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.

Late Winter Birding

With the official start of Spring less than 2 weeks away, winter is still holding tight on the Ohio Valley. Earlier this week the area received yet again a fresh covering of snow with temps bottoming out at or near zero degrees.

As temperatures steadily rose towards the end of the week, so did the threat of flooding waters from all the 3 main rivers. But most notable is the Ohio River which is suppose to crest today at flood stage.

It was a frustrating day of birding. My goal for the day was to work the lakes along the Little Miami River south towards the Ohio River, ending at the confluence of the Licking and Ohio Rivers in Covington Kentucky.

My first stop was a Lake Isabella, a small fishing lake that is part of the Hamilton County Parks system. In winters past this can be quite a nice spot for waterfowl, however…

IMG_2120 it was still frozen over today, with only one small area that had open water, which held no birds.

I moved a little more down stream towards Grand Valley Preserve. Despite the fact that it’s a private preserve, there are plenty of vantage points so any non-member can scan the lake. However…

IMG_2121Grand Valley is still frozen over, except for this small hole where some Ring-billed Gulls and American Coots were gathered.

Well it seemed pretty obvious by now that any open water, unless it’s a river, was going to be frozen over. So a time to change tactics was in order. This time I made my way to a nature preserve along the bottom lands sandwiched between the East Fork of the Little Miami and the main branch of the Little Miami River, in a sleepy, but affluent community of Terrace Park.

IMG_2122 Except for the crunch of the snow under my boots, the only birds worth mentioning was your normal backyard birds. Everywhere I went was unusually quiet.

Moving onto Bass Island which sits adjacent to the Little Miami River. This place always floods, however there is a trail where if the water hasn’t risen too much you can keep your feet dry.

IMG_2123Bass Island is one of those little gems where birding can be really good. During Spring migration this can turn into a migrant trap with exception fall out of warblers. But overall a very good spot for your passerines. That is except today. I think my whole mojo is thrown off.

Moving further downstream towards the Ohio River I made a futile stop at Armleder Park.

IMG_2128It could be a couple of weeks before they let anyone back into the park. Scanning the frozen flood waters I was able to spot both Herring and Ring-billed Gulls and Crows.

Despite the fact the birding wasn’t very good, the weather was making a turn for the better. The sun was warm and when you got back into your car you had to roll the windows down to keep from over heating. For myself it was a fair trade-off.

I ended my day searching the flood waters of where the Licking and Ohio come together. This can be a very good spot for duck, however with the rushing waters ducks were absent.

Most of our over wintering ducks will be leaving soon, and with me traveling north to Michigan next weekend, the prospect of finding large pods of ducks will diminish. But with Spring come the migrating song birds, and the cycle continues.

 

Birthday Present

Next month marks my 60th birthday. And to celebrate this monumental year I wanted something special for myself. And I didn’t want a present that was like any conventional present given in the past. I already have a nice pair of binoculars and spotting scope with a nice tripod, so that’s out.  I love my camera with all the gadgets I bought with it, so why would I buy a new camera. Granted a birder could always use more field guides and other books relating to birds, however this being my 60th birthday it had to be something special.

And I can’t think of anything that gets a birder more worked up and all twitchy, and eventually puts a huge smile on their face than new life birds. Now if you’re a birder you know what I mean when you see a new bird to add to your life list. It’s a true thrill and the memories associated with it lasts forever.

For the past 3 years I’ve been dreaming of the day when I could attend the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival.  The RGVBF is world famous. The tours take you to places you only dream about. And the birds! Species that leave your mind numb and your eyes fatigued. Bring it on.

Every year I’d go onto the festival web site and read over all the tours that’s being offered and thinking that one day will come when I’m on those bird tours. Dozens of new birds to add to that stagnant old life list in hopes of hitting 400 birds.

So yesterday I made my hotel reservation.  I have a good idea on which tours I’m going on. Late afternoon free lance birding by myself is coming together with help from Jon. Except for booking my flight and rental car and signing up for my tours in July I’m starting to study my birds and watching feeder cams at Sabal Palm Bird Sanctuary. Which is pretty cool.

So as the weeks tick away and November rolls around I’ll be updating you as my itinerary develops. And if you think that I might be jumping the ball by planning this far out. Well that might be true, but you see when I booked my room yesterday I got the last single room in the hotel I’m staying at for those 6 days I’m there.

 

 

Notes From The Field

The thermometer was reading in the single digits as I backed the bird-mobile out of the garage and pointed it towards Voice of America Park to meet up with Jon for a morning of river birding. If my memory is correct it was last year when Jon and myself birded together, so this was a long overdue trip.

The reason we meet at such an unusual location was to be as close to I-75 so we could then make our way towards Dayton. For the past few weeks it’s been one of the go to spots for unusual Gulls, other than Lake Erie. Great and Lesser Black-backed, Iceland and Glaucous Gulls have been seen with regularity, so not wanting to be left out we made our way north.

