Tag Archives: Ellis Lake/ West Chester Wetlands

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

Magrish Riverland Preserve, California Woods, Fly Ash Pong, Ellis Lake, Zoo Farm

The forecast called for rain later on today around dinner time, so with Kathy and David at work, and Ethan spending some time with a friend in Springfield Ohio, it was no better time to get some early morning birding done before the rain came.

With the tremendous luck Jon and I had last Saturday at Shawnee Lookout I needed to see if the Warblers were still as plentiful. Traffic was light as I made my way down I-71 towards my first stop for the day, Magrish Riverland Preserve. 

Seasonal flooding can make this park almost impassable along some of the lower trails, however today the trails were open and the song birds were active as I pulled into the parking lot. And it’s from this parking lot that some of the best birding can be found. Prothonotary Warblers breed here and are always a delight as flashes of yellow catch the corner of your eye. 2 early Blackpoll Warblers were singing and giving some decent views from the parking lot as well. I meet a friend of a friend who is also a birder, so we hooked up for about 30 minutes. After which he left to take care of some work and I made my way slowly through the park and back towards my car for the short 3 minute drive to my next stop. California Woods and my hopes of catching a Louisiana Waterthrush.

At 113 acres this little gem within the confines for Cincinnati offers some great birding. It has some very nice hiking trails and a stream which attracts the Waterthrush. I normally just stick close to the road and the stream where the most activity is. However today I decided to take a hike and enjoy the solitude of the woods.

IMG_3757The beginning of Trillium Trail

The wild flowers were in bloom as I made my way up the trail to the top of the ridge, where it winds about and then slowly descends.

IMG_3758

IMG_3765

Vireos and Gnatcatchers were keeping me company as fewer and fewer Warblers were seen, let alone heard. The trees were really leafing out making it harder to see anything in the canopy.

After reaching the bottom I started to walk back towards my car. Across from where I parked there is this small open area where birds will sometimes feed making it easier to see them. A bridge spans the stream and terminates at this open area. That’s when I heard the Waterthrush. It was staying one step ahead of me as I chased it down the stream towards the entrance to the park. It finally came to rest long enough for me to snap this poor photo.

IMG_3768He’s right in the center with this leaf blocking it’s head.

Now I’m happy. And with that recent addition to my year list it was time to head off North to my next stop, Ellis Lake. However on the way I made a quick stop at this series of small, fenced in ponds that local birders call “Fly Ash Pond”. They’re not very nice to look at and because it has a fence around might be a good thing. Who knows what could be growing in there. But it can be a hot spot for birds, and today it was for me, because out of the corner of my eye a flash of blue zipped by and perched on the fence. My first thought was Indigo Bunting. But being my lucky day it turns out to be a Blue Grosbeak.

IMG_2514A truly sad picture, but one where you can use it to ID the bird.

Happy once again with yet another new bird for the year I drove up the highway towards Ellis Lake to see if any more shore birds were there. With the afternoon wearing on and chores facing me when I get home this stop and the next were short. A small flock of Least Sandpipers were seen feeding along the edge of one of the larger sky pools that dotted the field at Ellie Lake. More wading birds were there than has been in the past few visits, so maybe things will turn around especially with this coming rain.

My last quick stop was the Cincinnati Zoo Farm near my home. Yellowlegs and Pectoral Sandpipers were the only wading birds here, so after scanning the ponds for about 30 minutes I made my way home and the impending mowing of the lawn.

Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Turkey Vulture
  2. Red-tailed Hawk
  3. Cooper’s Hawk
  4. Northern Parula
  5. Yellow Warbler
  6. Blackpoll Warbler
  7. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  8. Prothonotary arbler
  9. Common Yellowthroat
  10. Louisiana Waterthrush
  11. Palm Warbler
  12. Pine Warbler
  13. Yellow-throated Vireo
  14. Red-eyed Vireo
  15. Warbling Vireo
  16. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  17. Chipping Sparrow
  18. Field Sparrow
  19. White-throated Sparrow
  20. Swamp Sparrow
  21. Song Sparrow
  22. Gray Catbird
  23. Northern Cardinal
  24. Carolina Chickadee
  25. Tufted Titmouse
  26. American Robin
  27. American Goldfinch
  28. Mourning Dove
  29. Blue Jay
  30. Indigo Bunting
  31. Carolina Wren House Wren
  32. Pileated Woodpecker
  33. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  34. Downy Woodpecker
  35. Northern Flicker
  36. Brown Thrasher
  37. Blue Grosbeak
  38. White-breasted Nuthatch
  39. Eastern Towhee
  40. Canada Goose
  41. Great Blue Heron
  42. Killdeer
  43. Common Grackle
  44. Red-winged Black Bird
  45. Solitary Sandpiper
  46. Pectoral Sandpiper
  47. Spotted sandpiper
  48. Least Sandpiper
  49. Greater Yellowleg
  50. Lesser Yellowleg
  51. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  52. Mallard
  53. Wood Duck
  54. Blue-winged Teal
  55. Eastern Phoebe

