Tag Archives: Cowan Lake State Park

Notes From The Field

I’ve been sick off and on since Christmas. For the most part it’s been just a head cold, but it seems that as soon as this one clears up, another one takes over. Then to top it off I got bronchitis. With my medical history getting bronchitis is something I don’t get over quickly.

Today the sun came out and the temps shot up to a balmy 45 degrees and i decided I need to get out and do a little birding. I drove to both Caesar Creek and Cowan Lake State Parks to check out the water fowl. And much to my surprise I found good numbers and varieties.

One of my usual stops is Harveysburg Road, but do to the awful winds we’ve been having the road was blocked by a fallen tree.

The ice was breaking up which left some nice pockets of open water for the ducks to congregate in. For the most part the Gulls kept either to the beach area (which was under water due to all the rain) or out on the ice roosting.

I was able to pick out a lone female White-winged Scoter which was the bird of the day, but what really impressed me were the Common Goldeneyes which were doing their courtship display. It would have been nice to get some photos of the birds but they were so far away any pictures we’re out of the question.

But it was while I was at Cowan Lake I noticed a lone Horned Grebe fairly close to shore. They were actively feeding on small fish and I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the Grebe. I must have watched for an hour as I jockeyed for a better position to get a good photo.

Concentrating mostly on water fowl, I’m just listing the different species seen today.

  1. Pied-billed Grebe
  2. Horned Grebe
  3. White-winged Scoter
  4. Hooded Merganser
  5. Red-breasted Merganser
  6. Common Goldeneye
  7. Greater Scaup
  8. Lesser Scaup
  9. Bufflehead
  10. Ring-necked Duck
  11. Ruddy Duck
  12. Redhead
  13. Northern Pintail
  14. Gadwall
  15. Mallard

Notes From The Field

Cowan Lake State Park

Last year about this time I joined the “Cincinnati Birders Meetup Group“, a community based group of like minded people who use the internet to create a web page where activities and outings are promoted and conducted. Pictures can be downloaded, and topics can be discussed through a conventional message board. The group I joined has has all different skill levels in regards to birding, so it’s fun to see new people see their first life bird, or to share birding experiences. Unfortunately the organizer of our group was attending grad school and was a single mother on top of it all, so she had to quit the group leaving doubt as to whether the group would exist or not. They needed an organizer and I didn’t feel like taking on the job. Even though the group was a lot of fun and there were some great people involved, I don’t necessarily need a “group” to go birding.

So I left the group and never gave it another thought till last weekend when I meet Gene Dennis. We birded together with the group prior to me leaving, so it came as a surprise that the group was resurrected, and now has multiple organizers. So he invited me back, and yesterday was my first trip with the group since my return. The individual who organized the trip is also from Maineville, my home town, and we were going to Cowan Lake State Park for some morning birding.

We were to meet at the beach parking lot at 9:00 am, and with the rain we had early in the morning it came as no surprise to see that the expected 13 people who signed up was reduced by half. Which is OK by me. Sometimes when you have a larger group it’s difficult to hear the birds.

The goal for the day was to drive to multiple locations and scope out the lake as much as possible from the limited amount of vantage points you have when driving a car. So naturally we started at the beach on the southern edge of the lake and worked our way towards the east where the park has boat slips set up. And at this location, which I think is one of the best, the lake gets shallower, with more cover for ducks to hide in. This year Cowan Lake had the best waterfowl activity in the area overall during the course of the winter. Usually Caesar Creek is better, but not this year.

IMG_2413Now one might say that the Mallard was the dominate species on the lake yesterday. And I would have to agree, however Lesser Scaup and Ruddy Ducks would probably come in a close 2nd and 3rd.

The rest of the day was spent driving from location to location all around the lake region adding birds to the total day count. And as we traveled together we really started to get along as friends would, with a common bond of birding. Now don’t get this wrong, I’m not devoting my entire free time birding with my Meetup Group, (which isn’t a bad idea) however since this is more of a local group, and we all know how much a like taking road trips, this group might not go along for such ideas except a few. So for now we’ll keep it simple and go on an occasional field trip with them and participate as much as I can.

IMG_2412The problem I find when trying to take a picture of any waterfowl that likes to dive is trying to get a focused picture while the bird is surfaced. It may be blurry but we know that it’s a Horned Grebe.

