Tag Archives: Deer Creek Wildlife Area

“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.

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“On The Road”

Deer Creek State Park and Wildlife Area

It seems like it’s been forever since I went birding. There are so many conflicting and scheduled appointments that trying to plan anything just a week in advance is next to impossible. And if you’re not out birding then it really becomes difficult to write a blog about birding. However there was always a light at the end of the tunnel.

Case in point, yesterday morning bright and early at 0700 hours. Jon arrives at my house for the 90 minute drive to Deer Creek S.P. and Wildlife Area. Situated in a very rural part of Ohio, this 8,600 + acre park has a lot going for when it comes to birding. Besides the lake and the surrounding wetlands which is ideal for waterfowl birding, you probably know by now from some of my past blog posts that it’s fabulous for those skulking sparrows that inhabit marshy/grassy southern portion close to New Holland Ohio.

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen Jon, so the long drive was perfect for us to catch up and plan our day.  Our thought was to make for the beach first thing and see if any shorebirds might be there before non-birding park visitors arrive.

IMG_1184Overlooking the lake is the lodge at Deer Creek State Park

Jon starts to scan the beach before I get close and tells me that there are Black Terns on the beach. Now this kind of excites me since the only time I’ve seen Black Terns is during the Spring at Metzger Marsh. And this was only at a distance where you see mostly black shapes feeding way out into the marsh. So I hurried back to the car and grabbed my camera (don’t ask me why I left it there) and made my way back towards the edge of the beach where I quickly found the Terns.

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IMG_1187As you can see by these 2 pictures how they’re not in the usual breeding plumage. There were only a few sitting on the beach, but when you scanned over the lake you saw more as they swooped around looking for food.

Deer Creek isn’t your traditional kind of state park. Granted there aren’t a lot of hiking trail in the park, however you are allowed to go anywhere you want. Most of the designated trails (which are few) is in the vicinity of the lodge north of the lake. If you plan on birding anywhere else you either have to bushwhack in, or hope the park has mowed a path through wherever you are.

As we drove from place to place during the morning, it couldn’t help but notice just how lousy birding was. There just wasn’t a lot of birds considering that it’s migration time. We would soon find out the answer as we hiked a park road back towards the wetlands/ grasslands area of the park. A green pick-up truck was driving towards us with a ranger from ODNR (Ohio Department of Natural Resources). Well it seems we came on the worst possible weekend. It was Dove hunting season and opening day for Teal, which would explain all the shotguns going off around us. And if I was a migrating bird this would be one place I’d want to avoid.

IMG_1197There may not have been tons of birds to see, but there were plenty of Leopard Frogs that would scatter from the water holes along the park road.

So with all this hunting going on this changes the complexion of how we go about birding. Do we stay, or do we go? We stayed and did the best we could under the circumstances.

IMG_1198Savannah Sparrow

Despite our best efforts we were becoming more and more frustrated with the lack of birds. And as the morning waned into the afternoon we decided to cut our loses and head back home. And as you reflect on a day like yesterday there is always tomorrow, because a bad day of birding is always better than a good day at work.

Notable birds for the day include:

  1. American Crow
  2. Canada Goose
  3. Mallard
  4. Mourning Dove
  5. Osprey
  6. Red-tailed hawk
  7. American Kestrel
  8. Ring-billed Gull
  9. Black Tern
  10. Turkey Vulture
  11. Black Vulture
  12. Common Yellowthroat
  13. Magnolia Warbler
  14. White-breasted Nuthatch
  15. Scarlet Tanager
  16. Song Sparrow
  17. Savannah Sparrow
  18. Great Egret
  19. Great Blue Heron
  20. Green Heron
  21. Belted Kingfisher
  22. American Goldfinch
  23. Double-creasted Cormorant
  24. Eastern Bluebird
  25. Killdeer
  26. Semipalmated Plover
  27. Horned Lark
  28. Gray Catbird
  29. Eastern Kingbird
  30. House Sparrow
  31. Chipping Sparrow
  32. Northern Flicker
  33. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  34. Downy Woodpecker
  35. Carolina Chickadee
  36. Carolina Wren
  37. Northern Cardinal
  38. Chimney Swift
  39. Willow Flycatcher
  40. Eastern Towhee
  41. Indigo Bunting
  42. Eastern Phoebe
  43. Eastern Wood Pewee
  44. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  45. Northern Mockingbird
  46. Solitary Sandpiper
  47. Warbling Vireo
  48. Barn Swallow
  49. Cedar Waxwing
  50. American Robin

