Saturday, November 30, 2013

Call for Submissions for the Ohio Cardinal Magazine

Call for Sightings for the Ohio Cardinal!
Winter is here, at least for The Ohio Cardinal, and weatherwise for those of us on the north coast. Please send your fall (August through November) sightings to Craig Caldwell, 1270 W. Melrose Dr., Westlake, OH, 44145 or In addition to sightings, we welcome photos, anecdotes, book/e-media/app reviews, general interest articles, and research papers. If you enter your sightings into eBird, you do not need to send a report – we download all the entries directly from Cornell. Feel free, however, to expand on items in your eBird list in a separate note to me, because I can’t look at every note in eBird.

Digital photo files, please; send prints only with prior approval. If you post photos to FaceBook, Flickr, or the like, you can send links to them rather than the photo files themselves. Photos and links go to Laura Keene, .

The deadline is December 15. Thank you in advance.

We’re close to being caught up to our desired publication schedule. The Fall 2012 issue went out a couple of weeks ago, Winter 2012-13 is in layout, and Spring 2013 is more than half written.

Craig Caldwell
Editor, The Ohio Cardinal
The Ohio Ornithological Society

Sunday, November 17, 2013


Today, we welcome our guest blogger Bill Hilton Jr., of Hilton Pond Center. Visit this website for more information about Bill's work:


This week we were in Fayette County, West Virginia for a big chunk of time at the annual "Hawk Gawk & Warbler Walk" offered through New River Birding & Nature Center. On two of the days we WERE at Hilton Pond Center it rained or was too windy, leaving the first and the tenth of October as the only times we could deploy mist nets. All this means we probably missed some Neotropical migrants moving past the Center; to date we've had one of our slowest autumns ever as far as banding is concerned. We did manage to trap what are likely our last two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds of 2013 while netting two migrant thrush and seven warbler species, but perhaps the most interesting bird of the week showed up at sunset on 10 October. Just as we were preparing to shut down for the night we looked out the window above our computer desk in the old farmhouse and saw a large-ish dark bird flapping about in the bag of a nearby net. At first we thought it was a raptor--maybe one of the Sharp-shinned Hawks or Cooper's Hawks that torment (and sometimes eat) our feeder birds--but a flash of brilliant white against the dark green background vegetation gave us our cue: The rump patch of a Northern Flicker!

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

We bounded outside faster than usual, not wanting this big bird to escape from the small-mesh net that held it. We arrived to learn the flicker was a kicker, so we gently grabbed its fast-moving legs legs, removed it from the net, and slid it into a lingerie bag we use for transport--a necessity in this case because we now needed both hands to set up our camera and tripod. We knew from experience the 60mm macro we usually keep on our Canon SLR camera would be too long a lens; alas, our arms just aren't long enough when we hold a big bird for profile photos. Even the 50mm macro was probably going to be too long, but we mounted it anyway because a wide-angle lens wouldn't be good for close-ups. When the gear was finally ready, we removed the bird from the lingerie bag and began documenting our twilight capture. (Disclaimer: For some reason we often catch unusual birds right at dusk with darkness coming on fast. Thus, images herein were made via flash, even though we much prefer to use available light. Our newly caught flicker was also hyperactive, so some photos aren't quite as sharp as we might like. Our apologies.)

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

So why such interest in this Northern Flicker, you might ask--a bird that was once called "Common Flicker" because, well, because it's pretty common across most of its range. The reason we wanted photos is because it was the first flicker we'd caught at Hilton Pond Center in 14 years and only the 36th since 1982 . . . making it one of our rarer species and one for which we had few photos. Curiously, as illustrated on the chart above, two-thirds (24) of our 36 flickers were captured during a brief five-year period (1990-94)--a phenomenon we'll try to explain forthwith.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

The Northern Flicker is one of those birds whose name does NOT indicate its taxonomy. As one might guess from its shape and long bill, the flicker is in the Woodpecker Family (Picidae), but it's different from other woodpeckers not only in name but in behavior and habitat. Our most common local picid, the Downy Woodpecker (195 banded to date), is much more prevalent now than it was 32 years ago--likely for the same reason Northern Flickers are less common. As we've pointed out many times, our 11 acres have changed considerably in the past three decades, going from open grassy lawn to young mixed woodland. Downy Woodpeckers inhabit the latter, while flickers like the former.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

