Tag Archives: Birding

“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.

” On The Road”

With just over 2,700 miles driven, 91 different bird species seen, and with 4 of them being life birds, I’d have to say it certainly was a whirl-wind vacation. And with all good things, it must come to and end and reality rears it’s ugly head in the form up going back to work and all the stress that goes along with it. However I am glad to be home and sleeping in my own bed and not eating in restaurants every night.

Like I said it was a whirl-wind vacation where we visited family, friends, and places we’ve never seen before. And being a type of vacation where we’re not in one location for more than a few days at a time, birding proved to be a challenge. Knowing ahead of time where we were staying helped with locating the best places to bird watch, so planning ahead was really important. Making phone calls and studying web sites proved to be the biggest help.

Our first day of driving was going to be the longest as we drove south to Hattiesburg Mississippi. My 95 year old aunt and uncle live there plus a couple of cousins, so even though it was an exhausting drive I picked up some quality birds.

IMG_1304Boat-tailed Grackles were particularly common as they scavenged the rest stops throughout the south.

IMG_1298Being a rarity in the north, down south the Eurasian-collared Dove was quite common, especially along the Gulf Coast.

From there it was a short drive to Destin Florida where we stayed for another couple of days. It was here I picked up 2 life birds, Snowy Plover located at Gulf Islands National Seashore,

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and Common Ground Dove, which I found at the Ft. Walton land fill north of town.

The location of the Snowy Plovers was furnished to me by a contact through the local chapter of the  Audubon Society. The bridge leading west out of Destin onto Okaloosa Island has a parking lot right where the bridge ends. She told me to walk the beach and keep my eyes open.

IMG_1328Royal Terns were a pretty common sight, as were

IMG_1319Sanderlings

IMG_1334Immature Sandwich Tern

IMG_1336A Willet in the surf.

IMG_1373 Black Skimmers

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IMG_1355As I made my way around the edge this is the scenery I was confronted with. Since the Snowy Plover breeds here, it’s off limits to all and is roped off to keep people out. Except for the waters edge, it was nothing but sand and scrubby grasses.

IMG_1367As I passed my way through to the ocean, I really started to pay attention to where I was walking. Except for a few people fishing back by the parking lot, I had this whole area to myself. As I moved about the beach looking for Snowies, something moved.

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IMG_1382Notice that this particular bird is banded.

IMG_1389A closer looks at the bands they use.

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IMG_1396Knowing how threatened these birds are I didn’t want to keep following them, so I took as many pictures as I could, then I left with another bird ticked off my life list.

After leaving Destin we made our way to Chipley Florida, which is 45 minutes north of Panama City. It was here Kathy’s cousin lived, and our next stop for a couple more days. So the morning of our first full day I drove the 45 minutes to St. Andrews State Park.

IMG_1415A view of one of the larger marshes at the park. One thing I noticed about the state parks in Florida that differ from state parks in Ohio, you have to pay to enter.

IMG_1418Common Gallinule

IMG_1421Trails through the park were well marked and maintained. Low trees and scrubs held a nice diversity of birds, particularly migrating warblers.

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IMG_1442Snowy Egret

After our stay in Chipley was over it was onto our next stop, Hilton Head and one of my favorite places to bird, Fish Haul Creek Park. And as was the case on previous visits, as was now, the Piping Plovers were here. The pictures were terrible, so I apologize.

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IMG_1458Piping Plover

The day was beautiful when I took these pictures, so why are they so bad? The sun was at a bad angle, and it was real windy, which made holding the camera still difficult while using the digital zoom on the camera. They are so small, and far away getting a good shot is difficult.

It was here that I got a hot tip about a good location for Red-cockaded Woodpeckers just an hour away. As much as I wanted to stay here, I wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity like this. So i packed it up and drove they hour or so to Webb Wildlife Management Area in Garnet South Carolina.

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The drive as you pulled in a long, gravel road with mature stands of pines with scrubby undergrowth. Perfect Red-cockaded habitat! Plus the nesting trees had white bands around the tree so you can identify them. All you had to do is find a tree, and look for the nesting hole, which is usually covered on the outside with sap.

IMG_1467Red-cockaded Woodpecker nesting hole.

Unfortunately it’s not nesting time, and the couple of hours spent along the road looking for them was in vain, except for the completely by surprise Bachman’s Sparrow that came into view. About as secretive as they come, I was able to “piss” this out into the open long enough for a good ID.

Now you would think finding yet another life bird I would be satisfied. No, I wanted to see this woodpecker. So I parked the car and made my way down a sand road that criss-crosses the wildlife area.

IMG_1468It was along this road where I’d walk 20 yards and stop and scan. walk another 20 yards and repeat. Over and over again.

Then I spooked a woodpecker off a tree. Flying away from me with black nap and tail, and a ladder back, about the size of a Hairy Woodpecker was my Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Time for the Happy Dance! Life was good.

The drive back was euphoric as was the next day as we walked the beach while Brown Pelicans flew past,

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IMG_1518Laughing Gulls looked for scraps to eat,

IMG_1536and a lone Osprey hunted overhead.

However sometimes when you least expect it a really nice bird presents itself at the most unusual of times. We were shopping and just outside the store was a Palmetto Tree, where a Brown-headed Nuthatch flew into. Having my camera at the time, which is surprise in unto itself, I snapped several pictures of this southern specialty.

