Ornithology is for the birds

Wood Storks by Bruce Stambaugh
These Wood Storks appeared in a marshy area in Coshocton Co., Ohio in August 2008. They normally are coastal birds in the southern U.S.

By Bruce Stambaugh

More often than not, birders take it on the chin just for being birders. Compared to football, American or Australian, it’s not exactly a contact sport, at least in the physical sense.

Birding is, however, very popular worldwide. That might be because of the many amenities that bird watching affords, and those that it avoids, like unnecessary roughness.

Why is birding so universal? Let me count the ways.

Birding is fun. Birding can be enjoyed by all ages. Birding doesn’t require a lot of expensive equipment, though you can spend big bucks if you so choose. Birding can be free. The birds come to you.

Black Vultures by Bruce Stambaugh
The owners of this camper probably didn't expect to get this friendly with these Black Vultures.

Birding can be enjoyed year round. Birding is an inclusive activity. Birding can be enjoyed by persons of any age. In fact, it is not uncommon to find entire families enjoying the sport together.

Birding is addictive, turning that usually negative word on its head. Once you learn a little about birds, you intuitively want to know more.

Birding is interactive. Birds get to know you. You get to know the birds.

Green Herons by Bruce Stambaugh
I had the luxuary of observing this pair of young Green Herons from my back porch.

Birding can be done anytime anyplace, hiking, biking, sitting, traveling, on the beach, in the woods, on vacation, or while at work. All are good times to “bird.”

Birding not only introduces you to new species. You make new friends while enjoying an outing, too.

Birding is both personal and interpersonal. You make your own sightings, but immediately share the information with other birders to verify the identification. Others do the same for you. Birding it is both a sociable and a social sport. It is a whole lot more fun done with others than alone.

Birders by Bruce Stambaugh
Birding is a social sport, best enjoyed in the company of other birders, whether novice or experts.

Believe it or not, birding can and does get competitive, but in a good way. Many birders compile a life list, an accounting of all the bird species they have ever seen, which includes when and where.

When a rare bird is spotted, birders shun selfishness. They call other birders or have it posted on a bird alert website. Soon scores of birders show up hoping to see the rarity for themselves.

White-winged Crossbill by Bruce Stambaugh
A flock of White-winged Crossbills spent a few days in the Holmes Co., Ohio area in March 2009. They migrated from pine grove to pine grove, including the one in my own backyard.

When a quartet of Wood Storks, birds usually found in Florida, appeared in Coshocton Co., Ohio awhile back, someone asked me if I had seen them. I hadn’t. They gladly gave me directions and I was ready to go. But I didn’t go alone. I filled my van with other birders, three generations who wanted to see the storks, too.

Birding leads to hospitality. You welcome birds by feeding them. You greet and meet other birders if you have a rare bird arrive, even having them sign their names and where they are from. That’s just common etiquette among birders.

Tree Sparrow by Bruce Stambaugh
This Tree Sparrow found the perfect refuge from a harsh winter's storm.

Birding invigorates your senses. The range of songs and calls of birds are often heard before the birds are seen. The amazing array of bird plumage dazzles the imagination.

Birders are polite and follow directions. Hundreds of birders from 37 states and 10 countries attended the Midwest Birding Symposium recently in Lakeside, Ohio. A Lakeside resident was impressed that the birders actually stopped for stop signs.

Birders are clean and emphasize being green, preferring reusable water bottles to disposable plastic ones. Birders are nice to others and the environment.

Birders are teachers. They are happy to share what they know and see.

For the birds by Bruce Stambaugh
This vanity plate leaves no doubt about the hobby of this driver.

Ornithology is the scientific study of birds. Given all their positive characteristics, the study of birders could be labeled “civility.” Birders clearly are their own special flock.

It’s the plum time of year

Fall sunset by Bruce Stambaugh
The sunsets in the fall are truly amazing.

By Bruce Stambaugh

For those of us fortunate to live in North America’s temperate zone, this is the plum time of year. I mean that literally and figuratively.

The literal part is that locally grown plums are at the peak of their ripeness. I’m just plum crazy for plums.

I remember traveling with my grandfather, who knew as many people in the world as my gregarious father did. Grandpa Merle loved to stop at roadside produce stands, especially where he knew the proprietors. If they had ripe plums, he always bought a peck or two.

I loved everything about them, their simple size, their football shape, their blue violet sheen, their light greenish-yellow flesh, their sweet tart taste, and even the pit.

Sugar plums by Bruce Stambaugh
The variety of plums locally referred to as sugar plums.

