Tag Archives: Killdeer Plains Wilderness Area

There’s Always A First Time

I’m a pretty avid reader of the ABA Blog, and I always love reading the Rare Bird Report. All those really cool birds that people spot and take photos of that are always in other people’s back yards, never yours. Now one bird I’ve seen reports on through the years was of the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. Usually you read about these birds while folks are birding in Alaska somewhere. Never in a million years would one show up, at least not literally, in my back yard.

This last Saturday my wife and myself were on our way to Detroit to baby sit our Grandson while our daughter and husband ran in the Detroit Marathon on Sunday. While getting settled in on Saturday afternoon I opened up Facebook at the various  birding pages I belong to, and lo and behold, someone spotted a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (ABA Code 3) at Killdeer Plains NWR northwest of Columbus. I’ve birded there before and it’s massive, covering 9,000 acres.

The predicament I was in was that I didn’t have any of my gear. No binoculars, spotting scope, or camera. Why would you carry all this when you’re just going to babysit? The bird stayed around Saturday and Sunday. and as Monday dawned I told my wife we’re taking a side trip to look for the bird. With a bird like this there were going to be plenty of birders that would take pity on me.

When we stopped in Bowling Green to grab some coffee I checked Facebook again, and sure enough the bird was still there. It took another 2 hours to get to Killdeer Plains because everything was pretty much 2 lane roads all the way there.

I found a lady who felt sorry for me and let me look through her scope, and there it was. Life Bird #463

Sorry, no pictures.

“On The Road” # 313

Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area

“Jon, it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack,” was the analogy I used as the day  wore on and still no Northern Shrike, our target bird and lifer for the both of us.

Sitting in a natural basin of poorly drained soil, Killdeer Plains was originally covered in prairie sloughs. Covering more than 9,200 acres with 2/3rd’s in crop and grassland, the remaining is divided equally in woods, shrubby coverts and water. Within the watery areas is 1,000 acres of marsh, which is self-evident as you drive throughout the preserve as water creeps over the edges of the road from flooding marshes.

Leaving town at 5:30 am the drive was uneventful with a mix of good conversation and hot coffee. Our only stop was on the northern part of Columbus for a stop in Kroger’s for bladder relief and picking up a cheap bag of bird seed for “chumming the water”. The roads up to this point were mostly wet from the small amount of snow Columbus received. That’s until we started driving due north and the roads quickly worsened. Snow covered and slick Route 23 was reduced from a 2 lane to a 1 lane highway, and the speed limit of 65 was now crawling barely to 45 mph’s. Plows were out in force scrapping and salting as we crept along not anxious to be one of a handful of cars stuck in the median.

We had some dependable leads on Northern Shrikes, so with copies of their postings and a map of the preserve Jon and myself started our day birding around Killdeer Plains always on the lookout of a Shrike. At one point Jon’s keen eyes spotted what we believed to be a Shrike at one of the locations where one was sighted before. The bird was deep within a bush and with the bad light it was hard to determine if it was one or not. Inching forward we were able to give it a proper ID. Northern Mockingbird. Now pull out your field guides and look up both birds and you’ll see how similar they can be. As much as we wanted to turn it into a Shrike, no dice this time.

This is only my second time here and I love it. Wide open with lots of water and waterfowl.

This is just a small group of Tundra Swans that was on one of the lakes in the eastern part of the preserve which borders CH-68. The picture has this grayness to it because it was snowing at the time. It didn’t snow for very long, but it was a nuisance as you worked to keep the optics cleared of moisture. The snow wasn’t the real issue today, it was the wind. Unrelenting and chilling as it blew constantly at 20 plus mph’s for the whole day.

Jon walking west on the dike that separates the lakes on the right with CH-68 on your left.This dusting of snow was practically gone by the time we left several hours later.

2 Trumpeter Swans on one of the many smaller ponds that dot the landscape. This pond was nice since you could drive right up to the edge and the lot was big enough to accommodate several cars and trucks. Most of the parking lots and pull-offs were on the small side with room for only a couple of cars.

