Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sunday Bird Banding

As 6am approached Sunday morning, I lay in my warm bed, mentally running through the list of things that I needed to accomplish in the next 45 minutes.
  • Julia's milk and juice prepared in the fridge
  • Julia's morning banana on the counter
  • Julia's shortbread cookies on the counter
  • my lunch packed, Phil's lunch packed
  • camera bag packed
  • boots and warm clothes laid out and ready to go
Okay, everything is under control.... time to rise and shine!  We are going BIRD BANDING!!

As you know, I love being outside with the birds, but nothing quite compares to being able to study them up-close while banding.  I first met Bob Placier a little over a year ago while banding saw-whet owls at Buzzard's Roost near Chillicothe.  Bob is quite a guy!!  With the patience of a saint and the knowledge of an encyclopedia, he is always willing to guide and mentor anyone with an interest in the natural world.  I am so appreciative of his generosity!  I've learned a lot just by watching him interact with the birds and listening to his stories and experiences of years past.

Bob graciously invited folks out to his property where he routinely sets up about four mist nets to capture and band birds (mostly songbirds).  I could not pass up his invitation, so I arranged for my parents to babysit a few hours so that Phil and I could head to the woods.

My goal was to arrive at Bob's around sunrise, which is typically the most active time for birds.  Our timing was just right.  The Sunday sun was poking its glorious head just above the treeline as we prepared to make our final turn towards Bob's place.  Of course, I had no choice but to ask Phil to pull the truck over so that I could snap a few quick photos, which only delayed us about 90 seconds.  The sun rises FAST and a photographer can't waste even a second of precious time.  The entire sky will change color in a matter of seconds, just like looking through a kaleidoscope.  And then it's over.

We were greeted by Bob with bird-in-hand.  He had already banded a northern cardinal before we arrived and had a tufted titmouse and american goldfinch in his netted bag, as we got out of the truck.  We followed him in the house as he prepared to note the important stats on the birds.  Each bird's wing and tail feathers are carefully measured and recorded, as well as the birds' weight and body fat.  Once the stats are taken, Bob attaches and teeny tiny, numbered band to the bird's leg.  The band is so lightweight that the bird doesn't even notice it.  Finally, after a few short minutes of data collecting, the bird is released back to the wild.

Bob recording data for a carolina chickadee
It is all quite fascinating and exhilarating really!  I love being so close to these birds!  Last year, while banding with Bob, I was able to hold several of the birds and release them back to the sky.
last year while banding, preparing to release an american goldfinch

I even applied a band to an american goldfinch.  I was so nervous!!  But with Bob's patience and guidance, I was able to steady my hand and find the confidence to close the grip on the tiny band.  It was amazing!

tufted titmouse - most likely a female based on the short wingspan, but tufted titmice must be recorded as "sex unknown" in the banding records
female american goldfinch

dark-eyed junco, previously banded by Bob. This junco is FIVE years old!  WOW! Bob determined at banding that it had been born the previous year (2006), so although it is five years old, bird banders would refer to it as a "sixth year" bird

the tiny band placed on the junco's leg FIVE years ago!

It was a beautiful day in the woods, but the winds kept the bird count low.  Even a slight breeze can cause the mist nets to sway enough to make them visible to the birds.  However, we did band a carolina chickadee, american goldfinch, dark-eyed junco, and tufted titmouse, all before Phil and I headed back home.  We also saw lots of woodpecker varieties including a hairy and downy side by side!  FINALLY, I can tell them apart from each other!

