“On The Road”

Deer Creek Wildlife Area & State Park

I fell victim to my own preaching when going out into the field this time of year. Check your dates for hunting. Yesterday Jon and myself found this out as we ventured 55 miles away to Deer Creek Wildlife Area. I’m usually up to date on shotgun season, but I completely forgot about black powder season which was this weekend only. So when we ran into a hunter in the area we wanted to search for those skulking Sparrow species, needless to say we were kind of bummed. So we moved on to another location to give this guy a chance to shoot a deer and move on.

At 4,220 acres this is a massive area of rolling grasslands with pockets of trees and bodies of water of various sizes. We arrived at 8:00 am with hopes of catching either Nelson’s Sharp-tailed and LeConte’s Sparrows while they’re most active. From the location where we parked off a side street in New Holland Ohio, the lay of the grassland spread out in front of us.

IMG_3923A sea of grass as far as the eye could see. This is some of the best sparrow habitat I’ve ever been to. Remember I’ve not been to the wide open expanses of the West, so take into consideration my limited travel.

With the hunter deciding for us to move locations out of consideration we headed north along the road that skirts the western border of the wildlife area. There is a dike that crosses the wildlife area and that was where we parked the car and headed out on foot. we made our way along the earthen dike about 1/2 mile before when we climbed down and followed a run down foot path that led into the brush towards this large body of water. Moving in this direction we were heading back south towards our original destination.

IMG_3920Looking south from where we came in on the north shore. We were happy that the edge of the lake wasn’t too muddy and walking was pretty easy and sure footed.

IMG_3921After coming upon this lake we regretted not bringing along our spotting scopes. This a view looking north from the far southern edge.

We came upon this lake from the north and moved along it’s eastern edge towards the other end. One of most numerous birds on the lake were Tree Swallows. Quite literally there were hundreds of Tree Swallows feeding over the water. As we moved further along we noticed a dead tree that was sitting in the lake close to the edge where the Swallows were roosting. As the sun reflected off the backs of the Swallows they light up like a Christmas Tree.

IMG_3919You have to look real close to see all the Tree Swallows.

We found some pretty good shorebirds, and were pleased to see a Stilt Sandpiper and 2 American Golden Plovers, and both Yellowlegs.


At the southern end we saw a mowed path that we hoped led us out to the road that we parked the bird-mobile on. Yellow-rumped warblers were everywhere along this stretch as by now they arrived in massive numbers to the area.

After a 30 minute walk we arrived back at the car and made for our original location to hunt for the birds we came here for. As we started to walk in we meet up with Robert Royse who I’ve been in contact with concerning this area. He was leaving the field after photographing several Nelson Sparrows. So they were still being seen, I asked? Yes they were, you just have to be patient.

We moved towards the area in question and finally made our way through 5 foot tall grasses to get to the pot hole. This depression in the earth was holding water with plenty of cat-tails growing along the edge. And growing up to the cat-tails was the tall grass. Moving through this stuff wasn’t easy, and trying to be quiet was impossible.

We moved as close to the cat-tails as possible without falling into the water. Footing was difficult with thick vegetation under foot, which made walking an anxious, always looking down procedure. The last thing anyone wanted was to step into a deep hole and break and ankle.

We’d walk 20 feet and stop and “pish”. Then repeat as we moved along the edge. There was hardly any wind. You’d hear a “chip” note. Catch movement out of the corner of your eye. Just another Swamp Sparrow.

Another slight movement just 6 feet in front of me. I motion to Jon to watch this area. There is a bird moving around, but hidden. It shows itself. Jon whispers “Nelson’s”. I shift to my left one side step. There he is. Classic field marks of a Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow.

Sigh of relief!

We continued to bird the area but never found another Nelson’s Sparrow. With the afternoon wearing on we headed back to the car and headed off towards the beach at the lake. Not really knowing where we were going it took a while to get there. As we approached the beach it appeared to be pretty deserted except for a family. We set up our spotting scopes and scanned the water and the edge of the beach. Other than a few dozen Ring-billed Gulls, the only action were a handful Least sandpipers and 1 Dunlin feeding along the waters edge of the beach.


We finished off this trip in the lobby of the lodge at the resort enjoying a the days accomplishments over 2 cold beers.

Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Canada Geese
  2. Mallard
  3. Blue-winged teal
  4. Green-winged teal
  5. Pied-billed Grebe
  6. Double-creasted Cormorant
  7. Great Blue Heron
  8. Northern Harrier
  9. American Coot
  10. American Golden Plover
  11. Killdeer
  12. Greater Yellowleg
  13. Lesser Yellowleg
  14. Stilt Sandpiper
  15. Dunlin
  16. Least Sandpiper
  17. Ring-billed Gull
  18. Mourning Dove
  19. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  20. Northern Flicker
  21. Eastern Phoebe
  22. Blue Jay
  23. American Crow
  24. Tree Swallow
  25. Carolina Chickadee
  26. Sedge Wren
  27. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  28. Gray Catbird
  29. Northern Mockingbird
  30. Common Yellowthroat
  31. Palm Warbler
  32. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  33. Eastern towhee
  34. Chipping Sparrow
  35. Field Sparrow
  36. Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow
  37. Song Sparrow
  38. Swamp Sparrow
  39. White-throated Sparrow
  40. White-crowned Sparrow
  41. Northern Cardinal
  42. Red-winged Blackbird
  43. Eastern Meadowlark
  44. Common Grackle
  45. Brown-headed Cowbird
  46. American Goldfinch


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