This recent cold snap has left little if any open water on most lakes and ponds, so finding open water is pretty important for both waterfowl and gulls. Now there’s plenty of rivers that probably has open water where we live, but the reports coming out of Dayton can’t be ignored. Plus I found out later Jon hasn’t got Iceland Gull on his life list, and the most recent sighting was 10 days old. I was familiar with where the Iceland Gull was seen by a local birder both myself and Jon know, so that’s where we went first.

IMG_2068Great Miami River looking downstream.

IMG_2069Great Miami River looking upstream with loads of geese and ducks

We pulled onto River Road in Dayton and parked at a small college lot. Walked across the street and was greeted with loads of gulls and ducks and geese. This section of the Great Miami River doesn’t freeze over as fast as other sections due to a treatment plant inflow and another small stream which keeps the water flowing.

IMG_2062Snow Goose

We hit a couple more spots along a half mile section of river just south of the city. Common and Hooded Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, and plenty of Ring-necked Ducks were the prevalent species. Then we moved to a spot across the street from the University of Dayton Arena.

Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides) is most commonly seen along the Atlantic Canadian and Northeast region of the United States. But they do wander. And for the most part us birders in the Southwestern part of Ohio know that if you want to find an Iceland Gull is to go to Lake Erie in the Winter. A little bit smaller than a Herring Gull, but larger than a Ring-billed Gull, we had our job cut out to find this bird. A small, slender bill, pink legs, and primaries that extended well past the tail were key field markings we need to key in on. As we scanned the gulls, it was Jon who first said, “I have a gull with no black wing tips”. I got on the bird.

Iceland Gull!

Time for the happy dance.

Damn, gotta run back to the car to get my camera. Age and absent-mindedness reared it’s ugly head as I searched frantically in Jon’s car for my camera.

MY BRAND NEW CAMERA! LOST

We had to leave the gull and back track to try and locate my camera. After 15 minutes of heart stopping anxiety I finally found it where I left it by the river.

Quick, have to get back to the Iceland Gull.

IMG_2108And in typical form, a crappy picture. The sun was in the worst spot in the sky, hence the glare. Plus I had to use the digital zoom to get even close for a picture. But there he/she is. A 1st winter Iceland Gull.

IMG_2073With this picture you can see how the primaries extend past the tail.

So if you happen to live within a 30 minute drive or so of Dayton, check out the Great Miami River. As I write this post more Great Black-backed Gulls are being seen.              Great spot.

Notes From The Field

Between the years 1917 and 1952 the bounty on Eagles in Alaska claimed the lives of 128,000 Eagles. The actual number probably exceeds 150,00, and those extras were bounties never collected.

At one Wyoming ranch, according to a 1970 report, 770 Bald Eagles were shot because of the perceived notion that Eagles were a threat to their livestock.

So with the Bald Eagle Protection Act in place one would think that everything would be alright. Wrong. Let’s not forget about DDT.

In 1962 Rachel Carson wrote a book titled Silent Spring. In it she exposes the devastation this chemical was having on wildlife. And Raptors were particularly vulnerable since they were higher up on the food chain. The effects of DDT on eagles was so horrible that in 1963 there was only 417 pairs of Bald Eagles left in the lower 48 states.

And in typical bureaucratic fashion (where speed isn’t their strong point)  it was finally banned in 1972. However good news was on the horizon, when in 1978 the Bald Eagle was listed under the Endangered Species Act as endangered in 43 of the lower 48 states, and threatened in the rest.

In 1995 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service downgraded the Bald Eagle status from endangered, to threatened. And the numbers kept on rising.

So you may ask yourself why am I going on about the Bald Eagle with all these facts and dates. Well it turns out I had a special kind of encounter with the Bald Eagle just this last Sunday.

My morning started of at Spring Valley following up on good reports of both Winter Wren and Virginia Rail sightings. Having not been to this section of Spring valley before I really took my time in working the area, coming up completely empty on the target birds.

I hit up several more stops as the morning waned, adding more birds to the day count. The past few days has been unseasonably warm and some of the large gravel pits I stopped at showed signs of the ice breaking up. With this little bit of knowledge I hurried off to Harveysburg Road to check out Caesar Creek Lake. I pulled into my normal spot, grabbed my scope and wandered down towards where the road dead ends at the lake.

The lake level was real low. Probably because of the construction of a new marina. The ice had definitely melted. So much so that only along the shore line out maybe 20 yards was there any ice left. And it was along this demarcation of ice and water when I saw 2 Bald Eagles standing on the icy edge. An adult and a juvenile. I trained my scope on them and watched. Then another juvenile flies in. Now we have 3. Pretty outstanding since this is the most I’ve seen at one time at this lake.

Then a 4th juvenile shows up. Holy Cow!    Grab the camera and lets get some crappy photos. One thing to remember these birds were real far from where I was standing. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get all 4 in one shot. You see when the 4th eagle landed, they all got kind of skittish and started to disperse.

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Thank God for intelligent people who put forth the effort to save these absolutely beautiful creatures.