How many of you have been fooled by a birds song?  The similarity between two species  and their individual songs can be rather exasperating. Case in point, the song of the Chipping Sparrow and the Pine Warbler. On more than one occasion I’ve been duped into thinking that a “Chipper” was a Pine Warbler. Chipping Sparrows are back in force in my neighborhood as Spring heats up, so don’t be fooled like me.


A New Day

For the past several years now I’ve been using a combination of a spotting scope, a digiscoping adapter from Vortex, and my Canon Powershot ELPH 100 HS to reach out and capture those distant bird photographs. And as I’ve taken this rig into the field on countless occasions to work on my skills, I’ve developed a love- hate relationship with it.

I’ve captured some really great photos digiscoping, and I’ve had for the most part shot some real lousy pictures. At the end of a typical field trip where I shoot lots of pictures, I would load my pictures into my computer to start the photo editing process. This is where the picture you thought was really pretty good, turns into an out of focus mess not worth saving, let alone sharing it on my blog. And this is where the “hate” relationship comes into play. The pictures that you see are just a fraction of what I’ve deleted as I’d scroll through a day in the field.

On a whole I’m not a bad photographer. I’ve been a photographer since my first Canon SLR was purchased back in the mid-1970′s. So I do consider myself an experienced amateur. However this digiscoping style of photography has really perplexed me when the bottom line is always an out of focus subject. And I think I know where the problem lies.

The camera is relying on the spotting scope to be in focus to capture the quality photo that the camera can produce. The camera by itself has the capability to taking some awesome pictures, but when it relies on another whole set of lens in front of it, now that becomes a whole other problem we have to deal with.  For myself I have difficulty in telling if the image is in focus while viewing it through an LCD screen on the back of the camera. The process for me to take a digiscoped pictures has several steps and by the time you complete them either the bird has flown away, or it’s moved and out of focus. Also when I’m just looking through my bin’s or spotting scope I don’t wear my reading glasses. However when I digiscope a picture I have to put them on to see the image on the LCD screen. The whole process is maddening.

But when you come up with an image like this…


it makes the 40 other crappy pictures seem less important. So you continue to put up with getting that 1 in 40 shot that comes out really sharp and in focus.

Well, not anymore. “Say hello to my little friend”

Canon Powershot SX50 HS

The first time I saw this camera was back in January while out on a wintery field trip with my friend Brain. He was home from college and we were both adding birds to our January 100 species list. We were down along the Little Miami River in Newtown when we spot a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Brain pulls out this exact camera and takes a photo of the Sapsucker that blew my mind away. We weren’t exactly close, but the close-up shot of that bird instantly sold me.

Now it looks almost like my Canon Powershot S3 IS if you compare these 2  images.

Sharing the same body shape, that’s the only similarity these 2 cameras have. Where my older canon has only a 12X zoom, the new one has a 50X zoom. It goes from 34mm to a whopping 1,200mm. That’s a crazy zoom on what is considered just a point-n-shoot camera. And that’s optical zoom, not digital. My spotting scope only zooms from 20X to 60X, and this camera does 50X, WOW!

So to show just how much this beauty will zoom onto a subject I went out today to try an experimental photo shoot. The first image is shooting away from the house towards my backyard towards the fence line. It’s the fence we want to focus our attention on.


Now I’m going to start zooming in to an object that’s sitting on top of one of the fence posts. The item I’m zooming in on is 100 feet from the camera which is mounted on a tripod. The object is 4.5″ x 3.5″.

IMG_0003Remember so far this is all optical zoom.

IMG_0005Still optical zoom

IMG_0006This is at the extent of it’s zoom capabilities. 50X or 1,200mm.

IMG_0008And this final picture is when you apply the 2x digital zoom.

Now considering that I was just started fooling around with it and haven’t yet explored the full capabilities of this camera, and it’s a cloudy day, the zoom on this camera is just outstanding.

