Photo Journal

IMG_1592!st Winter Franklin’s Gull/ Caesar Creek State Park

Notes From The Field

Sparrows, those pesky little brown birds that can give even the best birder fits. They can either be the most commonly seen bird, or the highly secretive. They can be as small as a Henslow’s Sparrow at 5″, or as large as the Harris Sparrow at 7 1/2″. We reference our field guides for sparrow by whether they have streaks of not. We deduce by the habitat we’re in on which type of sparrow might be there at any given time. But, no matter how you look at the sparrow they can be one of the best challenges a birder can face when you’re out in the field.

It’s Autumn here in the Ohio valley, and with the change of the season it’s also time for two of the toughest sparrows to find. From the Ammodramus family comes the Nelson’s and LeConte’s Sparrow. I’ve had some pretty good luck here at the Shaker Trace Wetlands of Miami Whitewater Forest but with just one of these birds, and that would be the Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow. And just this last May I was able to sneak up on this individual right off the paved bike trail.

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Sadly this last Saturday I wasn’t as lucky. A weather front was pushing through and the wind was up. Hearing became extremely difficult as the wind whistled by your ears as you strained to hear anything similar to a “chip” note. Hours were spent traversing through the recently mowed paths that criss-crossed the wetlands. Ammodramus Sparrows were not to be seen today.

But it’s never really a bad day when you’re out in the field birding. With that said the Swamp Sparrows were giving me fits as I jockeyed around trying to get a decent picture of these jittery birds. Considering the habitat they live in they’re almost as secretive as Nelson’s and LeConte’s Sparrows.

IMG_1574You see, this is the kind of looked I had to deal with when getting a photo of these Swamp Sparrows.

IMG_1577I was delighted when this White-throated Sparrow lighted long enough for me to fumble my camera out to get this shot.

IMG_1583And with the coming of cooler temperatures, the arrival of White-crowned Sparrows is as inevitable as Christmas. Masses flocked the tall vegetation along the trails, and always just one step ahead of me. Fortunately for me this little fella stayed put long enough for me to focus through the sticks and snap off a picture.

So as Autumn creeps closer to Winter, now is a great time to get out and go looking for skulking, secretive little brown jobs, Sparrows.

” On The Road”

With just over 2,700 miles driven, 91 different bird species seen, and with 4 of them being life birds, I’d have to say it certainly was a whirl-wind vacation. And with all good things, it must come to and end and reality rears it’s ugly head in the form up going back to work and all the stress that goes along with it. However I am glad to be home and sleeping in my own bed and not eating in restaurants every night.

Like I said it was a whirl-wind vacation where we visited family, friends, and places we’ve never seen before. And being a type of vacation where we’re not in one location for more than a few days at a time, birding proved to be a challenge. Knowing ahead of time where we were staying helped with locating the best places to bird watch, so planning ahead was really important. Making phone calls and studying web sites proved to be the biggest help.

Our first day of driving was going to be the longest as we drove south to Hattiesburg Mississippi. My 95 year old aunt and uncle live there plus a couple of cousins, so even though it was an exhausting drive I picked up some quality birds.

IMG_1304Boat-tailed Grackles were particularly common as they scavenged the rest stops throughout the south.

IMG_1298Being a rarity in the north, down south the Eurasian-collared Dove was quite common, especially along the Gulf Coast.

From there it was a short drive to Destin Florida where we stayed for another couple of days. It was here I picked up 2 life birds, Snowy Plover located at Gulf Islands National Seashore,

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and Common Ground Dove, which I found at the Ft. Walton land fill north of town.

The location of the Snowy Plovers was furnished to me by a contact through the local chapter of the  Audubon Society. The bridge leading west out of Destin onto Okaloosa Island has a parking lot right where the bridge ends. She told me to walk the beach and keep my eyes open.

IMG_1328Royal Terns were a pretty common sight, as were

IMG_1319Sanderlings

IMG_1334Immature Sandwich Tern

IMG_1336A Willet in the surf.

IMG_1373 Black Skimmers

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IMG_1355As I made my way around the edge this is the scenery I was confronted with. Since the Snowy Plover breeds here, it’s off limits to all and is roped off to keep people out. Except for the waters edge, it was nothing but sand and scrubby grasses.

IMG_1367As I passed my way through to the ocean, I really started to pay attention to where I was walking. Except for a few people fishing back by the parking lot, I had this whole area to myself. As I moved about the beach looking for Snowies, something moved.

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IMG_1382Notice that this particular bird is banded.

IMG_1389A closer looks at the bands they use.

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IMG_1396Knowing how threatened these birds are I didn’t want to keep following them, so I took as many pictures as I could, then I left with another bird ticked off my life list.

After leaving Destin we made our way to Chipley Florida, which is 45 minutes north of Panama City. It was here Kathy’s cousin lived, and our next stop for a couple more days. So the morning of our first full day I drove the 45 minutes to St. Andrews State Park.

