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Snowy Owl.

March 3, 2018

Snowy Owl

There is a bird that is a spectacular irregular winter visitor to Ohio, coming down from the Great White North looking for things to eat.  This is the Snowy Owl, a species most birders really want to see.

Snowy Owls tend to come down from Canada in waves in occasional winters.  One theory says a food shortage drives this; another says that an abundance of food allows these birds to spread out more.  Back in the winter of 2013-14, I spent all day in my car out along rural county roads looking for a couple of Owls that had been spotted, but I didn’t see them.  It turned out that one Owl was just a mile away from one of the roads I was searching.  Snowys often range across large expanses of farm fields and even airport grasslands, so it can be difficult spotting them.

Last December, however, brought a Snowy Owl to Clark County’s Buck Creek State Park.  The bird was seen in the parking lot and even on the reservoir beach.  I went out one very cold and windy day to look for it.

I enjoy visiting Buck Creek- I’ll have to post about it one day

Beach parking lot- the Snowy had been seen here

The beach

There wasn’t much in the way of birds around, save for the occasional Ring-Billed Gull

A group of birders looking for the Owl- it was so cold and windy it brought stinging tears to one’s eyes

The Snowy was along the causeway in the rocks- it was very hard to see because it blended in well.  It had flown there when nearby hunters (allowed in a designated area in the park this time of year) had fired their shotguns.  Helpful birders with scopes gave others a look.

Here’s the Snowy Owl- it took me a long time to spot it!

A couple of vehicles stopped on the causeway and looked down upon the Owl


This birder walked out upon the causeway to get a close look at the bird.  This caused a good amount of consternation among the group of birders.  The unwritten rule of birding is to not overtly disturb birds while observing them.  Most birders follow this rule, but it seems there’s always someone who does not.

The birder got too close, and flushed the Snowy Owl from the rocks

The Owl landed upon the beach, and birders scrambled to get a good view

Here’s the Owl.  They are large, magnificent birds.  It may look like it’s out of place, but Snowys like wide-open treeless spaces, such as their native tundra.  They’ll sit for hours looking for prey.

Snowys typically eat small rodents and birds.  They are very agile flyers

You can see their feathered feet in this photo- they have to stay warm in the tundra

The bird stayed around the beach for some days and then apparently moved on.

This was a life-list bird for me, and one I’ll never forget.  It was a privilege to see one!



Pictures from 2017 – Birds.

February 3, 2018
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It’s time for the 3rd annual bird photo highlights, 2017 edition!

Here’s bird highlights from 2015 and 2016 if you’d like to take a look.

This Green Heron was crouching low in the water, looking for little fish

An immature Bald Eagle, a species that is increasing in Ohio.  It will get its white head when it is an adult

A male Yellow Warbler singing


A Ring-Billed Gull, a numerous inland seagull, hangs out at a local reservoir

An American Tree Sparrow, a winter resident

A Red-Tailed Hawk soars over Madison Lake on a sunny February day

Caspian Terns like to stop by beaches on their migrations

A Ruby-Crowned Kinglet flashes his ruby crown

A male Eastern Towhee

A Winter Wren looks for food

A Marsh Wren peeks out of the Cattails to keep an eye on me

A Carolina Wren sings its loud song

A White-Crowned Sparrow

A Cedar Waxwing about to feast on Wild Grapes

A Yellow-Rumped Warbler eating one of its favorites- Poison Ivy berries

Two young Barn Swallows check out the wide world

A Gray-Cheeked Thrush looks out from a wood-edge

A Gray Catbird shows off its rufous untertail

A Dark-Eyed Junco, another winter sparrow


A male Bobolink keeping an eye on his summer field

A Solitary Sandpiper- true to its name, it is alone

A squawking Common Grackle

A pair of Wood Ducks at a local nature preserve

A Willow Flycatcher patrols its territory in a summer field

A Sora Rail looks for food in the Darby Wetlands

An Eastern Phoebe hanging out on a cabin porch in the rain

A Chestnut-Sided Warbler

A Red-Headed Woodpecker- one of my favorite birds to see

A few of the new species I saw last year:

A Common Tern

A rare (for Ohio) White Ibis

A Ruddy Turnstone, far more common along ocean beaches than inland reservoirs where I saw it

Birds with stories attached:

A Robin and a male Red-Winged Blackbird band together to mob a hawk

A Canada Warbler on spring migration- I’ve had a devil of a time getting a decent picture of this species, I was very happy to get this photo!

