January 100 Challenge Update

It’s been raining 11 out of the 15 days days of January, with more predicted today. However with all this rain I still made it out yesterday with the Audubon Miami Valley group as the held a field trip to Fernald Preserve. I’ve never been out with this group before but the 2 leaders I know real well and they’re top notch birders. So after the day was over I added 4 more birds to my list which surpasses last year. I guess I should feel good about that.

78.  Sharp-shinned Hawk

79.  Wilson’s Snipe

80.  Mute Swan

81.  Canvasback

The Best of 2016, Part 1

As a birdwatcher who enjoys taking photographs of birds mostly for documentation and blogging purposes, I thought it would be kind of fun to review what I feel to be the better photos of birds from the previous year. The idea of doing this wasn’t my own. A fellow WordPress Blogger, https://brighamstephen.wordpress.com/ posted his top 10 photographs of 2016 just last month, so I borrowed his idea. They say imitation is the best form of flattery. Now he’s a much better photographer than I could ever be, but I thought the idea was really cool.

img_4731American Redstart  f6.5   1/250   ISO 250

This American Redstart is by far my best effort for this species. I took a stroll one morning when we visited Maumee Bay State Park last Spring, and ran into a nice pocket of warblers.

img_4432_1Vesper Sparrow   f6.5   1/800   ISO 500

As muchRed-headed Woodpeckers I love sparrows, I just had to include this gem. These elusive beauties can only be found during migration and I was lucky enough to capture this image while visiting the Oxbow back in April.

img_4486Red-headed Woodpecker   f8.0   1/1600   ISO 800

While visiting my son at Haw River State Park in Greensboro North Carolina, he told me about this location where these woodpeckers congregated. What I love most about this photo is the contract between the texture of the bark and the coloration of the bird.

img_4565Virginia Rail   f6.5   1/640   ISO 1,000

My go-to spot for these birds is Spring Valley Wildlife Area north of Waynesville Ohio. This spring I really had a bird who was the most cooperative I’ve ever seen, and the results are quite obvious.

img_5069Stellar Jay   f6.5   1/640   ISO 1,250

Walking among the giant Redwoods in Redwoods National Park is one of the most surreal experiences I’ve had. And when a life bird such as this Stellar Jay lands in front of you, well it’s the cherry on top.

“Notes From The Field”

It was a frigid 5 degrees under a brightening morning sky when I backed the bird-mobile out of the garage, pointing it north on highway 22/3, and drove towards Caesar Creek State Park. Within 2 minutes I had my first new bird for my January 100 list, a Pileated Woodpecker hammering away on a short tree by the side of the road. I’m hoping this is a good omen.

There’s loads of common birds I still need to check off at Caesars Creek and nearby Spring Valley Wildlife Area. Normally my first stop would be at the Harveysburg Road overlook, but today I made towards the beach in hope of finding the gull flock still on the beach before they disperse to feed. I found the flock without any problems and right in the middle was my Herring Gull. I continued to scan the area for Killdeer and Pipits without any luck.

I drove to various points around the lake scanning for any signs of waterfowl, and if it wasn’t for 2 Pied-billed Grebes the duck decoys left by hunters which was the most numerous thing on the lake. I packed it i and headed over to the visitors center to warm up and check the feeders.

The feeders at the visitors center usually draw your normal birds like Junco’s, Cardinals, Titmouse, and Chickadees. In the winter though for the past several years I’ve had very good luck in spotting Purple Finches at this location. During the Spring and Summer of last year the visitors center went through a large expansion so now they have 2 areas set up with feeders that you can watch from inside.

The visitor center expansion consisted of a long corridor with several offices connecting the original visitor center building to a large conference room. One of these offices along the corridor was open to the back of the building and the feeder area. Taking off my coat and hat I settled into a chair and held vigil.

After about 5 minutes a stunning male flew in.

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img_5637I apologize for the poor quality, since I was shooting through a window and the sun was at a low angle.

I love how Peterson describes them in his field guide, “a finch dipped in raspberry sauce”. Despite some peoples confusion between this species and the more common House Finch, once you see a Purple Finch next to a House Finch the difference becomes quite obvious.

The rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent checking out Spring Valley and a few gravel pits. It was during my drive to Spring Valley when I FINALLY spotted 3 large black birds soaring. Pulling off the highway and getting my bins out I saw that they were Black Vultures. All I need now are Turkey Vultures.

