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A Once-Common Bird Returns From The Brink.

August 6, 2016

Northern Bobwhite

When I was growing up in a rural county here in Ohio, some mornings I would hear the loud whistling call from miles away- ‘bob-white!’  Walking in an abandoned farm field, I once flushed a covey of several birds who burst out of the tall grass at my feet.

This was a gamebird common in Ohio farmland back in the 70s.  But then a couple of very bad winters hit, virtually wiping out this bird.  Incidentally, it did the same thing to Carolina Wrens, who wintered over in moderate winters.

Four years ago, I was driving through the farming backroads of the county I grew up in, and heard one of these birds calling.  I don’t know if it was a wild bird or a pet gamebird.

I’m talking about the Northern Bobwhite, the most common quail in eastern North America.  Fortunately, there’s been efforts to reintroduce this species back into the state, similar to how Wild Turkeys- once nearly hunted to extinction in this area- are making a big comeback.

So when I heard that a couple of Bobwhites had been seen in Sharon Woods Metro Park in Columbus last month, I went looking for them.

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Sharon Woods has plenty of woods and fields with walking paths all over the park.  The birds had been seen and heard in a particular area along the connector trail.

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Several other birders were there to see them.  I spotted one of the birds on a grass path and called everyone over.

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Here is the bird, walking on the grass not very far away from us.

Northern Bobwhites are year-round residents in open habitats of southeastern North America. They live in agricultural fields, grasslands, open pine or pine-hardwood forests, and grass-brush rangelands as far north as Massachusetts and southern Ontario, and as far west as southeastern Wyoming and eastern New Mexico. They seem to avoid mature woodlands, inhabiting instead the early stages of regrowth after a fire, farming, logging, or other disturbance. They are most numerous in patchwork areas of fields, forests, and croplands; in coastal Texas rangelands; and in southern pine forests that are intensively managed for bobwhite hunting. During snowfalls in the northern part of their range, bobwhites depend on woody cover to prevent snow from reaching the ground and blocking their foraging habitat.

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Bobwhites eat mostly seeds and leaves, supplemented with varying amounts of insects during the breeding season. Chicks are fed mostly insects until they are 6–8 weeks old. Arthropods can make up 5 percent of the male’s diet and 20 percent of the female’s diet during the breeding season. Bobwhites forage as a group, scratching and pecking through leaf litter or foraging on low plants. When snow falls they seek out patches of bare ground under brushy areas. Their staple food of seeds comes from agricultural crops, weeds, forest plants, and rangeland vegetation. During fall and winter they eat many legume seeds, ragweed seeds, pine seeds, and acorns. In the spring they eat more leafy green parts of plants, and in the summer their diet includes grass seeds, some fruits, and arthropods—such as bugs, flies, bees, wasps, beetles, and spiders.

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Notice this bird’s crest half-raised.  It was fairly tame, which has led some birders to speculate if it was an escapee or a reintroduced bird.  No bird bands or other marks were noted, however.

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Suddenly, another Bobwhite called in the area.  Our bird looked quite agitated and flew up into a nearby tree to call back.

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Northern Bobwhites are highly social, usually found in groups, or coveys, of 3–20 individuals. They feed in early morning and late afternoon. At night, coveys usually roost on the ground (or occasionally in vegetation) in a close-packed, outward-facing circle with their tails pointing toward the center, probably to conserve heat and stay on the alert. They coexist peacefully for most of the year, but in the breeding season male bobwhites fight to attract mates. Both males and females perform courtship displays. Originally thought to be monogamous, they actually have several breeding strategies: males can raise broods with multiple females; and females can raise broods with multiple males (although males often abandon such broods). Bobwhites sometimes intermingle their eggs with those of Ring-necked Pheasants and free-range domestic chickens. Hawks, owls, raccoons, opossums, skunks, foxes, and snakes prey on adult bobwhites and their young. Adults flutter and drag their wings to distract predators from their chicks.

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…In economic terms, the Northern Bobwhite was one of the most important game birds in North America. Population declines from habitat loss now mean that in many places there are no longer enough to hunt. Bobwhite hunting can be sustainable if controlled properly, but currently management varies widely across the continent. The National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative is a consortium of state agencies, conservation organizations, and hunters working to improve the prospects of this species.

What a great thing to see this bird once again!  May their numbers increase once more!

Summer Wildflowers of June and July.

July 2, 2016

The summer season is here, and the wildflowers one sees out along the roads, in the fields, and in the woods show this.  By the end of May and the beginning of June, summer plants were taking over from the late spring blooms- one of the botanical inflection points of the year.

Here’s the prominent wildflowers one sees in June and July in Ohio.

 

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Chicory

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Queen Anne’s Lace (Wild Carrot)

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White Clover

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Red Clover

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Yellow Sweetclover

I usually see this starting to bloom 2 weeks before its sister plant…

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White Sweetclover

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Canada Thistle

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Wild Parsnip

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Crown Vetch

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Birds-Foot Trefoil

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Milkweed

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Common Teasel

Just saw this starting to bloom at the beginning of July

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Thistles

Also starting to bloom in early July

A few prairie flowers are blooming:

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Black-Eyed Susans

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Helianthus (Sunflowers)

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Purple Coneflower

And out in the woods:

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Orange Jewelweed

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White Avens

Also, you can still see a few plants that were going strong in the spring, like Oxeye Daisy, Yarrow and Fleabane.  The next important plant inflection point will happen in late July / Early August…that’s not as far away as you would think!

