Tag Archives: Bird Watching

“On The Road”

Haw River State Park, Browns Summit North Carolina

Two weekends ago Kathy and myself took a 4 day weekend to drive the 7 1/2 hours to visit my oldest son. His present occupation is an environmental educator at the Summit Environmental Education Complex, which is situated at Haw River State Park just a short 20 minute drive north from Greensboro North Carolina. For the most part he’s helping with teaching to various age school groups environmental requirements for their specific grade. And with school in session right now it’s a pretty busy place with school groups visiting from all over the state. However for us we just needed to visit our son and see what’s going on, take him out to eat a few times, do some sight seeing and buy him some much needed groceries. Plus get a little birding in, especially after he told me he’s been seeing this Brown-headed Nuthatch hanging around some of the living quarters.

After touring some of the buildings around the complex we went for a walk to an area of the park I was pretty excited about. The wetlands, which is a small portion of a much larger riparian corridor of the Haw River. It was a short walk to where  the boardwalk for the wetlands started.

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IMG_4463And after a short walk on the boardwalk, you come out into this beautiful opening of wetlands and tall dead trees. And when you have a combination like this you’re bound to have a rare treat of viewing Red-headed Woodpeckers. Not just 1 or 2, but multiple birds. It was amazing!

Some interesting facts about this bird is that from 1966 to 2014 there has been a decline of 2% per year of this species. And if you add that up it’s a 70% reduction of this magnificent bird. The Red-headed Woodpecker is on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List, which list bird species that are at risk of becoming “threatened” or “endangered” without conservation action.

They were a nuisance bird during the 19th century by orchard owners and farmers, who paid a bounty for these birds. Audubon reported 100 Red-headed Woodpeckers shot from a single cherry tree in one day. The birds followed the beech nut crop of the northern beech forests, and then with the great chestnut blight killing off virtually all the American Chestnut trees, their was a huge reduction of food for this bird.

So even today I’m always delighted when I spot one in the field, they are a tough bird to tick off if you don’t know where to find them. And boy did I find them.

I was always shooting my pictures with my camera pointing up. They never came low enough on the dead trees to get too close.

IMG_4444The bold white wings set off with the black in sharp contrast is a dead give away to which species you’re seeing. Plus the red head helps also.

IMG_4454Most of the time this is how I saw them as they chased each other around from tree to tree.

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At one time I counted 6 individual birds. For me that’s an amazing number of probably the best looking woodpecker I’ve ever seen. Now the operative word here is “seen”. There are a bunch of new woodpecker species that hasn’t made it to my life list as of yet. So until I do see one that’s more beautiful than this bird, this is numero uno!

P.S. I finally saw the Brown-headed Nuthatch on our last evening. And of course I didn’t have my camera.

Notes From The Field

Shawnee Lookout Forest and the Oxbow

There were frost warnings out for the Tri-state area as I made my way over to pick up Jon for some very early migrant birding. Both Shawnee Lookout and the Oxbow can be particularly good, so with the rising sun low on the horizon we set off in a westerly direction.

Shawnee Lookout was practically empty as we set off on a couple of trails, always listening and watching. As we walked we chatted about which early migrant might make an appearance today. One at the top of the list was the Hermit Thrush. The reclusive skulker of the undergrowth is usually heard before it’s seen.

So it came as no surprise that one of the birds we stumbled across, right next to the trail was a Hermit Thrush eating a worm.

IMG_4388If you look real close you can see the worm on the ground.

Yellow-rumped warblers were the dominate, and only warbler species seen at Shawnee Lookout. In a couple of weeks this place will be crawling with migrating warblers, but this day wasn’t meant to be. However the male Butter-butts were all dressed in their best breeding plumage, and really it’s only a matter of time before more show up.

So as we were leaving Shawnee Lookout a question arises. We all know what happens when the chicken crosses the road, but what about the Wild Turkey?