We ended the day with a nice muddy hike through the woods to a place which offers some great views to shallow east end of the lake. Where the ducks like to hang out. As you enter the woods you’re greeted with the song of the Eastern Towhee, Northern Cardinal, and with glimpses of Kinglets and Butter-Butts. Even with our small group we were able to spook a majority of the Northern Pintails, and both Teal species. A fly-by of a mature Bald Eagle made the day complete.

IMG_2417You know when Spring is in the air when the Red-shouldered Hawks start to eat snakes.

So will I make the next outing organized by my Meetup Group? Probably not, since it’s at the Cincinnati Nature Center, and if you’re not a member it’s $8.00 dollars to get in. I know a thousand places where it’s free and probably take advantage of those before I drop 8 bucks. However this trip to Cowan Lake was a new start, with new friends, with a new group, with the new leadership that I hope helps the group grow.

Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Bald Eagle
  2. Turkey Vulture
  3. Black Vulture
  4. Red-tailed Hawk
  5. Red-shouldered Hawk
  6. American Kestrel
  7. Cooper’s Hawk
  8. Common Crow
  9. Mourning Dove
  10. Rock Dove
  11. Northern Mockingbird
  12. Pileated Woodpecker
  13. Downy Woodpecker
  14. Hairy Woodpecker
  15. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  16. Red-headed Woodpecker
  17. Tufted Titmouse
  18. Carolina Chickadee
  19. Carolina Wren
  20. Eastern Towhee
  21. Northern Cardinal
  22. Eastern Bluebird
  23. White-breasted Nuthatch
  24. Eastern Phoebe
  25. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  26. American Robin
  27. Blue Jay
  28. Red-winged Blackbird
  29. Brown-headed Cowbird
  30. Common Grackle
  31. Killdeer
  32. Tree Swallow
  33. Golden-crowned Kinglet
  34. Eastern Meadowlark
  35. White-throated Sparrow
  36. American Tree Sparrow
  37. Song Sparrow
  38. Belted Kingfisher
  39. Northern Shoveler
  40. Common Coot
  41. Northern Pintail
  42. Lesser Scaup
  43. Bufflehead
  44. Hooded Merganser
  45. Red-breasted Merganser
  46. Horned Grebe
  47. Wood Duck
  48. Ruddy Duck
  49. Ring-billed Gull
  50. Ring-necked Duck
  51. Canada Goose
  52. Gadwall
  53. Blue-winged Teal
  54. Green-winged Teal
  55. American Wigeon
  56. Great Blue Heron
  57. Mallard

Notes From The Field

Caesar Creek State Park, Cowan Lake State Park, Spring Valley Wildlife Area

As I set out from the house at 9:00 am this morning with light snow flurries blowing I recalled the last time I went birding. It’s bee 2 weeks since I set bins to eyes and it was about time I went out. But first things first, the bird mobile had to have an oil change. This was kind of like your child’s first haircut, except this time it was my brand new car getting it’s first oil change. So as I left it in the hands of competent mechanics I strolled the Loveland Bike Trail and did some early birding while I waited. It was a cold morning and only a few birds were kicked up during my 30 minute walk, so it was back to the garage, paying the mechanic, then the long driver towards Wilmington. My first stop was to be the one small lake just on the other side of Wilmington which held so many waterfowl that one time. I was hoping that the ice had melted and opened up the water.

But before I headed north to Wilmington I make a quick stop at Lake Isabella to see if the Great Horned Owl was still in it’s nesting can like years past. This is one spot where you can almost always rely on a Great Horned Owl to be this time of year, and this year was no different.

IMG_2361And this is how I usually see it, just the top of it’s head.

Since I was here I made my way over to the lake where scores of fisherman were and scanned the lake. Hooded Mergansers were all I saw.

IMG_2365Hooded Merganser

45 minutes later I pulled into the miniature golf course and wasn’t at all pleased with what I saw. Practically nothing. A few Coots and Mallards was all I found. Well the day was young and Caesar Creek was just down the road. This winter Caesar Creek has been pretty devoid of good waterfowl and now that migration was starting to reverse itself I was hoping that my luck would improve. My first stop was to be the boat ramp at the campground. From this vantage point a large section of the northern portion of the lake. With the campgrounds closed for the season there was no one in sight as I drove through to the boat ramp right up to the waters edge. As I pulled up I noticed just one small black dot floating on the water directly out from where I was standing. Leveling my spotting scope on it, it turns out to be a lone Red-breasted Merganser.


