Piping Plover

According to 2013 stats the Great Lakes Piping Plover population was at 66 pairs with 124 chicks fledged, which is the second highest number since they were put on the endangered species list. Nesting success were documented in Ontario Canada, Wisconsin, as well as the UP of Michigan. They even recorded some birds return to former breeding grounds on the Leelanau Peninsula.

While predators continue to be a threat to the southern Piping Plover population, the diligent work of biologist at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake Shore has helped in successful re-nesting of the plovers that summer in the area. Over 1/3rd of all Great Lakes Piping Plovers summer over at Sleeping Bear Dunes each year.

And in 7 days I’ll be there.

Finally my much anticipated, and needed, vacation is almost here. And we’re off to the quaint little hamlet of Northport Michigan on the Leelanau Peninsula. Besides taking in the sights and flavor that the area has to offer (there are 11 craft breweries in the area) I will be heading over to the Sleeping Bear Dunes to search out 2 species which even though are on my life list, I really want to get some better photographs of them. One being the Piping Plover and the other being the Clay-colored Sparrow.

The best Piping Plover I have is this heavily cropped picture of one while visiting Hilton Head back in October of 2013.

IMG_3116This digiscoped photo was taken at the Fish Haul area of Hilton Head Island. If you ever go to Hilton Head I would highly recommend this place for shore birds.

So needless to say I’m kind of anxious to get some better photos of this bird without disturbing the nesting area, which I’m going to assume will be roped off to keep riff-raff like myself out.

The Clay-colored Sparrow I’ve only seen once. It was during the bird festival at Magee Marsh on Lake Erie. Jon was there with his family and he told me about one being sighted over on the beach hanging around some other sparrows under the scrubby bushes. And sure enough I spotted him, but was unable to get a picture. So hopefully I’ll be able to track down a few since they do summer in the area.

The cabin we’re staying in doesn’t have internet service so I don’t know when I’ll be able to post any pictures unless I get to an area where they have wifi .

So I’m off to Michigan. Wish me luck.

Notes From The Field

How long has it been since I was out birding? It seems like forever, but after a quick text to Jon arrangements were made an we were on our way despite the very hot and humid conditions that seem to settle over the Ohio Valley during the summer. It can be difficult to get motivated during these dog days to get out a do a little birding during the morning hours before the heat turns up, and this was our plan for the day, and Butler County was our choice for birds. Our first stop was Fernald Preserve.

We arrived early and started out scoping out Lodge Pond for any water fowl. The normal cast of characters were their, the resident Mute Swan, Wood Ducks with additional family members in tow, a lone American Coot and one Mallard. Not a great start to the day, but not unexpected. However not wanting to give up so soon we started to work the preserve and came away with some good birds.

IMG_2897 A Yellow-throated Warbler working the Evergreens that line the entry road into Fernald Preserve.

IMG_2889Another very common warbler during the summer months in pretty much all grassy habitats in Ohio, and I’m sure elsewhere, the Common Yellowthroat.

 IMG_2892As Jon and I hike back towards a wooded section of Fernald Preserve we spooked up 2 Green Herons that were hiding in this pond with heavy brush along the edge. This one landed in the top of this small tree where it stretched it’s neck for a better view.

Before leaving we meet a photographer who had photographed this unusual warbler in the same area along the evergreen lined entry road. The photo was the best but we got out of the car and looked around a little to satisfy our natural curiosity. Well we never found the mystery warbler but we did stumble upon a very cooperative Blue Grosbeak. One of my favorite summertime birds and one that I’m always trying to get a good photo of.

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After Fernald Preserve we went to a new place, Governor Bebb Metropark. Birders have had some good luck with Henslow’s Sparrows and I’ve yet to see any this year.

Governor Bebb was a Whig politician who was born in Butler County in 1802. He was the 19th governor of Ohio from 1846 to 1849. After his governorship he was appointed by Abraham Lincoln to be the Examiner of the Pension Office in Washington D.C.

So to honor a native Ohio son they have this real nice 264 acre preserve named after him. Part of the preserve besides the fields, meadows and woods is a historic village that has several historic log buildings. They even have the Bebb Cabin built in 1799 near to where my wife grew up.

The sun was really cranking up the heat as the morning waned into the afternoon, but Jon and I wandered the mowed path through the meadow where the Henslow’s have been seen. Unfortunately no Henslow’s were seen let alone heard. But it wasn’t a total bust as we worked a wooded edge when we heard a Summer Tanager back in the woods.

IMG_2931Not a very good photo since I was shooting into a darker forest from a sunny location and at quite a distance.

IMG_2927The butterflies were pretty spectacular at Gov. Bebb Preserve, which included this Giant Swallowtail

IMG_2940Wood Nymph

The sun was baking now and it was time to call it quits. However we did have a pretty good list for the day despite the heat.

Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Pigeon
  2. Mourning Dove
  3. Wood Thrush
  4. Barn Swallow
  5. Tree Swallow
  6. Cliff Swallow
  7. Chimney Swift
  8. Purple Martin
  9. Robin
  10. Northern Cardinal
  11. Northern Mockingbird
  12. Eastern Towhee
  13. Song Sparrow
  14. Field Sparrow
  15. Chipping Sparrow
  16. Mute Swan
  17. Wood Duck
  18. Mallard
  19. American Coot
  20. Eastern Kingbird
  21. Eastern Wood Pewee
  22. Willow Flycatcher
  23. Acadian Flycatcher
  24. Summer Tanager
  25. Common Yellowthroat
  26. Yellow-throated Warbler
  27. Yellow-breasted Chat
  28. Red-winged Black Bird
  29. Eastern Goldfinch
  30. Dickcissel
  31. Blue Grosbeak
  32. Indigo Bunting
  33. Eastern Meadowlark
  34. House Wren
  35. Gray Catbird
  36. Brown Thrasher
  37. White-eyed Viroe
  38. Red-eyed Vireo
  39. Yellow-throated Vireo
  40. Red-tail Hawk
  41. American Kestrel
  42. Turkey Vulture
  43. Black Vulture
  44. Yellow-billed Cuckoo
  45. Killdeer
  46. Red-headed Woodpecker
  47. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  48. Northern Flicker
  49. Down Woodpecker
  50. Green Heron
  51. Great Blue Heron
  52. Eastern Bluebird

Stressful Week In Review

Birding has been the furthest thing on my mind for the past few weeks. Which for a birding blogger is no excuse at times even during the doldrums of Summer. There’s always someplace worth exploring even if you’re going after some of the common birds, which at times can be pretty boring.

However…There’s no delicate way to say something like this.

You see my Father-in-Law just passed from that dreaded disease Alzheimer’s. Birding wasn’t an option. And it was during these trying times my oldest son was preparing for his hike. But not just any hike mind you, a southbound thru hike of the Appalachian Trail starting in just 5 days.

So as you can see life has been rather busy around the house. So as our lives return to some normalcy I had to take care of one more issue before going back to work tomorrow. Register for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in Harlingen Texas.

rgvbfYes you heard right, the RGVBF. This has been a dream for several years now and this year I justified my participation to my wife as a 60th birthday present to myself.

Located in Harlingen Texas this has got to be one of best birding festivals in the country. Everything about this festival is top notch, from the workshops to the field trips. And don’t get me started about the birds. Nowhere else in the country will you be able to see so many amazing birds across such diverse habitat.

This whole process has been in the works for some time now. It’s only now that I’m finally writing about it. Once my wife gave me the OK to start the planning this trip I was glued to the internet looking for a place to stay and a flight. Knowing that this was going to be a pricey trip I really worked at keeping the cost down as much as possible. So my hotel and flight have been booked for a couple of months now, and today was the opening of registration for the festival.

So having asked for this day off over a month ago, I sat down in front of my computer and waited till 1:00 pm for registration to open. And now it’s over. I’m registered. All that’s left is book my car rental for when I get there.

As for the field trips I signed up for, this was probably the most difficult thing to do. I first asked Jon for as much input since he worked down in the Valley for 9 months and knows everything about Valley birding. And my thought was getting the most birds for my buck. We could be talking “Life Birds” by the dozens during my short stay in Texas. Being drunk on birds will probably be repeated before this trip is over.

The field trips I signed up for are:

  1. Wednesday Nov. 4th  “Big Day Van” This trip is for spotting massive quantities.
  2. Thursday  Nov. 5th  ” Upper Rio Grande” A whole different habitat with all new bird species that live there.  Plus in the evening vans will go out an search for area parrots.
  3. Friday Nov. 6th  “King Ranch Norias” Grasslands, thornscrub, and oak woodlands, plus a chance to see a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl on one of the largest ranches in the U.S.
  4. Saturday Nov. 7th  “Laguna Atascosa NWR” This vast refuge has recorded more bird species than any other refuge in the country.
  5. Sunday Nov. 8th  “Bentsen  Rio-Grande State Park” Headquarters of the World Birding Center this 760 acre park should fill in all those valley specialties.

If you’d like to view their web site click on the link above this years poster.

A Birders Haiku

rock garden

The grayness of

evenings clouds envelope, hide

the Gnatcatcher’s movement

Fernald Preserve

From 1951 till 1989 the Feed Materials Production Center at Fernald, near Ross Ohio, processed low-level uranium for use in nuclear bombs. Fernald is one of 2 former nuclear sites that have been decontaminated to the point where the public can visit. The other is Weldon Spring, a former Army facility 30 miles west of St. Louis. Both are part of the Department of Energy’s Legacy Management Program, which is in charge of the long-term management of sites that have been cleaned up.