A Bell’s Vireo singing its distinctive song at Prairie Oaks Metro Park.  This onetime-rare Ohio species is showing up in small but regular breeding numbers in the last few years.

Hanging out on the picnic tables at Alum Creek State Park, these Turkey Vultures enjoy the early-morning sun.  They like these perches as I often see a good number of them there.

Typical gull behavior- A Ring-Billed Gull has a prize fish to eat, but must walk quickly away from a buddy trying to snatch the prize!  This happened on the beach at Alum Creek, a frequent location for uncommon birds (though Ring-Bills are common here).

This male Common Goldeneye duck was seen at Prairie Oaks Metro Park in Big Darby Creek in May and June of last year.  The problem is, this is a winter bird in Ohio.  The bird was either ill or confused about where to be.  He often hung out on this tree trunk in the creek.

A one-legged Ring-Billed Gull- I’ve seen this bird in various parking lots around Columbus for a few years now.  The bird hops along and copes well with its situation.  I always wonder how it got that way!

And, last but not least, two birds I get lots of pictures of:

Song Sparrow singing

American Robin

Thanks for reliving some birding photo highlights from 2017 with me!

The Peanut Gallery – 2017 Review.

January 6, 2018

It’s the new year, and that means it’s time for a review of last year’s visitors to my patio!  This is the 7th annual review, the 2nd at my new residence.

Previous yearly reports can be found here: 201120122013201420152016.


Two wildflowers ran rampant over my patio last year.

Late spring and summer saw my patio covered with Fleabane.  It’s a pretty wildflower, and I did a blog post on it years ago.  They grew dense and tall.

Late summer and autumn saw Lady’s Thumb proliferate, replacing the Fleabane.  This plant too grew dense and tall.  Lady’s Thumb is also called Smartweed- I grew up calling it Knotweed.  These plants hung on until early December, being rather hardy.

Other wildflowers (some call them weeds!) that showed up in far smaller amounts included Helianthus, Sowthistle, Canada Thistle, Wild Lettuce, and Alfalfa.  Seeds may have been blown here or carried by birds- or they may even have been in birdseed I put out.

A Tree!

Oh, and a tree started growing on my patio- a Cottonwood.

That’s the Cottonwood sapling in the corner, among all of the Lady’s Thumb.  As you can see, the garden area is allowed to grow whatever grows there.  Nature is taking over!


The occasional insect of note showed up-


Now, onto the birds!  I didn’t have Red-Breasted Nuthatches like I did in 2016, but a few other new species showed up.  Let’s get started!

The local Cooper’s Hawk occasionally visited the patio looking for a snack, though the last half of the year I didn’t see it much.

Crows were the next-biggest birds to visit.  Year after year, they come back, bringing their young ones along.  The family size varies, with the previous years’ young birds often staying to help raise the newest youngsters.  Between four and eight birds made up the family group last year.  As I’ve noted before, they are very intelligent birds, recognizing me and my car (they know who likes to throw peanuts to them!).  They sometimes chase the Cooper’s Hawk (and vice versa) and are ready to raise a ruckus if a cat is around.

The evergreens growing next to my patio is a hangout for them.  They don’t come down to the patio, but I throw peanuts to them over the fence.

Why limit yourself to one peanut?  Madness!

Here’s one of 2017’s juvenile Crows getting fed by a family member out in the parking lot.

Looks like the young guy is always hungry!  There were at least two juveniles that showed up with the family in July.

Sooner or later, you have to figure out what is edible and what is not on your own.

Sticking with larger birds, here’s the classic ‘blue bomber’- Blue Jays became fairly regular visitors.

A group of four of them fly in from the north to raid the feeders.  From their looks I’m guessing they are young birds from the same nest.

These birds make some funny noises, including mimicking hawk calls.  I’m guessing this is done to scare other birds away from the feeder!

