Tag Archives: Bird Watching

July 100 Species Challenge/ The End

Tomorrow is the 31st of July and unless there is some divine intervention, my final count will stand at 106 bird species. And what’s kind of frustrating is first my late start for this whole July challenge, and secondly is that are so many birds that I could have sighted that I didn’t.

Let’s take this last Sunday. Despite the forecast of rain on and off for the whole day I still felt the need to drive to some of my favorite hot spots so I could tick off a few more birds. So it was back out onto the highway to the west side of town., particularly Lost Bridge, and Shawnee Lookout Park. Lost Bridge for early migrating shore birds and Cliff Swallows, and Shawnee Lookout for a few more warbler species that summer over in this park. Such as Cerulean, Kentucky, Redstart, Prairie, Blue-winged, and Ovenbird.

Other than picking up Cliff Swallow at Lost Bridge it was a total bust, especially with the rain picking up. You see I neglected to grab my rain jacket when I left so I really didn’t want to be soaked this early in the day with Shawnee Lookout still ahead.

Shawnee wasn’t much better. There were plenty of birds, just not some of the ones I was really depending on. I was wanting to get an early start to the day when my chances were a bit better, but hitting it in the afternoon they weren’t singing as much as I would have liked.

IMG_0942One of the few cooperative birds was this male Eastern Towhee

IMG_0939Female American Redstart

So now after completing 2 different month long challenges so far this year I have to admit that this one was the easiest. The opportunities to pick up so many more bird species may seem smaller than in the spring, however I really could have added 10 to 12 more with an earlier start in the month. January is by far the most difficult after you count up all the duck species that is found around here. After that you don’t have to many birds that you can count on being there. Plus the weather can keep the most intrepid birder at home. I’ll never forget my trip to Dayton to tick off the Glaucous Gull when the wind chill was well below zero. The wind chill in July is measured by the AC hitting you in the face when you walk into the neighborhood mini-mart for something to cold drink.

Bird watching challenges like this keep the hobby fun and exciting. Instead of just going out into the field, you have to re-focus on what species you’re searching for and the habitat where you’ll find them. It sharpens your skill even if you’ve seen the bird hundreds of times before. And with January just 6 short months away it helps you prepare for the cold weather challenge.

So the end is now and with the addition of:

  • Cliff Swallow
  • Kentucky Warbler
  • American Redstart

my total is 106. So remember to challenge yourself every now and then. It does make you feel better about yourself no matter what you attempt.

 

 

Notes From The Field/ July 100 Species Challenge

Spring Valley Wildlife Area/ Caesar Creek State Park

Today’s morning field trip had the sole purpose of bulking up my meager list as July slowly slips away. So with just 12 days to go I had to come up with a serious strategy so I could get the most birds while visiting the fewest places. I first had to write down what summer residents are still here and where is the best place to see them. With what was still needed to complete my July list, there was no doubt where I needed to go this morning. Spring Valley and Caesar Creek. Spring Valley for Rails and Warblers and Caesar Creek for Gulls and Raptors.

I arrived about 7:30 at the boardwalk at Spring Valley. It had rained the night before so the hike down the trail was a slick mess compounded with ruts left by some vehicle. The boardwalk was as slick as the trail, what with it covered with dew and a slimy coating of some type of mold. My focus was on Virginia Rails, Soras and Marsh Wrens, which all three can be either seen or heard from the boardwalk. The secretive and reclusive Virginia Rail has been seen with some juveniles earlier this week so I know they’re here. It’s just finding them.

I make my way to the observation tower and listen intently for any of these 3 birds calling.

IMG_0834Looking back along the boardwalk at Spring Valley

IMG_0835Looking towards the lake in the distance. Which at the time is choked with water lilies.

I’m striking out! I’m not hearing my target birds, let alone see them. So I climb down from the tower and make my way back to my favorite spot along the boardwalk. There’s an open area about 50 feet before you get to the tower which in the past has proven to be the go-to spot for Rails.

IMG_0855It doesn’t look like much of an opening, but if your going to get a clear view of either a Sora or a Virginia Rail, this is the place.