Fernald covers 1,050 acres, with over 320 acres being grassland. With the addition of 7 miles of hiking trails you can see why this place is a great place to go birding. And one of my favorite grassland birds that frequents Fernald this time of year is the Dickcissel. And considering Fernalds past I don’t see in the foreseeable future any developments or soccer fields stripping this wonderful habitat.

It’s been hot in the Ohio Valley this week. Temps are reaching into the 90’s and the humidity has tipped that really uncomfortable level. So I headed out in the morning trying to see my target bird for the day before I started to melt. I wasn’t too log after arriving when I heard my first Dickcissel.

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IMG_2822This is how you’d normally see them. Perched atop of a small tree or bush with their head thrown back singing.

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IMG_2806Eastern Goldfinch’s are a dime-a-dozen at Fernald, however I thought this photo was particularly good.

IMG_2856I can’t help myself, I’m a sucker for Eastern Kingbirds

Farewell Bobolinks…I hardly knew you.

I’ve been a birdwatcher for a very long time, but it wasn’t till several years ago that I jumped into this wonderful obsession whole heartily. And it was about this time I sighted my lifer Bobolink at a local park over in Butler County Ohio called Voice of America Park. And today it’s a sad reminder of habitat lost and the disappearance of a once plentiful species.

In 1942 the United States Government purchased over 430 acres in southwestern Butler County as the sight to build the Voice of America Bethany Relay Station. This sight was to be used as a backup, inland facility in case Germany would attack the east coast locations in Massachusetts, Long Island, and New Jersey. The Office of War Information began broadcasting in July of 1944, which prompted Adolf Hitler to reply those “Cincinnati Liars”.

This place was massive and transmitted American radio programs all over the world during the war using 200,000-watt transmitters. After the war it became part of the newly created United States Information Agency in 1953. At it’s peak they had 3 transmitters broadcasting with 250kW, 3 broadcasting with 175 kW, and 2 broadcasting at 50kW. As a young kid my parents would drive by and me awe-struck by the sheer size of all the antennas and towers.

And as all things change,technology was the deciding factor in closing the Bethany Relay Station in November of 1994. And all the remaining radio towers were finally taken down in February of 1998. Other than a small piece of land used for a branch facility for Miami University and a museum that tells the story of the Bethany Relay Station, the remainder of the land has been taken over by Butler County Metroparks.

Fast forward a dozen years to June 2010. I was just beginning to get the “Twitch” as reports of bird sightings made their way onto social media, and state and local Listservs. With my new found freedom to chase new birds as a full time birder I was ready to take off at a moments notice to “tick” off any new life birds.  And that’s what happened this one evening in June of 2010 as I closed out of my web browser and gathered my gear to add a Bobolink to my life list.

Having never actually been to the park before I drove off more worried about sighting the bird than how to get there. I had a general sense of location, and as I got close I turned down a street that I thought the entrance was on. That’s when I had my first gruesome encounter with a Bobolink as it lay dead in the road. Probably hit by a car. I pulled over, got out of the car and walked back to pick it up and lay it in the grass by the side of the road. However my spirits were lifted as I noticed more live ones on the other side of the fence.

Finally after making my way into the park and finding where to go to locate them, it was an amazing sight. I eventually discovered that they’ve breed here for years and that Voice of America Park is the “Go-To” place to see Bobolinks in the area. And it wasn’t just Bobolinks, Henslow Sparrows were frequenting the park, as on one occasion I counted 8 individuals.

And as the years wore on, demand for more and more sports fields as neighborhoods expanded with new homes. So overnight more of the grassy meadows where the Bobolinks and Henslow’s used to breed were now replaced by soccer fields.

Now it’s a fraction of what it used to be. The park board has put up a sign stating that it’s an “Important Birding Area”, but it’s too late. I was there this last Sunday. I tucked my pants into my socks, sprayed on Deep Woods Off, and forged ahead onto the mowed paths they have through the meadows. In all the time I was there I never sighted one Bobolink. What we have now are the more aggressive Red-winged Blackbirds and Tree Swallows.

It was one of the saddest days of birding I’ve ever had because I remember how it used to be. I remember the evening when I picked up my best friend Phil and I helped him get his lifer Henslow Sparrow. I remember you didn’t even need to get of your car to spot Bobolinks. I remember Bobolinks perched on the tops of the small trees singing that bubbly song they sing. They’d flush from the path as you walked along. And they’d pose for us budding photographers.

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Sometimes it’s tough to remember :(