Tag Archives: Bird Watching

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!

THEY WERE EVERYWHERE!

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

“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

podi_gris_AllAm_map

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.

IMG_3703

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_3715

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

Notes from The Field

Caesar Creek State Park

For the past several days a Red-throated Loon has been seen actively feeding as you stood from the end of Harveysburg Road. Despite the fact that we do get a few of these birds during the colder months, eBird does consider this a rarity.

As I arrived at the terminus of Harveysburg Road 2 other birders were also on the lookout. The wind was still which made the lake perfect for viewing. This area can be so windy, and with any kind of chop on the water birds like loons are difficult to view. They’re low lying in the water, and their continues diving makes getting on them almost impossible. However today was to be my lucky day, as myself and 3 other birders were able to view the bird from quite a long distance.

My time at the lake was limited since chores were awaiting me when I got home, so I made the best of it. Traveling around to as many spots proved to produce few waterfowl. Hunters and fishermen were numerous and speeding boats were disturbing any raft of ducks that were visible. And as the morning wore on the wind picked up which again made birding difficult.

Noon was approaching and so was the end to a nice morning of birding. As the end of the year approaches I need to get in birding shape for the January 100 Species Challenge. This coming January could prove to be a difficult since the finches from the north aren’t expected to be this far south. And with that fewer birds to add to the list. But we’ll try to perceiver.

Sorry for the short post, but more to come. Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Pied-billed Grebe
  2. Red-throated Loon
  3. Common Loon
  4. Hooded Merganser
  5. Red-breasted Merganser
  6. Redhead
  7. Mallard
  8. Ruddy Duck
  9. Common Coot
  10. Scoter species?
  11. Bonaparte’s Gull
  12. Herring Gull
  13. Ring-billed Gull
  14. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  15. Downy Woodpecker
  16. Northern Flicker
  17. Turkey Vulture
  18. Red-shouldered Hawk
  19. Red-tailed Hawk
  20. Sharp-shinned hawk
  21. Coopers Hawk
  22. American Goldfinch
  23. Dark-eyed Junco
  24. Northern Cardinal
  25. American Robin
  26. Blue Jay
  27. Song Sparrow
  28. Swamp Sparrow
  29. American Tree Sparrow
  30. White-throated Sparrow
  31. Belted Kingfisher
  32. Killdeer
  33. Common Crow
  34. Golden-crowned Kinglet
  35. Carolina Wren
  36. Carolina Chickadee
  37. Red-winged Blackbird

Notes From The Field/ Life Bird # 333

East Fork State Park

Purple Sandpiper, (Calidris maritima) what brings you 3 down to of all places, Clermont County, Ohio? Living in this part of the state we hear of an occasional sighting up on Lake Erie by those weather resistant birders who venture out to spot these birds as they clamor around on the rocky beaches and jetties of Northern Ohio. Probably the hardiest of all sandpipers, they breed on the tundra of arctic Canada, and winter along the Atlantic coast from Newfoundland to Maryland. Of all the places to winter over is along the Atlantic coast where I can only imagine how the ocean is, then to be such a small bird foraging for food in such harsh conditions.

Which bring me back to my first question. What the hell are you doing in Clermont County at one of our state parks? Whatever the circumstances are, when I reported this sighting yesterday evening I never thought in a million years I would be lucky enough to see them. The pictures I saw confirmed that they were indeed Purple Sandpipers, but they wouldn’t stick around for another day, would they?

Well you could call it being blessed by the Birding Gods, luck of the Irish (despite my German heritage), or just being at the right spot at the right time, circumstances I wish not to talk about has lead me to my newest addition to the old “Life List”.

On a cold raw day like today only hunters or birders would be outside. So as I drove into the parking lot of East Fork South Beach area there was just a few cars parked here and there. However it was the crowd of about half a dozen people that lead me to the western side of the beach. Then I saw 2 Robin sized birds scrambling along the beach. Slowing down my walking pace so not to scare off the birds I made my way over to fellow birder Allan Claybon who was busy as usual photographing the birds.

Setting up my rig I started to get some photos of these constantly moving birds. Trying to get focused in on the sandpipers was proving to be really difficult. However I did get a few that proves their identity. And with these birds it’s really necessary to have photo proof. From what I’ve been reading on the internet concerning these birds is that there have been only 3 recorded sightings of these birds inland for the entire state. And being this far south is unheard of.

IMG_3241There was reported 3rd one, but I only saw these 2, and getting them into the same frame for this shot was pretty lucky.

IMG_3249

IMG_3262

IMG_3274

IMG_3273Out of the 30 pictures I snapped off this one was the best. I’ve never seen such a striking coloration in a sandpiper before, and with the pale gray head and neck next to the deeper color on the wings I can see how it comes across as purple.

When you get the opportunity to see something as special as this, it’s no wonder why I love birding so much.

“On The Road”

Deer Creek Wildlife Area & State Park

I fell victim to my own preaching when going out into the field this time of year. Check your dates for hunting. Yesterday Jon and myself found this out as we ventured 55 miles away to Deer Creek Wildlife Area. I’m usually up to date on shotgun season, but I completely forgot about black powder season which was this weekend only. So when we ran into a hunter in the area we wanted to search for those skulking Sparrow species, needless to say we were kind of bummed. So we moved on to another location to give this guy a chance to shoot a deer and move on.