Then I see movement as I approach the clearing. It’s an adult Virginia Rail. Then I notice behind the adult, coming  out of the tall grass a juvenile. HOLY COW!

I reach for my camera

IMG_0843The camera wanted to focus on the grass in front of the birds, not the birds. It was very frustrating. However there’s my proof. So for an hour I jockeys around trying to get pictures as the juveniles cooperated with getting their pictures taken, while the adult keep a little more secluded.

IMG_0839This was the best I could do at capturing the adult.

IMG_0886The juvenile skulking through the marsh.

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After this very successful sighting of these beautiful Virginia Rails, I climbed back up the trail to my car to head over to the lake side of the preserve and begin my hike on the Loveland Bike Trail. It’s from this trail where I know I can find a Bald Eagle and tick off another bird.

Which I do.

There are some marshy areas that run along the side of the bike trail which is popular with Prothonotary Warbler and Soras.

Tick off a few more species.

IMG_0915Prothonotary Warbler

The morning was waning and I needed to get to Caesar Creek. I didn’t have much time so Harverysburg Road was my go to spot to  see if I could tick off any more birds. With boaters on the water there was no birds on the lake. However I was able to tick off Osprey that was fishing and Ring-billed Gull, which are always here.

How before I went to the Harveysburg Road overlook I stopped at the Mounds Road portion of the lake to see if any mud flat habitat has formed. So as I walked towards the lake I spooked 10 to 12 Great Blue Herons. So as I set up my spotting scope closer to the water, I scanned the sky in the direction of the Herons as they flew away. However one of the birds that was flying wasn’t a Great Blue. It was a Sandhill Crane. A little early for them and definitely an unusual sighting. Sorry no picture.

But the good news is that I added some good birds for the day.

  • Yellow Warbler
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • Virginia Rail
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Northern Parula
  • Prothonotary Warbler
  • Great-creasted Flycatcher
  • Sora
  • Bald Eagle
  • House Wren
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Osprey
  • Ring-billed Gull

That leaves me with a total of 92 birds for July.

“On The Road”

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

There are 38 species of Wood Warblers that can be seen in the eastern portion of the United States, excluding hybrids like the Lawrence’s, Brewster’s and Sutton’s Warblers. And let’s all exclude all of the western species that might stray into our eastern region for whatever reason other than to drive birders crazy. During migration both in the Spring and fall it’s not uncommon to be able to tick off over 20 species in a day, especially at migrant traps such as along the Lake Erie shore. However there are certain species that aren’t that easy to find because either they’re a rare bird to begin with, or because of the habitats they frequent and their habits,which make locating them real difficult. And such was the case this last 4th of July weekend.

For a couple of years now I’ve been standing at 37 species of Wood warblers for my life list. And you’d be correct in thinking that I’m missing something like a Kirtland’s warbler, or Connecticut Warbler, or even a Worm-eating Warbler. And you’d be correct in that assumption. Kirtland’s Warbler are very much a habitat specific species, however if you drove to the Jack Pine stands of northern Michigan in the Spring you’d probably hear them, if not actually see them on their breeding grounds. Now the Connecticut and Worm-eating Warblers are those ground feeding foragers that are mostly found sifting through leaves and other forest debris trying to locate food. These residents of the thick and tangled under-brush are super difficult to find as well. However these birds have already been checked off my “Life List”. So which bird am I talking about? That famous skulker of the southern canebrakes and rhododendron thickets, who’s loud ringing song is probably the only reason they know of it’s existence, the Swainson’s Warbler.

So this last Thursday after I got off work, my youngest son Ethan picked me up in front of work for our 5 hour drive to The Great Smoky Mountains. True, one of the reasons for going was to find this bird, but also to to visit my oldest son David who is working as an Environmental Educator at The Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont for the summer. He’s been wanting us to come for a visit and the 4th of July weekend turned out to be the best for the both of us. And David has a friend named Tiffany who’s one of the resident scientists who’s studying the Louisiana Waterthrush at the Institute. You see Walker Valley, where Tremont is located, has an unusually high concentration of Louisiana Waterthrush, so she’s a natural choice to pick her brain on where to find a Swainson’s Warbler. And she knew exactly where to find them. So hopes were to find this bird early enough in the weekend so I could visit with David and do things other than birding with him. Like hiking! And even with sore knees and a missing portion of my lung, I love to hike.

