Monday, January 19, 2009

Winter wings over The Wilds...

Bundled birders rendezvous with raptors at The Wilds.

Red-tailed Hawk pushing through its first power stroke after leaving a perch at The Wilds.
Photo by Mike Maier, Photographer, Avian Expressions.

Record low temperature did not dissuade hardy birds or the hard-core birders determined to discover them at The Wilds. About one-hundred and fifteen birders gathered with all manner of winged-things wild and free for the Ohio Ornithological Society's (OOS) 4th annual winter raptor rendezvous at The Wilds, January 17.

Bulky-bundled birders exhaled swirling breath-clouds into piercing sub-zero air while gathering in The Wilds' visitor's center parking lot to organize eight field teams early in the morning (my vehicle thermometer dropped to 12 below zero Fahrenheit while passing through low hollows among surrounding hills).

Birding teams were dispatched in rotation through eight breezy observation areas by OOS organizers Marc Nolls and Cheryl Harner to ensure good habitat coverage and good birding. Teams canvassed grassy reclaimed hills and swales searching high and low for winged-things wild and free. Raptors were abundant and birders were not disappointed.

A nest box for American Kestrels erected through partnership between OOS, AEP, and The Wilds, overlooking one of the hundreds of frozen reclamation lakes, ponds, and wetlands dotting The Wilds and surrounding American Electric Power's tp://">ReCreation Lands.

Here, at The Wilds, over ten thousand acres of rolling grasslands and shrub-steppe habitat interrupt and diversify the steeply divided deciduous hillsides of eastern Ohio's Allegheny Plateau. Here, open-country birds of the northland find new winter habitat where forests once dominated.

Ninety-percent of the acreage at The Wilds has been surfaced mined for the bituminous coal that powered economic growth during the Baby-boomer heyday in the Midwest. Award-winning reclamation, and partnerships between AEP, The Wilds, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, inspired by a new era of reclamation legislation in Ohio, resurrected this wild area from a post-mining spoil wasteland to its youthful steppe ecosystem friendly for vertebrates, wild and semi-wild. Today, The Wilds is home to conservation science and research and home to some 29 species of rare mammals from around the world, some no longer found in the wild. The Wilds is a giant research zoo; and, The Wilds is a winter raptor magnet!

Some of the raptors and other birds my group enjoyed seeing:

Golden Eagle, Rough-legged Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Northern Harrier, Short-eared Owl. Other groups spotted a Merlin, too. Snow Buntings made an appearance. A number of waterfowl kept a small spot of water open below the visitor's center. Among them were Tundra Swan, Green-winged Teal, Gadwall, Mallard, Canada Goose, American Black Duck, Hooded Merganser, and Lesser Scaup.

This event was organized and staffed by generous volunteers with the Ohio Ornithological Society.

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