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!


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.


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.


Autumn, specifically October is both my favorite season and month of all time. And even though I was married 31 years ago this month, the fact remains whether I’m married or not this is my favorite time of year bar none. The landscape is changing, from green corn fields to golden brown rows of ripening field corn. The soy beans are turning golden as the days grow shorter, as well as the leaves on the trees. We’re changing from shorts and T-shirts, to jeans and sweaters. Soups are served warm to the table weekly, as we throw open the windows and turn off the AC.

Change is good. It keeps us in balance with nature. And with these changes comes the much anticipated Winter Finch Report from our friend up north, Ron Pittaway.

Every year at this time birders wait for October and for Ron Pittaway’s look into finch movement during the fall and winter. A field Ornithologist from Ontario Canada, his highly respected, and accurate reports help us birders as we go into the field, or sit inside our warm homes, and watch the birds.

Now I could do a simple copy and paste of his report, but it would be simpler to just add a hyperlink to his report.

And for those birders in the Midwest, Red-breasted Nuthatches are showing up in quantity.

Ron Pittaway’s Finch Report

West Coast Wrap-up

Well, all good things must come to and end, and as of today this is my last day of a wonderful vacation. But first an apology to all my readers. I had all the right intentions to update my blog during my trip out west except for my earlier post from our stay in Novato California. This trip was a wire to wire, we’re not wasting daylight, itinerary filled trip. By the time Kathy and I finished with our day I was too tired for any writing. So now that I’ve been home for a few days and have time to upload all the pictures taken, it’s high time I do some writing.

The main reason we went on this vacation was for me to finally see a portion of the west coast, and for Kathy to re-visit Olympic National Park. And with 2 weeks at our disposal we started with visiting our nephew in Novato California.

img_4945But first a drive from the airport, through San Francisco, and across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Our nephew was out for the afternoon hiking, so with time on our hands and having checked into our room, we asked for some fun sightseeing things to do at the hotel desk. Not wanting to waste a beautiful day we hit the road, particularly Hwy 1, that scenic but windy road with some great vistas.


It was difficult to pay attention to the road, enjoy the views, and get some birding in all at the same time. As a matter of fact birding was a challenge this whole trip. Back home in Ohio late summer can prove to be pretty non-birdie. Migration has started but not really in full swing. Plus the birds aren’t very vocal, which never helps. Well the same can be said about the west coast. But I wasn’t here for the rarities, I just wanted as many common birds as I could find.

And it started out quick. As we were unloading our rental car at the hotel (Best Western Plus in Novato was beautiful, clean, and highly recommended) I heard a chatter in a clump of trees I’ve never heard before. Acorn Woodpeckers.

As we enjoyed our afternoon drive along Hwy 1 we passed Bolinas Lagoon where we stopped for a moment to check out the mud flats, which were extensive. Long-billed Curlews, Gulls and peeps…and is that a Whimbrel? OMG it’s a WHIMBREL. My nemesis bird is finally ticked off, and so was the bird as I was ready to take it’s picture.


The evening was spent visiting with our nephew and going to a local brewery for dinner. The next day was a work day for him, which left us to explore even more the area. This time we traveled to the Visitors Center at Point Reyes National Seashore where I soon discovered why the California Quail was the state bird, they were everywhere.


img_4977As were Brewer’s Blackbirds…

img_5045California Scrub Jays, Band-tailed Pigeons, and California Towhees.

After we left the visitors center we were off to Point Reyes Lighthouse, where maybe I can pick up some Common Murres and Cormorants.

The drive to the lighthouse was over some very windy roads past historical ranches and sparse vegetation. As we pulled into the parking lot and starting our hike to the lighthouse we were treated to some spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and the coast.


img_5035Point Reyes Lighthouse

It was from the lighthouse where I picked up my lifer Common Murre, Brandt’s and Pelagic Cormorants. Trying to get any photograph proved futile because of the windy conditions. The water was real choppy and it was difficult to hold the camera still.

After our stay in Novato we headed north to Redwood National Park, with our home base in Arcata California, just north of Eureka. All I can say about Northern California is WOW. I can now see why people love it here.

It was while we were on this drive through rolling country past countless vineyards  as any good birder would do is always watch for birds. This morning was no different as I glanced skyward at the Turkey Vultures. After and hour or so I noticed a particularly large bird that wasn’t flying like a Turkey Vulture. As we got nearer I first noticed the white windows on the wing tips, and the uniform darkness of the bird. As luck would have it, a immature Golden Eagle. Sometimes it better to be lucky than good.

img_4360The view of the bay in Trinadad California on our way to Redwood N.P.

img_5075This is just a sample of what I was in store for. Trees of monumental size and girth. If you’re not a lover of trees, than this isn’t the place for you. Pictures don’t do it justice, and the endless photos I have of trees will do nothing more than wet your appetite or bore you.

