Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Looking back...

It's hard to believe 2009 is in its last days. We all say it: where does the time go?!

Here are some random highlights from 2009

Birding by ear at the Wilds, May 2009
-16 birds added to my life list, including the Bobolink (aka Dennis Rodman bird) and Grasshopper Sparrow (my first bird in the hand - SUCH an amazing experience!). Not to mention the learning of lots of new bird songs.

Oops - I incorrectly identified this as a Savannah Sparrow on my post about the Birding by Ear weekend back in May (it's a Grasshopper Sparrow)!

Making friends with a Grasshopper Sparrow

Met fellow bloggers.
I had the good fortune to meet up with several of my blogging friends in person throughout the year. I met Jim McCormac during the aforementioned birding weekend at the Wilds. Then I met Kelly (aka Peanut) of Red and the Peanut, with whom I spent a whole day birding in the beautiful Hocking Hills region in July. Several days later I met Shelley of Birding in Michigan on our way to vacation in northern Michigan. I almost met Tom of the Ohio Nature Blog while he was working at the ODNR Natural Resources Park at the Ohio State Fair, but our timing didn't quite work out. Maybe in '10, Tom! In September, Dave and I made our way up to Lakeside, OH, for the Midwest Birding Symposium. There I met Nina (Nature Remains), Julie Zickefoose, Bill of the Birds, and Mike Bergin, founder of 10,000 Birds and creator of the Nature Blog Network. It was really good to make face-to-face contact with all these folks with whom I had only had virtual conversations for so long.

Added Athens County to the state map
...for the presence of several moths (Polyphemus and Hummingbird Clearwing) to Butterflies and Moths of North America. Hooray for citizen science!

Polyphemus moth

Hummingbird Clearwing moth

Took a record number of flora photos.
I took more pictures of flowers in 2009 than in any other year since I got my Nikon D50 (653 flower photos in 2006, 131 in 2007, 784 in 2008, and 4,117 in 2009). Among them, new finds on the property, such as...

Lily-leafed Twayblade and Jack-in-the-Pulpit.

Started another blog
Yes, in a fit of madness I decided that I needed another blog by which to convey my photographs. Thus, Photography of the Hills was born. No descriptions or writing there, just images meant to evoke some emotion. That blog has been languishing a bit as of late, but I hope to revive it in the new year. It's possible that I will discuss photography a bit on that blog in the future, but we'll see how it develops. I'm crafting in my mind a "Looking back" post for that blog as I write this, so check it out. Also, as a part of the creation of the photo blog, I learned just enough HTML to enable me to jazz up both of the blogs a little beyond the simple Blogger-provided templates.

Midwest Birding Symposium, September 2009
I knew the MBS would be interesting and educational, but who knew it would be so much fun, too? I went into it knowing I would see quite a few of my blogging friends, most for the first time, which made it that much more special.

Whilst attending the symposium I got to attend a bird banding demo, where I saw so many birds up close and personal, like the Swainson's Thrush (lifer!) and Brown Thrasher.

One thing I learned while at the symposium: when going to a new, interesting location that has lots of natural attractions around, try to add a few extra days to the trip outside of the scheduled symposium/festival/workshop days. I did NOT do that, and I really feel like I missed out on seeing lots of cool stuff in this area of northwest Ohio.

In my next post, I'll tell you what I'm looking forward to in 2010!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Feederwatch, week 7

Wow, I can't believe it's the 7th week of Feederwatch already! Unfortunately there are no photos to accompany this week's installment. I didn't spend as much time feeder watching as I normally do, but I did observe a few interesting things when I was paying attention.

There's still that perky Golden-crowned Kinglet hanging around our property. One of those birds that is heard more often than seen, it was good to lock onto it with the binoculars. Unfortunately, though, I am unable to include it in my Feederwatch count because it doesn't come to the feeders. I wonder, though, if they would come in if I put out waxworms? I need to start putting those out again. I never actually saw any birds partake of the waxworms last year, so I kind of forgot about them.

