It’s the beginning of April in the Ohio Valley. The outside temperatures are warming, and some of our early migrating birds are starting to show up like Pine Warblers, Louisiana Waterthrush, Eastern Phoebes, and the increase of Yellow-rumped Warblers. Early April is also the time us birders in southern Ohio start looking for Vesper Sparrows as the pass through to breed further north. Unfortunately for us our window of opportunity is narrow as the proceed further north in the breed.
Found in open country feeding mostly along the roadsides and open areas within grasslands, they associate alongside Brewer’s, Savannah, and Lark Sparrow’s. Blending in with their surroundings, they can be tricky to spot, but if you happen to spook one, you’ll notice their familiar white edges on the tail. The classic field mark for this bird.
So one of the best places in town to find them is Armleder Park. Located along the Little Miami River, this 305 acre park is a flat, and prone to flooding with great habitat for grassland birds, especially Sparrows. This is the same park that years earlier I was part of a field trip that spooked up a Yellow Rail. Unbelievable!
But yesterday it was about Vesper Sparrows, and luck was on my side.
Armleder Park this time of year is home to soccer fields galore. I arrived early enough to walk the fields and find the birds as the feed in the dried patches of grass or along the edge of the sidewalks.
What’s going on? Birding two days in a row! Maybe I’m feeling better and decided to follow up and do a little chasing of a pair of Long-tailed Ducks that are showing real well at East Fork State Park. But what got my spidey-senses tingling were the rumors of a Western Grebe also being seen.
So after working out at the YMCA this morning, I ran home to clean up, then out the door to get to East Fork. Now granted a Western Grebe would be an outstanding bird for this area, however the one I spotted myself back in January of 2016 was the last one that was recorded in this area I believe.
Now I could see the confusion when looking at a Horned Grebe in winter plumage, with it’s black cap extending just below the eyes, with loads of white showing on the neck area. I did spot a couple of Horned Grebes as I scanned the area, but no Western Grebes.
Just below the dam at East Fork was where I found the male and female Long-tailed Ducks. It’s been a pretty good winter for this species what with more and more reports coming in from all over the state of this beautiful bird. Even though they kept their distance, I was able to snap off a couple of good shots.
I’ve been sick off and on since Christmas. For the most part it’s been just a head cold, but it seems that as soon as this one clears up, another one takes over. Then to top it off I got bronchitis. With my medical history getting bronchitis is something I don’t get over quickly.
Today the sun came out and the temps shot up to a balmy 45 degrees and i decided I need to get out and do a little birding. I drove to both Caesar Creek and Cowan Lake State Parks to check out the water fowl. And much to my surprise I found good numbers and varieties.
One of my usual stops is Harveysburg Road, but do to the awful winds we’ve been having the road was blocked by a fallen tree.
The ice was breaking up which left some nice pockets of open water for the ducks to congregate in. For the most part the Gulls kept either to the beach area (which was under water due to all the rain) or out on the ice roosting.
I was able to pick out a lone female White-winged Scoter which was the bird of the day, but what really impressed me were the Common Goldeneyes which were doing their courtship display. It would have been nice to get some photos of the birds but they were so far away any pictures we’re out of the question.
But it was while I was at Cowan Lake I noticed a lone Horned Grebe fairly close to shore. They were actively feeding on small fish and I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the Grebe. I must have watched for an hour as I jockeyed for a better position to get a good photo.
Concentrating mostly on water fowl, I’m just listing the different species seen today.
- Pied-billed Grebe
- Horned Grebe
- White-winged Scoter
- Hooded Merganser
- Red-breasted Merganser
- Common Goldeneye
- Greater Scaup
- Lesser Scaup
- Ring-necked Duck
- Ruddy Duck
- Northern Pintail
Caesar Creek State Park can run either hot, or cold for me. I’ve been making regular visits recently with birding really starting to pick up with the arrival of more ducks to the lake. As for the regular gull population, it’s been the normal Ring-bill, Herring, and Bonaparte’s Gulls. That was until 2 days ago when a friend of mine Rick A. (who has a knack for finding rarities) sighted a ABA code 3 Little Gull at Furnas Shores boat ramp. This sighting was later confirmed by several other birders as more and more people drove to Caesar Creek to see for themselves.
Little Gull (Larus minutus) are usually reported from the northern part of Ohio along Lake Erie. They’re normally seen with Bonaparte’s Gulls which are slightly larger and very similar. Field markings can be very confusing, especially from a distance if they’re resting on the water. It’s when they’re flying that they really stand out from the Bonaparte’s Gull. They’re underwings are almost blackish in color which really leaps out at you as you observe them in flight. And if they’re flying with Bonaparte’s Gulls you’ll then notice the smaller size difference.
Even though this wasn’t a “Life Bird”, I was still anxious when the first report came across Facebook’s “Ohio Chase Birds” page. However with it being the holidays and packages still be delivered, I needed to stay home to make sure “Porch Pirates” didn’t make off with them.
Late afternoon yesterday was the only time available for me to chase the bird. By the time I finally got a look at the bird, or should I say 2 Little Gulls, it was about 2:30 pm. We were losing precious light, and with thick cloud cover trying to capture anything flying with such a slow shutter speed was really difficult.
As I joined the group of birders, one of them stated that there were 2 of them. Having 1 of these birds is unusual, but 2! Indeed it was 2 as I got on both birds. What a delight. I attempted to take plenty of pictures, however with the terrible lighting conditions, distance from the bird, and slow shutter speed and my auto focus trying to sharpen a moving bird, what pictures I got were mostly for diagnostic purposes.
What I like about the above photo is the difference between the Little Gull on the left, and the Bonaparte’s Gulls on the right.
If you haven’t noticed by now I haven’t been doing much birding this summer, hence nothing to post on my blog. If I’ve never mentioned it before, the reason is I’m not a big fan of hot and humid weather, plus with all the rain we’ve been experiencing just reinforces my position on summer birding.
Now if i was going on a trip somewhere near the coast, or some part of the country I’ve not been to, well that’s something entirely different. But I’m not going on vacation someplace cool, and the Ohio valley isn’t very exciting for birds.
However fall migration is starting to kick into gear and that’s worth getting excited about. So when a local birder sighted a Little Blue Heron at Gilmore Ponds yesterday I thought to myself, why not? The weather cooled off and the humidity was dropping, so i made my way over this morning to see if I could re-locate the bird.
Pretty scarce for our area, they do make appearances I wouldn’t say every year, just enough to justify the bird when you’re checking it in on eBird .
Bell’s Vireo (Virco bellii) is one of those nondescript Vireos that pretty small, has a very distinct song, and is known to be a skulking bird that loves to hide in some dense cover. Uncommon even within it’s range, occasionally they make their way to my part of Ohio. If you happen to be a yearly “Bird Lister”, the annual go-to location for this bird has always been Smith Tract Park. For some unknown reason every year a lone Bell’s Vireo goes to this on location in the park and sings away. Sure they show up else where, but if you need to tick this bird off your list, this is the place. Until about a week ago.
Given their nature of staying out of sight I’ve not been able to get a photograph of a Bell’s Vireo, despite countless tries. So when one is sighted at Voice of America Park just 20 minutes away I made it a point to try my luck again.
This time we have success.
What was even better was that the sun was perfect, which in turn gave me these beautiful shots of a really good bird to add to anyone’s list.