The Beginnings of Birding

Birds! One natural progression of hiking out in nature has been an interest in the feathered ones all around the areas in which I roam.

My first successful image of a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird! It was perched just long enough for me to switch lenses in the Golden Hour light before deciding to fly away.

Huffman Prairie Flying Field, July 2019

“Birds to me are a wonderful sight, no other existing experience to me comes close. The definition of a good life is waking up nice and early to view them flitting around the marsh. It’s a wonder that birds have their own agenda, and we are very privileged observers of their world. Fleetless moments are abound wherever! Whether this is the calmness of watching them preen in the pond, to walking around with their babies, to a male and female perched next to each other. All times of year and season bring forth joy in viewing their intricate lives.”

This was my first real good look at a Prothonotary Warbler and I happened to acquire this decent close-up shot of this beautiful migrant. Birding with friends is a great way to share information and check more off your “life list.”

Huffman Metropark, May 2019

The beauty in what is is in their accessibility. Birds are practically everywhere! You can travel to not too far locations to view them, or you can bring them to your backyard with birdseed and suet. There is room for everyone to enjoy them.

The very striking blue and sapphire of this songbird is unmatched during Spring and Summer in Ohio. A rather vocal bird, I heard dozens of them in the treeline as they flew out in the open to a prairie as seen here. It was simply a matter of watching for their habits and setting up gear accordingly.

Bill Yeck Park, May 2019

Everyone who is interested in birding has that “spark bird.” The one or several species that got them interested in this activity. I might have several, particularly larger ones like Great Blue Herons and Red Shouldered Hawk, and then smaller ones like a Ruby Throated Hummingbird. Practically anytime I get to view a new species I am awestruck. Plus, it is addicting to check them off your life list. With so many out there, it is impossible to get bored!

Upon hearing the call of this warbler in the tallgrass prairie, I used a sound technique called “pishing” to bring this curious Common Yellowthroat out into the open.

Huffman Prairie, July 2019

I was already taking up photography when I realized that birds are the most abundant wildlife in Ohio, so it only made sense to study and then photograph them. Purchase or borrow some field guides and read up on all that you can. I have a collection of the free Ohio Division of Wildlife booklets that are nicely laid out for common birds, raptors, waterfowl, warblers and owls.

Quiet, slow observance of birds is the best way to learn more and take better photos. This Blue Grey Gnatcathcer seemed to be really interested in a small tree as it flitted to and from. I soon recognized a small nest built on a tree limb where it was returning to often to bring food.

Glen Thompson Reserve, May 2019

Simply put, we are here today because birds are. Many birds migrate twice a year due to climate and temperature changes. Because of this birds are an important indicator of climate change and will move to hotter/colder climates depending on their preference. Help them out by setting up birdseed feeders in your backyard. This will help the local residents with finding food and certain migratory songbirds will appreciate the rest stop to feed. On top of that you can enjoy some close views of their amazing colors.

I spent the morning at a local pond that is brimming with migratory waterfowl a good portion of the year. This day had me getting my first photos and close-up looks at a Redhead duck. This image shows it splashing about to wash its’ feathers.

Spring Lakes Park, April 2019

Another beautiful aspect of birding is the communal approach, birding is a worldwide language! We are all in this together and so find a group or forum to exchange details and tips. Rare bird hotlines and alerts can be set up for your county or region, and local groups such as this Facebook one for Miami Valley Birding have helped me so much in learning about what’s outside my doorstep. Explore the resources around you then explore the world!

Some of my best views of a personal favorite bird came at a local fen. This Pileated Woodpecker was scaling up this tree and made for an impressive display of size and beauty. Always look at the dead trees and cavities for woodpeckers!

Siebenthaler Fen, May 2019

So grab the binoculars, spotting scope, and maybe a camera.

As always, make sure to get out there!

Happy birding!

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A List of Favorite Nature Books

As you can probably tell from this blog, writing is one such interest and passion of mine. So naturally talking about my favorite books related to the subject of nature and photography seemed incredibly poignant.

A majority of these books are ones that combine nature and photography as I obviously prefer those the most. Others are more about the hikes and scenery, while others focus more on the biology of the land.

My preference (both ideally and literally) at this time to stay local (in Ohio) which means the majority are exclusively about the Buckeye state. For your convenience, I have separated the strictly Ohio books from the others.

Save these for a nice rainy spring day or brutally cold winter day. Read up, do your research, and be willing to learn!

