The Birds of Winter

The fall color is gone here in central Ohio. The tree branches stand naked against the gray late November sky. Any wildflowers that remain, after several very cold nights, I’m convinced are really fossils from a bygone era. Looking out on Griggs Reservoir or the ponds at Prairie Oaks reveals little more than a few gulls and the always reliable Mallard Ducks.

Whats a nature lover to do? Well it turns out if you look carefully these very bare branches that seem so devoid of life allow us to see some things that are much harder to see or that we overlook in the summer.

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How Many Different Birds?

A couple of days ago we thought it would be fun to spend a couple of hours walking along the east side of Griggs Reservoir just to see what birds we could find. Most surprising were the Cedar Waxwings but the Brown Creepers were also a real treat. We also enjoyed seeing several Blue Birds  which we’ve seen there before. Other birds seen were Red-bellied, female Hairy, and male Downy Woodpeckers, and a Red-tailed Hawk.

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Downy Woodpecker

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Male Downy Woodpecker.

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Red-bellied Woodpecker

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Bluebird

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Red-bellied Woodpecker

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White-breasted Nuthatch

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Brown Creepers

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Red-tailed Hawk

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Cedar Waxwings.

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Views From Central Ohio

Early November, dark by 7:00 PM, a clear night, no wind, and temperatures slowly going down into the low thirties made me think I should dust off the telescope and head out to the AEP Recreation Lands for some observing. Autumn is one of my favorite times of the year for astronomy because the early darkness means you can get a lot of observing in without necessarily staying up all night. Plus, there are no bugs!

I know this Blog is supposed to be about Central Ohio Nature so I will defend myself by saying that my feet were firmly planted in Central Ohio at all times even though I was looking at objects that certainly weren’t anywhere near Ohio or planet earth for that matter. As a further defense it should be noted that a few Ohio Owls and more than a few Ohio Coyotes were heard during my time observing.

The night sky in Columbus suffers from so much light pollution that only the brightest objects are visible. However, the AEP Recreation Lands, just SE of Zanesville, offer really dark skies allowing views of fainter galaxies and nebula.

As the skies darkened I spent some time looking at the Andromeda Galaxy, the brightest and also the closest galaxy (2.5 million light years) to our own Milky Way. From there I moved on to a variety of nebula and galaxies finishing with NGC 7331 which is about 50 million light years away.

From the web some typical images of objects viewed:

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Treasures and Trash

Often we decide to do an urban hike which takes us along the eastern shoreline of  Griggs. The urban hike, about a six-mile loop in our case, reflects our desire to get some exercise without getting in the car.  Being close to Griggs provides a chance to observe wildlife as well as the various plants growing along the reservoir. A small pair of binoculars as well as a superzoom camera are usually part of our equipment.

The first of November is not the time of year one expects to see a lot, but we hoped for some interesting waterfowl and maybe of few woodpeckers. Given the recent cold weather, we were surprised to still see Sunflowers, Black-eyed Susans, and Chicory. All of which looked a little tired but we marveled at their resiliency.  Along the reservoir, taking closer looks at flowers invariably results in seeing discarded bottles and cans. A decent amount of time is spent picking up these items, but we seem to always be rewarded with a new flower or bird during our efforts. Some times it’s as though the birds know what we’re doing and come around as an act of appreciation.

We observed how plants, such as Common Mullien, look very different in autumn without their flowering stalks but very much standing out against the fallen leaves. Along with more wildflowers than expected, we did see a few birds; Kingfishers, Great Blue Herons, Cedar Wax Wings, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Downy and Red Belly Woodpeckers, Tufted Tittmouse and Chickadees.

It was a good walk!

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Autumn Walk At Prairie Oaks

This time of the year you never know quite what to expect when you take a walk in the woods. Will there be any color left, how about birds, certainly the warblers will be gone, and have any butterflies, or dragonflies for that matter, made it through last nights cold?

10:00 am on Monday was already seeing temperatures warm enough that a Painted Lady was making her rounds and it wasn’t long before we saw a Buckeye and some Sulfurs. The real surprise was a several large dragonflies. Unfortunately, they weren’t kind enough to land so we could identify them.

In the woods, Chickadees were moving around, along with Tufted Titmouse and Nut hatches. We took a closer look to see what else might be in the group, and were fortunate to see some Yellow-rumped Warblers. The day was completed with good views of an Eastern Towhee and a Hairy Woodpecker.

Yellows and oranges are mostly what made up the fall colors and they were on the wane but still pretty in the morning sun.

All in all, not bad for a morning when we didn’t know what to expect .

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Autumn Along The Reservoir

Early autumn is my favorite time. Colors are just beginning to break the green flow of the Griggs Reservoir shoreline. A branch with just a few red leaves will cause you to wonder. Animals are still about, butterflies, dragonflies, herons, and warblers.

As fall progresses, particularly along Griggs, greens, yellows and reds give way to more browns and the colors seem  just a bit more muted.

Today we walked below the dam and, along with the fall colors, were rewarded with views of Nuthatches, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Green Herons and Kingfishers.

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The Herons of Griggs Reservoir

We’ve done a fair amount of paddling on Griggs now that we are able to do it during the week when, with the exception of a few rowers and fishing boats, things are amazingly quiet.

If there is open water, the Great Blue Herons are a fairly common sight just about any time of the year. They usually stalk their food from perches near the shore. Some will let you paddle right by and seem scarcely perturbed while others voice a loud objection as they take flight. Because of their numbers, it isn’t uncommon to see them catch a fish, some of which are 6 to 8 inches long, then swallow it head first in one long gulp.

Green Herons seem more common late in the summer, although they are around spring, summer and fall. Their name seems to be a misnomer as they don’t have that much green in their plumage. If they think they aren’t seen, you can get fairly close before they take fight. One time while paddling in Clendenning Reservoir I almost touched one with the bow of my kayak. I hadn’t seen it! An interesting behavior observed when they perch in the top of a tree and make repetitive loud shrill calls. Are thy calling for a mate?

The Black Crown Night Heron is also fairly common at Griggs. Since they are active at night, they spend most of their day perched in trees near the water, usually in coves. Unlike the other Herons you usually have to go looking for them but the view is always worth it, they are a beautiful bird. One of the most amazing sights we’ve had was one evening seeing eight Black Crown Night Heron’s perched on the floats near the dam.

Finally, another bird we see while paddling Griggs, while not a Heron, is the Great Egret. Every time we see one it seems like a bird that should only be found in places like Florida but here it is in Ohio. They are usually found perched in trees along the shore or wading in shallow water looking for their next meal.

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