I liked the size because, especially for a kid, they weren’t too big, which meant we could usually eat more than one. I liked their oblong shape because it was easy to bite in to.

I found the plum’s color inviting. The moist sweetness with the tart aftertaste was both delicious and curious. I liked the texture of their meat and the fact that, unlike other fresh fruit, you could bite into them without having juice run down your arm and drip off your elbow.

Much to my mother’s chagrin, I often plopped a whole one in my mouth. My mother highly discouraged my poor manners to no avail. I often eat the lovely plums the same way today.

Once devoured, that left the seed. I didn’t eat it of course. For whatever reason, I tucked the pit, which mirrored the shape of its fruit, into my left cheek and sucked on it for hours. I could play an entire baseball game with a plum seed nestled between my cheek and gum. It seemed to help keep my mouth moist. Besides, it was better than the usual baseball alternative, snuff.

All those memories resurfaced for me when my wife brought home some plums from the local produce stand. They were accompanied by Bartlett pears, squash, zucchini and preserved sugar beets, too. The fall harvest was on, one of the primary symbols of the season.

Holly berries by Bruce Stambaugh
The holly berries have turned bright red, a nice contrast against the bush's prickly green leaves.

We are enjoying an abundance of tomatoes that have seemed to ripen in our modest patch all at once. There isn’t one heirloom I don’t enjoy, and they can be eaten in so many different ways, right off the vine, fresh salsa, in sandwiches, sauces, and with pasta.

Our neighbors added to the feast by insisting we help them out by accepting and consuming a sampling of the last of their bumper crop of sweet corn. It was amazingly sweet for this late in the growing season.

The days have grown shorter and cooler, both daytime and night. The leaves on the deciduous trees have begun to turn. They started falling shortly after Labor Day.

The webs of black and yellow garden spiders catch the frequent morning mist and then sparkle diamonds in the sun’s rays. The sunrises and sunsets are breathtaking, each one picture perfect.

Golden rod by Bruce Stambaugh
Though weed that it is, golden rod brightens even the haziest of mornings.

The dogwood and holly berries are bright red. Yellow jackets are everywhere. Unkempt fields, once purple with ironweed blooms, have morphed to mustard with thousands of goldenrod heads bending from their fullness. Wild tickseed sunflowers brighten the dustiest roadside.

Autumn has arrived. Either metaphorically or realistically, transitioning from summer to fall in northern Ohio is a plum time of year.

An empty nest is a good thing

By Bruce Stambaugh

We humans can learn a lot from bird behavior.

A pair of Rose Breasted Grosbeaks had frequented a backyard hanging feeder filled with sunflower seeds for much of the summer. Time and again they ferried nourishment to their young somewhere deep in the woods. When they were ready, the young fledged and flew the coop. The nest was empty.

Rose Brested Grosbeak by Bruce Stambaugh
A male Rose Breasted Grosbeak at the oil sunflower feeder.

My wife and I knew early on in our child rearing that the day would come when our daughter and our son would both be gone. They would grow up and begin lives of their own. That’s as it should be.

The main role of parents is to raise your children the best you know how, imperfectly to be sure, and then let them go. They are adults. They can use their own wings to fly through this crazy world of ours.

Still, I have encountered parents who long for the days when their children were younger. They just can’t give them up, even though they are adults. The comments have not only come from newbie nesters, also known as helicopter parents, who hover over their college freshmen. Veteran parents whose “children” left long before our own also seem melancholy.

Empty nest by Bruce Stambaugh
No post about the empty nest would be complete without a picture of an empty nest, in this case a House Wren's nest in an Eastern Bluebird box.

Ideally, the child/parent relationship should go something like this. As infants, the children are totally dependent on the parents. As they grow and mature, they change from children to young adults, responsible for their own actions.

By their late teens, the kids may go off to college, like our children did, or simply leave home to begin life on their own. It is at this critical point in the family relationship cycle that parents need to freely release their offspring.

Unfortunately, given the current extended downturn in the global economy, jobs are harder to come by. The reality for some is that out of financial necessity adult children and sometimes grandchildren have had to move back in with parents and grandparents.

In the 16 years since our nest has been empty, my wife and I have had opportunities to travel without the constraints of busy teenagers’ schedules. More often, we have simply enjoyed our quiet times together. Of course we continue to interact with our grown children and the grandchildren as frequently as we can. But we have also learned to give them their own space.

Flower garden by Bruce Stambaugh
My wife gets many compliments on her beautiful flower gardens.

