Tag Archives: Birding

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.

IMG_0537

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,

IMG_1412

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

IMG_1354

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.

IMG_1380

IMG_1382Notice that this particular bird is banded.

IMG_1389A closer looks at the bands they use.

IMG_1392

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.

IMG_1424

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.

IMG_1453

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.

IMG_1466

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,

IMG_1539

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.

IMG_3857

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

Rare Bird Alert

The Chase

As Fall migration continues on with some outstanding birds reported all over the State of Ohio, as usual us birders in the Southwest corner have to rely on traveling to scope out the better birds. We have a high concentration of birders in the Tri-state area, who know how to use social media with great efficiency. If something unusual is sighted, it’s out on the World Wide Web pretty quickly. So it came as a surprise when I read that a Red-necked Phalarope has been seen on Mirror Lake in Eden Park since Wednesday. WEDNESDAY!

Here’s a photo of Mirror Lake with the Spring House Gazebo. The 186 acre tact of land was purchased from Nicolas Longworth in 1869, which he used as a vineyard. Underneath Mirror Lake is a reservoir, and the top is a concrete lined shallow pond. During the winter when it freezes over people will use it for ice skating. Paved sidewalks all over the park make especially popular with dog walkers and joggers. Which explains why the Phalarope was so approachable.

A park employee noticed the bird a day or so ago from comments made by joggers who observed it during their daily run. So the park employee called a prominent birder in the city. And with that call the whole chain reaction help boost this bird to being our own celebrity.

A pretty small wader at only 7.8″, the Red-necked Phalarope breeds throughout all of the far northern reaches of North America. From Alaska towards Hudson Bay and points Eastward. And on a very rare occasion they will show up in our neck of the woods, as the below photo will attest to.

IMG_1665On August 8th, of 2012 I drove to Lost Bridge to digiscope this Red-necked Phalarope. A life bird for me at the time, this heavily cropped photo is enough to provide a positive ID, and that’s about it.

So yesterday morning while reading Cincinnati Birders facebook page, the sighting reported by birding friend Kathi Hutton that the bird was still there at 0730 was all I needed to get that “twitch” going. So last minutes changes in my plans for the day gave me several hours to drive to the city and find the bird.

Which really wasn’t too difficult considering the crowd of birders and photographers it drew. And considering how approachable the bird was, very photogenic.

IMG_1221I left a little bit of the concrete retaining wall for Mirror Lake in the photo to show how close we were able to get to the bird.

IMG_1279The reason it was so close to the wall. It was feeding as this photo shows.

IMG_1227

IMG_1249

IMG_1252For me, this was the money photo. I only wish there was a little more sunshine.

One of the concerns of the group of birders present was the condition of the bird. The bird was able to fly as I was able to witness. However later in the day the thread of Facebook was a birder noticed one of it’s legs was dangling behind as it flew. Now my hope is that it will recuperate while here, then fly away for the Winter.

“On The Road”

Deer Creek State Park and Wildlife Area

It seems like it’s been forever since I went birding. There are so many conflicting and scheduled appointments that trying to plan anything just a week in advance is next to impossible. And if you’re not out birding then it really becomes difficult to write a blog about birding. However there was always a light at the end of the tunnel.

Case in point, yesterday morning bright and early at 0700 hours. Jon arrives at my house for the 90 minute drive to Deer Creek S.P. and Wildlife Area. Situated in a very rural part of Ohio, this 8,600 + acre park has a lot going for when it comes to birding. Besides the lake and the surrounding wetlands which is ideal for waterfowl birding, you probably know by now from some of my past blog posts that it’s fabulous for those skulking sparrows that inhabit marshy/grassy southern portion close to New Holland Ohio.

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen Jon, so the long drive was perfect for us to catch up and plan our day.  Our thought was to make for the beach first thing and see if any shorebirds might be there before non-birding park visitors arrive.

IMG_1184Overlooking the lake is the lodge at Deer Creek State Park

Jon starts to scan the beach before I get close and tells me that there are Black Terns on the beach. Now this kind of excites me since the only time I’ve seen Black Terns is during the Spring at Metzger Marsh. And this was only at a distance where you see mostly black shapes feeding way out into the marsh. So I hurried back to the car and grabbed my camera (don’t ask me why I left it there) and made my way back towards the edge of the beach where I quickly found the Terns.

IMG_1176

IMG_1187As you can see by these 2 pictures how they’re not in the usual breeding plumage. There were only a few sitting on the beach, but when you scanned over the lake you saw more as they swooped around looking for food.

Deer Creek isn’t your traditional kind of state park. Granted there aren’t a lot of hiking trail in the park, however you are allowed to go anywhere you want. Most of the designated trails (which are few) is in the vicinity of the lodge north of the lake. If you plan on birding anywhere else you either have to bushwhack in, or hope the park has mowed a path through wherever you are.

As we drove from place to place during the morning, it couldn’t help but notice just how lousy birding was. There just wasn’t a lot of birds considering that it’s migration time. We would soon find out the answer as we hiked a park road back towards the wetlands/ grasslands area of the park. A green pick-up truck was driving towards us with a ranger from ODNR (Ohio Department of Natural Resources). Well it seems we came on the worst possible weekend. It was Dove hunting season and opening day for Teal, which would explain all the shotguns going off around us. And if I was a migrating bird this would be one place I’d want to avoid.

IMG_1197There may not have been tons of birds to see, but there were plenty of Leopard Frogs that would scatter from the water holes along the park road.

So with all this hunting going on this changes the complexion of how we go about birding. Do we stay, or do we go? We stayed and did the best we could under the circumstances.

IMG_1198Savannah Sparrow

Despite our best efforts we were becoming more and more frustrated with the lack of birds. And as the morning waned into the afternoon we decided to cut our loses and head back home. And as you reflect on a day like yesterday there is always tomorrow, because a bad day of birding is always better than a good day at work.

Notable birds for the day include:

  1. American Crow
  2. Canada Goose
  3. Mallard
  4. Mourning Dove
  5. Osprey
  6. Red-tailed hawk
  7. American Kestrel
  8. Ring-billed Gull
  9. Black Tern
  10. Turkey Vulture
  11. Black Vulture
  12. Common Yellowthroat
  13. Magnolia Warbler
  14. White-breasted Nuthatch
  15. Scarlet Tanager
  16. Song Sparrow
  17. Savannah Sparrow
  18. Great Egret
  19. Great Blue Heron
  20. Green Heron
  21. Belted Kingfisher
  22. American Goldfinch
  23. Double-creasted Cormorant
  24. Eastern Bluebird
  25. Killdeer
  26. Semipalmated Plover
  27. Horned Lark
  28. Gray Catbird
  29. Eastern Kingbird
  30. House Sparrow
  31. Chipping Sparrow
  32. Northern Flicker
  33. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  34. Downy Woodpecker
  35. Carolina Chickadee
  36. Carolina Wren
  37. Northern Cardinal
  38. Chimney Swift
  39. Willow Flycatcher
  40. Eastern Towhee
  41. Indigo Bunting
  42. Eastern Phoebe
  43. Eastern Wood Pewee
  44. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  45. Northern Mockingbird
  46. Solitary Sandpiper
  47. Warbling Vireo
  48. Barn Swallow
  49. Cedar Waxwing
  50. American Robin

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.

IMG_0893

IMG_0896

IMG_0907

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.