As their name suggests, most woodpeckers use long bills to peck holes in trees from which they extract insect grubs. The ever-more-mature hardwoods at Hilton Pond are just what Downy Woodpeckers need to provide food and eventual nesting sites, but Northern Flickers go at feeding a bit differently; they forage primarily on the ground, where they insert long sticky tongues into ant tunnels and lap up these social insects. In fact, ants typically make up nearly half a flicker's diet, the remainder of its invertebrate fare coming from beetles, butterflies, and moths (some caught on the wing). Flickers also eat lots of berries--expecially in cooler weather--as evidenced by dark purple stains in the white lingerie bag that temporarily held the one we caught. The fruit of Flowering Dogwood (right) appears to be a favorite. (Occasionally flickers eat suet and may take sunflower and thistle seeds. They've even been reported lapping sugar water at hummingbird feeders.) The flicker's penchant for ants is most pronounced when it goes after colonies in hard soil, pounding with stout bill to break up red clay that sometimes cakes its mandibles (see photo). Also evident in the close-up above is the slightly decurved aspect of the flicker's bill; in most woodpeckers both mandibles are quite straight, so this configuration may help in some way with ant-digging.

But back to the decline in Northern Flickers at Hilton Pond Center, as noted on our chart above; we think it's habitat-based. The property was mostly open when we first arrived in 1982, so there were lots of grassy areas where flickers could seek out anthills and feed on their insects of choice; in those days we'd capture one to three flickers per year. Things changed in the early 1990s when grass soon gave way to shrubs and the only lawn left was around the old farmhouse--right where the majority of out bird-catching mist nets were located--so we caught our biggest numbers of flickers. Eventually, as canopy trees shaded out these last vestiges of lawn and we gave up mowing everything except our trails, Northern Flickers ran out of places to feed, and they just don't come around any more.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

We've often said the Northern Flicker looks like a bird put together by a committee, with each member amending the bird's appearance with his or her favorite attribute (see photos above). There's that startling white rump patch, of course, which contrasts with heavy barring on the flicker's back. A rich pinkish-brown throat leads to a black bib, and it's hard to miss all those big black spots on the flicker's belly and breast. Top everything off with a gray crown contrasting sharply with a brilliant crimson nape and the Northern Flicker is indeed a hodgepodge of field marks. (We should point out the bird we captured this week at Hilton Pond Center was a female with a plain cheek; as shown above left, an eastern male adds a final dash of elegance with his prominent black mustache.)

Despite all these plumage attributes, the most striking parts of the Northern Flicker we caught this week at the Center were the feathers of its wing (above) and tail (below)--each of which had a bright yellow shaft that gave the bird another of its former names: Yelllow-Shafted Flicker. This is the state bird of Alabama, where it's sometimes called the Yellowhammer (or, more colloquially, "yaller-hammer.") By the way, the flicker gets its name from flicking its bill--not its tail--and to our ears, the call of the Northern Flicker sounds like "flick-flick-flick-flick-flick." (NOTE: In the image below you also can see very stiff and pointed tips on the central tail feathers--a useful adaptation that helps stabilize the flicker when it perches vertically on a tree trunk.)

And that brings us to a discussion of why old field guides call this bird "Yellow-shafted Flicker," somewhat newer ones say "Common Flicker," and today the accepted terminology is "Northern Flicker." If you've ever been to the western U.S. you may have seen flickers that look a bit unlike the one we caught this week at Hilton Pond. Major field marks are the same, but underwings and undertail and feather shafts out west are red rather than yellow, hence the name "Red-shafted Flicker." These birds are so different in appearance--especially from beneath--they were considered to be two separate species. Bird behaviorists have been hard at work, however, and discovered these birds interbreed where their populations overlap, meaning they must be the same species; thus, the two have been relegated to subspecies ranking with the (yellow-shafted) Northern Flicker listed as Colaptes auratus auratus and the (red-shafted) Northern Flicker as C. a. cafer. It's interesting that a third bird--the Gilded Flicker, C. chrysoides--has a range in Arizona that overlaps that of the red-shafted variety with which it seldom interbreeds; therefore, Gilded Flicker retains full species status, at least for now.

