Woods, Waters & Wildlife

An easy-to-construct cage-trap suet feeder attracted this pileated woodpecker.

I’m a backyard bird-feeding genius. (Please don’t ask my wife about that statement; she claims to have multiple examples of my less-than-genius status — and not just pertaining to bird feeding. But she does tend to exaggerate.) 

I maintain nine bird feeders outside my home-office window. Only two of them were commercially manufactured, and one of those two was given to me as a gift. The other seven I cobbled together from material I had on hand. I don’t mind spending money when I have to, but if I can save a few bucks and still get the job done, I’m all for it, especially with the continually rising cost of bird feed.  

The January 2004 issue of Country Living magazine (now known as Ohio Cooperative Living) featured a story about Ohio’s 10 best places to view wildlife.

Gross, a 45-year member of Mount Gilead-based Consolidated Cooperative and retired from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, says he has an “overwhelming fascination and appreciation for the beauty, complexity, and intricacy of the natural world.”

That certainly comes across in his writing and contributes to the popularity and longevity of “Woods, Waters, and Wildlife,” but he says there’s more to it as well.

For years, Robert Bush Sr. has been using trail cameras set up near downed logs spanning small streams in Pennsylvania to capture photos of wildlife crossing the logs.

For years, hunters have been using trail cameras to scout for game, which, in the Buckeye State, usually means white-tailed deer. But, interestingly, a growing segment of the trail-camera market now has nonhunters purchasing the relatively inexpensive cameras to capture wildlife images 24/7.

Trail cameras take both still photos and video clips of wildlife and provide endlessly entertaining images. If there’s someone on your Christmas list who would like to try this fun and fascinating outdoor hobby — or if you’d like to try it yourself — here are a few suggestions to help get you started, based on my own experience:      

wild turkey hen in field

I’ve been chasing wild turkeys, both with a shotgun and a camera, for more than 40 years, but April 2022 was my most satisfying spring hunt ever.

The history of the wild turkey in Ohio is one of boom and bust. A bird of mature woodlands, turkeys thrived in pre-settlement times when our state was 95% forested. In 1915, a researcher by the name of Wright, after reviewing records from the 18th and early 19th centuries, wrote, “In all the United States, no state had more turkeys than Ohio and her neighbors.” Just how many wild turkeys existed in the Ohio country hundreds of years ago is anyone’s guess — a million, perhaps?

A trapper searches for signs of mink and other furbearers along an Ohio stream (photo by W.H. "Chip" Gross).

There is a pair of serial killers on the loose in the hinterlands of Ohio. The male, with his weasel-like face and small, black, beady eyes, looks menacing; his girlfriend, similar in appearance but only about half his size, is just as bloodthirsty.  

In general, the weasel family has a dubious reputation, particularly its scientific subfamily Mustelinae, which in Ohio includes not only mink but also ermines, least weasels, and long-tailed weasels. Adding to this foursome’s loathsomeness is the fact that they smell bad, emitting a strong, musky odor from anal scent glands, which they use for marking territory or attracting a mate.  

Spatulate-leaved sundew

It took more than 6,000 years for the last ice sheet, the Wisconsin Glacier, to spread across what is now Lake Erie and Ohio, at an average rate of about 160 feet per year.

“Even into medieval times, bogs and fens remained mystical and frightening places,” says Denny, a member of Mount Gilead-based Consolidated Cooperative. “Fueling some of those fears was a natural phenomenon known as ‘will-o’-the-wisp’ or ‘jack-o’-lantern’ — a mysterious, flickering light often observed hovering and moving around at night within bogs, swamps, and marshes. 

Did you know robins were once hunted and eaten by humans?

Hunting earthworms on our lawns or building nests in our shrubbery, robins are so ubiquitous today that we barely give those attractive, red-breasted songbirds a second thought. 

The slaughter began with large mammals — elk and deer in the East, bison in the West. Once those populations were decimated, the professional hunters moved on to waterfowl: ducks, geese, and swans. After those species were depleted, shorebirds were next in line. Smaller than most waterfowl, shorebirds made up for their small size by numbering in the millions. They also decoyed readily and tasted good on the dinner table. 

Last on the list was songbirds.  

Ken Mettler, an AOA board member, surveys Bison Hollow Preserve in Hocking Hills.

Some natural resources conservation groups talk a good game. Others diligently and quietly go about their stated mission, making a decided difference in the out-of-doors year by year, decade after decade.

To get a feel for AOA, I tagged along on one of the organization’s many annual educational events open to the public. The field trip attracted some 30 people to Cedar Bog Nature Preserve, a few miles south of Urbana. It’s the oldest nature preserve in the Buckeye State purchased with state funds (in 1942), and is owned, operated, and managed by the Ohio History Connection. 

Detail from an artist’s rendering of the execution of Col. William Crawford.

One of the most infamous incidents in all of early Ohio history occurred 241 years ago this month, on June 11, 1782, when Col. William Crawford of the fledgling U.S. Army was burned at the stake by Native American locals out for revenge.

The story begins several months earlier, in March 1782, when 96 members of the Delaware tribe, who had converted to Christianity, were rounded up, massacred, and burned along with their entire village of Gnadenhutten (meaning huts, or tents, of grace) along the Tuscarawas River by Col. David Williamson and his contingent of frontier militia.

Baltimore orioles, such as the adult male on the left and the juvenile at right, migrate through Ohio beginning in late April and early May each year.

Roman Mast’s backyard looks like a bird-feeding test kitchen.

“I have my oriole feeders out by the last week in April,” Mast says. “Through the years, I’ve tried a lot of different foods to attract orioles, including sliced oranges, but my main food now is simply grape jelly.” Orioles and a few other species, such as rose-breasted grosbeaks, gray catbirds, and some warblers, seem to love the stuff. “A red-bellied woodpecker even comes to my jelly feeders occasionally,” Mast says.