Tag Archives: Birding

Notes From The Field

So refresh my memory. Is it March comes in like a Lion, and goes out like a Lamb. Or is it the other way around. With several hours yesterday morning do get some birding in, it was a biting cold that greeted me this late March morning. Despite the warming sun as we precede into Spring, I’m getting pretty tired of bundling up before going out. With limited hours I wanted to head on over to Gilmore Ponds to check on the expectant Great Horned Owls. If only I had a few more hours I would have checked out a few more places along the way for more migrants heading back. But I was pretty happy with what I can get these days. All the moisture in the ground was frozen, and the standing water scattered throughout had a skim of ice which reflected and sparkled from the rising sun. I took my spotting scope so if need be I could keep my distance. I forgot to bring my gloves and my hands froze of the metal legs as I hiked towards the nest. About 50 yards from the nest I set up the scope and started to scan the nesting tree. I found it occupied by one of the adults, and as a added bonus I noticed the other adult 20 feet away perched on a lower branch on the back side of a tree.

IMG_2200Since both sexes share responsibilities for sitting on the nest I don’t know which is which unless they’re next to each other. In this photo which was at a difficult angle the Owl was hunkered down in the nest so I could only see the top of it’s head.

IMG_2195Not a very clear shot as I needed to jockey to get into position to shoot between branches.

Not wanting to over extend my welcome I soon left and wandered around a little bit ticking off more and more birds. Gilmore Ponds is one of those little used parks since it’s more geared for nature lovers and not children, so I had the whole place to myself. It was a really enjoyable morning with some pretty decent birds. And even though the edges of the ponds were covered with ice, there was enough open water for some ducks. This is where the spotting scope comes in handy.

IMG_2194Carolina Wren

IMG_2204A very cooperative Song Sparrow

As I try to improve by photographic skills I’m trying to remember to take my ISO setting off of “auto mode” and setting at a lower number like 200 to bring out more detail in the birds. I did this with the Northern Flicker, and it really shows in the end result.

IMG_2218Norther Flicker

Birds for the day include:

  1. Turkey Vulture
  2. Red-shouldered Hawk
  3. Red-tailed Hawk
  4. Cooper’s Hawk
  5. American Woodcock
  6. Downy Woodpecker
  7. Northern Flicker
  8. Sandhill Crane
  9. Great Blue Heron
  10. Red-winged Black Bird
  11. Brown-headed Cowbird
  12. Common Grackle
  13. Great Horned Owl
  14. Golden-crowned Kinglet
  15. Eastern Bluebird
  16. Eastern Phoebe
  17. Song Sparrow
  18. Blue Jay
  19. American Robin
  20. House Finch
  21. White-breasted Nuthatch
  22. American Coot
  23. Blue-winged Teal
  24. Green-winged Teal
  25. Wood Duck
  26. Mallard
  27. Ring-necked Duck
  28. Red Head
  29. American Wigeon
  30. Northern Shoveler
  31. Pied-billed Grebe
  32. Tree Swallow

Notes From The Field

Wednesday evening my oldest son and myself had to get out of the house and do a bit of exploring. Which in simpler terms means “let’s go out and do a bit of walking and do some birding while we’re at it”. And one of my favorite spots is Gilmore Ponds which is a part of the Butler County Metroparks system. This park naturally sits in a low area of Butler County. Which explains why they built a section of the Miami-Erie Canal along the present day northern border of the park. And with the park being situated in a pretty wet area the waterfowl can be real good, but tonight we’re owl hunting.

A good tip from a fellow birder gave me an idea where a nesting Great Horned Owl was located. And since everyone I know loves owls, I couldn’t resist the temptation. Great Horned Owls mate for life, but they will stay with their mate only during breeding season. They mate by December and often use nests from other large birds. They may also use cavities in trees, cliffs, buildings, etc.  The female lays 1-5 eggs and incubates the eggs for about 30-37 days. The male feeds the female and protects the nest by attacking intruders.   After the young hatch they are fed by both parents are brooded for another 2 weeks.  The young are very active and will venture out onto the tree limbs, but remain close by in order to be fed.  They fledge at 45-55 days.

IMG_2177If looks could kill

Now with the owl nest secured away, repeat visits will be in order. If this truly is an active nest we’ll soon see some young ones, and hopefully get some photos.

