Thursday, June 29, 2006

Spectacular Sights on Kelley's Island

We spent the majority of today on Kelley's Island. We walked the North Pointe trail, climbed down in into the old limestone quarry, and gazed at the glacial grooves, all while looking for new birds. Sightings today included a Turkey Vulture and another Bald Eagle. We had excellent view of a Cedar Waxwing, an Indigo Bunting, and an Eastern Kingbird. The picture of the flycatcher (Eastern Kingbird) below was taken by putting Sheila's monocular in front of my camera lens; obviously better photo quality than yesterday's attempt!

Our blog is short today, as we're all rushing to complete our assignments before tonight's guest lecturers speak. In case you didn't know, Thursday evenings are reserved for updates on research projects currently underway on Lake Erie. These research briefs are followed by talks by prominent individuals associated with scientific research and management of Lake Erie. Chris Winslow will provide update us on his research with Round Gobies, while Dr. Harvey Shear will be speaking on Great Lakes water quality assessment that has been happening for the past 35 years.

Our birding tips for today:
1. If you see a bird singing from a high perch and it flies away, keep watching that same spot. It's likely that the bird will return to the location to continue singing (as it is making other birds aware of territorial boundaries).

2. If you have a fruit tree that is ripening, keep your eye on it. You'll likely see Cedar Waxwings and American Robins coming in and out to get the berries or fruit.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

What a Day for Birding!

The temperature is in the upper 70's, there is a slight breeze, and puffy, white clouds float in the sky - typical of a great day around Lake Erie.

There are only so many birds you can see on the Bass Islands, so we ventured to the "mainland" today. Our first stop was Crane Creek State Park and Magee Marsh. We had our first sightings of Great Egrets, Marsh Wrens, Yellow Warblers and Grey Catbirds. Best of all, Sheila spotted a mature Bald Eagle soaring overhead. We felt very patriotic as someone belted out the first lines of "America, the Beautiful." Feeling accomplished, we had lunch on the beach and then headed out to Metzger Marsh. The marsh was extremely flooded (possibly from the rains last week or because of wildlife management strategies) and we really didn't have luck seeing any new species.

The day only got better though; we saw a juvenile Bald Eagle, Common Yellowthroat, and two Trumpeter Swans at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. Unexpectedly, the swans had rusty colored heads. We learned this was a result of their environment; the swans dip their heads under water to feed and the substrate here is extremely iron-rich. I tried to get a picture using my camera with Sheils's monocular in front of the lens. I'm certainly not the best at photography! Can you find the swan in the picture below?

A trip to the mainland isn't complete without a stop to Toft's for ice cream. We made sure to get there before catching the ferries back to the islands.

Today's tip:

If a bird is hiding from you and you really want to see it, just physically sit down and wait. As soon as you do so, it's sure to fly up so that you have to get up again and chase it.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Another Try at Birding on South Bass

They say, "the early bird catches the worm;" we were out bright and early back at the pond on South Bass hoping to see some more species. We saw the Black-crowned Night Herons again - clearly one was a juvenile - and watched the Wood Duck youngsters waddle around lily pads. We did a lot of listening this morning, trying to identify birds by their vocalizations. Many of our discussions were centered around distinguishing various species of woodpeckers from one another. We added four new birds to our list - Brown-headed Cowbird, American Goldfinch, Northern Flicker, and Red-bellied Woodpecker. Just before lunch, we ventured upstairs in Stone Lab's research building to see the "skins," the collection of preserved bird specimens. Some of the specimens had tags on them that were dated back into the 1920's!

With just a few minutes before Al took us back to Gibraltar, everyone also had a chance to see the eagle nest on display next door at the ODNR Visitor's Center.

One of the neatest sightings was of a Tree Swallow nest in the post on the end of one of the research boats. Tree Swallows are secondary cavity nesters; they don't carve out their own nest cavities, but rather use existing ones. According to Captain Al, Tree Swallows have nested here for three years. They follow the boat wherever it goes, from the research dock, to Gibraltar, even to Kelley's and Rattlesnake Islands. Although my picture doesn't show it well, there are three nestlings inside. It's a good thing there is an endless supply of mayflies for lunch!

As for the birding tips of the day:

When birding (and you don't know what the bird is), here's what to do:

1. DON'T TAKE YOUR EYES OFF THE BIRD! Study the bird for as long as you can before it flies away.

2. Pay attention to the basic characteristics: size, shape, color, markings, behavior, vocalizaiton, and habitat

3. Write down as much as you can after the bird has left; inevitably you will forget a distinguishing characteristic if you fail to record it!

Do you know the universal bird call?

It's called "pishing." If you want to call birds (so that they call back to you), you should pish and then squeak. This is especially useful when in dense vegetation. If you are really good at making sounds, then imitate a Screech Owl. It will startle most song birds; they will respond vocally or visually (thus exposing themselves) because they want to find out more about where the owl is.

As for tomorrow. . . we're heading back to mainland Ohio for some birding at Crane Creek State Park, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, and Metzger Marsh. Of course we'll also check out that birds that hang around Tofts Ice Cream.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Our First Experiences Birding

Rachel looks through the spotting scope at the Baltimore Oriole nest on South Bass Island. The nest is hanging precariously at the top of a cottonwood tree on rather thin branches. We've seen both the male and female birds at the nest; we're assuming there are little mouths to feed inside!

Rachel and Georgia look across the pond to see the female Wood Duck. Sheila and Dr. Shalaway keep watch just over the bridge.

Dr. Shalaway sees a bird in flight, while Patrick focuses on the Kingbird across the pond.

Do you know what the numbers on your binoculars mean (i.e., 8X25)?

The first number refers to the magnification (the image would be brought 8 times closer to your eyes) and the second number refers to the diameter of the objective (in mm) of the binoculars....the larger the diameter, the more light that can get in, the more detail you may be able to see.

Stay tuned for more birding tips and techniques!

The start of class

Dr. Shalaway has a small class of ornithology students this year. We are at Stone Lab for 1 week to learn all we can about birds, from identification to ecology to vocalizations. This is Dr. Shalaway's third year as an instructor at the lab. He currently writes a newspaper column in WV and does nature-based radio shows in Wheeling and Pittsburgh. His five students include Patrick, Sheila, Rachel, Georgia, and myself (Lyndsey). Patrick is a music professor at OSU; not surprisingly, he has an ear for bird songs. Sheila is a high school teacher in Elyria (outside of Cleveland). She uses the Great Lakes as a theme throughout her classes and is anxious to incorporate lessons using local birds. Rachel is a PhD candidate at OSU; she is spending a number of weeks at Stone Lab this summer taking as many science courses as she can towards her degree. Georgia and I are doing the same thing as Rachel. We are both taking a variety of Stone Lab's 1-week courses this summer. Georgia is working on her Master's degree and I'm aiming for Master's +30.

I think everyone would agree that Stone Lab is a great place to spend time for a class. The smell of the water, the sound of the birds, and the great wildlife you encounter all make the experience memorable.

Today's experiences were more than we had hoped for. We saw several Black-crowned Night Herons at Twilleger's Pond (unusual for this time of year), a Baltimore Oriole, both Tree and Barn Swallows, Chimney Swifts, and Purple Martins. Some of the more common species we encountered were Northern Cardinals, Herring Gulls, Great Blue Herons, Canada Geese, and Mallards. Tomorrow we'll venture back to South Bass Island for some more birding. Later in the week we'll visit Kelley's Island and the Ohio mainland to examine birds in some different environments.

Stay tuned to the blog for some pictures - we're still learning to use the binoculars correctly, so I'm not yet adept at viewing birds and taking pictures simultaneously!