Commuting and Communing with Urban Wildlife

By Jason Stover

I live along the Olentangy River, near the Ohio State University Wetlands Research Park. I bike in every morning, come home for lunch and then return home in the evening. I travel through there at least four times a day.

Photographs taken at the Olentangy Wetlands Research Park © Jason Stover

Photographs taken at the Olentangy Wetlands Research Park © Jason Stover

You can get a real sense for what kind of day it will be just by the noises or lack thereof.  I also noticed a lot of folks out with cameras and binoculars. I started conversations with them and they told me about birds I’ve never seen or heard of. I was intrigued. Then I heard it. It sounded like a can of spray paint being shaken. Then a blue blur hit the water in the Olentangy at speed. Out it came with a snack. The lady I was speaking to said it was a Belted Kingfisher. I am hooked.

So that opened up a whole new adventure for me. Instead of looking down at the pavement, I started looking up in the branches that lined the path through the wetlands. I’d see a robin, then a jay, then a crow. I’d hear the scream of a hawk circling the transmission tower. Whenever I spotted someone with a camera or binoculars, I would ask them what they’ve seen. Egrets, warblers, finches, catbirds, herons, woodpeckers flickers. I decided I need to capture these amazing creatures that have found refuge in the middle of the city. I would come over in the early mornings or early evenings. I would do the outer loop then the inner loop around the kidneys. I was able to slow down and start picking up the different calls. While I was mainly looking for birds, other animals would make their presence known. Chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, a coyote, and several deer, frogs, snakes, beaver, muskrats. 

Hawk at the Wetlands © Jason Stover

Red-Tailed Hawk at the Wetlands © Jason Stover

Because the OSU Wetlands is essentially my backyard and I have time to dedicate to coming over with my camera and spending some time just slowing strolling around, I have been fortunate enough to capture some really neat animals. I’ve even been befriended by a momma deer and her two fawns. Momma actually let me touch her nose once and she is comfortable enough allowing me in between her and her fawns while she continues to forage. It’s amazing to me what an experience it has been to live and work so close to the Wetlands. I have seen more birds and animals that are new to me in the past year than what I’ve seen in my entire previous 42 years.

I found out about the BioPresence project and the #animalosu hashtag when I struck up a conversation with Amy Youngs, who was installing a wildlife camera at the wetlands. I am participating because I want to share my experience with those who are not lucky enough to live so close to something like this. I want to share the Northern Flicker fledging, or a Kingfisher grabbing a fish out of the water at full speed, or the most beautiful purple fungus that I would never have noticed had it not been for the cute baby squirrels I was snapping. This past year has been eye opening for me because of my daily two mile bike commute. I really had no idea just how much other life was out there. I am going to do my best to capture that and share it with all of you.

Beaver at the Wetlands © Jason Stover

Is this a beaver at the Wetlands? © Jason Stover

Oh, and that blue blur I mentioned earlier. That elusive kingfisher is my kryptonite. I have yet to get a picture of her. She will land on my shoulder when I don’t have my camera, but the minute I pick up the camera, she is an apparition, a shadow in the night. She is winning this game so far.

Jason Stover, is a Program Assistant at The Ohio State University Enrollment Services University Registrar.

You can follow Jason’s photo stream on Google+ and Instagram