Tag Archives: Ohio State Parks

Notes From The Field

There are 3 species of North American Scoters, the Black, Surf, and White-winged. For us in Ohio they can be a common bird seen mostly on Lake Erie. They do wander south of the lake but with usually with irregularity. Last year for instance during my January 100 Species Challenge I was able to tick off both Surf and Black Scoters at a Metropark in Dayton. And towards the end of this year the northern half of the state is seeing the most of the 3 Scoter species.

However the day before Thanksgiving I noticed a small sighting post on our local bird watching Facebook page of a Black Scoter at the beach at Caesar Creek State Park. This really peaked my interest since Black Scoters are the rarest of the 3 in my opinion. But with the holiday staring me in the face with those last minute preparations I was unable to chase this bird till yesterday.

My first stop however was Cowan Lake State Park to check out the reports of a pretty reliable Long-tailed Duck that was seen on some sediment settling ponds that were being used for all the dredging that’s going on at the lake. I dipped on the duck and later found out that it was scared off by a Bald Eagle and never came back.

So after Cowan Lake I made my way of to Caesar Creek and hope for better luck. I parked my car and approached the south half of the beach. After 100 yards I set up my scope and started to scan. Nothing as I scanned from the north to the south. The sun was still rising and the glare on the water really burned to retinas. A I continued to scan towards the new marina I saw one lone bird on the water.

This really couldn’t be the Black Scoter, could it?

As I moved closer to the lake with a better angle out of the sun I was able to get my scope on the bird. And indeed it was a Black Scoter.

I stayed with the bird for about 50 minutes as it moved the length of the beach, and me trying to get a closer photo. Despite all my efforts this distant shot was all I could get of what I think is a great bird.

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Sandpiper At dawn

The beauty of retirement is revealing itself as I start to take advantage of some of my favorite pastimes, like birding anytime I want.

I drove to Caesar Creek State Park to check the beach and the local gull flock to see if anything might show up a little unusual. To my surprise the beach was void of any gulls. They were all roosting on a temporary dock located a couple hundred yards off the beach. So I started to scan the beach and pick through all the Killdeers when I noticed 1 lone “Peep”. This one bird had my total focus for about 30 minutes as I positioned myself against the glare of the rising sun.

It may be only a Least Sandpiper, but the fact that it was all alone on this near empty beach drew me to it. I took dozens of photos, but I choose this one because of the way the sun hits it, and the contrast between the bird and the green stuff it was feeding in.

Quite Possibly The Cutest Sandpiper

First things first before I get to my blog post about cute sandpipers, I’m finally retired. After 40 years as a Surgical Technician at the same health care facility I’ve punched out for my last time. Which in turn should free me up more birding, and chasing rarities. So hopefully I won’t be so lazy lately in getting blog posts out to all my readers.

So when you think of cute Sandpipers there’s quite a few that come to mind. But first let’s make sure we’re on the same page when it comes to Sandpipers. There’s a lot of cute birds that scurry about along everyone’s favorite beach or lake front. So let’s omit some of these.

This little cutey is a Snowy Plover which I found at Gulf Island National Seashore. Now you have to admit that is this one cute bird, however it’s a Plover.

The same holds true to this gorgeous with loads of cuteness to boot.

This Piping Plover was photographed at Sleeping Bear Dunes, and the cuteness, and rarity factor is definitely there, but once again it’s a Plover.

Now here’s a picture of a legit Sandpiper, a Purple Sandpiper seen back in  2013 at East Fork State Park. Now this is a great bird, however when it comes to being a cute Sandpiper, ………..well?

Now this heavily cropped and terrible photo is of a Stilt Sandpiper. A reasonably cute Sandpiper in it’s own right, but once again there are cuter Sandpipers out there.

Now this Dunlin is a Sandpiper even though it doesn’t have Sandpiper attached to it’s name. And it’s a plump very cute bird with a lot going for it. But alas not the cutest.

 

Now this Pectoral Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowleg are very cool, and quite honestly they are cute, but not enough to be called the cutest.

Now breaking into the top 5 of cute Sandpipers is this Semipalmated Sandpiper seen the same day as the above photo of the Piping Plover. This is one cute bird, and his next of kin is also very cute.

The Least Sandpiper with it’s distinct yellowish/ green legs.

Seen along both coasts and the Gulf of Mexico, the Sanderling is everyone’s little darling of the beach as they search for food as the waves crash ashore. Always on the move, they can be approached if your quick enough, and getting a decent photo on these fast moving bird is always a challenge. And I would have to agree with most people in saying this is a really cute bird.

But there’s one more.

The Buff-breasted Sandpiper, is quite honestly the cutest Sandpiper.

This gorgeous bird was first reported at Caesar Creek State Park this last Saturday, and stuck around through the evening. Very rare except during migration, I couldn’t wait on this bird any longer. So on Sunday after I went birding with Jon, and we saw yet another Buff-breasted at Lost Bridge, I raced up to Caesar Creek to look for that one.

The day was sunny, with the sun hitting the bird at the right angle. the beach was busy with people on this beautiful Sunday, but the Buff-breasted wasn’t bothered and busily feed along the shore.

