Parula americana…

or better known as the Northern Parula are some of the early migrating Wood Warblers that arrive in the Ohio Valley in early Spring. With their high pitched trill with that distinct “hic-cup” at the end, these warblers are our tree top feeders. Normally just hearing them, we’ll have to crane our necks to get decent views as they search for food in the uppermost foliage. But every once in a while they come down to earth an provide some excellent photo-ops.

Such was the case this last friday as I drove the few miles to one of Hamilton County’s smaller parks, Lake Isabella. With it’s 28 acre lake, fishing is the main attraction for this park.  Bordering the Little Miami River it also offers the normal playground equipment with plenty of shaded picnic areas for families. Living within close proximity, I do frequent this park but normally for water fowl during fall and winter months. But I’m here today because of rumors floating around about a Northern Parula that’s been putting on quite a show.

Since the park borders the Little Miami River it has canoe access area with an adjacent parking lot. Well this particular Northern Parula doesn’t seem to like competition from other Northern Parulas, especially reflections of other Northern Parulas in car rear view mirrors.

IMG_2329I think we’ve all seen birds attacking it’s own reflection before, however I’ve not seen any warbler species do this. Here it is perched on top of the side mirror of a mini-van after pecking at itself in the mirror.

IMG_2373Yes, images do appear larger in this mirror.

Needless to say I did get some splendid shots as I tried to get the best angle with the setting sun. The Parula seemed oblivious to people as it kept returning to the same mirror.

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IMG_2353Sometimes it would land in a nearby bush to offer a more natural setting.

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IMG_2355Or it would land on the car antenna.

In a way I felt sorry of the bird. It was a very territorial bird, and this reflection was really bothering the bird. Now if there were no cars in the area everything would be normal, but being a pretty popular park I feel that this might be an issue all spring. So if I do return I’m just going to have to park a little further away an walk to the area.

You just have to love these Wood Warblers.

Notes From The Field

Despite the beautiful weather last weekend, from a birding perspective it was a total bust. Previous obligations kept me close to home, and even though the temptation to go out was there, knowing ahead of time that this weekend was MY weekend made up for the lost time. It’s Spring, and migrants are on the move!

I had a pretty good idea where I wanted to visit, and the first place was Spring Valley Wildlife Area. Sleeping in wasn’t an option as I drove prior to the sun rising to be on the boardwalk bright and early to catch any Rail action. Spring Valley is noted for Soras and Virginia Rails, and today I wasn’t picky which showed up. And it was the Soras that showed off and kept me on my toes with camera in hand.

IMG_2271It wasn’t till I started to walk back from the observation platform that I noticed it’s tell-tale yellow bill amongst the brown and green of the background. As the Sora moved about feeding i had to wait for the right time when the bird was out in the open to capture any photo. As usual I had to discard more photos than i kept.

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IMG_2260Even with rising sun behind my back, photographing this bird as it darts in and out of the shadows can prove difficult.

IMG_2242Even though it’s just a Northern Cardinal, I love the contrast between the blue sky and the red of the bird.

IMG_2246Another regular of Spring Valley is this Swamp Sparrow. Normally difficult to capture sitting up like this, but with it being mating season they were more exposed just singing away.

IMG_2244A very, very distant, first of the season Green heron.

After leaving the boardwalk I drove to the other section of the park which gives you greater access to the Loveland bike trail. As anyone would expect bu=ike traffic was a little heavy, plus the foot traffic of plenty of birders made for a busy bike trail. This is a very nice section of the bike trail with mature trees and plenty of water on both sides.

IMG_2275A very distant Prothonotary Warbler. It’s really difficult to get a sharp picture when using digital zoom and no tripod.

IMG_2281Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were everywhere. Trying to photograph these tiny hyperactive birds has proven difficult throughout the years, but yesterday I got a few.

IMG_2274A quick shot of this Hermit Thrush before it hopped down and started to pick through the leaf litter on the forest floor.

After Spring Valley I made the short drive to Caesar Creek Gorge State Nature Preserve. The preserve’s prime feature is the gorge that was formed by great volumes of glacial meltwater cutting down through the bedrock to expose Ordovician limestone and shale rich in fossils. The steep walls rise to 180 feet above the river. More than two miles of Caesar Creek flow through the gorge to the Little Miami State and National Scenic River. It has a 2.25 mile loop trail, and is my go-to spot for Louisiana Waterthrush.

