Tag Archives: Miami White Water Forest

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.


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.


Notes From The Field/ Rare Birds Alert

Even though I birded my eyeballs out while up at Lake Erie earlier this week, I couldn’t help myself to hit the road yesterday and pick up 3 very tough birds for the Tri-state area. Now don’t take this the wrong way however, birding up on the lake can be ridiculously easy and not very challenging when they can be only feet away from you. I was yearning for a couple of birds that are normally here in the area in sparse numbers and in only a few locations.

The first birds is a Bell’s Vireo. Last year there was not mention of one being here even after several efforts by some notable birds searching in the birds normal haunts. So when I read that the bird was back at Smith Tract on Kilby Road, I knew that was where I was heading yesterday. I really wanted to get a picture of this infamous skulker of dense thickets.

After arriving at 8 am I started my search in and around the storage barn located on the property. With the Bell’s Vireo you don’t look for the physical bird per se. You listen for it’s distinct call, then try to spot it. Trying to discern it’s call out of the Red-winged Black Birds, and Gray Catbirds was proving to be dificult, since they to have those raspy kind of calls that might mimic a Bell’s call.

Well after 30 minutes I was able to find the bird and follow it along this line of trees. Only a couple of times I was able to get my bins on it for a positive ID, but no photo. They are that reclusive. Satisfied, I moved onto Shaker Trace Wetlands at Miami Whitewater Forest for one of my favorite birds. Henslow Sparrow.

Last year I had great luck with these birds at this area of the park. a few of them would call so close to the road that I was able to digiscope one. Shaker Trace Wetlands has a paved bike trail that runs through the center of it, with a mowed path that can be used for horses that travels parallel to the paved path.

They to have a very distinctive, “HIC-CUP” style of call, that help in locating them in this vast open grassland. Making my way out to the “farm road” along the mowed path, I spooked up a very small sparrow that was hiding in the taller grass at the edge. It flew like a “Ammodramus” species of sparrow, low to the ground and kind of erratic. It flew across the paved bike path into the field on the other side. I got my bins on it and saw the tell tale ocher coloration on the face. Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow? I’ve seen them in the Autumn time, but not in the Spring. It soon disappeared into the grass like they normally do.

I worked the area pretty well with no signs of any Henslow’s. That was until I started to head back to leave. 2 of them calling from the tops of some short stubby bushes. The distance was too far for any picture, however just to able to see them is satisfying enough.

I continued to make my way back to the car, walking on the mowed path again when I kicked up yet another small Sparrow, which flew to the other side of the paved path again. Was this the same bird as before? This time it was out into the open, more or less. So I crept closer, ever so slowly.

IMG_0537Check out the coloration on the face and the fine streaking on the flanks. Nelson’s Sparrow, a very cool bird.


A little close, unfortunately with a stick across it’s face.

With it closing in on 1 pm I had to pull the plug on this great day of birding. I found my 2 target birds, with a bonus one. So as I strolled back I was able to get a few photos of some birds along the way.

IMG_0544A Black-billed Cuckoo is always a good bird to spot.

IMG_0552I’ve never had a lot of luck photographing Cedar Waxwings, but this one is pretty good.

IMG_0558I love this shot of a Common Yellowthroat.

P.S.    As for my pictures from my Lake Erie trip, I will start posting a few at a time as I get them through the editing process. With a couple of hundred pictures to sift through this is a time consuming chore that my take a few days. So thanks for your patience.

Notes From The Field

Lost Bridge, Oxbow, Shaker Trace Wetlands, & Cincinnati Zoo Wetlands

As with all skills you learn the more you use these skills the better you’re going to become. And if you don’t use these skills don’t be surprised that sometimes even the simplest task becomes difficult. The same can be said about birding. With everything going on right now the chance to go birding has been rather elusive.

Spring was rather a bust when it comes to shorebirds in this part of Ohio, so Jon and myself were due for an all day shorebird hunt. And it started this last Wednesday when Jon called and wanted to see if I’d join him at the Cincinnati Zoo Wetlands. Migration is in full swing and with nothing better to do that evening I said yes.

Having been there a number of times I’ve usually birded from the side of the road well off the edge so drivers can see me. However with all the vegetation growth it’s no longer feasible to see the water and the mudflats that border the edge. So we walked to higher ground for a better look.