My favorite bird of the day was the brown creeper that kept creeping around the trees.  That's what brown creepers do best! It is a bird that I don't get to see often, and if you look at the photo below, I think you'll understand why!  He is perfectly camouflaged! 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Winter Flood Waters

It is hard to believe that the last weekend of January has finally arrived and we still haven't had a major snowstorm.  The lack of snow is not from lack of precipitation!  Over an inch of rain fell yesterday, according to the Athens Ohio Climatological Data Archive (which is a wonderful website run by local volunteers).

flood waters creeping into the farm-fields near Glen Ebon

Our beautiful Hocking River can't hold much more than its normal capacity.  It is a small river that twists and turns lazily through the valley overflowing its banks every time a good downpour occurs.  It seems to me that it overflows a dozen times per year, although I admit that I've never kept track. 

the setting sun reflecting on the flooded Hocking River

I don't mind the cycle though, in fact, I sort of enjoy it.  And even though I claim the river to be in my backyard, I do not worry about it invading my house.  Oddly enough however, I do live in the flood plain and have consequently been forced to purchase flood insurance.  I was told this is because of that legendary "100 year flood".  The old-timers talk about stuff like that.  Dad calls them "old-timers", which is a term of respect in his eyes.  These "old-timers" have been around long enough to remember life when it was a struggle to live and survive and paradoxically, life when it was simpler and easier.  Dad has been talking about the "old-timers" since I was a kid... He and I both know that somehow he has become part of that club, although, he doesn't see himself either worthy or of age. Time has a funny way of tricking us, (but that is another blog post for another day!)

rushing water at White's Mill in Athens

I've heard stories and have seen pictures of the Hocking River flowing right down Chestnut Street during the floods of yesteryear, before the re-routing of the river. Again, all of that is just legend to me.  I am too young.  All I remember is the old city pool flooding and worrying my ten-year-old self to death that it might not hold against those powerful waters and therefore close down for good!  Which is, of course, exactly what happened!

Hamley Run flooded, we had to turn around

Phil watches the river closely because of his job at the treatment plant.  As a side-note, I am constantly amazed and impressed by what he does there. Sometimes he starts rambling about the biology and chemistry and the EPA and his labs and the pH and the microbes.... and.... as much as I really, truly, honestly DO WANT to learn all of it, my head just swims.   He is a smart man and knows an incredible amount of information about our watershed and the ecology of the Hocking River and other local waters.  ...(that's just ONE of the reasons why I love him!)
I digress... back to the flooding, Phil gave me a link to real-time flood data provided by the United States Geological Survey.  He tracks the water level at Enterprise in Hocking County to predict the flood stage here in town approximately eight hours thereafter.   According to the graphs provided by the USGS, the Hocking River at Enterprise crested Friday at 13 feet, which is one foot above flood stage.  I don't understand any of that because clearly the waters were higher than one foot over flood level.   I am sure it is complicated and I am very sure that I don't have all of the information. .... and I am even more sure that I'm okay with that for now.  I will ask Phil for a lesson later. **wink, wink**

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist


The photos below were collected through various emails from classmates.  Phil Lanning took most of the photos, but not all.  Some of them were taken by me, and a few by other classmates (please let me know if you are the photographer or if you know who is -- I will gladly give credit where credit is due!)

Crane Hollow Nature Preserve - a breathtakingly pristine preserve of over 1900 acres.  Just down over the hill, beyond the treeline is one of the most gorgeous waterfalls I've ever seen!

As some of you many already know, Phil and I completed the Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist program in the spring of 2010.  It is an awesome volunteer-based program through the Ohio State University extension office.

According to the OCVN website, "The mission of the OCVN program is to promote awareness and citizen stewardship of Ohio's natural resources through science-based education and community service. An Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist is an individual with a passion for the natural world who wishes to attend training and use their knowledge by giving back to the community through volunteer service."

herpetology (reptiles and amphibians) at Clear Creek Metro Park with naturalist Marcey Shafer, where I first learned about skunk cabbage!

Phil and I initially learned about the OCVN program while attending Lilyfest in July of '09.  We talked to some really nice folks and learned quite a bit about the program's mission.  It only took me about four minutes to realize that I needed to be part of this group of like-minded and forward-thinking individuals!  Upon applying for the class, little did we know, that I would soon be pregnant!  But that didn't stop me!  Phil, Julia-in-the-womb, and I all endured and I am ever so glad that we did.

