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The Best of 2016, Part 1

As a birdwatcher who enjoys taking photographs of birds mostly for documentation and blogging purposes, I thought it would be kind of fun to review what I feel to be the better photos of birds from the previous year. The idea of doing this wasn’t my own. A fellow WordPress Blogger, https://brighamstephen.wordpress.com/ posted his top 10 photographs of 2016 just last month, so I borrowed his idea. They say imitation is the best form of flattery. Now he’s a much better photographer than I could ever be, but I thought the idea was really cool.

img_4731American Redstart  f6.5   1/250   ISO 250

This American Redstart is by far my best effort for this species. I took a stroll one morning when we visited Maumee Bay State Park last Spring, and ran into a nice pocket of warblers.

img_4432_1Vesper Sparrow   f6.5   1/800   ISO 500

As muchRed-headed Woodpeckers I love sparrows, I just had to include this gem. These elusive beauties can only be found during migration and I was lucky enough to capture this image while visiting the Oxbow back in April.

img_4486Red-headed Woodpecker   f8.0   1/1600   ISO 800

While visiting my son at Haw River State Park in Greensboro North Carolina, he told me about this location where these woodpeckers congregated. What I love most about this photo is the contract between the texture of the bark and the coloration of the bird.

img_4565Virginia Rail   f6.5   1/640   ISO 1,000

My go-to spot for these birds is Spring Valley Wildlife Area north of Waynesville Ohio. This spring I really had a bird who was the most cooperative I’ve ever seen, and the results are quite obvious.

img_5069Stellar Jay   f6.5   1/640   ISO 1,250

Walking among the giant Redwoods in Redwoods National Park is one of the most surreal experiences I’ve had. And when a life bird such as this Stellar Jay lands in front of you, well it’s the cherry on top.

Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017

Well 2016 has finally come to a close, and I’ve been a bad blogger. I’ve been rather lax in keeping up on my blog posts, which in turn keeps me out of the field. From Thanksgiving till now, the holidays can really suck your free time, and when I did get out birding, it was kind of slow. But this is a new year and I’ll try to be a little more frequent in keeping you the reader informed on my comings and goings. So let’s start with a re-cap of 2016, which by the way was one of my most productive years in regards to new life birds.

January 2016 started out with me not obtaining 100 species. I feel a warmer weather pattern and just plain bad luck, plus not having enough free time to really dig for those birds kept me from my goal.

Other than my usual hot spots in and around Southwestern Ohio, Northern Kentucky, and Southeastern Indiana, traveling was kept to my yearly visit to the Lake Erie for the big migrant movement and my big 2 week trip to the West Coast. Chasing rarities of any distance from my home was kept to a minimum, unless it was too hard to resist.

As for life bird of 2016, this was a difficult decision. Of the 42 new life birds I had to choose from how can I narrow it down to just one? Was it the Northern Pygmy Owl calling in the early morning at Redwoods National Park? Or how about the Curlew Sandpiper on our first day at Magee Marsh on Lake Erie during our 4 day stay? Another top contender would have to be the Black Rail calling at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge. It could be my most recent life bird, the Brandt which hung around for several days at Rocky Fork State Park.

After some consideration , and looking back at myyear list over and over again, the logical choice had to be my very first life bird for the year, the Western Grebe, that myself and my oldest son David found at Caesar Creek State Park. I think the reason I was most excited about this bird is that I found the bird first, not someone else. And for a birder this is a very satisfying feeling. My 15 minutes of fame. Hopefully I’ll have the same kind of luck this year.

IMG_4102

2016 came to a close with the annual Christmas Bird Count, which I participated in along with my buddy Jon, and a couple of other local birders I’ve been out with before. It started to out rainy and cold, but eventually the skies cleared and a nice breeze help kick up the raptors and vultures. The total count for the area was 88 birds species, and our own group of 4 came away with a total of 64. A nice respectable number if I do say so. Our group count of over 9,000 Common Grackles was the 3rd. highest in our Christmas count history, which by the way was an incredible sight to behold.

2017 has started off with lots of birding and some pretty good numbers as the first week comes to a close. Since the New Year I was able to hit some local hot spots and take care of the common birds. The last few years has seen my January 100 challenge come up miserably short of the mark,so this year I’m doing one thing differently. I’ve adopted the same strategy as most big year birders have, chase the rarities first.

On January 2nd word on social media had a sizable flock of Canada Geese with 3 Ross’s Geese, 14 Greater White-fronted Geese, and several Cackling Geese near the small town of Jamestown Ohio. I had already been out all morning birding over by the Oxbow, Fernald Preserve, (which was hosting 7 Tundra Swans) and the Lost Bridge area, so I was a bit tired already. So I volunteered to do the grocery shopping if I could chase these birds in Jamestown. So off I went again. Jamestown is is about 40 miles from my home and the small pond the birds were in was located at the intersection of 2 state highways. The only good viewing of the pond was parking along the shoulder of the exit ramp of one of the highways, which meant driving 2 miles out of my way so I could back track to the correct exit ramp.

