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Sneaking Up on a Buck

Sunday, August 31, 2014


The canoe, Lois, is my cloak of invisibility. When Marcy and Shila told me they'd spotted a buck bedded up on a steep slope, under cover of trees, I paddled quickly but silently over. Gave a few strokes, drifted motionless ever closer, then hung onto a snag to anchor myself for photography.

He was unperturbed by my presence. I was not something to worry about, floating in a small boat out on the lake. 

That's how I like my deer best: Unperturbed. Not simmered, seared, sauteed or with a side of wild rice. Unperturbed.

Quietly grooming himself.

Arising, preparing himself for an afternoon's foraging. He'll be a five-pointer. 

Those velvet antlers itch. A well-placed sharp hoof does the job. 

Thus groomed, he's ready to go. 

And I am blessed by his presence, by witnessing his toilette, his peaceful reverie, which becomes mine.

Such incredible beauty awaits those who float silently. These multicolored birds with their raiment of bronzy green and wine. Who could dream such a beautiful little heron?

Death to minnows and frogs, life itself to me.

The work of a pileated woodpecker in live wood, excavating for carpenter ants. These huge rectangular holes open out the ant galleries, and the pileated sits there lapping the larvae, eggs and adult ants up as they run by. 

And everywhere around me, the kwirrk and churr and constant pas de deux of the Snag Kings, the Woodpeckers to Beat All Woodpeckers, the Flying American Flags, my darlings the red-heads. Raising up their young by the dozen in this Nirvana for birdwatchers, deerwatchers, heronoglers. North Bend State Park. You really must visit.

Smooth Water, Mystery Globs, Deer, Vultures and Wildflars

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Summer fairly demands her due. You cannot let these crystal days pass unappreciated.

Just get some friends together, throw some canoes in the car and go. Rent a couple if you run short.

And watch what happens to your beautiful hardworking friends when they are rocked gently on the water.

Meander around with no purpose.

which turns out to be the greatest purpose of them all. 

Wonder at the weirdly firm jellied masses anchored on underwater snags.

Which, because you're a Science Chimp, you've already figured out are bryozoans, a species called Pectinatella magnifica. Only a few species inhabit freshwater (the vast majority are marine). They are the ecological analogs of corals, though they aren't related. They feed by extending tentacles into the water and snagging little critters floating past. Basically an intestinal tract, an oral opening, and a ring of tentacles, times several hundred, all glommed together in a cluster. Animals, not plants. Or something kind of in between. Why they're here, what if anything eats them, I dunno. One of nature's mysteries. Native, at least, and now spread from a primarily eastern distribution throughout the country's waterways. 
Bryozoans. Whaa? A life form that has simply never occurred to most of us, in full glory at North Bend.
We can only wonder. 

A juvenile Cooper's hawk bullets low over the water and snags his talons on a low limb. 

A doe works up a steep slope with her little family of twins.

Sun lights the fawn's ears and the blood vessels running through them. A little pink tongue flickers.

The doe casts one look back at me to tell me she sees me and they'll be moving along.

Cardinalflower lights up the muddy bank. I'm so glad to see it's found its way into the waterway.

We come upon a juvenile turkey vulture, newly fledged, who appears to be sitting on his (her) wing. Notice that he has yet to attain the red head of the adult turkey vulture. Also note the immaculate fresh feathers with pale fringes. Not a bit of raggedy on this bird!

Everyone expresses concern for it, hoping it isn't injured. I look at it for awhile and pronounce it fine. First off, a vulture with an injured wing is not going to be able to get 30' up into a tree. 
Second, baby vultures  do weird things, and if this baby were still in the hollow log or cave he was born in, he'd probably be flat out on his belly with his legs out behind him. 
He's just doing the best he can to relax while perched like a big boy. That apparently includes using his own wing as a bolster pillow. 

Weird as it looks. 

Sure enough, he rights himself and calmly preens his bolster pillow, then flaps easily off to another snag. Whew!! I don't know what I was planning to do about it if he was hurt. Something. But I knew he was fine.