To me they appear as small and fragile bird, with a small head with that beautiful coloration. Very distinct markings on the back with those nice yellow legs.

All told I took over 120 photos of this bird. But when you’re the cutest Sandpiper you don’t spare the SD card.

The Return of The “Twitcher”

The Brant, (Branta bernicta) particularly the “Atlantic” sub-species is roughly the size of a Cackling Goose  an breeds in the Eastern Canadian High-Arctic region of North America. During Fall migration they’ll stage in the James Bay area, and continue their southward movement where flocks will be seen at Lake Champlain and from Appalachian hawk watch sites. During the winter they can be found from coastal North Carolina northward to New England. And every now and then one multiple sightings from Northern Ohio, especially along Lake Erie are reported.

For myself this is a semi-nemisis bird. I’ve chased Brants a few times when reports come in from the center of the state but with no luck. And most of the sightings from Lake Erie are of small flocks passing through the state on their way to the coast. And for some reason they just don’t show up in the southern part of Ohio, not that I was expecting any.

Remember rarities are just that…rare.

For the past couple days a Brant was sighted at Mosquito Lake State Park, north of Youngstown. That’s a solid 4 plus hour drive for a bird that could be there one day, and gone the next. Do I chase or not? As tempting as it is, I decided to not chase. Autumn chores needed to be accomplished and it was a beautiful, unseasonably warm day. Kathy and I dove into the yard work and after a few hours we had everything done for the day. Time to relax with an adult beverage. I went to grab my phone which was plugged in and saw I had a text from Jon. There’s a juvenile Brant at Rocky Fork State Park, which is on the other side of Hillsboro Ohio. The original sighting came as a group from the Cincinnati Bird Club were visiting the lake. That’s a little over an hour drive if I hurry.

WHOOOOOOOSH……….. I’m out the door.

My GPS takes me by the most bizarre way but after an hour of driving through farm country I arrive at the lake. It was sighted from the camp ground so I drove through and parked at the far end over by the lake. I grab my spotting scope and start to scan. Loads of gulls, but no Brant or a single goose.

Now there were these large red, round buoys out in the lake and by the looks they were supporting this large cable that was stretched a couple of hundred yards. The cable must have been right under the surface of the water because loads of gulls were perched on it just like they were standing on water. I was scanning along the line of gulls when I saw the Brant.

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Now I would have loved for the Brant to be a bit closer without the sun in the wrong direction, but we sometimes have to deal with what we’re given. And for me I was given Life Bird # 445.

“On The Road” Part-2

At just over 15,200 acres the five main wildlife areas and two state parks of northwest Ohio along Lake Erie, the birder has endless possibilities to search out and hopefully find that one elusive bird. Starting in the west with Maumee Bay State Park and ending in the east at East Harbor State Park, (which in itself has wonderful birding opportunities) we can’t forget Mallard Club Marsh Wildlife Area, Cedar Point National Wildlife Refuge, Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area, Ottawa National Wildlife Area and finally Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. Except for Cedar Point N.W.R. all other are open to the public. And in the short time I was visiting I was able to do a little birding at all, even Cedar Point as Jon and myself stood on the border with the refuge as we walked the border line with Mallard Club Marsh.

IMG_2597A resident Trumpeter Swan at Ottawa NWR

IMG_2613Common Gallinule

For most of the year except a certain times Ottawa NWR can only be accessed either on foot or bicycle. And at 6,500 acres this is a sizable refuge to get around on foot, and my bike isn’t built to off-road on gravel roads. So you wait for when they open up the auto tour. This gives the birder a lot of flexibility to drive a little, park their car and do some birding as long as you don’t wander too far from your car. You could spent the whole day here, which I’ve done in the past.

The past few years when Kathy and I visited it was more of a leisurely birding trip. We’d go visit some sights and do things Kathy likes to do since she’s not really a bird watcher. She appreciates them, but not at the same level I’m at. So this trip since I’m all alone it gave me more freedom to travel far and fast, and bird from sun rise to sun set.

IMG_2630As you drive from one spot to another you have to remember that some of the best birding can be right along the road your traveling on. Large open fields can hold sky-pools that offer some really great shore bird habitat. This Least Sandpiper was found at such a place next to a Marina.

IMG_2734Sandhill Cranes have a very distinct call, and I fist heard them calling while on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh. It wasn’t till I was at Ottawa NWR on the last day I heard them overhead.

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IMG_2735I can’t seem to get enough of Eastern Kingbirds. These 2 photos were taken while I was in my car driving through Ottawa. But sure as anything if I’d had gotten’ out of the car they would have flown off.

IMG_2725And we’ll end this short blog post with a token photo of a Great Egret, another bird that can easily be approached while in your car.

Birding in northwest Ohio during the Spring can be a phenomenal experience for the beginner or the experienced birder. Hotel and camping options are plentiful, with special rates for festival goers. Driving distance between all the parks and wildlife areas mentioned are manageable. From the cabins at Maumee Bay State Park to my hotel in Post Clinton, it was an hour drive. So you see it’s a relatively small area with a large amount of potential for birding.

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“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.