Notes From The Field

Ellis Lake/ West Chester Wetlands, Gilmore Ponds, Lost Bridge, Shawnee Lookout boat ramp, & The Oxbow

Sometimes the best made plans don’t necessary go a wry, they’re delayed till a more advantagous time. Reports out of Indiana concerning the Smith’s Longspurs, our target bird for this road trip, have been slim to none. Our connection in Indiana for this elusive bird has been in contact with Jon and they’re still a no show according to him. So the prospect of a 2 1/2 hour drive to dip on this bird didn’t make too much sense.  What we were looking for was some activitty that the birds were passing through on migration. We opted to bird locally.

We meet at Ellis Lake/ West Chester Wetlands just as the Sun started to lighten up this gray, overcast morning. The previous evenings rain left several sky pools on the open field as you pulled into Ellis Lake. Scanning with the spotting scope revealed several ducks and a lone Lesser Yellowleg. A FOS for me.

Ellis Lake on a gray morning.

We walked around the lake, pausing while we listened and looked for any and everything. Yellow-throated Warblers have been showing up in good numbers this past week, so we weren’t disappointed when we both heard one just out of sight, behind a row of trees. Another FOS for both of us. After retracing our back from the lake we walked the bike path towards the stone foundation of the old ice house and the pond where the ice was harvested. It was along this path where we discovered a Great Horned Owl perched pretty close to the path. He was all fluffed up drying his feathers. Unfortunately I didn’t have my spotting scope so I couldn’t digiscope a picture. And trying to take a picture through my binoculars proved difficult with poor results.

This was the best I could do.

Our next stop was Gilmore Ponds Metropark. These two parks are in close proximity to each other, and share a common feature. The Miami-Erie Canal which flowed along the border of the parks. This canal became quite an obstacle if you choose to cross it. It’s just wide and deep enough to persuade anyone from crossing. And we wanted very much to cross it and have a look into the flooded fields that are on the airport property. However in between the fields and us sit railroad tracks. Now the logical, and illegal thing to do would be walk the gravel path that runs along side of the tracks, but if caught we could get in big trouble, let alone maybe killed. Trains are ALWAYS going by. So we opted to walk the trail that runs parallel to the canal, that runs parallel to the train tracks. We hiked several hundred yards till we found a spot where we could get across an not get too muddy. We walked up to the tracks and peeked over, not crossing in fear of getting busted, to a large expanse of flooded fields.


We scanned for only a few minutes as we added up species seen. What struck me were all the Swallows. Tree and Northern Rough-winged buzzed around continually over these sky pools. After returning to the park we visited the wildlife blind which was close by. This elaborate blind sits about 10 feet up and offers some good views of the lake in the middle of the park. It also offers a nice place for a pair of Eastern Phoebe’s to nest. The pair were within feet of the blind waiting for us to leave so they could commence with building their nest.

You can see the nesting material in it’s beak.

We left Gilmore Ponds to get something to eat and to figure out where we were heading next. We stopped at a fast food joint so Jon would get something to eat and I could get some nasty tasting coffee. With still a good portion of the day left we decided to visit Lost Bridge and the Shawnee Lookout boat ramp area.

It was at this time when Jon received a phone call. He sat in his car for about 10 minutes talking as I waited. After he hung up he told me it was out Indiana contact, and he told us that the Smith’s Longspurs were there. You’ve got to be kidding. We debated our options and the temptation to pack it in and go was enormous. This is a life bird for the both of us and the decision not to go was a tough one to make. First it’s a 2 1/2 hour drive and it’s already going on to noon. Our contact said they’re going to be here all of April and it gives us time for the males to change into their breeding plumage. Which in turn makes it easier to spot them in a field of corn stubble. So in 2 weeks (If Jon’s schedule permits) we’re heading over to Crawfordsville Indiana and meetup with our contact who will lead us to our prize. It will be a long 2 weeks.

The rest of the day was spent traveling from Hamilton to Lost Bridge, to the boat ramp at Shawnee Lookout park, to the Oxbow, picking up species along the way. The Great Miami River was up so there was no exposed mud flats under  Lost Bridge, however there were a few wading birds feeding in some sky pools before you crossed the bridge. The boat ramp was pretty much a bust with only a few birds to speak of that we picked up.

After we left the boat ramp we drove to The Oxbow along Rt. 50. We had a nice fly over of a Merlin before we made it into Lawrenceburg. Now the Oxbow can be a difficult place to drive, especially after it’s been raining. It floods so easily that the dirt roads become impassable. We were lucky today, the recent rains left the roads open. Yellow-rumped Warblers were on the move as we watched large numbers overhead and in the lower vegetation that run along the road.

Driving further in the The Oxbow we came across large fields of bottom land that have yet to be plowed.

Further back in this field was a small sky pool that was a frenzy of activity with Great Blue Herons and hundreds of Swallows. It was at this time we started to notice all the Double-crested Cormorants flying in. They would fly over in small waves of a dozen or less, but it was constant. We lost count at 150. So we walked back to the truck and drove on looking to see if we could re-locate them. We did find a good many perched in a group of trees.

We drove around some more, stopping and getting out to check certain areas that might be promising. The road eventually winds up behind one of the casino’s so we opted to backtrack to Jon’s car and head home for a nap. It had been a long day.

Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Field Sparrow
  2. Canada Goose
  3. Red-winged Blackbird
  4. American Robin
  5. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  6. Mallard
  7. Lesser Yellowleg
  8. Greater Yellowleg
  9. Killdeer
  10. Blue-winged Teal
  11. Green-winged Teal
  12. Common Grackle
  13. American Kestrel
  14. Merlin
  15. Turkey Vulture
  16. Black Vulture
  17. Red-tailed Hawk
  18. Northern Cardinal
  19. Song Sparrow
  20. Swamp Sparrow
  21. White-throated Sparrow
  22. Savannah Sparrow
  23. Brown-headed Cowbird
  24. Wood Duck
  25. Yellow-throated Warbler
  26. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  27. Wilson’s Snipe
  28. Downy Woodpecker
  29. Northern Flicker
  30. Great Horned Owl
  31. Blue Jay
  32. American Goldfinch
  33. Tree Swallow
  34. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  35. Barn Swallow
  36. Eastern Phoebe
  37. Mourning Dove
  38. Tufted Titmouse
  39. Carolina Chickadee
  40. Carolina Wren
  41. House Finch
  42. House Sparrow
  43. Eastern Towhee
  44. Great Blue Heron
  45. Double-crested Cormorant
  46. American Coot
  47. Pied-billed grebe
  48. Bufflehead
  49. Northern Shoveler
  50. Gadwall
  51. American Crow
  52. Pectoral Sandpiper
  53. Belted Kingfisher
  54. Ring-necked Duck
  55. White-breasted Nuthatch
  56. Horned Lark
  57. Rock Dove
  58. Bonaparte’s Gull

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