How do you cap a paddle like that? You stop by a rose gentian meadow on the way out of Harrisville.

And exhort your friends to inhale that mysterious perfume, that nasal nirvana they emanate.
The contortions are fully worth it.

Hope for the Monarch, and a Great Golden Digger Wasp

Sunday, August 24, 2014


The summer of 2013 was one of the saddest ones I've ever lived through, if you're talking about butterflies. All that summer, I saw exactly four monarchs, and no caterpillars. 

I am elated to report that 2014 is a different story. I've seen 25 monarchs this season so far. They're still scarce enough for me to count and treasure and try to photograph every one. I couldn't bear the thought that this magnificent butterfly might vanish from our meadows. I remember seeing endless streams of them along the Connecticut shoreline in September, all heading for Mexico. I hope to see that again someday.

This gorgeous male (identified by the thickened vein, second from bottom on his hindwing) was nectaring on narrow-leaved mountain mint in Harrisville, WV, not far from my beloved North Bend State Park. 

That thickened vein translates to a little black dot, which is a scent gland, on the upper surface of his hindwing. 

For whatever reason I've seen many more males than females this year. Male again (see the thickening?)

The monarch was a serendipitous add-on. I left North Bend first, and David and Mary Jane followed. I was driving along Rte. 16 when my eye was arrested by a stand of rose gentian so thick and fine I squealed! I pulled off and waited for David and Mary Jane to catch up. Flagged them down and introduced them to my favorite wildflower. It was new to them. New no more. Now they'll look for it wherever they go. A little gift I could give them, for turning me on to North Bend. I'll never be able to repay that giant present.

We wandered in the meadow, bending down to bury our noses in its delicate perfume.

A particularly nice combo with Queen Anne's lace. This is the best QUAL year I can remember. Best rose gentian year, too.

And enjoying the gentian and monarchs, I noticed this spectacular wasp, more than an inch long. It took me a little while with The Google, calling up images with tagwords like "orange black spider wasp" and finally "spider wasp Queen Anne's lace" to finally find an image that matched it. That led me to digger wasps, and I finally figured out what I had. It's a different kind of 21st century field guide I've got in my laptop. Leafing through it is kind of like playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey, but eventually I get there. Having a little knowledge aforehand helps immensely.

Great Golden Digger Wasp, Sphex ichneumoneus, nectaring on Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint. A nectar feeder as an adult, the GGDW feeds its young on more proteinaceous stuff. This wasp makes vertical tunnels in sandy soil, into which she drags crickets and katydids that she has stung and paralyzed. There are several chambers at the bottom of her tunnel, a paralyzed insect deposited in each one. She lays an egg on each immobilized insect, and in the grand manner of parasitic fly and wasp larvae, the grubs eat around the hapless victim's vital organs until the very last minute, when the wasp grub is ready to pupate, thus keeping its food source fresh for the duration. Eating its host alive, as it were. Eeesh! Insects are the coolest, the most macabre, the most terrible and wonderful things on the planet. I find this sleek, peaceful fighter jet of a wasp captivating. Now I look for it on wildflowers, where it sips nectar, belying its katydid-paralyzing nature.

You beautiful thing, you make my heart sing. 

Beauty: my #1 motivator. Sharing it: #2.
You're welcome!

Baby Green Herons!

Friday, August 22, 2014


Immediately upon leaving the chipmunk-rendering hawklet in its oak at North Bend, we paddled silently farther. I saw a very small heron contemplating the water from a short stub. A halo of down and streaked neck and underparts, along with the pallid green legs and feet, revealed it to be a freshly fledged juvenile green heron. Eureka! These little herons need all the new recruits they can get.

As we paddled nearer, David spotted more young herons clambering in a large shrub. And danged if there wasn't a green heron nest right there! It's the small mass of twigs at upper center. 
All told there were fIvE! and they had just left the nest. FiVe!!!! Babies!!!!

Being young and curious, they tolerated my drifting silently closer. Oh you are perfection, you newly minted heronling. 

Herons are very good at still. 

I did not want to spook them, so I backpaddled before they became nervous. I didn't know how good their flying skills might be, and I thought their parents would appreciate finding them in the home shrub rather than floundering in the shallows. 

