Monday, January 25, 2010


I was staring out the patio doors this morning thinking about taking a walk, when three separate times a torrent of ice balls poured down onto the deck, as if God were salting the earth. Each one hit the wood, popped up and out in all directions like sparks, then eventually dissolved and disappeared.  Earlier I noticed it was dark as dusk in the house and wondered if there was a tornado brewing somewhere.  Eventually, the falling ice turned into another rain drizzle, so I decided to tough it out and walk to the mailbox to turn in my Netflix DVD, then go exploring (maybe even wind up with a bunch of munchkins…I could only hope).

The ground was obviously saturated from yesterday’s steady shower, so I donned some thick socks and my “wellies,” which made the long trek back up the steep, soggy, gravel road a bit more exhilarating than usual.  The gray sky began to show inklings of blue, and by the time I made it to the woods, the sun was completely exposed, making every wet leaf, dark branch and rock, more solid and real in my eyes.  Then instantly, like some kind of game, it was hidden again.
My walk on the Refresher Course didn’t yield any other out of the ordinary finds at ground or eye level.  But back at the house, up and over the hills, the sky quietly displayed a drama of dark billows and silver sun rays blasting out of clear blue openings in the clouds.  For just a moment, it held, then floated east, changing into a single saturated backdrop that restrained so much light behind it, I could not bear looking up for long.

Now I sit here at my desk feeling the lightness that comes from clearing your head and lungs on a good hike, and wondering which way the day will go.  Out the window to my right, the sky is overcast and dotted with more gray clouds.  Out the patio doors on my left, the deck is lit with sunshine and that backdrop is unveiling a few small ponds of cerulean sky.   Fickle afternoon?

Sunday, January 3, 2010


December 21st came and went, but signs of winter were showing up at Prairie Pond Woods long before then. And not just the “bad” ones we think of like icy, gray days and cold winds…but the good harbingers, too.

Seed usually goes into the bird feeders right around the Winter Solstice, so “snowbirds” like juncos and white-throated sparrows have been visiting regularly. I’m waiting patiently for the white-crowned and fox sparrows I’ve seen in previous years. These are birds who overwinter in Ohio, migrating south after their breeding season ends in the far north…Ohio is like Florida to them I guess. But resources are plentiful here in the wide variety of plant seeds and berries, and the “cooler” temperatures are more tolerable, until instinct once again drives them back to the northern US or Canada in spring.

Another winter resident, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, spent part of a morning drilling rows of holes in the sugar maple outside to collect the sap. The next day I saw one of several pesky squirrels that have been raiding the feeders stop and partake of some. Both squirrels and northern flickers have been more abundant at Prairie Pond Woods this winter than in the past.

We spotted a Black Vulture out the front window sitting in a tree all day long, and the next day, two of them in another tree close-by. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures. According to the Peterson field guide, southwest and south central Ohio are the northern most ranges for the Black Vulture as a year round resident. I’m hoping this pair will stick around the property during the breeding season.

There are so many opportunities to observe birds and other natural wonders in winter. Hawks begin their breeding courtship displays in the sky, and owls can be heard before sunrise claiming territories or calling for mates. Winter is a good time to go out with field guides to learn tree identification by bark and buds or animals by their tracks and scat. It’s a great time to bundle up and go exploring…what else is there to do? Winter is also the time to become a “citizen scientist”. Every year several bird surveys are done specifically in winter to track avian populations and migrations, and the public, regardless of their skill level, is invited to participate. These can be fun and educational events for your family.

Each February, individuals, families or other groups can participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count, held this year on Feb 12-15. November through April you can also be a citizen scientist for Project Feeder Watch. If you have a bird feeder, a good variety of seed, some suet, a field guide and a computer, you can help the Cornell Lab of Ornithology compile data from all over North America and Hawaii, right from the comfort of your home! You’ll be able to submit and review the collected data all through the observation periods.

Some birds can be harbingers of winter and some harbingers of spring. They are interesting and very relaxing wildlife to watch, whether at feeders or in the wild. Birding during the great migration of neo-tropicals through Ohio is a fascinating way to spend a spring weekend.

If you are a novice birder or would like to learn more about becoming more knowledgeable in this world-wide recreational activity, Heart By Nature is holding an educational and inspirational retreat for women at Prairie Pond Woods in the sping. The Edge of Appalachia Preserve and Shawnee State Park, both minutes from Prairie Pond Woods, have been designated Important Bird Areas (IBA’s) by the National Audubon Society. Since birds know no boundaries, you can be sure spotting tanagers, warblers and vireos here at Prairie Pond Woods will not be difficult! Perhaps we’ll also see our resident bluebirds for the 4th year in a row!

You can find more information on the website under group retreats/descriptions at Happy Birding in 2010…and beyond!

Cindy Steffen
Heart By Nature Retreats at
Prairie Pond Woods