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The Peanut Gallery – 2018 Review.

January 5, 2019

Another year, another ‘what I saw on my patio’ report…number 8, to be exact!

Previous yearly reports can be found here: 201120122013201420152016, 2017.

A small place, but a lot happens there in a year.

As usual, the patio is an experiment in what nature will do when the owner lets things go…

…and I mean let things go!

The male Wild Grape vine is well-established along the back fence.

Lots of things use the Grape Vine for cover, like this House Sparrow hiding from a Hawk.

Wildflowers were less abundant this year- late summer and autumn saw the return of Lady’s Thumb (also known as Knotweed), and autumn also brought Tickseed Sunflower (that’s a wasp pollinating the flower).  I wonder at the variation of plants from year to year; perhaps it depends on what’s in the droppings birds deposit in the soil.  There also were a few Indian Hemp plants blooming, and a couple of Cottonwood saplings struggled to grow in a corner.

And now, onto the birds.

As usual, I had a Robin claim my patio as his territory in mid-late winter.  He liked eating raisins and chasing off other Robins.  Once it was spring, he was off raising a family and visited no more- easy to find bugs to eat by then.

The early winter months also saw the usual small flock of Dark-Eyed Juncoes hanging about.  They like the patch of evergreen trees next to the patio (like several other types of birds).  They left in the spring to head north to raise families.

Starlings visit my feeder far more often in the cold weather.  They can empty out a peanut bowl pretty fast when they bring their buddies.

Moving onto Hawks- there were three individuals I saw from the patio, this is an adult Cooper’s Hawk who likes to come by looking for bird or animal snacks.

Here’s an immature Cooper’s Hawk (probably offspring of the aforementioned adult) eating a snack in an evergreen above the patio.  Note the differences in the appearance of the breast (adult with fine red bars, immature with thick brown streaks).

Here’s the local Red-Tailed Hawk in a nearby evergreen, either looking for snacks or trying to hide from hectoring crows.  These hawks are more often seen soaring above, while the Cooper’s fly low and fast through suburbia bringing shock and awe to nervous critters below.

Onto another large bird- the Crows.  Year after year, the same Crow family visits for peanuts.  I enjoy watching these intelligent birds.

The weather isn’t always great, but that’s Ohio for you!

There seemed to be an issue with a certain crow this year.  A Crow would crowd out another, pushing it away from others.  Either it was a visitor from outside the extended family, or it was an extended family member- a 2-or-3-year-old that the core family decided it was time for them to strike out and start a family of their own.  Younger Crows will often stay and help their parents raise young next year.

Here’s a juvenile Crow begging from a family member in summer.  You can tell the juvies by their red mouths that are often open.  They usually show up in June or July.

Onto the Woodpeckers.  Woodpeckers are drawn in to the feeder occasionally because they see other birds there from the patch of evergreen trees right above.  Here’s the local male Red-Bellied Woodpecker grabbing a peanut.  It’s a beautiful large bird.

The other Woodpecker I occasionally see at the feeder is this female Downy Woodpecker.  She’s shy, often watching what’s going on from the fence.  Downies are the smallest Woodpecker in Ohio.

Although not a Woodpecker, White-Breasted Nuthatches behave like them, walking vertically up and down tree trunks, usually feeding off of insects and their eggs found in tree bark crevices.  You can see the upward angle of the beak that it uses as a probe to find food.  There’s a pair of these birds that fairly regularly come to my feeder.

Here’s a common feeder visitor, a Carolina Chickadee.  I have 3 or 4 of them that come around, possibly an extended family.  You’ll see younger ones show up with their parents in the later summer.  They are pleasant birds, always making their little calls, that love to stash safflower seeds in bark crevices.  This is known as caching.

Here’s another stasher- a Blue Jay.  4 of them visit my feeder from the north and often carry peanuts back the way they came.  These loud brash birds are related to Crows and are intelligent like them.

Sticking with larger birds, Mourning Doves are daily visitors to the patio, enjoying safflower seed in particular.

