Thursday, August 29, 2013

Garden post #1!

Nature Blog Time!

From early spring through late fall and into winter, the gardens and prairies surrounding Grange Insurance Audubon Center (GIAC) are alive with bird and butterfly activity.

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on Swamp Milkweed
Prairies? Prairies in mid-Columbus?  Most certainly! Fields bordering the wetland ponds, and creeping up into the new picnic area are full of native grasses and plants, attracting birds, butterflies and insects.

As seasons progress, our Nature Blog will feature information and fun facts about our native plantings and the creatures that need them, as well as all our exciting natural resource management activities. We will also be sharing tips on using native plantings in your own yard because, by using Ohio natives, you will be preserving the natural character of our region.
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and
Brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

Native plants are those indigenous to our area, having evolved and adapted to local growing conditions, which thrive in our soil and weather, and require less water, fertilizer and attention. In addition, native plants with long roots soak up and filter contaminants and hold soil in place to reduce erosion.

Compassplant, Coneflower and Brown-eyed
Susan in our Monarch Waystation
Our foray into native plants will begin with the Eagle’s Nest Butterfly Garden located on the south side of the visitor center. The Eagle’s Nest was designed and planted as an Eagle Scout project in 2011 by Luke Steffen, Boy Scout Troop 474, Columbus. This garden features 19 species of native plants including compassplant, cone flower, brown-eyed susan’s and many other local favorites. Additional resting rocks and watering areas help create a waystation for migrating Monarchs, as well as home for several additional butterflies. Finches and chickadees also take advantage of the plentiful seeds.

We look forward to sharing notes on Ohio’s native riches in our future Nature Blogs. Be sure to include a stroll through Luke’s project on your next visit to GIAC!
blog post by Jill Holl

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Only a few days....

Between rain, wind, and cold,  weather has conspired against us! We have only been able to band five days total! Yet those days have been productive, with numbers already close to half of what they were for the ENTIRE season last spring!

To date, we have banded 142 birds of 29 different species! Just to get you all up to speed, these species are (in no particular order):
 Brown creeper, blue-gray gnatcatcher, ruby-crowned kinglet, golden-crowned kinglet, yellow-throated warbler, field sparrow, slate colored junco, American goldfinch, house wren, yellow warbler, myrtle warbler, western palm warbler, carolina chickadee, swamp sparrow, ovenbird, downy woodpecker, song sparrow, hermit thrush, white-throated sparrow, brown-headed cowbird, carolina wren, yellow-bellied sapsucker, northern cardinal, red-winged blackbird, eastern towhee, american robin, brown thrasher, northern flicker and warbling vireo. WHEW!

One of my personal favorites was the yellow-bellied sapsucker. This one is a male, which have red throats as well as crowns. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers migrate through Ohio in spring on their way to their summer breeding range, which extends across Canada all the way to eastern Alaska.One of the nice things about this species is you don't always need to see these birds to know they were there, they leave plenty of signs behind!

Sapsuckers eat.....wait for! They will also eat insects and even fruit, but sap is the main part of their diet. They will drill a series of holes in rows along the tree trunk. In spring these holes are small, round and deep to reach the sap moving up the tree to the branches. As the tree develops leaves and starts to send sap back down along the shallower phloem layer, they drill more shallow, rectangular openings. They use their brush-like tongue to lap the flowing sap, as well as any insects that have become trapped. Pretty ingenious! These sap wells also benefit many other species. Bats, porcupines and other birds have all been observed utilizing these wells. In fact, in some regions of Canada, ruby-throated hummingbirds may even time their migration to coincide with yellow-bellied sapsuckers!

Sapsucker's have been plentiful in Ohio the last few weeks, and will be moving on soon. However, the arrival of new species continues, and the forecast is looking up. The next three days look promising for banding, so please stop by! And while you are here, be sure to take a quick look to see if you can spot a yellow-bellied sapsucker, or perhaps just a sign that they were here.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Spring has sprung!

      Spring is finally here, and what a perfect time to start up our blog! We will aim to update regularly with the newest information about our conservation efforts and how you can participate!

      The Scioto Audubon Metropark is buzzing! Song sparrows, robins and cardinals are counter-singing from every corner of the park, busy claiming their territories. The osprey pair has settled in nicely, great egrets and tree swallows are back and new migrants appear daily! Within the last few days, trees have started to show a hint of green as their buds emerge. What does this mean? It's time for bird monitoring, including spring banding!

     Banding started April 10th, and we had a great morning!  The day was warm and cloudy, and birds were active! We arrived and started setting up at 7am, and ran until rain forced us to close at 11am. In that short time, we banded 46 birds representing 15 species! Species included a beautiful male yellow-bellied sapsucker,  brown creepers, hermit thrush, brown thrashers, and three northern flickers.
          Northern flickers vary in color depending on whether they are eastern or western birds. Eastern birds are "yellow-shafted" and have yellow under their wings and tails. In the picture above, you can see this yellow, as well as the red crescent on the nape of its neck. Males have a black malar "mustache" region under the eyes. Western birds are "red-shafted", and lack the red patch behind the head. The males have a red mustache. Where the two may mingle, such as in the Rockies and western Midwest, the hybrids can have a lovely salmon orange tinge and intermediate characteristics!

