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Wildlife Kaleidoscope

Sunday, September 29, 2013


A canoe is a floating blind. You're there, but not there for the wildlife. They're much less afraid of a silent seated half-human in a little barque than they'd be of a walking whole human. You're sort of a water centaur, blending beautifully in.

I was standing on the pier at Lakeside, Ohio, when a couple of local folks started up a conversation. A cormorant flew by. The man exclaimed, "I HATE those birds!"
Really? Why?
He launched a litany about how they "clean out all the fish" and "crap all over the islands and ruin them."

I guess you don't eat fish or crap, either? But I didn't say that.

Instead, I said, "Hmm. Lots of people say that. But they overwhelmingly eat fish that people aren't interested in. And yes, they crap a lot. Did you know they're actually small pelicans?"

At this his wife piped up. "You love pelicans!" Which was sweet and helpful of her, and it gave me a silent inward chuckle.

 I thought somebody had to stick up for the cormorant, but I knew he wasn't going to change his view of them in one conversation on a pier sticking out into Lake Erie.

Well, I, for one, like cormorants. Especially when they fly gracefully against a white pine backdrop, which is not very often. 

Eastern amberwing, Erythemis tenera.

Eastern pondhawk, E. simplicicollis. I  adore its cool slate-blue body and green face. It reminds me of a decomissioned World War II fighter jet, with the paint oxidized, sitting in some little midwestern town green, tethered and forever hovering on a tilt 10' over the clipped grass.

The snazzy Halloween pennant, Celithemis eponina. Just getting my feet wet in dragonflies. Could be wrong. Often wrong.

Eastern spiny softshell. Probably the coolest-looking turtle in Ohio. Spooky, too. I was happy to get a photo that showed its wary eye before it slipped backward into the drink.

a gorgeous little red-eared slider, the only other turtle species I saw this day. You'd think it'd be lousy with painted turtles and mud turtles, but not today.  And come to think of it I don't know that I've seen painted turtles here. Still thinking about that.

A great blue steps along a log, one of the snags I'm talking about that are in the process of falling down. Sigh. Would they could stand forever. But every time I canoe at North Bend, I work my way around more logs.

You beautiful lanky thing you. I've always loved lanky.

Two mallard drakes in eclipse plumage rest. Thank you for leaving your fabulous violet blue speculae out for me to admire. No matter what miserable molt mallards might be in, they keep that badge shining.

North Bend Magic

Thursday, September 26, 2013

North Bend is my magic place. It's too shallow for power boats. Only trolling motors are allowed, and even then, you have to be darned intrepid to want to take anything bigger than a one-man canoe in its snaggy shallows. 

Just the way we like it. I coaxed Bill out for a few hours this sunny September Sunday. We took two cars, because once I get to North Bend I never want to leave.

I think I caught him relaxing. Quiet water will do that to you.

There are great blue herons around every bend.

You can see this bird just above Bill's left elbow. It's great fun to glide quietly and shoot as you go.

Gorgeous wildlife tableaux everywhere you look.

As I glide closer, a couple of geese decide the water feels safer.

I try not to bother the wildlife, try not to force them to change what they're up to. 

I like it when they feel comfortable enough around me to go on sleeping. Birds can sleep and peek at the same time. They let half their brain sleep while the other half runs the peeking eye. I'm pretty sure I can do that too.

One of the cooler things I saw this day was a leucistic crow. It had a couple of white secondaries, symmetrically placed in each wing. This patchy leucism is common enough in crows that David Sibley included it in his tour de force field guide. This is the third such crow I've seen. The first two were flying together past our tower. I figured they must have been siblings, with a mutation like that.

It's very difficult to get a photo of a crow who knows you're trying to get a photo of it. I chased him for several hundred yards.

I got a bunch, but this is the best one. Ah well. 

Just a beautiful place to drift and watch and empty your mind of all else.

Spike Buck

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Canoeing silently at North Bend, I always have a deer encounter or two. Deer are curious about humans in silent conveyances. They'll stand and watch you draw closer and closer.

I've learned to paddle hard when I see a deer watching me, then put the paddle down and let my momentum carry me silently closer and closer.

I do that with all the wildlife, turtles, dragonflies, herons, woodpeckers, waterfowl, and especially kingfishers. It's a bit like shooting from a dolly. You have to swivel your body to accommodate the motion. I often wind up twisted like a pretzel, shooting back over my shoulder as my boat carries me up to and then past my subject. I also often wind up helplessly slamming into one of the ten bazillion snags in the water and laughing.