IMG_1415A view of one of the larger marshes at the park. One thing I noticed about the state parks in Florida that differ from state parks in Ohio, you have to pay to enter.

IMG_1418Common Gallinule

IMG_1421Trails through the park were well marked and maintained. Low trees and scrubs held a nice diversity of birds, particularly migrating warblers.

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IMG_1442Snowy Egret

After our stay in Chipley was over it was onto our next stop, Hilton Head and one of my favorite places to bird, Fish Haul Creek Park. And as was the case on previous visits, as was now, the Piping Plovers were here. The pictures were terrible, so I apologize.

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IMG_1458Piping Plover

The day was beautiful when I took these pictures, so why are they so bad? The sun was at a bad angle, and it was real windy, which made holding the camera still difficult while using the digital zoom on the camera. They are so small, and far away getting a good shot is difficult.

It was here that I got a hot tip about a good location for Red-cockaded Woodpeckers just an hour away. As much as I wanted to stay here, I wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity like this. So i packed it up and drove they hour or so to Webb Wildlife Management Area in Garnet South Carolina.

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The drive as you pulled in a long, gravel road with mature stands of pines with scrubby undergrowth. Perfect Red-cockaded habitat! Plus the nesting trees had white bands around the tree so you can identify them. All you had to do is find a tree, and look for the nesting hole, which is usually covered on the outside with sap.

IMG_1467Red-cockaded Woodpecker nesting hole.

Unfortunately it’s not nesting time, and the couple of hours spent along the road looking for them was in vain, except for the completely by surprise Bachman’s Sparrow that came into view. About as secretive as they come, I was able to “piss” this out into the open long enough for a good ID.

Now you would think finding yet another life bird I would be satisfied. No, I wanted to see this woodpecker. So I parked the car and made my way down a sand road that criss-crosses the wildlife area.

IMG_1468It was along this road where I’d walk 20 yards and stop and scan. walk another 20 yards and repeat. Over and over again.

Then I spooked a woodpecker off a tree. Flying away from me with black nap and tail, and a ladder back, about the size of a Hairy Woodpecker was my Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Time for the Happy Dance! Life was good.

The drive back was euphoric as was the next day as we walked the beach while Brown Pelicans flew past,

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IMG_1518Laughing Gulls looked for scraps to eat,

IMG_1536and a lone Osprey hunted overhead.

However sometimes when you least expect it a really nice bird presents itself at the most unusual of times. We were shopping and just outside the store was a Palmetto Tree, where a Brown-headed Nuthatch flew into. Having my camera at the time, which is surprise in unto itself, I snapped several pictures of this southern specialty.

IMG_1561Brown-headed Nuthatch

IMG_1569The house we were staying at had a patio, where in the morning several palm Warblers were grabbing up all the worms.

But before this trip was over we had just one more stops to make. And boy was it worth every penny and then some.

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As for the birds, here’s my total trip list:

  1. House Sparrow
  2. Wild Turkey (seen through the kitchen window at Biltmore)
  3. Eastern Bluebird
  4. Red-tailed Hawk
  5. Red-shouldered Hawk
  6. Northern Harrier
  7. American Kestrel
  8. Osprey
  9. Peregrine Falcon
  10. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  11. Cooper’s Hawk
  12. Bald Eagle
  13. Turkey Vulture
  14. Black Vulture
  15. Mourning Dove
  16. Eurasian-collared Dove
  17. Common Ground Dove
  18. Pigeon
  19. Northern Mockingbird
  20. Brown Thrasher
  21. Common Crow
  22. Fish Crow
  23. Blue Jay
  24. Carolina Chickadee
  25. Yellow-billed Cuckoo
  26. Boat-tailed Grackle
  27. Hooded Warbler
  28. American Redstart
  29. Palm Warbler
  30. Magnolia Warbler
  31. Black and White Warbler
  32. Yellow-throated Warbler
  33. Pine Warbler
  34. Scarlet Tanager
  35. Canada Goose
  36. Blue-winged Teal
  37. Carolina Wren
  38. House Wren
  39. Eastern Towhee
  40. White-eyed Vireo
  41. Red-eyed Vireo
  42. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  43. Northern Flicker
  44. Pileated Woodpecker
  45. Downy Woodpecker
  46. Red-headed Woodpecker
  47. Red-cockaded Woodpecker
  48. White-breasted Nuthatch
  49. Brown-headed Nuthatch
  50. Northern cardinal
  51. Tufted Titmouse
  52. Gray Catbird
  53. Barn Swallow
  54. Killdeer
  55. Snowy Plover
  56. Piping Plover
  57. Black-bellied Plover
  58. Brown Pelican
  59. Ring-billed Gull
  60. Laughing Gull
  61. Sanderling
  62. Least Sandpiper
  63. Semipalmated Sandpiper
  64. Ruddy Turnstone
  65. Royal Tern
  66. Caspian Tern
  67. Sandwich Tern
  68. Common Tern
  69. Willet
  70. Black Skimmer
  71. American Oystercatcher
  72. Double-creasted Cormorant
  73. Snowy Egret
  74. Great Egret
  75. Great Blue Heron
  76. Tri-colored Egret
  77. Cattle Egret
  78. Little Blue Heron (white and blue phase)
  79. Coot
  80. Common Gallinule
  81. Pied Billed Grebe
  82. Ruby Throated Hummingbird
  83. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  84. Eastern Phoebe
  85. Belted Kingfisher
  86. White Ibis
  87. Clapper Rail
  88. Bachman’s Sparrow
  89. Red-winged Black Bird
  90. House Finch
  91. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