These birds- related to Crows- often stuff their gullets with multiple peanuts and carry them away to eat or hoard.

This bird here is semi-bald- it’s molting in the late summer.  I did a post on molting a while back.

There’s a Red-Bellied Woodpecker that visits the feeder for peanuts- a big but cautious bird, it often lands on the fence to look around, or keeps an eye on the patio from nearby trees before flying in.  I see this bird more in the cold weather.

Mourning Doves seem to come in smaller numbers than last year.  They’re typically ground feeders, but the ones that visit my patio have taken to eating out of the biggest feeder tray suspended from my feeder pole.

The above Mourning Dove is reacting to the Blue Jay that just landed near it by spreading its wings so it looks bigger and more menacing- an instinctive reaction I’ve seen in pet doves.

I have a one or two pairs of Cardinals that visit the feeder, often at dawn and at twilight.  It’s always enjoyable seeing them.

This is a poor female Cardinal with some kind of injury or disability.  Her legs and tail seem to be partially paralyzed.  She could fly weakly but not very fast or accurately.

She showed up last May, eating food I had put on the ground.  I tried to catch her to take her to the Ohio Wildlife Center, but she wouldn’t let me near her.

Here’s her mate feeding her.  After a few days of her coming to the patio, I never saw her again.

I have the occasional Robin visitor in winter.  I put raisins and berries out for them, some winters are rough on them and they need the food if they show up on the patio.

Starlings are occasional visitors as well, often in winter.  They’ll eat anything!

Here’s a new bird I saw on my patio last year- a Brown-Headed Cowbird.  A couple of them stopped by a few times to eat seeds on the ground.  These birds look to lay eggs in other birds’ nests in the spring- pretty crafty, since they don’t have to raise their young that way.  I’ve seen Song Sparrows and Chipping Sparrows here at my apartment complex with juvenile Cowbirds twice their size that they’re feeding as if they were their own.  I always wondered- does a Cowbird raised by a Song Sparrow think they are a Song Sparrow?  Apparently not for long, because they grow up and hang out with Cowbirds 🙂

Another new bird on my patio- a Tufted Titmouse.  Common enough out in the ‘wild’ one or two of them visit my feeders rarely.

They look like small Cardinals with that crest.  These birds make a lot of different calls, keeping you guessing what you’re hearing at times.

An old favorite bird of mine- a White-Breasted Nuthatch.  Two of them visit my feeder for peanuts.

They carry away peanuts and come back quickly enough that I suspect they are stashing them in little nooks in the bark of trees.  I’ve had them land only a few feet away from me on the fence while I’m putting out more food.

You always know when they are around by their nasal ‘yank yank’ calls.  Pleasant birds, they- like Woodpeckers- walk up and down the trunks and branches of trees, looking for edibles.

Speaking of Woodpeckers, here’s another that visits for peanuts, a Downy Woodpecker.  A pair of them come by occasionally.

Ohio’s smallest Woodpecker, they are rather shy when they come to my feeders.  The male has a red patch on the back of his head.

Now, the smaller birds.  I have three House Finches visit very occasionally for some safflower seeds.  The males wear reddish feather highlights.

There are plenty of them that nest on the apartment complex. I’m surprised I don’t see them more often.  I posted a few years ago about them nesting nearby.

There’s a flock of House Sparrows living in the court where my apartment is.  The number I see ranges from one to two dozen birds.  Many birders don’t like them because they are an invasive species, but they’re here and so I appreciate them for what they are.  Males and females look quite different as you can see from the above pictures.

This male lost his tail, possibly to a cat.  The tail feathers grow out again, no problem!

This female is panting in last summer’s heat wave.  Birds cannot sweat, so they pant to help cool themselves off.

Here’s a young bird from early summer.  You can tell by the yellow ‘lips’ on the beak, and by general awkward behavior.  Young birds have to learn about everything around them, so you often see them exploring or picking up all sorts of objects.  Sometimes they just beg to be fed 🙂

Mama feeds her young one.

A young bird hangs out with dad.

A couple of Chipping Sparrows were around for the summer.  These are gentle birds,

Chipping Sparrows also can be fairly tame.  One pretty much flew down in front of me when I went out to fill the feeders- I’d toss it some food.