After leaving the camp grounds I wanted to make my way to the parking lot that the park made at the end of Ward Road. The parking lot has a trail head where after about a 10 minute hike you’re on a bluff overlooking the lake with some spectacular views. The walk in was uneventful with hardly any bird activity to speak of, however I was hoping to see more when I reached this one point on the trail that had the best view. As the trail climbed, so did the wind. By the time I reached where I wanted to be the wind was howling making an already cold day even colder. Then to top it off no birds except a few Canada Geese on the down wind side of an island. Well it was a nice hike all the same, as I started my way back to the bird mobile.

Spring Valley was about a 20 minutes drive away so I made my way over there to see if my luck would change. As I made my way over to Spring Valley I came to the realization that I’ve done more driving than birding. Most of the big lakes just didn’t have anything on them, which in turn made for a short visits. Stop-n-go, in  and out, extend then collapse the legs on the tripod, that’s all I’ve been doing. And Spring Valley was no better when it came to birds, hardly anything.

It was already after 1:00 pm and I was hungry, and with Waynesville right on the way I made a quick pit stop to re-fuel myself before I let out one last time to Cowan Lake, my last stop for the day. After picking up some lunch I was making my way towards Cowan Lake when I passed this old corn field and noticed several large dark shapes foraging in the field. Wild Turkeys. Wild Turkeys are very common in this part of the state so spotting them was no surprise, however I got this wild hair where I wanted to try for a picture. It just so happens there was a turn off where this abandoned out building sat next to the field where the Turkeys were feeding. They sensed my presence and started to move further away. I stayed low as I got out of the car and went around back to open the hatch to retrieve my scope and camera. Even though I got several shots off, most of them were blurry from them moving, however I did manage to snap of this one of a Tom who seemed to be keeping an eye on me, just to make sure I wasn’t a threat to his girls.

IMG_2376Wild Turkey

The drive to Cowan Lake was another long one and with the recent sightings of some decent ducks, hopefully I can spend some quality time actually birding. I like Cowan Lake because it’s not too big and with a good spotting scope you have the ability to see across without too much trouble. There is one area by the lake where you can park and walk right to the edge and this was where I was heading. Much to my delight as I pulled over and got out of the car was the sight of ducks. Lots of them. Why didn’t I come here first. I slowly made my way towards the far end of the lake where it gets shallow and winds it’s way back into a marshy area.

IMG_3723Hundreds of ducks and geese were packed into this area. I know you can’t see it on this picture, but take my word for it, they were there.

The rest of my visit was spent here going back and forth with my spotting scope making sure I saw everything that floated. It was a good day despite the cold and wind.

Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Carolina Wren
  2. Northern Cardinal
  3. Carolina Chickadee
  4. Tufted Titmouose
  5. American Goldfinch
  6. House Sparrow
  7. White-throated Sparrow
  8. American Robin
  9. Blue Jay
  10. Dark-eyed Junco
  11. Mourning Dove
  12. Downy Woodpecker
  13. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  14. Turkey Vulture
  15. Black Vulture
  16. Red-tailed hawk
  17. Red-shouldered hawk
  18. American Kestrel
  19. Great Horned Owl
  20. American Crow
  21. Mallard American Coot
  22. Ring-billed Gull
  23. Killdeer
  24. Canada Goose
  25. Red-breasted Merganser
  26. Hooded Merganser
  27. Eastern Bluebird
  28. White-breasted nuthatch
  29. Wild Turkey
  30. Pigeon
  31. Horned Grebe
  32. Mute Swan
  33. Northern Shoveler
  34. Ruddy Duck
  35. Lesser Scaup
  36. Gadwall
  37. Northern Pintail
  38. American Wigeon
  39. Bufflehead

Notes From The Field

Lever Park, Caesar Creek & Cowan Lake State Park

There are certain unwritten rules that state that men don’t attend bridal showers. Such was the case this last Saturday when our house was the location for my daughter’s upcoming wedding. And how convenient it was that the Ohio Ornithological Society was hosting “Kite Day” at Lever Park in Loveland the same day. As for me the choice was simple as to what I was doing for the day, however my 2 sons were on their own. The only males left in the house were the cat and dog, and the cat hide and the dog was smart and stayed outdoors for the duration.

I left for Lever Park earlier than the time the official event was to start in hopes of catching them roosting. Their were a number of people there already, mostly locals, and of course the Mississippi Kites. The weather was perfect, with blue sky and the sun behind our backs so the Kites were being bathed in bright, morning light.

As shutters were flying on cameras, and the crowd started to pick up in numbers the Kites shifted to offer better views.

I wish I could put all the pictures I took on this blog, however since space is limited, and i have so many more posts to write till the end of the year, I’m just going to stick with these 3.