Notes From The Field

Cincinnati Zoo Farm & Ellis Lake

Spring is truly in the air, and more so this weekend as temperatures reach into the 60′s and the sun warms the air. Daffodils are in bloom, and the inevitable yard work “Job Jar” is overflowing with much needed tasks to be completed.

IMG_2457

In preparation of a new mowing season, yard waste needs to be picked up. Sticks by the thousands litter the yard as left over leaves from this last Autumn pile up behind the air conditioning compressor and along the fence line. The compost bins are spilling over and need to be emptied, wheel barrel after wheel barrel load and dumped into the garden. And speaking of the garden, it needs to be tilled. Not just once, but several times to at least to incorporate the arrival of some beautiful compost fresh from the bin. And I’m still not done.

And even with all this excessive outdoor activity I was still able to steal away for a few hours yesterday and get a little birding in while Kathy got her hair done. And not wanting to press my luck by going too far away, my best option was to keep it close and try to keep it as short as possible, which can be difficult considering my past history. Birders do get distracted easily you know.

The Cincinnati Zoo owns this property which has become one of my favorite places to go to now, especially since it’s so close to my home. A large lot with plenty of standing water that will never be developed as long as the zoo owns the property, has been attracting some good birds lately. And I’m in the mood for some wading birds. A large group of volunteers were planting trees all during the time I was there which might contribute to the fact that I never saw any while I was there. However the Wilson’s Snipes were very active and as they foraged along the edge of one of the bigger sky pools.

IMG_2441Getting a picture of these small birds, at a distance isn’t easy. If you look close he’s right in the center of the picture.

Since the property is still closed to the public I was left to walk along the side of the road along the grassy edge and scan the ponds from there. Thankfully if you own a spotting scope this doesn’t become a problem. However if you were just using your bins you might be able to spot the snipe as the blended in well with the vegetation.

IMG_2439FOS Great Egret. This was a real treat to see. I thought it might be a little early to start seeing these large wading birds, however as I got home and added my bird list into eBird it was amongst the list to choose from without going into the “rarities” list.

I walked back to the bird-mobile after about 30 minutes and drove to my next destination, Ellis Lake. Ellis Lake can be a real hot spot and wanting to satisfy my wading bird thirst I was thoroughly disappointed when I started my scan of the flooded field adjacent to the lake.

IMG_2452Now as you look at this picture you might imagine all sorts of Spotted Sandpipers, Yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpipers and the like having a great old time feeding in such a wonderful place. Nope, you’d be fooling yourself. Other than a few Killdeer and a lonely looking pair of Mallards swimming in one of the larger pools, there was nothing in terms of wading birds. So I took some pictures instead.

IMG_2442I wish I had gotten this picture of a Red-winged Black Bird focused crisper, it was a great close-up.

There were both Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal present and here is my attempts at capturing these two species without scaring them off. The Blue-winged Teal were feeding amongst the reeds and always had their heads down in the water. The Green-winged Teal were far away and I was having some issues with focusing. How can something so easy, be so difficult.

IMG_2445Blue-winged Teal

IMG_2450Green-winged Teal

It was a joy just to be outdoors yesterday. Even though my target birds weren’t around I’m confident that it’s only a matter of time before they show up in mass. With both of these location in such close proximity to where I live a weekly, or even bi-weekly visit isn’t out of the question. They have such great habitat for some of my favorite birds.

