Timing is everything, especially when birding

Courting Egrets by Bruce Stambaugh
I caught this pair of Great Egrets in their courting ritual at the Venice, FL Rookery. The Great Blue Heron to the left didn't seem too impressed.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The weather was dreary and cold, with occasional snow flurries. It was just another winter’s day in Holmes County, Ohio as far as I was concerned. But it turned out to be so much more than that.

I drove the nine miles east to check on my mother, who lives in a local nursing home. I kept my visit short as usual, making sure I had refilled Mom’s bowl of jellybeans before I said goodbye.

As I was driving home a flash of white caught my attention to the right just east of Berlin, center of the world’s largest Amish population. Besides the color, the bird’s large wings, small head and short tail were all instantly noticeable.

I checked traffic and slowed my vehicle. The bird’s rapid, steady flight cut directly across my path right to left, giving me a full, close view for nearly a minute.

By its distinctive wingbeats, its size and color, I reckoned it was a Snowy Owl. Given my situation, I had no other choice. I had to keep alert driving, yet I tried to keep my eyes on this rare bird.

Ospreys at Corolla NC by Bruce Stambaugh
While vacationing in Corolla, NC, I happened upon this pair of Ospreys building a nest on a rooftop.
I didn’t have either my binoculars or camera along. The only thing to do was to keep driving and hope that I could spot it again as I made my way west through town.

Snowy Owls recently had been reported all across the midwestern part of the country, including Ohio. This was far south of their normal winter range. Experts speculated that the owls came in search of food. Normally nocturnal, Snowy Owls will hunt in the daytime when stressed by hunger.

As I motored through two signal lights and the usual clog of traffic in the busy unincorporated village, I kept looking south. I spotted the bird off and on, and saw it gliding as if it was going to land southwest of town.

Once I reached the open area west of Berlin, I again found the white owl, this time flapping its large wings. As I headed down the hill colloquially dubbed Joe T. hill, I lost sight of this magnificent bird. I didn’t know if it had landed or flown out of sight.

My only option had been to observe every detail of the bird that I could while driving. In the birding world, that process is called reckoning, meaning noting the birds shape, size, flight pattern, and behavior.

To be sure of my sighting, I consulted several bird books when I got home. They confirmed what I had seen. I reported the sighting to the rare bird alert. That way others in the area might see the owl, too.

That’s the way birders are. Half the joy of watching birds is sharing what is seen with others.

Amish boys biking by Bruce Stambaugh
Young Amish boys like these young men often will bike miles to go birding.
Ohio’s Amish country is blessed with an abundance of excellent birders, many of them in their early teens. It is not uncommon for them to get a group together, and bike for miles to go birding for a day.

They keep track of what they see, species, numbers and locations. And if they happen to spot an unusual bird, the word gets spread quickly so others may enjoy the opportunity as well.

In this case, I couldn’t believe my good fortune to be at just the right place at just the right time to see a Snowy Owl. I considered myself extremely fortunate to have seen this rare bird.

When birding, like so many other situations in life, timing is everything.

2012 calendar looks to be a bit on the crazy side

Eerie sunset by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

We were having a right nice 2012 until January 13th arrived. Of course, it was a Friday, the day the first disruptive snowstorm of the season hit the northeast Ohio area.

Forsythia by Bruce StambaughUntil then, the winter weather had been more like early spring. People reported dandelions and forsythia blooming. I even saw a pussy willow bush ready to open. One person bragged about mowing the lawn at the end of December.

Then along came Friday the 13th. Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not blaming the snowstorm on that supposedly superstitious day. In fact I’m not even superstitious, knock on wood.

I had to wonder though if this was going to be the first of several goofy events, either natural or human induced, to occur in 2012. I’m only thinking this because of the way the year’s universal calendar plays out.

Besides the Friday the 13th snowstorm, this is also a leap year. People born on February 29 will finally get to celebrate their Birthday by Bruce Stambaughbirthdays again. February, the shortest month of the year even with Leap Day, has five Wednesdays this year. September has its usual 30 days, and five of them are Sundays.

Of the 12 months, three begin on a Sunday, one on a Monday, one on a Tuesday, two on a Wednesday, two on a Thursday, one on a Friday and two on a Saturday. I think we can thank the Leap Year phenomenon again for making sure no day got ignored.