“Attention”

PSA

To better keep this blog up to date, every now and then I have to go back and do some house cleaning. And to do that I have to delete pictures from older posts. You see Word Press, which is the service I use to create and perform all of my blogs functions only allow me free of charge, 3.0 GB of media space. Once I reach that point I have 2 options. I can either delete older photos, or buy more space on an annual basis. Since I’m more of a budget minded individual I opted for deletion. So as of today if you go back to older posts prior to October 2012 there will be no pictures associated with them.

I hope this won’t be a problem for anyone, and if you want to see anything in particular from an older post, just drop me a comment and I’ll dig up the photos and pass them along.

Thanks Les H.

A Day Of Rarities

Not knowing what Kathy had in store for me tomorrow, I had to make the best out of today and get in as much birding as possible. My first stop was Fish Haul Creek Park where upon arriving a large group of birders were unloading and gathering. Wanting to get out to the beach before this large crowd I hurried along the trail to the waters edge. It was a beautiful morning after that strong front came through yesterday, however the winds were very strong and the skies blue, so all was well from a birding aspect.
American Oystercatchers, Black-bellied Plovers, Northern Harrier, Black Skimmers were some of the better birds seen. Both blue and white morph Little Blue Herons were seen unfortunately no pictures. However the bird for the morning were the 2 Piping Plovers. This is the third time I”ve been here during this time of year, and just like clockwork the Piping Plovers show up.
I was having no luck with Saltmarsh Sparrows so I started to walk back when the birding group passed me. I said hello to them and continued to walk. A lady who was bringing up the rear stopped me and we started to talk. It seems they were from the local Audubon Society and this is their month outing. Well after a few minutes of your normal bird talk, we got on the subject of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. Well to make a long story short, her and her husband were able to hook me up with a really good location of these birds just and hour or so from where I was staying in Sun City.
The location is called Webb Wildlife Management Area in Garnet South Carolina.
The ride was through some very rural parts of South Carolina, so when I arrived needless to say I was anxious to get going. As you drove down the long, gravel drive you couldn’t help but notice the trees that are marked as nesting trees for the woodpeckers. But there were no woodpeckers. Except for a lone Pileated and Red-bellied there wasn’t a whole lot of action. That was until I heard a chip note off to my right. I “pish” a few times. Up jumps a sparrow. But not just any sparrow, a Bachman’s Sparrow. Holy cow I never expected anything like this. I never took the time to even reached for my camera, I was just looking at this awesome bird. It then disappeared as quick as it came. I worked the area for a few more minutes without success, so it was back to finding a woodpecker.
I traveled up and down the road, stopping and looking into the trees for a long time until I decided that maybe I needed to walk back into the woods and try my luck that way since nothing else was working.
So I parked the car and set out on foot. I walked several hundred feet back to where I noticed a deer stand and a family of Eastern Bluebirds. I continued to walk when I must have spooked up this woodpecker. And there it was flying away from and into the woods. Unmistakable ladder back, small size. Everything indicating a Red-cockaded Woodpecker.
This trip has been epic so far and after today I really don’t know how to top this from a birding point of view. Totally satisfied. I’m sure I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I can’t imagine another life bird. Everything else now is just gravy.

“On The Road”

On my last full day in Florida I made the 1 hour drive to the Gulf of Mexico and doomed birding at St. Andrew State Park. This is one of the parks I had read about on the Florida Birding Trail website, and I was it was one of the locations they recommended to be able to see a Gray Flycatcher. So I set the GPS to the park and made my way pretty easily after battling the rush hour traffic.
It was a beautiful park and I could see in my mind why it would be a perfect place for Gray Flycatchers, however not this day. Besides the normal wading birds I had some pretty good warbler activity. Mongolia, Black & White, American Restarts and Yellow-throated Warblers were pretty active. But without a doubt the Mockingbirds, Brown Thrashers, and Blue Jays were the dominate species not just in this park but all throughout the south.
So toady was another moving day for this vacation as we made our way to the Hilton Head area. And as usual I wasalwa5s on the lookout for any new birds for the trip, and I was able to tick off White Ibis and Cattle Egret.
So with 2 full days here near the coast again I’m going to try and take advantage of my time and get some good birding in. Tomorrow I will visit the Fish Haul Creek area and probably Pickney Island NWR. At neither location I expect to see anything new, however Piping Plovers are now here and they are such great birds that I hope to get some good photographs. As long as I can get relatively close enough.
More to come.