Tag Archives: Bird Watching

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

“Notes From The Field”

“Oakes Quarry Park”

The present site Oakes Quarry Park was originally a surface mined in 1929 for limestone to make cement by Southwestern Portland Cement Company and Southdown Inc. before it was sold to the Oakes family in the 1990’s. The family finally donated the 190 acre property to the City of Fairborn in 2003. It’s the city’s second largest park with hiking and horse trails that crisscross the ancient limestone fossils exposed by the mining activity that formed the quarry. Through the hard work of the volunteers at the Beaver Creek Wetlands Association, and with funding from Clean Ohio Conservation Fund, they’re now developing prairies and wetlands that were once common in this area.

Since 1988 the Beaver Creel Wetlands Association Controls a series of beautiful parks that stretch from Oakes Quarry to the north, to Creekside Reserve in the south. A few years ago I explored a good many of the 11 parks that make up the Beaver Creek corridor. Oakes Quarry was one of the only ones that eluded me, however it came into my radar a few weeks past when a birder posted some excellent photos of Lark Sparrows taken while visiting Oakes Quarry.

As you know by now I’m a big fan of Sparrows. I think next to Gulls they can be the most problematic for any birder. All we see is a little brown bird, try to ID it,  shrug our shoulders in hopes someone close by can ID it for you. But not so with the Lark Sparrow {Chondestes grammacus}, which by the way is the only member of the Chondestes genus. With it’s distinctive harlequin face pattern  of white, black and chestnut has bright under parts with a central breast spot, much like a American Tree Sparrow, with white edges on the tail.

I arrived at the park around 8:30 and went straight to work. Most of the present sightings I reviewed on eBird indicated that the birds were congregating near the entrance. It was about 45 minutes of walking and re-walking over the same ground when I first noticed 4 birds with obvious white tail edges flocking together, then finally settling down in an area I had explored just a few minutes ago.

I heard one start to sing. It was near, so I crept closer to the sound. I noticed a couple under a stunted Cedar Tree, then I saw the one that was singing. It was in another Ceder Tree to the left of the other birds. Bringing up my bins to get a positive ID, I pulled my camera up and fired off a few quick shots before the birds flew. Very skittish.



IMG_4872This is the exact location and the type of habitat the birds were first discovered. There’s no top soil, just gravel and rocks of various sizes and shapes.




IMG_4876As you can see by the previous photographs this is a very open part with sparse vegetation. If you looked on any range map for the Lark Sparrow you’d notice that the bird is considered a rare visitor to western Ohio. However if you know where to look for them, you can get lucky. For myself I try to locate them at least once a year.

The morning wore on and i was still looking for the the 4 birds I saw earlier. I had returned to the original location when I heard one sing again. By the time I saw the bird it flew into a tree where it continued to sing.


Since there wasn’t much cover to hide behind, sneaking up on this bird was pretty useless. It flew away. But I was determined, and soldered on.

Once again returning to the same area as the first 2 sightings I saw these 2 feeding on the ground.



Despite have some tough views at some very skittish birds, I felt satisfied. I was also hungry and it was an hour drive home.

I will return.

“On The Road”

With a four day weekend and a tank full of gas, my destination for this much anticipated weekend was re-visiting my oldest son in Browns Summit North Carolina. Specifically The Summit Environmental Camp where he’s been working as a environmental educator. If you remember back towards the end of April my wife and I visited and I recalled the wonderful sightings of the Red-headed Woodpeckers at the marsh boardwalk. If you haven’t read it click on the hyperlink, “Haw River State Park, Browns Summit North Carolina”.

This time will probably be my last time visiting this part of the country since my son has taken a new job at a YMCA camp in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts. Despite the fact he’ll be moving further away from us (which totally depresses me) I feel this part of the country fits his personality. The camp is larger with more staff and some good opportunities to take on more responsibilities.

Even though the weekend was all about us having a good time together I still brought along all my gear so  I could return to the boardwalk to search for the Red-headed Woodpeckers. When I told David my plans for the morning he warned me of the biting flies that awaited me on the boardwalk. Taking heed I slowly started to bird around the main complex of buildings before wandering towards the trail that would eventually lead me to the boardwalk. I wasn’t outside more than 3 minutes when I was being buzzed by some flying bug that couldn’t resist getting into my hair and around my face. The more I walked closer to the trail it was joined by more and more flies. At the halfway point it became so unbearable I had to turn around. Besides long pants and a long sleeve shirt, it was necessary to have a mosquito net for your head if you even thought of venturing down to the boardwalk.

