Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Takes Up Residence

So far this spring it’s been colder than normal and rainy. Migrating birds and the resident wildflowers that would have enchanted us in the first week of April continue to be illusive.

A couple of days ago we returned from a local metro park with just the barest of photographic evidence that spring is actually here. Today, as I write this, snowflakes can be seen outside the window fortunately disappearing on contact with the ground.

Virginia Waterleaf adds color and design to a sea of last year’s leaf litter.
Purple Cress does it’s best to bloom.
One Virgina Bluebell blossom braves the cold.

But despite the disappointments in the field something that we’ve not previously experienced was taking place much closer to home. From time to time during spring migration our very urban front yard has been a stopover for some fairly exotic migrants that stay at most an hour or two before moving on. However, recently we observed a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker foraging for food in our Sweetgum tree and it continued to do so for four consecutive days and counting! This male bird seemed to spend the whole day in the tree because just about any time we looked out there it was. Where it spent the night, we cannot say. We were astounded!

Male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
What are you looking at?
Preening

Why the bird hung around for such a long period of time we cannot say. Perhaps its normal behavior and just something we’ve never experienced. The mystery remains.

One evening while we watched the sapsucker, a little higher up in the same tree another bird caught our eye. It was in the middle of dinner!

Fortunately for the sapsucker this Cooper’s Hawk was busy dinning on dove.
Do you mind if I finish eating?

Sometimes after paying our dues with long hikes though the seemingly barren early spring woods nature comes to us. Go figure.

In nature it would seem that there is always a lot more going on than we know.

Thanks for stopping by.

Spring Walk

Despite a colder than normal spring with some trees showing just a hint of green, the longer days and the now more persuasive rays of the sun continue their call for nature to awake. Recently our walks in the wooded areas of local city parks have carried with them the unavoidable expectation of the season.

Bloodroot, so fragile to forces of wind and rain and hear so briefly as if a dream.
A migrating Golden-crowned Kinglet announces the season.
A cloudy cold day is not enough encouragement for the flowers of the Twinleaf to open.
High in a tree this Barred Owl will be impossible to see in a few weeks when the leaves are out.
It’s flower looking tired, it was still exciting to find more evidence of the rare Snow Trillium in a local park.
A migrating Ruby-crowned Kinglet refuses to show its crown but is still a welcome sign of the season.
A Northern Flicker ignores our presence as it works on its nesting cavity.
On a day that’s apparently just warm enough for the insects, an Eastern Phoebe waits.
Arriving a few weeks after the males, a female Redwing Blackbird is entertained by their suitors’ calls.

Sometimes with the expectation of the season comes the unexpected, a Fox Squirrel that appears to be Break Dancing (click on panes for a better view):

Much of what brings real meaning to life are the acquired tastes that must be pursued with intention after just the smallest beginning flicker of interest. In nature, as with most of life’s experiences, the more you look the more you see and then appreciate, becoming richer for it.

Thanks for stopping by.

Whisper Of Spring

On some days in early spring the whisper of life is not heard above the howl of wind through still bare branches of waking trees. A warm embrace under sunny blue skies one day turns into a gray freezing flurried rebuff the next.

With it’s fits and starts spring makes doubters of us all.

The woods do not yet invite. A stark barren seemingly lifeless landscape is now revealed by the absent blanket of snow.

Against what feels like our better judgment we dress for the unexpected and journey into the woods. If we walk slowly and pause, look closely and listen we can discover in the season of expectation and disappointment small signs and voices of our larger being.

At a distance all is quiet.
But here and there a Snow Trillium break through last year’s leaf litter.
The Downy’s world is always open for business.
A bee takes advantage of the Hepatica’s flower
A Carolina Wren gets organized for the day.
Skunk Cabbage that first emerged through the frozen ground of February, begins to leaf out.
In wooded vernal pools Spring Peepers heard quietly in the distance deafen as one gets close.
For a short moment in time the tiny Harbinger of Spring welcomes the coming season.
A male Red-winged Blackbird unambiguously announces the season.