On the way from Townsend Tennessee where I had rented a beautiful cabin I was to meet up with David at Tremont. I don’t think I can explain in words how beautiful this short drive back to Tremont is. It’s kind of remote, and off the beaten path, where River Otters are seen regularly in the stream that cascades besides the road as you drive in.

David tells me that the trail head we need to find is for Schoolhouse Gap Trail. It’s accessed by following the road that takes you back to Cades Cove. And if you’ve ever been to the Smokies before, you’ve probably heard of Cades Cove. And on a typical holiday weekend you’d expect the usual traffic jams as drivers look at deer and a occasional Black Bear, but we headed out early enough to avoid all that mess.

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Being so early when we arrived we had the whole, rather large parking lot to ourselves. I found out later that the reason it’s so large is that the trail doubles as a bridle trail. It needs to accommodate the horse trailers and the larger trucks that pull them. So the trail is rather wide, enough for 3 people to walk abreast, and not too rocky as most of the other trails are.

I love how surreal a forest is in the morning. Quiet, damp, close, with only the sounds of running water and an occasional Hooded Warbler calls from high up.

IMG_0671Rhododendrons were in full bloom in these low valleys

IMG_0670I can’t remember the last time I was here when the Rhododendrons were in bloom. So I took lots of pictures of them for my own use, not to bore you with them.

IMG_0666This is the kind of thick vegetation we had to content with as we searched for our target bird.

For days I’ve been listening to recording of Swainson’s Warblers, burning it’s song into my memory. Not just any song though, Swainson’s Warbler song that were recorded in the Appalachian Mountains, since they vary from on part of the country to the nest. Further south the call can be slightly different from these, which is the northern range for them.

We walk a short distance, then stop and listen. We repeat this process over and over again till….. We hear one sing.

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We’re standing in a small clearing along the trail when we hear the bird sing off to our right, way back into the woods.

It sings again. This time closer. We hear a second one sing, but more distant.

The first one is closer when it sings again. We listen intently as we try to figure out where it’s coming from. We’re in a slight valley with a small, but impenetrable gully that ran perpendicular to the trail.

I see movement out of the corner of my eye and as I’m bringing my bins to my eyes, a small bird flies across the trail to out left into the thick Rhododendron thicket. Then it starts to sing again in a different location. We follow it again. Only to have it move down the gully to another location where it starts to sing again.

We play this cat and mouse game for a long time. Not satisfied with just a bird singing, I needed a visual other than that brief fly  across the trail.

It sings again, this time real close. Just on the other side of this thick stand of Rhododendrons that line the trail. I move off trail about 10 feet to get a clear view of the gully that the warbler is calling from.

IMG_0662This is the view I had to deal with. Trying to locate a 5″ bird that’s  drab greenish brown in color. Simple right?

I keep scanning with the naked eye looking for any kind of movement. He’s here, right in front of me singing his heart out and I can’t find him.

Seconds seem like an eternity as I keep scanning. I instinctively bring my bins to my eyes and focus on a small dead tree about 20 feet away.

There’s the bird on a branch with it’s back towards me.  I motion to David to come over quietly. I relocate the bird and reach for my camera. I turn it on and zoom onto the spot where the bird is. The damn camera is trying to focus, but it’s too slow. And by the time it does focus the bird is gone down the gully again, singing in another location.

I saw it, which is a great satisfaction. But to have it sitting so close and not seeing it for what seemed like an eternity, and then not being able to get a picture is frustrating. And to top it off David never saw it either.

So we made the decision to leave and head back to the cabin. I truly wished that I had photographed the bird, but sometimes we have to try again. I plan on returning to this location again, so maybe next time.

Notes From The Field

Spring Valley Wildlife Area, Caesar Creek State Park

I was anxious to go birding Saturday, more so than most other days. I felt kind of guilty that I hadn’t called Jon to see if he wanted to join me, but I thought that today I needed to be alone. Just myself and my new camera. Where I could take my time and not rush. This was more of a photographic adventure than a birding adventure. Now don’t take me wrong, I wanted to see some cool birds (which I did) however I really wanted to see how my new camera operated.