“On The Road”

Deer Creek State Park

During this Thanksgiving season most people will spent time with family and friends, and there are a few unlucky ones who have to work on the day after Thanksgiving. Myself included as one who had to work. However when I finally got home it was a festive time as my daughter and son-in-law were down from Michigan and we were going out to do some window shopping as we have done for countless years. But it seems that a few individuals were content with the simple things, like birding. That’s what Robert Royce did, he went birding at Deer Creek State Park. Robs name is quite familiar to anyone who’s watched any social networking websites in Ohio. He is pretty much the authority on birding at Deer Creek, and it was him who was out on Black Friday while the rest of us either worked or contributed to the economy.

On a day like last Friday I was too busy to check any of the birding web sites or Facebook pages. It wasn’t till Saturday morning when I finally got onto the computer that I noticed a super sighting at Deer Creek. And as usual it’s Robs posting that got that old twitch acting up. He had a Black-legged Kittiwake at close range, and the picture he took was nothing but phenomenal. Here’s a bird that I normally hear about sighted up on Lake Erie sporadically during the Winter, not in south central Ohio.

Well as you can imagine I was glued to the computer Saturday as there was no way I could go that day. My daughter was coming over for the day and there are somethings that take priority, like this. I also had chores that had to be taken care of and now that my oldest son is moving back till his A.T. hike, I needed to move furniture from one bedroom to another. But I always kept an eye on social media for the Kittiwake.

A late afternoon posting came through and that’s when I made the decision to go this morning early so as to get there when the sun came up. Jon was going as well, but due to circumstances he never made it, so at 6:30 I was on my way. I’ve been to Deer Creek a number of times but to this area north of the lake where the the actual Deer Creek empties into the lake. It’s not a particularly long drive, just 90 minutes or so, but during the drive I had this anxious feeling that I was going to dip on this bird.

After an hour of highway driving I exited and drove the remaining miles through farm country and the small town of Mt. Sterling. I found the road that put me at the exact location where the Kittiwake has been seen for the past few days. There are a few rocks in the water where it’s suppose to like to roost, which I found with no problem since they were covered with bird poop. No bird except for a scattering of Ring-billed a few hundred yards towards the lake.

I made the decision to drive to the beach to see if it was roosting there (which gulls do during the night). There was about a dozen Ring-billed on the beach, but there were hundreds and hundreds either flying off shore or floating on the lake. Not wanting to stay and scan at all these birds, my thought was that the Kittiwake was now up and wanting to feed and return to it’s favorite roost, which he’s done for the past days.

As I returned to my previous place I noticed another car and stopped to talk to the driver. He told me he’s from Columbus but was up in Cleveland this morning and drove down to tick off his nemesis bird. So we waited and scanned towards the lake thinking that’s the direction he’ll come from if my theory was correct.

And it was!

IMG_1682The bird was coming in low over the mudflats since the lake level is really low for the winter. The first thing I had to look for was the darker leading edge of the wings and the black crescent patch on the neck. So far it looked good. By now there were more people there and we all got on the bird as it passed right in front of us.

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IMG_1689This view you’re able to see the leading edge and how dark they are. Also a nice look at the black patch on the head. This is a juvenile bird.

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IMG_1697In this shot I wanted to capture the pattern on the back of the bird and how beautiful it is, however not being skilled in action photography this picture is lacking in quality, but you get the idea.

And just like clock work he flew past us all right to the area he was originally discovered and started to fish in a deeper pool several hundred yards up stream. Thinking he was going to land I jumped back into the bird-mobile and drove back. I watched it through the trees as it flew about, swooping near the water like it was going to catch a fish.

IMG_1705It touched down for a short time on the water before taking off again.

It checked it’s wings and lighted softly on one to the pooped upon rocks and settled down. I crept slowly forward…

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IMG_1723And this is how I left the Kittiwake as I pulled away with another life bird. All I can say thank goodness for adolescent behavior, because an adult Kittiwake would probably never be anywhere near a lake in the middle of Ohio.

Notes From The Field

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Sunday morning started out and finished unseasonably warm with the usual gray, overcast sky. How perfect, I’ll go to Caesar Creek for a little birding before the afternoon rain arrives. I’ll hit the usual spots like the nature center, beach, North Pool Boat Ramp, and always Harveysburg Road. Sometimes it’s nice to do some casual birding where you don’t have to take along more than what’s necessary, bins, camera, and spotting scope.

Winds were rather light considering how it normally is this time of year, so despite the light chop on the lake waterfowl was almost nonexistent. That could also be said for other people as well. The entire time I was there I saw only one boat out with 2 guys fishing. That was it! The gate going back to the nature center was locked (which I’ve never seen before), so I parked at the entrance and walked back. The beach was empty. Not even a dog walker. Even the large flock of Gulls that roost at the beach was down to a dozen or so of Herring, Ring-billed, and Bonaparte’s.