 

 

May Was Spring Warbler Season.

June 4, 2016

Warblers

May 2016 was a good month for me photography-wise.  When it comes to taking photos of Warblers, luck largely rules- you can have a bunch of terrible or missed pictures, or you can have a handful of decent shots.  I got a higher-than-normal amount of decent shots this year.

Wood Warblers are neotropical migrants, birds that breed in the US or Canada and winter in Central or South America.  They tend to be colorful, which makes them quite popular with birders and photographers- especially in the spring, when the males are in their brightest breeding plumage.  But as any birder can tell you, Warblers can be difficult to see or photograph.  They move frequently and spend much of their time in the leafed-out canopies of trees, searching for insects.  I’ve gone whole migration seasons without getting a good shot of them before.

Not last month though- I was out every decent-weather morning in various parks, and got some decent shots.  Here they are, I hope you enjoy them.

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

These hardy birds will eat poison ivy berries- most Warblers are insect-eaters exclusively.  They occasionally winter over in Ohio, surviving on such berries.

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Yellow Warbler

One of the most common breeding Warblers in Ohio- they love scrubby fields and shrubs near water.  Their song is the classic ‘sweet, sweet, sweeter than sweet’

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Common Yellowthroat

Perhaps the most common breeding Warbler in Ohio, they love scrubby fields and shrubs.  They scold me all the time when I walk through their territory (like this little guy did) during nesting time.

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Northern Parula Warbler

Beautiful small Warblers with a distinctive whooshing-type song.

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American Redstart (first year male)

A common warbler.  Mature adult males are black and orange, the females are olive green and yellow- almost looking like different species.

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Black-Throated Green Warbler

These birds don’t seem to hide as much as other Warbler species.  Their ‘zu zee zu zu zee’ song is easy to identify.

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Black-Throated Blue Warbler

I often have trouble getting a good look at this species, but this individual cooperated nicely by singing mere feet away from me.

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Black And White Warbler

This species is very distinctive, moving around on tree limbs and trunks as if it were a Nuthatch.

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Nashville Warbler

I usually get better looks at Nashvilles but for some reason this year they didn’t show themselves to me!

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Palm Warbler

Palms sometimes forage for food on the ground and in tall grass.  They often are the last Warblers seen late in autumn migration.

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Blue-Winged Warbler

For some reason I’ve always had a hard time getting a decent shot of this species, but this one posed nicely for me for a few seconds- forever in Warbler time.

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Magnolia Warbler

Magnolias- strikingly beautiful birds- are middle to late season migrants.  They often stay hidden in bushes.

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Blackpoll Warbler

Blackpolls aren’t the showiest Warblers, but they often elude my camera.  Not this year!  Notice how this bird is searching for insects, turning its head to look everywhere.  A typical no-nonsense Warbler foraging behavior.

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Chestnut-Sided Warbler

This gorgeous bird peeked out of a shrub and looked directly at me.  I saw him by sheer luck.

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Bay-Breasted Warbler

Bay-Breasteds are another Warbler species that typically avoids me.  I was happy to get these shots.

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Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnians have that brilliant orange-red head and throat.  You can glimpse them through the leaves quite easily with that glowing color.

I just realized I didn’t get a decent shot of a Yellow-Throated Warbler this spring.  That’s a shame, they often can be seen in tall Sycamore Trees along rivers.  I also missed any decent shots of Tennessee Warblers.

I hope next May is as good to me as this one was!  I’ll try to get plenty of shots of Wood Warblers as they come back through Ohio heading south for the winter in September during autumn migration.  They aren’t as brightly-colored then because mating and nesting season will be over.  They are often harder to identify due to this, and because immature younger Warblers tend to look different than adults.

Spring Wildflowers of April and May.

May 7, 2016

There are three big waves of wildflowers that come and go during the year- Spring (April & May), Summer (June & July), and Autumn (August & September).  We are in the middle of Spring right now, and it feels great to get out of the cold weather!  April and May bring us the first big explosion of color after winter.  Here’s some of the more common plants you can see in Ohio this season.

 

April

April is notable for 3 common yellow wildflowers that bloom- not counting Dandelions, which are everywhere!

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Winter Cress

You’ll see this bright yellow plant in fields.  Occasionally a whole field will be full of them.  The flowers are small and have 4 petals.

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Butterweed

This plant grows in wet areas, such as ditches, swamps and wet fields.  It is thicker and has bigger flowers than Winter Cress, and has multiple petals.

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Golden Ragwort

This plant resembles Butterweed, but it is thinner & more delicate and with smaller leaves.  You find it in woods and along wood edges.