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After a short stop at Lost Bridge to count the Pectoral Sandpipers and a couple American Pipits, we arrived at the Oxbow. And quite honestly I don’t know what impressed us the most, the sheer number of Double-creasted Cormorants (we estimated about 250) or the Bald Eagles, ( which we counted 18 of them).

IMG_4415This immature Bald Eagle landed real close to Jon and me with a fish, and proceeded to eat it. I tried to sneak up it and get a better photo, but he didn’t that too much and promptly left.

IMG_4435Nothing quite as pretty as a Bald Eagle against a blue sky.

At one time as we approached a line of trees that separates two fields we counted 12 individual Bald Eagles. It was quite a sight, but considering the distance a photo wouldn’t have done justice. However the bird of the day was yet to come.

As we continued driving along the dirt road that cuts through the Oxbow we notice small brown birds foraging along the edge. And one had white edges on the tail. I quickly pull over as we get our bins on the bird. Vesper Sparrow. Very good bird, especially for this part of Ohio.

Now you might be saying to yourself that this is a pretty common bird where I live, but in southern Ohio we have maybe a 2 week window where Vesper Sparrows can be seen before they move North. And this one cooperated.

IMG_4432That’s the thing with Jon and me, we love Sparrows, and for us this was a great bird.

We made one more stop in Lawrenceburg Indiana where we walked a bike trail hoping to pick up the same birds we saw there during the Christmas Bird Count.

It was a good day. Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Black Vulture
  2. Turkey Vulture
  3. Bald Eagle
  4. Red-tailed Hawk
  5. American Kestrel
  6. Wood Duck
  7. Mallard
  8. Northern Shoveler
  9. Blue-winged Teal
  10. American Coot
  11. Pied-billed Grebe
  12. Hooded Merganser
  13. Great Blue Heron
  14. Great Egret
  15. Double-creasted Cormorant
  16. Wild Turkey
  17. Mourning Dove
  18. Pileated Woodpecker
  19. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  20. Hairy Woodpecker
  21. Downy Woodpecker
  22. Northern Flicker
  23. Blue Jay
  24. Eastern Phoebe
  25. American Crow
  26. Tufted Titmouse
  27. Northern Cardinal
  28. Carolina Chickadee
  29. Carolina Wren
  30. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  31. Yellow-throated Warbler
  32. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  33. Golden-crowned Kinglet
  34. White-breasted Nuthatch
  35. Hermit Thrush
  36. American Robin
  37. Brown-headed Cowbird
  38. European Starling
  39. Common Grackle
  40. Red-winged Blackbird
  41. Eastern Towhee
  42. White-crowned Sparrow
  43. White-throated Sparrow
  44. Song Sparrow
  45. Vesper Sparow
  46. Field Sparrow
  47. Chipping Sparrow
  48. House Finch
  49. American Goldfinch
  50. Canada Goose
  51. American Pipit
  52. Pectoral Sandpiper
  53. Killdeer
  54. Ring-billed Gull
  55. Bonaparte’s Gull
  56. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  57. Tree Swallow

Notes From The Field

Cincinnati Nature Center

As a birder watcher I can reel off from memory all the places around the tri-state area where I go birding. And with it being the beginning of Spring I tend to narrow down my choices to a few prime locations where migrants show up. And Rowe Woods at the Cincinnati Nature Center isn’t one of them. Encompassing 1,025 acres, with 65 of them being old growth forest, one would think that it would be a great place to go birding. And with 16 miles of well groomed, award winning trails I’ve seen the bird lists that come out of there when birding groups visit. Very impressive.

And it’s not like I’ve not been there before. On the contrary, my daughter was married there and I can attest that it’s a beautiful place. So what was the reason why I don’t bird there? Well, you have to be a member. And if you’re not a member it’s $9.00 admission. First, I didn’t want to become a member because I didn’t think I would get my moneys worth. When you pay for a yearly membership you feel committed to visit so you can feel like you’ve not wasted your money. And to just go for the day $9.00 seems a bit too much. Call me a tight wad, but that’s how I feel. Why pay to go birding, when I can go for free elsewhere.