Other oddities include Washington’s Birthday and Ash Wednesday coinciding. April Fools’ Day and Palm Sunday share the same date. A full moon occurs on Good Friday. August is the only month that has two full moons, August 2 and 31. September’s full moon also occurs on the last day of the month.

Unless you have been hiding in a cave, you have long figured out that 2012 is also a presidential election year. Given the candidates performances so far, that alone would make 2012 a bit tilted.
Flag and bunting by Bruce Stambaugh
To add to the calendar party, we have to mention the Mayan calendar references December 21 as being the day the world ends. That day just happens to be this year’s winter solstice. Maybe we won’t have to worry about winter anymore.

Of course, as we learned last year and a thousand times before, the Mayans can’t claim title to announcing the end of time. Harold Camping still has some explaining to do from last year’s fruitless end-times predictions.

Playing off the fears of an already unsettled global society, the goofiness goes on. For instance, one claim for this year is that a previously unknown planet will hit Earth. Right, and the Cleveland Indians will beat the Chicago Cubs in the World Series thanks to an assist by Steve Bartman.

Another oddball prediction has the Earth’s magnetic poles switching places, sparked by a series of solar storms. Better stock up on sunscreen before the prices go up.

Number 13 by Bruce StambaughThere is yet one more piece of information that just might sway you to cash in all your stocks, sell your property and give the proceeds to a respectable charity. Of course it involves Friday the 13th. There are three of them in 2012, January 13, April 13 and July 13.

That in itself may not be so statistically unusual until you hear what my friend, Mic, discovered. The three Friday the 13ths are each 13 weeks apart.

To quote my good friend, “Be forewarned.”

Another crazy year comes to an end

By Bruce Stambaugh

No matter what society you live in, news is an important element of belonging. As social beings, we have an innate need to know. That drive manifests itself differently in different people.

I enjoy the human interest stories that tend to consistently run beneath the mainstream media’s radar. Here is a sampling of some of those lesser known but equally important stories of 2010 that I came across.

Jan. 22 – A half-pound meteorite crashed through the roof of a doctor’s office in Lorton, Va., landing just 10 feet from the doctor, who was working on patients’ charts.

Feb. 9 – The Mortgage Bankers Association sold its building for half the amount it had paid for it, and decided to rent.

Feb. 14 – A pothole delayed the Daytona 500 race for two and a half hours.

March 31 – Minnesota Twins leadoff hitter Denard Span fouled a hard line drive into the stands in a spring training baseball game, hitting a spectator, his mother.

April 5 – Twin boxers Travis and Tarvis Simms were arrested for getting into a fight with each other in Norwalk, Conn.

May 10 – A farm in Oklahoma, where scenes from the movie Twister were filmed, was hit by a real tornado.

May 17 – It took Jack Harris of Shepton Mallet, England, nearly eight years to complete his 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, only to discover one piece was missing.

June 9 – Researchers revealed the discovery of the world’s oldest known shoe, a 5,500-year-old single piece of leather laced up the front and stuffed with grass, which was found in a cave in Croatia.

July 13 – Keith McVey, a mail carrier in Akron, saved a man’s life by performing CPR. Two years earlier McVey saved a teenage girl from drowning, also while delivering his mail. He had saved yet another man’s life 20 years ago.

August 10 – A report on the state of health of Americans revealed that, on average, waistlines have increased an inch per decade since the 1960s.

August 11 – A contractor marking a school zone in Guilford County, N.C., committed the ultimate typo by painting “shcool” across the road.

Sept. 14 – When 5-year-old Andrew Polasky won a moose-calling contest held at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage, his mother said she wasn’t surprised because her son “is good at making a lot of noise.”

Sept. 26 – James Heseldon, 62, owner of the company that makes the Segway, died when he accidentally drove one of the two-wheeled scooters off a cliff near his estate in West Yorkshire, England.

Oct. 6 – National Geographic research linguists in northeastern India found a new language, Koro, still spoken by only about 1,000 people.

Oct. 24 – Jonathan Byrd won the PGA Shriners Open in Las Vegas, Nev. with a hole-in-one on the fourth hole of a three-way playoff.

Nov. 4 – A retired Canadian couple revealed that they had given away to family and selected charities all but two percent of the $11.3 million they had won in a lottery in July.

Nov. 12 – A study showed that people who take notes, scribble, or even doodle while listening have better memories than those who don’t.

Dec. 11 – A report by http://www.Forbes.com listed Ohio third in the nation for people moving out of the state. New York was number one.

I wonder what interesting stories 2011 will bring?