Evidently, word has gotten out about the goodies to be found here.  I’ve seen up to 14 Mourning Doves on the patio at once.  Last year saw an increase in their numbers here.

Ohio’s state bird, the Northern Cardinal.  A pair regularly visits the feeder, particularly early in the morning and late in the evening.  I’ve seen another male (or another pair) slip in occasionally.

This is an immature Cardinal.  Often secretive, immatures are characterized by their dark beaks.  There were 2 young birds that the local pair brought to the feeder once they were old enough.

Moving on to Sparrows.  We’ve seen the Dark -Eyed Junco already; here is a Song Sparrow.  There is a local pair that come visit my patio.  They are shy birds that avoid crowds.

This is a Chipping Sparrow- a handsome friendly bird that is here in the warm weather to raise a family, then gather in flocks in September in anticipation of migrating south.  I’ll see 1 or 2 pairs in the warm weather.  They’ll often plop right down upon the ground in front of me from a tree above while I’m distributing food.

Here’s an immature Chipping Sparrow that followed a parent onto the patio.  It’s fun watching young birds figuring out what’s good to eat and what’s not.

These are male and female House Sparrows.  Technically they are old world Finches (having been brought over form Europe), but we call them Sparrows anyway.  There is a flock of 2-3 dozen in my apartment court, and they often come sweeping in for food in a good-sized group, snatching food from under each other’s beaks and in general being raucous.  They sweep on out as one as swiftly as they arrived, being well-tuned to anything out of the ordinary, like Hawks (or an abundance of false alarms).

This young female has a big patch of white feathers on her wings.  I’m not sure if this is partial leucism or not.

It’s fun watching the juvenile House Sparrows being fed by their parents.  They wiggle their wings and gape open their mouths- feed me!

Speaking of Finches, there is a healthy local population of House Finches that nest on the apartment complex.  They occasionally come by for some coveted safflower seeds.  Native to the far West, eastern House Finches escaped from captivity in New York City and spread over the eastern half of the country.

This Carolina Wren is visiting more and more often in winter.  A small bird with a loud voice, it creeps into all sorts of nooks and crannies as it explores the patio.  It brought its mate along once.  These hardy birds stay year-round in Ohio.

This Tufted Titmouse is a rare feeder visitor, though I see them often enough in the ‘wild’.  They look like miniature gray and white Cardinals.  Another rare visitor was an American Goldfinch (no good photo, alas).

And now, onto the mammals!

The occasional Raccoon visits at night.  They are curious creatures and love peanuts.  One is shy, another bold.

Skunks are frequent nocturnal visitors (rarely during the day).  You can tell individuals by differences in their white stripes and spotted patches of fur.

A funny habit when 2 Skunks are eating near each other is for them to push against each other with their tails raised.  These 2 are most likely siblings from a litter.

There’s a rare Opossum that also visits at night, but I didn’t get a good picture of it, darn it.

Never forget the Eastern Gray Squirrel!  Several visit the patio looking for peanuts.

This is Notch- called that because of the notch in his left ear.

This is Half Tail.  Not sure what happened there!

This fellow got something yellow stuck to a foot- hilarity ensued before it came off!

Have something else for me?

This guy had some kind of issue- he’d eat while holding his food up high.  Not sure what that was about.

Ahh, youth.  One Squirrel chasing another through the trees.

It’s time for this little one to go off on its own- mom is done with feeding him/her.

It’s sad to watch the little squirrel follow mom- they just don’t understand what’s going on.

The young one eventually figured things out and is on the patio eating like the others.  We all have to grow up sooner or later.

Perhaps the most unique visitor above the patio last year was a tree-trimmer.  Hope you enjoyed the year in review!

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Two Rare Birds in Ohio, October 2018.

December 1, 2018

Gray Kingbird

Northern Wheatear

It’s been a good autumn for rare birds here in Ohio.  Kirtland’s Warbler was a signal highlight.  Two others that I managed to see in October stand out.