My grumbling stomach told me it was time to leave. Driving slowly I noticed a really small bird flitting about low in the branches of a tree by the side of the road. Stopping I got my bins on it to find a Golden-crowned Kinglet. Pulling to the side of the road I grabbed my camera in what I thought would be a futile attempt to get a picture of these ever moving birds.

Luck was on my side today.

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New January birds were:

70: Purple Finch

71: Herring Gull

72: Pileated Woodpecker

73: Black Vulture

74: Golden-crowned Kinglet

75: Brown-headed Cowbird

76: Hermit Thrush

77: Cooper’s Hawk

Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017

Well 2016 has finally come to a close, and I’ve been a bad blogger. I’ve been rather lax in keeping up on my blog posts, which in turn keeps me out of the field. From Thanksgiving till now, the holidays can really suck your free time, and when I did get out birding, it was kind of slow. But this is a new year and I’ll try to be a little more frequent in keeping you the reader informed on my comings and goings. So let’s start with a re-cap of 2016, which by the way was one of my most productive years in regards to new life birds.

January 2016 started out with me not obtaining 100 species. I feel a warmer weather pattern and just plain bad luck, plus not having enough free time to really dig for those birds kept me from my goal.

Other than my usual hot spots in and around Southwestern Ohio, Northern Kentucky, and Southeastern Indiana, traveling was kept to my yearly visit to the Lake Erie for the big migrant movement and my big 2 week trip to the West Coast. Chasing rarities of any distance from my home was kept to a minimum, unless it was too hard to resist.

As for life bird of 2016, this was a difficult decision. Of the 42 new life birds I had to choose from how can I narrow it down to just one? Was it the Northern Pygmy Owl calling in the early morning at Redwoods National Park? Or how about the Curlew Sandpiper on our first day at Magee Marsh on Lake Erie during our 4 day stay? Another top contender would have to be the Black Rail calling at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge. It could be my most recent life bird, the Brandt which hung around for several days at Rocky Fork State Park.

After some consideration , and looking back at myyear list over and over again, the logical choice had to be my very first life bird for the year, the Western Grebe, that myself and my oldest son David found at Caesar Creek State Park. I think the reason I was most excited about this bird is that I found the bird first, not someone else. And for a birder this is a very satisfying feeling. My 15 minutes of fame. Hopefully I’ll have the same kind of luck this year.

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2016 came to a close with the annual Christmas Bird Count, which I participated in along with my buddy Jon, and a couple of other local birders I’ve been out with before. It started to out rainy and cold, but eventually the skies cleared and a nice breeze help kick up the raptors and vultures. The total count for the area was 88 birds species, and our own group of 4 came away with a total of 64. A nice respectable number if I do say so. Our group count of over 9,000 Common Grackles was the 3rd. highest in our Christmas count history, which by the way was an incredible sight to behold.

2017 has started off with lots of birding and some pretty good numbers as the first week comes to a close. Since the New Year I was able to hit some local hot spots and take care of the common birds. The last few years has seen my January 100 challenge come up miserably short of the mark,so this year I’m doing one thing differently. I’ve adopted the same strategy as most big year birders have, chase the rarities first.

On January 2nd word on social media had a sizable flock of Canada Geese with 3 Ross’s Geese, 14 Greater White-fronted Geese, and several Cackling Geese near the small town of Jamestown Ohio. I had already been out all morning birding over by the Oxbow, Fernald Preserve, (which was hosting 7 Tundra Swans) and the Lost Bridge area, so I was a bit tired already. So I volunteered to do the grocery shopping if I could chase these birds in Jamestown. So off I went again. Jamestown is is about 40 miles from my home and the small pond the birds were in was located at the intersection of 2 state highways. The only good viewing of the pond was parking along the shoulder of the exit ramp of one of the highways, which meant driving 2 miles out of my way so I could back track to the correct exit ramp.

So after my little detour I was able to set up next to another birder who had the same idea. It didn’t take long to add those 3 different species of geese to my January list, along with the added bonus of a couple of Northern Pintails. So needless to say after driving back and doing the grocery shopping I was exhausted.

