“On The Road”…to chase a Lifer

If you were asked to name as many birds with only one syllable in it’s name, how many would you be able to come up with? And I’m just speaking about North American birds.

The only one I could come up with is Philomachus pugnax, the one and only “Ruff”.  An ABA code 3 bird that certainly sparked a lot of interest since it was first sighted early Friday. A casual Eurasian visitor to Ohio, the Ruff usually makes an appearance during the spring and fall during migration. According to Bruce Peterjohn in “The Birds of Ohio”, most fall migrants are during August and September, with only 2 in October and 1 in November recorded. The majority of the sightings are up on Lake Erie, with only a few in the interior of the state.   So needless to to say when on Friday one was sighted at Hoover Reservoir north on Columbus near Westerville Ohio my heart skipped a beat.

The construction of Hoover Reservoir started in 1953, and completed 2 years later. Built to hold back Big Walnut Creek this 3,272 acre lake is 8 miles long, and 1 mile at it’s widest, it’s where the majority of Columbus’s drinking water comes from. At the very northern part sits the cute little town of Galena Ohio, with it’s famous mudflats, and equally famous boardwalk. The boardwalk is 1,500 feet in length and a mecca for birders and fishermen alike. As a matter of fact my lifer Buff-breasted Sandpiper was seen from the very end of the boardwalk. However yesterday it still remained closed due to ice damage from last winter, so a different tactic was used to track down the Ruff.

As with so many reservoirs, existing roads that criss-crossed the area now become dead-ends. The only way you can tell now-a-days that they even existed is the crumbling asphalt left behind. And there is one such abandoned road that runs out of Galena right into the mudflats just a few hundred yards from the boardwalk. So at 9:30 yesterday morning I parked the bird-mobile along the side of the road and started to unload.

The temptation to run up Friday late afternoon after work was strong. Driving time during normal conditions was 1 hour and 45 minutes, but this was Columbus and I would be driving through at rush hour, with a Ohio State home football game the next day. I reluctantly opted for Saturday morning to make my trip.

As I started down the heavily grown over road I noticed a couple coming towards me. I asked if the Ruff was still there, which he confirmed it was, just a little further out. My pace quickened. A short 5 minute hike brought me to a clearing where 5 birders were stowing their gear as they prepared to leave. As I approached 2 guys who were set up on the edge of the mud, I asked in what area the bird was seen last.

IMG_3293The 2 men pointed me in the direction of that rocky point of mud where all the gulls are sitting. “The Ruff is on the other side down at the waters edge feeding, so you have to wait a minute for it to come out”. Not exactly the view I’d prefer, but I’ll wait and see if it comes closer.

IMG_3299My first look at the Ruff. Not very impressive.

Also feeding on the mudflats were lots of Lesser Yellowlegs, and Pectoral Sandpipers, Killdeer, Semipalmated Plovers, and Spotted Sandpipers.

IMG_3296Lesser Yellowleg on the left with a Pectoral Sandpiper

After waiting about 20 minutes a large portion of birds took off and the Ruff was one of them. You could easily pick it out from the other birds as they circled around the area and finally settled back down closer than they were before. This time I was able to get my scope on the juvenile Ruff and noticed the buffiness and size comparison to some of the Lesser Yellowleg.

Then the Ruff started to move closer as it constantly probed the mud in search of food. The sun broke through the cloud cover which helped as I started to click off picture after picture.



IMG_3383Normally found along with Yellowlegs and Pectoral Sandpipers, I wanted to get a size comparison photo with a Lesser Yellowleg.



I spent about 2 hours just watching the Ruff. The weather cooperated and I meet a few very nice birders. I posted this last photo on Facebook with some good comments. So far Hoover Reservoir has been pretty lucky for me, and hopefully the next time I visit good things happen again…Lifer Bird 345


A Birders Haiku

rock garden

Upon the soft sand

Fiddlers scatter with each step

as Godwits forage

Piping Plover Follow-up

As you recall one of my target birds while visiting the Sleeping Bear Dunes area was the Piping Plover. Which as it turns out was a success, as I got some really good photos of the Plover. As life returned to normal after returning home I started to think about the Plover I watched all by myself on that deserted stretch of beach. I wasn’t satisfied with just observing and photographing the bird, I needed something more. It wasn’t enough sharing my story with you my readers, I wanted to see if others might be interested in this sighting. Being a Federally Endangered Species surely someone out there would be interested. So I sat down in front of my computer and started to search.