Jim McCormac, a prominent Ohio naturalist who I’ve run into at a few rare bird stakeouts, wrote about seeing both of these birds.  Jim has a nature column he writes for the Columbus Dispatch, and deserves a shout-out for sharing his significant knowledge of natural Ohio and nature photography.

One bird showed up in Clark County, at Spangler Nature Preserve, located between Springfield and Dayton.    Jeff Peters gets full credit for identifying this bird- the first of its species identified in Ohio.  That’s a big deal!

The very day this bird was seen, I saw the report on the Ohio Birds Listserv and jumped in my car to drive out there as soon as I could.  I normally take scenic backroads when traveling across Ohio, but this bird sighting made me get on the freeway and drive as fast as I legally could to its location.  Luckily, Spangler Nature Preserve is perhaps half a mile from Route 70 at the Spangler Road exit.

I got there late in the afternoon and walked the paths through prairie grass.

Goldfinches flew about.

Late-blooming autumn flowers such as this White Aster dotted the preserve.

The path took me back to a treeline on the northern border of the park.

Overhead, military cargo planes made frequent practice takeoffs and landings to and from nearby Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

In the treeline at northeast corner of the park, I saw a group of Eastern Bluebirds.  Suddenly, another bird flew into a nearby tree…

I could tell immediately that this was a Kingbird, a larger Flycatcher, distinguished by its larger size, thick bill and overall flycatcher looks and behavior (perching on a branch, occasionally flying out to catch an insect on the wing).

This is a Gray Kingbird, the first of its species to be confirmed visiting the state of Ohio.  It looks somewhat similar to the common Eastern Kingbird, but its most notable distinguishing mark is its black mask which reminds me of a Shrike.

This bird typically lives in the Caribbean islands, and visits the Florida coast in the summer.  In the autumn, rare individuals roam north of this range.  Ohio and Florida are quite different states and far apart, but this particular bird made it clear up here, and stayed a week.  An amazing feat which may have been assisted by Hurricane Michael (hurricanes often bring unusual birds with them, and birders are on the alert).  I was quite happy to stumble upon it mere hours after it was reported seen for the first time.  Not all rare bird sightings are so easily duplicated, I can assure you!

The other rare October bird I saw appeared in Richland County, a farming region north of Mansfield.  The area has many Mennonite family farms.  One of these families saw the rare bird and graciously allowed birders onto their farm to see it.  In my experience, Mennonites (a Christian Anabaptist religious group somewhat similar to the Amish) often enjoy birding and nature and are nice people.

From Columbus, the farm was three-quarters of the way to Lake Erie.  I took a backroads Ohio road trip, one of my favorite things to do.

I’ve often seen three tall blue and yellow crosses along roadways- and there is a story behind them.  There are always interesting things to see and learn on the road!

And then, I arrived at my destination.

The long driveway onto the farm property.  As you can see, birders had ‘flocked’ to the location.

I arrived near noon, but the bird wasn’t in its usual area.  Hours passed, birders spending the time looking around or chatting.  On these rare bird stakeouts, you often see the same people.  Stories are swapped.

Here’s the woodpile that the bird often perched upon.  The small gray structure behind the woodpile is an outdoor furnace- wood is burned and the hot water is circulated via pipe to the farmhouse and back, heating the home.

Turkey Vultures occasionally passed overhead, migrating south.

And suddenly, after hours of waiting, the bird appeared.  This is Bruce Simpson, Metro Parks naturalist and avid birder, posting via smartphone to the Ohio Birds Listserv that the bird had finally showed up while others frantically took pictures.

Here is the star of the show- a Northern Wheatear.

This bird was not shy- it came within 20-30 feet of the group of birders admiring it, seeming to pose for the cameras.

The Wheatear flew to the ground, finding a caterpillar for supper.

What’s so special about a Northern Wheatear?  This Old World Thrush moves back and forth from the northern tundras of Alaska and northern Canada to and from its wintering grounds in Africa!

I’ll quote from the All About Birds article, Migrating Northern Wheatears Go the Distance—and Pack Accordingly.