Nature seldom gives graciously to plant, animal, or us. It offers just enough. In early spring that just enough often leaves us with mistaken discontent wishing for more.

Thanks for stopping by.

Wonder Close To Home

We do a fair amount of exploring of natural areas farther afield. Recently an unexpected development brought us back to Ohio from warm and sunny Florida a month ahead of schedule. Burr!!! Our trip south each winter is a real treat as we spend almost all of our time outdoors, hiking, canoeing, and photographing critters we see.

Tricolored Heron, Myakka River SP, Florida

***

A couple of days after our arrival back in Ohio realizing that the frozen reservoir near our home might mean that waterfowl would be concentrated in the unfrozen river below the dam, we decided to check it out.

A male Wood Duck shares a log with a female Hooded Merganser
A Pied-billed Grebe blends in with female Hooded Mergansers
There were a fair number of Ring-necked and even a few Redhead Ducks, (Donna)
Male and female Goldeneye Ducks, (Donna)
Takeoff! (Donna)
A male Hooded Merganser isn’t interested in sharing.
Female and male Hooded Mergansers
Fishing success!
Perhaps the real surprise of our spur of the moment outing was seeing this male American Wigeon.

Seeing waterfowl so close to home that spend much of the year in locations further north and because of that are usually not seen in our “backyard” was a real treat. Our spirits were elevated after the disappointment of Florida. Setting aside our love of sunshine and warm temperatures, we were reminded that “other places” aren’t the only place to witness the wonder of nature and that there is magic right under our nose. Our local Ohio haunts once again made more precious.

Thanks for stopping by.

A Moment of Magic

The central Ohio winter landscape seldom beckons with snow draped conifers or the flowing design of a meandering creek through a landscape blanketed in white.

Still, if one looks closely there is beauty. “Flowers” in a season when there are none.

Female Northern Cardinal
Tufted Titmouse
This Merlin makes it’s living in the abandoned section of an operating quarry. We only recall seeing them in central Ohio during migration and in the winter.
Female House Finch
We’re always on the lookout for the tiny Golden-crowned Kinglet in the winter but sometimes we only get a fleeting glimpse.
White-throated Sparrows are winter residents that make their living in thickets.
This Song Sparrow really blends in.

***

For several days temperatures struggled to get out of the teens.

Surrounded by ice chandeliers the mallards don’t seem too concerned about the 15F temperature.
With its feet in the water and surrounded by ice this Great Blue Heron looks cold
Cold temperatures and flowing water may mean ice pancakes.
Maybe these Hooded Mergansers are just trying to stay warm.
Icy water.

***

Yesterday it finally warmed into the thirties. Even though our social schedule meant we only had time for a quick look along the river before darkness fell, given recent activity, we thought it was worth checking out. Perhaps the mergansers would still be there. After walking about a half mile along the river, we were not disappointed.

(Photo by Donna)
(Photo by Donna)

Not only did we see mergansers, but there was more than the day before, and most mature males were engaged in breeding displays. Thinking back, we couldn’t remember a time when we had seen such an extensive display. Had the increase in temperature of some twenty degrees triggered the behavior? We could only guess.

For us finding nature’s magic in the woods, on a river, or secluded lake has never been hard, but in the embrace of Ohio’s stark January landscape it’s truly something special.

The Nuthatch Speaks

Somewhere in the overhead branches of a neighborhood tree a Nuthatch is speaking. They do that often in a voice that leaves little room for reply so we content ourselves just to listen. Try as we might we never did see that particular bird. A voice evoking mystery in a tree’s tangled up-reaching branches. Such mystery is accepted because we know, given enough time, one will undoubtedly descend to an eye-level branch and pursue a more formal introduction.