The boardwalk out into the marsh at Spring Valley was pretty empty, except for a couple of photographers this cool Saturday morning. A couple of Soras were calling above the chatter of the Red-winged Black Birds as I waited to see if any Virginia Rails would call. My first of the year Yellow Warbler flitted around the bushes out in the marsh.

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A small brown bird catches my attention. It’s down amongst the vegetation and cattails. I was hoping for a Marsh Wren, but I will settle for a Swamp Sparrow.

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IMG_0063A Drake and Hen Blue-winged Teal

After the boardwalk I drove over to the other section of Spring Valley. This area is in close proximity to the bike trail and hopefully some warblers. Palm, Prothonotary, and Yellow-rumped Warblers were everywhere. The morning was heating up and the activity on the bike trail was getting busy with bicycle traffic.

IMG_0071A beautiful male Yellow-rumped Warbler.

IMG_0092This Prothonotary Warbler was really skittish. When I first heard it sing, and was finally able to track it down, getting it’s picture was proving to be difficult. After getting a few good shots I was looking over the pictures at home. Now look on the birds leg.

prwabandI think this is either my 3rd, or 4th bird photo where the bird is banded.

After walking down the bike trail to check out a Bald Eagles nest, I made my way over to the area below the dam at Caesar Creek. In the past I’ve heard of Louisiana Waterthrush being in the area.

IMG_0105Being such a beautiful day this part of the park gets especially busy with families having picnics and folks fishing. So I hiked around for a bit listening for any tell tale signs of a Louisiana Waterthrush. As with California Woods last week I struck out again. So it was time to change locations, and this time I’m going to follow the tail water from the dam downstream to Caesar Creek Gorge. I’ve found the bird here before and last year a fellow birder reported a good spot to find them. So it was back to the car for the 20 minute drive.

Caesar Creek Gorge is divided into 2 sections. The trail is one big loop system, and I was heading to the upper trail. It was only a matter of a couple of minutes when I heard a rather sharp, one note call that I vaguely remember. It was close, and when I got my bins on it it became apparent what I was hearing…

IMG_0109A Great-creasted Flycatcher is a wonderful bird. But what is so wonderful is how close this picture is to the bird. A picture this good alone justifies my purchase of this camera. I never would have been able to digiscope a picture this good. By the time I had everything ready the bird would have flown away.

I made my way around the park and started my decent into the bottom land of the park that borders the river. The place I read about is a little off the trail but it was easily accessible with just a little scramble down a steep bank. The rush of the water is all I hear. A Spotted sandpiper lands on some gravel in the middle of the river. Pumps it’s tail a few times and flies up river, as does the Belted Kingfisher. Then I hear one sing. It keeps getting closer and closer. Right over head now.

IMG_0133With all the excitement of finally seeing the bird I think I zoomed in too much. I cut off it’s tail in this picture.

IMG_0135When the bird is high up in the tree, and you’re below it, attempting to get a good shot is difficult. For one thing the camera is wanting to auto-focus on the closest thing. And that thing might not be the bird. I might be a branch that’s between you and the bird. So you’re looking up, trying to not lose your footing, and get a steady photo. Easy

After this hike I was tired and hungry and wanting to head home. However before I left I had to get a shot of these Tree Swallows .

IMG_0102One thing about Tree Swallows is that they’ll sit still long enough to get it’s picture taken.

Notable birds for the day include:   FOY-First of the Year

  1. Prothonotary Warbler-FOY
  2. Palm Warbler-FOY
  3. Louisiana Watertrhush-FOY
  4. Sora-FOY
  5. Red-headed Woodpecker-FOY
  6. Osprey-FOY
  7. Chimney Swift-FOY
  8. White-eyed Vireo-FOY
  9. Red-eyed Vireo-FOY
  10. Warbling Vireo-FOY
  11. House Wren-FOY
  12. Great-creasted Flycatcher-FOY
  13. Prairie Warbler-FOY

Total species for the day was 55.

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.