Monthly Archives: June 2013

A Birder’s Haiku

rock gardenDedicated to the birder, as we start our week.

The hunters eyes scan

a solitary Mallard

alone, adrift

Notes From The Field

Voice Of America Metropark

Late last week I made my way to Voice Of America Park, which is a part of Butler County Metroparks System, to take a closer look at the grassy meadowland that the park board has set aside as a “Important Birding Area”. I try to get over here a couple times a year, especially during the Spring for one of my favorite grassland species. Bobolinks

Opened in 1944, and encompassing 640 acres, Voice of America Bethany Relay station was a massive complex of radio towers and wires transmitting radio programs all over the world. The Bethany Relay Stations final broadcast was in 1994. Afterwards the property came under the umbrella of the Butler County Metroparks System. Now the largest park in the system, it now covers 435 acres with lakes, sports fields, and best of all, grasslands for us birders.

It was like it was only yesterday when you’d walk the mowed paths during a Spring evening as Henslow’s Sparrows were calling, and Red-winged Black Birds would scold you for being too close to their nesting area. And Bobolinks abounded. I remember the first time I went birding at VOA was for Bobolinks. A lifer for me at the time and one I wanted to tick off the old list. Not sure where the entrance was I drove around the perimeter of the park when I noticed a dead Bobolink in the road. Not the way I wanted to start my first visit, however when I finally made it within the confines of the grasslands section, BobolinKs were everywhere. It was truly a great sight.

IMG_2779This is the waist deep vegetation I’m talking about. A small oasis of grass within the confines of urban sprawl.

Now the park is expanding into some of their undeveloped sections for the purpose of building new sports fields. And with it go some of precious grasslands that support these birds. Gone are the days of the Henslow’s Sparrows which I’ve not heard for a couple of years. However the Bobolinks still return even though their numbers are smaller than years past.




Now according to the birding grapevine the remaining grassland meadow will stay the same except for a mowed path weaves through it. These birds so habitat specific that their rapid decline is of grave concern. There has been a 75% drop of Bobolinks in Vermont between 1966 and 2007. What is the rate of decline in Ohio? I’m not sure of the stat but I’m am going to enjoy them as often as I can. And if there’s a chance for you to go see them. DO IT.

Spotlight On Ohio Birds

Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)

Family:  Hirundinidae

Order:  Passeriformes

Description:  5-6 1/4″ (13-16 cm) ADULT Has blackish upperparts, but in good light note the blue-green sheen on the cap, back, rump, and wing coverts. Dark elements of plumage on head form a complete and discrete cap that extends below the eye. Underparts, including throat, are white. First-year females have browner upperparts, reduced sheen (or none at all) and white tips to tertials. JUVENILE Similar to dull adult (i.e. upperparts are brownish and no sheen is visible); often shows a faint gray-brown breast band.

Voice:  Call and song comprise a series of whistling chirps.

Habitat:  Common summer visitor (present mainly Apr-Sep) to a range of open habitats. Often feeds over water, where flying insects are typically abundant, and often nests in the vicinity of marshes and lakes. Winters across southern U.S. and Central America.

Nesting:  The female does most of the nest building, taking between a few days and two weeks to finish the job. She collects material on the ground near the water’s edge, usually within 100 feet of the nest site. The nest is often made entirely of grass, but may include pine needles, mosses, rootlets, aquatic plants, animal hair, and artificial materials like cellophane or cigarette filters. Within the cavity, the female presses her body against the nest material to shape it into a cup, about 2–3 inches across and 1–2 inches deep, and lines it with many feathers of other bird species. In some populations the male gathers most of the feathers, and in others the male and females split the duty evenly.    Tree Swallows nest in natural cavities of standing dead trees, old woodpecker cavities, or nest boxes. On occasion they nest in hollow stumps, building eaves, Wood Duck nest boxes, holes in the ground, old Cliff Swallow burrows, or other unconventional sites.




  • Migrating and wintering Tree Swallows can form enormous flocks numbering in the hundreds of thousands. They gather about an hour before sunset and form a dense cloud above a roost site (such as a cattail marsh or grove of small trees), swirling around like a living tornado. With each pass, more birds drop down until they are all settled on the roost.
  • Tree Swallows winter farther north than any other American swallows and return to their nesting grounds long before other swallows come back. They can eat plant foods as well as their normal insect prey, which helps them survive the cold snaps and wintry weather of early spring.
  • The Tree Swallow—which is most often seen in open, treeless areas—gets its name from its habit of nesting in tree cavities. They also take readily to nest boxes.
  • Tree Swallows have helped researchers make major advances in several branches of ecology, and they are among the best-studied bird species in North America. Still, we know little about their lives during migration and winter.
  • The oldest Tree Swallow on record was at least 12 years, 1 month old when it was captured and released by an Ontario bird bander in 1998.