White-breasted Nuthatch

The Brown Creeper’s presence often only becomes apparent when small subtle movements are detected on a tree trunk or branch. Stopping, they often seem to disappear and in doing so say “pay attention there is more to this place than you are aware!”

Brown Creeper
What creepers eat.

Sometimes we just smile as, in the midst of our observing, it becomes obvious that we are also being observed.

Fox Squirrel

Illuminated by the low December sun, the vibrant color of an Eastern Bluebird contrasts with the dull muted landscape and reminds us that beauty is an exception and wouldn’t be if it were otherwise.

In the winter, as if by magic, some birds just appear. We don’t see them arrive and we won’t see them leave. In this brief moment in time, they are with us and become part of our lives should we choose.

Dark-eyed Junco, (Snow bird)

Sometimes the realization doesn’t match the expectation. By December most migrating warblers are long gone but the Yellow-rumped enjoys food items other than just insects so many remain in central Ohio through the winter.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Our awareness has its limits as the nearby presence of an immature Red-tailed Hawk remined me. While I was distracted by another bird it remained unnoticed until it moved its head. How much do we miss or are never aware of?

Red-tailed Hawk-

In the winter woods it is often our intention is to see Golden-crowned Kinglets. It’s a bird that is no stranger to us so part of its allure or that of any other charming, but often inconspicuous, creature must be that they draw us into a world that embraces and also transcends us. Unlike spring when the scent of a flower may grab our attention, in December we must rely on the limits of our hearing and sight. With these meager tools we will find our boundaries expanding if we pay close attention. Each visit to the habitat of kinglets allows us to become part of a world that continues on in an unfolding mystery.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

***

Wishing everyone a very Happy Holiday!

Northern Cardinal

***

May It Always Be So

Now when I go into the woods, camera in hand, I find that there is much less concern about “getting the picture” and more about just being there. Perhaps that’s because in some miraculous way, the skills required to get an acceptable photograph of something crawling, walking, running or flying have slowly transformed me into the “camera”.

Now being in nature is more the experience I seek. The experience may involve observing the goings and comings of a belted kingfisher and being left with the realization that I need his world much more than he does mine. In fact, it’s sobering to realize that from the kingfisher’s point of view, things would get along quite nicely if I didn’t exist at all. Despite all our technology I can’t, with any confidence, say the same about the kingfisher.

Embraced by wonder, awe, and humility I am left with a heightened sense of gratitude, that for a brief moment the kingfisher perched on a branch and allowed me to share his world. May it always be so.

Thankgiving

Each year at this time we are greeted by visitors from the north. Some just show up at backyard feeders while others are only seen after much patient looking. Despite its beauty, autumn brings the demise of many living things and confronts one with a darker side of existence. Overhead a dragonfly cruises by one day and the next is gone, it’s kind not to be seen again until the earth travels 30 million miles in its orbit around the sun. But as many know who have spent time in the woods or travelled life’s path for more than a few orbits, it’s never that simple or dark. November doesn’t carry the promise of spring with its bird migrations, wildflowers, and green becoming, but there is much for which to give thanks.

Autumn repose, Griggs Reservoir Park.

Dark-eyed Juncos breeding range is the boreal forests north of the great lakes. Every winter these common sparrows move south into Ohio. Active and amazingly hard to photograph, these little birds can often be found on the ground below feeders.

Dark-eyed Junco, Griggs Reservoir Park.

Much more elusive is the Brown Creeper which breeding range is the higher elevations east in the Appalachians or to the north. Unless moving they are they are almost impossible to spot.

Brown Creeper, Griggs Reservoir Park.
Late autumn along the Scioto River

Every year at this time we engage in what we affectionately call “the kinglet quest”. It’s a great way to mark the arrival of the season. Often seen with chickadees these small active birds can also be a challenge to capture.