That was until my wife , while hiking with her hiking group at Rowe Woods, bought a years membership. So this last Saturday, before the crowds, we drove to the Cincinnati Nature Center so she could go hiking with her group, and I can wander around an do some birding.

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The air was cool as the sun rose and started to warm. Early frost was still clinging to the millions of Daffodils and all the other wild flowers that carpeted the forest floor. The birds were waking up as well as Tufted Titmouse were the dominate birds today.

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This trip also gave me an excuse to try my hand at macro photography. Like today birds were rather sparse, so if I came across a pretty looking flower, I’d get on my belly and see what this camera can do.

Now don’t take me wrong, this blog isn’t going to turning away from the birds, however unlike my wife who’s busy hiking through nature, I’m absorbing it at all levels. From the tree tops to the fungus growing under a log.

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I will admit that this place is beautiful. The trails were well marked and with the free trail map it was impossible to get lost. But the Daffodils! They were everywhere. Hugh clumps grew over the hill sides and along the trails. It was really spectacular. Almost unreal…IMG_4349

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As a wandered along the trails that lead me back to the parking lot I couldn’t get this feeling out of my head. This place is so manicured it feels unreal. It doesn’t feel natural. I’ve birded in loads of places throughout my bird watching career, and I’ve never been to a place like this before. And I completely understand why have more than 150,000 visitors each year. Great educational programs, with a visitors center that is unbelievable, I will return.

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IMG_4372Rowe Woods is dotted with several ponds, and the Red-winged Blackbirds were busy building nests and protecting their territory.

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Birding was so-so. I feel migrants are starting to trickle into the area, but today.

Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Mourning Dove
  2. Red-shouldered Hawk
  3. Cooper’s hawk
  4. Turkey Vulture
  5. Tufted Titmouse
  6. Eastern Towhee
  7. Song Sparrow
  8. Chipping Sparrow
  9. Field Sparrow
  10. White-throated Sparrow
  11. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  12. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  13. Downy Woodpecker
  14. Hairy Woodpecker
  15. Northern Flicker
  16. Carolina Chickadee
  17. Northern Cardinal
  18. Canada Goose
  19. Blue Jay
  20. Eastern Phoebe
  21. White-breasted Nuthatch
  22. American Robin
  23. Carolina Wren
  24. Dark-eyed Junco
  25. Red-winged Blackbird
  26. Brown-headed Cowbird
  27. American Goldfinch

Brown Creeper

While I was waiting for this Common Redpoll to make it’s appearance at this feeder station in a Northern Kentucky cemetery, my vigil for the Redpoll pretty much kept the bins on my eyes for the 4 hours I was there. Talking about eye fatigue, and to make matters worse I dipped on the bird, however…

For the most part the Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) can be found almost every State and parts of Canada, so why is it so difficult to spot these little brown birds. First off they short legs, long stiff tail feathers, long curved claws and toes with long dense feathers. And they’re almost always found on trees using their stiff tail as a prop as they feed usually starting at the bottom of a tree and spiraling upward. They’ll work their way to the top, then fly over to the next tree where they start the process over again.

At about 5.3 inches they’re not as small as some birds, but given that they blend into the tree is what makes them so difficult to spot. I know that they have a very distinct, high pitched call, but for someone like me who has troubles hearing at certain octaves I tend to miss there call unless someone else points it out to me.

And with the felling of the old growth forest, places like Kentucky their breeding population is listed as “endangered”. But what was the real thrill was while I was waiting for the Redpoll I noticed a small bird forage at the bottom of one of the trees in the background. A Brown Creeper and begging for it’s picture to be taken.

IMG_4303Granted it’s a blurry photo, however it’s easy to see how this bird can be overlooked when out birding.

IMG_4305Since they spiral up as they feed, I had to wait till it came to the side of the tree to snap off this picture. They may not be very good photographs, but this is the first one I’ve ever gotten.