From the eastern arctic of Canada, Wheatears traveled through Greenland to northwestern Europe before flying south to western Africa. Their western arctic compatriots went the other way around the globe: they flew westward to Siberia and then diagonally across Asia to wind up in eastern Africa. The migration distances are astonishing, particularly the Alaskan birds’ journeys, which added up to roughly 15,000 km. Wheatears from the eastern Canadian arctic traveled a mere 7,500 km, although the first leg of their journey was a 3,500 km trans-Atlantic crossing to Europe with only one possible resting point, Greenland, en route.

The time that wheatears spend on these migrations was what I found most surprising: birds traveling across Asia took roughly 3 months to reach Africa and two and a half months to return to North America. That’s comparable to the roughly 3 months that North America’s wheatears spend on their nesting grounds, and is only marginally less than they spend on their wintering grounds (4 or 5 months for western and eastern American arctic, respectively). These birds were spending so little time in any one location that, if they were humans, they possibly would not be considered legal residents of any nation on earth!

This bird gets huge respect from me, traveling for a living.  They’ve only been recorded in Ohio six times.

I made it home just as the crisp autumn sky turned dark.  A very worthwhile trip- who knows when the next will happen?

Ohio History – Fort Recovery.

November 3, 2018

Last September, I visited a small Ohio town chock-full of history.  I enjoy visiting such places in my state, seeing the architecture, parks and special attractions, but this one deserved a post of its own.

Fort Recovery is located on the Ohio-Indiana border in western Ohio.  1,400 people live there; agriculture is the predominant business.  I was in the town on a Sunday afternoon- it was pretty quiet and relaxing, like most small towns.  People occasionally drove on the roads with golf carts.

There were several murals in town depicting historical subjects.  This really gives the place ‘personality’.

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I just had to add this- there was an IGA grocery store in town. I grew up in a small town with one of these, I rarely see them anymore.

Street names reflected the historical theme.

And history is present in many locations here.

Right in the middle of downtown, there was a marker where General Richard Butler– an officer in Arthur St. Clair‘s militia force that was probing the Native American forces in the area in 1791- died in the largest defeat American forces ever suffered at the hands of Native Americans.  It is usually called St. Clair’s defeat.  Between 600-900 whites were killed by the Indian Confederacy led by famed chiefs Little Turtle of the Miami tribe and Blue Jacket of the Shawnee tribe.

Butler had been severely wounded by a bullet, and told his two brothers to leave him under a huge oak tree.  Warriors were overrunning the battle field and the militia was fleeing in panic.  Butler was given two cocked pistols and left propped up against the tree.  His bones would be found two years later.

Here’s the sites I visited in the area that day.

Source of the Wabash River

Not far outside of town along State Route 49 was a tiny park in the middle of endless rows of corn.  I pulled in and found that this area was where the Wabash River formed.

The Wabash flows on to drain most of Indiana, forming its border with Illinois before running into the Mississippi.  Long used by Native Americans as a trading route between the Great Lakes and the Ohio River, it was first mapped by French explorers in the 17th century.  This river has seen much history- no less than five battles have taken place near its banks, two of which happened in the area now occupied by Fort Recovery.

The river used to run right by the site of Fort Recovery, but its course has changed over the centuries, particularly to channel its flow around farmland.

It’s humbling to think that this small trickle of water eventually becomes a major river and joins with the Mighty Mississippi as its largest northern tributary.

Fort Recovery Monument Park

In town, a must-see place is Fort Recovery Monument Park.

This park has a large obelisk, a pair of cannon, markers and plaques with information about the site, and a veteran’s memorial.

In 1908, President William Howard Taft signed a bill that allowed for the building of a monument in Fort Recovery. The monument was built in 1912 and dedicated on July 1, 1913. The obelisk stands at 101′, 4″ tall. It weighs approximately 800 tons and cost $23,700 to build.

The nine foot statue depicts a frontiersman facing west and looking out at the beautiful land into which he triumphed.

