Posted on October 1, 2022
With a tradition of spending time hiking in the late summer and early autumn woods it’s not like we haven’t noticed fall migrating warblers in past years, but this is the first year we’ve made a concerted effort to see just how many we can spot as they move through our area making central Ohio home for just a few days as they head south to distant places in the Caribbean or south America. As always a few eluded the camera lens.
It may have been the Redstarts and Black and White Warblers at our Michigan campsite in late August that got us thinking that maybe it would be worth it to pay closer attention to fall migration this year.
There are several challenges to observing fall warblers; the trees still have most of their leaves providing many hiding places, the birds don’t call, and the male’s colorful breeding plumage is muted, or in some cases doesn’t even resemble that of spring, so identifying birds can be very difficult.
Even though the late summer wildflowers and the hint of red, yellow and gold in the leaves high overhead are beautiful, it’s still a time of year that it feels like nature is closing up shop. As they filter through the trees on their way south the warblers say, “not yet” and wake us to yet more of nature’s wonder.
Posted on September 17, 2022
Perhaps it would be best to just let the mystery be.
But I can’t.
How did all these migrating Monarchs find an organic clover field next to a stand of pines in central Ohio? It’s not as though they’ve always been doing it because the clover field hasn’t always been there, nor have the pines for that matter. Did one lone butterfly stumble across the location some years ago and then the word got out? Hum, the word got out, let me think about that for a “minute”.
A roving swarm didn’t descend on the area because Monarchs travel alone. They arrive one by one, so that’s not how the place was found. Is this particular location imprinted at birth like their ultimate destination in Mexico? What happens if one year the owner of the field decides, enough clover already, lets grow corn? A lot of butterflies would have to quickly come up with an alternate plan or die. Perhaps many more than we realize travel completely alone and never become part of such a large gathering. Wouldn’t that be a better survival strategy?
In the pines they bed down for the night in tight clusters with adjacent areas having few if any butterflies. Some authorities have suggested this may be to keep warm but unless they are moving their wings almost continually, or are very closely sandwiched together, it’s hard to understand where the heat is coming from. If it’s a cold night each butterfly could keep itself warm moving its wings, but any cold air circulated wouldn’t be much help to the guy next door.
We observed that when perched in a close group the butterflies seem to respond to external stimuli, such as another butterfly attempting to land, by opening and closing their wings. A number, but not all, participate in this synchronized wing movement across an area of three or four feet. How does that happen when the stimuli may only be close to one or two?
Unlike the non-migrating generations of butterflies seen throughout the summer that often can look rather tired, most seen on the recent Mid-September evening looked newly emerged and ready to continue their long journey to Mexico.
In their beauty, covering the pines with their blossoming presence, they truly are flowers that fly.
For more info on Monarchs: https://monarchjointventure.org/monarch-biology/monarch-migration
Posted on September 12, 2022
August brings quiet to nature in northern Michigan. The song and movement of birds in the nearby brush or forest canopy is less. At times not much seems to be stirring. But later, as we paddle a lake framed in lily pads, a faithful kingfisher proves us wrong as it continues about its business noisily taking flite from a nearby shore.
King birds, a constant menace to emerging dragonflies in June, are seldom seen now. Insects, particularly mosquitoes, are also not as common, and along with them the warblers that they attract.
It is a time of year that one is often treated to views of young life.
Stopping for a moment in the quiet of the season draws one into the magic of the north woods.
During the short nights of June one can often hear the haunting call of a loon. In late August, with its longer cooler nights, the voice of an owl or the howl of a coyote can be heard, but only occasional is it accompanied by a loon.
Gliding silently over “glass” we are drawn into wondering, what will be seen ahead?
Flowers appear in late summer, like the beautiful Grass of Parnassus growing at water’s edge. Further along the wooded shore, if one looks closely, Bottle Gentian may also quietly announce its presence.
It seems that the more time one spends in the woods the more one feels it’s embrace.
With the sights, sounds, and fragrance of flowers and trees, being in nature on foot or in a canoe more profoundly unites us with something greater. As we breathe deeply, and muscles work to embrace the challenge of the place, we are taken deeper into that reality. Perhaps we can only truly arrive at such a place using the resources within.
Sometimes one is sure one knows what something is. A closer examination of the below dragonflies teaches that one must look closely. They are each unique.
While hiking we’ve learned to be on the lookout for fungi. They often pop up when least expected and often cheerfully announce their presence next to the trail. Others, with distant foreboding, peer out from the darkness of the dense woods and speak of mystery.
Whether in the canoe, on the trail, or sitting quietly at one’s campsite, nature speaks through the reality of the moment. It is constantly changing, responding to light that silhouettes then illuminates, wind that sculpts the water’s blank surface or plays in leaves high overhead then leaves them still, then with little warning, the sound of distant thunder is heard, and the faint whisper of light rain grows ever louder. In those moments, if we allow it, change will occur within. If we are lucky, we’ll never be the same.
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Posted on August 5, 2022
We remembered from past visits that Kiser Lake, about an hour and a half drive west of our home in Columbus, had a lot of lily pads. Consistent with our experience in previous years as summer moved from July into August, we found ourselves increasingly enamored with our insect friends, particularly dragonflies and butterflies. What better spot to look for dragonflies than a lake with lots of lily pads!
We had the good fortune to see numerous mating pairs of Halloween Pennant dragonflies and a new to us, Lilypad Forktail damselfly. Other dragonflies were seen, including Blue Dashers, but none felt like posing for a picture. An added treat for the day was seeing the dark morph of an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.
