Woods, Waters & Wildlife

Grampus ship

Something fishy

In February, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USF&WS) turned 150 years old, and to celebrate its sesquicentennial, it has released a new book of its many finny accomplishments titled America’s Bountiful Waters

Henshall (1836–1925) is known as the father of bass fishing in the U.S. He was born in Maryland and moved to Cincinnati after graduating high school. He finished medical studies in 1859, just in time for the Civil War, and promptly joined the Union Army medical corps. One of his most memorable adventures was a run-in with Morgan’s Raiders, a Confederate cavalry unit that crossed the Ohio River and was eventually captured near West Point, in Columbiana County.

Osprey in flight

The fish hawk with fish hooks for hands

The first time you see an osprey dive on a fish is one of those memorable birding moments that last a lifetime. With a wingspan of up to 6 feet, ospreys are not small birds of prey.

As it flies, the osprey will also shake itself, much like a dog, removing water from its feathers. The fish feast is then flown to a large, bulky stick nest and shared with its mate/young, or possibly, the fish is simply taken to a stout tree limb where the osprey alights and enjoys a solo meal of the world’s freshest sushi.

Box turtle

Life in the slow lane

Looking like a miniature army helmet with legs, box turtles are unique in that they are the most terrestrial of Ohio’s nearly one dozen turtle species.

Alan Walter of Carrollton has extensively studied the box turtles living on his property in eastern Ohio. Walter owns a 150-acre tree farm in Harrison County that he manages for timber and wildlife, so he has spent countless hours in the woods over the past 30 years. 

Adult wood duck pair

From boom to bust and back again

Young wood ducks have a tough start in life. Hatched in a tree cavity 50 feet or more from the ground, they have less than a day to rest and dry their downy feathers after fighting their way out of the eggshell before their mother decides it’s time to leave the nest.

When the hen is sure that all her offspring have gathered, she leads them quickly to the nearest stream, pond, swamp, or marsh. Though the ducklings are now safer than they were on land, they’re not yet totally out of danger. From below, a snapping turtle or largemouth bass would like nothing better than to make a meal of an unsuspecting duckling. From above, a great blue heron or other avian predator could easily take one as well.

Logan Oak

Logan’s trees

Logan’s Lament is well known in Ohio history. Chief Logan of the Mingo tribe of Native Americans uttered the short speech in October 1774 from beneath a huge, spreading elm tree in his camp, located a few miles south of what is today Circleville, Ohio. 

In April 1774, Logan was away hunting when members of his family and some friends ran afoul of a settler named Daniel Greathouse and his band of border thugs, all of whom hated Indians. The Greathouse party first feigned friendship, then once they had gained the Indians’ confidence, murdered them in cold blood. Among those killed were Logan’s wife, brother, sister, brother-in-law, and nephew, as well as a fetus — a future nephew — that was slashed from his sister’s pregnant womb. 

Gray fox

Red fox, gray fox, and wily coyote

When wild animals face a change in their environment, they have three options: adapt, migrate, or die. When those animals happen to be three top-tier predators attempting to occupy the same habitat, things can get dicey.

According to Katie Dennison, furbearer biologist for the Ohio Division of Wildlife, an annual survey indicates “a long-term declining trend in red fox and gray fox sightings since the survey began in 1990, which is indicative of a decline in both fox populations in Ohio. However, the trend does appear to have leveled off during the past five to seven years.” Dennison adds that the survey relies on deer-bowhunter observations, so “is biased toward describing fox population trends in rural areas.” 

Screech oil

Birds of a feather

A professor of biology and ecology at Ashland University, Merrill Tawse has been running the same wild-bird survey route annually for more than 40 years. It’s not for his work, though; it’s purely for pleasure.  

Before 1900, rural people engaged in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas “side hunt.” Sides (teams) were chosen, and team members fanned out through the countryside with their rifles and shotguns. Whichever team amassed the most feathered or furred quarry by the end of the day won the contest.  

Bobcat in carrier

On the prowl

Bobcats were supposedly extirpated from Ohio by 1850, but that may not actually have been the case — especially in the extreme eastern part of the state, particularly Belmont County.

Bobcats were taken off the state-endangered list in 2014. At the time of delisting, the population in Ohio was about 1,000 individuals, and since that time, the bobcat population has continued to increase in both size and distribution. 

Brycen Burkhart with fish

The big one

If you’re an angler, how would you like to catch one walleye worth over $100,000? James Atkinson Jr. of Streetsboro did exactly that last fall, his whopper walleye weighing 12.395 pounds and measuring 31.5 inches.

The Fall Brawl is coordinated by Frank Murphy of North Royalton, who volunteers his time — lots of it. A fisherman all his life, Murphy says, “I just want to give something back to the fishing community for what fishing has done for me through the years. That’s why there is 100% payback of all the entry fees to the top five derby winners.”
Nearly 8,000 anglers participated last year, and Murphy anticipates as many as 10,000 will this year, each plunking down $30 for the privilege. Do the math, and that’s $300,000 in prize money that gets split five ways.

Man with large lake sturgeon

Monster rebirth

Is there really a Lake Erie monster, as some claim? Well, yes, at least potentially. In fact, thousands of small ones are swimming in the big lake right now. Let me explain.

By mid-century, however, market conditions were rapidly changing, and from 1850 to 1870, products derived from sturgeon transformed this once-worthless fish into a valuable commodity. Caviar, fish oil, and a substance known as isinglass — a gelatin used in adhesives made from the air bladder of various fish, especially sturgeon — became extremely valuable. The fish became so sought after, in fact, that one of the largest sturgeon fisheries in America developed on Lake Erie. In 1885 alone, commercial fishermen on Erie netted more than half a million pounds of lake sturgeon.