Saturday, November 04, 2006

Fall glow at Kenny Park

Living near a natural area, no matter how small, is truly a gem. All you have to do is spend time observing the creatures and plants in the area, and I guarantee that your natural history skills will improve. Want to be a naturalist? Don't spend time in the library, spend time in the woods. I used to fall prey to this mistake. And after being in the field with some of Ohio's best naturalists and biologists, I have learned immensely from them. And one of the most important lessons I've learned is to carry my binoculars, carry a hand lens, carry my notebook and write write write write! We all have different learning styles, but writing in the field makes me pay attention to what I'm looking at. Instead of identifying an animal to species, I'm more apt to notice how many birds are at the top of the tree, whether they are male or female, and I can even get a feeling to what they are doing. Are they calling? Gleaning for insects? Extracting seeds from box-elder samaras?

I'm not sure why all of this came together for me, but yesterday afternoon at Kenny Park, along the Olentangy River here in North Columbus, I really felt in tune with what was going around me.

The evening sky was aglow. The air was clear, crisp, and cold, but not cold enough that I was wearing gloves. The leaves had mostly fallen off the tall trees, and the black walnuts on the alluvial terraces are now like skeletons. The stately sycamores and silver maples were still struggling to shed their quickly drying, brown leaves. Since many of the green plants have turned brown and shriveled up, I have turned my attention to birds. It is amazing how well they can be seen when there aren't leaves on the trees (although the bush honeysuckle is green as it was in mid- June).

So what did I see?

1 Carolina chickadee, flitting about in the box elders. I think it was trying to eat the box elder seeds, still in their helicopter like samaras, and still attached to the branch tips. I'd like to see how long this source of food lasts through the winter.

2. Robins, calling frequently, flying around. I'm not sure what they were up to.

3. 2 Gray squirrels, one after the other, chasing each other across a fallen, rotten log.

4. Next, in my notebook, I note the constant din of traffic from state route 315, a four lane commuter highway, across the river and back over my right shoulder towards the west.

5. Next, I look over my right shoulder, and in a amur honeysuckle, I see a small grayish, round, short-billed bird. I note its gray head, light gray eye ring, yellowish wash on its primary flight feathers and rump. My first instinct? Some kind of straggling wood warbler that hasn't quite yet made it to the tropics. I just leafed through my barely touched Peterson "Warblers" field guide and I'm hopelessy stuck. The thing my bird most resembled was a resident of Florida. Oh Well. Hopefully I can snap a picture today.

6. A red shouldered hawk cried out from above and to the south. KeyYER KeyYER KeyYER KeyYER!

7. Above me, calling with a short but surprising strong alert from a small bird, possibly another warber? High up in the black walnut, jumping from branch to branch, I only glimpsed at his underside. I just looked at the "Warblers Guide" again, and they actually had a plate that showed the underside of many common species! All I noted though, from my time yesterday was that this birds tail was decidedly notched. Well, I'm not sure if all passerine's tails possess this quality, but all the warbler's illustrated did. Oh time...better observation. More detail.

8. Next, the presence of the leaves, still going strong, as green as they were in June, catches my eye. These belong to the highly invasive amur honesuckle. The shrubs growing beneath the walnuts almost reach small tree size. They emanate from a single stump, quickly branching out like a water fountain. The shrubs are covered with the globose, red-juicy berries. Obviously, nothing is really interested in eating these! I'll keep an eye throughout the winter. The fact that the honeysuckle still possesses photosynthetic leaves leaves no doubt how it is able to out-compete native species. Spicebush the native woodland understory shrub that is absent from Kenny park has long lost its leaves by now.

9. A small single engine plane flies over, heading northwest, reminding me that I am in the city.

10. I walk down to the Olentangy. It is still high, and my usual fishing spots are flooded. The water has receded quite a bit from earlier in the week, and the muddy banks are littered with signs of wildlife. Deer, squirrel, dogs, other stuff that I can only guess....I should learn more about tracks. Anyways, the long shadows that the sun casts at this time really make the tracks "pop" right out of the mud.

11. Finally, I walk back up the bank to the terrace where the walnuts and honeysuckle dominate. I see a squirrel about 100 feet to the south, in a black walnut. It seems smallish. Could this be the phantom red squirrel that I've caught a few glimpses of? I put my binoculars on it, and sure enough, I think it was. This guy had a snow white belly and a grayish red topside, separated by a thin black line of hair. And then he made the tell tale rattle of the red squirrel. It is loud and obnoxious. Hard to believe that such a sound comes out of the little guy.

Anyways, it is getting colder, my hands are freezing, and after seeing a single crow alight on top of a walnut, I decide it is time to head back to 301 Girard. Megan and I have a Bluejackets game to go to!


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