Bird geneticists do currently support the above-mentioned delineation of flicker subspecies and species, but sometimes we wonder if these birds are even woodpeckers at all. (John James Audubon--see his rendering above--recognized what he called "Golden-winged Woodpeckers" were quite unlike other picids he saw in eastern woods.) As we know from banding and observing them at Hilton Pond Center, flickers have slightly decurved bills, they peck anthills instead of wood, they feed mostly on the ground rather than in trees, they exhibit a hodge-podge of field marks, and about the only plumage character they have in common with the rest of the Picidae is red on the backs of their heads. So maybe all the flickers deserve their own family; in light of their atypical behaviors and unusual appearance, we suggest Colluvidae--from the Latin word for "all jumbled up."
All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Join OOS and Rock Jumper Worldwide Birding Adventures for a trip to Africa. The provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga on South Africa's eastern seaboard boast some of the country's finest birding and exceptional mammal viewing. An impressive 750 plus species of bird occur in the region, reflecting the wonderful natural diversity of the area; and this, coupled with a modern infrastructure well suited to the needs of the modern traveler, makes birding here an absolute delight. From the classic African savanna of the world-renowned Kruger National Park and the teeming Zululand game reserves, to the bird-rich coastal forests of northern Natal, this tour of Eastern South Africa offers the very best of southern African birding and game viewing.

Those who decide to do the Cape Extension will be treated to a feast of endemics and the remarkable beauty of the South Western Cape. The Mother City, Cape Town, widely considered one of the world's most beautiful cities, will be our base for the first three nights of the extension. From here we will range out to explore the varied ecosystems conveniently accessible from our comfortable accommodations. We will then make our way up the West Coast where we will explore the dry country riches of the Tanqua Karoo to round off this unbeatable South African adventure. For more information, contact
- For more information, pricing and species information, visit the OOS website.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Join OOS at Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area on November 3, 2013 for some fun, food and birding!

Join OOS on Sunday, November 3, 2013 at 9:00 am for a fun, fall day of eating, meeting and birding at Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area!

We'll meet at the Killdeer Plains Headquarters Building, 19100 County Highway 115, Harpster, OH 44323. We will bird the area, and return for lunch at 12:30 at the Headquarters Building. Soup will be provided by OOS-please bring a bag lunch and beverage. PLEASE RSVP to only if you will be attending. No regrets please, only confirmation.

Lunch will be followed by a OOS members meeting featuring the election of officers and board members. The meeting will end around 2:00 pm. There will be lots of time to go birding again on your own in the afternoon.

If you are familiar with Killdeer Plains, and would be willing to serve as a birding guide that day, please email

This 9,230 acre wildlife area is visited by birders each winter hoping to find Short-eared and Long-eared Owls, Saw-whet Owls, Rough-legged Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks and Northern Harriers. Occasionally, a Golden Eagle and Peregrine Falcon may grace the skies. Scattered remnants of the formerly extensive tall-grass prairie can still be found on the area. Fields are being replanted with native prairie species. Associated prairie animals include the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake and the rare Eastern Plains Garter snake. We hope to see you there!
- See more at:

Monday, September 2, 2013

Common Nighthawk Weekend
By Robert Mortensen, on August 30, 2013

Common Nighthawk by ABA member Caroline Lambert

According to the eBird frequency graph shown here, this very weekend is the peak time for birders to see Common Nighthawks in much of the ABA Area. ABA member Lillian Stokes reports an epic migration flight of CONI’s from last weekend. Given the opportunity by nature, we want to encourage ABA members and birders to take advantage of this. Get outside with friends, family, co-workers, and anyone in your circle of influence. Introduce them to birding by seeking out our awesome ABA Bird of the Year.

A couple of weeks ago I introduced a mother and son to birding by standing at the edge of a pond in the Boise foothills while two Common Nighthawks zipped through the dawn sky within mere feet of us. It was one of those special and amazing birding moments I will never forget and I can guarantee those two will always remember.

The official ABA Common Nighthawk Weekend begins Friday, August 30th and runs through Monday, September 2nd. We’d love to hear about your Common Nighthawk Weekend experiences here in the comments or on our Facebook group.

REMINDER: We are currently accepting entries for the ABA Bird of the Year Multimedia Art Contest! Visit the contest webpage for details.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Did Someone say Free Money?

Who raises $$$ for GRANTS to serve the Ohio birding community and beyond?? OOS and MBS!! Who can apply for funding?? Any non-profit organization, with a IRS 501 (c)3 designation, whose objectives are related to birds, the birding community, and the preservation, enhancement, or creation of bird habitat (see link below to apply). How much has been donated in the past?? More than $30,000!