I had the whole place to myself. Someplace like this being totally empty except for yourself and the birds. It was about half way through the trail when it comes close to the river when I heard my first LOWA. The bird was the opposite side of the river and never got close enough for a good photo.

IMG_2286I will return and try again in the near future. This photo is totally unsatisfactory.

Now this morning the forecast called for rain starting late morning. So once again I hurried through a couple cups of coffee on the front porch, and then drove to Gilmore Ponds to check on the great Horned Owls that have been nesting there. As a matter of fact someone was there yesterday and shared on Facebook a photo of one of the fledged Owlets.

IMG_2320 One of these days I’ll get a nice, clear photo of a male Wood Duck.

I hiked back towards the nesting tree. As I got close I remembered last time both parents being close by and not wanting to spook them I paused and scanned the trees near the nesting tree for them. Not finding them I continued on. No Owls in sight at all. Kind of a bitter-sweet moment as I continued on down the path.

Feeling confident they weren’t anywhere near I returned from where I came. I glanced to my left and there was one of the Owlets high in a tree with it’s back towards me. I took a quick photo just to get a confirmation shot, then I made a noise so it would turn it’s head.

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The rest of the morning was spent picking up more and more birds for the weekend. Then the rain came, thus ending a pretty good bird watching weekend.

IMG_2301My first of the year Orchard Oriole.

IMG_2305Warbling Vireo under a drab sky.

IMG_2310Here’s another bird I hope to get a better photo of, a Yellow-throated Warbler.

Notable birds for the weekend include:

  1. Louisiana Waterthrush
  2. Yellow-throated Warbler
  3. Prairie Warbler
  4. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  5. Northern Parula
  6. Prothonotary Warbler
  7. Yellow Warbler
  8. Great Horned Owl
  9. Red-shouldered Hawk
  10. Red-tailed Hawk
  11. American Kestrel
  12. Great Blue Heron
  13. Great Egret
  14. Green Heron
  15. Sora
  16. Field Sparrow
  17. Chipping Sparrow
  18. Swamp Sparrow
  19. White-throated Sparrow
  20. Song Sparrow
  21. House Sparrow
  22. Rusty Blackbird
  23. Red-winged Blackbird
  24. Common Crow
  25. Common Grackle
  26. Brown-headed Cowbird
  27. European Starling
  28. Mourning Dove
  29. Pigeon
  30. House Wren
  31. Carolina Wren
  32. Carolina Chickadee
  33. Tufted Titmouse
  34. Northern Cardinal
  35. Brown Thrasher
  36. Orchard Oriole
  37. Eastern Phoebe
  38. Tree Swallow
  39. Barn Swallow
  40. Northern Mockingbird
  41. American Robin
  42. Hermit Thrush
  43. Turkey Vulture
  44. Eastern Towhee
  45. Canada Goose
  46. Northern Shoveler
  47. Blue-winged teal
  48. Mallard
  49. Wood Duck
  50. Downy Woodpecker
  51. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  52. Pileated Woodpecker
  53. Northern Flicker
  54. Blue Jay
  55. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  56. Eastern Goldfinch
  57. Warbling Vireo
  58. Common Coot
  59. Killdeer
  60.  Belted Kingfisher
  61. White-breasted Nuthatch
  62. Wild Turkey

Smith’s Longspurs

Gideon B. Smith wasn’t an ornithologist. Nor was he a bird watcher. What Gideon B. Smith was interested in was silk worms. So much so he was one of the first people to import silk worms into the United States. Which made him rich. So how did this secretive bird get to be named after him. Well he knew people. And one person he know was John James Audubon. And Audubon needed investors for his magnum opus if it was to become reality. And in return he’d name a bird after you as a special gift.

Smith’s Longspur are quite possibility the toughest of all the Longspur species to tick off anyone’s life list. As you can see by the map below that I copied from “All About Birds” web site, they over winter in the south central United States, and breed in the subarctic tundra of Canada and Alaska.

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The fact that they’re drab in color and ground foragers make them pretty hard to detect amongst the corn stubble of a field that’s several hundred acres in size. With my limited experience with these birds I can only think of 3 ways that you might see them. One is if you’re pretty lucky enough to see them by the side of the road. Second if you watch them as they fly overhead and land in a field, or just keep flying away. Or third is if a farmer will allow you to walk his field where you just saw them land from when they flew over.

