Tag Archives: Birding

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Voice of America Park

IMG_0162A Bobolink in the grass is a sure sign of Spring at Voice of America Park.

For the past several years I’ve made it a point to make annual trip to VOA Park for the arrival of one of my favorite open meadow birds, the Bobolink. Unfortunately as the years wear on, and more and more of it’s habitat are eaten up by more soccer fields, our poor Bobolinks suffer. Numbers are down and just finding the few individuals this afternoon was difficult.

IMG_0163And every year if they keep returning, so will I.