The empty nest has had another unexpected benefit. My wife and I have also rediscovered one another, and learned to enjoy our own hobbies and interests. Some we do as a couple. Others, like gardening for Neva and birding for me, we enjoy separately. We have gained individually and as partners.

I know humans have a higher calling than birds. Birds at least instinctively know that their role as parents is to sit on those eggs until they hatch, feed the chicks until they fly, teach them how to forage for food and to fear predators. After that, they are generally on their own.

For me, that’s where the comparison tilts to our advantage. We should strive for interdependence with our adult children, keeping in contact with them, always loving and communicating with them, without controlling or smothering them. Achieving that optimum goal can help combat the emptiness of the empty nest.

A healthy, nurtured interdependence between parents and adult children can result in the empty nest being a good thing for all involved, birds included.
Family by Bruce Stambaugh

Five easy steps to attract birds

Amish country by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

Feeding birds is easy, and fall is a great time to start. In fact, if you follow some simple but basic birding steps, you can attract returning migrants and hungry year-round residents to any backyard environment.

Keep in mind that different birds have different feeding habits and nutritional needs. Varying the style of the feeders, the kind of bird food used in each, and the feeders’ placement can greatly determine the popularity of your feeders.

1.            Identify your habitat

Once you decide to feed birds, it’s important to know what habitat you are in and establish the right feeders with the appropriate feed. Hanging out suet on a balcony in the city most likely won’t attract the desired birds. Doing so in the country or a loosely wooded backyard can yield great rewards.

Feeders placed in grassy suburban backyards or rural settings have the chance to attract the biggest variety of birds. Feeders should be placed where they can be easily observed through a window in your home, and stocked and maintained with the appropriate feed.

2.            Select your feeders

The key to successful feeding is to pick the correct feeder or feeders for your situation. A backyard that has even a small grassy opening surrounded by hedges, shrubs fields or trees may be perfect for every kind of bird feeding style. Feeders don’t have to be complicated or expensive either.

Birds feeding by Bruce Stambaugh
Even the top of an old stump can serve as an excellent feeding station for birds.

A simple piece of plywood placed on some bricks or small cement blocks would serve as a nice platform feeder for birds that prefer to feed at ground level. A hopper feeder could be hung from a porch overhang or a firmly planted shepherd’s hook. A hanging feeder, such as an empty mesh citrus sack, could hold high protein suet for birds that can cling to what they are eating.

Place the feeders where they will attract the most birds and are easily observed from the safety and warmth of your home. Placing a hanging feeder or a shelf feeder on your windowsill will bring the birds right to you.

3.            Keep the feeders filled

Once you start to feed the birds, keep at it, even if it takes the birds awhile to find your offerings. The feeders need to be kept filled, too. The ground feeder could be mixed wild birdseed or simply cracked corn spread out.

Filling the feeder by Bruce Stambaugh
Keeping feeders filled with seeds the birds like is critical to consistently attracting birds.
Stock hopper and hanging feeders with black oil sunflower seeds which many bird species enjoy. Thistle feeders are also popular with many species of birds in northern Ohio.

Suet feeders can be fat from the butcher, or you can either make or purchase cakes of suet that are loaded with peanuts and seeds. Those fit well into square wire feeders.

4.            Keep them cleaned

In addition to keeping the feeders full, it is critical that the feeders be attended to at least weekly. Even in cold weather, mold and disease can spread from uncared for feeders. Moisture can cause seed residue to crust, creating a potentially unhealthy situation for the birds.

Clean out any clogged holes in hanging or hopper feeders and make sure the seeds appear properly. Clear away any accumulated material. Tray feeders and even the bare ground should be raked periodically to remove spent seed hulls and bird droppings. Suet feeders should be checked for any signs of decay or mold.

Binoculars by Bruce Stambaugh
A good pair of binoculars, when used properly, can enhance birdwatching.

5.              Keep a record

For most birders, keeping track of what is seen is half the fun. Again, this is not a difficult or time-consuming task. Keep a notebook and pencil handy and record the day, time, weather, and type of bird you saw. You will be surprised how quickly the number of species adds up on your yard list. Do this annually and you will have an accurate and personal record of what birds you saw, when and under what conditions.

A good bird guide is also an essential tool. Easy to use bird books are available at area shops and bookstores. Having a good pair of binoculars can enhance your bird viewing, too. After all, watching the birds eat is the main objective.

Putting up feeders, keeping them filled and cleaned, and keeping track of what you saw is a wonderful way to pleasantly pass the time when the weather outside is frightful. The birds need the food, and with a front row seat you will be glad for the variety of aviary entertainment without having to go out into the elements yourself.