Underneath the base of the monument are the remains of those people killed under the commands of Arthur St. Clair and Anthony Wayne. 32 medallions surround the base of the monument, each inscribed with the name of an officer killed in battle here. Four bronze plaques also surround the base of the monument.

To this day, each Memorial Day weekend, over 900 crosses are placed in Monument Park in remembrance of the fallen soldiers.

Fort Recovery Pioneer Cemetery

Several blocks away is the oldest cemetery in Mercer County.  Mr. & Mrs. John Simison, two of the earliest pioneers in the area, were buried here in 1820.  Other pioneers followed when their time came.

In 1851, bones of militiamen from St. Clair’s Defeat were found along the banks of the Wabash River.  They were interred here with 5,000 people looking on.  In 1891 the remains were re-buried at Monument Park.  Only the pioneers remain.

Fort Recovery Museum Grounds

 

The two main events commemorated at Fort Recovery are St. Clair’s Defeat and Wayne’s Victory, also known as the Battle of Fort Recovery.  The latter battle was a response to the former.  The young United States wanted land, the only real wealth it possessed at the time, and through dubious treaties with Native Americans claiming to represent whole tribes it bought a substantial part of the Northwest Territory (the Ohio Territory being the closest to the states).  Native Americans combined into a great confederation- the one really successful confederation they made- and fought to keep their land.  After St. Clair’s Defeat, President Washington persuaded Congress to create a standing army to conquer the Ohio Territory (and beyond).  So the Legion of the United States, commanded by Revolutionary War hero ‘Mad’ Anthony Wayne, was born.  Wayne and the Legion were much better-trained and equipped than the typical militia of the time and defeated the Indian Confederation.

This log cabin- the home of Delores and John Eischen- was originally built in 1840 and was moved near to the museum.

Many 19th century items are on display there.

At the museum park, there is a blacksmith shop and tool shed.

 

Seeing all of the 19th century tools reminds one that life was rather hard then, compared to our current situation.

This area of the grounds is where the Wabash River flowed in the 1790s when the fort was built near its banks.

Time capsules are cool!  I wonder what they will think of this one in 2041?

The remains of an unknown Shawnee warrior were buried near this rock.  He was commemorated by Native Americans in 1983.

Fort Recovery, the Recreated Stockade

This is a 1956 recreation of two blockhouses and the stockade wall between them- one side of Fort Recovery.  This is how the fort, built by General Anthony Wayne’s thousands of troops over 5 days in December 1793 in the Ohio wilderness, would have looked.  It was named Fort Recovery because Wayne’s Legion recovered the bones of hundreds of militiamen scattered over the ground from St. Clair’s Defeat here two years earlier.

The stockade walls were thick enough to stop musket balls, and short enough that soldiers could fire over them.

The blockhouses were two stories tall, with a fireplace, benches and beds.  Imagine how cold this would be in winter.  Soldiers lived in them- the officers got their own quarters.

The firing ports allowed soldiers to repel attacks while staying under cover.

There was an endless supply of wood for the fireplace- outside of the fort.  Men would collect firewood under armed guard.  Native American warriors preferred ambushes of these parties and supply trains- hit them where they are vulnerable.

The blockhouses were solidly built.  Imagine the boredom of being stationed here, spiced with the terror of ‘Indian’ attack or capture.

The Battle of Fort Recovery was fought here in 1794.  The Indian Confederation under Little Turtle & Blue Jacket that had won the greatest victory over American forces three years ago ambushed a supply train outside of the fort, driving them back inside with losses.  Some of the tribes attacked the fort, which was very hard to take without cannon (that their allies the British refused to supply).  The warriors were repulsed by fire from the fort, especially the blockhouses.  This American victory was followed up a couple months later by the Battle of Fallen Timbers, which decisively defeated the Indian Confederation and led to the Treaty of Greenville, ceding much of current Ohio to the Americans.