 Ornithology (birds) with Heike Perko at the Waterloo Wildlife Station - what an awesome class!!!

Every class was like a breath of fresh air.  Therapeutic in so many ways.  I loved learning from such knowledgeable instructors and meeting new people with similar interests to my own.  Phil and I definitely found lasting friendships amongst our fellow OCVN chapter members. 

That's me in the gray shirt -- seven months pregnant!

If you love nature and the outdoors, crave knowledge and consider yourself a lifelong learner, enjoy meeting like-minded folks, and are happiest when you are able to help others and give to a worthy cause, then this is the perfect group for you!

The Hocking County Chapter is now accepting applications for the spring 2012 class!  For more information, visit the OCVN website.  Also, check out this beautiful, printable flyer  created by classmate and friend, Rebecca Osburn.

It is a great time and I promise you will feel enlightened and fulfilled upon completion of the program!

Mammals with Rebecca Miller at Bishop Education Gardens (home of Lilyfest)!  This was one of my favorite classes!
the spirit of OCVN captured so well in a photograph!
the two Phils (Smith and Lanning) chatting on graduation day at Crane Hollow

Learning how to use the seine for our aquatic biology study - later we would be thigh deep in an ice cold creek!

watershed restoration class with Jerry Iles.  It was very hot and very humid that afternoon..... and I was very pregnant!

And here we are on graduation day at Crane Hollow, OCVN class of 2010, Hocking County Chapter

Monday, January 23, 2012

Ground Level Clouds

The fog after the ice storm.

Fog results when the air is so overly saturated with water that tiny droplets form, creating a ground level cloud of sorts.  Of course, it is much more complicated than that, and there are many types of fogs caused by as many different reasons.  But, I do not know all of the details... and even a quick google search left me confused and in a fog.

So instead of giving you a meteorology lesson, I'll just focus this post on capturing the mood.  

As I expected, it is tricky to capture fog with a camera.  I first learned this a few years back, during my pre-Nikon days, when I was still using a point-and-shoot.  I remember wanting to capture an early morning, Martha Stewart-esque photograph of my vegetable garden.  You know the type, where everything looks dreamy with a bit of haze?  And the vegetables somehow seem perfectly placed amongst old-fashioned rows?   The mission failed miserably and all I got was a cloudy, blurry shot with big round white dots (water droplets) reflected in the photo. 

My attempt this time around was more successful.  To capture these shots, I used a tripod and a somewhat slow shutter speed. I needed to let in enough light without using a flash.  A flash just illuminates and reflects the water droplets in the fog giving the photo a spotted look.  Also, the slow shutter speed allowed time for the fog to move, which is what creates the smooth and silky cloud effect.  I tried adjusting the aperture as well, but found it didn't make much difference.  I also discovered a low ISO setting gave me the best dark effect.  The higher ISO seemed to make everything gray instead of moody blue.

Truthfully, I don't know what I'm doing most of the time.  I'm about as amateur as a nature photographer can be.  But I'm determined, not afraid to try, and I enjoy the challenge.  Plus, my Nikon and I get along splendidly with a mutual agreement -- we try hard not to make the other look bad.  I don't blame my Nikon for failed attempts and it doesn't blame me.  (we - my Nikon and I - usually blame an innocent third party, like the weather). 

Isn't the fog lovely?  Oh, I just love the Emily Bronte mood it creates!  I adore Emily Bronte and I'm sure I walked the moors of Wuthering Heights in a previous life.  The dark and mysterious mood of the fog stirs something in my soul and makes me want to read Victorian fiction.  How can one not be intrigued by the transformed landscape, the shadows and melancholy?  The fog provides the perfect backdrop for temporarily placing oneself in an enchanted scene murky with deep thoughts completely random of anything of matter.  Fog is great because it lifts as quickly as it arrives. Therefore, no long-term suffering results from the obscured vistas or from purposely placing one's head in a fog.

