wildlife

Ruffed Grouse

Disappearing act

Several successive Ohio winters in the late 1970s were brutal, with temperatures often dipping below zero and heavy snow lasting for months on end. It also happened to be the time when I was attempting to become a ruffed grouse hunter.

Ruffed grouse were plentiful in Ohio during the second half of the 20th century, but no more. Human hunters are not to blame, as their seasonal take of the birds has always been negligible. Rather, it is the bird’s own habitat that is gradually turning against it, and according to the national Ruffed Grouse Society, that change is taking place across much of the ruffed grouse range — some 18 states — from the upper Midwest to New England, the Mid-Atlantic region, and Appalachia.    

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.

Guy Denny with pigeon

Life with pigeons

Most men, believing ourselves invincible at one time or another in our lives, can think back to boyhood and remember doing at least one thing so incredibly dangerous that we were lucky to survive. Consolidated Cooperative member Guy Denny is no exception.

After dark one night, he and a young buddy climbed out on the massive, metal I-beams that support the bridge. There, beneath the bridge, with cars whizzing past just a few feet overheard, his buddy shined a flashlight beam into the eyes of the mesmerized pigeons while Denny grabbed them one by one and shoved the birds into a burlap bag. The boys’ poke was nearly full when Denny reached for one last bird — a beautiful, nearly pure-white pigeon — and promptly lost his footing on the bridge.

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.

Bird

Taking refuge

A full-figured pig named Baby lounges, unruffled, in a puddle of mud at Sunrise Sanctuary in Marysville. A lone duck waddles past, oblivious to the prodigious porker to its left.

“Our babies are all unique and special souls that are loving, thoughtful, and funny individuals,” says Sandy Horvath, the animals’ primary caretaker. “They’re not just numbers. They are special beings deserving of our love and respect.”

All around Ohio, animal sanctuaries provide respite and relief for misfit animals, whether they’ve been abused or neglected or simply moved on to greener pastures after their working days ended.

Wild boars

Wild hogs

Lon Swihart cares for 120 hogs on a bucolic farm in rural Preble County. Hog farming is part of the landscape and cultural fabric here in towns like Eaton and West Alexandria.

Today, many of the pork producers are larger, corporate-owned operations where the pigs are kept indoors and escape is impossible, so many of the fences have disappeared. Swihart’s farm has a 4-foot-high cement wall and double fencing. But, it turns out, the best fences are made from love and happiness.

“My hogs don’t want to go anywhere — they are happy here,” Swihart says. He can count the times on one hand over the decades that a hog has gotten loose, and each time it has come back. His hogs prefer life on the farm over a life on the lam.

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.” 

John Ruthven

20th century Audubon

At the corner of Vine and West 8th in downtown Cincinnati, a giant mural covers the entire side of a six-story building. It depicts a colorful, swirling flock of birds: passenger pigeons, now extinct. The last passenger pigeon, Martha, died at the Cincinnati Zoo on Sept.

If it has to do with birds in or around Cincinnati, Ruthven probably was part of it. 

Born in 1924, Ruthven knew he wanted to be a professional artist from an early age, preferably a wildlife artist. Like so many young men of that era, however, his dream was deferred by World War II; John enlisted in the U.S. Navy after he graduated from high school in 1943. 

Saw-whet owl

Give a hoot

Nocturnal, secretive, and steeped in folklore, owls are cryptic wild critters that give up the details of their lives only grudgingly. Blake Mathys, a member of Marysville-based Union Rural Electric Cooperative, hopes to shine a little light on the subject this winter.

“My main reason for developing the project is that, for a number of reasons, owl sightings often don’t get reported, even by citizen-scientists and serious birders,” Mathys says. “I want to provide a secure outlet to get a better idea of the true numbers of owls in our state during the winter months.”