Monthly Archives: July 2013

Dog Days Of Summer

With it being the last day of July I’m sitting in an unfamiliar spot, my front porch. With a surprising day off in the middle of the week I’m having my second d cup of coffee as neighbors drive to work. Our local Red-shouldered Hawk is screeming. Blue Jays, Cardinals, and Blue Birds are active this cool morning at 7:40.
I feel a little guilty not having written any post for some time, but there are some extenuating circumstances that are keeping me close to home. And with fall migration starting to ramp up in the Ohio Valley I having been itching to get out. Reports of American Avocets, Short-billed Dowitchers, Baird’s, Stilt, and various peeps are being seen by our intrepid local birders. However for myself I had to stick close to home lately. A early Spring hail storm which damaged our roof has finally been replaced. Then we decided that it was high time to replace our worn out driveway and do something drastic about our very poor drainage system that moves rain water away from the house. Also I have to replace a retaining wall with something a little more solid than landscape timbers. So with all this activity our house is in some form of disrepair for the last month. And we still haven’t started the foundation work yet.
So as you can see it hasn’t been a good time to go birding. However there is light at the end of the tunnel.
I volunteered to lead small groups of birders on field trips starting on the third Saturday of August. So how in the hell did I get involved with something like this?
Well, I’m a member of a local group called Cincinnati Birders Meetup. It’s a group where people of various interests have an opportunity to meet others who are like minded. There are groups for people who hike, cook, backpack, photographers, an the list goes on and on.
Well my group has over 120 members and some of the field trips were either too far and in between, or just plain boring as they would go to same place over and over again. No variety. So this is where I step in since it seems I’m the biggest critic whenever I bring up the fact that since March our Meetup group has gone to same place 10 times. So instead of answering my question, they told me to lead a group on a field trip of my choice. So I am, with conditions.
Not liking large crowds I’m keeping the group small by setting 3 as the limit, so I can do the driving and go to places where the group has never gone before. So I’m kind of excited about my new venture and I hope it doesn’t interfere with my other birding trips I go on with some of my other friends. And as usual I will write a full report after our first trip. So stay tuned here.

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New Yard Bird

If it wasn’t for the unseasonably cool weather we’ve been having in the Ohio Valley lately I would have missed this bird altogether. While sitting on the front porch on evening this last week a Belted Kingfisher flew from my right to left across the street. I first had to do a double take and consider what else this bird really was until it called. A Belted Kingfisher has a very unmistakable call, and my visual was confirmed. I thought to myself where this bird might have come from, and it had to have come from some of the larger farm ponds that dot the landscape in the area. A nice addition to the yard list, which now stands at 75.

New Yard Bird

Sunday morning at 7:10 is usually a quiet time in my neighborhood. Sitting with my wife Kathy having our first cup of coffee and scanning the Sunday newspaper is a normal ritual for us. For myself this is a great time to do a little birding by ear as a good variety of species can be easily heard due to the lack of background noise, such as traffic, and recently construction.
There’s a small 20 plus acre farm across the street and behind the houses as I sit my front porch looking north. Listening to birds call while I read the paper I’m able to pick up Song Sparrows, Blue Jays, Red-shouldered Hawk, Eastern Towhee and … WILD TURKEY!
Absolutely shocked, I listened for several minutes as the bird moved further and further away in the deep cover of the wood lot on the farm. Living at this house for over 20 years this is a first for me.

Notes From The Field

Western Hamilton County & Fernald Preserve

Summer has finally arrived to the Ohio Valley, and with a vengeance! The rainy, unseasonably cooler weather has finally subsided and the heat and humidity reared it’s ugly head this past weekend. Wanting to keep my Grassland/Wetland series progressing as planned I contacted Jon to make arrangements for a Sunday outing. As we head into the dog days of Summer birding is usually relegated to either the morning or the evening for myself. So this last Sunday morning we set out with 2 target birds in mind, especially from a digiscoping point of view.