This was the scenario, that Jon and myself were in this last Saturday as we drove the back roads of rural Indiana, about an hour and a half from my house. As you can tell from the range map, Smith’s Longspur aren’t suppose to be in Indiana. But tell that to the birds. Word quickly spread from the initial sighting last Wednesday as local birders gathered along these farm roads scanning the fields and sky. This area between Brookville Lake and College Corner Indiana is a grid work of farm fields and country roads. Half the fields have been turned in preparation for spring crops, and the other half is left over corn stubble from last year’s fall harvest. As with our last experience with these birds in 2013, they tend to stick to the same area prior to moving on later in the month.

Ever since we started birding together, Jon and myself talked about traveling to “The Burn” and check off another life bird both of us needed. Now you might ask yourself what is “The Burn”. Well “The Burn” is an 80 acre tract of land near the small town of Crawfordsville Indiana (about halfway between Indianapolis and the Illinois border) owned and maintained by local Longspur expert Clint Murray. And the “Burn” name comes from the fact that he’ll regularly set fire to the area to help promote better vegetation habitat for wildlife, especially Smith’s Longspur and also migrating wading birds. So one Saturday we made the 3 hour, 180 mile trip, and came away with some great memories.

The photos below are digiscoped images of Smith’s Longspurs that I took while I was there in April of 2012

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So this last Saturday afternoon we made our way over to Indiana an staked out the area where the Longspurs were reported. The good news is we were able to spot them as they flew overhead calling. A sizable flock of 50 to 60 individuals intermixed with American Pipits and Horned Larks. They flew over, landed in the corn stubble and disappeared. One or two would sit up on a corn stalk for a few seconds before dropping down where they’d go out of sight. This process repeated itself a few more times while we were there with the  same results. And that was how the day went. And the bad news is no new photos. Some days birding can be just like that. Fleeting moments. So technically we were able to check off our target bird for the day, just very unsatisfying.

Notes From The Field

So refresh my memory. Is it March comes in like a Lion, and goes out like a Lamb. Or is it the other way around. With several hours yesterday morning do get some birding in, it was a biting cold that greeted me this late March morning. Despite the warming sun as we precede into Spring, I’m getting pretty tired of bundling up before going out. With limited hours I wanted to head on over to Gilmore Ponds to check on the expectant Great Horned Owls. If only I had a few more hours I would have checked out a few more places along the way for more migrants heading back. But I was pretty happy with what I can get these days. All the moisture in the ground was frozen, and the standing water scattered throughout had a skim of ice which reflected and sparkled from the rising sun. I took my spotting scope so if need be I could keep my distance. I forgot to bring my gloves and my hands froze of the metal legs as I hiked towards the nest. About 50 yards from the nest I set up the scope and started to scan the nesting tree. I found it occupied by one of the adults, and as a added bonus I noticed the other adult 20 feet away perched on a lower branch on the back side of a tree.

IMG_2200Since both sexes share responsibilities for sitting on the nest I don’t know which is which unless they’re next to each other. In this photo which was at a difficult angle the Owl was hunkered down in the nest so I could only see the top of it’s head.

IMG_2195Not a very clear shot as I needed to jockey to get into position to shoot between branches.

Not wanting to over extend my welcome I soon left and wandered around a little bit ticking off more and more birds. Gilmore Ponds is one of those little used parks since it’s more geared for nature lovers and not children, so I had the whole place to myself. It was a really enjoyable morning with some pretty decent birds. And even though the edges of the ponds were covered with ice, there was enough open water for some ducks. This is where the spotting scope comes in handy.

IMG_2194Carolina Wren

IMG_2204A very cooperative Song Sparrow

As I try to improve by photographic skills I’m trying to remember to take my ISO setting off of “auto mode” and setting at a lower number like 200 to bring out more detail in the birds. I did this with the Northern Flicker, and it really shows in the end result.

