the lake and marsh, we walked to the bike trail. The eagle's nest is located about a mile south of the south parking lot. Hop on the trail at the parking lot and go left. When you see the cornfields, follow the windbreaks down to the river. The nest is visible from the trail in a huge sycamore. It's on the other side of the river. We saw it from the trail this summer, and now that the leaves have fallen a bit, it stands out even more. 

An eagle's nest (or at least what we think is an eagle's nest) on the Little Miami River at the Spring Valley Wildlife Area.
An eagle's nest on the Little Miami river at Spring Valley! 
Earlier this summer, we saw this nest from a distance. It was much bigger than any Red-tailed Hawk's nest we had ever seen, and it was located where a park attendant said an eagle couple had nested this spring, so I'm 90% sure it's an eagle's nest. I can't wait to check it out this coming February or March to confirm. The nest looked big from a distance, but up close, it was huge! It's actually located on the other side of the Little Miami river from the trail, so you're still not that close, which is good, because the eagles can remain undisturbed. It looked a lot like the eagle's nest I saw up close in Florida (click here and here for those photos.)

Matthew Riccetti sketching the eagle's nest. The temperatures were dropping quickly...we wished we had warmer coats!
Matty sketching out the eagle's nest (or at least what we think is an eagle's nest) across the river...
After viewing the eagle's nest, Matty and I headed back up the trail to the old beaver's pond. We were looking for the Red-headed Woodpeckers that liver there. Red-headed Woodpeckers are rare in our neck of the woods, but there is a population at Spring Valley, and we were hoping one or two would be about. We saw male and female Downy Woodpeckers, a few Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and we heard a Pileated, but no Red-headed Woodpeckers. It was getting late and the temp was dropping quickly, so we took the cut-off back to the lake, and when we emerged from the woods we heard something....and to our left, a Red-headed Woodpecker flew up from the ground and over the trees. His tell-tale white back feathers were flashing in the low light. Pretty cool...

A female Downy Woodpecker peaks from a hole in a dead tree at the beaver pond. Night was falling and the temperature was dropping!
A female Downy Woodpecker peaks from a hole in a dead tree at the beaver pond. She was in and out of the hole several times. We were hoping for close-ups of a Red-headed Woodpecker, but this little Downy was so sweet, we were just as happy. A male Downy was two dead trees down. He was fluffed up against the chill...and just as sweet.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A chickadee gathers seeds on an early autumn afternoon... temps and a gentle breeze seemed to push me down the Little Miami Trail this afternoon, and I was thankful to be out under the towering sycamores and old oaks and buckeyes once again. Confetti yellow leaves were starting to fall in celebration of the new season, but mostly green was holding on in a stubborn (and futile) attempt to stall autumn. Chickadees were hard at work everywhere gleaning twigs and leaves for insects to eat, but they were also looking for seeds to add to their winter food caches for the long winter ahead...

A Carolina Chickadee gleaning insects from brush along the Little Miami Trail (as summer slowly melts into fall).
A Carolina Chickadee was busy gleaning insects from brush along the trail. He was also plucking seeds from the spent flower heads. Now and then he would fly off, no doubt to hide the seeds in one of his winter food caches.  

Click here for an older post called "Titmice and chickadees cache food for winter survival" to read more about this unique ability. Chickadees have larger spatial memories than non-caching birds, and the extra brain cells (which become more numerous during the autumn) help them keep track of the seeds they hide. For an article from Lehigh University that explains how this works in a little more detail, click here. In the article, Colin Saldanha talks about how the bird's hippocampus expands by about 30% in autumn due to the creation of new nerve cells. In the spring, the chickadee's hippocampus returns to normal size.

Chickadees work hard in autumn to gather and store seeds and nuts for winter food caches to help them survive the long, cold winter.
Chickadees work hard in autumn to gather and store seeds and nuts in winter food caches to help them survive the long, cold, and grey (yikes!) winter. White-breasted Nuthatches, Blue Jays, and Tufted Titmice also stash food for the winter. 
Green is still king along the Little Miami Trail, but it better get ready to abdicate the throne, because yellow, gold, and red are ready to take over!