With the morning gone and no Shrike marked off, it was time for lunch. Jon suggested that we park in the lot where Rick Asamoto sighted a Shrike 2 weeks earlier. Sure, why not was my reply as we made our way back. We explored this area earlier in the morning with no luck except for a couple of Red-headed Woodpeckers. We sat in the bird-mobile and had our lunch and continued our vigil for the Shrike. 30 minutes passed with no bird. By this time the sun was trying to come out and I wanted to stretch my legs after my PBJ sandwich and Jon’s homemade guacamole with chips.

The sun was loosening the snow on the trees and you couldn’t help but notice the movement as the snow fell away from the trees. That was the first thing I thought of as I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye as I make one last sweep of the area before we left. AND THERE HE WAS!

Then he looked right at us, then flew away. High-fives all around as we both chalked up another lifer.

The rest of the day was spent re-visiting areas for second looks. We also visited an area which in the past was prime for wintering Long-eared and Saw-whet Owls. However due to the popularity and close proximity to the road owls are pretty hard to come by in this location.

We left the preserve with plenty of time to get home before it got dark and some good memories. Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Bald Eagle
  2. American Kestrel
  3. Northern Harrier
  4. Red-tailed Hawk
  5. Trumpeter Swan
  6. Tundra Swan
  7. Northern Shrike-Lifer
  8. American Tree Sparrow
  9. Blue Jay
  10. Dark-eyed Junco
  11. White-breasted Nuthatch
  12. Redhead
  13. Hooded Merganser
  14. Canada Goose
  15. American Coot
  16. Mallards
  17. Gadwall
  18. Snow Goose
  19. Greater White-fronted Goose
  20. Northern Cardinal
  21. Horned Lark
  22. Great Blue Heron
  23. Belted Kingfisher
  24. Downyy Woodpecker
  25. Northern Flicker
  26. Common Crow
  27. American Robin
  28. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  29. Red-headed Woodpecker
  30. Northern Pintail
  31. Northern Mockingbird
  32. House Sparrow
  33. European Starling
  34. Black Duck

“On The Road”-December 11th, 2010

This road trip was different than previous road trips. Maybe it was the sense of the unknown that created this anxiety. Being a native son of Ohio, you would think that driving to new places wouldn’t phase you. I don’t think visiting new areas is what’s bothering me the most. It’s the traveling from one point to the next that has me worried. Rural Ohio, in parts of the state that I’ve never visited, can be rather difficult to navigate.

As the week wore on, and changes were made to the itinerary, John and myself were able to hammer out a solid plan. John had created a map on Google that was a great help in seeing the route we’re taking. I hate getting lost.  And with that said, I was able to curb my anxiety somewhat prior to us leaving. An added plus was that John had a GPS, which will be a great benefit for getting around.

Phil, John, and myself hit the road about 6:00 am and made good time to our first stop, Killdeer Plains Wilderness Area.

It was an uneventful drive to reach Killdeer Plains. The GPS was able to direct us to the exact spot that John  programed in. A Northern Shrike had been spotted in this area recently, and since neither of us had been there before, why not go.

One of the back roads to Killdeer. It was very cold and the wind was creating a nice wind chill.

Another view of the Killdeer Plains area. As you can see, there isn’t much up here except beautiful farmland. Being so flat doesn’t offer any wind block.

We found the area that we wanted to check out, however there was no sighting of the Shrike. We were able to spot some waterfowl on the only unfrozen  portion of the lake.

View of the frozen lake. The tree line in the background held several Bald Eagles.

If you look closely at this picture, you’ll be able to see a thin black line, right in front of the trees on the lake. That was the only opening of water on the lake that we could see. And the spot where I got my first life bird for the day, a Greater white-fronted Goose.

A view a little more Eastward .

A view of the causeway that separates the 2 lakes, with John in the foreground. This was the area the the Northern Shrike was reported in.

John and Phil as they strolled on the dike that separated the road from the lakes.

We didn’t linger too long at Killdeer, because we had to meet John’s father, David, who came down from Lansing Michigan to join up with us.  We were running a little behind as we left Killdeer, as we made our way to Findley Ohio to a place called Cascade Lake.