On the grounds of the fort, a survey stake was driven into the ground to mark the western end of the Greenville Treaty Line, dividing tribal lands from newly-conquered American territory.  The actual wooden stake, driven in the ground in 1795, was found; it was 42 inches deep.  It is now in the nearby museum.

Fort Recovery Museum

A definite highlight of the trip was the museum.  A modest fee can be avoided if you are an Ohio History Connection (formerly the Ohio Historical Society) member.  I’m a member but I always pay entry fees, because I know how much they need the money.

The lady working at the museum was very pleasant and knowledgeable.  We discussed the fort and the battles that raged on this land centuries ago.  She recommended a book, Autumn of the Black Snake: The Creation of the U.S. Army and the Invasion That Opened the West by William Hogeland, that recounted St. Clair’s Defeat, the creation of the controversial first standing army of the United States, and Anthony Wayne’s campaign that beat the Indian Confederation, leading to most of the Ohio Territory (and elsewhere) being conquered.  I bought and read the book, and highly recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.  It is very detailed and well-researched.

The museum had lots of informative text and graphics, with artifacts from the times, even from this very site.

Blue Jacket was a courageous war chief, but had a falling-out with his Confederation co-leader Little Turtle.  Trouble came from this division.  It was difficult to keep the Confederation together, seeing how the tribes all had different views and there was no way to compel obedience.

General ‘Mad’ Anthony Wayne was an abysmal failure as a businessman and a family man, but he was a superb commander of soldiers.  From the time he was a child, he always wanted to lead men.

The artifacts were fascinating to look at.

 

Life-size mannequins wore typical garb and carried equipment then in use.

Flintlock muskets were the typical firearm of the time.  Rifles (called such because of the rifling inside the barrels that increased accuracy) were also used.  The lead ammunition was large compared to standard modern firearms.  One could easily see why being hit in an arm or a leg often meant amputation.  Men carried bullet molds and bars of lead to melt down into ammunition in those days.  Gunpowder was a precious substance.

Forts were strong defensive positions that usually could only be taken by siege, cannon fire or subterfuge.

Women and even children would accompany troops (especially militias).

“…I fell in with Lieutenant Shaumburgh (who if my recollection serves me was the only officer of artillery that got away unhurt), with Corporal Mott & a woman who was called red headed Nance – the latter two were both crying. Mott was lamenting the loss of his wife & Nance of an infant child. Shaumburgh was nearly exhausted & hung on Motts arm. I carried his fuse & accoutrements & led Nance. In this sociable way we came together & arrived at [Fort] Jefferson a little after sunset.”

-Memoirs of Benjamin Van Cleve

 

Western Ohio saw a whole string of forts and battles as Americans moved north from Cincinnati (then a village along the Ohio River flatboat route) towards Fort Detroit, Great Britain’s main outpost in the Northwest Territories.  All of this territory was Native American land supposedly ‘bought’ by the government, eager to pay off Revolutionary War soldiers with land- since the government was deeply in debt.

Upstairs was a room devoted to ancient Native American artifacts.

Here’s a nice timeline of the inhabitants of North America and what their cultures were like- hunter-gatherers, agriculturalists, mound builders, copperworkers…all with distinctive stone tools.

 

 

Looking down at the ground floor of the museum- what a great place!  History really came alive for me in Fort Recovery.

Always sign the guest book!

North America’s Rarest Warbler.

October 6, 2018

Kirtland’s Warbler

This is a blog post I am extremely happy to be able to post!  I- along with many other birders in the central Ohio area- have seen the rarest warbler in North America a week ago, thanks to a sharp-eyed child and the Internet.

Here’s the story I got from a birder friend.  A birder was walking with his young son at Battelle Darby Metro Park (an old favorite park of mine) at the western edge of Franklin County.  The young son pointed to a pretty bird on the fence along the trail they were walking.  The birder dad took a closer look, and realized what he saw.

The news went out online, on various Facebook groups, eBird, and the Ohio Birds Listserv.  People flocked to see the bird…including me.  I dropped everything and drove out there, not wasting any time.