“On The Road”

Deer Creek Wildlife Area & State Park

I fell victim to my own preaching when going out into the field this time of year. Check your dates for hunting. Yesterday Jon and myself found this out as we ventured 55 miles away to Deer Creek Wildlife Area. I’m usually up to date on shotgun season, but I completely forgot about black powder season which was this weekend only. So when we ran into a hunter in the area we wanted to search for those skulking Sparrow species, needless to say we were kind of bummed. So we moved on to another location to give this guy a chance to shoot a deer and move on.

At 4,220 acres this is a massive area of rolling grasslands with pockets of trees and bodies of water of various sizes. We arrived at 8:00 am with hopes of catching either Nelson’s Sharp-tailed and LeConte’s Sparrows while they’re most active. From the location where we parked off a side street in New Holland Ohio, the lay of the grassland spread out in front of us.

IMG_3923A sea of grass as far as the eye could see. This is some of the best sparrow habitat I’ve ever been to. Remember I’ve not been to the wide open expanses of the West, so take into consideration my limited travel.

With the hunter deciding for us to move locations out of consideration we headed north along the road that skirts the western border of the wildlife area. There is a dike that crosses the wildlife area and that was where we parked the car and headed out on foot. we made our way along the earthen dike about 1/2 mile before when we climbed down and followed a run down foot path that led into the brush towards this large body of water. Moving in this direction we were heading back south towards our original destination.

IMG_3920Looking south from where we came in on the north shore. We were happy that the edge of the lake wasn’t too muddy and walking was pretty easy and sure footed.

IMG_3921After coming upon this lake we regretted not bringing along our spotting scopes. This a view looking north from the far southern edge.

We came upon this lake from the north and moved along it’s eastern edge towards the other end. One of most numerous birds on the lake were Tree Swallows. Quite literally there were hundreds of Tree Swallows feeding over the water. As we moved further along we noticed a dead tree that was sitting in the lake close to the edge where the Swallows were roosting. As the sun reflected off the backs of the Swallows they light up like a Christmas Tree.

IMG_3919You have to look real close to see all the Tree Swallows.

We found some pretty good shorebirds, and were pleased to see a Stilt Sandpiper and 2 American Golden Plovers, and both Yellowlegs.

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At the southern end we saw a mowed path that we hoped led us out to the road that we parked the bird-mobile on. Yellow-rumped warblers were everywhere along this stretch as by now they arrived in massive numbers to the area.

After a 30 minute walk we arrived back at the car and made for our original location to hunt for the birds we came here for. As we started to walk in we meet up with Robert Royse who I’ve been in contact with concerning this area. He was leaving the field after photographing several Nelson Sparrows. So they were still being seen, I asked? Yes they were, you just have to be patient.

We moved towards the area in question and finally made our way through 5 foot tall grasses to get to the pot hole. This depression in the earth was holding water with plenty of cat-tails growing along the edge. And growing up to the cat-tails was the tall grass. Moving through this stuff wasn’t easy, and trying to be quiet was impossible.

We moved as close to the cat-tails as possible without falling into the water. Footing was difficult with thick vegetation under foot, which made walking an anxious, always looking down procedure. The last thing anyone wanted was to step into a deep hole and break and ankle.

We’d walk 20 feet and stop and “pish”. Then repeat as we moved along the edge. There was hardly any wind. You’d hear a “chip” note. Catch movement out of the corner of your eye. Just another Swamp Sparrow.

Another slight movement just 6 feet in front of me. I motion to Jon to watch this area. There is a bird moving around, but hidden. It shows itself. Jon whispers “Nelson’s”. I shift to my left one side step. There he is. Classic field marks of a Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow.

Sigh of relief!

We continued to bird the area but never found another Nelson’s Sparrow. With the afternoon wearing on we headed back to the car and headed off towards the beach at the lake. Not really knowing where we were going it took a while to get there. As we approached the beach it appeared to be pretty deserted except for a family. We set up our spotting scopes and scanned the water and the edge of the beach. Other than a few dozen Ring-billed Gulls, the only action were a handful Least sandpipers and 1 Dunlin feeding along the waters edge of the beach.

