Tuesday, February 27, 2007

OOS, Owls, Oxford, OH

Tuesday, February 27, 2007
As noted in my previous post, we spent the weekend (and by we I mean the whole fam damily, including our youngest child, Chet Baker) hanging at Hueston Woods State Park, near Oxford, Ohio with the Ohio Ornithological Society. It was the OOS' first-ever Owl Symposium and a capacity crowd turned out.

Julie and I started the weekend's proceedings off on Friday night with some music, featuring our musician pal John Kogge of Oxford. We played acoustic folk and Americana music (if the Beatles, Wilco, and The White Stripes can be classified as Americana) for about three hours, and though it had almost nothing to do with birds, the assembled birders seemed to dig it just the same. Due to restraining orders and contractual complications, we were forced to play under the nom de tune of Chick Sandwich.

Chick Sandwich LIVE!: John Kogge, Julie Zickefoose, BOTB. Image stolen from Jim McCormac.

More than 250 bird watchers from Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana showed up for the Owl Symposium, the OOS's first-ever major event in the southwestern part of The Buckeye State. Saturday morning we gathered in the banquet room for breakfast and some owl-centric talks. Dave Russell an ornithology prof from Miami started with a talk about the physiology of owls. And, Larri, the rehab/demonstration female great horned owl he brought along contributed a nice pellet and a long squirt of white wash at exactly the right moment.

Kelly Williams-Sieg talked about her longtime banding project focused on migrating saw-whet owls in Ohio. I served as emcee for the weekend, and as bird sound DJ for the talks, cueing up the correct song on my iPod (special thanks to Denese and the folks at birdJam) and playing it through the sound system for all to hear.

The crowd at Hueston Woods was larger than expected.

Among the funniest moments of Saturday was when Julie Zickefoose, the first speaker of the afternoon, asked me to play the barn owl screech during her talk. She quoted Jeff Gordon's assessment of the barn owl's vocalization as "midnight on the bird clock from hell!" Big laugh!

After Julie's informative and movingly poetic talk, we headed out for some afternoon field trips. I led one of three groups to the Big Woods nearby. Our expectations were modest. This being a cold, gray winter afternoon with all the local lakes frozen solid, we expected to find few birds. We found more than a few, which was a nice surprise. Among the highlights: both vultures (they roost on the Hueston Woods lodge chimney), brown creeper, pileated, hairy, downy, red-bellied woodpeckers, a mix of duck species, two barred owls (one perched, one calling), horned larks, and a sleeping raccoon.

Glassing the trees for a pileated woodpecker.

We later found this pileated in the parking lot.

Back at the lodge, we reconvened for dinner and the weekend's keynote speaker, Denver Holt founder of The Owl Research Institute. To preserve the peace, I forked over rolls of cash to Phoebe and Liam, ( their college fund money) which they squandered in the arcade. (Liam later said: "Hey Dad Dude: That grabber-claw thing is a major rip-off!")

OOS Executive Director Jim McCormac worked the room, generating more new OOS members.

Denver Holt is a high-energy speaker. Think of a leprechaun/auctioneer on Jolt Cola and you'll get the idea.

Denver has spent more than a decade studying snowy owls on the tundra outside Barrow, Alaska. How lucky is that? He gets to spend all summer long with a species most of us get to see only once a decade or so.

It takes a real man to spend an entire summer on the tundra watching snowy owls and weighing lemmings.

Denver told amazing stories and showed amazing photos of the snowy owls he studies in Barrow, Alaska.

Because of his speaking style (constant motion, constant chatter) the OOS erected an elongated stage for Denver to use while giving his talk. His talk was fascinating--full of cool lore about the Great White Owl. An I'll bet Denver walked 5 miles back and forth on the stage while speaking. If you have a chance to see Denver speak, grab it! Later on, Denver led a rousing owl hooting competition in the nearby lounge.

Later Saturday night a huge ice/snow storm hit the area, forcing the cancellation of the late-night owling trips and forcing many attendees to change their plans for travel. Just driving from the lodge to our cabin was tricky since the snow plows had not yet passed.

Sunday morning dawned warmer, with most of the snow on the roads reduced to slush and puddles. We combined all the field trips into three different groups heading over into Hoosier Country (Indiana) to Brookville Lake. Brookville had the only expanses of open water around, so wintering and early-returning waterfowl were concentrated there. On the Dunlapsville Road causeway we had a dozen species of ducks, plus sandhill crane, cackling (Canada) goose, eastern meadowlark, and northern shrike!

Down the lake, at Sagamore Resort, we had even larger concentrations of ducks, plus bald eagles, and white-fronted geese (seen after we left). It was a great ending to a fun weekend with Bird People.

An OOSer scans the ducks to pick out the pintails, gadwall, wigeon, and green-winged teal. Lots of common goldeneye there!

Floating between the ice floes, many of the ducks were performing courtship displays, especially the goldeneyes,

After leaving our birding buddies still ogling the waterfowl at Sagamore, we high-tailed it to Oxford for a short visit with the Kogges in their charming abode. We ate too much, laughed real hard, then hit the pavement eastbound for home.

We're hoping to return to Oxford soonest to have a longer visit with John Kogge and family. I need to finish that Birds and Bees talk with him.


On February 27, 2007 at 10:00 PM Anonymous said...

Great post, BT3, and fantastic performance not only as emcee but with the band! That goes for Jules, too! We had a great time, and look forward to the next one!


On March 5, 2007 at 11:22 AM DeeAnne said...

hmm, I love the white stripes, and I love birds. sounds like a fun time. I got to see denver holt speak and even do a long-eared owl mating dance.