IMG_2880 IMG_2879As you can see from these 2 pictures that it’s pretty flat and this rise in the ground offers a look down onto the only body of water with sizable mudflats. And the birds were plentiful.

There were plenty of shorebirds as we started to scan from our high ground. Killdeers were by far the most numerous shorebird, followed by Least Sandpipers. Both Semipalmated Plovers and Sandpipers were present along with Solitary and Pectoral Sandpipers. Throw in a few Lesser Yellowlegs and you get the picture of what we were seeing.

Today however we decided to do a Western Hamilton county trip and hit some of the best spots recently for shorebirds. The funny thing was that no one told the shorebirds to be there as well.

Starting at Lost Bridge and areas in the same vicinity we were pretty much skunked. There was a Lesser Yellowleg here. A Least Sandpiper there. But nothing you could sink your teeth into. The same area that was giving us Buff-breasted and Upland Sandpipers was empty. So we moved to another location, which ended with the same result. So we drove from Lost Bridge, to the Oxbow, then to Shaker Trace Wetlands, then to Listermann’s Brewery for a beer and to come up with a better strategy.

After our thirsts were quenched, we decided to head over to Jon’s house where he would drive his truck over to the Zoo Wetlands again, and I would follow. Even though our thirsts were satisfied, our unquenchable desire for some shorebirds was not. And this time we were coming at the pond from a different angle so we could get the best views possible. And we did.

IMG_2890 IMG_2886Some pretty nice close-up looks at a least Sandpiper.

IMG_2899Solitary Sandpiper

IMG_2902Lesser Yellowleg

Even though it wasn’t a very hot day, the humidity was wearing us down as the clock approached 5 o’clock. There still will be plenty of opportunities to get out into the field during fall migration, and hopefully it will be sooner than later.

Notable birds seen include:

  1. Red-headed Woodpecker
  2. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  3. Double-creasted Cormorant
  4. Great Egret
  5. Great Blue Heron
  6. Pectoral Sandpiper
  7. Least Sandpiper
  8. Semipalmated Sandpiper
  9. Spotted Sandpiper
  10. Killdeer
  11. Semipalmated Plover
  12. Solitary Sandpiper
  13. Green Heron
  14. Turky Vulture
  15. Red-tailed Hawk
  16. Red-shouldered Hawk
  17. American Goldfinch
  18. Song Sparrow
  19. Field Sparrow
  20. Indigo Bunting
  21. Northern Cardinal
  22. American Robin
  23. Brown-headed Cowbird
  24. Common Grackle
  25. Red-winged Blackbird
  26. Northern Mockingbird
  27. Eastern Towhee
  28. Common Yellowthroat
  29. Yellow Warbler
  30. Northern Flicker
  31. Wood Ducks
  32. Mallard
  33. Barn Swallow
  34. Bank Swallow
  35. Cliff Swallow
  36. Purple Martin
  37. Cedar Waxwing
  38. Eastern meadowlark
  39. Dickcissel
  40. Common Crow
  41. Mourning Dove
  42. White-breasted Nuthatch
  43. Carolina Chickadee
  44. Horned Lark
  45. Eastern Kingbird
  46. Belted Kingfisher
  47. Gray Catbird
  48. Yellow-billed Cuckoo
  49. House Wren
  50. Carolina Wren

Notes From The Field

Grasslands/Wetlands Series

Shaker Trace Wetlands/ Fernald Preserve

Part 2

It was really starting to warm up as I made my way to Fernald Preserve Saturday afternoon. I had already emptied my water bottle, and even though it wasn’t a very hot day the sun was unrelenting. The area I was hoping to bird  in has no cover, and since Dickcissels, Blue Grosbeaks and Grasshopper Sparrows were my photographic target birds I had to go where the birds were. My time at Fernald was going to be short, due to the fact that I was meeting Kathy at her parent’s house for a late lunch. So I got truckin’ with my gear in tow.

IMG_2720Eastern Kingbirds will breed in open, grassy areas much like the habitat found at Fernald Preserve, however they can be found feeding in and around bodies of water, like this bird.

After leaving the Visitors Center behind, the open grasslands of Fernald open up on both sides of the trail. Being late morning and early afternoon I wasn’t sure how my luck would be on the Grasshopper Sparrow. In the past I’ve had pretty good luck with catching them perched on the end of a bush of branch singing away, however things were quieting down as I made my way out into the grasslands.