IMG_1661 Bonaparte’s Gull

Now if I had more time I would have gone to so many more places to pad my day list, however cleaning out my basement, and finishing up some necessary yard work had taken precedent over birding this day.

Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Black Vulture
  2. Turkey Vulture
  3. Red-shouldered Hawk
  4. Red-tailed Hawk
  5. Ring-billed Gull
  6. Herring Gull
  7. Bonaparte’s Gull
  8. Horned grebe
  9. Common Loon
  10. Northern Cardinal
  11. Dark-eyed Junco
  12. Tufted Titmouse
  13. Carolina Chickadee
  14. American Goldfinch
  15. Common Crow
  16. Mourning Dove
  17. Pigeon
  18. American Robin
  19. Song Sparrow
  20. Northern Flicker
  21. Pileated Woodpecker
  22. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  23. Blue Jay
  24. American Coot
  25. Eastern Bluebird
  26. Canada Goose
  27. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  28. White-breasted Nuthatch
  29. Horned Lark

“On The Road”

Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge

Yesterday started out like most late fall mornings, gray and overcast with a forecast of snow flurries throughout most of Ohio. However the weather wasn’t going to stop my last trip to the coast of Lake Erie with my best friend Phil do get in a little birding. But this wasn’t just any birding adventure, we had planned this trip around the last auto tour that the refuge was having for the year. And despite how many times I’ve driven or walked over these same gravel roads and trails, I always look forward with much anticipation my time there. And this time it was the latest in the year I’ve been there. On other occasions I’ve gone on the October one, but things came up and the November date was the one we settled on.

Phil and myself hit the road promptly at 7 o’clock am with a good 3 1/2 to 4 hour drive depending on how traffic was this quiet Sunday morning. Well it was a great drive up. We chatted, listened to my I-Pod and counted Red-tailed Hawks as they surveyed the open farm land of central Ohio. We made one pit stop before getting of at the exit just after Bowling Green Ohio, and started working our way East and North towards the lake. Now you’re really in farm country as you substitute big rigs on the interstate, with extra wide tractors as they move about the back roads. But in spite of the moving farm implements, it’s better to go this way then work my way through Toledo, even on a Sunday morning.

When we pulled into the visitors center for one last pit stop before we started the auto tour, it couldn’t help but notice the lack of people. Sure there were a few stalwart individuals like ourselves, but I really was expecting more than we actually saw.

IMG_1595This was pretty much how the day looked. A real blessing was that the wind was pretty quiet for being so close to the lake.

As we drove we couldn’t help but notice our way was blocked by this grounded murmuration of Starlings.

IMG_1597And as you crept closer they finally took off. Despite my disgust of these birds on a whole, I will admit that when they form into a huge bio-mass it is a sight to behold. Just as long as they don’t poop on the car.

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As you visit Ottawa during the different seasons you can’t but notice the diversity of birds that come here all through the year. Granted Spring time is exciting what with all the migrating Warblers and other song birds, but Fall and Winter can be just as much fun as duck and other waterfowl fill all the unfrozen water.

IMG_1616Impoundments like this one held thousands of different waterfowl, from Gadwall. American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, to American Coots.

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However one of the real treats were the Swans, particularly the Tundra Swans which were plentiful. It seemed where there was any open water there were Swans. Which is pretty fantastic since they are such a massive bird to begin with, and just so cool to watch.

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As a bird watcher have you ever been out birding and wondered why you haven’t seen this particular bird? Could it be because we were driving we missed certain species? Absolutely. But one particular bird was missing from the whole day. Normally found this time of year feeding along the edges of a road, and scattering when you approach with a flash of white of their tails. Juncos! However there were plenty of Tree Sparrows to make up the difference as these 2 approachable fellas will tell you.

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And anytime you visit up here remember to keep your head on a swivel and always try to look up every now and then. Bald Eagles were plentiful as usual, and a real treat was a hovering Rough-legged Hawk looking for dinner. A cruisin’ Merlin over the causeway going to Magee Marsh is always a good sighting. But until you experience the “chortle” of Sandhill Cranes as they come in to land, or as they pass overhead, you’ve missed a magical moment.

IMG_1602We didn’t see loads of Sandhills, but you don’t have to, to enjoy their beauty.

IMG_1624Tundra Swans on the wing. Poor photo. I really struggled with the camera today.

As we finished up the auto tour, and before we headed off to port Clinton for a bite to eat, we made our way over to Magee Marsh for a quick stroll around. As we pulled into a near empty parking lot I can’t help but look back at the time i was here in the Spring time when parking was at a premium, and the boardwalk was, pardon my vulgarity, “nut-to-butt”. Then as we walked out there yesterday afternoon we’re greeted with emptiness.

