Red-winged Blackbird


One of the most abundant birds across North America, and one of the most boldly colored, the Red-winged Blackbird is a familiar sight atop cattails and around areas with water.


Glossy-black males have scarlet-and-yellow shoulder patches. Females are a subdued, streaky brown, looking like a large, dark sparrow.


In the North, their arrival and tumbling song are indications of the return of Spring.

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There’s variation in Red-winged Blackbirds across the country. The most obvious race is the “bicolored blackbird” of coastal California, which shows no yellow border on its shoulders. Here’s one that I saw in April of last year.


Red-winged Blackbirds are highly social and form flocks all year, though during spring and summer the flocks are small.


This is one of the most easily observable birds. Watching them is fascinating and fun. You’ll never be bored trying to figure out all of their quirks and songs.


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Piebald White-tailed Deer


Walking the Buckeye Trail I saw a group of White-tailed Deer in a farmer’s field. One of them, however looked very different from the others.


A piebald is an animal that has white blotches in additional to its usual coloration. The patterning of the blotches are usually asymmetrical, resulting in a random arrangement of white and brown.


A genetic variation produces the piebald condition in White-tailed Deer, not parasites or diseases. Sometimes the condition is such that they appear almost entirely white.


Piebald and white deer have long been the subjects of hunting myth and legend. Some believe killing them brings a curse of bad luck during future hunts. For me it was a cool genetic variant of an otherwise common mammal to see on my hike.

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Little Nest Polypore

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As Winter comes to a close and I walk through the woods, I occasionally encounter Little Nest Polypores, which blend in with the snow. The cap of this mushroom is about 1-2 inches wide and is thin, fan-shaped and white.

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This common fungus grows “splash cups,” which are round hollow areas that contain spores. The spores are splashed out by falling rain to distribute them in other places and start new polypores.

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Its habitat is woodland forests and rather than growing on trees, it is usually found on small sticks. Polypores are also called bracket fungi, and their woody fruiting bodies (the only part of that organism one typically sees) are called conks.

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Polypores are among the most efficient decomposers of the main components of wood. Through decomposing tree trunks, they recycle a major part of nutrients in forests. Because of this, the nutrient cycle continues, and the forest remains alive and diverse.

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Hacklemesh Weaver

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Sometimes I find “wildlife” in my house, like this creature that turned up in my Living Room this week. Hacklemesh Weavers can live through the Winter and therefore are often found in households during cold weather.

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Outside, their irregular looking webs can be seen in bark and woodpiles and often have roughly the form of a funnel. This species is common in and around homes, but is also found living under rocks, logs and leaf litter. It prefers dark, relatively humid places.

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It is typical for this creature to have chevron-like lighter areas on its abdomen. Its legs are reddish to dark brown. It has eight eyes of relatively similar size, arranged in two horizontal rows of four.

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The Hacklemesh Weaver makes a special kind of silk. Instead of sticky strands, the silk is made of fine, woolly fibers that can entangle even the smallest prey. The spider feels the vibrations from the struggling victim and rushes out to capture it.

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In England, this arachnid is sometimes called the “Old Churchman” because it can be seen scurrying around on the walls and pews of old churches before rain storms.

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Silk-spinning spiders have been around for roughly 400 million years, and they’ve made good use of their time. Today, they occupy just about every habitable region of the Earth…as well as my house.

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Ring-billed Gull

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This is Ohio’s most common gull – it is also easy to identify. The head, neck and underparts are white and the relatively short bill is yellow with a dark ring. Its back and wings are silver gray.

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As you might expect gulls usually are found near large bodies of water; these were photographed near Lake Erie. Though this species is also a familiar sight in the shopping mall parking lots of the United States, where it can regularly be found congregating in large numbers.

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These birds forage for food and pick up objects while swimming, walking or wading. They also steal food from other birds and frequently scavenge. They have an omnivorous diet which may include insects, fish, grain, eggs, earthworms and rodents. These birds are opportunistic and have adapted well to taking food discarded or left unattended by people.

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Ring-billed Gulls nest in colonies on the ground, or sometimes in trees near lakes. They often nest near other water birds. The male and female work together to build the nest out of twigs, sticks, grasses, leaves, lichens and mosses.

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Females usually lay three eggs. The eggs are light blue, green or brownish and spotted. Both the male and female both incubate the eggs for about 20 to 31 days. After the chicks hatch, both parents take care of them.

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Ring-billed Gulls are highly social, occupying large colonies, especially during the breeding season. They defend small territories within nesting colonies. They engage in play, dropping objects while airborne, then swooping down to catch them.

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They often associate with other species of gulls, ducks and cormorants. By forming mixed flocks, birds help each other stay alert for potential danger.

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