Tag Archives: Bird Watching

Notes From The Field

It was a cool, overcast morning as I set out this Sunday morning for a little birding. I had my sights set for Gilmore Ponds which would get me home around lunch time after circumnavigating the park. A nice walk-able park with plenty of water and open grassy areas.

Gilmore Ponds butts up against the old Miami-Erie Canal, so it’s low lying nature makes for loads of standing water after a rainy day. Through some terrible decision making by Butler County politicians with little or no conservation mind-set, the park is suffering. It usually boils down to the need of the county and money, and in this situation it’s the parks that suffer. A few years back this park was closed to the public and individuals would sneak on (myself included) for some birding. But’s it’s open now through the passage of recent tax levies, and for the most part everyone is happy.

This is great Eastern Bluebird habitat and I noticed a family busy feeding and setting up house at the various Bluebird houses scattered around the park.

This is also a great park if only for it’s Great Blue Heron rookery. Every year it varies in sizes and the total amount of nests. Usually after violent storms we’ll loss some nests, which is normal, however this year we seem to have plenty.

Gilmore Ponds is also one of my go-to places for Rusty Blackbirds. A few years back Jon and myself were witness to hundreds of Rusty Blackbirds and they foraged along the edges of a flooded wood lot. Now to sort through all the Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles and Starlings can be daunting, I finally came upon about a dozen feeding along the edge of one of the larger ponds. Getting near for a photo proved difficult, but I was able to squeeze off this terrible photograph.

With those yellow eyes it really looks like an angry bird, but  I just love these birds.

On my way back towards the parking lot I came upon a very small pond. No more than 12 feet across this pond must be spring feed because even during dry spells it always has water. As I got closer I noticed flitting about a Eastern Phoebe feeding, my first for the year.

A much better effort.

All told a pretty good effort of only half a day. I recorded 40 plus birds with nothing too surprising. A nice leisurely walk in a park. Just what the doctor ordered for the start of my vacation.

Notes From The Field

Long Branch Farm

For being the first week in February you couldn’t ask for a more beautiful day to take a hike in the woods and do a little casual birding. The sun was rising on a cloudless blue sky with temperatures already above freezing, with highs today to reach in the lower 40’s. Reminiscent of early Spring, than a month and a half left of Winter. A friend of mine showed me a picture of the Crocuses that are ready to bloom. Oh well another Winter without snow.

Today I was off to Long Branch Farm about 7 miles from my house. Donated to the Cincinnati Nature Center in 1973 by Neil McElroy (former CEO of Proctor and Gamble and Secretary of Defense) this 642 acre park has 4 miles of hiking trails, ponds, streams, deciduous forests and fields.


Most of the birds seen today were your typical ones you’d expect to find in an area like this. Song Sparrows were abundant as I wound my way through mowed paths with thick thorny thickets lining both sides.



The trail ran on, then into the woods it went. With temperatures still cool enough overnight, the trails were still frozen with good footing, which helps keep the old boots from being too muddy.


Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmouse, Red-bellied Woodpeckers were everywhere. Occasionally high in the tree tops you’d spy some Golden-crowned Kinglets, but nothing spectacular. Which was fine with me.

Until…something small and dark darted across the path right in front of me. With something this size and coloration I immediately thought Winter Wren. As typical behavior with Winter Wrens they like to stay hidden in the undergrowth, that’s until I was able to “pish” the bird into the open.




For me this was a great bird, considering how elusive they can be. They’re always around if the habitat is right, it’s just being at the right place at the right time.


As I was walking out of the woods I came upon a gravel road with some agricultural fields running adjacent to the road. I caught sight of these 2 Red-tailed Hawks and thought we have a juvenile and a adult just by the clean, lack of distinct streaks on the breast.

I can’t wait till Spring, this place should be hopping with birds.

“Notes From The Field”

It was a frigid 5 degrees under a brightening morning sky when I backed the bird-mobile out of the garage, pointing it north on highway 22/3, and drove towards Caesar Creek State Park. Within 2 minutes I had my first new bird for my January 100 list, a Pileated Woodpecker hammering away on a short tree by the side of the road. I’m hoping this is a good omen.