The first bird I wanted to find was the Lark Sparrow. This Sparrow of open country and pastures can be rather rare in this part of Ohio, but not impossible if you know where to look. Last year on the 10th of June a few were discovered within a short drive from my house. As a matter of fact I was able to snap off a few quality photos as proof.

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The facial markings on the Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus) are striking. A large sparrow at 6 1/2 inches this is easily identifiable. So this year I was pretty confident that the possibility of the lark Sparrows being in the same spot was pretty presumptuous on my part. Either they didn’t return to the same spot as last year, 0r they just weren’t showing themselves on the 2 occasions I visited.

So Sunday Jon and myself were off to the Tri-state’s go-to spot for breeding Lark Sparrows, Blue Rock Road. Specifically a newly developed condo complex. Upon arrival we went to work trying to locate these post breeding birds, who weren’t reacting to the Lark Sparrow song I brought along. After 45 minutes we left without seeing one, however Jon said that they might be just down the road where he had seen them in the past.

We pulled into a dead end road that was bordered by corn fields and weeds when Jon noticed 2 Lark Sparrows on a pile of concrete rubble by the side of the road next to where we pulled off. As we parked they flew off across the road and started to feed in this field. We crossed the road and got our bins on them to confirm our sighting. We not only did we have an adult, but a juvenile as well. Racing back to the bird-mobile to gather up my scope and camera with Jon keeping an eye on them, I made my way back to set up my rig. And as you would expect, they flew off as soon as I got them in my view finder.

IMG_2844That’s my dejected shadow as I take a picture of the brown stubble where the 2 Lark Sparrows were feeding. I tried to entice them to show themselves, but to avail.

My second target bird was the Blue Grosbeak (Passerina caerulea). The smallest of all the Grosbeaks at 6 3/4 inches, I’ve learned to look at every Indigo Bunting just to make sure it’s not a Blue Grosbeak. So it was off to Fernald Preserve where we’ve had some pretty good luck in the past with these birds. Today we hit the jackpot with 6 Blue Grosbeaks seen. Both male and females. However in the past I’ve learned that these birds don’t like sitting still for their picture. Catching one sitting on the top of some piece of vegetation would be perfect, however today I just couldn’t get that kind of shot. I had to be grateful that we found some perched on the electrical wires.

IMG_2859As you can see a shadow was casting over the birds head. So goes it with nature photography.

As the sun rose higher and the thermometer climbed, we started to feel worn out. Thirst and food was calling us, so we left and went out separate way.

Spotlight On Ohio Birds

Indigo Bunting ( Passerina cyanea )

Family:  Cardinalidae

Order:  Passeriformes

Description:  5 1/2″ (14 cm) ADULT NONBREEDING MALE Has blotchy brown and blue plumage (caused by brown feather edges); resplendent again by spring. ADULT FEMALE Has brown plumage overall, darker above than below and with two faint wing bars and faint streaking on underparts. JUVENILE Recalls adult female; by first spring, male acquires some blue elements of adult’s plumage, but still looks blotchy.

Voice:  Male Indigo Buntings whistle a bright, lively song of sharp, clear, high-pitched notes that lasts about 2 seconds. They are voluble, singing as many as 200 songs per hour at dawn and keeping up a pace of about one per minute for the rest of the day. Notes or phrases are often repeated in pairs: “what! what! where? where? see it! see it!” This pattern is recognizable, although the precise tune varies from place to place. Young Indigo Buntings learn their songs from males near where they settle to breed, and this leads to “song neighborhoods” in which all nearby males sing songs that are similar to each other and that are different from those sung more than a few hundred yards away.

Habitat:
Indigo Buntings breed in brushy and weedy areas. They’re common on the edges of woods and fields; along roads, streams, rivers, and powerline cuts; in logged forest plots, brushy canyons, and abandoned fields where shrubby growth is returning. While migrating and in winter, Indigo Buntings forage in fields, lawns, grasslands, rice fields, as well as in shrubs, and trees.