You may notice a particular tall white wildflower, usually along wood edges or near bushes-

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Garlic Mustard

This plant is an invasive species and grows rapidly.  Often you’ll see where people have pulled these up out of the ground in parks so they don’t take over all of the plant habitat.

Another wildflower you can find in woods, fields and lawns is very recognizable-

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Violets

Violets can be purple, white or yellow.  If you have them on your lawn you know how hard they are to get rid of- just enjoy them!

April is also the big month for Spring Ephemerals, which are beautiful woodland flowers that take advantage of all of the sun that gets through the trees before the leaves and forest undergrowth block out much of the sun.  Here are some that you can see from a woodland path-

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Spring Beauties

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Virginia Bluebells

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Bloodroot

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Dutchman’s Breeches

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Rue Anemone

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Blue Phlox

May

In May, you’ll notice a few prominent white wildflowers-

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Fleabane

This plant reminds one of Asters, but those grow in the autumn.  The flowers can also be light pink or light purple.  Fleabane will be around until the autumn.

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Ox eye Daisy

This garden favorite grows wild in fields and grassy roadsides, often in large colonies.  It’ll be around in the summer, too.

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Hemlock

This is a large, tall wildflower often seen in colonies in waste areas and along wooded or brushy fence edges.  It won’t be around long.

Three other yellow plants join April’s buttery blooms-

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Buttercups

These brilliant yellow flowers are found in wet wooded areas.  Pictured is the common Hispid Buttercup.

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Yellow Goat’s Beard

This tall single-flower plant can be seen along roads and in fields, even in overgrown yards.

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Hawkweed

Hawkweed can be told by its very hairy stem and tight clusters of flowers.  It isn’t very tall, but is quite noticeable in fields.  It comes in both yellow and orange colors.

A pretty pinkish violet wildflower is prominent along wood edges this month-

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Dame’s Rocket

This plant is numerous and looks like a garden flower.  It is easily identified by its 4-petaled flowers.  It’ll mostly be gone by summer.

Meanwhile, in the May woods, the flowers have thinned out due to the leaves being out on the trees and the undergrowth becoming dense.  Here’s what you can see there this month-

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Wild Geranium

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Waterleaf

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Sweet Cicely

That’s the highlights of common spring plants in Ohio.  You can find many others in these two posts of mine from 2012:

April Wildflowers in Ohio

May Wildflowers in Ohio

How many have you seen so far this season?

Signs of Spring in February and March.

April 2, 2016

March brings early signs of spring after a long winter.  Here’s some of the signs we are thawing out.

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Skunk Cabbage are exotic plants found in marshy areas.  They actually get started ‘blooming’ in February.  I did a whole post on these plants back in 2013.

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Another early wildflower that starts in February are Snowdrops.  These are garden plants, but you occasionally find some that have escaped into the wild.

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Now, on to March.  You may have noted a straggly white wildflower (some call it a weed) called Hairy Bittercress on your lawn.  It is an early blooming species brought from Europe.

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If you look at your lawn really close, you may see tiny blue or white wildflowers peeking out- these are different species of Speedwell.

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By late March, Dandelions are coming out in force along roadways and speckling yards.

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Also in late March this year- usually more of an April kind of plant- are Purple Dead-Nettles, which can turn the edges of farm fields a dull purple.

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Another early spring flower highlight is the Crocus.  These garden plants sometimes escape and is hardy enough to grow in wild areas.  I’ve found them growing on park lawns- my guess is that birds pooped out their seeds there.

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A March garden favorite is the Daffodil.  They can handle the early spring cold quite well.

On to birds. The first thing one notices is that birds are suddenly singing, greeting the winter’s thaw.  They may be early, but this is a good sign.

Winter birds start leaving towards their northern breeding grounds by March.  Also, some temperate migrant birds (who can handle the colder early spring weather) come up from the south to breed here.

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Dark-Eyed Juncos have wintered over in Ohio and places further south and now can be seen moving in greater numbers up to Canada to breed.

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White-Throated Sparrows are also moving north to breed.  You may hear their ‘Pure Sweet Canada Canada Canada’ whistled song from woods or scrubby areas.

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Kinglets also are migrating through Ohio as well.  This Golden-Crowned Kinglet is a beautiful bird, smaller than a sparrow but camera-shy (to me, anyway).  Here is a post about them from 2012.

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Here is a fairly early nester returning to Ohio, a Brown Thrasher.  A week ago I heard a couple of these birds singing to claim territory.

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You may have noticed that Turkey Vultures return to Ohio in March.  They soar overhead searching (by smell) for roadkill and other dead animals to eat.

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Eastern Phoebes are perhaps the best-known early nesting perching bird in Ohio.  They are flycatchers, but can supplement their diet with seeds when necessary.  I posted about them in 2014.

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Here is a Phoebe building a nest over a week ago in the Hocking Hills at a vacation house my family was at for spring break.  They use moss and mud to build nests under the eaves of man-made buildings.

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Forsythia Bushes, with their striking yellow blooms, are out in March as well.  Mostly an ornamental bush that you’ll see in yards.

Last but not least, flowering trees bloom starting in March, making the landscape look beautiful.  What a cheerful sight!

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