There’s loads of common birds I still need to check off at Caesars Creek and nearby Spring Valley Wildlife Area. Normally my first stop would be at the Harveysburg Road overlook, but today I made towards the beach in hope of finding the gull flock still on the beach before they disperse to feed. I found the flock without any problems and right in the middle was my Herring Gull. I continued to scan the area for Killdeer and Pipits without any luck.

I drove to various points around the lake scanning for any signs of waterfowl, and if it wasn’t for 2 Pied-billed Grebes the duck decoys left by hunters which was the most numerous thing on the lake. I packed it i and headed over to the visitors center to warm up and check the feeders.

The feeders at the visitors center usually draw your normal birds like Junco’s, Cardinals, Titmouse, and Chickadees. In the winter though for the past several years I’ve had very good luck in spotting Purple Finches at this location. During the Spring and Summer of last year the visitors center went through a large expansion so now they have 2 areas set up with feeders that you can watch from inside.

The visitor center expansion consisted of a long corridor with several offices connecting the original visitor center building to a large conference room. One of these offices along the corridor was open to the back of the building and the feeder area. Taking off my coat and hat I settled into a chair and held vigil.

After about 5 minutes a stunning male flew in.


img_5637I apologize for the poor quality, since I was shooting through a window and the sun was at a low angle.

I love how Peterson describes them in his field guide, “a finch dipped in raspberry sauce”. Despite some peoples confusion between this species and the more common House Finch, once you see a Purple Finch next to a House Finch the difference becomes quite obvious.

The rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent checking out Spring Valley and a few gravel pits. It was during my drive to Spring Valley when I FINALLY spotted 3 large black birds soaring. Pulling off the highway and getting my bins out I saw that they were Black Vultures. All I need now are Turkey Vultures.

My grumbling stomach told me it was time to leave. Driving slowly I noticed a really small bird flitting about low in the branches of a tree by the side of the road. Stopping I got my bins on it to find a Golden-crowned Kinglet. Pulling to the side of the road I grabbed my camera in what I thought would be a futile attempt to get a picture of these ever moving birds.

Luck was on my side today.



New January birds were:

70: Purple Finch

71: Herring Gull

72: Pileated Woodpecker

73: Black Vulture

74: Golden-crowned Kinglet

75: Brown-headed Cowbird

76: Hermit Thrush

77: Cooper’s Hawk

The Return of The “Twitcher”

The Brant, (Branta bernicta) particularly the “Atlantic” sub-species is roughly the size of a Cackling Goose  an breeds in the Eastern Canadian High-Arctic region of North America. During Fall migration they’ll stage in the James Bay area, and continue their southward movement where flocks will be seen at Lake Champlain and from Appalachian hawk watch sites. During the winter they can be found from coastal North Carolina northward to New England. And every now and then one multiple sightings from Northern Ohio, especially along Lake Erie are reported.

For myself this is a semi-nemisis bird. I’ve chased Brants a few times when reports come in from the center of the state but with no luck. And most of the sightings from Lake Erie are of small flocks passing through the state on their way to the coast. And for some reason they just don’t show up in the southern part of Ohio, not that I was expecting any.

Remember rarities are just that…rare.

For the past couple days a Brant was sighted at Mosquito Lake State Park, north of Youngstown. That’s a solid 4 plus hour drive for a bird that could be there one day, and gone the next. Do I chase or not? As tempting as it is, I decided to not chase. Autumn chores needed to be accomplished and it was a beautiful, unseasonably warm day. Kathy and I dove into the yard work and after a few hours we had everything done for the day. Time to relax with an adult beverage. I went to grab my phone which was plugged in and saw I had a text from Jon. There’s a juvenile Brant at Rocky Fork State Park, which is on the other side of Hillsboro Ohio. The original sighting came as a group from the Cincinnati Bird Club were visiting the lake. That’s a little over an hour drive if I hurry.

WHOOOOOOOSH……….. I’m out the door.