So what’s going to happen to my digiscoping rig? Well for the time being it will be semi-retired and be remembered as a worthy companion that took some great photos…every now and then.

Notes From The Field

Cincinnati Zoo Preserve, Ellis Lake/ West Chester Preserve, Voice of America, & Gilmore Ponds

What is it about bird watching that keeps us going out into the field as well as keeping our curiosity peaked? Is it the primeval instinct of being the hunter without the killing as we stalk that elusive Nelson’s Sparrow? Or is it the chase of adding another bird to your life list from a far away place? Meeting new people  certainly justifies that attraction to birding. How about just getting outside after a very long, cold, snowy Winter. Spring is definitely in the air in the Ohio Valley with this last weekend, as temps soared into the 50′s with sunny skies. And as is my usual custom I dropped Jon a text about a Sunday field trip.

So to get back to my original question. What is it about bird watching that keeps us going out into the field, as well as keeping our curiosity peaked? Well today it’s our Spring time visitors, the wading birds. All of those “Sandpipers” are making a big comeback with some outstanding numbers being reported. So not wanting to be left out on all this fun we decided to keep our birding adventure in the Butler County area.

Last year the Cincinnati Zoo property was quite the go to spot for wading birds. The recent rains have been a blessing for this hotspot, but not yesterday. A good 30 minute scan turned up nothing but ducks, which isn’t a bad thing. But when your looking for waders you limit your time at each location till you find them.

We moved on.

It was during our drive to Ellis Lake that we stopped at Voice of America Park for a quick drive through. Well it seems that the Butler County Metroparks has been busy with redesigning the park around. Less grasslands and more water with more ducks. We weren’t necessarily looking for wading birds here, it seemed nature to stop since we were driving by.

We moved on.

It was pretty obvious that water wasn’t draining as fast as it usually does. The farm field which was now reduced to just corn stubble was practically under water. And once again there were plenty of ducks to be found. We had a feeling that there had to be wading birds amongst the corn stubble, it’s just that we couldn’t locate any. That was until a Red-tailed Hawk flew over and sent the majority of the birds airborne. I was able to pick out 2 waders in the chaos of wings and feathers. But before I was to ID them they lighted, and then gone.

We moved on.

It was a short drive to Gilmore Ponds, which was going to be our last stop for the day. Now what both Jon and myself will discuss before we reach any location is what might we find here. Gilmore Ponds has been a good spot for the “Black Bird” species, Rusties, Red-winged, & Grackles. And for myself I always hold out for some Rusty Black Birds, which is turning into one of my favorite birds. Their numbers are rapidly declining due to all sorts of various reason, so finding a couple to get a photo of is always in the back of my mind. Gilmore Ponds is perfect habitat for them.

It was just a few weeks ago I was there during the evening to catch American Woodcocks displaying when a massive flock of “Black Birds” came in to roost for the night. It was too dark to discern species because of darkness, but I was confident that there had to be a few.

It was late morning when we arrived, and the din of birds calling filled the air. The parking lot fronts onto a flooded woodlot which covers a large area of this side of the park. We walked about 50 yards down the trail towards the noise when we started to scan the tree tops at all the “Black Birds”. Jon immediately pointed me in the direction of this tree top that held a couple of Rusties. Then there was some more…and more…and even more!


IMG_3788They were…

IMG_3808in the trees.

IMG_3795And they were foraging on the water logged ground.

It was the highest concentration of Rusty Black Birds either Jon or myself have ever seen. I think the most I’ve ever seen at one time was a couple of dozen while hiking the Loveland Bike trail in the vicinity of Spring Valley Wildlife Area. Granted there were a few Common Grackles and Red-winged Black Birds mixed in, but they were hard to pick out from all the Rusties. It was a spectacular sight.