Male Golden-crowned Kinglet, (photo by Donna), Griggs Reservoir Park.
Looking our way, (photo by Donna), Griggs Reservoir Park.
A kinglet eyes a tasty morsel, Griggs Reservoir Park.
Griggs Reservoir

Perhaps the most elusive bird to be seen is the tiny and mouse-like Winter Wren. They find their way to Ohio after breeding in northern Michigan and as far north as Hudson Bay.

Winter Wren, (photo by Donna), Griggs Reservoir Park.

With a breeding range similar to the Winter Wren, the White-throated Sparrow is usually only seen in Ohio in the fall and winter.

White-throated Sparrow, Emily Traphagen Park.

***

There are a number of other birds that have graced us with their presence in recent days. All seen not far from our home.

The Tufted Titmouse is a year-round resident, Emily Traphagen Park.
Yellow-rumped Warbler. Is a generalist when it comes to its feeding habits and at least some are said to spend the winter in central Ohio, Emily Traphagen Park.
Male Eastern Bluebird, Griggs Reservoir Park.
Are woodpeckers, including this Downy, more common this time of year or just easier to spot with the leaves down? Griggs Reservoir Park.
With some being migrants from the north Red-tailed Hawks seem more common in fall and winter, Griggs Reservoir Park.
Looking through the now bare overhead branches, soaring Bald Eagles are easier to spot. Griggs Reservoir Park
Not sure where these Wood Ducks will go once a local pond freezes over, Emily Traphagen Park.

The days in late November are short and often damp and cold, but as if in an act of defiance there are living things that continue nature’s celebration undeterred and beckon us to join in.

Reflection of the November sun on the Big Darby, Prairie Oaks Metro Park.

Thanks for stopping by.

Autumn Woods

We are fascinated by the few intrepid wildflowers that continue blooming late into autumn.

The tiny flowers of fleabane.

On a larger scale, as we walked along the wooded shore of a local reservoir, we are also carried away by the thought that nature in all it’s expanse is now in bloom.

Orange leaves and water, Hollenback Hiking Trail, Alum Creek SP.
Cathedral, Hollenback Hiking Trail, Alum Creek SP.

On a much smaller scale fungi continue to “bloom” and will do so long after the flowers have given up.

Polypore, (photo by Donna)
As if they had been placed, (photo by Donna).
A tiny mushroom emerges.
Lemon Drops, (photo by Donna).
Cracked-cap Polypore, (photo by Donna).
Puffballs, (photo by Donna).
Appear similar to dead man’s fingers.

Often just being in the early November woods with the colors, the briskness of the air, and the distinct fragrance of the leaves, that after a season’s hard work fall to the forest floor and generously give back to the cycle of life, is enough.

Autumn shore, Hollenback Hiking Trail, Alum Creek SP.
Cove, Hollenback Hiking Trail, Alum Creek SP.
A distant tree, Hollenback Hiking Trail, Alum Creek SP.

Be awake to this day and to what, with intention, is experienced. Be awake to the season’s coolness, then warmth, the sun on your face, the sound of a flock of robins weaved their way through the branches, the smells, the trail with it’s roots, rocks, mud, inclines and descents, and the muscles that now feel used. These are the embrace of unique moments floating in the river of time that form you.

Thanks for stopping by.

Autumn Song

High overhead an Osprey gives no notice but now as we walk along the shore sycamores sing in a tenor voice as they respond to the ebb and flow of a weightier October wind. Gone is their murmur in the gentleness of a moist summer breeze. In a fight to remain on ever barer branches the rattle of their autumn dryness soon gives way to a silent pirouette as one, losing it’s hold, lands quietly at my feet. The sun slowly warms the the day and the last intrepid dragonflies venture out in search of smaller “others” that have also awakened.

Osprey
The color of windblown grass betrays the season
With it’s tired wings this Eastern Pondhawk graces us with it’s fleeting presence.
Halloween Pennant, (photo by Donna)
Widow Skimmer
The quiet lee shore.

***

Thanks for stopping by.

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