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Battelle-Darby is a large park- over 7,000 acres.  The particular area where the bird was hanging out was near the Nature Center, near the Bison fields.  I’ll talk about these features of this great park one day, but right now, there are more pressing things to discuss…

Yes, news travels fast in the Internet Age.  A crowd of excited birders are staking out the area where the bird had been seen since that morning- a treeline with a wooden fence in front of it.

Autumn wildflowers- Goldenrod and Asters- grace the area.  It’s a great time of year.  It’s also autumn migration, with September seeing neotropical birds heading south to a warmer place to spend the winter.

And back in the treeline- there is the bird!

It worked its way among the bushes.

And then it perched on the fence, looking for things to eat in the nearby foliage.  This bird wasn’t scared of the crowd, 20 feet away, gazing in appreciation at her, and taking many pictures.

Large warbler, yellow breast, white eye right, fine black streaking, gray rump, white undertail coverts, brownish-gray back, a constantly pumping tail.  Classic signs of a Kirtland’s Warbler.

This bird caught small caterpillars as we watched.  This is a rare treat indeed.  I called my best friend, also a birder, and he drove like a maniac out to see and photograph the bird.  You owe me, buddy!

Kirtland’s Warblers are an endangered species.  The US Fish and Wildlife Service tells us that it has kept track of the numbers found- traditionally, nesting only in the jack pine forests of a certain age in Michigan- and there were as few as 400 of them in 1971.  In 2011, over 1,800 singing males were recorded, so they are making somewhat of a comeback.  This puts into perspective how few of these birds there are, and seeing one out of its small nesting grounds is rare.

Primarily insect eaters, Kirtland’s warblers forage for insects and larvae near the ground and in lower parts of pines and oaks. They also eat blueberries.

Kirtland’s warblers nest only on the ground near the lower branches and in large stands of young jack pines that are 5 to 20 feet tall and 6 to 22 years old. The tree’s age is crucial, although biologists are not sure why. It is possible that the birds need low branches near the ground to help conceal their nests. Before the trees are six years old, the lower branches are not large enough to hide the nest. After 15 years, these lower branches begin to die.

Kirtland’s warblers require large stands of young, dense jack pine forest at least 80 acres in size, but they prefer stands of 300 to 400 acres, or larger. Their exacting requirements for nesting, as well as cowbird parasitism, caused a drastic decline in numbers and led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Kirtland’s warbler as an endangered species in 1967.

Until 1995 Kirtland’s warblers had only been known to nest in the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Today, they also nest in the Upper Peninsula, and since 2007, have nested in Wisconsin and Canada. They migrate from their nesting grounds to the southeastern coast of the United States on their way to wintering grounds in the Bahamas.

Once it was believed that forest fires harmed the environment. However, we now know that fires play an important role in forest ecosystems. For example, without fire, jack pine cones do not completely release their seeds. Suppressing forest fires prevented the natural establishment of new jack pine stands. Since Kirtland’s warblers will only nest in stands of young jack pines, the population dwindled dramatically before scientists realized that there is a role for fire in forest ecology — and in the Kirtland’s warbler life history.

The second greatest threat to Kirtland’s warbler survival is the brown-headed cowbird. Cowbirds lay eggs in other bird’s nests, leaving the unsuspecting hosts to incubate and care for the young cowbirds. This is called nest parasitism…

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in cooperation with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Forest Service and the Michigan Audubon Society, initiated an aggressive cowbird removal program in 1972 that has continued to this day. As a result, Kirtland’s warblers now have very good nesting success and enough young are being produced to increase the population.

This young female is one of an estimated 3,600 Kirtland’s Warblers in the wild today, a number slowly increasing due to habitat management and Cowbird control in their area.

I always planned to go up to Michigan to see them on their breeding territory, but never expected to see one migrating through one of my favorite parks!

This bird was seen in the same area for 4 days, and then it was off to the Bahamas.  Good place to spend the winter if you ask me.

To date, this has been the most exciting life list bird I’ve seen.  I’ve seen 279 bird species in the state of Ohio now.

