My Hummingbirds have finally moved on, and the last of the migrating warblers are dwindling as the chill of Autumn envelopes the Ohio Valley with clear blue skies and frost on the grass. Birding this time of year for me focuses on Sparrows, notably Nelson’s and LeConte’s Sparrows. I find this annual challenge a treat for myself as I venture out to all my favorite spots looking for these skulkers. In years past I’ve had pretty good luck, however this year is proving to be a little more difficult as I change up tactics and plan my next location.
Despite the fact that I’m not writing in my blog as often as I would like, I’m still out birding. However even writers get “writers block”, and I think that’s what happened to me. So with that being said I will try my best to keep my blog up to date and fresh.
Facebook and Smartphones
As any birder will tell you the advent of Facebook and owning a smartphone has really opened up “Birding” as a hobby that anyone can enjoy. For myself I’ve pretty much given up on posting anything on Facebook because of personnel reasons that I wrote about in an editorial about a few months back. However it doesn’t keep me belonging to 9 different groups on Facebook related to birds and birding. With more and more folks out in the field birding these pages become inundated with thousands of posts and pictures. You have to sort through everything daily to see if anything good pops up, especially those rarities. For rarities I depend on Ohio Chase Birds, Ohio Rare Bird Alert, and the ABA Rare Bird Alert.
Now the beauty of being retired is I’m able to check these 3 sites regularly and with my gear packed I’m ready to sprint out the door at a moments notice. And this is why Facebook and Smartphones have proven themselves valuable for birding in general, but especially for reporting rarities and keeping birders up to date on any recent activity involving rarities.
Case in point, lets talk about yesterday.
It was late morning yesterday at about 10:30 I had finished a few chores around the house when I picked up my phone to check out the posts on Facebook. At 9:30 a Gray Kingbird was sighted at Leadingham Prairie Preserve near the small town of Medway Ohio, in Clark County.
Now I know where Clark County is, however Leadingham Preserve and the town of Medway are new to me. With Clark County being situated northeast of Dayton I knew I had to move fast on this bird. This is a state first record of this species, and a exciting find. So with my heart pounding with this surge of birding adrenalin I threw on some clothes and grabbed my gear and sped out the door.
My GPS wasn’t any help with locating Leadingham Preserve, but it was able to find Medway Ohio, and by the looks of the route it was taking me I knew there had to be a faster route. So I called my best friend Phil for some much needed navigational eyes on a computer. He was able to guide me onto the correct Interstates and right to the parking lot of this nondescript preserve that sits close to the Mad River. As I swung my car into the parking lot I couldn’t help but notice the lack of any sign telling the visitor the name of this preserve. However seeing 3 other cars and one with a Birding Ecotours sign on the side convinced me I was in the right spot. I knew one of the birders on location and that he just re-found the bird. But now the trick was finding them. Never having been to this preserve left me at a disadvantage, so I followed a map that was posted on Facebook of the last location outlined in red.
By now it’s almost noon and I’m hoping it’s not too late. I wandered around following mowed paths towards the direction of the last sighting. I feel I’m in the right area, but I don’t see anyone. I reach for my phone and Facebook Message Chris, the birder already there to help me find them. After about 5 more minutes and another birder waving his arms towards me, I was finally able to locate the group. However the bird hasn’t been seen for several anxious minutes.
The group now totals 5 birders and we decide to move to our left to see if it went back to it’s original location. We had to blaze our own trail as footing became more and more difficult and soggy. We walked 20 feet when I saw the bird fly out into the open over the grassy prairie and away from the tree line, catch something in air, then fly back to the tree line. We quickened our pace.
So why is this particular bird so special you ask? Well for one thing it’s a Ohio first for this species, and second is how far it must have traveled or blown off course. And for a bird like this being blown up from down south especially after hurricane Michael is not a far fetched idea. Let’s look at it’s range map.
As you can see from the range map, the range of this Gray Kingbird is limited a small portion of the United States with it extending up along the coast of South Carolina on some maps I viewed.
I took scores of pictures however I was kind of handicapped with strong winds that really played havoc with the auto-focus on my camera. Just when you think you have a decent photograph, you look at it later and it’s all but a blur.
There isn’t enough I can say about how cool this bird is and to be able to experience it with other birders who are just as passionate about birding as I am.