After a while of searching one link to another from various web sites I settled upon the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service out of East Lancing Michigan. So I gave them a call. After being transferred a couple of times I ended up talking to Vince Cavalieri, a Wildlife Biologist with U.S. Fish and Game. We talked for a bit and he was very interested in my photos. So he gave me his e-mail address and I’d crop the photos so he could look at the bands on the Plover legs.

Copy of IMG_3043

Copy of IMG_3073These were the 2 photos I sent Vince. Having taken loads of pictures of the Plover I needed to select photos that showed both legs and the bands on each.

I waited for a few days and I finally got a reply, but not from Vince. It seems he passed my pictures along to another individual names Alice Van Zoeren. Her response was pretty straight forward. The bird was hatched this Summer on North Manitou Island.

The Manitou Islands sit off to the west of the Leeanau Peninsula and is maintained by the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake Shore. There is a small colony of the Great Lakes population of Piping Plovers that nest on North Manitou Island annually, and Alice is part of a larger group that monitors the Plovers 24/7 during nesting season. A free-lance naturalist with a degree in Natural History Education from the University of Michigan, she now employed the the University of Minnesota as a Research Assistant. Each Summer she’ll spend 4-5 day shifts on North Manitou Island monitoring and protecting the nests which are concentrated in the Dimmick’s Point area of the Island, which is closed to the public from April to August.

She told me that there were 17 pairs of mating adults on North Manitou this year with 42 chicks fledged, with my bird one of the 42. All told the Great Lakes Population increased this year to 75 mating pairs from a low of 13 back in the 1980’s.

She provided a great link if you’d like to read more about this beautiful bird, and the efforts they put forth to preserve them.


Rare Bird Alert


Brian Wulker reported a lone Buff-breasted Sandpiper at the rear pond prior to Lost Bridge. Wilderness Road in Stark has been host to loads of these birds the past several days and it seems it’s our turn for a few of these beautiful birds here in the southwest corner of the state.

Notes From The Field

With only a few more hours left in August, September could be very well a great month for fall migration here in the Ohio Valley. For the past two weekends I’ve been out in the field, particularly in the Lost Bridge and Oxbow area, setting up the old spotting scope watching and waiting. These two areas are notorious for having rarities drop in, (the Whimbrel in the Spring that I dipped on after breaking all sorts of traffic laws in my attempt to get there) and with Jon in tow this last Sunday we made out pretty well.

The Saturday prior was just as good when arrived at Lost Bridge I ran into a group of birders from the local Audubon Society on one of their monthly field trips.  That morning 2 Red-necked Phalaropes were the star as each birder strained through their spotting scopes to catch these rarities.

Trying to get any decent photograph was futile so after many tries to capture any of the great birds seen during the 2 weekends, I just gave up. In sprite of the fact I have no pictures to share I do have what I feel is a good list of some darn good birds.

  1. Red-necked Phalarope
  2. Semipalmated Plover
  3. American Golden Plover
  4. Stilt Sandpiper
  5. Least Sandpiper
  6. Spotted Sandpiper
  7. Semipalmated Sandpiper
  8. Baird’s Sandpiper
  9. Lesser Yellowleg
  10. Sanderling

And as it normally is when I go birding during the heat of the Summer, I usually knock off by lunch time and head for home.

“On The Road”

With my vacation into the wilds of the Wolverine State over, it seems we always ask the same question. Why does it take so long for the vacation to start, and how does it end so quickly? With the cold slap of reality of “work” once again staring me in the face, and my photos sorted and cleaned up, it’s time for my wrap-up of the one day I went birding at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake Shore.