We watched a awe as we tried to come up with an approximation as to how many Rusties there might be. We needed to submit the data we came up with to e-Bird and the Rusty Black Bird Blitz data base, so we had to make some educated guess. We agreed that there was probably 2 birds for every 30 square feet. So he calculated the area at Gilmore Ponds from Google Earth and came up with approximately 1,500 Rusties. Which he told me was a conservative guess.

So I’ll ask myself again why do I keep going out into the field?

Need I say more.

Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Northern Cardinal
  2. Carolina Chickadee
  3. Northern Mockingbird
  4. Downy Woodpecker
  5. Northern Flicker
  6. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  7. Eastern Bluebird
  8. Eastern Meadowlark
  9. Mourning Dove
  10. Pied-billed Grebe
  11. Canada Geese
  12. Mallard
  13. Northern Shoveler
  14. Killdeer
  15. Green-winged teal
  16. American Pipit
  17. Blue-winged teal
  18. Red-winged Black Bird
  19. Common Grackle
  20. Rusty Black Bird
  21. Tree Swallow
  22. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  23. Purple Martin
  24. Wilson’s Snipe
  25. Red-shouldered Hawk
  26. Red-tailed Hawk
  27. Turkey Vulture
  28. Northern Harrier
  29. Cooper’s Hawk
  30. Gadwall
  31. Lesser Scaup
  32. Greater Scaup
  33. Blue Jay
  34. Barn Swallow
  35. Horned Lark
  36. Gray Catbird
  37. Song Sparrow
  38. Field Sparrow
  39. American Tree Sparrow
  40. White-throated Sparrow
  41. Bufflehead
  42. Hooded Merganser
  43. American Coot
  44. American Wigeon
  45. Wood Duck
  46. Great Blue Heron
  47. Eastern Towhee
  48. Eastern Phoebe
  49. Great Egret
  50. Great Horned Owl
  51. Ring-necked Duck

Notes From The Field/ Life Bird #335

Caesar Creek State Park/ Harveysburg Road

The first report came in about a week ago. First seen over by the boat ramp at the camp grounds a California Gull was sighted mixed in with a group of Herring and Ring-billed Gulls. Their description was dead on accurate, however I was a little apprehensive. This is a pretty rare bird, especially around here. On occasion they do see a few up on Lake Erie and it’s one of those birds that I never thought for a million years I’d see till I ventured further out west were they are just another common gull.

A couple days would go by without a word of it being re-located. Then someone report either on Facebook or Cincinnati Bird that it was re-located. Now I’m starting to get the twitch again, just like the Glaucous Gull in Dayton earlier in the year. So this prompted me to head out this last Wednesday and try to locate the Gull. So for the next several hours I drove all around the lake stopping where I’ve seen Gulls congregate in the past. No luck. Now just because I never saw it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not there. So I kept my nose to the social media and waited for any news. A bird like this is a great temptation for area birders. Remember this is a really rare bird and a chance to tick one of these off comes around only a few times.

So this morning on Facebook a local birder whose name I recognized re-located the bird. This time off the end of Harveysburg Road. This was one stop I didn’t make on Wednesday thinking that I’ve never seen large groups of Gulls resting there before. However with the lake level low there was an above average amount of exposed  ground that you’d never normally see when the water level is at pool depth. And what do you think I found sitting with a large group of Ring-billed, Herring, and Bonaparte Gull’s. Yes that’s right, the lone California Gull.

Smaller than a Herring and larger than a Ring-billed Gull, the field markings were seen even when I had to zoom out my scope to maximum. The wind was out of the west and rather brisk, so I moved behind a Cedar Tree in an attempt to digiscope a picture. After re-focusing on the bird, it flew off and rounded a corner and out of sight.

I’m extremely happy about getting a new life bird, but rather disappointed in not being able to get a photo. That’s been the buzz on social media, no picture of this bird. However when dealing with nature you can’t always rely on ideal circumstances. Sure I wish the sun was out and it wasn’t so windy. The Gull flock being a little closer would have been an immense help. But we have to play the hand that was dealt, and this was the best I can do till someone gets a good photo. Maybe this weekend will someone’s lucky day.

