Woods, Waters & 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.    

The Signing of the Treaty of Green Ville

Ohio's American Indian History: Writ large

Of the many paintings hanging in the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, the largest by far measures 22 feet long by 16 feet high and is titled The Signing of the Treaty of Green Ville.

Setting the scene

At the end of the Revolutionary War, England ceded to the fledgling USA ownership of the Northwest Territory — an immense area north and west of the Ohio River that would one day become five states: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, as well as part of Minnesota. 

The major problem with the agreement was that it completely ignored tens of thousands of indigenous people who were already living on that land — from dozens of major tribes — who were not about to give up their claims on the land without a fight.

Gray Treefrog 2

Nature’s rainmaker

Even if you didn’t quite recognize it, you’ve likely heard the sound. Just before or after a summer rain shower, a loud, short trill — just 1 to 3 seconds long — emanates from a nearby tree. Was it a bird?

Some gray treefrogs also call outside of the breeding season — generally April through June in Ohio — but why they do so is a mystery. “It isn’t uncommon to hear a male calling from high in the trees in late summer or early fall,” Lipps says.

Measuring no more than 2 inches long, the gray treefrog is the largest treefrog in the northern United States; it’s found throughout Ohio. Mainly arboreal, the frogs come down out of the trees during breeding season, congregating in vernal pools. 

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.