This lovely young buck has shed his red summer coat and the short gray hairs of his winter coat are just growing in.

I shoot again and again as he makes the decision to scram.

The ribs, never far from the skin in deer.

I marvel at the elasticity and springiness of deer, the potential energy stored in those haunches, the thump and bound locomotion that carries them kangaroo-like out of my sphere.

Ka-thump! Swish!

and he's gone.

He only went as far as the nearest shrubby copse, where he hid and watched me leave. Deer don't run any farther than they feel they need to, generally. He'd go on with his life and I with mine. But I had captured him, his liquid eyes and velveteen coat, in my magic black box, to look at again and again.

Red-headed Woodpeckers, September

Sunday, September 22, 2013


September 8, 2013. I finally, finally get the time and space and decent weather to go to my little Valhalla, North Bend State Park in Harrisville, WV. I'm really not expecting much in the way of red-headed woodpeckers. I figure they have probably moved south by now. Boy, was I wrong.

They're everywhere, quirrking and churring and rattling and fighting, flycatching and drumming. It's heaven all over again. 

They always look like toys to me, like something unreal. Ceramic, maybe.

Their colors so bold, so clean. And they're loud, loud, loud. You know they're there. They don't let you forget it.  These two were involved in some kind of uber-cool display in which they stretched out and tilted back and forth. Look at this photo and imagine a swelling chorus of swamp cicadas all around. 

I loved how this bird looked, like an animated door-knocker, the sky beneath his tail.

I believe we owe this fantastic occurrence of RHWO to the swamp cicadas, for that's what I see them eating every time I visit my personal paradise. This day I would count at least 60 birds. 

I don't know how anyone could be so blessed as to see 60 redheads in a day. 

Perhaps, thinking about it, it has something to do with putting a canoe in your car and schlepping it an hour and a half down the highway with the hatch open; with slipping on the algae-covered boat ramp while embarking and cracking your elbow so hard it still hurts on September 22. It has something to do with getting off your chair parts and getting out there to see what's what. Nothing magic about it. You just have to go.

I made it my goal to get a decent photo of a recently-fledged juvenile, with its ashen head. Easier said than done.  

It was very shy, and it kept a lot of branches between us. 

But I stuck with it and at length I saw it sally out and grab a cicada and process it. Hooray! For it's cicadas that make this place so productive, cicadas and the dead snags that act as apartment houses for these glorious birds. Lookit the little red feather on his throat. By next spring he should be a real redhead.

Long may they prosper. And yet I know, even as I cheer them on, that the RHWO colony at North Bend State Park is a limited-time only offer. That the snags are rotting, breaking, falling, and when they've all fallen down the red-heads will come here no more. 

And so I go, not expecting them, but finding them.

Not deserving them, but receiving them.

And so grateful to be there amongst them.

Baby Box Turtle!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ohio now has a Wildlife Legacy Stamp which you can buy to raise money for nongame wildlife conservation in our state. Each year, they hold a contest for photographers who submit shots of the chosen taxon, be it reptile, bird, insect or animal. When I heard the the 2013 contest would feature a native Ohio turtle, I was hooked.

I was also emboldened because my dear friend Nina Harfmann (Nature Remains blog) had won it with a spotted salamnder photo only last year! I was about to be humbled...

I drafted JackWagon, a hatchling box turtle who was found crawling on a grassy strip in downtown Marietta near the YMCA four years ago, to be my model. I've been feeding Jackwagon for maximum growth and eventual release on our sanctuary, that being a much better home for him than a parking lot surrounded by busy roads and shopping centers. The idea is to get him (or her; it's hard to tell at this age) big and hard-shelled enough so that predatory chipmunks can't open him up like an unfortunate walnut. 

It works! this headstarting; see the heartwarming story of Shelly, Class of 2011.

JackWagon proved to be an excellent model. In constant motion, striking pose after dynamic pose.

He was a challenge, one I gladly sank to, for these photos were taken from belly-level, which happens to be the best way to photograph anything small.

I looked at the background of moss and bedstraw and dappled sunlight, and decided it was probably too busy for a stamp design. So I brought him to a bit of my garden with nice moss.

I absolutely loved my afternoon in the woods with JackWagon and two cameras. 