So after my little detour I was able to set up next to another birder who had the same idea. It didn’t take long to add those 3 different species of geese to my January list, along with the added bonus of a couple of Northern Pintails. So needless to say after driving back and doing the grocery shopping I was exhausted.

Yesterday was my first day back to work after the long weekend and once again late in the morning social media was abuzz with 5 female Surf Scoters a,d a single female Black Scoter at Eastwood Metro Park in Dayton Ohio, another 40 mile drive from my home. Now Surf Scoter appear with some regularity every year in our area of Ohio, but a Black Scoter is something quite unusual. So leaving work 45 minutes early I still had to pick up a few more groceries that I forgot the day before, and fill up the bird-mobile. I had to get moving on these birds since the weather was deteriorating rapidly with thick overcast skies and loads of rain, and to top it off it’s rush hour. I really wanted to avoid the downtown Dayton area, so I printed off some alternate directions off MapQuest. Well that was a mistake, and I ended up following my GPS through Dayton without too much trouble.

Well I found the park easily enough, and the Surf Scoters, but not the Black Scoter. Then it started to rain harder making visibility difficult. As I was driving down the lake to scope out the other end I noticed a group of cars parked. They must have found the Black Scoter. A guy I meet where the Surf Scoters were told me the Black Scoter was actively feeding across the lake. Grabbing my scope in the driving rain I set up quickly and was able to watch at the Scoter was diving over and over again as it feed. Being wet and hungry it was time to go home.

So at the present time I stand at 69 bird species, which isn’t too bad considering that some birder up in Erie County was able to make his 100 species in 1 day. Show off. I’d like to see him do it down here. Anyway I’ll be updating as the birds come in, so wish me luck.

So here’s how my list stands now:

  1. House Finch
  2. House Sparrow
  3. Dark-eyed Junco
  4. Mourning Dove
  5. Eastern Gold Finch
  6. Eastern Towhee
  7. Carolina Wren
  8. White-breasted Nuthatch
  9. Red-shouldered Hawk
  10. Downy Woodpecker
  11. Blue Jay
  12. Eastern Bluebird
  13. Northern Cardinal
  14. Carolina Chickadee
  15. Hairy Woodpecker
  16. White-throated Sparrow
  17. American Crow
  18. European Starling
  19. Brown Creeper
  20. Hooded Merganser
  21. Mallard
  22. American Robin
  23. Belted Kingfisher
  24. American Wigeon
  25. Gadwall
  26. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  27. Tufted Titmouse
  28. Bufflehead
  29. American Coot
  30. Ring-billed Gull
  31. Red-tailed Hawk
  32. Northern Flicker
  33. American Tree Sparrow
  34. Northern Mockingbird
  35. Bald Eagle
  36. Canada Goose
  37. Common Goldeneye
  38. Merlin
  39. Peregrine Falcon
  40. Sandhill Crane
  41. Ruddy Duck
  42. Pied-billed Grebe
  43. Field Sparrow
  44. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  45. Song Sparrow
  46. Rock Pigeon
  47. American Kestrel
  48. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  49. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  50. Northern Shoveler
  51. Tundra Swan
  52. Ring-necked Duck
  53. American Black Duck
  54. Swamp Sparrow
  55. Green-winged Teal
  56. Northern Harrier
  57. White-crowned Sparrow
  58. Redhead
  59. Common Grackle
  60. Horned Grebe
  61. Great Blue Heron
  62. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  63. Ross’s Goose
  64. Cackling Goose
  65. Greater White-fronted Goose
  66. Surf Scoter
  67. Black Scoter
  68. Northern Pintail
  69. Snow Goose

Twitchers

Have you ever been found guilty of being a “Twitcher”? And if you’re not sure what I mean by this here’s a good definition I found on the internet while composing this blog post.

” a birdwatcher whose main aim is to collect sightings of rare birds”

For myself I am guilty as charged. There are some birds that were so elusive to me I started to believe they didn’t exist at all. “Can you say Whimbrel”. I’ve chased this bird multiple times without success, but it wasn’t till my recent trip to California was I finally able to tick this bird onto my life list.

Another good example was the Yellow-headed Blackbird. Always seen sporadically during my multiple stays in northern Ohio during spring migration, I would always keep my ears open at the idle chatter from other birders just waiting to hear the name mentioned. A relatively rare and elusive bird for Ohio, I’ve been know to travel at slightly elevated speeds to stake out locations of recent sightings. It wasn’t until a few years back while on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh when word came to my ears of one being seen on the auto tour at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge was I able to score another lifer.

When a Garganey showed up at Fernald Preserve in 2011 (45 minutes from my house), Twitchers from all over the country flocked to the area just for this rarity, as did myself. When the bird hung around for several days I was able to treat a group of Boy Scouts who were attending my Bird Study Merit Badge class to this awesome bird.

So if you think about it we all have a little bit of “Twitcher’ in us. I think this is one aspect that makes bird watching so much fun. The exhilaration of the chase and finally seeing the bird is very exciting.