IMG_1561Brown-headed Nuthatch

IMG_1569The house we were staying at had a patio, where in the morning several palm Warblers were grabbing up all the worms.

But before this trip was over we had just one more stops to make. And boy was it worth every penny and then some.

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As for the birds, here’s my total trip list:

  1. House Sparrow
  2. Wild Turkey (seen through the kitchen window at Biltmore)
  3. Eastern Bluebird
  4. Red-tailed Hawk
  5. Red-shouldered Hawk
  6. Northern Harrier
  7. American Kestrel
  8. Osprey
  9. Peregrine Falcon
  10. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  11. Cooper’s Hawk
  12. Bald Eagle
  13. Turkey Vulture
  14. Black Vulture
  15. Mourning Dove
  16. Eurasian-collared Dove
  17. Common Ground Dove
  18. Pigeon
  19. Northern Mockingbird
  20. Brown Thrasher
  21. Common Crow
  22. Fish Crow
  23. Blue Jay
  24. Carolina Chickadee
  25. Yellow-billed Cuckoo
  26. Boat-tailed Grackle
  27. Hooded Warbler
  28. American Redstart
  29. Palm Warbler
  30. Magnolia Warbler
  31. Black and White Warbler
  32. Yellow-throated Warbler
  33. Pine Warbler
  34. Scarlet Tanager
  35. Canada Goose
  36. Blue-winged Teal
  37. Carolina Wren
  38. House Wren
  39. Eastern Towhee
  40. White-eyed Vireo
  41. Red-eyed Vireo
  42. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  43. Northern Flicker
  44. Pileated Woodpecker
  45. Downy Woodpecker
  46. Red-headed Woodpecker
  47. Red-cockaded Woodpecker
  48. White-breasted Nuthatch
  49. Brown-headed Nuthatch
  50. Northern cardinal
  51. Tufted Titmouse
  52. Gray Catbird
  53. Barn Swallow
  54. Killdeer
  55. Snowy Plover
  56. Piping Plover
  57. Black-bellied Plover
  58. Brown Pelican
  59. Ring-billed Gull
  60. Laughing Gull
  61. Sanderling
  62. Least Sandpiper
  63. Semipalmated Sandpiper
  64. Ruddy Turnstone
  65. Royal Tern
  66. Caspian Tern
  67. Sandwich Tern
  68. Common Tern
  69. Willet
  70. Black Skimmer
  71. American Oystercatcher
  72. Double-creasted Cormorant
  73. Snowy Egret
  74. Great Egret
  75. Great Blue Heron
  76. Tri-colored Egret
  77. Cattle Egret
  78. Little Blue Heron (white and blue phase)
  79. Coot
  80. Common Gallinule
  81. Pied Billed Grebe
  82. Ruby Throated Hummingbird
  83. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  84. Eastern Phoebe
  85. Belted Kingfisher
  86. White Ibis
  87. Clapper Rail
  88. Bachman’s Sparrow
  89. Red-winged Black Bird
  90. House Finch
  91. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Rare Bird Alert

The Chase

As Fall migration continues on with some outstanding birds reported all over the State of Ohio, as usual us birders in the Southwest corner have to rely on traveling to scope out the better birds. We have a high concentration of birders in the Tri-state area, who know how to use social media with great efficiency. If something unusual is sighted, it’s out on the World Wide Web pretty quickly. So it came as a surprise when I read that a Red-necked Phalarope has been seen on Mirror Lake in Eden Park since Wednesday. WEDNESDAY!

Here’s a photo of Mirror Lake with the Spring House Gazebo. The 186 acre tact of land was purchased from Nicolas Longworth in 1869, which he used as a vineyard. Underneath Mirror Lake is a reservoir, and the top is a concrete lined shallow pond. During the winter when it freezes over people will use it for ice skating. Paved sidewalks all over the park make especially popular with dog walkers and joggers. Which explains why the Phalarope was so approachable.

A park employee noticed the bird a day or so ago from comments made by joggers who observed it during their daily run. So the park employee called a prominent birder in the city. And with that call the whole chain reaction help boost this bird to being our own celebrity.

A pretty small wader at only 7.8″, the Red-necked Phalarope breeds throughout all of the far northern reaches of North America. From Alaska towards Hudson Bay and points Eastward. And on a very rare occasion they will show up in our neck of the woods, as the below photo will attest to.

IMG_1665On August 8th, of 2012 I drove to Lost Bridge to digiscope this Red-necked Phalarope. A life bird for me at the time, this heavily cropped photo is enough to provide a positive ID, and that’s about it.

So yesterday morning while reading Cincinnati Birders facebook page, the sighting reported by birding friend Kathi Hutton that the bird was still there at 0730 was all I needed to get that “twitch” going. So last minutes changes in my plans for the day gave me several hours to drive to the city and find the bird.

Which really wasn’t too difficult considering the crowd of birders and photographers it drew. And considering how approachable the bird was, very photogenic.

IMG_1221I left a little bit of the concrete retaining wall for Mirror Lake in the photo to show how close we were able to get to the bird.

IMG_1279The reason it was so close to the wall. It was feeding as this photo shows.

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IMG_1252For me, this was the money photo. I only wish there was a little more sunshine.

One of the concerns of the group of birders present was the condition of the bird. The bird was able to fly as I was able to witness. However later in the day the thread of Facebook was a birder noticed one of it’s legs was dangling behind as it flew. Now my hope is that it will recuperate while here, then fly away for the Winter.