West Chester Highlights

With the promise of sunny skies and temperatures above freezing, I couldn’t ask for a better Winter day to go birding. Up bright and early at 6 am with a pot of coffee and hopes that the clouds will start to roll back and let the sun shine in. I don’t want to leave too early, I’ve found that even the birds aren’t up his early. And since I wasn’t going very far, it gave me time to wake up.

Today’s agenda, Ellis Lake, West Chester Wetlands, Gilmore Ponds, and Voice of America Park. I had just been to Ellis Lake last Sunday to follow up on a sighting of Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings. This week however I was going to explore some more at all locations.

Sunrise at Ellis Lake.

I decided to start with Ellis Lake/ West Chester Wetlands since it’s closer to home. I arrived at around 9:00 am with hopes of seeing a massive flock of Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs. Then reality set in like a slap in the face with 20 MPH winds whipping across the fields. Not to much was flying.

I looked out over this field for about 30 minutes as the morning shadows were racing across the newly plowed field.

This dike, which is about 8 feet above ground level, runs from the parking area to the railroad tracks. It divides the field in the previous picture, from the Ellis Lake area, which is on the right. On both sides of this dike, there was a good many sparrows. They stayed very hidden and hardly sang. I was never able to get a close enough look to make a positive ID.

The Ellis Lake and West Chester Wetlands area has a paved path for people to use. However they had the path blocked towards Route 747, the way I wanted to go. Something about utility work, or some such nonsense. It’s Saturday, and I don’t believe anyone will be working. So off I go. The path runs parallel to Union Centre Boulevard which is on the Southern side of the wetlands. With the history of the Miami-Erie Canal running through here as well as it being used for it’s ice production. The diversity of this area is in such sharp contrast to the urbanization of West Chester.

One of the small streams running into the wetlands.

About the time that I was going to turn back and head into another direction, I came upon this old stone foundation. If you stood in the center, the stone wall would be over your head. I’m not sure what was here, but I sure would like to find out. I have a feeling though it held back this.

As far as the eye could see through the trees, a frozen swamp-like expanse. As I stood there looking over this picture, I wondered if it ever dries up in the Summer. Considering how much water is sitting here, I would think not. This would be a hot spot for Prothonitary Warblers. They love areas like this.

After leaving the wetlands, I cut across country to follow a old mowed path around Ellis Lake. I can imagine how this would be filled with different species of ducks and other wading birds. Anxious to come back when the water thaws out, attracting these species.

The path eventually came to a dead end. I was given a choice of an ice crossing or turning back. No guts, no glory I say. Made it across with little or no cracking of the ice. Whew!

As the sun rose higher to the noon sky, you could feel the warmth upon your body as you shed the layers of your outer clothing. Watching as the flowing water ate away it the edges of the ice.

After I lefty here, I made my way to Gilmore Ponds.

I’ve never been here before. I’ve heard of such good birding in this area I’m kind of ashamed of myself. Especially since it’s closed. That’s right closed, due to the economic times and voter rejection of Metropark Levies. However, Butler County voters did pass the recent parks levy, but the fate of this park is still not good. I don’t feel that it will be reopened,as do other birders. That’s too bad, this place is incredible. I felt like ta thief sneaking onto this park. It pretty much has the same history as Ellis Lake and the wetlands. Used as a part of the Miami-Erie canal and also has ice production along time ago. I only scratched the surface as I walked along unkept trails, past decaying observation decks.

The time and effort put into constructing and installing these Bluebird houses, as we watch them being swallowed up by overgrown vegetation.

This was my last picture of the day, because I ran out of memory on my memory card. This is one of the fields at Gilmore Ponds, and if you look real hard at the end of the field there is a large, above the ground bird blind. I didn’t go into it, but I’m probably sure it’s not too safe, considering the run  down nature of the rest of the park.

Butler County Metroparks still has Gilmore Ponds listed on it’s web page. I will include it as a link for anyone interested. Just click on the “blue” lettering to take you there.

My last stop was Voice of America Park. I had 2 reasons to go there. One to pick up a new park pass, and the second was to do a little more birding. Remember if you’re not a resident of Butler County, the pass is $10.00.

With the recent passing of the park levy, some of the money is going top be used to expand into the I.B.A. area of the park. I guess we can’t have enough baseball or soccer fields. I don’t think they give a shit about the Henslow Sparrow habitat they’ll be encroaching upon.  A very rare bird, that relies upon this kind of open, long grass habitat to breed. I still remember last year, when Phil and myself went there to see if we could spot any. A real hard bird to see. They love to skulk around in the grass and sing. You hear them before you see them. However, one did perch upon a long piece of grass and sang for us for about 15 minutes before it flew off. As we left and it was getting dark, you thought you were surrounded by these special birds. This could be there last spring here if they decide to take too much of there habitat away. That’s why this Spring i will be visiting this area a couple times a week to catch them before construction begins, hopefully.

Well needless to say Voice of America Park was rather quiet this afternoon, with hardly any birds to speck of. So it was off to the shed for me and the Bird-Mobile. Birds for the day include:

  1. Canada Geese
  2. Lapland Longspur
  3. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  4. Northern Cardinal
  5. Brown Creeper
  6. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  7. White-throated Sparrow
  8. American Robin
  9. Carolina Chickadee
  10. Pigeon
  11. Mourning Dove
  12. Common Crow
  13. American Kestrel
  14. Red-tailed Hawk
  15. Rusty Blackbird
  16. Downy Woodpecker
  17. Horned Lark
  18. Cooper’s Hawk
  19. Turkey Vulture
  20. Northern Flicker
  21. Northern Mockingbird

One response to “West Chester Highlights

  1. Les,
    I am glad that you enjoy birding at the MetroParks. Gilmore Ponds WILL reopen no later that July of this year. Work has already begun on preparing the grounds and structures for reopening. In the mean time, if you would like to visit the park without the risk of an expensive citation, you can join the Audubon volunteers that band birds at Gilmore and have a special permit to do so.
    As for VOA Park, in an area where soccer is king and land is at premium, MetroParks has taken a sometimes unpopular stance that the Henslows, other wildlife, and their habitat deserves a place at VOA Park. After receiving input from the Audubon Society and local birders, approximately 100 acres has been set aside in the final plan for wildlife habitat. We can only hope that our efforts will keep the Henslows, Bobolinks, and others at VOA Park for future birders to enjoy.

    The mission of MetroParks is to provide a superior park system that maximizes the community’s quality of life through conservation, education, and recreation.

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