Notable birds for the morning include:

  1. Eastern Bluebird
  2. Eastern Meadowlark
  3. Red-winged Black Bird
  4. Killdeer
  5. Wilson’s Snipe
  6. Great Egret
  7. Great Blue Heron
  8. American Robin
  9. Song Sparrow
  10. Tree Swallow
  11. Canada Goose
  12. Mallard
  13. Northern Shoveler
  14. Wood Duck
  15. Blue-winged Teal
  16. Green-winged Teal
  17. Mourning Dove
  18. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  19. Turkey Vulture
  20. Red-tailed Hawk
  21. American Kestrel

Notes From The Field

Across the street from Ellis Lake

I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve birded over in the Ellis Lake/ West Chester Wetlands area. So when I read the posting from Brian Wulker on the Cincinnatibirds sightings log that he was told of a vacant lot across the road from Ellis Lake that held some good birds I started to get that twitch. And a couple of the birds mentioned in Brian’s post were Dickcissels and Lark Sparrows. Both on my “need to get for the year” list.

I “Google Mapped” the location to refresh my memory before going. The lot sits in an area where large warehouse buildings dot both sides of  Union Centre Blvd. As I turned into the drive and up a small rise in the road you wouldn’t expect this lot to hold such good birds. You can’t actually see the entire field from the road. It’s not till you make the turn into the driveway for this local business till you get the full extent of the size.

Looking Northwest towards Union Centre Blvd.

This shot is looking Southwest. You can see how there is a steep embankment that runs behind the building just behind me. This area was full of Dickcissels singing. In the middle of the picture you can see how the gravel shows through the green underegrowth. That’s where I saw and heard the Lark Sparrows

A Red-tailed Hawk screaming, and making his presence known the whole time I was there.

This open grassy lot was the perfect location for Indigo Buntings. Several were chasing each other around till they lighted long enough for me to snap off a picture.

Dickcissel (Spiza americana) with it’s familiar yellow eye brow were abundant and very vocal. They perch on the tops of trees, bushes, or any other vegetation as they sing. This makes them pretty easy to spot in an open field such as this.

However the real star for the day were the Lark Sparrows. Chondestes grammacus is a big Sparrow at 6 1/2 inches with quail-like head markings with a single dark central breast spot. This Sparrow is like no other that it’s the sole member of it’s genus. Range maps differ as to it’s breeding range, but we seem to be in it’s far eastern range. According to Ebird it’s considered a rarity for these parts.

I started to hear them as soon as I pulled up and parked. Hearing them is one thing, finding them is another. They blend in so well with the undergrowth and the gravel that makes up the majority of this field. I waited and listened patiently as I noticed one just briefly scurrying along the edge where the exposed gravel meets the tall grasses. I’m getting excited now with this glimpse, so I start to pay closer attention to this area. Out of the corner of my eye I notice a LBJ fly to my left and land behind me to my left. The bird landed on the concrete curb of the parking lot and started to sing the Lark Sparrow song.There he was, out in the open, a beautiful male posing for me, and my spotting scope and camera 20 feet away. Walking back slowly so not to startle the bird, I attached the camera and got some pretty good pictures before it flew back into the field.

This picture your able to see the single black spot in the middle of the breast.

You have to admit that this is one beautiful bird. The markings on the head are so striking with the chestnut, black and white.

It was an hour well spent. Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Red-tailed Hawk
  2. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  3. Turkey Vulture
  4. Dickcissel
  5. Lark Sparrow
  6. Song Sparrow
  7. Chipping Sparrw
  8. Field Sparrow
  9. Red-winged Blackbird
  10. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  11. Barn Swallow
  12. Killdeer
  13. Chimney Swift
  14. Willow Flycatcher
  15. Northern Mockingbird
  16. Indigo Bunting
  17. Common Yellowthroat
  18. Horned lark

Rare Bird Alert

A Snowy Egret was sighted over at Ellis Lake by Brian Wulker earlier today. This is a pretty good bird for this time of year, so head on over and see if it’s still there. And don’t forget to post your sighting.

Notes From The Field

Ellis Lake/ West Chester Wetlands & Gilmore Ponds

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Well I may not be dull, but I was a little sad not being able to get a little birding in this long Memorial Day weekend. The yard and garden has taken over so much of my spare time recently I’m trying to finish up as much as I can so I could get away for a morning. So with Kathy going into work yesterday, the time was ripe for some local birding. Which isn’t a bad thing since both of the above mentioned birding hotspots are some of my favorites.