This isn’t your conventional lake. It’s a rather deep gravel quarry, hence the reason for no ice. It has steep sides almost all the way around except in a few spots where the Canada Geese were able to walk out.   This is the lake where we spotted my next life bird. A Cackling Goose.

After we left here, it was onto Bluffton Ohio to view the now famous Black-bellied Whistling Duck. It’s been hanging around a small lake called Buckeye Lake, right in the middle of town.

With all the chatter on Ohio Bird about this duck, I naturally thought this was going to be a easy sighting, then move on to the next stop. Oh how wrong we were. We found an unusual duck there, amongst the Canada Geese and Mallards. However upon all of us looking and consulting the field guides that were brought along, we just weren’t buying it. There might have been some field markings that would indict a BBWD to some people, but not to us. If in fact it was the same duck we were looking at that everyone else saw. We just don’t know. We were considering a immature BBWD, however John sent me a picture of one after I got home, and boy it sure is close. I may have to send of an e-mail to Ohio Bird for anyone who might have taken a picture of the duck to see if it’s the same duck we were looking at.

Leaving a little dissapointed, we made our way to the Bluelick Road exit off of I-75 to check out some ponds. There were 3 small ponds, and 1 was frozen over with some domestic ducks on it. The other 2 showed only some mallards and a few Canada Geese.

With the afternoon wearing on, we moved onto our last 3 stops. The first one was in Celina Ohio, to check out some recent sightings of Eurasian Collared Doves that have been hanging around a grain elevator in the heart of town. Other than a few Rock Doves, we struck out again. Onto Mercer Wildlife Area.

A view of a pond from an observation deck near the parking lot. Grand Lake St. Mary’s is in the background past the tree line.

A lone Great Blue Heron on a frozen pond. There is a huge Great Blue Heron rookery at this wildlife area near the lake. With the leaves off the trees, we were able to see their nests easily. As well as more Bald Eagles.  I really liked this area. It had the potential to offered more variety. Besides the thousands of Canada Geese there, we sighted a lone Sandhill Crane land. What a graceful bird. We all were able to add to our life list as we spotted a Ross’s Goose on the ground feeding amongst a bunch of Canada Geese. As we were leaving we saw one more fly in with a flight of Canada’s. It was unfortunate that we had leave. There was a gravel road that went towards the lake with more waterfowl. However with the day waning, we had one more stop to make, St. Mary’s Fish Hatchery.

There really wasn’t much here either, except some more Canada’s and Mallards and a Cackling Goose. After a quick buzz through here we decided to part company with John’s Father.

Phil posing by the bird-mobile.

After this great day, a parting shot of some Canadian Geese flying over to land in a corn field. I had such a great time with some special people. I can’t wait to do it again next year. Hopefully with less ice.

I made a map of the trip with every stop we made listed. However I can’t figure out how to insert in in the post or create a link for you to see it. Once I figure it out I will insert it here and let you know through an addendum.

Here is the list of the birds for the day.

  1. American Robin
  2. Common Crow
  3. Blue Jay
  4. Rock Dove
  5. Sharp Shinned/ Cooper’s Hawk ?
  6. Cooper’s Hawk
  7. Red-tailed Hawk
  8. Mourning Dove
  9. Dark-eyed Junco
  10. Starling
  11. House Sparrow
  12. Northern Cardinal
  13. Tree Sparrow
  14. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  15. Northern Flicker
  16. Rough-legged Hawk
  17. Song Sparrow
  18. Hairy Woodpecker
  19. American Kestrel
  20. Mute Swan
  21. Bald Eagle
  22. Greater White-fronted Goose-Lifer
  23. Canada Goose
  24. Mallard
  25. Gray Catbird
  26. Merlin
  27. Trumpeter Swan
  28. Black Duck
  29. Ring-billed Gull
  30. American Coot
  31. American Wigeon
  32. Hooded Merganser
  33. Pied-billed Grebe
  34. Cackling Goose-Lifer
  35. Ruddy Duck
  36. Ring-necked Pheasant
  37. Downy Woodpecker
  38. White-breasted Nuthatch
  39. Carolina Chickadee
  40. Sandhill Crane
  41. Ross’s Goose-Lifer
  42. Eastern Meadowlark
  43. Northern Harrier