Dickcissels, Red-winged Black Birds, Eastern Bluebirds, Song Sparrows, Tree Swallows, Killdeers, and Eastern Meadowlarks were the dominate species seen. Only one Grasshopper Sparrow was spotted, and as I reacted to bring up my digiscoping rig the bird dove back into the tall grass never to be seen, or heard again.

IMG_2751An Eastern Bluebird guarding it’s nest box.

IMG_2735I watched this Brown Thrasher for several minutes as it went from one side of the trail to the next before it settled down on this nest box. And it never let go of whatever it has in it’s beak.

IMG_2754Eastern Meadowlark

As for my other target bird for the day, the Blue grosbeak, a lone bird perched on an electrical wire some distance away was my only consolation. Posting a photograph would only show a black speck on a wire. Not exactly what I was looking for.

As I walked further and further the heat and sun were taking its toll onme. So I found a shady spot and parked my butt and waited till my fatigue lapsed. Continued exploration of Fernald without water would have been a stupid mistake. So I wisely exercised my options and decided to head back to the car and search (in vain) for Grasshopper Sparrows along the way.

DSCN1184Dickcissel perched perfectly.

It was pretty much the same kind of bird activity as when I went out. I really do like early morning for when I’m looking for those reclusive sparrows. It’s not that you can’t find them, it’s just that I think they become less vocal, which in turn makes them more difficult to spot. When they sing I’ve noticed their teed up on the top of some vegetation where they’re easy to pick up.

IMG_2718Caught this one of many Cedar Waxwings that were feeding in a Mulberry Tree on the entrance road into Fernald Preserve.

As the appointed hour approached I reluctantly departed for the day. Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Great Egret
  2. Great Blue Heron
  3. Green Heron
  4. Mallard
  5. Wood Duck
  6. Blue-winged Teal
  7. Song Sparrow
  8. Chipping Sparrow
  9. Henslow’s Sparrow
  10. Field Sparrow
  11. Grasshopper Sparrow
  12. American Kestrel
  13. Turkey Vulture
  14. Canada Goose
  15. Mourning Dove
  16. Eastern Bluebird
  17. Dickcissel
  18. Common Yellowthroat
  19. Brown thrasher
  20. Robin
  21. Brown-headed Cowbird
  22. Common Grackle
  23. Red-winged Black Bird
  24. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  25. Tree Swallow
  26. Barn Swallow
  27. Purple Martin
  28. Eastern Towhee
  29. Yellow-breasted Chat
  30. Yellow warbler
  31. Gray Catbird
  32. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  33. Blue Grosbeak
  34. Indigo Bunting
  35. Willow Flycatcher
  36. Eastern Kingbird
  37. Orchard Oriole
  38. Baltimore Oriole
  39. Chimney Swift
  40. Eastern Meadowlark
  41. Northern Cardinal
  42. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  43. Cedar waxwing
  44. American Goldfinch
  45. American Kestrel
  46. Belted Kingfisher
  47. Spotted Sandpiper
  48. Common Crow
  49. Northern Mockingbird
  50. Killdeer

Notes From The Field

Grassland/ Wetlands Series

Shaker Trace Wetlands/ Fernald Perserve

Southwestern Ohio isn’t noted for their miles and miles of grasslands/ wetlands. The small pockets that dot this area are few and far between, and on a much smaller scale. So this last Saturday my focus was on 2 of our larger preserves that contain some of the Summertime residents that frequent these grasslands/ wetlands. And if you happen to have read last weeks blog post you’ll also notice that I’m returning to Shaker trace Wetlands. You can’t talk about open grasslands/ wetlands without birding at this small corner of Miami Whitewater Forest.

So I was on the road by 6 am. and arrived just before 7 am. just as the sun started to heat things up a bit. The reason for such an early start was to try again to catch the Henslow’s Sparrow singing, and get a digiscoped picture. This way I can keep my distance from the bird, and hopefully get some awesome shots. Today’s trip is about taking pictures of birds that frequent this kind of habitat, and as birder’s what to expect to see.

These open grasslands/ wetlands come alive in the morning. Birds are everywhere and as I identify birds by ear as I hurry along towards where Jon and myself sighted the Henslow’s last week. A great variety of species come to mind as I try to ID each one by sound. But my focus is finding a good spot to set up my scope and camera and waiting for them to sing. And I didn’t have to wait long.