He never stopped trying to move out of the frame. My beloved Canon 7D wasn't up to the lighting and motion challenge. Neither was the Canon G-12, with its shutter delay. Much cussing.

I pulled out my iPhone, which has the distinct advantage that I could tell it what to focus on. No. Not the leaf in front. The turtle's eye. Focus on that. I'd touch the screen, the camera would focus on the desired bit, and boom! it was done. And JackWagon would be out of the frame again.

All these photos were taken with an iPhone. I realized that, in revealing this small fact on the entry form, I may have been helping myself lose the contest. I didn't care. The phone simply did a better job than either of my two real cameras. I came out with two favorite images--this dynamic one which has such a nice eye and leg position

 and this squee-worthy Yertle the Turtle face.  Oh my gosh. I love this photo. Not least because you can see Sluggo, my other potential model, sulking in the background. He took one look at me and my cameras and did a Marlena Dietrich on me. Pulled in his head and said no herpin' way.

I knew that the fact that JackWagon's beak is slightly out of focus would hurt his chances in a photo contest. But dang. He's got personality.

I sent the images to my Board of Exalted Art and Turtle Appreciators (you know who you are and thank you!!) They made their votes for the top three.

Shila printed off the photos for me, I mounted them on board and sent them off with crossed fingers and high hopes. I've been doing a lot of that sending-things-off-with-high-hopes lately. You can't win if you don't play.

The contest results were announced September 9. Jackwagon did not win. They chose  this beautiful midland painted turtle by Sharon Cummings. A worthy opponent. Very sharp photo. And a very nice plain background. Durn it. How do you photograph a box turtle in its natural habitat and get a background like that? Haven't figured that out yet.

I knew, even on submitting, that there is a difference between a real photographer like Ms. Cummings and someone who happens to carry a camera of sorts everywhere she goes; between someone who's invested in serious lenses and has taught themselves how to get perfectly-lit, needle-sharp photos and someone who is down on her belly cussing, laughing and pointing an iPhone at a baby box turtle. I guess I was hoping to win it on personality. :) Zick. It's a photography contest, not a Cutest Baby contest.

Congratulations to Sharon Cummings! You nailed it! We'll see this beautiful image on the next stamp. You can buy your Wild Ohio Legacy Stamp here. The turtle stamp goes on sale March 2014. It's a great cause, money going directly to conservation. Please buy one and show your support for the un-antlered, inedible ones we need so much.

 No, I didn't win the photo contest. But I got to spend an afternoon on my belly with a hyperactive baby box turtle I've raised from when he was the size of a quarter, and that is something.

Our Little "Inferno"--Washington County Fair

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


At this booth you could win a stuffed whatever, or a live feeder goldfish, which is an essentially worthless creature for which you will have to buy a bowl, food, net, gravel, etc. etc. etc.

I don't mean their small lives aren't worthwhile, that there isn't a sentient being in each wriggling one. I just mean they're produced in such huge quantities that each individual is probably "worth" virtually nothing.

They're certainly kept as if they're beneath regard.

I hate to see living beings offered as prizes. But I'm glad that it's not green iguana hatchlings with strings tied around their tiny waists, or hatchling red-eared slider turtles, as it was only three years back, even after I thought I'd brought a stop to that dangerous practice.

Had to make another city health department stink (successful, by the way) about those. Thinking of Rising Sun, Indiana's "Snapperfest" with a smile now. Made a stink about that, too, along with lots of other people. Shut that down, too.

 Can't say much about feeder goldfish and bunnies. Again, that's what they're for, much as I hate to see it.

The Cotton Candy concession. Cotton candy is pure evil. I used to beg and beg for it. What kid wouldn't want pure sugar on a stick, presented as attic insulation, highly colored?

To me, the bags of it looked like organs hanging up in a charnel house.  The human souls working amidst the flames. Dante again, perched on my shoulder.

But there were comforting sights, too. I watched a little boy spin out and bung up his knee on the hardtop. His daddy checking to see if he was OK. Always good to get down to their level if you want to communicate, whether they're baby humans or animals.

Spangly bantam in the poorly-lit chicken tent. Our small animal barn burned down, waaah, and they had to be housed in tents this year. Somehow they seemed happier in the low light and the breezy air.

and the lonely glow of Miller's Peanuts, with its hand-drawn Mr. Peanut knockoffs, and its homely $1 price. Always there. From whence I know not, but I love Miller's Peanuts' booth.

Let's face it. I love the county fair. The smaller, the better.

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