As the morning wore on the Kites grew restless and took off, never to return to their perch. I stayed for a few minutes talking to some folks and scanning the sky for the Kites. The chatter of a Carolina Wren singing from the post of a deck drew my attention and my camera.

My next stop was Mounds Road access to Caesar Creek. This is my third attempt to photograph the Osprey that has been hanging out in this backwater area. I was being extra careful not to make any noise that would spook the Osprey if it was there. Well I spooked it again, as I watched it fly away never to return.

The mud flats were pretty quiet with not as much activity except for a man and woman wading in the lake with the water up to their chests. No wonder there was hardly any bird activity with these 2 chasing everything off.  The Little Blue Herons left, and only one Great Blue Heron, which is pretty unusual. I guess they don’t like humans intruding in on their feeding grounds.

So I left.

My next stop was a backwater section of Cowan Lake which you can get a pretty good view from the Lotus Grove Nature Trail. A nice walk through the woods will do a world of good for anyone, especially me after seeing those people wading out into Caesar Creek Lake.

It took only about 20 minutes to get to the lake and to look over a sea of Lotus plants choking the whole end of the  lake. A small channel was open for small boats, and with the trees no good views were offered. I was able to PISH out a Swamp Sparrow that looked at me with annoyance before settling back down into the cattails and reeds that extended along the bank of the lake.

Time to hike out and leave. I wanted to get home and at least visit with some of my relatives who came down from Columbus for the shower.

Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Mississippi Kite
  2. Osprey
  3. Great Blue Heron
  4. Green Heron
  5. Belted Kingfisher
  6. Pectoral Sandpiper
  7. Spotted Sandpiper
  8. Least Sandpiper
  9. Solitary Sandpiper
  10. Killdeer
  11. Song Sparrow
  12. Swamp Sparrow
  13. Indigo Bunting
  14. Gray catbird
  15. Eastern Towhee
  16. Downy Woodpecker
  17. Northern Cardinal
  18. Tufted Titmouse
  19. Carolina Chickadee
  20. Carolina wren
  21. Turkey Vulture
  22. Common Crow
  23. White-breasted Nuthatch
  24. Blue Jay

Notes From The Field

Cowan Lake State Park

 Have you ever gone to work on your day off? It happened to me on the Monday that followed our trip to Hilton Head back in October. Well history almost repeated itself, as I forgot that I had taken today and tomorrow off . I had asked for the days off late last year when Kathy and I were planning a short trip to Atlanta for a medical conference that Kathy was going to attend. Well she decided not to go, and I forgot that I asked for the days off. So it came as a surprise when at work yesterday when the charge nurse reminded me that I had a long weekend. SWEET! Let’s go birding.

But first let’s sleep in a little and have that second cup of coffee while lounging around in your soft clothes. Then, when I feel motivated enough,  I’ll hit the road.

I arrived at Cowan Lake a little after 9 am with hopes of re-locating the Eurasian Wigeon that eluded me the last time. My plan was to cover along the Southern edge of the lake from the large picnic pavilion Eastward towards the boat ramp and docks. There were just a few fisherman out and the water was glass smooth upon arrival. With my initial scan I could tell we had some good waterfowl out on the lake. Today could be my lucky day. Driving back and forth along the lake front I would stop, take my scope out and see what I could see.

Male Hooded Merganser and his lady friend.

On one of my loops around I noticed a kettle of Turkey Vultures sunning in a tree by the side of the road. The one that caught my attention was the one with it’s wings out.

I would have loved to have gotten a picture from the front, however I’m sure they would have flown off as soon as I got out of my car.

I had been there for about an hour when skies started to darken and the sound of thunder off in the distance was barely heard. My plans to hike back on Locust Trail to where so many good ducks were was not going to happen. The last place I wanted to get caught in, would be in the middle of the woods in a thunder storm. However there was one more spot I wanted to check out before I left, which offers a good view from a bluff of this small bay near the large picnic pavilion.

One day I’ll get a clear picture of a Belted Kingfisher

While scanning the lake from the bluff I noticed what I thought was a Pied-billed Grebe. So I took a picture of it, and when I got home blew it up, I looked closely at it, and it turned out to be a Horned Grebe.

The red eye was the first clue for a Horned Grebe. But look at the throat, it’s starting to turn reddish with it’s Spring mating coloration. I thought that was pretty cool.

I left the park about 10:30, and it’s a good thing I did. I was just a couple of miles away when the heavens opened up. Still no Eurasian Wigeon.