My GPS takes me by the most bizarre way but after an hour of driving through farm country I arrive at the lake. It was sighted from the camp ground so I drove through and parked at the far end over by the lake. I grab my spotting scope and start to scan. Loads of gulls, but no Brant or a single goose.

Now there were these large red, round buoys out in the lake and by the looks they were supporting this large cable that was stretched a couple of hundred yards. The cable must have been right under the surface of the water because loads of gulls were perched on it just like they were standing on water. I was scanning along the line of gulls when I saw the Brant.






Now I would have loved for the Brant to be a bit closer without the sun in the wrong direction, but we sometimes have to deal with what we’re given. And for me I was given Life Bird # 445.

West Coast Wrap-up

Well, all good things must come to and end, and as of today this is my last day of a wonderful vacation. But first an apology to all my readers. I had all the right intentions to update my blog during my trip out west except for my earlier post from our stay in Novato California. This trip was a wire to wire, we’re not wasting daylight, itinerary filled trip. By the time Kathy and I finished with our day I was too tired for any writing. So now that I’ve been home for a few days and have time to upload all the pictures taken, it’s high time I do some writing.

The main reason we went on this vacation was for me to finally see a portion of the west coast, and for Kathy to re-visit Olympic National Park. And with 2 weeks at our disposal we started with visiting our nephew in Novato California.

img_4945But first a drive from the airport, through San Francisco, and across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Our nephew was out for the afternoon hiking, so with time on our hands and having checked into our room, we asked for some fun sightseeing things to do at the hotel desk. Not wanting to waste a beautiful day we hit the road, particularly Hwy 1, that scenic but windy road with some great vistas.


It was difficult to pay attention to the road, enjoy the views, and get some birding in all at the same time. As a matter of fact birding was a challenge this whole trip. Back home in Ohio late summer can prove to be pretty non-birdie. Migration has started but not really in full swing. Plus the birds aren’t very vocal, which never helps. Well the same can be said about the west coast. But I wasn’t here for the rarities, I just wanted as many common birds as I could find.

And it started out quick. As we were unloading our rental car at the hotel (Best Western Plus in Novato was beautiful, clean, and highly recommended) I heard a chatter in a clump of trees I’ve never heard before. Acorn Woodpeckers.

As we enjoyed our afternoon drive along Hwy 1 we passed Bolinas Lagoon where we stopped for a moment to check out the mud flats, which were extensive. Long-billed Curlews, Gulls and peeps…and is that a Whimbrel? OMG it’s a WHIMBREL. My nemesis bird is finally ticked off, and so was the bird as I was ready to take it’s picture.


The evening was spent visiting with our nephew and going to a local brewery for dinner. The next day was a work day for him, which left us to explore even more the area. This time we traveled to the Visitors Center at Point Reyes National Seashore where I soon discovered why the California Quail was the state bird, they were everywhere.


img_4977As were Brewer’s Blackbirds…

img_5045California Scrub Jays, Band-tailed Pigeons, and California Towhees.

After we left the visitors center we were off to Point Reyes Lighthouse, where maybe I can pick up some Common Murres and Cormorants.

The drive to the lighthouse was over some very windy roads past historical ranches and sparse vegetation. As we pulled into the parking lot and starting our hike to the lighthouse we were treated to some spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and the coast.


img_5035Point Reyes Lighthouse

It was from the lighthouse where I picked up my lifer Common Murre, Brandt’s and Pelagic Cormorants. Trying to get any photograph proved futile because of the windy conditions. The water was real choppy and it was difficult to hold the camera still.

After our stay in Novato we headed north to Redwood National Park, with our home base in Arcata California, just north of Eureka. All I can say about Northern California is WOW. I can now see why people love it here.