At 4,220 acres this is a massive area of rolling grasslands with pockets of trees and bodies of water of various sizes. We arrived at 8:00 am with hopes of catching either Nelson’s Sharp-tailed and LeConte’s Sparrows while they’re most active. From the location where we parked off a side street in New Holland Ohio, the lay of the grassland spread out in front of us.

IMG_3923A sea of grass as far as the eye could see. This is some of the best sparrow habitat I’ve ever been to. Remember I’ve not been to the wide open expanses of the West, so take into consideration my limited travel.

With the hunter deciding for us to move locations out of consideration we headed north along the road that skirts the western border of the wildlife area. There is a dike that crosses the wildlife area and that was where we parked the car and headed out on foot. we made our way along the earthen dike about 1/2 mile before when we climbed down and followed a run down foot path that led into the brush towards this large body of water. Moving in this direction we were heading back south towards our original destination.

IMG_3920Looking south from where we came in on the north shore. We were happy that the edge of the lake wasn’t too muddy and walking was pretty easy and sure footed.

IMG_3921After coming upon this lake we regretted not bringing along our spotting scopes. This a view looking north from the far southern edge.

We came upon this lake from the north and moved along it’s eastern edge towards the other end. One of most numerous birds on the lake were Tree Swallows. Quite literally there were hundreds of Tree Swallows feeding over the water. As we moved further along we noticed a dead tree that was sitting in the lake close to the edge where the Swallows were roosting. As the sun reflected off the backs of the Swallows they light up like a Christmas Tree.

IMG_3919You have to look real close to see all the Tree Swallows.

We found some pretty good shorebirds, and were pleased to see a Stilt Sandpiper and 2 American Golden Plovers, and both Yellowlegs.

IMG_3925

At the southern end we saw a mowed path that we hoped led us out to the road that we parked the bird-mobile on. Yellow-rumped warblers were everywhere along this stretch as by now they arrived in massive numbers to the area.

After a 30 minute walk we arrived back at the car and made for our original location to hunt for the birds we came here for. As we started to walk in we meet up with Robert Royse who I’ve been in contact with concerning this area. He was leaving the field after photographing several Nelson Sparrows. So they were still being seen, I asked? Yes they were, you just have to be patient.

We moved towards the area in question and finally made our way through 5 foot tall grasses to get to the pot hole. This depression in the earth was holding water with plenty of cat-tails growing along the edge. And growing up to the cat-tails was the tall grass. Moving through this stuff wasn’t easy, and trying to be quiet was impossible.

We moved as close to the cat-tails as possible without falling into the water. Footing was difficult with thick vegetation under foot, which made walking an anxious, always looking down procedure. The last thing anyone wanted was to step into a deep hole and break and ankle.

We’d walk 20 feet and stop and “pish”. Then repeat as we moved along the edge. There was hardly any wind. You’d hear a “chip” note. Catch movement out of the corner of your eye. Just another Swamp Sparrow.

Another slight movement just 6 feet in front of me. I motion to Jon to watch this area. There is a bird moving around, but hidden. It shows itself. Jon whispers “Nelson’s”. I shift to my left one side step. There he is. Classic field marks of a Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow.

Sigh of relief!

We continued to bird the area but never found another Nelson’s Sparrow. With the afternoon wearing on we headed back to the car and headed off towards the beach at the lake. Not really knowing where we were going it took a while to get there. As we approached the beach it appeared to be pretty deserted except for a family. We set up our spotting scopes and scanned the water and the edge of the beach. Other than a few dozen Ring-billed Gulls, the only action were a handful Least sandpipers and 1 Dunlin feeding along the waters edge of the beach.

IMG_3230

We finished off this trip in the lobby of the lodge at the resort enjoying a the days accomplishments over 2 cold beers.

Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Canada Geese
  2. Mallard
  3. Blue-winged teal
  4. Green-winged teal
  5. Pied-billed Grebe
  6. Double-creasted Cormorant
  7. Great Blue Heron
  8. Northern Harrier
  9. American Coot
  10. American Golden Plover
  11. Killdeer
  12. Greater Yellowleg
  13. Lesser Yellowleg
  14. Stilt Sandpiper
  15. Dunlin
  16. Least Sandpiper
  17. Ring-billed Gull
  18. Mourning Dove
  19. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  20. Northern Flicker
  21. Eastern Phoebe
  22. Blue Jay
  23. American Crow
  24. Tree Swallow
  25. Carolina Chickadee
  26. Sedge Wren
  27. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  28. Gray Catbird
  29. Northern Mockingbird
  30. Common Yellowthroat
  31. Palm Warbler
  32. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  33. Eastern towhee
  34. Chipping Sparrow
  35. Field Sparrow
  36. Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow
  37. Song Sparrow
  38. Swamp Sparrow
  39. White-throated Sparrow
  40. White-crowned Sparrow
  41. Northern Cardinal
  42. Red-winged Blackbird
  43. Eastern Meadowlark
  44. Common Grackle
  45. Brown-headed Cowbird
  46. American Goldfinch