Nature conquered me.

However all is not lost. As I returned I heard a very distinct and loud call. A Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea) was skipping from tree to tree tops foraging for food. As it sang I followed till I was under the correct tree. I’d look through the summer foliage of the towering trees till I found it. Then it fly to another tree to continue the whole process over again. Never turning down a challenge to photograph a Tanager, whichever species it is, I set out to find it as it continued to sing away.

At times it was low in the trees, and other times it was high  in the top. My presence didn’t seem to matter to him and getting the best view wasn’t too much of a concern for the bird.


IMG_4850Not wanting to take anything away from the redness of the Northern Cardinal, but the Scarlet Tanager with it’s contrasting colors of the black wings and the red of the body, has such a bold, in your face redness I’ve never seen in any other bird, personally. Now I’m sure there’s some bird in the world with the same coloration that is equal or better than the Scarlet Tanager when it comes to RED, it’s just I’ve yet to see it.

IMG_4851Since it was perched on this branch singing it’s heart out, I wanted to take as many photographs while it was still.

IMG_4860After it left it’s perch it flew to the canopy and snagged this bug, which it consumed. It was kind of cool watching as it dismembered this bug, thinking back to all the bugs that kept me from the boardwalk earlier.


Notes From The Field

Caesar Creek State Nature Preserve

It’s been hot here in the Ohio Valley. Real Hot! The unrelenting sun and the oppressive humidity can take a pleasant activity like bird watching and turn it into a sweaty struggle. And to make matters worse I forgot and took my bug repellent out of the car. However I was determined today, and despite the countless spider webs I walked through Caesar Creek State Nature Preserve is my go to spot for Louisiana Waterthrush.


Located down stream from Caesar Creek Dam this riparian corridor supports all sorts of wildlife as well as a great selection of wildflowers. A 2.25 mile loop trail is by far the best way to experience the gorge with it’s 180 foot cliffs that were cut by glacial actions. On the portion of the trail I’m using this morning the trail parallels the Little Miami River as Sycamore, Hickory, Oak and Beech Trees tower overhead.



IMG_4778About 1/2 mile into my hike the trail closes in on the river, so there’s only a few feet between the trail and water’s edge. This is where I heard the first Louisiana Waterthrush. It sang for countless minutes never showing itself. The purpose of this trip was try to get a decent photograph of the bird, and it looked like it was going to be a harder than expected.

I moved further down the trail, then off trail to a location that always held multiple birds in the past. It’s at this location the river splits and forms a small island where on the quieter side the Waterthrush tend to hang out.

IMG_4780Louisiana Waterthrush return year after year and breed in this area, however this prime spot came up dry and I climbed back off the river bank and make my way back to the main trail and to where I heard them earlier.

IMG_4781Maybe one of my readers can help with a ID for this bug. They were everywhere in the preserve, and I’ve also seen them around my house. If you know what it is leave it in the comments at the end.

As the morning waned into the afternoon it grew hotter and even more humid. Even though I was out of the sun I was drenched with sweat. But I quickly forgot about my own misery when more than Waterthrush started to sing. This time closer.

IMG_4790Spotted him through the leaves just singing away.

IMG_4799He moved which gave me a better view. The one thing I noticed was when they were singing they would hold still. And when they weren’t singing, well… they could be anywhere. They were constantly moving around me and trying to locate them through the trees was really difficult.

One finally lighted across the river from me on a branch down by the water’s edge. Sorry for the poor quality of the photo.


Growing weary of the chase, and irritated of the bugs flying around my face I called it quits for the day around 12:30. As I was walking out a Wood Thrush sang out, which echoed throughout the gorge. I took a deep beath and blew it out. My favorite bird wishing me a good day.

“On The Road”…again, in search of a ghost.

Of all the marshes, in all the refuges, in the entire world, it flew into mine. Well not exactly mine, rather the Federal Government’s refuge. However this particular refuge is Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, a relatively short 2 hour drive due west from Cincinnati near the lovely town of Seymour Indiana. I and Jon are on a mission, a new life bird for me mission.

It’s 3 am Saturday morning, and I’ve been tossing and turning for the last 45 minutes just thinking about our trip today. I finally give in and walk into the kitchen and fire up the coffee maker, a vital resource for these early morning trips. While the urn fills with the wake-up juice I shower and dress for yet another rainy day. At 4 am after a quick breakfast and the gear stored away in the bird-mobile, I’m off to the gas station for a quick splash and dash.