Sure enough, a bit farther on, we found an adult fishing hard, having five inexperienced mouths to feed. Compare and contrast its smooth maroon neck and gorgeous greenbronze upperparts, the reduced streaking beneath, the bright orange-yellow legs, to the juvenile's coloration.

A note: Any heron found in fresh, down-sprinkled juvenile plumage at the end of July in Ohio has to be a green heron. All the other herons breed very early in spring, but the greens wait. This probably has to do with food sources. Are they waiting for the big dragonfly hatch? (I see them catching lots of dragonflies). For peak frog abundance? Minnow spawn? Who can say? But when birds breed late in a season, the first square I go to for the reason is the abundant food source. Goldfinches and indigo buntings wait for weed seeds to ripen. Cedar waxwings wait for wild cherries, blackberries, poke. Late breeders, all. 

What a blessing, to have found this little family. On a subsequent visit, they were still around, fishing and squawking in the same general area. I've been visiting North Bend since 2009, and this is the first time I've seen more than one green heron at once. I'm so delighted to see this family launch, and hope they'll inhabit the lake for years to come. 

Hughes River, whose north fork was dammed to create North Bend's twisty turny lake, you continue to delight, instruct, and soothe, as a good river does. Thank you.

A Chipmunk's Hawkish End

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

This week, I'm preparing for the Bird Watcher's Digest Reader Rendezvous at North Bend State Park in Harrisville, WV. I've taken three recent reconnaissance trips to the lake so I'll know what to expect when I get there, bird and animalwise. But North Bend always surprises me. It's a cauldron of wonder.

There's still time to register for the Rendezvous, which starts Friday afternoon August 22, and goes through noon Sunday August 24, 2014. Check out this link!

I've never seen a breeding season so rife with success. It seems that young birds are everywhere, screaming for attention from their parents. That makes my heart sing, to see them succeed and make their young way in the world. 

The wheedling whistle of young red-tailed hawks  has brightened my days through July and August. These messengers from above seem to follow me wherever I go. David and Mary Jane's sharp eyes caught an adult redtail delivering prey to this well-stuffed youngster, and I paddled over to document it. What did it have?

Well, aside from a very full crop, bulging out from its chest, it seemed to have a chipmunk.

Apparently too full to eat much, the juvenile redtail nevertheless never stopped screaming.


It turned this way and that, showing us its elegantly adorned underpants, decorated with skeins of flying starlings.

It picked at the late chipmunk, giving us a rather graphic view of its prey's little face. Not for everyone, I know. But a Science Chimp's delight.

I grow a zinnia called Blue Point which is a florist's selection. I planted 30 around my gardens for the butterflies and hummingbirds. I grew them from seed and they were going great guns when I planted them.

Worth fighting for, I'd say. 

 Perhaps 15 survive, thanks to chipmunks who dig up absolutely everything I plant. And not just once. I plant the seedlings. The chipmunks dig them up day after day after day, as if to tell me to just give up. I patiently replant them, water them, coddle them, and go out to find them lying roots up again the next morning. These are the ones that survived the Chipmunk Reign of Terror. 

Chipmunks routinely hop up into my large flower planters and randomly dig up established plants, dumping them out onto the ground. Looking for sunflower seeds they stashed in the potting soil when it was in the garage, perhaps. Or just liking to undo all my efforts at beautification. Good luck with that, you little red devils. I am one step ahead of you, every time. You cannot squash my planting urge. 

So I do not mind seeing a fine young redtail turning chipmunk into chevron-flecked pantaloons and hollow bones and strong flight muscles. Nay, I exult in it. Come to my house, where the Boston terrier years ago caught all the dumb slow ones and has selected for a strain of highly destructive, hypervigilant and lightning-fast Supermunks. 

Aww. Poor little chipmunk. Help yourself, Junior. 

"For nursery days are gone, nightmare is
real and there are no good Fairies.
The fox's teeth are in the bunny
and nothing can remove them, honey."

Gavin Ewart, b. 1916 London.

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