With never having visited this part of Michigan before, we really wanted to see and do as much as we could. There were wineries and breweries that needed to be visited, along with small towns and tourist attractions. And with only so much time in the day I had to designate one morning/afternoon when I can some birding in. There were some encouraging reports on eBird that had several Clay-colored Sparrows and Piping Plovers in and around Sleeping Bear Point. So this was my one-shot destination.

The drive took about 45 minutes from where we were staying outside of Northport, and following M-22 the drive took me through picturesque villages of Leland, Glen Arbor (Home of Cherry Republic) and Glen Haven. I followed the map on my GPS and traveled through Glen Haven and finally parked at the old Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Station which has been turned into a maritime museum.


Being a pretty early Wednesday morning there was no one around. So I made my way through the Coast Guard Station compound towards Lake Michigan as the sun started to rise behind me. I turned towards my left and started to walk northwest towards Sleeping Bear Point.


As I hiked along I really didn’t know what to expect when it came to birds. Being by a really large body of water one would expect the usual Ring-billed and Herring Gulls. A lone Killdeer was the first plover  sighted as it scurried before me. A couple of Semipalmated Sandpipers were feeding along the lakes edge and offered a good photo-op as the sun was in the perfect position.


As I walked a large sand dune squeezed me between itself and the lake with just about 10 feet of space to walk.



Three American Kestrels kited above me as the wind blew steady off the lake all morning. A solo flying Peregrine Falcon was being mobbed by a gang of Crows. The falcon eventually lighted, and not wanting to pass up any chance to get a picture, I crept closer. Well the falcon wanted no part of me, let alone the Crows, so it flew off over the dune.

I was beginning to think that I was going to dip on my 2 target birds, however as a large sandy clearing opened up with scrubby bushes and short, stunted trees I noticed some small bird activity.




They kept moving away from me towards where a sand dune joined the beach at right angles. Large bushes and small trees sheltered 10-12 Sparrows, but what species? I couldn’t get my bins on them long enough to get a good ID, they just wouldn’t hold still long enough. I paused for a moment and “pished”. A couple curious Sparrows jumped up on some low branches. Clay-colored Sparrows, hooray for me! Not wanting to pass up this opportunity, I pulled out my camera and fired off a few shots before they moved on.


IMG_3020Now I’m 100% sure these are Clay-colored Sparrows. However when I got home at processed the pictures and noticed that these birds were missing the classic field marking, I started to doubt myself. The one thing missing is the classic whitish median crown stripe. All the other field marks fit for a Clay-colored, but this stripe on the crown. All the field guides showed the white stripe, and this was upsetting. It wasn’t till I  pulled out go-to book on Sparrows, “The Sparrows of the United States and Canada” by James Rising and David Beadle. “crown streaked blackish and median stripe buffy”, for a juvenile Clay-colored Sparrow. Validation is sweet.

After leaving the Sparrows I made my way back to the beach and my hunt of a Piping Plover. I continued walking for about 20 minutes always stopping and scanning the beach for any movement, then sweep back over land for anything else. It was during one stop while scanning the beach I noticed the 2 Semipalmated Sandpipers I had seen earlier, but this time there was another bird with it. One with orange/yellow legs. Piping Plover! If it hadn’t moved it would have been really difficult to pick out among all the pebbles that littered the beach.

IMG_3025As you can see by this picture how well they blend into their surrounding habitat.

Now I had to set myself up to get the best photographs of the Plover without really disturbing it. The bird would move up and down the beach feeding without too much regard for me, so if I stood still it would get close, or if it walked away from me I had to climb up the bank and position myself for a better shot.




As you can see this bird has some serious bands on it’s legs. Being an endangered species this is normal and really the best way to track this beautiful bird. As a matter of fact right now as I’m writing this blog post a juvenile Piping Plover is being seen up on Lake Erie in Ohio without any bands yet. This is about as rare as the bird itself.

I could have followed this bird all day taking endless pictures, but there comes a time when enough is enough and call it a very successful day. And with that  I drove back to Glen Arbor to meet Kathy and have a Black Cherry Cream Soda from Cherry Republic. Mmmmmmm Delicious.