IMG_2218Norther Flicker

Birds for the day include:

  1. Turkey Vulture
  2. Red-shouldered Hawk
  3. Red-tailed Hawk
  4. Cooper’s Hawk
  5. American Woodcock
  6. Downy Woodpecker
  7. Northern Flicker
  8. Sandhill Crane
  9. Great Blue Heron
  10. Red-winged Black Bird
  11. Brown-headed Cowbird
  12. Common Grackle
  13. Great Horned Owl
  14. Golden-crowned Kinglet
  15. Eastern Bluebird
  16. Eastern Phoebe
  17. Song Sparrow
  18. Blue Jay
  19. American Robin
  20. House Finch
  21. White-breasted Nuthatch
  22. American Coot
  23. Blue-winged Teal
  24. Green-winged Teal
  25. Wood Duck
  26. Mallard
  27. Ring-necked Duck
  28. Red Head
  29. American Wigeon
  30. Northern Shoveler
  31. Pied-billed Grebe
  32. Tree Swallow

Notes From The Field

Wednesday evening my oldest son and myself had to get out of the house and do a bit of exploring. Which in simpler terms means “let’s go out and do a bit of walking and do some birding while we’re at it”. And one of my favorite spots is Gilmore Ponds which is a part of the Butler County Metroparks system. This park naturally sits in a low area of Butler County. Which explains why they built a section of the Miami-Erie Canal along the present day northern border of the park. And with the park being situated in a pretty wet area the waterfowl can be real good, but tonight we’re owl hunting.

A good tip from a fellow birder gave me an idea where a nesting Great Horned Owl was located. And since everyone I know loves owls, I couldn’t resist the temptation. Great Horned Owls mate for life, but they will stay with their mate only during breeding season. They mate by December and often use nests from other large birds. They may also use cavities in trees, cliffs, buildings, etc.  The female lays 1-5 eggs and incubates the eggs for about 30-37 days. The male feeds the female and protects the nest by attacking intruders.   After the young hatch they are fed by both parents are brooded for another 2 weeks.  The young are very active and will venture out onto the tree limbs, but remain close by in order to be fed.  They fledge at 45-55 days.

IMG_2177If looks could kill

Now with the owl nest secured away, repeat visits will be in order. If this truly is an active nest we’ll soon see some young ones, and hopefully get some photos.

Notes From The Field

A few years back rumors of Bald Eagle sightings along the Little Miami River close to my house were pretty sketchy and unreliable for the most part, however very much a possibility. Their numbers have increased over the years and the habitat along the river is ideal. Plenty of large trees to build a nest and a reliable food source. But being a birder I wanted to see the bird/birds for myself.

My mind quickly changed while driving one day as I crossed the river near the small village of South Lebanon. Flying above the bridge following the course of the river was my first area sighting of a Bald Eagle. Afterwards videos and photos were shot and shared with everyone on social media. Then someone found their nest. That was 2 years ago.

This area along the river for the most part is a flood plain, intermixed with a few homes, a vineyard, and plenty of gravel businesses. For the most part the gravel businesses own a majority of the property parallel to the river. The Loveland Bike Trail is sandwiched between the gravel quarries and then a wide buffer from the bike trail to the river’s edge. It’s here in this buffer zone where Sycamore trees tower above the landscape, that the eagles have re-built their nest, after the first one was destroyed in a pretty violent storm. At the time of the initial sighting, it seems the eagles were occupying a nest from a Great Blue Heron. Using this nest as a platform they bulked it up in size, while the nests of the herons in this small rookery paled in comparison. So their new nest is still in the same general area, but still looks like a strong storm could wreak havoc with it.

There’s only a few places where you can view the nest, and last night I was heading towards one of them located in the driveway of a closed landfill on the opposite side of the river from the nest. There’s just enough of an opening in the trees to get a decent view of the nest with your spotting scope, which turned out vacant at the time I arrived. So I waited.

10 minutes later an adult eagle arrived at the nest with something in it’s beak. I was hoping that I’d see some small eagle heads pop up from the bottom of the nest, but no, the adult proceeded to eat whatever it caught. Then it took off, flew in a circle and started to head in my direction. It flew above the tree line to my left when I shot this next photo.

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I lost sight of the eagle as it passed behind an evergreen. My angle was bad what with the tree in the way so I crossed the road and found the eagle sitting just perfect in a tree just about 100 yards away. I’m so glad I had my camera.

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IMG_2162Here the eagle is giving us his “Noble” pose.

IMG_2152This was the best  could do cropping this close-up.

IMG_2166And after 20 minutes or so…it flew away.