Midwest Birding Symposium donates the majority of its net proceeds to support conservation-oriented organizations and programs. In 2009, MBS donations totaled $10,000 thanks to a matching donation from The Ohio Ornithological Society. In 2011, donations doubled to $20,000 thanks again to matching funds from the OOS. For 2013, we hope to generate even more money for conservation, and we have a lot of GREAT prizes to raffle off this year. Donations of prizes are still being accepted.Tickets for the MBS Conservation Raffle are $5 for 1 ticket, $10 for 3 tickets, or $20 for 10 tickets. You don't need to be present to win. Winners will be announced each night in Hoover Auditorium.

After each MBS, the MBS hosts select a small number of conservation organizations, projects, and other worthy causes to receive contributions from the MBS Conservation Fund. For the 2013 MBS we're asking interested organizations/representatives to complete and return a one-page funding application.

The Midwest Birding Symposium 2013: Welcome!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Eight Great Reasons to Love the New Migratory Bird Stamp
By Annetta on Friday, June 28th, 2013 Cornell Lab of Ornithology

A brand-new piece of fine art went on Sale in June, and at just $15 it’s going to be hard to pass up. Its official name is the 2013–2014 Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, but many people know it as the Federal Duck Stamp. Here at the Cornell Lab, we call it the Migratory Bird Stamp because it benefits many kinds of birds and is a great idea for any bird watcher or conservationist.

Buying a Migratory Bird Stamp is a simple and direct way for people to contribute to grassland and wetland conservation. The New York Times ran a piece on the annual stamp art competition; now here’s our own list of eight reasons to love the stamp:

1. $850 million for conservation and counting. The first stamp was issued in 1934. It cost $1 (about $18 in today’s dollars) and sold 635,001 copies. By law, the funds raised go directly to habitat acquisition in the lower 48 states. By now, stamp sales have surpassed $850 million and helped to protect 5.5 million acres of wetland and grassland habitat.

2. A 79-year tradition of beautiful wildlife art. The Migratory Bird Stamp is a beautiful collectible and a great artistic tradition. Since 1949, the design of each year’s duck stamp has been chosen in an open art contest. This year’s stamp, showing a Common Goldeneye, is by Robert Steiner (see a gallery of all stamps back to 1934), who also won the 1998–1999 contest with a Barrow’s Goldeneye—a stamp that sold 1,627,521 copies and raised more than $24 million on its own.

3. A bargain at $15. Ninety-eight cents of each dollar spent on a stamp goes directly to land acquisition (and immediate related expenses) for national wildlife refuges. This $15 purchase is perhaps the single simplest thing you can do to support a legacy of wetland and grassland conservation for birds.

4. It’s much more than ducks. Waterfowl hunters have long been the main supporters for the program—the stamps are a requirement for anyone over 16 who wants to hunt. But the funds benefit scores of other bird species, including shorebirds, herons, raptors, and songbirds, not to mention reptiles, amphibians, fish, butterflies, native plants, and more.

5. Save wetlands; save grasslands. Since 1958, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has used stamp revenues to protect “waterfowl production areas”—to the tune of 3 million acres—within the critical Prairie Pothole Region. The same program also protects declining prairie-nesting birds in the face of increasing loss of grasslands. As a result, refuges are among the best places to find grassland specialties such as Bobolinks, Grasshopper Sparrows, Clay-colored Sparrows, Sedge Wrens, and others.

6. The benefits are gorgeous. Some of the most diverse and wildlife-rich refuges across the Lower 48 have been acquired with stamp funds. Check out this map—chances are there’s a wildlife refuge near you that has benefited:

7. It’s your free pass to refuges. A migratory bird stamp is a free pass for an entire year to all refuges that charge for admission—so your $15 could even save you money.

8. As bird watchers, let’s get in on the secret. Though it’s long been a fixture in hunting circles, the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp is one of the best-kept secrets in all of bird conservation. It’s time to buy and show your stamp!

The Cornell Lab is a strong supporter of the Migratory Bird Stamp, and we’ve often written about its value as a direct aid to conservation—for example, in this 2009 column by Lab director John Fitzpatrick. You can buy the stamp at many U.S. Post Offices, National Wildlife Refuges, and sporting-goods stores. You can also order the stamp online at the USPS store and from the stamp’s printer, Amplex (both stores add a charge for shipping).

(Thanks to the Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp for help in preparing this post.)