Another item of interest was watching a male Red-bellied Woodpecker cache peanuts. Whenever a bird, whether it be titmouse, nuthatch, or woodpecker, flies away with a whole peanut in its beak, I usually lose track of it after a few seconds. I was able to stay with the Red-bellied, though, as he flew to a distant snag. I watched him plunk the peaut into a crevice in the dead tree and smash at it with his dagger-like beak, and then he consumed a few pieces of the nut meat within. The remaining pieces of nut meat were distributed to other trees in the immediate vicinity of the snag. He very carefully, but forcefully, stashed the nut meat into these trees. The angle at which he was perched did not allow me to see if the nuts were going into an existing hole, or if he was somehow tucking them into crevices in the bark. I even wondered if he was perhaps making new holes for the nuts? Later in the day I even watched him move a piece of nut meat from one tree to the other. Very interesting, indeed.

Finally a comment on the count trend for White-breasted Nuthatches. I counted 4 this weekend. That doesn't happen very often. In fact, it's only happened once each season since I started counting for Feederwatch, and it didn't happen at all last season. The numbers were pretty low for WBNUs last season, never going above 2 per count, while they were much more variable in other seasons (ranging from 1 to 3, and sometimes 4). I have steadily observed 2 WBNUs every weekend so far this season, until I spotted 4 this weekend. What does this mean, if anything? I don't know. I do know we lost 1 WBNU to a window collision just before the count season started, so I'm actually glad to know that there are at least 4 of these squawky, horn-honk-sounding birds still in our woods.

Feeder round-up for December 26-27, 2009
Mourning Dove15
Red-bellied Woodpecker1
Downy Woodpecker2
Carolina/Black-capped Chickadee4
Tufted Titmouse4
White-breasted Nuthatch4
Carolina Wren1
Dark-eyed Junco1
Northern Cardinal3
American Goldfinch7

Happy birding!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

FeederWatch, week 6

We had a very snowy weekend for this FeederWatch session! We only got a couple of inches, but the white stuff came down all day Saturday. Added one new species to the roll call this week: Song Sparrow. I had heard them calling earlier in the week, and was happy to see them ground feeding with the Juncos, White-Throated Sparrows and Carolina Wrens this weekend. Having snow on the ground sure makes all of the ground feeders much easier to spot!

Carolina Wren was very hard at work at the suet feeders this weekend in addition to ground feeding.

Proof that Red-bellied Woodpeckers really DO have red bellies!

This weekend I counted the highest number of Mourning Doves that I've ever seen at once in all the years I've been doing FeederWatch: 38. They really seem to like roosting high up in our trees, and also down in some of the brush piles that have accumulated in the past few years.

How many do you see? (click to enlarge)

And of course, no FeederWatch session would be complete without a squirrel sighting:

Roll call for FeederWatch, week 6 (12/19-12/20)
Mourning Dove38
Red-bellied Woodpecker1
Downy Woodpecker3
Hairy Woodpecker1
Carolina/Black-capped Chickadee4
Tufted Titmouse5
White-breasted Nuthatch2
Carolina Wren2
Song Sparrow2
White-throated Sparrow2
Dark-eyed Junco2
Northern Cardinal5
American Goldfinch8

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What the wind did

As you may remember, last Wednesday I tried my hand at some prose, and my subject matter was the wind. That piece was inspired, in part, by a large tree that came crashing down on our own property. Well, part of a tree anyway.

As I made my way up the driveway in the dark a week ago, I was forced to stop several times so I could get out and remove large limbs from my path. As I got to the bend in the driveway, I was already wondering about the fate of an Aspen tree that is uphill from our driving path. It has been doing "the lean" for a number of months, and I always imagined that it would be strong winds that would take it down.

The tree fell victim to the winds, as I feared it would. This is pretty much exactly where it landed, right next to the driveway. How courteous of it! Aside from me needing to break off a few stray branches, there was no need to move it in order to proceed down the driveway to the house.

