Monthly Archives: April 2014

Notes From The Field

Spring Valley Wildlife Area, Caesar Creek State Park

I was anxious to go birding Saturday, more so than most other days. I felt kind of guilty that I hadn’t called Jon to see if he wanted to join me, but I thought that today I needed to be alone. Just myself and my new camera. Where I could take my time and not rush. This was more of a photographic adventure than a birding adventure. Now don’t take me wrong, I wanted to see some cool birds (which I did) however I really wanted to see how my new camera operated.

The boardwalk out into the marsh at Spring Valley was pretty empty, except for a couple of photographers this cool Saturday morning. A couple of Soras were calling above the chatter of the Red-winged Black Birds as I waited to see if any Virginia Rails would call. My first of the year Yellow Warbler flitted around the bushes out in the marsh.


A small brown bird catches my attention. It’s down amongst the vegetation and cattails. I was hoping for a Marsh Wren, but I will settle for a Swamp Sparrow.


IMG_0063A Drake and Hen Blue-winged Teal

After the boardwalk I drove over to the other section of Spring Valley. This area is in close proximity to the bike trail and hopefully some warblers. Palm, Prothonotary, and Yellow-rumped Warblers were everywhere. The morning was heating up and the activity on the bike trail was getting busy with bicycle traffic.

IMG_0071A beautiful male Yellow-rumped Warbler.

IMG_0092This Prothonotary Warbler was really skittish. When I first heard it sing, and was finally able to track it down, getting it’s picture was proving to be difficult. After getting a few good shots I was looking over the pictures at home. Now look on the birds leg.

prwabandI think this is either my 3rd, or 4th bird photo where the bird is banded.

After walking down the bike trail to check out a Bald Eagles nest, I made my way over to the area below the dam at Caesar Creek. In the past I’ve heard of Louisiana Waterthrush being in the area.

IMG_0105Being such a beautiful day this part of the park gets especially busy with families having picnics and folks fishing. So I hiked around for a bit listening for any tell tale signs of a Louisiana Waterthrush. As with California Woods last week I struck out again. So it was time to change locations, and this time I’m going to follow the tail water from the dam downstream to Caesar Creek Gorge. I’ve found the bird here before and last year a fellow birder reported a good spot to find them. So it was back to the car for the 20 minute drive.

Caesar Creek Gorge is divided into 2 sections. The trail is one big loop system, and I was heading to the upper trail. It was only a matter of a couple of minutes when I heard a rather sharp, one note call that I vaguely remember. It was close, and when I got my bins on it it became apparent what I was hearing…

IMG_0109A Great-creasted Flycatcher is a wonderful bird. But what is so wonderful is how close this picture is to the bird. A picture this good alone justifies my purchase of this camera. I never would have been able to digiscope a picture this good. By the time I had everything ready the bird would have flown away.

I made my way around the park and started my decent into the bottom land of the park that borders the river. The place I read about is a little off the trail but it was easily accessible with just a little scramble down a steep bank. The rush of the water is all I hear. A Spotted sandpiper lands on some gravel in the middle of the river. Pumps it’s tail a few times and flies up river, as does the Belted Kingfisher. Then I hear one sing. It keeps getting closer and closer. Right over head now.

IMG_0133With all the excitement of finally seeing the bird I think I zoomed in too much. I cut off it’s tail in this picture.

IMG_0135When the bird is high up in the tree, and you’re below it, attempting to get a good shot is difficult. For one thing the camera is wanting to auto-focus on the closest thing. And that thing might not be the bird. I might be a branch that’s between you and the bird. So you’re looking up, trying to not lose your footing, and get a steady photo. Easy

After this hike I was tired and hungry and wanting to head home. However before I left I had to get a shot of these Tree Swallows .

IMG_0102One thing about Tree Swallows is that they’ll sit still long enough to get it’s picture taken.

Notable birds for the day include:   FOY-First of the Year

  1. Prothonotary Warbler-FOY
  2. Palm Warbler-FOY
  3. Louisiana Watertrhush-FOY
  4. Sora-FOY
  5. Red-headed Woodpecker-FOY
  6. Osprey-FOY
  7. Chimney Swift-FOY
  8. White-eyed Vireo-FOY
  9. Red-eyed Vireo-FOY
  10. Warbling Vireo-FOY
  11. House Wren-FOY
  12. Great-creasted Flycatcher-FOY
  13. Prairie Warbler-FOY

Total species for the day was 55.

Notes From The Field

IMG_0034This is someplace where you normally don’t see Hairy Woodpeckers, on the ground. However when the volunteer at Magrish Riverland Preserve told Jon and myself that she just threw some seeds on the ground, we had to check it out. Picture taken with my new Canon SX50 HS camera.

This last Saturday Jon and I met up to do a little birding before I had to leave by 11:30. We were interested in warblers and waders, and not having too much luck at Magrish we then went to California Woods right next door.

IMG_0032It was difficult to locate this Pileated Woodpecker let alone to get a decent angle to capture it high on this dead branch. The zoom on this camera is phenomenal and photo editing has decreased to just cropping and a little sharpening.