On one of our hikes were at the Lady Bird Johnson Grove on a walking tour with one of the park rangers. After the tour was over we continued onto another trail which looped back. as we walked Kathy stopped and told me to listen. CHIP…CHIP…CHIP. Skulking around in the thick undergrowth was a MacGillivray’s Warbler. I wasn’t expecting this, but I’ll take it. And just like it’s cousins the Mourning and Connecticut Warbler, it disappeared into the brush.

img_5069I did score on the beautiful Stellar’s Jay.

On the second full day at Redwood N.P. and surrounding areas, I convinced Kathy to a 4 am wake up to head over to Prairie Creek campground. According to eBird this open prairie surrounded by mountains will have fly over Marbled Murrelets as they leave the forests of the Pacific coast on their way to the open ocean to feed.


img_4378I wish it had been this clear while we waited. Coasted fog hung low over the prairie as the sun started to rise. We had waited for over an hour, after having moved to a different parking lot to get a better view. As time wore on I finally spotted one flying low and fast as it came out from under the fog. I wanted a better view. so we waited.

Then we both heard a bird call. But not your normal bird sound, more of a too-too-too-too. I’ve heard this before on the King Ranch in Texas. It called again…too-too-too-too. Has to be a Pygmy Owl…too-too-too-too, it called again a little further away. I hurry for my smart phone to open my Sibley app…too-too-too-too, even further away now. I’m shaking now as I open the call of a Northern Pygmy Owl. Holy Cow… that’s it. Never in a million years would I have thought of ticking off an owl quite like that. There was no way in chasing this bird, nor was I going to try and attract the bird by playing it’s call loudly over my phone, which is against most park regulations concerning wildlife.

img_5060A very cooperative Black Phoebe poses on a beach at Redwood N.P. This photo sure does beat the one I took of a Black Phoebe while in Texas.

I hated leaving such a beautiful place but we had an 8 hour drive as we motored towards Portland Oregon to check out the city. We stayed at a Ramada Inn down by the river, and I would highly recommend this place as well. Plus it’s on the streetcar line which makes getting around really easy.

Our next stop was a small city of Port Angeles Washington on the north coast. For the next 4 days we really packed in activities. After arriving and settling into a below average hotel (Red Lion Inn) we set off on foot to see the water front before dinner. We climber a observation tower that overlooked the harbor and me without my camera, only bins. In the water floated my lifer adult Mew Gull. Go figure.

img_5109The most common gull species was the Glaucous-winged Gull. Another lifer.

The next day we meet up with our guide for the day, Kaiyote Snow. Kaiyote owns her own guide service and has been leading backpacking trips and bird tours for years. She picked us up at 7 am sharp and we were off on our all day adventure. After the introductions our first stop is Hurricane Ridge. Kaiyote was a wealth of information on all the flora and fauna, with a mix of geology thrown in.




Besides the outstanding views the birding wasn’t too bad either. Besides this Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco, I ticked off Chestnut-sided Chickadee and Townsend Warbler


Time to come off the mountain, have a little lunch and plan our next location. As we ate next to the harbor in Port Angeles we sighted a large congregation of Heermann’s Gulls, distant Rhinoceros Auklets, and a few Harlequin Ducks.


After lunch we were off towards the Lake Crescent area. Let me tell you the setting for this historic lodge besides the lake was nothing but spectacular.

img_5143Lake Crescent Lake Lodge

img_5144Cabin row at Lake Crescent


But we weren’t there to check out the accommodations or the scenery, we were there for the American Dipper. This small, solitary bird the color of river rocks, that feeds along fast flowing mountain streams on aquatic insect larvae is probably one of the coolest birds in North America. Kaiyote parks the car next to Crescent lake Lodge as we hike towards Barnes Creek. We start our search at the bridge of Barnes Creek over Hwy. 101 right next to the lodge. Kaiyote was here yesterday scouting the area and saw one in one of the pools. We hike a little further along and stop at another clearing next to the creek. Still no Dipper.

We continued this hike,stop and look for about 30 minutes until I noticed a caught a disturbance of the water. I pulled up and found the bird.

img_5128This birds wasn’t going to cooperate for a photo-bug like me, and continued to feed all the time we were there.

img_5131How could you not love a bird like this.

The day was getting late and we needed to start heading back to Port Angeles, however before Kaiyote dropped us off we went to this small park in town. It was here that I picked up Spotted Towhee and Golden-crowned Sparrow.

img_5155Golden-crowned Sparrowimg_4581Kaiyote and yours truly.

I told Kaiyote that I would give her a free plug for your tour company. So if you’re ever in the area contact and set up a tour. It may seem expensive to some, but for what you get it was so worth it, and would recommend it to any birder. Here’s a link to her website.

Kaiyote Tours

It was a great day. We were tired and hungry. We ate and went to bed early in preparation of our whale watching trip the next day.