And that's enough fog-induced literary rambling for a day.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

ICE STORMS - past and present

The first (and hopefully last) ice storm of the year fell upon us last night while we slept snuggled in our flannel clad beds.  I don't mind winter storms, but I do not like ice.  Just like I don't mind thunderstorms, but I do not like lightning.  Ice is dangerous and causes power outages.  

2009 Ice Storm Reflections
A few years ago, we had the storm of our lives, remember?  Thankfully, all of that drama was pre-Julia because I'm not sure what I would've done with a baby and no power for nearly a week!  I managed to weather that ice storm unharmed except for the depressed stupor I fell into by week's end.  Yes, I was a depressed popsicle with nowhere to go and nothing to eat.  Sure, we attempted to cook indoors on our outdoor camp stove, but something went awry, and we attempted to hang a battery powered camp light from our chandelier, but the battery went dead.  ...And we attempted to bathe, but decided that cleanliness was overrated and unnecessary. By day two of that nightmare, my Dad showed up (I swear he was wearing blue tights, a red cape and a large, yellow "S" on his chest) to run an emergency gas line to our antique fireplace and hook up a ventless gas heater. That heater saved our lives.  Sure, we were stuck in only one room for several more days, but who cares!?  We were at least livin' in 58 degree luxury.

That's all a distant memory now though... the stale graham crackers, the sound of my PARENTS' GENERATOR blaring across the street (yeah, they had a fridge and TV so that they wouldn't miss American Idol),  the five layers of clothing, the five day old clothing, going to bed at five pm for lack of anything better to do.  Yes, it is all in the past.  However, I am changed, and I now heed ice storm warnings with my breath held and a prayer said.

2009 Ice Storm - view of parents' house from my front porch

Dad and me, 2009, plowing the neighborhood

 2012 Ice Storm Reflections
Last night's storm wasn't bad, if bad is judged by whether or not my lights will come on by flipping a switch.  Most of us in-towners were lucky enough to keep our electricity, though according to facebook's newsfeed, some local people are without power.  I did have to cancel my morning plans though... I was supposed to meet friends in Athens for a bird walk at The Ridges, but that can wait... and I can bird here at my house.  

I decided to suit-up and head out about 9:30am.  With my camera necklace (Mom says to me, "you wear that thing everywhere like it's a necklace!"), I decided to walk towards the river on foot.  Of course, I didn't attempt to get the Subie Wagon out of the garage, and that's fine by me anyway.  I like to walk and I have the Hocking River in my backyard!

The day was glorious!  Ice everywhere!  All of nature's delicate little treasures were seemingly encased in glass, like on prominent display at a museum.  I walked a little ways down the railroad tracks looking at everything in wonder.  Even blades of grass suddenly seemed magical.  I could hear chickadees and tufted titmice off in the distance, and a few american goldfinch, no doubt wondering why their breakfast was suddenly unobtainable.

I could hear the rushing river long before I could see it over the bank.  The water is high due to last week's rains, therefore I approached the bank with extreme caution, taking each step as if my life depended on it.  The high water gave no room for error.  One false step, and I would be on a fast and slippery ride to the Hocking, and THAT would NOT be good for my Nikon!  Usually, there is a mudflat along the bottom, but it is now under ice-cold  and dangerously, swirling water.

Suddenly, I found myself being lulled by the rushing water and transported to a relaxing state of mind and thought.  I sat for quite a while, resting on my carhartt-covered knees.  I was thinking about the amazing properties of water and how beautiful it is in all its states.  I could not help but be in complete awe of its power as I sat and listened to its beautiful, but dangerous song. Originally, I had set out on an adventure to look for ice, and instead found myself on the riverbank contemplating the beauty and contrast between rushing flood waters and solid ice formations frozen in time dripping from downed river trees.