Bluebird by Bruce Stambaugh
Feeding birds sometimes brings pretty surprises, like a hungry Eastern Bluebird.

This story first appeared in Around the House.

Helping children find a better life

By Bruce Stambaugh

Joe Heatwole, 33, of Dalton, Ohio went to Nicaragua to help a friend inspect some land and came back with an idea to help scores of children.

Heatwole has turned that idea into reality thanks to his own hard work and the help of several others. The production manager at Valley View Oak near Mt. Hope put his management skills to good use.

Joe Heatwole by Bruce Stambaugh
Joe Heatwole displays a bag of Better Life Coffee.

While visiting in the rural Nicaraguan mountains, Heatwole saw the needs of many poor and orphaned children. He was determined to help them if he could.

He came up with what he thought was a logical solution. Americans love coffee, and San Marcos, Nicaragua just happens to produce great tasting, high altitude, shade grown coffee that is low in acid.

Better Life Coffee was born. The name reflects the purpose of the mission.

“If you can help a child,” Heatwole said, “you never know their potential.”

The conditions Heatwole saw in Nicaragua, the second poorest country in Central America, drove his passion to help.

“What I saw was a life of hopelessness,” Heatwole said. His hope is to raise enough funds by selling Better Life Coffee, which is labeled fair market coffee, to build a boarding school for up to 60 children.

Heatwole said there would be six homes built for the children, three for boys, and three for girls.

“We don’t want to westernize them,” he explained. “We just want to give them a good education.”

Heatwole, who was born in Alberta, Canada, said local people would be used to build the boarding school. He said the goal is to have the construction completed in a year.

While waiting for a plane at the airport in Managua, Nicaragua, he randomly met Bill Sullivan, who works with indigenous tribes there.

“Bill is looking to translate the Bible into their native language,” Heatwole said. “He also wants to start a coffee plantation for them.”

Coffee berries by Bruce Stambaugh
Shade grown coffee berries ready to be picked.

With Sullivan’s support and contacts in Nicaragua, Heatwole was able to put his idea of selling coffee into action. First, though, he and his wife, Heather, decided to dip into their own savings and purchase the first 960 pounds of coffee.

Since the coffee beans are shipped green, Heatwole needed to find a place to roast the beans. He turned to the proprietors of Wallhouse Coffee in Sugarcreek for advice since they roast their own coffee. They agreed to store and roast the coffee as needed.

Heatwole said Better Life Coffee is a recognized nonprofit company in Ohio.

“That means that everything earned goes to help the children in Nicaragua,” he said.

Heatwole’s philosophy is simple. “Since most people drink coffee,” he said, “why not have your money go to a good cause?”

Better Life Coffee by Bruce Stambaugh
The label says it all.

He said the coffee may be purchased at Jitters and Surplus 61 in Millersburg, and at P. Graham Dunn in Dalton. The coffee can also be ordered online at Better Life Coffee on Facebook or by emailing betterlifecoffee@gmail.com. Whether whole bean or ground, the coffee sells for $11 a pound.

Heatwole sees selling the coffee as a great fundraiser for youth groups. He said he plans on leading a group of interested persons to Nicaragua early next year so they can see firsthand what the needs are there.

Heatwole said the goal is to raise $10,000 from coffee sales. Others will help raise additional funds through different channels to complete the boarding school, according to Heatwole.

The lights of September 11, 2001

By Bruce Stambaugh

My memories from September 11, 2001 are bathed in an emotional kaleidoscope of lights that seemed to guide me through that infamous day.
Sun rays by Bruce Stambaugh
The first light broke with the sunrise as I readied for work. I stood awestruck at the beauty that played out before me. The light from the morning sun glinted in bright shafts of beams through and around the leafy branches of the giant black oak tree directly across from our home. A misty ground fog was rising, reflecting and refracting light beams every which way.

The haze had dissipated and the sky turned pure sapphire by the time I reached my workplace. The sun had no competition now. The brightness of the crystal clear day buoyed me.

A lengthy phone call interrupted my regular startup office routine, which included turning on the radio. The caller went on and on, unnecessarily repeating point after point.

The second line on my phone rang. By the time I could rid myself of the windy caller, the other call had already gone into my voice mail.

Soon the little red light on the phone began to blink, the signal that I had a message. It was from our son, who lived and worked in New York City. Despite the passage of time, I can still distinctly hear his words.

“Dad,” Nathan’s message said, “Something has happened at the World Trade Center. We don’t have Internet or TV. Can you tell me what’s going on?”