A Park that used to be a Quarry.

September 1, 2018

Oakes Quarry Park

Lark Sparrow

I read about a rare (for Ohio) sparrow this summer on the Ohio Birds Listserv.  It was seen in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio, not terribly far away from me.  And the park it was seen in sounded interesting as well.

So I decided to go look!

Oakes Quarry Park is located in Fairborn, Ohio, right outside of Dayton’s freeway outerbelt.  It is part of the Fairborn Parks system and is one of several locations under the stewardship of the Beaver Creek Wetlands Association of Greene County.

One of the first things I noticed hiking around Oakes Quarry Park is that it is more of a quarry-turned-park than a park.  There are remnants of stone quarry activity everywhere, along with a central wetlands area and some restored prairie.

There’s a 30-foot overlook from a quarried stone wall around much of the park, with scattered stonework over much of the area.  The park is essentially a big bowl with a stony rim around it.  Narrow hiking trails and a horse bridle trail encircle the area.

This site was originally surface mined in 1929 for limestone to make cement by Southwestern Portland Cement Company and Southdown Inc., before being sold to the Oakes family in the 1990’s. The family donated the land to the City of Fairborn in 2003.

Oakes Quarry Park is the second largest park in Fairborn. The park includes foot trails and horseback trails that cross ancient limestone fossils exposed by the mining activity that formed the quarry. Conservation work here is developing prairies and wetlands once common in the area and the northern edge is nice woodland.

Clean Ohio Conservation Fund assisted with the development of the park including invasive species removal and reforestation of 8,000 trees.

The hiking trail takes you back in time 440 million years, when all of this was a coral reef in a shallow sea. Researchers from the Ohio State University say these Silurian Age crinoid fossils are the best in the U.S. and represent an exceptional site worldwide. More recently, glaciers left grooves, slides and polishings in the rock before the last ice age ended 14,000 years ago.

Glacial striation marks can be seen upon this rocky area- a layer of ice over a kilometer in height once covered over half of Ohio many thousands of years ago, and left its marks by advancing and retreating.

Sand was also common in the park, and plentiful bird tracks showed that sand baths are popular here.

Close proximity to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base meant lots of airplanes in the sky, including some vintage planes.

There were all sorts of interesting dry-soil wildflowers to be seen, like this Thistle.

Butterflyweed

St. John’s Wort

Butterflies were common visitors to the wildflowers. A Silver-Spotted Skipper sips upon an interesting wildflower I haven’t identified yet- I’ve only seen it in this park!

A Monarch Butterfly upon Blue Vervain

An Orange Sulfur upon Common Teasel

A Widow Skimmer Dragonfly- a common summer sight in Ohio’s natural areas

Birds of course were in the park- including Mourning Doves…

A male Eastern Towhee called from the shade

A Killdeer- Ohio’s most common shorebird- was in the water of a shallow pond

A male House Finch

A male Indigo Bunting, a familiar Ohio summer bird singing from a perch

One of the many Field Sparrows inhabiting the park that scolded me

There was another sparrow I was looking for in this brushy area of the park- one that is rarely seen breeding  in Ohio.

Suddenly, I spotted a large sparrow with white on its tail flying by, landing in a Sycamore Tree.  It was the bird I sought!

The bird sang its complex song- that along with its elaborate mask identified it as a Lark Sparrow.

This large sparrow may be brown, but its harlequin facial pattern and white tail spots make it a standout among sparrows. Males sing a melodious jumble of churrs, buzzes, and trills reminiscent of an Old World lark. Their courtship is also unusual, involving a hopping and crouching display unlike other sparrows. Lark Sparrows occur in the West and the Great Plains in prairies, grasslands, and pastures with scattered shrubs. In winter, look for them in small flocks in brushy areas.

I’m always happy to see a new life-list bird species, and it was a bonus to get a few very good photos as it sang.

Oakes Quarry Park was a very interesting place to visit- I’ll definitely be back, looking for some examples of its famed Crinoid fossils!