Here’s the list hitherto, no affiliate links (affixed photos are not my own) but you may copy/paste the titles and authors into your browser to find them. Enjoy!

OHIO BOOKS

Wild Ohio: The Best of Our Natural Heritage – Jim McCormac, Gary Meszaros

A very satisfying read of natural features in Ohio. The depth of info about the flora and fauna from a well-known naturalist like Jim and photographer like Gary. A page-turner from beginning to end.

A Place Called Aullwood – Its Flowers, Woodlands and Meadows: Photographic Essay – Allan Horvath, Paul E. Knoop, Gail Horvath

A beautifully-told narrative of how Aullwood Garden came to be, the history and married couple who sought to protect this property from outside urban influence. Aullwood became the first nature education center in the country. Fortunately Aullwood is still a stunning place to visit to this day, where the history is alive and well as you take each step through the meadows and garden trails. This piece of land was the Aull’s gift to the world, and must cherish it all that we can.

A Photographer’s Guide to Ohio (Volume 1 & 2) – Ian Adams

A very treasured two-volume guide to nature and scenic photographers in the Buckeye state, I have discovered a number of new locations close to home to explore with the camera and lens. Discover everything from lighthouses, hills and bluffs, forbs and petite waterfalls. There is so much out there that many would be happy to see.

Discovery and Renewal on Huffman Prairie: Where Aviation Took Wing – David Nolin

A story-driven book about local naturalist Mr. Nolin’s experience and knowledge of the famed tallgrass prairie. Huffman Prairie Flying Field is arguably a historical crown jewel of wet meadow and prairie habitat in southwest Ohio, mixed in with a rich history of aviation. The book goes through the entire history of the area from conception, to the Wright Brothers era, to threats of farm and human development, to the way it is protected today.

The Ohio Nature Almanac – Stephen Ostrander

This is practically a bible for the entire state. Jam-packed with trivia, facts, and detailed descriptions for boating, fishing, hiking, hunting, running, and so much more. Listed in detail are state parks, wildlife areas, nature preserves both big and small. A rather thick nonfiction book at around 500 pages, this will surely make you want to get out there and experience all the Buckeye state has to offer.

Natural Wonders of Ohio – Janet Groene, Gordon Groene

If I had to give a perfect example of all things natural in Ohio, this is the book! A bevy of trivia and anecdotal stories and sprinkled throughout the text, as well as listings of state parks, wildlife areas, nature preserves. Locations where one can hike, bike, fish, boat and swim are given, and the information is limitless in this large book.

Much less a book for hikers and more of one for aspiring naturalists and nature enthusiasts. This publication lists out many different nature preserves and state-protected natural areas. Reasons to visit include the typical wildlife viewing and observation, botany studying and other “passive” recreational activities.

50 Hikes in Ohio – Ralph Ramey

A short and sweet book detailing many major (and some smaller) hikes to take all across the Buckeye state. I’ve already done a handful of these on my photography trips however discovered many new-to-me locations to explore.

OTHER BOOKS

Notes From the Field – Tom & Pat Cory

An indispensable guidebook to nature photography of all kinds. Written in the late 1990’s for film, the advice and tips still hold up to this day. Technical knowledge is very useful in this easy-to-read book however I felt myself disagreeing with some of the composition techniques. A fantastic read that is currently out of print.

Deer, Elk & Moose: Grand and Majestic Creatures – Stan Tekiela

Stan’s naturalist background shines in this short photo book, detailing these ungulate’s life cycle every year and season. The variety of photographs at different angles provide a narrative-styled and intimate look into these “grand and majestic creatures” everyday happenings.

The New Art of Photographing Nature: An Updated Guide to Composing Stunning Images of Animals, Nature, and Landscapes – Art Wolfe, Martha Hill

If I had to give an all-around pick for learning nature photography, this would be the book. Reading and “studying” (as I call it) an Art Wolfe book is like taking a master class through the photographer’s lengthy career. A wealth of photos and techniques are shared.

The Art of the Photograph: Essential Habits for Stronger Compositions – Art Wolfe, Rob Sheppard

My favorite book for getting out of a creative rut. This one helps you see the world in a new way. Compositions are everything to creating a compelling image, and this piece of text will challenge and delight you with new ways of seeing.