Yesterday was my first day back to work after the long weekend and once again late in the morning social media was abuzz with 5 female Surf Scoters a,d a single female Black Scoter at Eastwood Metro Park in Dayton Ohio, another 40 mile drive from my home. Now Surf Scoter appear with some regularity every year in our area of Ohio, but a Black Scoter is something quite unusual. So leaving work 45 minutes early I still had to pick up a few more groceries that I forgot the day before, and fill up the bird-mobile. I had to get moving on these birds since the weather was deteriorating rapidly with thick overcast skies and loads of rain, and to top it off it’s rush hour. I really wanted to avoid the downtown Dayton area, so I printed off some alternate directions off MapQuest. Well that was a mistake, and I ended up following my GPS through Dayton without too much trouble.

Well I found the park easily enough, and the Surf Scoters, but not the Black Scoter. Then it started to rain harder making visibility difficult. As I was driving down the lake to scope out the other end I noticed a group of cars parked. They must have found the Black Scoter. A guy I meet where the Surf Scoters were told me the Black Scoter was actively feeding across the lake. Grabbing my scope in the driving rain I set up quickly and was able to watch at the Scoter was diving over and over again as it feed. Being wet and hungry it was time to go home.

So at the present time I stand at 69 bird species, which isn’t too bad considering that some birder up in Erie County was able to make his 100 species in 1 day. Show off. I’d like to see him do it down here. Anyway I’ll be updating as the birds come in, so wish me luck.

So here’s how my list stands now:

  1. House Finch
  2. House Sparrow
  3. Dark-eyed Junco
  4. Mourning Dove
  5. Eastern Gold Finch
  6. Eastern Towhee
  7. Carolina Wren
  8. White-breasted Nuthatch
  9. Red-shouldered Hawk
  10. Downy Woodpecker
  11. Blue Jay
  12. Eastern Bluebird
  13. Northern Cardinal
  14. Carolina Chickadee
  15. Hairy Woodpecker
  16. White-throated Sparrow
  17. American Crow
  18. European Starling
  19. Brown Creeper
  20. Hooded Merganser
  21. Mallard
  22. American Robin
  23. Belted Kingfisher
  24. American Wigeon
  25. Gadwall
  26. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  27. Tufted Titmouse
  28. Bufflehead
  29. American Coot
  30. Ring-billed Gull
  31. Red-tailed Hawk
  32. Northern Flicker
  33. American Tree Sparrow
  34. Northern Mockingbird
  35. Bald Eagle
  36. Canada Goose
  37. Common Goldeneye
  38. Merlin
  39. Peregrine Falcon
  40. Sandhill Crane
  41. Ruddy Duck
  42. Pied-billed Grebe
  43. Field Sparrow
  44. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  45. Song Sparrow
  46. Rock Pigeon
  47. American Kestrel
  48. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  49. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  50. Northern Shoveler
  51. Tundra Swan
  52. Ring-necked Duck
  53. American Black Duck
  54. Swamp Sparrow
  55. Green-winged Teal
  56. Northern Harrier
  57. White-crowned Sparrow
  58. Redhead
  59. Common Grackle
  60. Horned Grebe
  61. Great Blue Heron
  62. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  63. Ross’s Goose
  64. Cackling Goose
  65. Greater White-fronted Goose
  66. Surf Scoter
  67. Black Scoter
  68. Northern Pintail
  69. Snow Goose

Notes From The Field

Every year about this time reports (usually from northern Ohio) start to trickle in about mixed flocks of Canada, Cackling, Snow, Greater White-fronted and Ross’s Geese. Granted if you happen to live anywhere else in the state but Southwestern Ohio your chances of seeing all 5 in one year can be pretty good. Some years can be better than others, but on a whole you have to work pretty hard to tick these birds off.

Now the year isn’t quite over yet, however I’m not thinking about this year. I’m thinking about this coming January when I once again will attempt to see 100 birds for the month. And I’m hoping the bird I chased after this past Saturday will stick around. Probably not though.

img_5588Ross’s Goose

Now this Ross’s Goose was first located on the 1st, and it wasn’t till the 3rd that I was able to put my bins on this beautiful bird. It was discovered feeding in with a large flock of Canada Geese on some soccer fields. Marinas that have access to the Ohio River front one side of the soccer fields, and a airport the other side.

I spent a couple hours just watching, moving to another location and watching some more, in hopes of getting some decent pictures. This was the only one I really liked.

” 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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