Notable birds for the morning include:

  1. American Coots
  2. Hooded Merganser
  3. Cooper’s Hawk
  4. American Wigeon
  5. American Crow
  6. Canada Goose
  7. Pied-billed Grebe
  8. Horned Grebe
  9. Bufflehead
  10. Ruddy Duck
  11. Green-winged Teal
  12. Blue-winged Teal
  13. Northern Shoveler
  14. Mallard
  15. Wood Duck
  16. Ring-necked Duck
  17. Northern Cardinal
  18. Tree Swallow
  19. Tufted Titmouse
  20. Carolina Chickadee
  21. Downy Woodpecker
  22. Turkey Vulture
  23. Eastern Towhee
  24. Carolina Wren
  25. Great Blue Heron
  26. Blue Jay
  27. Common Loon
  28. Belted Kingfisher
  29. Song Sparrow
  30. Red-winged Blackbird
  31. Mourning Dove
  32. American Robin

Notes From The Field

Cowan Lake State Park

Despite the lack of 1 hour of sleep, I left the house early this morning as suicidal Robins darted back and forth across my street in search of a mate. I don’t think you can count a bird if it’s splattered across your grill, so driving slowly I made my way North and East towards the lake. At 700 acres the lake is a sailing paradise, with a 10 HP limit on motorized boats it’s not unusual to see the lake full of sailboats because a regatta is going on. Being relatively small compared to Caesar Creek, it’s easier to get around to various vantage points to scope out our elusive bird for the day, a Eurasian Wigeon

For me this is the second time I’ve chased this bird. The first time was at Fernald Preserve earlier in the fall with the help of the site manager allowing Shane Eggleston  and myself the opportunity to drive to an “off limits” spot where we were able to get good views of the Wigeon. Today was different.

The first few stops were the beach and then the boat ramp in the Eastern portion of the lake. From here you’re allowed a free view of the shallow end of the lake and where the Wigeon was first viewed. From what I could make out it was mostly Teal, Shovelers, and Coots. I needed to get across this portion of the lake to get a better view into the shallower end, so back into the bird-mobile for the drive over. This part of the lake is probably the hardest to access, however there is one trail called the Locust Trail that will get you as close as any other place. That was my next stop, after I pulled over and did a quick ID on a raft of Ruddy Ducks.

The trail was muddy for the 20 minute hike to the lake. Eastern Towhees greeted me as I stepped under the canopy of branches just starting to swell from buds aching to burst open. I was alone, and I loved it. It gives you the feeling that everything around you is all yours. For your eyes only. That’s until you run into other birders chasing the same bird as you are.

Northern Pintail

I stayed at the overlook off of Locust Trail for about an hour with no sign of the Eurasian Wigeon. Feeling the need to move to another location, I went hiking back to the parking lot and try my luck at another spot. The morning was waning and I didn’t have a lot of time to bird this  morning. David was home for Spring break and he was leaving today after we had lunch and I wanted to get home and see him off.

I drove over to the campground where they have a boat ramp which offers some panoramic views. For the most part the people fishing scared off most of the ducks out of the middle of the lake, except this lone Common Loon.

There he was, right out in the middle of the lake, totally oblivious to the coming and goings of the fishing boats. I left the boat ramp and made my way over to the cottages that the state rents out. Some of them sit very close to the edge of a bluff overlooking the lake. Setting up my scope and scanning for several minutes, I struck out again. Or did I.

Even dipping on the Eurasian Wigeon doesn’t really matter when you can be out on a beautiful day like today birding.

Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Black Vulture
  2. Turkey Vulture
  3. American Robin
  4. Ruddy Duck
  5. Canada Goose
  6. Common Crow
  7. American Coot
  8. Northern Shoveler
  9. Green-winged Teal
  10. Blue-winged Teal
  11. Hooded Merganser
  12. Mallard
  13. Northern Cardinal
  14. Red-winged Black Bird
  15. Mourning Dove
  16. Dark-eyed Junco
  17. Red Head
  18. Eastern Towhee
  19. American Wigeon
  20. Northern Pintail
  21. Carolina Chickadee
  22. Tufted Titmoouse
  23. Pileated Woodpecker
  24. Downy Woodpecker
  25. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  26. Belted Kingfisher
  27. Bufflehead
  28. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  29. Common Loon
  30. Blue Jay
  31. Horned Grebe
  32. Carolina Wren
  33. White-breasted Nuthatch
  34. Cooper’s Hawk