Sometimes things can happen quickly, and this year it was Feb. 13, the day before St. Valentine’s Day. They were in the air and on the ground; all of them broadcasting that an early spring had indeed sprung.
It started with my initial walk outside. I spotted not just one, but over a dozen robins hopping about the yard. They must have felt the earthworms waking beneath their feet and they didn’t want to miss that first slimy morsel to emerge from the ground.
As they bounced about, they disturbed a red-winged blackbird that was sitting sentry in a thorny crabapple growing in a fencerow along the driveway. It relocated to a higher perch and sang his throaty song while on the lookout for a mate that may have followed the warming winds north. Without hesitation, another answered a warning that he had also secured his own territory and that trespassers were unwelcome.
As I left to run some errands, another of the warming weather forecasters soared overhead, and he wasn’t alone. A turkey vulture, accompanied by several of its friends, sailed the breezes as they seemingly ignored the Hinckley, Ohio, lore that claims they return to roost there first.
These sightings caused me to detour to areas where I knew ice had deteriorated and open water was available. My guess was right. Among the residential mallards, several migrating scaup and a bufflehead were floating about, taking a rest during their migration north.
This is a time when birders, who’ve been content with watching feeders and exploring woodlands for a chance to see an unusual winter visitor, start to get anxious. They know that the colorful spring migration of warblers and preening waterfowl is at hand. Soon, these devoted wildlife enthusiasts will be out in their own numbers.
Some of the key areas they will explore include the Lake Erie marshes, inland lakes and riparian waterways which form a series of travel lanes and resting spots for migrators. While most know what they are likely to see, they are all looking for that one unusual traveler: a species outside of its typical migration pattern or that unusual variation that can make anyone’s mouth drop open.
That’s exactly what has happened in Shelby County, Alabama. A bird has surfaced that has birdwatchers longing for just a chance to get a glimpse, so they might add it to their life list of sightings.
The bird is a common cardinal which is not at all common. Auburn University biology professor Geoffrey Hill explains that the cardinal is an adult male, but carries a genetic mutation that causes what would normally be brilliant red feathers to be bright yellow.
Hill, who has written books on bird coloration, said the mutation is rare enough that even he, as an avian curator and researcher, has never seen one.
“I’ve been birdwatching in the range of cardinals for 40 years and I’ve never seen a yellow bird in the wild,” Hill said. “I would estimate that in any given year there are two or three yellow cardinals at backyard feeding stations somewhere in the U.S. or Canada.”
The bird, which magically appeared at a feeder belonging to Charlie Stephenson, was quite a surprise.
“I thought, ‘well, there’s a bird I’ve never seen before,'” Stephenson said. “Then I realized it was a cardinal, and it was a yellow cardinal.”
While reluctant to give her address for fear of being overrun, she did post some photos on Facebook. She invited her friend and professional photographer Jeremy Black to the property to try to capture a picture of the yellow rarity. After several hours, he got his photo.
Even though Black got his pictures, he has set a goal to get that one-in-a-million bird in a one-in-a-million shot. “I’m trying to get a unique photograph and that is the yellow cardinal next to a traditional North American red cardinal,” Black said.
I spoke to Jeremy to obtain permission to use a photo and I found him to be quite the wildlife enthusiast. He told me that he’s still working toward that goal of a side-by-side comparison but that, so far, he’s had no luck. I hope that his patience and persistence pay off. To view more of Jeremy’s work, visit:
“Discovery originates out of unusual observations that curiosity demands to understand.” — Steven Magee
Along the way
Division of Wildlife fisheries biologists tell us that small numbers of dead fish may be common in ponds and small lakes this spring.
These “winterkills” are caused when persistent ice forms a surface barrier between water and air that prevents circulation of oxygen and blocks sunlight. Lacking sunlight, plants stop making oxygen and eventually start to use oxygen as they die back and decompose. If these conditions continue long enough, the oxygen fish need to survive may be depleted and can result in some or all of them suffocating.
Winterkill is most common in shallow ponds and will become obvious if dead fish are seen along the shore. Ohio’s northern counties are most susceptible because of colder temperatures and more frequent snowfall.
Fish die-offs are possible in larger lakes, but for different reasons. Fish which are less tolerant of long, cold winters, such as gizzard shad, are commonly seen along the shorelines of reservoirs and even Lake Erie during moderate winters. However, in larger waters, the species that commonly die off are resilient and return in great numbers following a single spawning season.
Step outside
• Today and tomorrow: Tri-State Gun Collectors show, Allen County Fairgrounds.
• Tomorrow: Trap shoot, 1 p.m., Mount Blanchard Gun Club, 21655 Delaware Township 186.
• Thursday: Ohio Wildlife Diversity Conference, doors open at 8 a.m., welcome at 9 a.m., Ohio Union, 1739 N. High St., Columbus. Visit
• Thursday and Friday: Trap and skeet, public welcome, 5 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.
• March 8: Hunting film tour, hosted by the Sportsmen’s Alliance. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., show begins at 7 p.m., Drexel Theatre, 2254 E. Main St., Columbus. Evening features incredible outdoor films and giveaways. Tickets are $12, available online:
• March 10: Blanchard Valley Friends of the NRA fundraiser, Findlay Event Center (formerly Timber Lanes), 1400 Sixth St., Findlay. Doors open 5 p.m. For tickets, contact Clint Butler at 419-722-6003 or email
• March 10: Hancock County Pheasants Forever banquet and auction, Sterling Center behind Hancock County Humane Society, 4550 Fostoria Ave., Findlay. Tickets are $60 for a single, $85 for couples. Entry includes dinner, annual membership to Pheasants Forever, and a subscription to Pheasants Forever magazine. For tickets, contact Andrew Crates at or Mark Plesec at
• March 16 to 18: Ohio Deer and Turkey Expo, Expo Center, 717 E. 17th Ave., Columbus. Features the latest strategies, trends, hunting techniques, exhibitors, outfitters, interactive activities, seminars and displays. Local hunters can enter their best deer from any season for display and official scoring by the Buckeye Big Buck Club. An entry costs $20 for scoring and display, while prescored trophies can be entered for $10. All include a three-day pass to the expo. Tickets are $15, $20 for two days, and include your choice of a free subscription to either Field and Stream or Outdoor Life. Kids 6 to 15 get in for $5. Hours are: Friday, 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
• March 24: Black Swamp Bucks Unlimited, the Cube, 3430 N. Main St., Findlay. Games/raffles and social hour is 3 p.m., dinner is 5:30 p.m. Meet special guest and emcee Kevin Blake Weldon, singer-songwriter and staunch supporter of our outdoor heritage. Tickets are $55 for singles, $35 for spouse. Visit or call Nate Riker at 419-306-1595, Ken Cooper at 419-231-0236 or Scott Mathews at 419-722-7998.
Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay.