Tag Archives: Spring Valley Wildlife Area

“Notes From The Field”

It was a frigid 5 degrees under a brightening morning sky when I backed the bird-mobile out of the garage, pointing it north on highway 22/3, and drove towards Caesar Creek State Park. Within 2 minutes I had my first new bird for my January 100 list, a Pileated Woodpecker hammering away on a short tree by the side of the road. I’m hoping this is a good omen.

There’s loads of common birds I still need to check off at Caesars Creek and nearby Spring Valley Wildlife Area. Normally my first stop would be at the Harveysburg Road overlook, but today I made towards the beach in hope of finding the gull flock still on the beach before they disperse to feed. I found the flock without any problems and right in the middle was my Herring Gull. I continued to scan the area for Killdeer and Pipits without any luck.

I drove to various points around the lake scanning for any signs of waterfowl, and if it wasn’t for 2 Pied-billed Grebes the duck decoys left by hunters which was the most numerous thing on the lake. I packed it i and headed over to the visitors center to warm up and check the feeders.

The feeders at the visitors center usually draw your normal birds like Junco’s, Cardinals, Titmouse, and Chickadees. In the winter though for the past several years I’ve had very good luck in spotting Purple Finches at this location. During the Spring and Summer of last year the visitors center went through a large expansion so now they have 2 areas set up with feeders that you can watch from inside.

The visitor center expansion consisted of a long corridor with several offices connecting the original visitor center building to a large conference room. One of these offices along the corridor was open to the back of the building and the feeder area. Taking off my coat and hat I settled into a chair and held vigil.

After about 5 minutes a stunning male flew in.

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img_5637I apologize for the poor quality, since I was shooting through a window and the sun was at a low angle.

I love how Peterson describes them in his field guide, “a finch dipped in raspberry sauce”. Despite some peoples confusion between this species and the more common House Finch, once you see a Purple Finch next to a House Finch the difference becomes quite obvious.

The rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent checking out Spring Valley and a few gravel pits. It was during my drive to Spring Valley when I FINALLY spotted 3 large black birds soaring. Pulling off the highway and getting my bins out I saw that they were Black Vultures. All I need now are Turkey Vultures.

My grumbling stomach told me it was time to leave. Driving slowly I noticed a really small bird flitting about low in the branches of a tree by the side of the road. Stopping I got my bins on it to find a Golden-crowned Kinglet. Pulling to the side of the road I grabbed my camera in what I thought would be a futile attempt to get a picture of these ever moving birds.

Luck was on my side today.

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New January birds were:

70: Purple Finch

71: Herring Gull

72: Pileated Woodpecker

73: Black Vulture

74: Golden-crowned Kinglet

75: Brown-headed Cowbird

76: Hermit Thrush

77: Cooper’s Hawk

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Notes From The Field

Spring Valley Wildlife Area

Rails are notorious from being secretive and skulking. Normally we tend to hear them as they call from the tall reeds and grasses of marshes. As birders we home in to their call or grunts and wait patiently as we watch the grasses twitch and move as the move about, never showing themselves unless absolutely necessary. At times we do get lucky and catch one out in the open or along the edge of the cattails, as was the case yesterday.

As I stepped onto the boardwalk at Spring Valley yesterday morning the first of 2 Virginia Rails raced off into the grass never to be seen again except for the “grunts” they vocalize. Angry at myself for spooking one off and missing a great photo op, I satisfied myself photographing a Sora that was feeding along the edge of the grass, never venturing out too far as these are really spooky birds and will dash back into the thicket in a blink.

IMG_4520Not my best effort, but diagnostic.

As I was growing weary chasing the Sora for the best angle to photograph a Virginia Rail close by started to “Grunt”. I followed the call. Spotted the bird. Crept closer. Now here’s a exceptional effort.

IMG_4565I’ve tried for years to get a decent photograph of a Virginia Rail, and yesterday was that day.

Notes From The Field

Despite the beautiful weather last weekend, from a birding perspective it was a total bust. Previous obligations kept me close to home, and even though the temptation to go out was there, knowing ahead of time that this weekend was MY weekend made up for the lost time. It’s Spring, and migrants are on the move!

I had a pretty good idea where I wanted to visit, and the first place was Spring Valley Wildlife Area. Sleeping in wasn’t an option as I drove prior to the sun rising to be on the boardwalk bright and early to catch any Rail action. Spring Valley is noted for Soras and Virginia Rails, and today I wasn’t picky which showed up. And it was the Soras that showed off and kept me on my toes with camera in hand.