The bird jumped up onto the top of a small bush and started to sing. So I set up my rig and set about getting some pictures despite the sun being in an awful angle, that placed a bad glare in the finished photograph.

IMG_2673As you can see the sun is low in the sky which creates a lot of glare in this picture. So changing position, without spooking the bird was important.

With the bird positioned in such a bad place when it comes to the angle with the sun, I made the decision to move slowly and re-locate myself for a better shot.

IMG_2624Huge difference in quality and lighting.

IMG_2630 I love it when they throw their heads back and sing.

The Henslow’s Sparrow was named to honor clergyman, geologist and botanist John Stevens Henslow, by his good friend John James Audubon. John Henslow was also one of Charles Darwin’s teachers and mentor. It was Henslow who was first approached to be the naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle for that 2 year voyage to South America. After Henslow’s wife dissuaded him from going, it was a letter from Henslow to the ship’s captain suggesting that Charles Darwin was the man suitable for the job. And we all know how that voyage went?

I stayed in the area watching the Henslow for about an hour before moving on. I continued on the bike path till I came to the “Farm Road”, a mowed swath cutting directly through the heart of the grasslands/ wetlands. This was my path.

IMG_2674The American Goldfinch is one of the most colorful, and easily seen as I made my way across.

IMG_2670It’s during this time of year that the Tree swallows become more and more bold as they protect their territory.

IMG_2685The Willow Flycatcher is easily recognized by it’s voice and the kind of habitat you find it in.

IMG_2662The warbler of the grasslands, the Common Yellowthroat. I just don’t understand how this bird stayed still for so long. Even a blind squirrel…

IMG_2703Another one of my seasonal favorites, Field Sparrow.

IMG_2680A Dickcissel sings from it perch in the middle of the grassland.

As you make your way deeper along the farm road waterfowl fly back and forth. Mallards, Blue-winged Teal, Green and Great Blue Herons soar overhead as Red-winged Black Birds call unceasingly. As we approach the end of the farm road we start coming into the trees that border Shaker Trace. It’s from this vantage point where the lay of the land is spread out in front of me.


It’s from these dense, shrubby vegetative areas when I start to hear the “chattering” of the Yellow-breasted Chat, our largest warbler species. Now it’s one thing to hear them, with their distinct song, but locating them and getting a picture has always proved a challenge for me.

Then I looked up…

IMG_2689…and there he was perched in the top of this tree. But he was constantly moving from one tree to another, but always in the same general location.

IMG_2694It wasn’t just one “Chat”, it was multiple “Chats” that kept me entertained as I walked along the western border of Shaker Trace back towards my car. They would call from high up in the trees, and their calls would travel with me.

After leaving Shaker Trace it was onto Fernald Preserve for more Dickcissels, Blue Grosbeaks, and hopefully Grasshopper Sparrows.

Stay tuned for more.

Notes From The Field

Miami Whitewater Forest & Campbell Lakes Preserve

In the waning days of Spring, as more and more migrants depart to their respective breeding grounds, our thoughts turn to our own summertime residents. Here in the Ohio valley our woodlands are teaming with Wood Warblers, Tanagers, Vireos, Thrushes and Flycatchers. However for myself and others we’ll brave the blazing sun and heat as we head out into our local wetlands/grasslands. These are the  summertime homes of reclusive Sparrows, Dickcissels, Bobolinks, Blue Grosbeaks, and Meadowlarks. And it’s these species we’ll be focusing on as Spring turns into Summer in just 10 days.

So yesterday morning I picked up Jon and we made our way to Shaker Trace Wetlands at Miami Whitewater Forest. With 123 acres of wetlands and 296 acres of planted prairies this is just one of the tri-states best birding spot. And today’s target bird is the Henslow’s Sparrow. Some recent chatter on Cincinnatibirds message board gave us a good idea where to start our search. As we walked the bike trail that bisects this area Yellow Warblers, Baltimore Orioles, Eastern Towhees, and Red-winged Black Birds called from either side. As we passed into the vast openness of grasslands we started to pay attention more closely for the Henslow’s “hic-cup” type call.

It was Jon who stop and paused first. Above all the other birds singing, trying to pick out a small 2 note call is tough.

IMG_3884Willow Flycatcher greeted us as we made our way out onto the grasslands.

