” Red-Nuts”

As I wait patiently for my first of the season Red-breasted Nuthatch to make a appearance at my feeders, long time birding friend Phil has already scored.

Wanting to get a better quality photo than my previous attempts, I make my way to his house for some back porch birding.

I didn’t have to wait long.

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The Return of The “Twitcher”

The Brant, (Branta bernicta) particularly the “Atlantic” sub-species is roughly the size of a Cackling Goose  an breeds in the Eastern Canadian High-Arctic region of North America. During Fall migration they’ll stage in the James Bay area, and continue their southward movement where flocks will be seen at Lake Champlain and from Appalachian hawk watch sites. During the winter they can be found from coastal North Carolina northward to New England. And every now and then one multiple sightings from Northern Ohio, especially along Lake Erie are reported.

For myself this is a semi-nemisis bird. I’ve chased Brants a few times when reports come in from the center of the state but with no luck. And most of the sightings from Lake Erie are of small flocks passing through the state on their way to the coast. And for some reason they just don’t show up in the southern part of Ohio, not that I was expecting any.

Remember rarities are just that…rare.

For the past couple days a Brant was sighted at Mosquito Lake State Park, north of Youngstown. That’s a solid 4 plus hour drive for a bird that could be there one day, and gone the next. Do I chase or not? As tempting as it is, I decided to not chase. Autumn chores needed to be accomplished and it was a beautiful, unseasonably warm day. Kathy and I dove into the yard work and after a few hours we had everything done for the day. Time to relax with an adult beverage. I went to grab my phone which was plugged in and saw I had a text from Jon. There’s a juvenile Brant at Rocky Fork State Park, which is on the other side of Hillsboro Ohio. The original sighting came as a group from the Cincinnati Bird Club were visiting the lake. That’s a little over an hour drive if I hurry.

WHOOOOOOOSH……….. I’m out the door.

My GPS takes me by the most bizarre way but after an hour of driving through farm country I arrive at the lake. It was sighted from the camp ground so I drove through and parked at the far end over by the lake. I grab my spotting scope and start to scan. Loads of gulls, but no Brant or a single goose.

Now there were these large red, round buoys out in the lake and by the looks they were supporting this large cable that was stretched a couple of hundred yards. The cable must have been right under the surface of the water because loads of gulls were perched on it just like they were standing on water. I was scanning along the line of gulls when I saw the Brant.

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Now I would have loved for the Brant to be a bit closer without the sun in the wrong direction, but we sometimes have to deal with what we’re given. And for me I was given Life Bird # 445.

Book Review

It’s been a long time since I bought any new bird related books, so it came as quite a surprise while breezing through a Half Price Books store the other day where I stumbled upon this title in the “Nature” section.

Published in September of 2013 I remember this book when it first came out and read a couple of reviews. What really drew me to this book was the beautiful photo of the Harlequin Duck in flight (a life bird for me at the time) on the front cover. I actually gave a thought of maybe purchasing it, however when I saw the retail price of $35.00 I reconsidered. And for myself whenever I procrastinate on buying anything like this I usually forget about it altogether.

Now I’m a huge fan of Peterson’s Reference Guides and Field Books, and this one authored by Ken Behrens and Cameron Cox is no exception to just how well written and photographed this book really is. Plus covering a subject such as Seawatching, the title itself covers a style of birding that most birdwatchers have done on occasion. For myself I don’t get to the ocean as often as others might, but this book doesn’t restrict us to this kind of Seawatching. I can’t count how many hours I’ve spent at the end of Harveysburg Road looking out at scores of Ducks, Gulls, and Grebe’s at Caesar Creek Lake, or standing on the banks of the Ohio River in the freezing cold of winter checking Gull flocks hoping to pick out a lone Scoter species.

This reference book is divided into 2 sections. The species accounts and descriptions of 112 bird species within 15 different families as they would appear either flying or sitting on water. It;s this section alone where the photographs of the birds really help with those troublesome ID problems. Photographs by themselves make up almost half of this section, that’s how important this portion of the book is. Being able to pick out field markings from one Loon or Scoter species from the next in a fast moving flock has it’s difficulty, so they cover these subjects and more in this 624 page volume.

The second, and smallest section of the book covers some of the hottest of hot spots for Seawatching. For the most part these 47 birding hot spots are on the ocean, while the rest dwell on locations on the Great Lakes and other inland locations in the eastern half of the United States. From L’Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland, down the eastern seaboard to the Dry Tortugas, around the Gulf of Mexico to South Padre Island, common species are described and when’s the best time to visit.

It’s really a great book , and if you spend any time at all Seawatching, I’d recommend it. Maybe I should have picked it up when it was first published, however good things do come to those who wait and when I saw the price of $10.00 for this perfect condition book I made a dash for the cash register.

Notes From The Field

As I’ve stated in one of my previous posts October is my favorite month, and it’s not just the temperatures cooling off and the changing of the leaves, or the apple cider, or the autumn festivals, or warm soup on a chilly evening. It’s time for the return of the Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow (Ammodramus nelsoni), as they pass through our area on their way south. These beautifully colored sparrows are so different from our everyday, run-of-the-mill little brown sparrows that we as birders need to use extra effort to seek them out for ourselves. A small , short tailed sparrow just measuring 5 inches with the mix of rufous, orange, gray and brown help camouflage this bird nicely as it skulks deep within thick grasses, reeds, and cattails. Easily flushed from underfoot as you hike along, their weak flight low to the ground is a good indication to most Ammodramus species. And such was the case last Saturday morning as I drove to Ellis Lake as word got around that the “Nelson’s” are returned.