Our means for getting close the subject would be a canoe. To improve the chances of spotting something of interest we would try to stay right in the middle of the lily pads as we circumnavigated the lake. If you are interested in the route, see: https://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=917604
While we were more intent on looking for dragonflies, we were impressed with how many birds were seen. In one area of the lake, we flushed out at least seven Great Blue Herons. Other than in a rookery, that’s perhaps the largest number we had ever seen in close proximity to each other.
Our three-hour paddle on Kiser Lake had definitely exceeded expectations. In that time, we had observed a world going about its day with no need of us. That’s probably not something that could be said if the tables were turned. But leaving such worrying thoughts aside, we were embraced by a feeling of gratitude for the privilege of an intimate presence in their world for what seemed a too brief moment in time.
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Posted on July 16, 2022
It was a perfect day, little wind and a blue sky punctuated with puffy white clouds. Our paddles entered the water almost two hours after leaving home in Columbus. We were ready to enjoy the day with a paddle up Paint Creek which would add up to about seven miles once we arrived back at our launch. Unlike the time of spring migration and spring wildflowers our expectation for seeing birds and wildflowers in the deep green embrace of mid-July were not great but the area we had decided to paddle, both enchanting and beautiful made up for it.
The below pictures are offered as encouragement for all that seek to pursue a similar quest.
We had gliding through the water to little more than the sound of the paddle, the calls of Northen Parula and Yellow Warblers, and a distant Wood Thrush. It had been a day well spent.
Posted on May 6, 2022
Clear Creek Metro Park, about 40 miles southeast of our home in Columbus, is a different world. It is an area where the glaciers of the last ice age stopped their southward advance. It is a world of hills, deep ravines that quietly resonate with the gurgle of small spring streams, imposing hemlock and beech, and spring wildflowers that are hard to find closer to home. Birds, such as the secretive Veery, are different also. In this rugged landscape, undisturbed by the glacier’s advance, a hike feels like a journey back to an earlier time. In a world bathed in ambient noise, there is quiet mystery.
In a world that often wants to know why or seeks and demands explanation for much of what happens, weather in one’s own life or in the greater sphere, it’s a treasure to find that in the quiet beauty of a place no answer is required.
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Posted on April 29, 2022
At a graceful 17 feet long our Sawyer Cruiser canoe left the east shore of Griggs Reservoir just above Fishinger Road like a racehorse wanting to run even though it had been several months since we wet the paddles 1000 miles south in Florida. The plan was to follow the sunlit west shore north as far as we were inclined to see what migrating birds and other wildlife we might find. The choice of the Sawyer was dictated by the trip back to our launch site which would put an increasing wind in our face. None of our other canoes does “wind in the face” better than the Sawyer.
The plus side of looking for birds from a boat is that you have a continuous wall of trees and bushes of various sizes at water’s edge in which you might find them. The disadvantage is that the action of wind and waves must be dealt with in an effort to keep the canoe in position long enough to observe or in our case also photograph a small bird flitting about. Almost all of one’s creative paddle strokes are required. So, as with most of our birding by canoe outings, I handle the boat while my wife has all the pressure of trying to get a good picture.
Our first paddle of the year in Ohio had been a little over five miles, half of which was into a sometimes brisk wind. We felt good as we hauled the boat out, but we were glad we hadn’t decided to go further. The several hours spent had been a wonderful blend of appreciating nature coupled with the satisfaction of knowing it had all been accomplished under our own power. Our whole self had been engaged in the adventure.
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Posted on April 25, 2022
During spring in central Ohio, before the overhead canopy leaf’s out, magic might be found at your feet off well-traveled paths near home.
The less often seen yellow.
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Posted on April 19, 2022
For some living things it is a migration through time that ushers in their seemingly too brief visit each spring. For others it’s a journey through both time and space. In each case April brings “magic” to the central Ohio woods and meadows. It’s a time of beauty in small things as the grander landscape has just begun to put on its coat of green.
With the cool spring it wasn’t that long ago that we saw Snow Trillium, now the Large Flower Trillium have started to appear.
Despite the cold spring in nearby trees we now notice early spring migrants, flowers of another kind.
Sometimes it’s hard to know where to look. Up or down? Wildflowers capture our imagination, but when we look down as our feet shuffle through last year’s leaf litter and see Twinleaf or Cutleaf Toothwort, how many warblers fly by overhead? A good problem to have.
Almost too small to notice with the naked eye several objects are in constant erratic motion in the nearby brush. We pursue them with our binoculars, which often only brings a bare branch into focus, but finally succeed in identifying them as a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
Most of what interests me in nature, a wildflower at my feet or a warbler in a tree, is small. Much of it would go unnoticed if I didn’t pay attention and even so there is much that is missed. Wildflowers not as often, but birds really do benefit when viewed though a decent pair of binoculars. However, having said that, the start is really about paying attention. But how does one care enough about things, that have never been experienced or even seen, to pay attention, to look, to listen? For me that’s the wisdom that time spent in nature graciously provides.
Along with those that may be passing through, other birds also compete for our attention.
The natural world speaks to us in a voice without words. In the “year” of human history it’s been less than four hours that technology and our modern lifestyle, with its illusion of wellbeing and comfort, has isolated us from that world. For many of us its voice is no longer heard. For most of our history we have been an integral part of nature, we have been nature! So, it may not be surprising that it is a voice that truly speaks to our soul. It’s ironic that technology now lets us share its sights and sounds in ways heretofore not imagined. When it comes to appreciating birds, modern binoculars have only been around for a little over 100 years and capable digital photography not much more than 20. Fortunately, if we just get out of our houses and cars and venture into nature without any modern technology, there is much that it has to say.
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