Resource material provided by:

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology/

Notes From The Field

Grasslands/Wetlands Series

Shaker Trace Wetlands/ Fernald Preserve

Part 2

It was really starting to warm up as I made my way to Fernald Preserve Saturday afternoon. I had already emptied my water bottle, and even though it wasn’t a very hot day the sun was unrelenting. The area I was hoping to bird  in has no cover, and since Dickcissels, Blue Grosbeaks and Grasshopper Sparrows were my photographic target birds I had to go where the birds were. My time at Fernald was going to be short, due to the fact that I was meeting Kathy at her parent’s house for a late lunch. So I got truckin’ with my gear in tow.

IMG_2720Eastern Kingbirds will breed in open, grassy areas much like the habitat found at Fernald Preserve, however they can be found feeding in and around bodies of water, like this bird.

After leaving the Visitors Center behind, the open grasslands of Fernald open up on both sides of the trail. Being late morning and early afternoon I wasn’t sure how my luck would be on the Grasshopper Sparrow. In the past I’ve had pretty good luck with catching them perched on the end of a bush of branch singing away, however things were quieting down as I made my way out into the grasslands.

Dickcissels, Red-winged Black Birds, Eastern Bluebirds, Song Sparrows, Tree Swallows, Killdeers, and Eastern Meadowlarks were the dominate species seen. Only one Grasshopper Sparrow was spotted, and as I reacted to bring up my digiscoping rig the bird dove back into the tall grass never to be seen, or heard again.

IMG_2751An Eastern Bluebird guarding it’s nest box.

IMG_2735I watched this Brown Thrasher for several minutes as it went from one side of the trail to the next before it settled down on this nest box. And it never let go of whatever it has in it’s beak.

IMG_2754Eastern Meadowlark

As for my other target bird for the day, the Blue grosbeak, a lone bird perched on an electrical wire some distance away was my only consolation. Posting a photograph would only show a black speck on a wire. Not exactly what I was looking for.

As I walked further and further the heat and sun were taking its toll onme. So I found a shady spot and parked my butt and waited till my fatigue lapsed. Continued exploration of Fernald without water would have been a stupid mistake. So I wisely exercised my options and decided to head back to the car and search (in vain) for Grasshopper Sparrows along the way.

DSCN1184Dickcissel perched perfectly.

It was pretty much the same kind of bird activity as when I went out. I really do like early morning for when I’m looking for those reclusive sparrows. It’s not that you can’t find them, it’s just that I think they become less vocal, which in turn makes them more difficult to spot. When they sing I’ve noticed their teed up on the top of some vegetation where they’re easy to pick up.

IMG_2718Caught this one of many Cedar Waxwings that were feeding in a Mulberry Tree on the entrance road into Fernald Preserve.

As the appointed hour approached I reluctantly departed for the day. Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Great Egret
  2. Great Blue Heron
  3. Green Heron
  4. Mallard
  5. Wood Duck
  6. Blue-winged Teal
  7. Song Sparrow
  8. Chipping Sparrow
  9. Henslow’s Sparrow
  10. Field Sparrow
  11. Grasshopper Sparrow
  12. American Kestrel
  13. Turkey Vulture
  14. Canada Goose
  15. Mourning Dove
  16. Eastern Bluebird
  17. Dickcissel
  18. Common Yellowthroat
  19. Brown thrasher
  20. Robin
  21. Brown-headed Cowbird
  22. Common Grackle
  23. Red-winged Black Bird
  24. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  25. Tree Swallow
  26. Barn Swallow
  27. Purple Martin
  28. Eastern Towhee
  29. Yellow-breasted Chat
  30. Yellow warbler
  31. Gray Catbird
  32. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  33. Blue Grosbeak
  34. Indigo Bunting
  35. Willow Flycatcher
  36. Eastern Kingbird
  37. Orchard Oriole
  38. Baltimore Oriole
  39. Chimney Swift
  40. Eastern Meadowlark
  41. Northern Cardinal
  42. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  43. Cedar waxwing
  44. American Goldfinch
  45. American Kestrel
  46. Belted Kingfisher
  47. Spotted Sandpiper
  48. Common Crow
  49. Northern Mockingbird
  50. Killdeer

Notes From The Field

Grassland/ Wetlands Series

Shaker Trace Wetlands/ Fernald Perserve

Southwestern Ohio isn’t noted for their miles and miles of grasslands/ wetlands. The small pockets that dot this area are few and far between, and on a much smaller scale. So this last Saturday my focus was on 2 of our larger preserves that contain some of the Summertime residents that frequent these grasslands/ wetlands. And if you happen to have read last weeks blog post you’ll also notice that I’m returning to Shaker trace Wetlands. You can’t talk about open grasslands/ wetlands without birding at this small corner of Miami Whitewater Forest.