Notes From The Field

Armleder Park

I love sparrows. However there was a time when it was more of a love/hate relationship. As with all beginning birders we tend to look at sparrows and shrug our shoulders with uncertainty as to which species it is we’re looking at. And this type of behavior is perfectly normal when you’re looking at these little brown birds. They all look alike. And it wasn’t until I started birding with Jon on a regular basis that it all changed to a love affair with these little brown birds.

Last time I counted there’s about 36 species of birds with the word “sparrow” in its’ name listed for North America. And for the most part they all have that overall brown appearance, with the exception of the Olive Sparrow. Sizes do vary somewhat, from the tiny 5″ Nelson’s Sparrow, to the beefy 7.5″ monster Harris’s Sparrow. Habitats  where you find sparrows differ as much as the species itself. From ocean shore, the great plains, and the desert southwest, sparrows can be found all over North America.

Jon turned me onto this book several years ago, and after I bought it, it’s become a valuable resource whenever I need to brush up on sparrows.

Now the ones I enjoy chasing down the most are our seasonal or migratory sparrows. In the fall I love to chase Nelson’s and LeConte’s Sparrows in the grassland parks of central Ohio. In the spring and summer Henslow’s Sparrows can be found even my neck of Ohio. And in the winter my thoughts always turn to Fox Sparrows. In the eastern half of North America these beautifully marked sparrows can be a challenge since this part of Ohio is at the birds northern most range in the winter. I feel they’re an uncommon bird for the winter, whereas the American Tree Sparrow is everywhere during our colder months. But they can be found, and one Fox Sparrow in particular has been giving good views at Armleder Park.

So while my wife was off hiking with her hiking club at California Woods ( my go-to spot for Northern Waterthrush ) I made my way over to a quiet corner of Armleder park in search of a Fox Sparrow. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve had a decent view of this species, let alone get a photograph. Heavy rains the night before kept the birds quiet for the first 30 minutes I was there. Then they all started to wake up.

First the Eastern Towhees started to call.

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White-crowned Sparrows were busy feeding in the underbrush, until I “pished” them out.

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Then a White-throated Sparrow joined in.

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But no Fox Sparrow. I grew weary and wandered off to try another location.

IMG_4219Belted Kingfisher

Then I noticed this other birder looking hard at something, but what? I followed his stare and saw some birds in this small tree. One thing I’ve learned from years of birding is to always find out out what others are looking at. Most of the time it could very well be a common bird, but there is is always that one time where it might be something good. My intuition paid off and I was able to get onto this beautiful Fox Sparrow.

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I took loads of pictures, but this one I feel is the best. When I said beautifully marked, I wasn’t kidding. This is a stunning bird.

Sedge Wren

The Sedge Wren ( Cistothorus platensis ) are erratic visitors during the summer, however it’s during autumn when you chances go up spotting this skulking visitor. Found in sedge marshes and wet meadows, this small ( 4.5″ ) skulker is always a challenge to locate. Distinguished from the Marsh Wren ( Cistothorus palustris ) by a small, short bill, while the Marsh Wren is darker in color and more contrast overall, with a solid brown crown, with a longer curved bill. The  two birds can easily be misidentified unless field markings aren’t looked at closely

Yesterday Jon and myself were off to Ellis Lake to track down the LeConte’s Sparrow that’s been seen there for the past several days. We hikes off to a lone patch of stunted Willow trees situated along a low channel that runs the length of a sizable field that splits everything into two. Normally this would be impassable to foot traffic, however during this dry spell we’ve had we were able to walk all the way the Willow stand.

Despite working the area for more than two hours, we never came across the LeConte’s Sparrow, however it was a 8 sparrow day with both Nelson’s Sharp-tailed and Lincoln’s being sighted. Besides the Lincoln and Nelson’s, another treat for the day was the Sedge Wren that we saw several times, usually in the Willow Stand. Always moving and never giving me a clear shot, I was able to click of a couple of acceptable photographs.

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