Monday, November 27, 2006

Winter Bird Watching in Ohio

Winter Owl Watching
Each winter, the Ohio owl population temporarily expands from four species to include seven species. This is because short-eared, long-eared, and northern saw-whet owls fly in and join the Ohio indigenous species for the winter. One of the best places to spot these three wintertime additions is the Killdeer Plains State Wildlife Area in Wyandot County, Ohio.

Owls are a perennial favorite among many Ohio birdwatchers. The short-eared owl is the easiest to catch sight of because it is diurnal (day) and nocturnal (night), active from late afternoon through the morning hours of the next day. These owls roost almost wholly on the ground in tall fields and hedgerows. You can also see them perched on roadside fence posts on occasion, but they prefer the ground.

It takes a "night owl" bird watcher to catch sight of the long-eared owl in flight. This is an nighttime owl, active only from dusk to just before dawn. It flies silently through nighttime woodlands and fields, searching for food. During the day, it roosts in heavy forest coverings, often among pines and evergreens. To avoid being seen, the long-eared owl stretches its body out in order to camouflage itself by appearing to be a tree branch, and it is very hard to see.

The northern saw-whet is a tiny owl, averaging just 8 inches long. It is most active at dawn and at dusk, hunting in wooded and heavily brushed areas for insects and small rodents. Bird watchers can occasionally creep within inches of a saw-whet owl, because it will not wake up easily when asleep. However, you should never disturb any owl, because you might reveal its roosting site and make it vulnerable to attack by other birds and predators.

Bird watching near Columbus, Ohio

Creek Valley is just southeast of Columbus and is a part of the Columbus Metro Parks system. It is one of the most secluded and untouched natural areas in Central Ohio and affords many bird watching activities. In addition to over 150 species of birds present, there are over 800 plant species to see, many of which (birds and plants) are rare. Overall, you can see turkey, deer, ruffed grouse, coyote, black vultures, and even bobcats along the park's 15 trail miles. Oak and hickory forests, giant hemlocks, and ferns join some of the only rhododendron colonies left in Ohio in the park.

Clear Creek park contains over 5200 acres of land and is located at 185 Clear Creek Road in Rockbridge, OH 43149

Directions: From I-270, take U.S. 33 southeastward toward Lancaster for approximately 31 miles. When you reach Lancaster, continue on U.S. 33 south for seven miles to Clear Creek Road, which is State Route 116.Turn right on Clear Creek Road and proceed to the nearby park.

Audubon, the local birding association
Columbus Audubon was founded in 1913 and has about 3000 members in Central Ohio, making it the largest Audubon chapter in the nation. Its mission is to promote the appreciation, understanding, and conservation of birds, other wildlife, and their habitats, for present and future generations. For information, call 614-224-3305.

National Audubon Society annual Christmas Bird Count
The 107th Christmas Bird Count will begin December 14, 2006 and end January 5, 2007. During these three weeks, several groups of volunteers (called count circles) will record each bird and every bird species they see or hear within an assigned radius of 15 miles. This is exciting if you are a bird lover, and you are invited to join the effort. You can learn more about Ohio winter birds and Ohio conservation efforts, and make friends by joining the annual bird count. To join a count circle, call Audubon Ohio at 614-224-3303.

10th Annual Great Backyard Bird Count
Join others to help count birds in the American Great Backyard from February 16-19, 2007. The Audubon Society is sponsoring a bird-counting weekend near you. There is no fee or age limit to participate and you can count birds in your backyard, schoolyard, park, wildlife refuge, or other areas near your home. Call 614-224-3303 for information and to register at no charge.

Prepare bird-nesting boxes for Spring 2007
Birds often need help to provide them with enough protection from predators and harsh winter weather. They also need cover for their nests. Building nest boxes is a worthwhile and fun winter project, and boxes can be put up anytime. You do not have to wait for the springtime. Some birds may use nest boxes as a place to roost during cold winters, so if you put them out now, the birds will be grateful and you'll help to save wildlife. Nesting box plans can be found at your local library.

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