A close-up of the point of fracture

In the dark of night of course I wasn't able to see up into the woods to observe what was left of the tree, but judging by what was on the ground, I figured most of it had been taken down. I mean, this is probably a 15-foot section of tree laying on the ground here.

It wasn't until several days later that I was able to get a good look at what still remained standing.

In the photo at left you can kind of get a sense of "the lean" to this tree that I mentioned earlier. The photo at right attempts to show how much tree is still standing. I would say there's probably 30 feet of trunk still reaching toward the sky. If I would have paid more attention to where the limbs were in relation to the point of the break, I could have easily surmised that only the top portion of the tree came down, because Aspen trees only have branches way up top.

The tree top continues to line the driveway. I'm using it as an excuse to play with the timber tools (i.e. chainsaw!), but I haven't had enough daylight hours with good clear weather to be able to cut it up just yet. Hopefully this weekend, though.

Once I started taking pictures, it didn't take me long to become mesmerized by all the beautiful colors and textures and shapes going on within this tree.

I snagged a chunk of this beautiful bark to add to my growing collection of outdoor items that have become indoor specimens. For further photographic study, you know.

Nature's artistry never ceases to amaze me.

P.S. All of these photos were taken with my new Nikon Coolpix camera. I'm pretty pleased with the results.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bird drama, part 2

Since my "Bad birdy manners" post was such a hit, I imagine you will enjoy these photos of a similar situation from last January.

Peaceful feeding among friends: American Goldfinch, Purple Finch, Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch...

More peacefulness, this time just the finches...

Trouble comes on the scene - this Tree Sparrow is not fond of sharing the feeder with others.

"Scram, you!"

This poor female Northern Cardinal takes an earful from the sparrow as the goldfinch looks on. Doesn't the cardinal look kind of dazed?

Sparrow gives the stink eye to Chickadee-dee-dee.

"No landing here!"

Finally the Mourning Dove comes in to police the scene. Somebody needs to put that bird in its place!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Feederwatch, week 5

Between some rainy weather and being committed to various other activities (shopping, doing up the holiday cards, etc.), I can't say that I have much exciting news to relate about this past weekend's FeederWatch session. Bird traffic remained pretty steady.

I did see one thing that struck me as odd, though. This Carolina Wren was hopping around on the deck early Saturday morning, but it was hopping in a strange way. It almost looked as if it had no legs. It looked like it was hopping about on its tummy. I even saw it fidget sideways a bit to fluff out some feathers, and still saw no legs. This is not possible, is it? For a bird to have no legs and survive? I'm sure there must be an explanation for what I saw, one that involves the bird still having its legs. Unfortunately I was only able to get one photo of the bird "sitting" on the deck. It eventually hopped away, once again seemingly on it's stomach, to a spot where I was no longer able to see it. Later in the day I saw a Carolina Wren hanging on the suet feeder, in a perfectly normal fashion with perfectly normal-looking feet and legs.

Here I cropped in on the bird a bit more. It was only 12 degrees outside, so maybe it just had its feathers super fluffed out to keep warm. I don't know, though. Something was fishy about that bird. I will be keeping my eye out for future glimpses of such strange happenings.

We had some pretty steady rain Sunday morning. The squirrels got quite wet. I felt bad for them.

Feederwatch tally of highest number of individuals counted from 12/12-12/13:
Mourning Dove14
Red-bellied Woodpecker1
Downy Woodpecker1
Hairy Woodpecker1
Carolina/Black-capped Chickadee5
Tufted Titmouse4
White-breasted Nuthatch2
Carolina Wren1
White-throated Sparrow1
Dark-eyed Junco1
Northern Cardinal5
American Goldfinch6

As always, happy birding!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bad birdy manners

I was looking through my archives of bird photos from past winters, and came across this one from December of last year. This is what happens when the snow flies and the birds go into "mob the feeder" mode - tempers are bound to flare. This is NOT an example of the polite dinner conversation I referred to in my write up of the Evening Symphony a few weeks back.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Words on the wind

Fierce wind has been with us all day, and as I was driving home from work, words started nagging in my brain, saying that I should tell the story of the wind....