IMG_2271It wasn’t till I started to walk back from the observation platform that I noticed it’s tell-tale yellow bill amongst the brown and green of the background. As the Sora moved about feeding i had to wait for the right time when the bird was out in the open to capture any photo. As usual I had to discard more photos than i kept.

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IMG_2260Even with rising sun behind my back, photographing this bird as it darts in and out of the shadows can prove difficult.

IMG_2242Even though it’s just a Northern Cardinal, I love the contrast between the blue sky and the red of the bird.

IMG_2246Another regular of Spring Valley is this Swamp Sparrow. Normally difficult to capture sitting up like this, but with it being mating season they were more exposed just singing away.

IMG_2244A very, very distant, first of the season Green heron.

After leaving the boardwalk I drove to the other section of the park which gives you greater access to the Loveland bike trail. As anyone would expect bu=ike traffic was a little heavy, plus the foot traffic of plenty of birders made for a busy bike trail. This is a very nice section of the bike trail with mature trees and plenty of water on both sides.

IMG_2275A very distant Prothonotary Warbler. It’s really difficult to get a sharp picture when using digital zoom and no tripod.

IMG_2281Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were everywhere. Trying to photograph these tiny hyperactive birds has proven difficult throughout the years, but yesterday I got a few.

IMG_2274A quick shot of this Hermit Thrush before it hopped down and started to pick through the leaf litter on the forest floor.

After Spring Valley I made the short drive to Caesar Creek Gorge State Nature Preserve. The preserve’s prime feature is the gorge that was formed by great volumes of glacial meltwater cutting down through the bedrock to expose Ordovician limestone and shale rich in fossils. The steep walls rise to 180 feet above the river. More than two miles of Caesar Creek flow through the gorge to the Little Miami State and National Scenic River. It has a 2.25 mile loop trail, and is my go-to spot for Louisiana Waterthrush.

I had the whole place to myself. Someplace like this being totally empty except for yourself and the birds. It was about half way through the trail when it comes close to the river when I heard my first LOWA. The bird was the opposite side of the river and never got close enough for a good photo.

IMG_2286I will return and try again in the near future. This photo is totally unsatisfactory.

Now this morning the forecast called for rain starting late morning. So once again I hurried through a couple cups of coffee on the front porch, and then drove to Gilmore Ponds to check on the great Horned Owls that have been nesting there. As a matter of fact someone was there yesterday and shared on Facebook a photo of one of the fledged Owlets.

IMG_2320 One of these days I’ll get a nice, clear photo of a male Wood Duck.

I hiked back towards the nesting tree. As I got close I remembered last time both parents being close by and not wanting to spook them I paused and scanned the trees near the nesting tree for them. Not finding them I continued on. No Owls in sight at all. Kind of a bitter-sweet moment as I continued on down the path.

Feeling confident they weren’t anywhere near I returned from where I came. I glanced to my left and there was one of the Owlets high in a tree with it’s back towards me. I took a quick photo just to get a confirmation shot, then I made a noise so it would turn it’s head.

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The rest of the morning was spent picking up more and more birds for the weekend. Then the rain came, thus ending a pretty good bird watching weekend.

IMG_2301My first of the year Orchard Oriole.

IMG_2305Warbling Vireo under a drab sky.

IMG_2310Here’s another bird I hope to get a better photo of, a Yellow-throated Warbler.

Notable birds for the weekend include:

  1. Louisiana Waterthrush
  2. Yellow-throated Warbler
  3. Prairie Warbler
  4. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  5. Northern Parula
  6. Prothonotary Warbler
  7. Yellow Warbler
  8. Great Horned Owl
  9. Red-shouldered Hawk
  10. Red-tailed Hawk
  11. American Kestrel
  12. Great Blue Heron
  13. Great Egret
  14. Green Heron
  15. Sora
  16. Field Sparrow
  17. Chipping Sparrow
  18. Swamp Sparrow
  19. White-throated Sparrow
  20. Song Sparrow
  21. House Sparrow
  22. Rusty Blackbird
  23. Red-winged Blackbird
  24. Common Crow
  25. Common Grackle
  26. Brown-headed Cowbird
  27. European Starling
  28. Mourning Dove
  29. Pigeon
  30. House Wren
  31. Carolina Wren
  32. Carolina Chickadee
  33. Tufted Titmouse
  34. Northern Cardinal
  35. Brown Thrasher
  36. Orchard Oriole
  37. Eastern Phoebe
  38. Tree Swallow
  39. Barn Swallow
  40. Northern Mockingbird
  41. American Robin
  42. Hermit Thrush
  43. Turkey Vulture
  44. Eastern Towhee
  45. Canada Goose
  46. Northern Shoveler
  47. Blue-winged teal
  48. Mallard
  49. Wood Duck
  50. Downy Woodpecker
  51. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  52. Pileated Woodpecker
  53. Northern Flicker
  54. Blue Jay
  55. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  56. Eastern Goldfinch
  57. Warbling Vireo
  58. Common Coot
  59. Killdeer
  60.  Belted Kingfisher
  61. White-breasted Nuthatch
  62. Wild Turkey

