Naturalist Notes- A Trembling of Finches

A group of Pine Siskins is referred to a ‘charm,’ ‘company,’ or a ‘trembling.’

Just as their name implies, Pine Siskins feed on seeds from pines and other conifers. This finch ranges erratically across North America, common in Ohio one winter, then completely absent the next. Watch (and listen) for large flocks of Siskins feeding in conifers, or even at your backyard bird feeder.

Naturalist Notes- You Make My Head Spin!

Hey Valentine! You make my head spin!

Eastern Screech Owl- Photo by Rich Pendlebury

The Eastern screech is one of Ohio’s most common owls. Heavily reliant on nesting cavities, any habitat with plenty of trees is likely to contain one of these inconspicuous owls. Around this time of year, late February, many screech owls form monogamous pairs, and begin nesting.

These owls have quite an elaborate courtship ritual; the male will approach the female, trilling closer and closer from different branches. He then performs a series of displays to further draw her attention, including body bobbing, head swiveling, and slowly winking. If the pairing is successful the two may remain together for life. Happy Valentines Day!

Captured on the Trail Cam

Earlier this summer, Wahkeena’s staff partnered with a grad student from Ohio University who was collecting data on bobcat DNA, and their population numbers in Southeastern Ohio. Although several bobcat sightings have been reported nearby, we have never confirmed a sighting here at Wahkeena. Working with the researcher, we created a set-up to draw in any bobcats that may be in the area.

In each photograph, you’ll see  a tree with a strange wire contraption around its trunk- this was assembled by the OU grad student. Just like a typical house cat, bobcats also rub against rough surfaces, either to relieve an itch, or to mark a territory. Twisted in the wire, are miniature saw blades meant to grab hold of loose hairs. If we ever do capture footage of a bobcat, the hairs will be collected and used to study its DNA.

Now, how do we get these curious cats to visit our tree? By creating a smelly situation! Each week, we visit the location with a bottle of Cavens ‘Gusto’ predator lure, meant to attract coyote, fox, and bobcat. The lure smells like a skunk sprayed an Italian restaurant- an unpleasantly rich scent of skunky garlic. Below is a photo of Nora spreading lure on the tree.

Wahkeena Naturalist, Nora, setting out the scent lure

Even though we have yet to capture evidence of a bobcat, we were surprised at just how many species have visited the camera! Let’s take a look at some of our favorite photos:

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Raccoons are among the most common visitors to the camera, photographed  almost every night. They often seem to be inquisitive, climbing the lure covered tree or investigating our camera! As opportunistic omnivores, Raccoons will eat pretty much anything they can get their hands on. Feeding mainly on plant matter, our Wahkeena Raccoons forage for berries, nuts, seeds, crayfish, frogs, and insects.

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Opossums seem particularly attracted the the scent lure, sometimes visiting the camera three to four times a night!  In one of the photos above, an opossum is shown vigorously rubbing its head against the bark. This behavior in opossums is common during the breeding season (February to March and May to July), the male opossum licks and rubs his head against objects, hoping that his scent will attract females. Female opossums will also lick and rub to leave a scent, but not as often or as energetically as the males.

skunk 1
Striped Skunk

An occasional visitor, the Striped Skunk has been recorded in this location only a couple times this summer. The Striped Skunk’s Latin name is Mephitis mephitis. ‘Mephitis’ literally translates to ‘ foul smelling’ or ‘poisonous gas.’ This means that someone thought the skunk smelled so bad, they named it ‘foul smelling’ not just once- but twice! Of course, skunks do not go around spraying everything. If threatened, the skunk will first attempt to run away. If cornered, it will then warn the aggressor of the impending spray by curving its body, hissing, growling and shaking its tail. If the predator has still not backed off, the skunk will then spray and make its final escape.

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Also attracted to the lure are the canines, Foxes and Coyotes. At the start of the summer, we were used to looking through photos of  raccoons, opossum, white-tailed deer, squirrels and the occasional bird.  Months later, deer sighting in this area are few and far between, while the canines are much more prevalent. As a prey animal, perhaps the deer have learned to avoid this area.

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Perhaps our most unusual visitor to date was the Great Horned Owl. What is most interesting is that although Great Horned Owls are a primary predator of Striped Skunks, it was not the skunky smell of the lure that invited this raptor in. Owls have an extremely poor sense of smell, and would not have been attracted to the odor, no matter how powerful it was. Our current theory is that this particular owl may have been attracted to the area by another animal- such as a mouse squeaking or a flying squirrel scurrying away.

Southern Flying Squirrels have been photographed in this same location. It is hard to believe they are one of Ohio’s most common squirrels since they are rarely seen. As a nocturnal animal, they are active while most of us are asleep. It should also be noted that Flying Squirrels do not actually fly, instead they glide from tree to tree using loose folds of skin in between their front and back legs.

Flying Squirrel
Southern Flying Squirrel

Most of the time, the camera captures photos like this, and it is our job to figure out what the mystery animal is. In this case, it turned out to be a fox.

Fox Silhouette


Now, it is your turn… See if you can spot both coyotes in the photo below:

2 hiding coyotes
Find BOTH coyotes hidden in this photo. HINT: Not all of the hidden coyote is visible, its BARK is worse than its bite.

Time for a really tough one! In the photo below, look to right of the trunk, near the base of the tree. What creature do you think is hiding? Take a guess, then click on this link to read our theory! The red and black coloration may give you a hint. If you want to narrow your search, take a look at our species list located at the bottom of this post.

Look to the right of the tree, near the base. Check your answer here.

For additional trail cam photos check out our Facebook page- this is where we will post future updates.

Full list of species captured on the trail camera:

  • White-tailed Deer
  • Opossum
  • Raccoon
  • Striped Skunk
  • Fox Squirrel
  • Gray Squirrel
  • Flying Squirrel
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Blue Jay
  • Swainson’s Thrush
  • Wild Turkey
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Great Horned Owl
  • Coyote
  • Red Fox
  • Gray Fox

Hey…what’s that white stuff?

The predicted 1-2 inch snow has become 5 inches and counting. This morning saw white-out conditions with visibility at a couple of feet! Read More

A Day in the Life…Part 52

It is December 31, 2015 and we have come almost full circle. The picture below first appeared in Part 1 and shows Lake Odonata completely frozen over as we began 2015. At home the wood stove had been burning non-stop for over a month. This year…four days!

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A Carmen Warner’s Christmas

Dr. Frank Warner and Carmen Hambleton Warner

Twelve Days of ChristmasThe Wahkeena Version

On the first day of Christmas 
my true love gave to me:
an old farm in Fairfield County

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A Day in the Life…Part 51

Winter came back this week with cold and snow flurries. Saturday night two Great Horned owls were really hooting it up in the pine woods just a short distance from the nature center. It’s the beginning of their mating season again.

On Thursday, Nora and I made a pilgrimage of sorts to Chillicothe, Ohio. The purpose of our trip was to visit the final resting place of our founders. Read More

A Day in the Life…Part 50

Well, as I stated in the last post lots of time spent pulling invasive euonymus, but also taking advantage of the good weather to do needed home repairs. Yesterday afternoon, while walking back from a euonymus pick Nora spotted something in the pond. But was it a turtle or just a log sticking out of the water? Read More

A Day in the Life…Part 48… and 49

OK, so there is/was no Part 48.  What happened? Oh, the usual… Thanksgiving holiday festivities, home repairs, backed up sewer line at work….you know the usual.

Meanwhile back at the preserve…. Read More

A Day in the Life…Part 47

It’s been another pretty quiet week around the nature center…

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