Savage wind is nature, raw and elemental -
full of bluster and muster and might.

Heavy sighs toss and twirl debris like confetti,
sending it hither and yon

Burning breath of anger and wrath ushers in destruction -
tackling those too fragile to stand,
trees crashing to the ground.

Leaving confusion and chaos in its wake, its biting breezes withdraw,



P.S. For any of the writers among you who might happen to be reading this, I would appreciate any constructive criticism you might be willing to share on this piece. I had a hard time getting the timing and tempo right, and I'm still not entirely happy with it. Since I'm actively trying to work on my writing chops, it would be nice to know how this falls on ears other than my own. You can leave your response in the comments, or email me directly (see my profile for the address). Thank you.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


sign n. - Something that suggests the presence or existence of a fact, condition, or quality.

Signs are around us everywhere. I don't just mean the written or graphic variety, but also, of course, the natural variety. Here are some signs that I noticed while outside a few weeks ago.

This nibbled corn, for example, is a sign that the squirrels actually DO eat something besides the bird seed! How do I know this is the work of a squirrel? Because I watched the nibbling with my own eyes.

This big pile of wood is a sign that we are ready to meet our heating needs for the winter.

The sight of this vehicle across the road from our place, depending on what date the calendar reads, either means someone is scouting a hunting spot, or that hunting season is in progress. Either way, it's probably best to avoid walking in the woods when this vehicle is parked here.

What kinds of signs are you seeing in your neck of the woods?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Feederwatch, week 4 (including video)

The big news for this week's session of Feederwatching is that we got snow!! Accumulation was less than an inch, but it snowed for about 4 hours and most everything got nice and white. It was a chilly weekend overall, and the temps didn't even get above freezing on Saturday.

Given those conditions, I would have expected a lot more birds at the feeders, but things were pretty much the same as they have been during previous weeks. In past seasons when the snow would start to fly, the birds would usually "freak out," as I call it, and would just mob the feeders as if were going to be their last meal. Needless to say, they were much more calm this weekend than I expected them to be.

I was amazed to still be hearing Yellow-crowned Kinglets bubbling around in the trees in this cold weather. Unfortunately they don't come into the feeders, so I'm not able to count them.

I am still impatiently waiting to see Eastern Towhees and Blue Jays. I have not heard so much as a peep from either species anywhere in the neighborhood for months. I heard them around in late summer, but it's not like these are birds that migrate south for the winter. Where the heck did they go?! I guess I just need to stop being so impatient. After looking at data from last season, neither of these birds showed up regularly at the feeders until January.

The tally for my 4th set of observations (12/5/09-12/6/09):
Mourning Dove16
Red-bellied Woodpecker2
Downy Woodpecker1
Hairy Woodpecker2
Carolina/Black-capped Chickadee4
Tufted Titmouse4
White-breasted Nuthatch2
Carolina Wren1
White-throated Sparrow1
Dark-eyed Junco1
Northern Cardinal8
American Goldfinch9

And here's a video of several different birds visiting the peanut feeder (taken with my new Nikon Coolpix camera). Happy birding!

Friday, December 4, 2009


I have finally fallen into the clutches of Facebook. I never thought it would happen, but it has. I wasn't too sure about it at first, but over the last couple of weeks since I signed up, I have reconnected with a friend from high school that I haven't talked to for 17 years (!), and I've been able to chat live with another friend who moved to South Korea to teach English. Those things in and of themselves have made it worthwhile. I'll figure out at some point how to balance my time between the two mediums, but for now it's that "new toy" phenomena...

That coupled with the fact that I simply need to get my rear in gear as far as getting some stuff accomplished for the holidays (cards, anyone?) may cause my posts to be bit sporadic over the next few weeks, as well as my reading and commenting on y'alls blogs.