It’s a 45-50 minute drive from Port Angeles to Port Townsend Washington where we were pick up our ferry ride to Coupeville on Whidbey Island. Being a very popular ferry reservations need to be made or might miss the boat. And we needed  be at the office of the Island Adventures (name of the whale watching company) an hour before the boat sails.

Well we made it with plenty of time to spare. Enough time we went had breakfast at a local restaurant set up in a small residential home.


 The whole trip was a huge success. We saw plenty of Orcas, 3 pods to be exact, and some lifer birds.

img_5172A unexpected surprise, a Peregrine Falcon.

img_5169Plenty of seals, Brandt’s and Pelagic Cormorants

img_5177Common Murre

img_5175And another one.

img_5359 img_5242 img_5267 img_5270 img_5273 img_5349And plenty of Orcas

img_5364Rhinoceros Auklet

img_5093Black Oystercatcher

It was another long, tiring day. We drove back to Port Townsend and had some dinner at this really small seafood restaurant called Sea J’s. Their fish n chips are off the charts.

The last full day at Olympic N.P. Kathy and I drove to the Hoh rain forest. It wasn’t till we had lunch when I spotted my last lifer for the trip. Gray Jay.

img_4614The weather really cleared up as we passed Lake Crescent


img_5385Gray Jay


On our return to Port Angeles we made one last stop at Sol Duc Falls. A pleasant hike with some great photo rewards.


We left Port Angeles the following morning an drove to Bainbridge Island to catch the ferry to Seattle. We spent several hours touring around Pike Street Market and had lunch at the Chowder House. We finally found our way to the hotel in a suburb and settled down for the long flight home the next day.

It was a special vacation that rates right up there with some of the best I’ve been on. Would I do it again? You bet, with some alterations.

Some of the disappointing moments was not getting any photos of some of the prime birds of the Pacific Northwest, notably the Varied Thrush and Pacific Wren. Being late summer hardly any birds were calling and trying to locate birds in such a tall tree canopy was next to impossible. I saw plenty, just no pictures.

All told I scored 38 new life birds, which isn’t too bad. This brings my life list to 444.

  1. California Scrub Jay
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird
  3. Acorn Woodpecker
  4. California Quail
  5. California Towhee
  6. Spotted Towhee
  7. Mew Gull
  8. Glaucous-winged Gull
  9. Heermann’s Gull
  10. Chestnut-sided Chickadee
  11. Townsend’s Warbler
  12. MacGillivray’s Warbler
  13. Tufted Puffin
  14. Common Murre
  15. Pigeon Guillemot
  16. Marbled Murrette
  17. Rhinoceros Auklet
  18. Red-breasted sapsucker
  19. Northern Pygmy Owl
  20. American Dipper
  21. Golden Eagle
  22. Gray Jay
  23. Stellar’s Jay
  24. Whimbrel
  25. Band-tailed Pigeon
  26. Brewer’s Blackbird
  27. Western Wood Pewee
  28. Pacific Slope Flycatcher
  29. Pelagic Cormorant
  30. Brandt’s Cormorant
  31. Black Oystercatcher
  32. Violet-green Swallow
  33. Vaux’s Swift
  34. Harlequin Duck
  35. Northwestern Crow
  36. Pacific Wren
  37. Varied Thrussh
  38. Golden-crowned Sparrow

On The Road

Greeting from beautiful California,  and the equally beautiful Marin County. Well our vacation has finally arrived and it has started out very well. Our flight from Cincinnati to San Francisco was pretty smooth with the added bonus of having the middle seat empty for the entire flight, which gave Kathy and me plenty of room. Our flight actually arrived a little early, and after picking up our luggage and travelling by tram to the rental car compound, we headed off into the big scary city of San Francisco.  

My GPS took right through the heart of the city and right across the Golden Gate Bridge, which was very cool. We enjoyed driving across so much, we went back to Golden Gate Park and walked around and took pictures. One thing to remember if you ever go is that it can be really, really crowded. 

So far the birding has been excellant. Granted if I could just focuz on the birds I probably would have a few more lifersthan I do at the moment. We visited Point Reyes National Seashore both yesterday and today and hit up a good cross section of birding habitat while at the park. 

So all told I’ve added 15 new life birds, with my nemisis bird, the Whimbrel going down. Pictures have been kind of tough to get. It seems when I focus in on so many new birds my camera is the last thing I think about till I make a correct ID. Anyway here are a few iconic California birds

Right now as it stands here are the new additions to my Life List.

  1. Acorn Woodpecker
  2. California Scrub Jay
  3. Stellar’s Jay
  4. Common Murre
  5. Whimbrel
  6. Brewer’s Blackbird
  7. California Quail
  8. Spotted Towhee
  9. California Towhee
  10. Pacific Slope Flycatcher
  11. Western Wood Pewee
  12. Band-tailed Pigeon
  13. Brandt’s Cormorant
  14. Pelagic Cormorant
  15. Chestnut-sided Chickadee

And tomorrow after we pack and grab some breakfast, it’s off to Redwood National Park.