Nesting:  The female Indigo Bunting builds the nest alone—a process that takes up to 8 days early in the season and as little as 2 days later in the summer. The male may watch but does not participate. The nest is an open cup woven of leaves, grasses, stems, and bark, and wrapped with spider web. The inside of the cup is lined with slender grasses, tiny roots, strips of thin bark, thistle down, and sometimes deer hair. The cup is about 1.5 inches deep inside, with an outside diameter of 3 inches and an inside diameter of two inches.

Range:

pass_cyan_AllAm_map

FYI’s:

  • Indigo Buntings migrate at night, using the stars for guidance. Researchers demonstrated this process in the late 1960s by studying captive Indigo Buntings in a planetarium and then under the natural night sky. The birds possess an internal clock that enables them to continually adjust their angle of orientation to a star—even as that star moves through the night sky.
  • Indigo Buntings learn their songs as youngsters, from nearby males but not from their fathers. Buntings a few hundred yards apart generally sing different songs, while those in the same “song neighborhood” share nearly identical songs. A local song may persist up to 20 years, gradually changing as new singers add novel variations.
  • Like all other blue birds, Indigo Buntings lack blue pigment. Their jewel-like color comes instead from microscopic structures in the feathers that refract and reflect blue light, much like the airborne particles that cause the sky to look blue.
  • Bunting plumage does contain the pigment melanin, whose dull brown-black hue you can see if you hold a blue feather up so the light comes from behind it, instead of toward it.
  • Indigo and Lazuli buntings defend territories against each other in the western Great Plains where they occur together, share songs, and sometimes interbreed.
  • The oldest known wild Indigo Bunting was 8 years, 3 months old.

Resource material provided by:

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology/ http://www.allaboutbirds.com

http://www.audubon.org

Notes From The Field

Grassland Series

After dipping on the Willets and Marbled Godwit at East Fork S.P. this morning I made the decision to make the big loop around the city and visit my go-to spot for another of our summer grassland birds. The Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum) 

Not nearly as reclusive as the Henslow’s Sparrow, however they aren’t a sure thing when visiting any grassland in this area. With a very high pitched, insect buzz of a call this might be the only way to locate these small brown birds. But the good thing is when you do hear them call it’s a good indication that they’re tied up on something.

IMG_2794This is Smith Tract County Park. A undeveloped piece of property that is so ideal for grassland birds during the summer.

Today was a digiscoping day and I was determined to capture a Grasshopper Sparrow so I could continue this series of posts. However there is one bird I neglected to mention. During the summer you can find them pretty much anywhere, however they do prefer brushy open fields.

IMG_2819Indigo Bunting belting out a tune.

One nice thing about Smith Tract is the low number of Red-winged Blackbirds. It’s not like there were none. It’s nice not having to pick out bird calls over the noise they can make when there are multiple numbers of these noisy birds.

Probably the loudest birds there today were the Dickcissels.

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As I made my way down the hill towards the flat section of the park there was an area that was holding a lot of water from the rain yesterday. Before I walked around this wet area I scanned the tops of the vegetation. Grasshopper Sparrows were beginning to sing and I wanted to be patient with these spooky birds.

IMG_2799There he was. He was a good distance from me, and this was the best picture I could get. I wanted to circle the wet area and get a closer shot, but…he flew off!

I continued on another 100 yards and kept hearing multiple birds calling on both sides of me. Not sure which direction to go I just stayed put this time. Then I found another one off to my right. Not wanting to blow this opportunity I moved real slow towards this silent bird.

IMG_2816With a beak full of something green this Grasshopper was very cooperative. I would take a few pictures, creep forward a few yards and stop to take more pictures. This was my best from the lot I took.

Satisfied with today’s find and photographs I made my way back to the car, but not after getting a shot of an Eastern Meadowlark next to the parking lot.

IMG_2833Another bird with a beak full of something.

As the dog days of Summer wear on in the Ohio Valley hopefully I’ll be able to continue with this series on grassland/ wetland birds. Only if it quits raining long enough to get out.