The morning was warm and humid as I steps out of the bird-mobile at Ellis Lake/ West Chester Wetlands. So much of the water that was previously there was mostly dried up. However there have been reports recently of White-rumped Sandppipers here so here we go. The large field which will normally hold a boat load of water after a good rain was just a couple of small mud puddles. Scanning paid off with mostly Killdeer and some Spotted Sandpipers. The low spot in the field is this ditch which will hide even the smallest bird was still a hundred yards out of sight, so I walked out into the field in the attempt to close the gap a little and get a better view into the ditch. Not surprisingly was my White-rumped Sandpipers. So much of the water drains into this ditch, which in turn attracts the birds. However my stay was shortened with the onslaught of some flying, biting insects that were feasting on my flesh.

Willow Flycatcher at Ellis Lake.

Onto Gilmore Ponds. I spent over 3 hours here and as the Sun rose higher and higher birding became more difficult as energy levels drained for the heat and humidity. From the Gilmore Road parking lot the trail dives right into a flooded forest. Home to Wood Ducks and Prothonotary Warblers I always thought how much fun it would be to drift in a canoe in this tall stand of trees, but I don’t think the Butler County Metroparks  would like it much.

There were a few folks either enjoying the park with a nice walk, or a few who were there to photograph whatever fancies their interest. I was the only birder.

Green Herons are one of my favorite bird subjects. The hold still long enough for you to get a decent picture, and this one was very cooperative.

The portion of trail I was walking on runs along side of the old Miami-Erie Canal. Vegetation is so thick along the edges that your not able to see over it. The Butler County Regional Airport is on the other side of the canal, and some railroad track, and if it wasn’t for the airplanes you’d never know it’s there. I was able to find a spot where there was a log lying over the now silted over canal, so I tight roped over and peered over the tracks. This part of the airport property slopes down towards the canal and held massive amounts of water where Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons made their home.

Now in this picture you see my spotting scope in the middle, next to the Hemlock. My scope stands a few inches over 4 feet. So you get the idea of how tall, and closed in you can feel along this trail.

As the morning wore on, birds were becoming fewer and fewer. I had reached the half way point when the desire of the ice water in the truck started to call. I made sure that I hydrated myself before leaving, but i was starting to get a little parched. So I quickened my pace.

The stops were less frequent as I made my way around the park. I’d stop and check out when the birds got a little more active than usual. But the last half of the trip was pretty uneventful. The trees became sparse and open fields spread out before me.

This time of year Indigo Buntings are numerous here,

as well as Eastern Kingbirds.

A much needed trip. There are times when we need to get back to nature to recharge our souls.

Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Northern Cardinal
  2. Blue Jay
  3. American Robin
  4. Red-winged Blackbird
  5. Brown-headed Cowbird
  6. Common Grackle
  7. Mourning Dove
  8. Mallard
  9. Wood Duck
  10. Double-crested Cormorant
  11. Canada Goose
  12. Yellow Warbler
  13. Prothonotary Warbler
  14. Gray Catbird
  15. American Goldfinch
  16. Eastern Phoebe
  17. Great-crested Flycatcher
  18. Willow Flycatcher
  19. Barn Swallow
  20. Tree Swallow
  21. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  22. Turkey Vulture
  23. Northern Flicker
  24. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  25. Downy Woodpecker
  26. Carolina Wren House Wren
  27. Eastern Kingbird
  28. Belted Kingfisher
  29. Chimney swift
  30. Cedar waxwing
  31. Field Sparrow
  32. Song Sparrow
  33. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  34. Swamp Sparrow
  35. Great Egret
  36. Great Blue Heron
  37. Green Heron
  38. White-rumped Sandpiper
  39. Spotted Sandpiper
  40. Semipalmated sandpiper
  41. Least Sandpiper
  42. Lesser Yellowleg
  43. Killdeer
  44. Semipalmated Plover
  45. Red-eyed Vireo
  46. Yellow-throated Vireo
  47. White-throated Sparrow
  48. Baltimore Oriole
  49. Carolina Chickadee
  50. House Sparrow