OOS, Owls, Oxford, OH
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.
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.
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.
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!")
Denver Holt is a high-energy speaker. Think of a leprechaun/auctioneer on Jolt Cola and you'll get the idea.
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.
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.