Twitchers from England I’ve heard can really be overly obsessive when it comes to rarities. To see them in action I’ve pasted a URL of an hour long video about English Twitchers. I found this to be really entertaining and I hope you enjoy it.

“Twitcher Video”

Autumn

Autumn, specifically October is both my favorite season and month of all time. And even though I was married 31 years ago this month, the fact remains whether I’m married or not this is my favorite time of year bar none. The landscape is changing, from green corn fields to golden brown rows of ripening field corn. The soy beans are turning golden as the days grow shorter, as well as the leaves on the trees. We’re changing from shorts and T-shirts, to jeans and sweaters. Soups are served warm to the table weekly, as we throw open the windows and turn off the AC.

Change is good. It keeps us in balance with nature. And with these changes comes the much anticipated Winter Finch Report from our friend up north, Ron Pittaway.

Every year at this time birders wait for October and for Ron Pittaway’s look into finch movement during the fall and winter. A field Ornithologist from Ontario Canada, his highly respected, and accurate reports help us birders as we go into the field, or sit inside our warm homes, and watch the birds.

Now I could do a simple copy and paste of his report, but it would be simpler to just add a hyperlink to his report.

And for those birders in the Midwest, Red-breasted Nuthatches are showing up in quantity.

Ron Pittaway’s Finch Report

On The Road

Greeting from beautiful California,  and the equally beautiful Marin County. Well our vacation has finally arrived and it has started out very well. Our flight from Cincinnati to San Francisco was pretty smooth with the added bonus of having the middle seat empty for the entire flight, which gave Kathy and me plenty of room. Our flight actually arrived a little early, and after picking up our luggage and travelling by tram to the rental car compound, we headed off into the big scary city of San Francisco.  

My GPS took right through the heart of the city and right across the Golden Gate Bridge, which was very cool. We enjoyed driving across so much, we went back to Golden Gate Park and walked around and took pictures. One thing to remember if you ever go is that it can be really, really crowded. 

So far the birding has been excellant. Granted if I could just focuz on the birds I probably would have a few more lifersthan I do at the moment. We visited Point Reyes National Seashore both yesterday and today and hit up a good cross section of birding habitat while at the park. 

So all told I’ve added 15 new life birds, with my nemisis bird, the Whimbrel going down. Pictures have been kind of tough to get. It seems when I focus in on so many new birds my camera is the last thing I think about till I make a correct ID. Anyway here are a few iconic California birds





Right now as it stands here are the new additions to my Life List.

  1. Acorn Woodpecker
  2. California Scrub Jay
  3. Stellar’s Jay
  4. Common Murre
  5. Whimbrel
  6. Brewer’s Blackbird
  7. California Quail
  8. Spotted Towhee
  9. California Towhee
  10. Pacific Slope Flycatcher
  11. Western Wood Pewee
  12. Band-tailed Pigeon
  13. Brandt’s Cormorant
  14. Pelagic Cormorant
  15. Chestnut-sided Chickadee

And tomorrow after we pack and grab some breakfast, it’s off to Redwood National Park.

“On The Road” with a added Surprise

So far my trip to the shores of Lake Erie has been a huge success with loads of birds, which include everyone’s favorite Wood Warblers. Now I haven’t added up my totals for the whole trip, considering that my trip is still going on and there are still birds to see. But this little side story started back on Thursday evening when Kathy and I were enjoying a adult beverage at a local brewery. It was 5 pm as I connected to their wifi to check my email.  I’m normally don’t feel the need to check my email, or other social media sites constantly while I’m out birding. My focus is on the birds, not my smart phone, which almost cost me a new life bird.
So it while I was sipping my first tasty brew I read the rare bird of alert of a Curlew Sandpipier just to the west of Toledo. The first posting time was 12:30. Almost 5 hours have gone by from the initial sighting with countless more eBird reports jamming up their servers. As exciting as this sighting is I had to hold back my anxiety to sprint off since we had made plans for the evening which was keeping me busy. My only hope was the bird sticking it out through the night. As the evening wore on the last report was a 7 pm sighting, which gave me hope. I immediately texted Jon to fill him in on the situation,  since he was driving up right after work.
After Jon arrived at his cabin I gave him a call to finalize the details for Friday morning. He was picking me up at 6:15 and with the 45 minute drive we were hoping for enough sun to spot the bird.
The drive wasn’t too terribly bad, we only got turned around once. But we got ourselves un-lost and pulled up on this wonderfully flooded field lined with a couple dozed birders scanning the field. Jon pulled up and we grabbed our scopes as a young women motioned to us to hurry up. We found the bird.
The sun was right in our faces so all the images I shot were horribly back-lit. This bird is in full breeding plumage and is quite a sight to see, however the pictures I took you can’t see hardly any of the coloration or details. Nor was I waiting around for hours till the sun moved to behond us. I may go back zfter we leave tomorrow to try again, but in the mean time here’s the bird.

image