Then both of us heard the call. Now all our attention is tuned into the Henslow’s whereabouts. And since Jon heard it first, it was me who spotted it as it crept along the grassy border where the short and tall grass meet. We both got on it and verified it was indeed a Henslow’s Sparrow. Then it flew to a nearby bush where it perched on top and started to sing.


And since I didn’t have my digiscoping rig with me I really had to try and get close to capture any kind of picture. As we positioned ourselves to get a better look it flew down into the long grass. We moved onto a mowed path that ran parallel to the bike path and the bird jumped out. Quickly I took some pictures.

IMG_3877 IMG_3874 IMG_3875

As far as I was concerned, this was a successful trip with such a great bird. Not wanting to bother this bird because of our concern that their nest was close by (there were actually 2 Henslow’s) we retreated down the trail, and made our way towards the bird blind that overlooks the wetlands. We scanned from the blind for a few minutes before heading out onto the overgrown dike that cuts across the narrowest part of the wetlands. This time were looking for a Least Bittern. We never got any look at the Least Bittern, however we heard what we thought was one calling. As we moved closer to the bird, it quit calling.

We moved on and made our way back to the car where we continued to explore more of the shadier portions of the park. The sun was up and beginning to melt our brains. We drove to the Timber Lakes region of the park where dense trees cover deep ravines. Wood Thrush, Hooded Warblers, and a Ovenbird were some of the species either seen or heard. However the highlight were all the Cerulean Warblers. From the tops of the towering trees we could hear them sing. Multiple birds were putting on a vocal display as we searched for any movements. We’d see a single bird fly from one tree to the next, but with such dense follage picking them out from all the leaves was next to impossible.

As the morning wore into the afternoon we drove over to a new place for me, Campbell Lakes Preserve. Once a gravel quarry with 4 lakes that are now used as play fishing lakes, this property now under the Hamilton County Parks District control, this is the same park where a Least Tern was seen for a day just last week.

IMG_3887 IMG_3886

Encompassing 183 acres, besides the lakes that dot the park this is how the land scape basically looks. Perfect grassland habitat. As we walked along we made our way towards the Great Miami River for a look over the bluff. As we approached this dead tree I couldn’t help but notice a Brown Thrasher calling.

IMG_3889It was then joined by 2 Red-headed Woodpeckers.

IMG_3891Another one of our target birds for the day.

Blue Grosbeaks, Grasshopper Sparrows, Orchard Orioles, and a hunting American Kestrel were just some of the birds seen while we visited this new, but soon to be re-visited park. And with all good things, this day had to end.

Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Carolina Wren
  2. House Wren
  3. Red-winged Black Bird
  4. Northern Cardinal
  5. American Robin
  6. Least Bittern?
  7. Song Sparrow
  8. Field Sparrow
  9. Henslow’s Sparrow
  10. Grasshopper Sparrow
  11. House Sparrow
  12. Chipping Sparrow
  13. Warbling Vireo
  14. Red-eyed Vireo
  15. Yellow-throated Vireo
  16. Indigo Bunting
  17. Eastern Kingbird
  18. Willow Flycatcher
  19. Acadian Flycatcher
  20. Eastern Wood Pewee
  21. Eastern Phoebe
  22. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  23. Mallard
  24. Canada Goose
  25. Wood Duck
  26. Turkey Vulture
  27. Red-tailed Hawk
  28. American Kestre
  29. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  30. Downy Woodpecker
  31. Hairy Woodpecker
  32. Pileated Woodpecker
  33. Red-headed Woodpecker
  34. Orchard Oriole
  35. Baltimore Oriole
  36. Common Grackle
  37. Tree Swallow
  38. Purple Martin
  39. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  40. Barn Swallow
  41. American Goldfinch
  42. Blue Jay
  43. Eastern Meadowlark
  44. Killdeer
  45. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  46. Yellow-billed Cuckoo
  47. Brown Thrasher
  48. Eastern Bluebird
  49. Mourning Dove
  50. Yellow-breasted Chat
  51. Cerulean Warbler
  52. Hooded warbler
  53. Yellow Warbler
  54. Common Yellowthroat
  55. Ovenbird
  56. Northern Parula
  57. Blue Grosbeak
  58. White-breasted Nuthatch
  59. Brown-headed Cowbird
  60. Northern Mockingbird
  61. Eastern Towhee
  62. Gray catbird
  63. Cedar Waxwing