Two Song Sparrows- I think they are a pair- hang out around my apartment.  Their soft calls are quite recognizable, as is their song.

These are birds that don’t like crowds (House Sparrows often crowd them out).  Recently, in the cold snap going on currently, one has taken to landing on the fence just feet away from me as I put out bird food- they know when they see me it’s like ringing the dinner bell.

The last of the sparrow species I see on the patio are winter birds- Dark-Eyed Juncos.

The colder and snowier it is, the more Juncos I see.  I did a post about them years ago.

I’m not sure if this is a female, immature, or one of the subspecies of Dark-Eyed Junco.  Details can get confusing!

This is the smallest regular avian visitor to my patio.  Carolina Chickadees visit year-round and love stashing seeds and peanuts in hidden caches.

Usually I see from one to three of them- sometimes more in the last half of summer, when young birds tag along with their parents.

This Chickadee is eating (or stashing) a safflower seed.  If you want to feed Chickadees, Doves, Cardinals and Finches, this is a great seed to put out.  Birds like House Sparrows and Starlings usually don’t eat it.

Twice, I saw a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird buzz my patio.  I didn’t get a good photo, but I wondered why I haven’t put up a hummingbird feeder yet!

Here’s something I saw above the patio in an evergreen tree- a Yellow-Rumped Warbler.  Technically, it wasn’t at the feeders, but I see these birds when they migrate through the neighborhood in the spring and autumn.


Furry creatures flourished on my patio last year.  A couple of mice zipped around, too fast for photos.  Here are the slower furry things I saw.

This summer brought three different Opossums to visit at night.  One was gray (pictured), two others where whitish (one bigger than the other). One stayed in the shed occasionally.  People often are scared of them, but they are slow and gentle, part of nature’s cleanup crew scavenging anything they can eat.  This is actually a marsupial, not a mammal, with a pouch for gestating its young (just like a Kangaroo).

Now, to the true mammals.  I had five- yes, five- Skunks visit last summer (usually one at a time, but not always).  These were nocturnal visitors too.

Skunks have a reputation for spraying foul-smelling liquid at things they don’t like, and I have smelled their spray around the neighborhood.  But they are reluctant to take this step and often scare off threats by puffing up their tails and raising them high.

Here’s a good look at a Skunk tail.  They are beautiful creatures.

How do I know there were five different Skunks?  They all have different patterns of white and black fur.  Sometimes there are distinctive black patches in their white areas.  You can see the differences in the photos.

I accidentally startled a Skunk once next to my patio, and it ran off.  They will only spray if you get very close to them and they can’t get away.

I see less Skunks and Opossums in the cold weather now, but there is one Skunk I still see regularly (before the bitter cold snap recently anyways).

I would talk about stray cats and litters of kittens, but honestly, that’s a whole new blog’s worth of material! 🙂

And finally, it’s Gray Squirrel time!

You either love them or hate them, and if you feed the birds, you typically end up feeding Squirrels.  I enjoy their antics myself!

These guys and gals have their own personalities if you study them closely.  Some of them come up to me when I walk to my car in the parking lot, knowing I’m good for a peanut handout.

I call this one Guard Squirrel.  It’ll take a peanut up to the top of the fence and seemingly keep an eye out for trouble while eating.

This is Shavetail.  I’m guessing somebody grabbed that tail and got a double-clawful of hair.

This is Gimpy.  Gimpy got in a fight one day with another Squirrel and was injured.  He or she sort of hobbled on the left rear leg for a while, almost dragging it.  Luckily, it healed up and now, months later, you can barely detect a limp.

This poor Squirrel probably has mange.  It either got better or I stopped seeing it after spotting it a few times.

Here’s Notch (check out its right ear for why I came up with that name).

This cute face is why the peanuts keep coming.  They can turn on the charm.

Here’s a bucketful of young Squirrels who lost their mom and had to go to the Ohio Wildlife Center to be raised and then released.  Don’t take them away from their area unless you are sure their mom is nowhere around- it’s possible that mom was hit by a car and killed and they were wandering around before they were old enough to leave the nest.