IMG_0042The trail to the Bean Field at Armleder Park was ablaze with all these small yellow flowers in full bloom. It was such a glorious day that leaving so early was a bitter pill to swallow.

However there will be more Spring days to come.

Some of the first-of-the-year birds include:

  1. Northern Parula
  2. Yellow-throated Warbler
  3. Common Yellowthroat
  4. Solitary Sandpiper
  5. Lesser Yellowleg
  6. Pectoral Sandpiper
  7. Eastern Phoebe
  8. Gray Catbird
  9. Orange-crowned Warbler
  10. Black-throated Green Warbler
  11. Indigo Bunting
  12. Spotted Sandpiper



How many of you have been fooled by a birds song?  The similarity between two species  and their individual songs can be rather exasperating. Case in point, the song of the Chipping Sparrow and the Pine Warbler. On more than one occasion I’ve been duped into thinking that a “Chipper” was a Pine Warbler. Chipping Sparrows are back in force in my neighborhood as Spring heats up, so don’t be fooled like me.


A New Day

For the past several years now I’ve been using a combination of a spotting scope, a digiscoping adapter from Vortex, and my Canon Powershot ELPH 100 HS to reach out and capture those distant bird photographs. And as I’ve taken this rig into the field on countless occasions to work on my skills, I’ve developed a love- hate relationship with it.

I’ve captured some really great photos digiscoping, and I’ve had for the most part shot some real lousy pictures. At the end of a typical field trip where I shoot lots of pictures, I would load my pictures into my computer to start the photo editing process. This is where the picture you thought was really pretty good, turns into an out of focus mess not worth saving, let alone sharing it on my blog. And this is where the “hate” relationship comes into play. The pictures that you see are just a fraction of what I’ve deleted as I’d scroll through a day in the field.

On a whole I’m not a bad photographer. I’ve been a photographer since my first Canon SLR was purchased back in the mid-1970’s. So I do consider myself an experienced amateur. However this digiscoping style of photography has really perplexed me when the bottom line is always an out of focus subject. And I think I know where the problem lies.

The camera is relying on the spotting scope to be in focus to capture the quality photo that the camera can produce. The camera by itself has the capability to taking some awesome pictures, but when it relies on another whole set of lens in front of it, now that becomes a whole other problem we have to deal with.  For myself I have difficulty in telling if the image is in focus while viewing it through an LCD screen on the back of the camera. The process for me to take a digiscoped pictures has several steps and by the time you complete them either the bird has flown away, or it’s moved and out of focus. Also when I’m just looking through my bin’s or spotting scope I don’t wear my reading glasses. However when I digiscope a picture I have to put them on to see the image on the LCD screen. The whole process is maddening.

But when you come up with an image like this…


it makes the 40 other crappy pictures seem less important. So you continue to put up with getting that 1 in 40 shot that comes out really sharp and in focus.

Well, not anymore. “Say hello to my little friend”

Canon Powershot SX50 HS

The first time I saw this camera was back in January while out on a wintery field trip with my friend Brain. He was home from college and we were both adding birds to our January 100 species list. We were down along the Little Miami River in Newtown when we spot a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Brain pulls out this exact camera and takes a photo of the Sapsucker that blew my mind away. We weren’t exactly close, but the close-up shot of that bird instantly sold me.

Now it looks almost like my Canon Powershot S3 IS if you compare these 2  images.

Sharing the same body shape, that’s the only similarity these 2 cameras have. Where my older canon has only a 12X zoom, the new one has a 50X zoom. It goes from 34mm to a whopping 1,200mm. That’s a crazy zoom on what is considered just a point-n-shoot camera. And that’s optical zoom, not digital. My spotting scope only zooms from 20X to 60X, and this camera does 50X, WOW!

So to show just how much this beauty will zoom onto a subject I went out today to try an experimental photo shoot. The first image is shooting away from the house towards my backyard towards the fence line. It’s the fence we want to focus our attention on.


Now I’m going to start zooming in to an object that’s sitting on top of one of the fence posts. The item I’m zooming in on is 100 feet from the camera which is mounted on a tripod. The object is 4.5″ x 3.5″.

IMG_0003Remember so far this is all optical zoom.

IMG_0005Still optical zoom

IMG_0006This is at the extent of it’s zoom capabilities. 50X or 1,200mm.

IMG_0008And this final picture is when you apply the 2x digital zoom.

Now considering that I was just started fooling around with it and haven’t yet explored the full capabilities of this camera, and it’s a cloudy day, the zoom on this camera is just outstanding.

So what’s going to happen to my digiscoping rig? Well for the time being it will be semi-retired and be remembered as a worthy companion that took some great photos…every now and then.

Notes From The Field

Cincinnati Zoo Preserve, Ellis Lake/ West Chester Preserve, Voice of America, & Gilmore Ponds

What is it about bird watching that keeps us going out into the field as well as keeping our curiosity peaked? Is it the primeval instinct of being the hunter without the killing as we stalk that elusive Nelson’s Sparrow? Or is it the chase of adding another bird to your life list from a far away place? Meeting new people  certainly justifies that attraction to birding. How about just getting outside after a very long, cold, snowy Winter. Spring is definitely in the air in the Ohio Valley with this last weekend, as temps soared into the 50’s with sunny skies. And as is my usual custom I dropped Jon a text about a Sunday field trip.