It was while we were on this drive through rolling country past countless vineyards  as any good birder would do is always watch for birds. This morning was no different as I glanced skyward at the Turkey Vultures. After and hour or so I noticed a particularly large bird that wasn’t flying like a Turkey Vulture. As we got nearer I first noticed the white windows on the wing tips, and the uniform darkness of the bird. As luck would have it, a immature Golden Eagle. Sometimes it better to be lucky than good.

img_4360The view of the bay in Trinadad California on our way to Redwood N.P.

img_5075This is just a sample of what I was in store for. Trees of monumental size and girth. If you’re not a lover of trees, than this isn’t the place for you. Pictures don’t do it justice, and the endless photos I have of trees will do nothing more than wet your appetite or bore you.

On one of our hikes were at the Lady Bird Johnson Grove on a walking tour with one of the park rangers. After the tour was over we continued onto another trail which looped back. as we walked Kathy stopped and told me to listen. CHIP…CHIP…CHIP. Skulking around in the thick undergrowth was a MacGillivray’s Warbler. I wasn’t expecting this, but I’ll take it. And just like it’s cousins the Mourning and Connecticut Warbler, it disappeared into the brush.

img_5069I did score on the beautiful Stellar’s Jay.

On the second full day at Redwood N.P. and surrounding areas, I convinced Kathy to a 4 am wake up to head over to Prairie Creek campground. According to eBird this open prairie surrounded by mountains will have fly over Marbled Murrelets as they leave the forests of the Pacific coast on their way to the open ocean to feed.


img_4378I wish it had been this clear while we waited. Coasted fog hung low over the prairie as the sun started to rise. We had waited for over an hour, after having moved to a different parking lot to get a better view. As time wore on I finally spotted one flying low and fast as it came out from under the fog. I wanted a better view. so we waited.

Then we both heard a bird call. But not your normal bird sound, more of a too-too-too-too. I’ve heard this before on the King Ranch in Texas. It called again…too-too-too-too. Has to be a Pygmy Owl…too-too-too-too, it called again a little further away. I hurry for my smart phone to open my Sibley app…too-too-too-too, even further away now. I’m shaking now as I open the call of a Northern Pygmy Owl. Holy Cow… that’s it. Never in a million years would I have thought of ticking off an owl quite like that. There was no way in chasing this bird, nor was I going to try and attract the bird by playing it’s call loudly over my phone, which is against most park regulations concerning wildlife.

img_5060A very cooperative Black Phoebe poses on a beach at Redwood N.P. This photo sure does beat the one I took of a Black Phoebe while in Texas.

I hated leaving such a beautiful place but we had an 8 hour drive as we motored towards Portland Oregon to check out the city. We stayed at a Ramada Inn down by the river, and I would highly recommend this place as well. Plus it’s on the streetcar line which makes getting around really easy.

Our next stop was a small city of Port Angeles Washington on the north coast. For the next 4 days we really packed in activities. After arriving and settling into a below average hotel (Red Lion Inn) we set off on foot to see the water front before dinner. We climber a observation tower that overlooked the harbor and me without my camera, only bins. In the water floated my lifer adult Mew Gull. Go figure.

img_5109The most common gull species was the Glaucous-winged Gull. Another lifer.

The next day we meet up with our guide for the day, Kaiyote Snow. Kaiyote owns her own guide service and has been leading backpacking trips and bird tours for years. She picked us up at 7 am sharp and we were off on our all day adventure. After the introductions our first stop is Hurricane Ridge. Kaiyote was a wealth of information on all the flora and fauna, with a mix of geology thrown in.




Besides the outstanding views the birding wasn’t too bad either. Besides this Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco, I ticked off Chestnut-sided Chickadee and Townsend Warbler


Time to come off the mountain, have a little lunch and plan our next location. As we ate next to the harbor in Port Angeles we sighted a large congregation of Heermann’s Gulls, distant Rhinoceros Auklets, and a few Harlequin Ducks.


After lunch we were off towards the Lake Crescent area. Let me tell you the setting for this historic lodge besides the lake was nothing but spectacular.

img_5143Lake Crescent Lake Lodge

img_5144Cabin row at Lake Crescent


But we weren’t there to check out the accommodations or the scenery, we were there for the American Dipper. This small, solitary bird the color of river rocks, that feeds along fast flowing mountain streams on aquatic insect larvae is probably one of the coolest birds in North America. Kaiyote parks the car next to Crescent lake Lodge as we hike towards Barnes Creek. We start our search at the bridge of Barnes Creek over Hwy. 101 right next to the lodge. Kaiyote was here yesterday scouting the area and saw one in one of the pools. We hike a little further along and stop at another clearing next to the creek. Still no Dipper.