        The bird above is a bit of an enigma, because it has a slight smattering of red feathers in its malar region. Not enough to truly be called a mustache, and they are RED not the black that one would expect! We will be doing a little more research to see if this is a hybrid!

      Did you know Northern flickers are special to the Grange Insurance Audubon Center? When the building was being constructed, the idea was put forth to use a specific bird for inspiration. That bird? You guessed it, the flicker! The browns, blacks, grays and red can be seen reflected in our building materials. So next time you stop by, take a moment to look around with the flicker in mind!

      Banding will continue until the end of May, please stop by! If you are interested in volunteering, please email Anne Balogh at


Friday, October 12, 2012

American Kestrel

Donald Stock 2012                                        
This female American kestrel was spotted frequently hunting in the grassy meadows of the Grange Insurance Audubon Center before she was captured in our mistnet in August. American kestrels are sexually dimorphic, meaning the males and females look different. Males have blue-gray on their wings and a rufous-red tail with one black subterminal band, while females are duller, with brown wings and multiple bars on their tail. We aged this bird as a hatch year using the terminal band on her tail.
Kestrels are the smallest falcon in North American, and are related to the peregrine falcon and merlin, both of which have also been sighted at the Grange Insurance Audubon Center!  Sometimes called sparrow hawks because of their small size, American kestrel’s scientific name, Falco sparverius, means “falcon of the sparrows”. It is very common to see kestrels on a high perch, such as utility wires, tall isolated trees or fence posts, scouting for their prey. The majority of their diet consists of insects (love those grasshoppers!) and small mammals, but urban kestrels have been shown to have a diet consisting primarily of small birds.

Kestrels often bob their heads, which allows them to estimate distance.  Their large eyes sit forward on their head, which allows them to have great depth perception. Their eyes also have a high density of cone receptors, enabling the bird to see detail from great distances! One last awesome fact about their eyesight! They can see in the UV spectrum, which allows them to see the urine trails of the small mammals they are hunting as they hover over a field. COOL!  

Donald Stock 2012                                                                         

American kestrel populations declined in the early and mid-1900s in many parts of North America as a result of a loss in nesting habitat. American kestrels are the only North American falcon or hawk to nest in cavities. They are a secondary cavity nester, which means they do not excavate their own nest, but rather use woodpecker holes, natural cavities, and crevices in rocks. As human population increased, crop fields and urbanized areas replaced suitable nesting habitat. Tree-lined field borders and fencerows were cleared, as were dead standing trees (snags). Luckily, kestrels take readily to nest boxes, and ongoing management practices of placing nest boxes on road signs along highways and in other areas of suitable kestrel habitat are helping their populations to recover.
What you can do:  If you have suitable kestrel habitat on your property, you too can aid this bird species by maintaining natural nesting options such as retained snags, or by providing artificial cavities in the form of nest boxes!

What is bird banding - a brief history.

What is bird banding? The simple answer is modern bird banding is a research technique that requires attaching an individually numbered metal tag around a bird’s leg for identification purposes.  However, the practice of marking birds has been around for centuries, and was definitely not standardized! The earliest record involves Henry IV and his personal peregrine falcons, which he banded with metal tags to mark as his property. In 1595, one was lost in France while hunting and showed up 1350 miles away in Malta just 24 hours later! Due to this recapture, we are able to know not only the fantastic distance the falcon flew, but that it’s speed was an average 56mph! John James Audubon is the first person to have "banded" birds in North America. In 1803, he tied silver cords to the legs of a family of phoebes, and relocated two of them the following year when they returned to his neightborhood. 
However, it wasn't until 1899, when a teacher from Denmark, Hans Mortensen, placed aluminum rings, marked with his address, on the legs of a variety of bird species that the basis for our current system was born.  His goal was to see if any of the bands would be recovered and returned to him. Since that time, bird banding has become a standard, systematic scientific research tool. Today, bird banding is regulated by the United States Geological Survey through the Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL). Birds are safely captured using mistnets, and extracted by trained banders. Bands are made of aluminum, and each has a unique identifying number that allows us to recognize a banded bird as an individual. Tens of millions of birds have been banded, and that information has allowed scientists to answer questions such as; where do birds go when they migrate, how old do they get, how long do they live and are populations  growing or declining?
Aside from the wealth of scientific information generated, banding provides a meaningful way to connect people to wildlife and conservation. Here at Grange Insurance Audubon Center, we conduct spring and fall migration banding to monitor birds using the Scioto Audubon Metroparks as a stopover site. We enlist volunteers, teach school groups and engage visitors and provide an opportunity to marvel at these little creatures that undergo such amazing journeys. So please, stop by, visit, and learn a little too!