IMG_1627On any other day in the Spring this section will be a mass of humanity, now the only thing that was moving was a lone Downy Woodpecker. It seemed that the whole boardwalk was sleeping. Waiting for the arrival of warmer weather and migration.

As we drove out of the park we pulled over to scan this lake Phil had seen something on. As he looked in one direction, I looked the other and found a nice flock of Rusty Blackbirds, my new favorite bird. As they change into their non-breeding plumage, they take on this nice brown coloration that is almost nicer than their breeding colors.

IMG_1628I really tried to get a little closer so I wouldn’t have to use my digital zoom for a better quality picture, but they were a skittish bird and not easily approachable.

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So we left Magee Marsh behind and made our way to Port Clinton to one of our favorite fish restaurants, the Jolly Roger and some incredible Perch (the Perch Tacos were great) right from Lake Erie.

It was during our return trip back home when the weather turned ugly in a big way. Construction, coupled with too much traffic, with a heaping amount of snow, made for some interesting driving. Now there’s a kind of stress I can do without, especially when I have to go to work the next day. But we made it back safe and sound with a pretty nice list for the day.

  1. Bald Eagle
  2. Rough-legged Hawk
  3. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  4. Cooper’s Hawk
  5. Red-tailed Hawk
  6. Merlin
  7. American Kestrel (probable)
  8. Northern Harrier
  9. Pigeon
  10. Mourning Dove
  11. European Starling
  12. Northern Cardinal
  13. White-throated Sparrow
  14. Fox Sparrow
  15. American Tree Sparrow
  16. House Sparrow
  17. Red-winged Blackbird
  18. Common Grackle
  19. Rusty Blackbird
  20. Sandhill Crane
  21. Tundra Swan
  22. Great Blue Heron
  23. Mallard
  24. American Coot
  25. Gadwall
  26. American Wigeon
  27. Northern Pintail
  28. Bufflehead
  29. Northern Shoveler
  30. Ruddy Duck
  31. Canada Goose
  32. Cackling Goose
  33. Common Crow
  34. Ring-billed Gull
  35. Herring Gull
  36. Bonaparte’s Gull
  37. American Goldfinch
  38. Blue Jay
  39. Northern Flicker
  40. Downy Woodpecker
  41. Red-bellied Woodpecker

Notes From The Field

Sparrows, those pesky little brown birds that can give even the best birder fits. They can either be the most commonly seen bird, or the highly secretive. They can be as small as a Henslow’s Sparrow at 5″, or as large as the Harris Sparrow at 7 1/2″. We reference our field guides for sparrow by whether they have streaks of not. We deduce by the habitat we’re in on which type of sparrow might be there at any given time. But, no matter how you look at the sparrow they can be one of the best challenges a birder can face when you’re out in the field.

It’s Autumn here in the Ohio valley, and with the change of the season it’s also time for two of the toughest sparrows to find. From the Ammodramus family comes the Nelson’s and LeConte’s Sparrow. I’ve had some pretty good luck here at the Shaker Trace Wetlands of Miami Whitewater Forest but with just one of these birds, and that would be the Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow. And just this last May I was able to sneak up on this individual right off the paved bike trail.

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Sadly this last Saturday I wasn’t as lucky. A weather front was pushing through and the wind was up. Hearing became extremely difficult as the wind whistled by your ears as you strained to hear anything similar to a “chip” note. Hours were spent traversing through the recently mowed paths that criss-crossed the wetlands. Ammodramus Sparrows were not to be seen today.

But it’s never really a bad day when you’re out in the field birding. With that said the Swamp Sparrows were giving me fits as I jockeyed around trying to get a decent picture of these jittery birds. Considering the habitat they live in they’re almost as secretive as Nelson’s and LeConte’s Sparrows.

IMG_1574You see, this is the kind of looked I had to deal with when getting a photo of these Swamp Sparrows.

IMG_1577I was delighted when this White-throated Sparrow lighted long enough for me to fumble my camera out to get this shot.

IMG_1583And with the coming of cooler temperatures, the arrival of White-crowned Sparrows is as inevitable as Christmas. Masses flocked the tall vegetation along the trails, and always just one step ahead of me. Fortunately for me this little fella stayed put long enough for me to focus through the sticks and snap off a picture.

So as Autumn creeps closer to Winter, now is a great time to get out and go looking for skulking, secretive little brown jobs, Sparrows.