On the up side, I just got a new point and shoot camera with video capabilities, so hopefully I'll have some vids to share of peanut-eating birds, and hungry-hungry piggy squirrels. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Longing for lush and green

As the days threaten to turn cold and stay cold, I find myself dreaming of the lush and green days of summer. I was looking through some old photos very recently while searching for a shot of Common Mullein in bloom, and came across some moss photos that I took back in July that are begging to be shared. Dappled sunlight, vibrant green, lush and moist - I can almost smell the earth through these photos...

The last photo was actually taken just a few weeks ago, but I thought I'd include it just for good measure.

What are you doing to combat the pre-winter blahs?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Fuzzy wuzzy was a... plant?!

Are you familiar with the following children's rhyme?

Fuzzy wuzzy was a bear
Fuzzy wuzzy had no hair
Fuzzy wuzzy wasn't very fuzzy, was he?

Well, I'm here to tell you about something that definitely wuzzy fuzzy, but it's not an animal. It's a plant. The Common Mullein plant (Verbascum thapsus L.), to be exact. It has other common names, such as Flannel Plant, Velvet Plant, and Velvet Dock. The reason for this is quite plain: It is fuzzy and velvety and feels like something you would want against your skin on a cold winter day. I would say it equals in texture to the fleece half-zip pullovers that I wear so frequently when the mercury drops.

Here's some basic info about the plant:
Common mullein is an erect biannual herb growing 5-10 ft. in height. In the first year it produces a low vegetative rosette up to 24 in. in diameter, remains thought the winter, then produces a stout flowering stem in the succeeding growing season. The stem is densely woolly with branched hairs. Leaves are alternate, oblong-obovate to obovate-lanceolate, blue-grey green, woolly, and 4-16 in. long including the petiole, becoming progressively smaller up the flowering stem. Flowers are sessile, borne in long terminal spikes, bright yellow, and 1 in. in diameter with 5 fused petals. Fruits are woolly oval capsules that split open when mature releasing 100,000-180,000 wind- and animal-dispersed seeds from the parent plant that may remain viable in the soil for over 100 years. Common mullein prefers dry sandy soils, but can grow in chalk and limestone. It can be found in neglected meadows, forest openings, pastures, fence rows, roadsides, and industrial areas. Once established it grows quickly to form a dense ground cover, overtaking and displacing native species. At high densities, it appears to prevent establishment of native herbs and grasses following fires or other disturbances. (from a scary-sounding site called the Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center)
Based on what we learned above, we can safely say that this is a mullein in its first year of growth. Come next year it will throw up a flower stalk that could grow to be taller than me! It's certainly not growing in dry sandy soil (heavy wet clay is more like it!), but it's in a forest opening, and runs along the edge of our driveway, which is kind of like a roadside, so I guess that's close enough.

Looks like someone's got a taste for fuzzy leaves!

What I love about this plant is that it is so obviously visible right now, and will most likely continue to be so throughout the winter. See, there's always something cool to find outside, no matter what time of year it is!

A close-up look at the fuzziness

Are you getting a feel for the fuzzy yet?

How about now?

On the left we have a full-grown Common Mullein plant, and on the right we have what I think is one after the flowers have bloomed and are in the process of setting their fruit.

After I photographed the huge leafy specimen featured in most of these pictures, I suddenly noticed LOTS of them lining the driveway, but they were all much smaller. I doubt that they will survive to flower and set seed, though, because Dave weed wacks along the driveway's edge periodically in the summer, so most will fall to the spinning twine. The large plant shown in this post, though, is on a slightly higher plane than the area that gets trimmed, so it may indeed get to go through its full life cycle.

Back to the fuzzy bear... Here's my new variation on the classic rhyme:

Fuzzy wuzzy was a plant,
Fuzzy wuzzy soft in hand;
Fuzzy wuzzy starts new life on our land.