We continued this hike,stop and look for about 30 minutes until I noticed a caught a disturbance of the water. I pulled up and found the bird.

img_5128This birds wasn’t going to cooperate for a photo-bug like me, and continued to feed all the time we were there.

img_5131How could you not love a bird like this.

The day was getting late and we needed to start heading back to Port Angeles, however before Kaiyote dropped us off we went to this small park in town. It was here that I picked up Spotted Towhee and Golden-crowned Sparrow.

img_5155Golden-crowned Sparrowimg_4581Kaiyote and yours truly.

I told Kaiyote that I would give her a free plug for your tour company. So if you’re ever in the area contact and set up a tour. It may seem expensive to some, but for what you get it was so worth it, and would recommend it to any birder. Here’s a link to her website.

Kaiyote Tours

It was a great day. We were tired and hungry. We ate and went to bed early in preparation of our whale watching trip the next day.

It’s a 45-50 minute drive from Port Angeles to Port Townsend Washington where we were pick up our ferry ride to Coupeville on Whidbey Island. Being a very popular ferry reservations need to be made or might miss the boat. And we needed  be at the office of the Island Adventures (name of the whale watching company) an hour before the boat sails.

Well we made it with plenty of time to spare. Enough time we went had breakfast at a local restaurant set up in a small residential home.


 The whole trip was a huge success. We saw plenty of Orcas, 3 pods to be exact, and some lifer birds.

img_5172A unexpected surprise, a Peregrine Falcon.

img_5169Plenty of seals, Brandt’s and Pelagic Cormorants

img_5177Common Murre

img_5175And another one.

img_5359 img_5242 img_5267 img_5270 img_5273 img_5349And plenty of Orcas

img_5364Rhinoceros Auklet

img_5093Black Oystercatcher

It was another long, tiring day. We drove back to Port Townsend and had some dinner at this really small seafood restaurant called Sea J’s. Their fish n chips are off the charts.

The last full day at Olympic N.P. Kathy and I drove to the Hoh rain forest. It wasn’t till we had lunch when I spotted my last lifer for the trip. Gray Jay.

img_4614The weather really cleared up as we passed Lake Crescent


img_5385Gray Jay


On our return to Port Angeles we made one last stop at Sol Duc Falls. A pleasant hike with some great photo rewards.


We left Port Angeles the following morning an drove to Bainbridge Island to catch the ferry to Seattle. We spent several hours touring around Pike Street Market and had lunch at the Chowder House. We finally found our way to the hotel in a suburb and settled down for the long flight home the next day.

It was a special vacation that rates right up there with some of the best I’ve been on. Would I do it again? You bet, with some alterations.

Some of the disappointing moments was not getting any photos of some of the prime birds of the Pacific Northwest, notably the Varied Thrush and Pacific Wren. Being late summer hardly any birds were calling and trying to locate birds in such a tall tree canopy was next to impossible. I saw plenty, just no pictures.

All told I scored 38 new life birds, which isn’t too bad. This brings my life list to 444.

  1. California Scrub Jay
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird
  3. Acorn Woodpecker
  4. California Quail
  5. California Towhee
  6. Spotted Towhee
  7. Mew Gull
  8. Glaucous-winged Gull
  9. Heermann’s Gull
  10. Chestnut-sided Chickadee
  11. Townsend’s Warbler
  12. MacGillivray’s Warbler
  13. Tufted Puffin
  14. Common Murre
  15. Pigeon Guillemot
  16. Marbled Murrette
  17. Rhinoceros Auklet
  18. Red-breasted sapsucker
  19. Northern Pygmy Owl
  20. American Dipper
  21. Golden Eagle
  22. Gray Jay
  23. Stellar’s Jay
  24. Whimbrel
  25. Band-tailed Pigeon
  26. Brewer’s Blackbird
  27. Western Wood Pewee
  28. Pacific Slope Flycatcher
  29. Pelagic Cormorant
  30. Brandt’s Cormorant
  31. Black Oystercatcher
  32. Violet-green Swallow
  33. Vaux’s Swift
  34. Harlequin Duck
  35. Northwestern Crow
  36. Pacific Wren
  37. Varied Thrussh
  38. Golden-crowned Sparrow