Notes From The Field

Gilmore Ponds Metropark

What is it about the evening sunset, especially after daylight savings time goes into effect, that I simply love? Granted we all hate losing that one precious hour of sleep that us working folks desperately need. However for myself that’s a small price to pay to be able to do a little birding during this favorite time of day.

Dusk is my wind down time during the warmer months.  The time when you can sit on your front porch, sip a nice beverage, and do nothing other than watch the world go to sleep. It’s a great de-stresser, and at times a perfect excuse to go birding. Such was the case last night.

American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) are starting to be seen more and more on local sighting logs. And my favorite time to view these secretive waders is also my favorite time of day, dusk. So as the 7 o’clock hour approached I headed out to where myself and birding friend Phil were rewarded last year with several displaying Woodcocks, Gilmore Ponds.

Gilmore Ponds, once closed due to budget constraints, was finally re-opened after the passing of the Butler County Parks levy a few years past, is still a neglected red-headed step-child. Paths were still mowed through the thick under growth, and that was pretty much it. So seeing a Park Ranger actually at the park last evening came as a surprise. And as I ventured towards the area where Woodcocks were present last year, most of the area was mowed down to just a short stubble.

IMG_3986You can see the worn path, and on both sides you can see how short the vegetation is. This is where last year we found several Woodcocks. But being a somewhat neglected park it comes as a surprise that they took the time to mow.

Being grown over doesn’t mean that it’s a bad thing. At times leaving such areas in it’s natural state can be a benefit for us bird lovers. Great Blue Heron’s nest here. Grackles, Starlings, Red-winged and Rusty Black Birds congregate here at dusk and form into massive colonies for us birders to pick through in the fading light. Sitting in a natural low spot water it’s one common component to this park. The builders of the Miami-Erie Canal thought so as the remnants of this once great waterway borders Gilmore Ponds.

Waterfowl are the staple here and any standing water will hold ducks and geese even through some of our dryer times. A large expanse of flooded woods is the home of nesting Prothonotary Warblers and Woodpeckers. But tonight it’s all about the Woodcock. So staying within eye shot of my car I wait and wander slightly as dusk fades.

IMG_3989A dozen ducks scattered as I approached this small pond.

IMG_3988A lone Red-winged Black Bird amongst the thousand roosting at Gilmore Ponds last night.

Despite it’s close proximity to busy roads and a train tracks, Gilmore Ponds can envelope you in solitude. I feel isolated, removed from the everyday as I stand and watch a flight of Sandhill Cranes fly so high you’ll have to strain to see them with the naked eye. Geese and Ducks are checking in as they check their wings as they skim over the water to land for the night. More and more Black Birds congregate, squawking over everyone else.

I listen hard for the familiar Woodcock nasal “beezp”. Nothing. Am I disappointed? How could you be disappointed when your surrounded with beauty. You can view the beauty of nature from your comfy chair looking out through your picture window or in front of the television set. But to go out at this time of day and just stand and listen and observe what’s happening around you is truly joyous.


Notes From The Field

“In Search of Red-necked Grebes”

This years great Red-necked Grebe invasion has taken the state by storm, and now it’s Jon’s and my chance to track down these visitors from the north. As you can see by the range map below that I downloaded from the web site, “All About Birds”, we may get one a year during the winter. Last winter we had one that stayed at Hidden Valley Lake for a long time and was included in my January 100 Species Challenge


They do winter over down into the United States, but it’s normally along both coasts. So what are they doing down here and in such great numbers? Well I’m sure thee is a logical ornithological reason for such an influx, but I’m pretty confident that this exceptionally cold winter has something to do with it. So whatever the reason we were out in the field and meeting up Grand Valley as our first stop.

With his Grandmothers birthday celebration in the early afternoon, our time was limited as we drove through the gate into Grand Valley. Still partially frozen over with only small pockets of open water, we quickly scanned the lake only to find 10 Common Mergansers that quickly took off and some Canadian Geese.