Notes From The Field/ July 100 Species Challenge

Spring Valley Wildlife Area/ Caesar Creek State Park

Today’s morning field trip had the sole purpose of bulking up my meager list as July slowly slips away. So with just 12 days to go I had to come up with a serious strategy so I could get the most birds while visiting the fewest places. I first had to write down what summer residents are still here and where is the best place to see them. With what was still needed to complete my July list, there was no doubt where I needed to go this morning. Spring Valley and Caesar Creek. Spring Valley for Rails and Warblers and Caesar Creek for Gulls and Raptors.

I arrived about 7:30 at the boardwalk at Spring Valley. It had rained the night before so the hike down the trail was a slick mess compounded with ruts left by some vehicle. The boardwalk was as slick as the trail, what with it covered with dew and a slimy coating of some type of mold. My focus was on Virginia Rails, Soras and Marsh Wrens, which all three can be either seen or heard from the boardwalk. The secretive and reclusive Virginia Rail has been seen with some juveniles earlier this week so I know they’re here. It’s just finding them.

I make my way to the observation tower and listen intently for any of these 3 birds calling.

IMG_0834Looking back along the boardwalk at Spring Valley

IMG_0835Looking towards the lake in the distance. Which at the time is choked with water lilies.

I’m striking out! I’m not hearing my target birds, let alone see them. So I climb down from the tower and make my way back to my favorite spot along the boardwalk. There’s an open area about 50 feet before you get to the tower which in the past has proven to be the go-to spot for Rails.

IMG_0855It doesn’t look like much of an opening, but if your going to get a clear view of either a Sora or a Virginia Rail, this is the place.

Then I see movement as I approach the clearing. It’s an adult Virginia Rail. Then I notice behind the adult, coming  out of the tall grass a juvenile. HOLY COW!

I reach for my camera

IMG_0843The camera wanted to focus on the grass in front of the birds, not the birds. It was very frustrating. However there’s my proof. So for an hour I jockeys around trying to get pictures as the juveniles cooperated with getting their pictures taken, while the adult keep a little more secluded.

IMG_0839This was the best I could do at capturing the adult.

IMG_0886The juvenile skulking through the marsh.

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After this very successful sighting of these beautiful Virginia Rails, I climbed back up the trail to my car to head over to the lake side of the preserve and begin my hike on the Loveland Bike Trail. It’s from this trail where I know I can find a Bald Eagle and tick off another bird.

Which I do.

There are some marshy areas that run along the side of the bike trail which is popular with Prothonotary Warbler and Soras.

Tick off a few more species.

IMG_0915Prothonotary Warbler

The morning was waning and I needed to get to Caesar Creek. I didn’t have much time so Harverysburg Road was my go to spot to  see if I could tick off any more birds. With boaters on the water there was no birds on the lake. However I was able to tick off Osprey that was fishing and Ring-billed Gull, which are always here.

How before I went to the Harveysburg Road overlook I stopped at the Mounds Road portion of the lake to see if any mud flat habitat has formed. So as I walked towards the lake I spooked 10 to 12 Great Blue Herons. So as I set up my spotting scope closer to the water, I scanned the sky in the direction of the Herons as they flew away. However one of the birds that was flying wasn’t a Great Blue. It was a Sandhill Crane. A little early for them and definitely an unusual sighting. Sorry no picture.

But the good news is that I added some good birds for the day.

  • Yellow Warbler
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • Virginia Rail
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Northern Parula
  • Prothonotary Warbler
  • Great-creasted Flycatcher
  • Sora
  • Bald Eagle
  • House Wren
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Osprey
  • Ring-billed Gull

That leaves me with a total of 92 birds for July.

Notes From The Field

Spring Valley Wildlife Area, Caesar Creek State Park

I was anxious to go birding Saturday, more so than most other days. I felt kind of guilty that I hadn’t called Jon to see if he wanted to join me, but I thought that today I needed to be alone. Just myself and my new camera. Where I could take my time and not rush. This was more of a photographic adventure than a birding adventure. Now don’t take me wrong, I wanted to see some cool birds (which I did) however I really wanted to see how my new camera operated.