At 4:30 am I arrive at Jon’s house. He was planning on doing the driving today but when i suggested we leave at 4:30 I included the offer to drive to make up for the sleep deprivation Jon was going to experience. I really wanted to get to Muscatatuck as early as possible. My original plan if Jon wasn’t going was to leave the house at 3:30 am. I don’t want to dip on this bird. This bird is a big deal, in a little package.

You see it all started a week ago last Sunday after I got home from my trip to Lake Erie. It was in the evening when Jon texted me and asked if I had checked the Indiana Listserv. It turns out a local Cincinnati birder (who, by the way is a very good birder) heard a Black Rail at Endicott Marsh, which is located inside Muscatatuck NWR.

A BLACK RAIL! One of the most elusive birds in all of North America, is just 2 hours from my house. And despite just being 2 hours away, it seemed to take forever to get there once we pulled away from Jon’s house.

We pulled through the refuge gate at 6:30ish and headed back to Endicott Marsh. During the week building up to this morning I’ve been on Indiana’s Listserv checking multiple times each day waiting for verification that the bird was still there. And each day someone reported that it was, calling from different locations in the marsh. A confirmation on Friday sealed the deal to make the trip early Saturday morning.

We were the first to arrive. The crunch of the gravel under the tires and the Red-winged Blackbirds was the only sound heard as I rummaged in the back seat getting my harness on and attaching my bins and camera. Jon heard the bird first, as usual. It wasn’t the typical “ke-ke-kerr” call we normally associate the Black Rail to. After adjusting my hearing to other sounds other than Red-winged Blackbirds and Sedge Wrens, I heard the bird. This time it was the “ik-ik-ik” call, further out and easily overlooked if you weren’t really listening closely.

IMG_4769Endicott Marsh. From the tree line to the gravel road, to just about where I’m standing is all there is of this marsh. Not very large but home to a Black Rail.

For the next couple of hours we birded around the area, always listening for the Black Rail, hoping it would move closer. Eventually it changed it’s call to the more familiar “ke-ke-kerr”, which gave me a bit of satisfaction knowing beyond a shadow of doubt the bird was there. Tick off another lifer.

IMG_4775I leave you with a very wet Yellow-breasted Chat


Lake Erie Birding Wrap-Up

In the blink of an eye it’s over. 4 1/2 days of some of the best birding at one of the best migrant traps in all the midwest, the shores of Lake Erie in May. This year for the first time we stayed in a cabin at Maumee Bay State Park, and the accommodations were great. There’s something to be said about having your own kitchen and living space with big comfy chairs and couch to help you unwind after a day of birding. Our cabin set next to a pond where you could watch Canadian Geese with their chicks feed in the grass. A beaver glide through the water as warblers called from the thick bushes next to you. At night American Woodcocks would put on display flights as a Screech Owl called off in the distance. We enjoyed our stay so much we made next years reservation for the same cabin right before we left.

But the reason we’re here are for the birds. And the weather conditions couldn’t have been more of a challenge than those days we spent there. We really only had one good day of birding when the temps were warm and the sun was out. The other times it was wet, windy, cool,  and perfect for birding. While others may be waiting in their car for the rain to stop, not me. Throw on my rain jacket and off I go. Saturday was particularly windy, but then the birds come down from the tops of the trees making it easier to see them at eye level.

And as you would expect the boardwalk was packed to the gills. What with festival participants and everyone else, the place easily turned into a human traffic jam at times. And just like you never say “bomb” in a crowded airport, the same holds true if you speak”Mourning Warbler”. You better mean it because the crush of people will be upon you quickly. And this is where being an early riser pays off. Being at the boardwalk well before sun rise has it’s definite advantages. Fewer people makes for easier birding by ear, fewer human traffic jams and giant tripods blocking the way.

And as you’d expect the Auto Tour at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge was open daily with the added treat of having some added loops to drive. MS-5 was open for the first time in a long time. In reality I only remember once when it was open in the autumn several years ago. It was that time I got my “Lifer” Black-bellied Plover, in MS-5. And just north of MS-5 is Pool 3, and I’ve never seen that one open. Bravo to those folks at Ottawa for allowing us to extend our exploring a bit.

So once again it was a fabulous trip, one which I’d highly recommend even if it was for only a day. If I can’t convince you, then maybe some of my crappy pictures will help.