So I was on the road by 6 am. and arrived just before 7 am. just as the sun started to heat things up a bit. The reason for such an early start was to try again to catch the Henslow’s Sparrow singing, and get a digiscoped picture. This way I can keep my distance from the bird, and hopefully get some awesome shots. Today’s trip is about taking pictures of birds that frequent this kind of habitat, and as birder’s what to expect to see.

These open grasslands/ wetlands come alive in the morning. Birds are everywhere and as I identify birds by ear as I hurry along towards where Jon and myself sighted the Henslow’s last week. A great variety of species come to mind as I try to ID each one by sound. But my focus is finding a good spot to set up my scope and camera and waiting for them to sing. And I didn’t have to wait long.

The bird jumped up onto the top of a small bush and started to sing. So I set up my rig and set about getting some pictures despite the sun being in an awful angle, that placed a bad glare in the finished photograph.

IMG_2673As you can see the sun is low in the sky which creates a lot of glare in this picture. So changing position, without spooking the bird was important.

With the bird positioned in such a bad place when it comes to the angle with the sun, I made the decision to move slowly and re-locate myself for a better shot.

IMG_2624Huge difference in quality and lighting.

IMG_2630 I love it when they throw their heads back and sing.

The Henslow’s Sparrow was named to honor clergyman, geologist and botanist John Stevens Henslow, by his good friend John James Audubon. John Henslow was also one of Charles Darwin’s teachers and mentor. It was Henslow who was first approached to be the naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle for that 2 year voyage to South America. After Henslow’s wife dissuaded him from going, it was a letter from Henslow to the ship’s captain suggesting that Charles Darwin was the man suitable for the job. And we all know how that voyage went?

I stayed in the area watching the Henslow for about an hour before moving on. I continued on the bike path till I came to the “Farm Road”, a mowed swath cutting directly through the heart of the grasslands/ wetlands. This was my path.

IMG_2674The American Goldfinch is one of the most colorful, and easily seen as I made my way across.

IMG_2670It’s during this time of year that the Tree swallows become more and more bold as they protect their territory.

IMG_2685The Willow Flycatcher is easily recognized by it’s voice and the kind of habitat you find it in.

IMG_2662The warbler of the grasslands, the Common Yellowthroat. I just don’t understand how this bird stayed still for so long. Even a blind squirrel…

IMG_2703Another one of my seasonal favorites, Field Sparrow.

IMG_2680A Dickcissel sings from it perch in the middle of the grassland.

As you make your way deeper along the farm road waterfowl fly back and forth. Mallards, Blue-winged Teal, Green and Great Blue Herons soar overhead as Red-winged Black Birds call unceasingly. As we approach the end of the farm road we start coming into the trees that border Shaker Trace. It’s from this vantage point where the lay of the land is spread out in front of me.


It’s from these dense, shrubby vegetative areas when I start to hear the “chattering” of the Yellow-breasted Chat, our largest warbler species. Now it’s one thing to hear them, with their distinct song, but locating them and getting a picture has always proved a challenge for me.

Then I looked up…

IMG_2689…and there he was perched in the top of this tree. But he was constantly moving from one tree to another, but always in the same general location.

IMG_2694It wasn’t just one “Chat”, it was multiple “Chats” that kept me entertained as I walked along the western border of Shaker Trace back towards my car. They would call from high up in the trees, and their calls would travel with me.

After leaving Shaker Trace it was onto Fernald Preserve for more Dickcissels, Blue Grosbeaks, and hopefully Grasshopper Sparrows.

Stay tuned for more.

Upcoming Post

Happy Fathers Day

Happy Fathers day to all you dads out there. And with it being Fathers Day my posting from yesterdays field trip will be slightly delays till I can get all the pictures reviewed and in order. It was a busy digiscoping day and with the focus being on Summertime grassland birds I feel that taking my time is in order. Hopefully by tomorrow.