And now it’s time to say goodbye from frozen central Ohio!  I hope you enjoyed this look back to last year on the patio!


December 2, 2017

Ever see a wildflower blooming completely out of season?

I’ve seen them here and there over the years.  I call them ‘erratics’ because it surely seems like something erratic is going on when a flower blooms months after its blooming season is done!

I’ve done a cursory check to see what’s going on here, but other than temperature and moisture affecting the length of growing seasons, I’m not finding much information on this phenomenon.

Here’s my most recent example-

Above is a White Violet seen blooming this past October 14th.  Violets typically bloom in April and May in Ohio, June at the latest, so October is strange indeed!

I’ve seen other wildflowers such as a Wild Parsnip growing in October/November and even a Purple Iris in a garden during those same months.  Perhaps they are some kind of mutation in particular flowers?  Some kind of very late starters growing from recent seeds?  They are rare so I don’t think it’s a climate issue.

Anyway, this is a mystery to me- keep an eye out for such things out of place.  This happens in the bird world- birds who don’t migrate who should have, perhaps due to injury or some other issue- but flowers, who knows?

I’d be happy to get any input on this 🙂


Autumn at A W Marion State Park.

November 4, 2017

A W Marion State Park

I recently walked the 5-mile trail around Lake Hargus, the central feature of A W Marion State Park, in Ohio’s Pickaway County.

The rolling woodlands and quiet waters of A.W. Marion State Park offer visitors a welcome escape from the rigors of everyday life. This small (309 acres) but unique park offers a variety of recreational activities while maintaining a quiet atmosphere of natural serenity. 

I found this blurb from the park website to be very true.  The park is near Circleville Ohio, yet is remote enough, nestled in the till plain country of eastern Ohio, to be peaceful and quiet when I visited.

My visit- on the last day of October- coincided with central Ohio’s peak autumn tree color fashion show.  Here are some pictures!

(how the marina area looked last month)

…and now

Mallards approaching, looking for some food

Birds could be seen in the park area:

a young Chipping Sparrow, part of an autumn flock

a White-Breasted Nuthatch

Cardinals love the Honeysuckle berry thickets

a female Bluebird

Autumn colors were evident:

…and two lonely swallows wheeled overhead, very late in the season for them.

Was that an island out in the lake?

the path took me out onto the dam causeway

a Woolly Bear Caterpillar crawled across the path-  I wrote about them years ago, here

Some wildflowers still bloomed along the causeway, most likely because the nearby water is warmer than ground or air.  Jerry over at Quiet Solo Pursuits pointed that out to me years ago.  I haven’t forgot!

coming down off the causeway

an autumn sparrow lurks in the thickets- October is a big sparrow month for birders

it was time to enter the forest that surrounds the lake

the majority of the trees were Maples, their leaves predominantly yellow

the path followed the shoreline much of the time

occasional outcroppings of slate rock were seen

…and a fern here and there.

Trees that were spotted include…

many Maples


Sycamores, with their hollowed-out trunks


Black Walnuts, often bare of leaves by now, but leaving behind many walnuts- it’s been a banner year for them, I was nearly hit by some falling from a good height

PawPaw trees in large colonies

Sasafras trees  with their lobed leaves

I spotted this lone Osage Orange fruit

there were many ravines crossed by foot bridges

occasional wooden stair steps helped with the steeper slopes

there were a few small benches scattered throughout the woods next to the footpath

a few streams needed to be forded

the path went through a camping area

Knotweed (also called Lady’s Thumb and Smartweed), an autumn wildflower, was seen here and there in the woods

…as were the occasional birds:

Winter Wren

Tufted Titmouse

Blue Jay

glimpses of the lake could be seen

and the Hargus River

the view of the lake opened up as I neared the end of the circular path

my most interesting bird of the day- a Great Egret on an island out in the lake- late in the season for this one!

this Indian (Mock) Strawberry caught my eye in the grass

I was favorably impressed with this park- ODNR does a good job with them

it would be neat to own a house with a state park for your yard!

I enjoyed the day’s outing.  I hope my pictures give some indication of why.  Enjoy this glorious season before wintertime arrives!