On to the back lake which held a bounty of some good waterfowl, including 3 Red-necked Grebes.

IMG_3699Difficult to see at first but there are loads of tiny black dots on the lake mostly on the other side of the small island.

IMG_3700After watching them fish for a while these 2 decided to take a nap while the thrid continued to feed.

IMG_3701I had to shoot this one quick because the Grebe had it eaten really quick.


The difficulty with digiscoping is trying to focus on a moving bird and coming away with a clear picture. And if the sun is behind you then the view through the camera monitor glares back at you. So most of the pictures are out of focus.

So here we are at our first stop and we have 3 RNGR already. Is this what we are to expect today? So our next stop where one was reported was Armleder Park, which is just upstream from the Ohio River with the Little Miami River running along it’s eastern border. And bordering along it’s southern edge is Duck Creek. It’s here where Duck Creek runs into the Little Miami is where we need to set up. After twice falling on the slippery slopes we made it to our destination. Footing was difficult with all the mud, however when we looked downstream we found 3 more RNGR. This is getting crazy. Like I told Jon, “you can’t swing a cat without hitting one”.

Totally satisfied with now sighting 6 individuals we trudged through the mud back to our respective cars. So where to next? Well being close to the Ohio River this area is known for all it’s marinas  which are tucked back off the Ohio River through man-made channels. And one of the largest, 4 Seasons Marina, has this driving range next to it. But it’s not your conventional kind of driving range. This one has a lake that you hit the ball into, and they have these floating markers that show the distance. Well it’s on this driving range lake where we found yet another RNGR. This time a male showing it’s breeding plumage.


IMG_3719On these last 2 photos you can really tell how they got their name.

So after we left this marina we went just 2 marina down from us called Harbor Town Marina. We walked down to the channel and found another RNGR. This one another solo bird and it was actively feeding. Do to the distance and the position of the sun I took no photo.

So after finding 8 different birds we made our way to California Golf Course. Located on the golf course is a very large reservoir that is used by the Cincinnati Water Works. And it’s here that we find the last RNGR for the day. Another lone male bird amongst all the other water fowl that speckled the lake.

Having thought we might have missed out on this last invasion of this magnificent bird, we came away with 9 different individuals. Now this may sound like a lot, but remember they’re all over the place down here, either on our large lakes of rivers. How long will this go on? No ones guess. Just like the Snowy Owls, here one day, then gone the next.

So what’s in store for us in the Ohio valley. Well with spring knocking on the door, hopefully warblers. And you know how much we love warblers here at A Birders Notebook.

Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Red-winged Black Birds
  2. American Crow
  3. American Robin
  4. Northern Cardinal
  5. Carolina Chickadee
  6. Pileated Woodpecker
  7. Downy Woodpecker
  8. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  9. Song Sparrow
  10. White-throated Sparrow
  11. White-crowned Sparrow
  12. Field Sparrow
  13. Red-shouldered Hawk
  14. Red-tailed Hawk
  15. Mourning Dove
  16. Common Grackle
  17. Tree Swallow
  18. Canada Goose
  19. Northern Shoveler
  20. Common Merganser
  21. Red-breasted Merganser
  22. Hooded Merganser
  23. Mallard
  24. Wood Duck
  25. Common Goldeneye
  26. Pied-billed Grebe
  27. Red-necked Grebe
  28. Turkey Vulture
  29. Black Vulture
  30. Eastern Bluebird
  31. Killdeer
  32. Bufflehead
  33. Gadwall
  34. American Wigeon
  35. Ring-neck Duck
  36. American Coot
  37. Redhead
  38. Northern Mockingbird
  39. Lesser Scaup
  40. Greater Scaup
  41. Blue Jay
  42. Ring-billed Gull
  43. Herring Gull
  44. Belted Kingfisher