Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cincinnati Birds

I'm on vacation now in Cincinnati, visiting with my folks and my sister Esme.  I tend to spend a lot of down time when visiting with family, reading and eating and chatting and strumming a guitar or two, maybe a movie as well.  I have gotten out once or twice, however; once to the Newport Aquarium where the highlight was a Pacific Giant Octopus.  These are truly amazing creatures, and no words could do them justice.  I hope someday I can see one in the wild. There is a great sequence in the book Island of the Blue Dolphins where the girl has a long battle of wills with an octopus in the shallows and tidepools of her island (one of the channel islands of California).  

There was also a requisite trip for Cincinnati Chili, and this year instead of Skyline we made the trek to Camp Washington Chili.  The basic template was the same, but the sauce was just a tad spicier and richer, I think, and the little oyster crackers were smaller (but of course you could have as many as you want).  Frank's Hot Sauce at the tables.  Now I can go a couple more months without cravings for this distinctive american treat.  

I've also discovered a very productive spot to go birding, a newish park called Armleder Park, along the west bank of the Little Miami River just a bit above its confluence with the Ohio. Near Lunken Airport.  It's a mix of recreational fields, dog park, bike trail, riverbank and fields managed for wildlife and nesting birds.  I discovered the website which has a log of local sightings and noticed that short-eared owls were dependably seen there.  These are amongst my favorite birds (as are most owls, and I am not alone in this) and so I made sure to make it down there.  I've gone twice now, and both times were very enjoyable and productive, with the focus on raptors.  5 species - short-eared owl, red-tailed hawk, american kestrel, northern harrier, and cooper's hawk.  In particular, the owls and harriers provided considerable drama.  The first day, we watched the owl snag a nice vole or mouse only to have the harrier attack and snatch the prize away in mid-air.  Today, the harrier was cruising along and suddenly dove into the grasses, rousting an owl into the air.  The owl was then mobbed by a large group of crows, twenty or so, for several minutes as the owl flew higher and higher in tight circles.  Finally the crows drifted away, one by one, and the owl stayed up in the air at considerable height for some time before descending.  I was thinking about how I'd never really heard of or seen owls fly so high in the air, and then I was wondering if the crows are likely to abandon their attack as the owl goes higher and higher, or what exactly was going on...mobbing behavior is so interesting and mysterious.  

Anyway, a great show (and apparently quite dependable) for such a smallish park on the outskirts of Cincinnati.  If only I could find the fox sparrows, merlin and red-headed woodpecker at Spring Grove Cemetery.  Next week, on to Whidbey Island in Puget Sound.  More birds await, as well as my two nieces, Gabriella and Sonja.  

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