Notes From The Field

Spring Valley Wildlife Area & Caesar Creek State Park

It was pretty foggy this morning as I checked the weather to see if any rain was on the way, and if this fog was going to lift any time soon. Satisfied with the forecast from the Ultimate, Accu-Radar, Super-Duper Doppler, I hit the road with a strong travel mug of coffee. First stop for the day, Spring Valley Wildlife Area, but first… Before you get to Spring Valley you pass by these gravel pits that are quite large and on occasion hold some good waterfowl. Driving into this hand-dandy pull off I set up my spotting scope, only to reveal a pretty empty lake. Ruddy Ducks, Coots, and a few Canadian Geese were all that was there.

The upper parking lot at Spring Valley held 2 other cars as I pulled in. One of the cars had just arrived and a husband and wife from Wilmington got out to start their day of birding. We introduced ourselves, then made our way down the hill towards the boardwalk. At least that was my plan. The couple took a side trail, leaving me alone with the early morning bird songs and the chill of the air from the forest shadows. The sun was out in full force as I stepped onto the boardwalk, and thinking to myself that this fleece jacket was going to have to come off when I get to the observation tower.

The owner of the other car was there already birding, so we introduced ourselves and birded together for over an hour. His name was John Hall, a real nice guy with a lot of experience.

This view from the observation deck is looking East towards the lake and the lower parking lot. All the vegetation is one big marsh.

This is looking West from the observation deck. This is the direction where we were hearing Virginia Rails calling. And this is one of my target birds for the day. When I arrived John hadn’t heard any Rail at first, let alone see any. The Red-winged Black Birds and Canadian Geese were so noisy that it was very difficult to pick out their call. But once you tuned into it, they became more apparent.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed movement and asked John if he saw that. You could see the cat-tails move as the Rail moved in and out through the thick growth. Then it called. 10 feet away. Then you could see it, skulking in the shadows. As soon as we saw it we pulled out our cameras to see if we could get a lucky shot.

You have to look close, but there he is.

Any day you spot a Rail is a good day, as far as I’m concerned. And Spring Valley was hot for them today as we heard at least 3 to 4 others calling while we were there.

This nesting goose was sitting on 3 eggs.

A few days ago another birder posted a Marsh Wren from here. This is real early for such a bird but I had brought my I-pod with bird calls on it, so why not give it a try and call one in. I had told John that they were reported here, so he was interested. Walking down from the observation deck, and walking no more than 20 feet, I notice a Marsh Wren sitting on a cat-tail. I watched as it dove into the thicket before John could get an ID on it. Then it started to call that familiar song it has. We listened as it seemed to get further and further away from us.

John and I walked back to the parking lot, and that’s where we parted ways. I wanted to drive over to the lower parking lot and scope out the lake and walk the Loveland Bike Trail, which conveniently runs parallel to Spring Valley. There are a lot of marshy areas along this section that also hold Virginia Rails as well as Rusty Black Birds and other cool birds like that.

This is the kind of habitat you’ll see as you either walk or ride along this section of the bike trail.

The turtles were all out of the water sunning themselves on any exposed log they could find.

Spring Valley has this grassy trail that circles most of the property and links up with other trails throughout the park. It gives the birder the best of both worlds in the form of different kinds of habitat to watch birds from. You have the lake on one side, and dense vegetation on the other.

Leaving Spring Valley a little after noon with still a couple of hours to play around with till my 2 o’clock haircut appointment, I made my way over to the Young Road boat ramp at Caesar Creek. This is the shallowest part of the lake and is in close proximity to the Mound Road mud flats, and one of my favorite places to view wading birds. A short walk from the boat ramp revealed some good mud flats, however the birds were real scarce except for some Canadian Geese. Not even a Killdeer, which is unusual.

Scanning with my spotting scope to make sure I covered all exposed mud just in case I missed anything, I noticed the remnants of a tree standing in the water. In this part of the lake a lot of the trees weren’t cut down before they built the lake. What I noticed at the top of this particular tree was something that looked out of place. A dark mass instead of bare wood. Focusing in on it I discovered the carcass of some large bird. From the terrible picture you can see that it’s wing was wedged into the top of the bare trunk of the tree, and the rest of the bird hung dead down the side. I looked for several minutes and couldn’t tell what species it was. Maybe I don’t want to know.

It was time to leave. The drive back to the main road was alive with Spring, as turn after turn opened up with beautiful scenes like this. I had to stop and get a picture of this fence row.

Notable birds for the day include:

  1. American Robin
  2. Northern Mockingbird
  3. Eastern Phoebe
  4. American Coots
  5. Canada Goose
  6. Ruddy Duck
  7. Song Sparrow
  8. Field Sparrow
  9. Red-winged Black Bird
  10. Chipping Sparrow
  11. Turkey Vulture
  12. Black Vulture
  13. Northern Cardinal
  14. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  15. Downy Woodpecker
  16. Pileated Woodpecker
  17. Hairy Woodpecker
  18. Brown-headed Cowbird
  19. White-throated Sparrow
  20. Blue Jay
  21. Marsh Wren
  22. Virginia Rail
  23. Carolina Wren
  24. Swamp Sparrow
  25. Mourning Dove
  26. Tree Swallow
  27. Carolina Chickadee
  28. Tufted Titmouse
  29. Wood Duck
  30. Pied-billed Grebe
  31. Bald Eagle
  32. Mallards
  33. American Goldfinch
  34. White-breasted Nuthatch
  35. Dark-eyed Junco
  36. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  37. Great Blue Heron
  38. Common Grackle
  39. Cooper’s Hawk
  40. Red-tailed Hawk
  41. Eastern Towhee
  42. Common Crow
  43. Belted Kingfisher

3 responses to “Notes From The Field

  1. Nice finds! How could you possibly see that camouflaged rail?

    • To home in on them you have to listen for their call, and if you can call them in using a recording that works pretty well. At Spring valley with all the cat-tails and how thick they are you just have to be patient andf wait to see when the cat-tails move in a un-natural way. Then look real close. It’s difficult.

  2. Congrats on the rail, Les- if the rail-fest is as active as it was last year at the Honda Wetlands, come on up and check them out up here. Some days they were hiding, other days they’d walk right out in front of you.

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