Notes From The Field

I needed to get out of the house. Despite the awful heat and humidity that has settled over the Ohio Valley, cabin fever even in the Summer can get to the best of people. However it just wasn’t cabin fever that got me out this morning, there were several reasons. First Jon had my brand new Scopack, which his wife picked up for Jon and myself while vacationing in England a few weeks past. Now I have the ability to carry my spotting scope comfortably on my back, keeping my hands free to use my bins or camera. Pretty sweet.

Second reason is I needed to just meet up with Jon before I go out to the west coast in a couple of weeks, and get a little birding in even during the summer doldrums.

The third reason is a second White Ibis was spotted a few days ago by a couple of top notch birders I know. The first White Ibis was sighted in a park north of Dayton near the airport called Englewood Metropark. My plan was to chase this bird with Jon, but when one was sighted at Gilmore Ponds, just a short 30-40 minute drive from my house, so we chase this one.

A White Ibis is a pretty rare bird for our corner of the world. Not totally unheard of, but pretty rare none the less. The one that was spotted in Dayton sure did get the birding juices flowing but I wasn’t ready to pull the trigger till this weekend if it was still around. So when the Gilmore Pond Ibis was sighted I couldn’t believe the odds in 2 immature White Ibis showing up just an hour apart in the same state. So the chase was on.

I meet Jon at 7:15 this morning an took to the field. As the name implies, Gilmore Ponds is a really nice park with several large ponds, however in these dry conditions with lack of significant rain, finding any water proved to be a little more difficult than previous visits. We wandered the length and breadth of the park finding only one area that held water.

IMG_4891This pond was the only one in the whole park that held any significant water. Other than a lone Belted Kingfisher, there were no other birds.

With the total lack of water we were able to wander freely all over the park in places where you could never walk before. Normally where there was water we walked through ankle, to knee deep vegetation. It was while we were wandering that we noticed a few low areas that was holding onto the only moisture left. We started to see loads of Killdeer. This is encouraging. We walked further out. We came across a small puddle with good shorebirds. Least, Spotted and a Baird’s Sandpiper.


Towards a tree line a low ditch ran along the front. Several Mallards and some Double-creasted cormorants were either resting or feeding. I saw it first.


IMG_4902Despite the terrible photographs, I’ve seen enough of these birds to know that this is the real deal. Immature White Ibis for Ohio is a GREAT bird.

But wait, there’s more to come.

While Jon and I were walking in the furthest parts of the park prior to spotting the Ibis, we noticed through some trees a small body of water that held some ducks. We checked onto Google Maps and located it. This was our next stop.

It was a few minute drive to reach this one road that held several big box industrial buildings. At the far end there was a trucking company which had this small pond adjacent to it. Standing next to the chain link fence we started to scope out the area for anything. After a minute while I was looking up, I noticed 2 Cormorant species flying towards us, Normally this wouldn’t be a big concern since Double-creasted Cormorants are seen frequently, however…..

“Jon, I have 2 Cormorants coming towards us and one of them is smaller than the other”.

“Where are you”

I pointed.

“Got them” he says.

“You got a Neotropic Cormorant”. Which confirms my original thought when I first saw the bird. It was flying with a Double-creasted Cormorant side by side. The difference was obvious. Smaller bird overall. Smaller bill with a longer tail. We follow the bird for 2 minutes before they disappear.

Talk about lightning striking twice. 2 rarities in the same day. eBird isn’t going to believe this.





It’s been a long day.

I’m tired.

Time for a nap.

IMG_4926Parting shot