I hung up and quickly turned on the radio. The first thing I heard was that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. I bolted to the receptionist’s desk to find out what was happening. I was told that a plane had flown into one of the Twin Towers in New York City.

I tried to reach my son at his workplace, which was just south of Times Square. Neither his office phone nor cell phone would ring through. Fear gripped me.

Nathan's shadow by Bruce Stambaugh
Our son, Nathan, during a break while on a work project near San Marcos, Ocotopeque, Honduras

I went to a TV to watch what was happening. By then, the second tower had been hit, and reports were coming in of another plane down in southwestern Pennsylvania.

At 10:45 a.m., I was paged for a phone call. I picked up the line and it was my son.

“Dad,” he said trying to cover his anxiety, “I don’t know how I got a line out to you. I just wanted you to know that I’m OK but that Manhattan is locked down. No one is going in or out.”

Despite our mutual fears, an indescribable light of love connected my son and I through those phone wires. We spoke for about 10 minutes until Nathan said that others wanted to use his phone. By late afternoon we were calmed with the news that our son had safely returned to his apartment.
Holding hands by Bruce Stambaugh
At the end of that incredibly long, exhausting day another light shown. The live TV coverage broadcast a surreal scene. The evening’s sun filtered through the gray, smoldering debris at Ground Zero. A ghostly spire, all that structurally remained of the Twin Towers, reflected and refracted light beams eerily similar to those at the oak that morning. I hoped that some good could come of this horrific international catastrophe.

Now a decade removed, I still cling to that desire, though too many lives have had their own individual lights snuffed out. I long for the light of peace among all peoples, even if it means the need to share that light one person at a time.

Seniors prove that art is ageless

Star Light Star Brigh quilt by Bruce Stambaugh
Betty Hofstetter of Millersburg, Ohio won Best of Show at the Art is Ageless exhibit held at Walnut Hills Retirement Community, Walnut Creek, Ohio.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The first art show held by Walnut Hills Retirement Community in Walnut Creek, Ohio lived up to its billing. The “Art is Ageless” exhibit attracted 54 area artists who entered 117 pieces in the event held August 27 at Walnut Hills Retirement Home.

“We were very pleased in every aspect,” said Paula Miller, community relations coordinator at Walnut Hills. She estimated more than 300 people viewed the first-time art show.

“We were happy with the number of seniors who entered and the high quality of their work,” Miller said. To qualify for exhibiting at the show, entrants had to have completed the work they submitted for judging when they were at least 55 years old.

Art is Ageless by Bruce Stambaugh
More than 300 people viewed the 117 pieces of artwork entered in the Art is Ageless exhibit.

The various art pieces were displayed in the spacious common areas of the retirement home. The award winners in five different categories were announced at a reception for participants and their family held in the evening of August 26.

A large, vividly colored and finely stitched quilt by Betty Hofstetter of Millersburg was judged as Best of Show. Hofstetter said the quilt, titled “Star Light, Star Bright,” was done from a Jane Martin pattern.

First place winners by category included:

Hard Crafts – Wooden Jewelry Box by Richard Schubert, of Walnut Creek.

Soft Crafts – A quilt titled “Second Hand Rose” by Joyce Tomcho, of Walnut Creek.

Paintings and Drawings – A watercolor titled “River Run” by Marian Stambaugh, of Walnut Creek.

Photography – A color photograph of Mt. McKinley by Randy Starner, of Sugarcreek

Miscellaneous – “Fuchsia and Pink Garden Necklace” by Juanita Schubert, of Walnut Creek.

The People’s Choice Award, voted on by patrons who viewed the exhibit, went to Tomcho for her quilt titled, “Woodland Creatures.”

Jeremy Kauffman, administrator at Walnut Hills, said his staff was a little nervous about holding an art show. In addressing a crowd of 100 people at the artists’ reception, Kauffman said, “We hoped we would get enough entries just to have a show.” The response to the exhibit showed that they did not have to worry.

“I had no idea that there were this many talented people here,” Kauffman said.

In explaining why Walnut Hills held the art show, Kauffman said, “Creativity is one of our values.” He said they wanted to host a venue to display the artistry of area residents.

Miller said the staff was “just thrilled” with the response to the show.

“It took a lot of work from staff members and community volunteers to make it happen,” she said. “But it was definitely worth it.”

Kauffman said they plan on making the “Art is Ageless” exhibit an annual event.

Walnut Hills by Bruce Stambaugh
Jeremy Kauffman, administrator at Walnut Hills Retirement Community in Walnut Creek, Ohio, address the senior artists and their guests.