Photographs from the Edge: A Master Photographer’s Insights on Capturing an Extraordinary World – Art Wolfe, Rob Sheppard

Some of the best photographs have a story, and this photo book is no slouch to that. In fact, the entire premise is to share the stories behind each photo in this book. So much goes into taking an image, and explaining what you cannot see adds so much more to the entire experience.

Earth is My Witness – Art Wolfe, Wade Davis

A career retrospective look at the stunning work of Art Wolfe. Nature, travel and cultural photography are all nicely blended in this publication in a seamless matter, displaying the best this planet has to offer.

Trees: Between Earth & Heaven – Art Wolfe, Gregory McNamee

Learn about the world’s towering giants and experience their size and scale through photographs. The immense size of this photo book really lends itself well to page-spreading trees. Paragraph-filled captions of the spiritual and traditional meanings of trees in each region of the world add a lot of context. Perhaps my favorite example of an impressive presentation of nature photography in a photo book.

Honorable Mentions

Rarely Seen : Photographs of the Extraordinary – National Geographic

Examples, The Making of 40 Photographs – Ansel Adams

Creatures of Change: An Album of Ohio Animals – Carolyn Platt

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail – Ben Montgomery

Bonus: Favorite Magazines

If shorter magazines are more of your thing, here are some of my top picks for nature, photography and the outdoors in general.

Outdoor Photographer, Birds & Blooms, Birdwatching Magazine, Backpacker Magazine, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Outside, Ohio Magazine, National Wildlife, National Geographic, Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, Smithsonian

Make a visit to your local bookstore or library to find any of these and others.

Happy reading!

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Searching For a Great Horned Owl Nest

Woodman Fen is a gorgeous example of a (now) rare wetland habitat in southwest Ohio.

Where 90% of Ohio in pre-settlement times was comprised of wetlands and prairie, now wetlands have become an important ecosystem to conserve. Fens, bogs and marshes are home to many native flora and fauna that depend on them for survival.

It was mid-April of 2019 and I was on photo trip at nearby Hills & Dales Metropark in the Oakwood area of Dayton. Some passerby hikers told me of some nesting Great Horned Owls in Woodman Fen, they didn’t know specifically where though. With a credible piece of advice, this became my first real attempt at “owling.”

In less than a week I make my way to the fen, scouting out the area in the late afternoon light while asking several other visitors if they’ve seen them around yet to no avail. Every local seems to be aware of owls yet no one knows where to find them.

While waiting for dusk I find myself at a large patch of invasive plant species called Garlic Mustard that are growing along the shaded loop trail around the fen. Their name comes from the aroma given off by the crushed leaves. Macro photography keeps me occupied while I like high up in the trees with every step.

Typical owl nests can be over eighty feet high in the trees, making a good look at them difficult from the fen’s wetland floor. Every semi-large bird flying overhead catches my attention, yet none are the owls.

Great Horned Owls may nest in tree cavities such as this one. This is a hole over seventy feet up in a tree that I looked at through binoculars for a while. I swear I saw an Owl’s face in there!

About 45 minutes before sunset, exhausted and sweaty from the hike, I set out one last time to search for them as they come out to hunt. Going out again with no expectations of sighting any owls, morale was fairly low.

I decide that the better vantage point for viewing would be to hike the very muddy loop trail instead of going straight through the boardwalk. No sooner than five minutes back into the fen, I witness a very large bird very high up on the trees.

My heart sinks, this has to be it. This is an owl.

This is an adult perched with a possible rodent kill, with their excellent hearing, This one is already staring me down. As my first sighting of a Great Horned Owl in the wild, I will never forget that look it gave me. (seen in the images below)

Not long after this sighting is when I hear an immature owlet’s call and see it. The juvenile looked to be almost all grown up and the adult male was helping catch food for it to eat. My assumption is that they were out so early in the night due to a lack of food?

The adult male had some sort of small rodent in its mouth, and as the two images above suggest, must’ve almost dropped it as it struggled to regain its balance on the tree branch.

As the fen grew darker and darker, all I could see was their three silhouettes perched on the same tall tree branch as they waited. I had a few minutes to leave the fen and so I packed it up and left. Under the cover of the night sky and the owlet’s wheezy call in the distance. I drive home with a successful batch of photos, a compelling video, and some memories to last a lifetime.

Fast Forward to 9:26 to hear my in-the-moment reactions to spotting the owls.

All of the photos were taken at 600mm so it goes to show just how far away these owls were!

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