The boardwalk out into the marsh at Spring Valley was pretty empty, except for a couple of photographers this cool Saturday morning. A couple of Soras were calling above the chatter of the Red-winged Black Birds as I waited to see if any Virginia Rails would call. My first of the year Yellow Warbler flitted around the bushes out in the marsh.

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A small brown bird catches my attention. It’s down amongst the vegetation and cattails. I was hoping for a Marsh Wren, but I will settle for a Swamp Sparrow.

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IMG_0063A Drake and Hen Blue-winged Teal

After the boardwalk I drove over to the other section of Spring Valley. This area is in close proximity to the bike trail and hopefully some warblers. Palm, Prothonotary, and Yellow-rumped Warblers were everywhere. The morning was heating up and the activity on the bike trail was getting busy with bicycle traffic.

IMG_0071A beautiful male Yellow-rumped Warbler.

IMG_0092This Prothonotary Warbler was really skittish. When I first heard it sing, and was finally able to track it down, getting it’s picture was proving to be difficult. After getting a few good shots I was looking over the pictures at home. Now look on the birds leg.

prwabandI think this is either my 3rd, or 4th bird photo where the bird is banded.

After walking down the bike trail to check out a Bald Eagles nest, I made my way over to the area below the dam at Caesar Creek. In the past I’ve heard of Louisiana Waterthrush being in the area.

IMG_0105Being such a beautiful day this part of the park gets especially busy with families having picnics and folks fishing. So I hiked around for a bit listening for any tell tale signs of a Louisiana Waterthrush. As with California Woods last week I struck out again. So it was time to change locations, and this time I’m going to follow the tail water from the dam downstream to Caesar Creek Gorge. I’ve found the bird here before and last year a fellow birder reported a good spot to find them. So it was back to the car for the 20 minute drive.

Caesar Creek Gorge is divided into 2 sections. The trail is one big loop system, and I was heading to the upper trail. It was only a matter of a couple of minutes when I heard a rather sharp, one note call that I vaguely remember. It was close, and when I got my bins on it it became apparent what I was hearing…

IMG_0109A Great-creasted Flycatcher is a wonderful bird. But what is so wonderful is how close this picture is to the bird. A picture this good alone justifies my purchase of this camera. I never would have been able to digiscope a picture this good. By the time I had everything ready the bird would have flown away.

I made my way around the park and started my decent into the bottom land of the park that borders the river. The place I read about is a little off the trail but it was easily accessible with just a little scramble down a steep bank. The rush of the water is all I hear. A Spotted sandpiper lands on some gravel in the middle of the river. Pumps it’s tail a few times and flies up river, as does the Belted Kingfisher. Then I hear one sing. It keeps getting closer and closer. Right over head now.

IMG_0133With all the excitement of finally seeing the bird I think I zoomed in too much. I cut off it’s tail in this picture.

IMG_0135When the bird is high up in the tree, and you’re below it, attempting to get a good shot is difficult. For one thing the camera is wanting to auto-focus on the closest thing. And that thing might not be the bird. I might be a branch that’s between you and the bird. So you’re looking up, trying to not lose your footing, and get a steady photo. Easy

After this hike I was tired and hungry and wanting to head home. However before I left I had to get a shot of these Tree Swallows .

IMG_0102One thing about Tree Swallows is that they’ll sit still long enough to get it’s picture taken.

Notable birds for the day include:   FOY-First of the Year

  1. Prothonotary Warbler-FOY
  2. Palm Warbler-FOY
  3. Louisiana Watertrhush-FOY
  4. Sora-FOY
  5. Red-headed Woodpecker-FOY
  6. Osprey-FOY
  7. Chimney Swift-FOY
  8. White-eyed Vireo-FOY
  9. Red-eyed Vireo-FOY
  10. Warbling Vireo-FOY
  11. House Wren-FOY
  12. Great-creasted Flycatcher-FOY
  13. Prairie Warbler-FOY

Total species for the day was 55.

Notes from the Field

Caesar Creek State Park & Spring Valley Wildlife Area

Finally, after how many weeks I found some time to get some birding in. Even though it was for just a few hours it felt good. Despite the fact that the gutters needed to be de-leaved Jon and myself hit the Caesar Creek circuit with enthusiasm. Cleaning the gutters will have to wait.