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We finished off this trip in the lobby of the lodge at the resort enjoying a the days accomplishments over 2 cold beers.

Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Canada Geese
  2. Mallard
  3. Blue-winged teal
  4. Green-winged teal
  5. Pied-billed Grebe
  6. Double-creasted Cormorant
  7. Great Blue Heron
  8. Northern Harrier
  9. American Coot
  10. American Golden Plover
  11. Killdeer
  12. Greater Yellowleg
  13. Lesser Yellowleg
  14. Stilt Sandpiper
  15. Dunlin
  16. Least Sandpiper
  17. Ring-billed Gull
  18. Mourning Dove
  19. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  20. Northern Flicker
  21. Eastern Phoebe
  22. Blue Jay
  23. American Crow
  24. Tree Swallow
  25. Carolina Chickadee
  26. Sedge Wren
  27. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  28. Gray Catbird
  29. Northern Mockingbird
  30. Common Yellowthroat
  31. Palm Warbler
  32. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  33. Eastern towhee
  34. Chipping Sparrow
  35. Field Sparrow
  36. Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow
  37. Song Sparrow
  38. Swamp Sparrow
  39. White-throated Sparrow
  40. White-crowned Sparrow
  41. Northern Cardinal
  42. Red-winged Blackbird
  43. Eastern Meadowlark
  44. Common Grackle
  45. Brown-headed Cowbird
  46. American Goldfinch

“On The Road” # 325

Deer Creek Wildlife Area

When an opportunity to have a day off during the week comes around I normally jump all over it. Besides breaking up the week, this gives me the chance to go birding where I’ve never been before.

Deer Creek Wildlife Area  is about 90 minutes from my house traveling along Rt 22/3 through Morrow, Wilmington, Sabina, Washington Court House and ending in New Holland. All told it was 56 miles from where I live. I’m kind of ashamed to live so close but never having visited before.

The wildlife area totals 4,220 acres and lies just 4 miles south of Mt. Sterling. It was a beautiful, cloudy morning as I set out around 7:00 am in hopes of getting there by 8:30 as the Sun started to brighten up the area. My target birds for the day were LeConte’s and Nelson’s Sparrows. A frequent visitor to this area reported no fewer than 3 LeConte’s in the area of where these cattails grew along side of a dried up pond.

This area is vast with grasslands and small ponds covering this southern most portion of the wildlife area. Walking to where I needed to be took some effort as the ground was very uneven and the thought of causing more injury to my knee kept me looking down all the time.

Where I needed to be to find the LeConte’s took several minutes to walk. This was the area where it was recommended by Robert Royce to look.

This picture was taken from an elevated knoll over looking there area where the LeConte’s and Nelson’s are. The dark area in the middle of the picture is where the water would normally be.

Luck was with me early as I re-located a lone LeConte’s. Making sure I was looking at the correct bird I fired off a few pictures. Thinking that I have documented proof when I reviewed them at home they were all awful. You couldn’t even tell it was a bird. I’m really beginning to hate my camera and I didn’t bring my spotting scope so digiscoping wasn’t even an option.

Anyway for the next several hours I sneaked around looking into all the cattail stands “pishing” to see if I could coax anything out. Mostly everything that reacted to this were either Swamp of Song Sparrows. However I did get a brief look at a Nelson’s Sparrow while it skulked around in some of the thicker parts of the cattails.

As I was beginning my walk back to my truck I noticed another birder approaching. As he came up to me we introduced himself and Adrian and when I told him my name he knew me through my blog. We talked for several minutes as I pointed to out him the area where I had seen the birds as we went our separate ways. My next plan was to go to Caesar Creek to check out the Nature Center for more Red-breasted Nuthatches, but by the time I reached the truck my knee told me it was time to go home.

Notable birds for the day include:

  1. LeConte’s Sparrow-Lifer
  2. Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow
  3. Swamp Sparrow
  4. Field Sparrow
  5. Song Sparrow
  6. Northern Harrier
  7. Turkey Vulture
  8. American Robin
  9. Northern Flicker
  10. Killdeer
  11. Red-winged Blackbird
  12. Eastern Meadowlark
  13. American Goldfinch
  14. Canada Goose
  15. Palm Warbler
  16. Yellow-rumped warbler
  17. American Crow