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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Short Eared Owl

short eared

Another winter visitor to southern Ohio is the Short Eared Owl. These cool guys are much more active in daylight than most owls and can be seen coursing low over grassy open areas. The best places I know to see one around here are VOA park in West Chester, Ceasars Creek State Park and Gilmore Ponds. Short Ears use the same habitat as Northern Harriers and twice at VOA I've seen Harriers harrass Short Ears in flight. Ive never heard one make a sound and don't think they call in winter.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A real hoot.

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A long eared owl! Here in southern Ohio one of the rarest critters you might run into is a long eared owl. Mostly a creature of northern woods every year several of these cool birds overwinter here. But they are oh so hard to find. The long eared owl is strictly nocturnal and spends the day tucked into heavy cover like the cedar this one is hiding in. My friend naturalist Bill Lindauer found this guy in Hisey Park where the Little Miami River is joined by Ceaser Creek. The crow-sized long-eared owl has prominent ear tufts that sit near the middle of its head. These nocturnal predators hunt in old fields and scrubby grasslands feeding primarily on voles or deer mice. Hisey Park and adjacient Ceaser Creek State Park have an abundance of this type of habitat. Other common names for the long eared include brush owl, cat owl, lesser horned owl, and cedar owl.

Since Long-eared Owls are strictly nocturnal and hunt for small animals in the dark, they have to hear very well. The facial disks funnels on the owl funnel sound to the owls ears, which are located behind the eyes and are asymmetrical. The left ear opening is higher than the right, which helps the owl pinpoint noises in the night.
Long-eared owls have some of the best hearing even among owls, they can capture prey in total darkness. The long "ears" on a Long-eared Owl are not ears at all. The long tufts help provide camouflage for the owl by breaking up its shape and helping it imitate a broken branch and possibly make the owl appear bigger when confronted with another owl.
The Rev. James Smith's familly settled here at the mouth of Ceasars Creek around 1798. The Smith familly tapped sugar maples in late winter and the father drove a wagonload of maple sugar and bacon from pigs fattened on acorns from the surrounding woods a couple times a year to Cincinnati. He slept in the wagon at the market where fountain square now stands before returning. The famous hunter John Sublett was one of the earliest settlers and lived with the Smith familly at the mouth of Ceasars Creek around 1798. John Sublett built chairs and furniture in a log workshop but was most famous as a hunter and fisherman. John was famous as a hunter and fisherman in a time when everyone was a hunter and a fisherman. At the head of the riffle complex a mile downstream from Hisey Park at the ford he built a stone fishtrap to catch the plentiful fish of the river. This stone trap stood for many years and gave the place it's name, "Fishpot Ford".
The ford itself was well known long before John Sublett though as the main indian trail from Old Chilicothe to the Ohio river crossed the Little Miami here. General George Rogers Clark led his army across the river here also in 1780 in his campaign against the indian villages in Ohio. General Josuah Harmar also crossed here in 1790.
Simon Kenton was a captain in that army and Daniel Boone was a scout.
With the Little Miami River here and and Ceaser Creek Nature Preserve next door this is still one of the best places around to get away from it all and explore.