IMG_4592Scarlet Tanager

IMG_4595Blackpoll Warbler

IMG_4600The ever present Yellow Warbler

IMG_4608Magnolia Warbler

IMG_4611Least Flycatcher

IMG_4615Common Yellowthroat

IMG_4623Baby Eastern Screech Owl

IMG_4629A terrible photo of a Prothonotary Warbler

IMG_4635Common Nighthawk

IMG_4636Swainson’s Thrush

IMG_4641Another baby Eastern Screech Owl

IMG_4644Great Blue Heron

IMG_4647White-crowned Sparrow

IMG_4684Blue-headed Vireo

IMG_4688Palm Warbler

IMG_4698Red-eyed Vireo

IMG_4711American Woodcock

IMG_4718Wilson’s Warbler

IMG_4731American Redstart

IMG_4752Chestnut-sided Warbler

IMG_4761Cape May Warbler

IMG_4766Nashville Warbler

Notable birds for the trip includes:

  1. European Starling
  2. Common Grackle
  3. Brown-headed Cowbird
  4. Red-winged Blackbird
  5. American Robin
  6. Swainson’s Thrush
  7. Northern Cardinal
  8. Black-capped Chickadee
  9. Tufted Titmouse
  10. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  11. House Wren
  12. Carolina Wren
  13. Marsh Wren
  14. Gray Catbird
  15. Tree Swallow
  16. Barn Swallow
  17. Bank Swallow
  18. Purple Martin
  19. Chimney Swift
  20. Cliff Swallow
  21. Baltimore Oriole
  22. Orchard Oriole
  23. Belted Kingfisher
  24. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  25. Hairy Woodpecker
  26. Downy Woodpecker
  27. Northern Flicker
  28. Red-tailed Hawk
  29. American Kestrel
  30. Bald Eagle
  31. Cooper’s hawk
  32. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  33. Killdeer
  34. Semipalmated Plover
  35. Black-bellied Plover
  36. Least Sandpiper
  37. Pectoral Sandpiper
  38. Greater Yellowleg
  39. Lesser Yellowleg
  40. Short-billed Dowitcher
  41. Curlew Sandpiper-Lifer
  42. Dunlin
  43. American Woodcock
  44. Trumpeter Swan
  45. Mallard
  46. Blue-winged Teal
  47. Wood Duck
  48. Canada Goose
  49. American Coot
  50. Common Gallinule
  51. Pied-billed Grebe
  52. Great Blue Heron
  53. Great Egret
  54. Wilson’s Phalarope
  55. Double-crested Cormorant
  56. Herring Gull
  57. Ring-billed Gull
  58. Great Black-backed Gull
  59. Caspian Tern
  60. Snowy Egret
  61. Green Heron
  62. Black-crowned Night Heron
  63. Brown Thrasher
  64. Scarlet Tanager
  65. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  66. Indigo Bunting
  67. American Goldfinch
  68. House Sparrow
  69. Field Sparrow
  70. Song Sparrow
  71. Lincoln’s Sparrow
  72. Chipping Sparrow
  73. White-throated Sparrow
  74. White-crowned Sparrow
  75. White-breasted Nuthatch
  76. Barred Owl
  77. Eastern Screech Owl
  78. Great Horned Owl
  79. American Pipit
  80. Whip Poor Will
  81. Sandhill Crane
  82. Turkey Vulture
  83. Sora
  84. House Finch
  85. Eastern Meadowlark
  86. Pigeon
  87. Mourning Dove
  88. Red-eyed Vireo
  89. Philadelphia Vireo
  90. Yellow-throated Vireo
  91. Warbling Vireo
  92. Blue-headed Vireo
  93. Least Flycatcher
  94. Great-crested Flycatcher
  95. Eastern Phoebe
  96. Eastern Wood-Pewee
  97. Willow Flycatcher
  98. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  99. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  100. Eastern Kingbird
  101. Blue Jay
  102. Eastern Bluebird
  103. Northern Mockingbird
  104. Cedar Waxwing
  105. Northern Waterthrush
  106. Common Yellowthroat
  107. Golden-winged Warbler
  108. Canada Warbler
  109. Magnolia Warbler
  110. Chestnut-sided Warbler
  111. Prothonotary Warbler
  112. Nashville Warbler
  113. Tennessee Warbler
  114. Blackpoll Warbler
  115. Black and White Warbler
  116. Black-throated Blue warbler
  117. Black-throated Green Warbler
  118. Yellow Warbler
  119. Hooded Warbler
  120. Kentucky Warbler
  121. Blackburnian Warbler
  122. Cape May Warbler
  123. American Redstart
  124. Orange-crowned Warbler
  125. Northern Parula
  126. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  127. Prairie Warbler
  128. Palm Warbler
  129. Bay-breasted Warbler
  130. Wilson’s Warbler