Completed in 1849, the Miami-Erie Canal once flowed from Toledo to Cincinnati with a depth of 4 feet and 40 feet across at water level with a 10 foot wide towpath. Remnants of this once grand canal is still evident at Ellis lake and the neighboring Gilmore Ponds Preserve. Now with the passing of time it’s no more than a small stream that runs parallel between Ellis lake and the train tracks. However enough water still flows through the canal that portions of it still over into a agricultural field creating a small riparian area perfect for Nelson’s Sparrows, and last year a LeConte’s Sparrow. This water course was my final destination.

If it wasn’t for previous foot traffic indicating where to go, you’d be following a deer path through some tall weeds as you picked your way in the direction of the canal. As you near the area where the Nelson’s were located water appears on your right and in front, which forces you to turn left and our perfect little patch of Nelson habitat.

img_5411As you walk along the vegetation is no more than ankle to knee high, and the ground soft from the small area of water. It was time to put on my serious birder face and focus on the bird.

There was a nice steady breeze which was bothersome. Since Nelson’s skulk around in the dense vegetation ‘ll normally focus in on unusual twitches of cattails, grass. However with this breeze we already have enough movements that missing something unusual is a good possibility. As I crept forward I spooked a small bird with that weak flight. It dropped into a clump of cattails about 20 feet in front of me. I stopped and waited, and waited. Some small cattails twitched about. I focused into the clump and was able to see it’s little head and nothing else. Taking a picture was out of the question. Then it flew across to the other side of the water where I was able to get some good looks at it, just not any good photographs.

img_5413This area is about 50 yards away from the first photograph. It was here that I saw 2 Nelson’s and 1 Henslow’s Sparrows.

img_5416If you look real hard you’ll see the Nelson’s Sparrow through the sticks. These were the views I was dealt.

I spent a couple of hours walking back and forth but as the morning waned into afternoon all bird activity seemed to shut off like a faucet. Time for lunch!

Twitchers

Have you ever been found guilty of being a “Twitcher”? And if you’re not sure what I mean by this here’s a good definition I found on the internet while composing this blog post.

” a birdwatcher whose main aim is to collect sightings of rare birds”

For myself I am guilty as charged. There are some birds that were so elusive to me I started to believe they didn’t exist at all. “Can you say Whimbrel”. I’ve chased this bird multiple times without success, but it wasn’t till my recent trip to California was I finally able to tick this bird onto my life list.

Another good example was the Yellow-headed Blackbird. Always seen sporadically during my multiple stays in northern Ohio during spring migration, I would always keep my ears open at the idle chatter from other birders just waiting to hear the name mentioned. A relatively rare and elusive bird for Ohio, I’ve been know to travel at slightly elevated speeds to stake out locations of recent sightings. It wasn’t until a few years back while on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh when word came to my ears of one being seen on the auto tour at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge was I able to score another lifer.

When a Garganey showed up at Fernald Preserve in 2011 (45 minutes from my house), Twitchers from all over the country flocked to the area just for this rarity, as did myself. When the bird hung around for several days I was able to treat a group of Boy Scouts who were attending my Bird Study Merit Badge class to this awesome bird.

So if you think about it we all have a little bit of “Twitcher’ in us. I think this is one aspect that makes bird watching so much fun. The exhilaration of the chase and finally seeing the bird is very exciting.

Twitchers from England I’ve heard can really be overly obsessive when it comes to rarities. To see them in action I’ve pasted a URL of an hour long video about English Twitchers. I found this to be really entertaining and I hope you enjoy it.

“Twitcher Video”

New Gear

A spotting scope and tripod are two items not every birder can own. They run from being affordable, to uber-expensive, and every price range in between. And if you happen to own one I’m sure you’ve fallen victim to “Spotting Scope Fatigue”.  A temporary numbness and localized pain in either both or one of your shoulders from carrying your burden all day long in the field.

How many times have I opened the rear hatch of my car and stare at my spotting scope just lying there. You know you’re going to be gone for several hours and the thought of carrying your scope hour after hour makes you pause and reconsider. You know if you don’t take it with you, you’ll curse yourself as you scan that mud flat at all those wading birds you can’t ID because you left your scope all alone… in your car. You spent all this money on your scope, so you feel obligated to take it along.

For myself, and I’m sure others would agree, the shifting of the scope from one shoulder to the other is something we as birders need to get used to. And if you happen upon a bird you either have to put the scope down before bringing up your bins, or you just bring your bins up and hope you don’t loose your balance. Either way it’s not the ideal. You and I both know that having two hands on your binoculars as you focus in on a bird is far superior than one hand.

So what’s the solution?

Jon and I always thought that there should be something out on the market like a backpack system for your scope and tripod. And there is.

I stumbled upon the Mulepack by CleySpy out of the England while searching the internet. It was exactly what we were looking for, but we were a little hesitant on pulling the trigger. The overall cost was about $73.00 dollars, and not knowing what the shipping was going to be we waited.

Then a wondeful thing happened. Jon’s wife and Mother-in-Law went on vacation to England. And on top of that he found another company which offered a slightly cheaper pack at $68.00 dollars with no shipping since they would be bringing them back to the states after their vacation was over. How sweet is that.

So now I’m a proud owner of a Scopac tripod carrier. And as you can tell by the photo, it fits and works wonderfully.

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Plus it has a small zipper compartment for some loose items or a small field guide, and a  net pouch for a water bottle. The shoulder straps are adjustable and it also has a sternum strap.

For an item such as a spotting scope and tripod we as birders really don’t have too many options for carrying our priceless gear. And as I grow older creature comforts are really high on my list. And shoulder fatigue is one less thing I need to take aspirin for.