So to get back to my original question. What is it about bird watching that keeps us going out into the field, as well as keeping our curiosity peaked? Well today it’s our Spring time visitors, the wading birds. All of those “Sandpipers” are making a big comeback with some outstanding numbers being reported. So not wanting to be left out on all this fun we decided to keep our birding adventure in the Butler County area.

Last year the Cincinnati Zoo property was quite the go to spot for wading birds. The recent rains have been a blessing for this hotspot, but not yesterday. A good 30 minute scan turned up nothing but ducks, which isn’t a bad thing. But when your looking for waders you limit your time at each location till you find them.

We moved on.

It was during our drive to Ellis Lake that we stopped at Voice of America Park for a quick drive through. Well it seems that the Butler County Metroparks has been busy with redesigning the park around. Less grasslands and more water with more ducks. We weren’t necessarily looking for wading birds here, it seemed nature to stop since we were driving by.

We moved on.

It was pretty obvious that water wasn’t draining as fast as it usually does. The farm field which was now reduced to just corn stubble was practically under water. And once again there were plenty of ducks to be found. We had a feeling that there had to be wading birds amongst the corn stubble, it’s just that we couldn’t locate any. That was until a Red-tailed Hawk flew over and sent the majority of the birds airborne. I was able to pick out 2 waders in the chaos of wings and feathers. But before I was to ID them they lighted, and then gone.

We moved on.

It was a short drive to Gilmore Ponds, which was going to be our last stop for the day. Now what both Jon and myself will discuss before we reach any location is what might we find here. Gilmore Ponds has been a good spot for the “Black Bird” species, Rusties, Red-winged, & Grackles. And for myself I always hold out for some Rusty Black Birds, which is turning into one of my favorite birds. Their numbers are rapidly declining due to all sorts of various reason, so finding a couple to get a photo of is always in the back of my mind. Gilmore Ponds is perfect habitat for them.

It was just a few weeks ago I was there during the evening to catch American Woodcocks displaying when a massive flock of “Black Birds” came in to roost for the night. It was too dark to discern species because of darkness, but I was confident that there had to be a few.

It was late morning when we arrived, and the din of birds calling filled the air. The parking lot fronts onto a flooded woodlot which covers a large area of this side of the park. We walked about 50 yards down the trail towards the noise when we started to scan the tree tops at all the “Black Birds”. Jon immediately pointed me in the direction of this tree top that held a couple of Rusties. Then there was some more…and more…and even more!


IMG_3788They were…

IMG_3808in the trees.

IMG_3795And they were foraging on the water logged ground.

It was the highest concentration of Rusty Black Birds either Jon or myself have ever seen. I think the most I’ve ever seen at one time was a couple of dozen while hiking the Loveland Bike trail in the vicinity of Spring Valley Wildlife Area. Granted there were a few Common Grackles and Red-winged Black Birds mixed in, but they were hard to pick out from all the Rusties. It was a spectacular sight.

We watched a awe as we tried to come up with an approximation as to how many Rusties there might be. We needed to submit the data we came up with to e-Bird and the Rusty Black Bird Blitz data base, so we had to make some educated guess. We agreed that there was probably 2 birds for every 30 square feet. So he calculated the area at Gilmore Ponds from Google Earth and came up with approximately 1,500 Rusties. Which he told me was a conservative guess.

So I’ll ask myself again why do I keep going out into the field?

Need I say more.

Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Northern Cardinal
  2. Carolina Chickadee
  3. Northern Mockingbird
  4. Downy Woodpecker
  5. Northern Flicker
  6. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  7. Eastern Bluebird
  8. Eastern Meadowlark
  9. Mourning Dove
  10. Pied-billed Grebe
  11. Canada Geese
  12. Mallard
  13. Northern Shoveler
  14. Killdeer
  15. Green-winged teal
  16. American Pipit
  17. Blue-winged teal
  18. Red-winged Black Bird
  19. Common Grackle
  20. Rusty Black Bird
  21. Tree Swallow
  22. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  23. Purple Martin
  24. Wilson’s Snipe
  25. Red-shouldered Hawk
  26. Red-tailed Hawk
  27. Turkey Vulture
  28. Northern Harrier
  29. Cooper’s Hawk
  30. Gadwall
  31. Lesser Scaup
  32. Greater Scaup
  33. Blue Jay
  34. Barn Swallow
  35. Horned Lark
  36. Gray Catbird
  37. Song Sparrow
  38. Field Sparrow
  39. American Tree Sparrow
  40. White-throated Sparrow
  41. Bufflehead
  42. Hooded Merganser
  43. American Coot
  44. American Wigeon
  45. Wood Duck
  46. Great Blue Heron
  47. Eastern Towhee
  48. Eastern Phoebe
  49. Great Egret
  50. Great Horned Owl
  51. Ring-necked Duck