We left the house at 8:00 am and headed northeast along route 22/3 towards Caesar Creek. Reports are starting to filter in on some duck movement and our first stop will be the Harveysburg Road overlook of the lake. If your not familiar with Caesar Creek Lake one of the things you might notice is that roads just dead end at the lake. In the 1970’2 when they dammed up Caesar Creek to create this 2,830 acre lake homes and communities were destroyed. Homes of historic significance were moved to the Pioneer Village. However when the lake level rose, the roads stayed. And Harveysburg Road is one such road. A great vantage point to view a large portion of the lake. However the day proved to be a bust when it comes to ducks. Bonaparte’s Gulls, Common Loons, and a pair of Horned Grebes were the only birds seen.

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It was interesting to watch this one Common Loon as it feed. The Bonaparte’s Gulls were harassing it as it dove to feed. It looked like they were feeding on the scraps of whatever was left over of what the Loon kicked up.

Bored with the obvious duck nothingness of the lake, we headed off the the far end of the lake to the Mounds Road mudflats. We parked at the turn a round and made our short walk back towards the lake. The mudflats were virtually empty except for a few Killdeer and a Great Blue Heron, however the show of birds were above us. Passerines were everywhere. Brown Creepers, Butter-butts, Bluebirds, Song Sparrows, and loads of Golden-crowned Kinglets. I can’t remember the last time I saw this many concentrated in this one small area. It certainly a nice distraction from the lack of waterfowl on the lake.

As we stood looking up towards this wonderful sight of avian beauty the urge to move on finally overcame us. With the passing minutes, and the chore list still staring me in the face, we moved on to Spring Valley Wildlife Area. Since Jon was driving I showed him the best way to get there from where we were. Since I bird in the area more than he does knowing the back roads helps in shortening up the travel time between stops.

Since Spring Valley is a Wildlife Area hunting does occur, especially during Autumn. Yesterday was no exception when we ran into Squirrel hunters. We first checked out the bird blind. No food in the feeders, no birds. The walk down hill towards the marsh was uneventful as a few Swamp Sparrows played hide-n-seek with us. We walked the boardwalk slowly, stopping and listening as we made our way towards the observation platform, with it’s newly repaired guard rail.

The wind started to kick up as we made our way on. “Chip” notes were heard, but no birds. Birding can be a challenge here. You know that there are birds deep within the reeds, so patience will pay off for you eventually. As it did today as we were walking back down the boardwalk. As we were about to step off Jon heard something similar to a Red-winged Blackbird call note, but softer. With the wind in my ears I heard nothing till I strained against the wind. Then we heard it it sing. Softly, unlike we they sing in the Spring. But it was the unmistakable song of a Marsh Wren. A late Marsh Wren. But just like last year Jon and myself were able to prove that Marsh Wrens do winter over at Spring Valley and the bird today was a good sign of it repeating again.

We located where it was singing from and waited till we spotted it after a few “pishes” from Jon. Confirmed. We were happy. I think repeat visits to the boardwalk throughout the winter will be necessary to confirm that they do winter over every year.

As the afternoon wore on and the decision to leave was made we were treated to the flute-like, melodic voice of a Hermit Thrush was heard. This time of year it really is unusual to here these birds sing, but there he was sitting on a branch singing ever so softly. And when I went to grab my spotting scope and camera, he disappeared. Which is always the case.

Well it was a good day, even with no waterfowl to look at. And as we made our way home the discussion came up again about a birding trip to Texas for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in a couple of years. More on that as the time approaches, until then here is the bird count for the day.

Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Ring-billed Gull
  2. Bonaparte’s Gull
  3. Common Loon
  4. Pied-billed Grebe
  5. Horned Grebe
  6. Canada Goose
  7. Res-shouldered Hawk
  8. Turkey Vulture
  9. Black Vulture
  10. American Coots
  11. American Robin
  12. Eastern Bluebird
  13. American Goldfinch
  14. Golden-crowned Kinglet
  15. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  16. Brown Creeper
  17. Northern cardinal
  18. Blue Jay
  19. Downy Woodpecker
  20. Northern Flicker
  21. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  22. Pileated Woodpecker
  23. Hermit Thrush
  24. American Crow
  25. Tree Swallow
  26. Dark-eyed Junco
  27. Northern Mockingbird
  28. Double-creasted Cormorant
  29. Tufted Titmouse
  30. Marsh Wren
  31. Carolina Wren
  32. Carolina Chickadee
  33. Great Blue Heron
  34. Cedar Waxwing
  35. Killdeer
  36. Song Sparrow
  37. White-throated Sparrow
  38. Swamp Sparrow