Water is everything to every thing.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Lake Logan Freeze-up

A quick trip to Lancaster this morning to gather supplies needed for a project was the perfect opportunity to "bird by car".   A lot of my birding these days is done from the front seat of the Subie Wagon at 65mph.  This sort of birding is by default really.  It's not that I choose to bird this way, it's that I can't NOT bird.  Everywhere I go, I am birding.  I can't help but notice the birds - it is part of me and who I am.

It has become second nature for me to hawk watch from the car.  Phil thinks nothing of it anymore, in fact he participates.  It is not a bit out of the ordinary for our car-ride conversations to include, "Yes, Phil, I agree, we should probably think about servicing the lawnmower before spring.... LOOK TO THE RIGHT - HAWK!"  Phil replies, "Yes, nice red-tail".   I continue without skipping a beat, "So what do we need to do to the lawnmower?"  And on we go....   

A bald eagle??  Now that is a different story!  If one of us spots an eagle, our trip has automatically instantaneously been delayed by at least 30 minutes because now we've got to turn around.  Phil has convinced me that it is unsafe to slam the breaks on route 33.  So, we have to swing around the next available "safe" turnaround and head back to pull off the side of the road. Phil is never thrilled about me leaving the Subie Wagon to head down over the shoulder of the highway, but he has yet to stop me!  Off I go... to get as close as I can, trying not to spook the eagle.  (It is a good idea to stay a distance away because forcing them off their perch forces them to use unnecessary energy).   Route 33 is an awesome place to spot bald eagles.  There are MANY eagles in our part of the state and it seems that everyone has seen one and has a "bald eagle story" to share!  I never dreamed that I would see a bald eagle on our home turf!  I am so thankful that conservation and educational efforts have brought these magnificent birds back to us.  And I am so thankful that Julia will know a world full of bald eagles!

Needles to say, I've learned to tote the binoculars and camera bag along as steadfastly as the diaper bag.  On this particular trip, I manged to talk Julia and Phil into swinging by Lake Logan on the way back home from Lancaster.  Lake Logan is a birder's paradise with a huge variety of water birds (my water bird skills are meager to put it nicely), raptors, and songbirds.  Upon arrival,  I was surprised to find most of the lake glazed over with a thin sheet of ice.  Pockets of open water were few and far between.  Just two short weeks ago, the lake was a totally different scene!  While participating in the Hocking Hills Christmas Bird Count on January 2nd, my team did a quick stop at the lake (even though it wasn't our official territory).   There were so many birds that day!  Hooded mergansers, pied-billed grebes, and american coots to name a few.  Today, it was a barren landscape with only the very hardy left to brave the ice. 

ring-billed gull
mute swan
eastern bluebird, male
red-tailed hawk, on the wing above Lake Logan
hey! where did everybody go?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Rising and Setting Sun

Have you noticed the lengthening days?

sunset - photo taken at 4:57pm, January 15

Yes, it is mid-January, what most people consider the "dead of winter".  BUT take heart sun lovers!  Winter's days are numbered and the sun is making a slow and steady comeback.

The winter solstice was December 22 (for Eastern Standard Time).  Even though the solstice marks the beginning of winter, it also signifies the longest day of the year, so each day thereafter increases in daylight length.

Today, the sun will set at 5:31pm and sunrise was at 7:52am.  (I should mention that I use a Columbus, OH sun/moon chart for tracking - Of course, here in Nelsonville, the time differs slightly, but not enough to be of notice).

Today's daylight length?  9h 38m 44s.  By the last day of January, the day will have increased in length to 10h 7m 40s!  Sunset will occur at 5:49pm on January 31st.  That is a gain of 18 evening minutes by month's end!  Sunrise on January 31st will occur at 7:42am, which is a morning gain of 10 minutes.

So all of that means, in the next 16 days, we will gain almost a half hour (28 minutes) of daylight!!!   The short and cold days of winter are numbered.  The sun will eventually win this battle!