Tag Archives: Voice of America Park

Notes From The Field

Voice of America MetroPark

Yesterday was almost a week since I returned from Lake Erie and when I last birded, so I felt the need last night to try my hand at Voice of America. The last time I was there I was turned back because of an expired park pass, so being prepared to buy a new one I found that no one was at the gate to sell me  one. Now the honest thing to do was to drive over to the park office and renew there, however it was getting dark and my target birds for tonight are elusive anyway, so time was of the essence.

Sitting right in the middle of West Chester this 435 acre gem has a lot to offer. A 35 acre stocked lake, a paved trail, soccer and baseball fields, and even a cricket pitch. But what attracts the birders is the Audubon Important Birding Area. A large grassy area has been set aside for several breeding grassland birds. One of them are Bobolinks.

And some of the others include Eastern Meadowlarks and Red-winged Blackbirds, which are numerous. However the prize is the most secretive Henslow’s Sparrow. So for the next hour and a half was spent listening for their faint, high pitched, hiccup of a song.

In years past there is a mowed path that birders stay on as they bird this portion of the park, however last night the grass was tall. I was still able to follow where the path normally was and after half and hour was able to make out the song of the Henslow’s Sparrow, despite the fact that I never saw any.

I normally don’t get big numbers when I bird at VOA, so I was kind of surprised when I my total for the night was 19 species. Also if I had more time I probably would find a few more.

American Goldfinch

As with most bird outings during the week this one was another short one so hardly an impressive list.

Notable birds for the evening include:

  1. Canada Goose
  2. Mallard
  3. Cooper’s Hawk
  4. Killdeer
  5. Mourning Dove
  6. Willow Flycatcher
  7. Horned Lark
  8. Tree Swallow
  9. Barn Swallow
  10. American Robin
  11. American Goldfinch
  12. Cedar Waxwing
  13. Field Sparrow
  14. Song Sparrow
  15. Henslow’s Sparrow
  16. Bobolink
  17. Indigo Bunting
  18. Red-winged Blackbird
  19. Eastern Meadowlark

Notes From The Field

Voice of America Park & Ellis Lake/ West Chester Wetlands

The whole idea of getting up a 5 am on any given day when you really don’t have to can be a bit puzzling for your average individual. For myself this exercise has a significant purpose. Today I’m in search of a Henslow’s Sparrow. These little skulking grassland birds are extremely difficult to locate, especially like yesterday, when they weren’t calling. Then you have to rely on dumb luck to see one flit about before it dives back into the safety of the long grass. Last year Voice of America Park I feel is the premier location to have a pretty good chance to see these reclusive birds.

Arriving at 6:30 to get a good start on the day I forgot to take into consideration the fact that not everyone is an early riser like myself. In other words the gate was closed. The idea of hoofing in on foot wasn’t what I had in mind as I re-thought my strategy. However in the nick of time, some of the maintenance guys came along and opened up and saved me some shoe leather.This has been my third trip here this year, and the previous two times the ticks have been horrendous. My plan to combat them this day was to use  insect repellent specifically designed for clothes. So the night before I sprayed down what I was going to wear, and lo and behold it worked. Not one tick.

Upon arrival the usual birds were greeting me with their morning songs, but no Henslow’s. Their distinctive “hick-up” style of call is all to familiar to me. It my be a small call, but one I can easily pick out of a crowd. I was treated to some excellent birds, like this Bobolink pair.

Male and Female Bobolink

Lone Male Bobolink

After about 45 minutes, I finally heard what I though was a Henslow’s Sparrow call. Very faint, but encouraging. I strained to see if it would call again, but alas it wasn’t to happen again. However I was able to get a fleeting glimpse of one as it jumped up but for a few seconds before settling back into the long grass. That was all I was going to get from those fellas today, but it counted as a hit.

With Red-winged Blackbird’s also nesting in the same area, you get a lot of these nasty looks if you get too close.

A lone Eastern Meadowlark singing from his tall perch. These birds can be rather skittish, and difficult to approach and get a close photo.  Even at 20x power this is as close I could get today.

As I was driving out, I noticed a Savannah Sparrow singing from this patch of Thistle. So if you look real close you’ll see it. I tried to digiscope this bird, however as soon as I got out of the car it flew off. Oh well.

With lightning streaking from the approaching grayness, I made a hasty retreat to the bird-mobile as the rain started. Now was as good a time as any to make my way over to Ellis Lake/ West Chester Wetlands. As I’ve mentioned in past posts, there is a man-made causeway that separates a field that is leased by a local farmer (and where the cool shore birds hang out when it’s flooded) and the rest of the Ellis Lake & wetlands are. So walking on the top of the causeway give you a pretty good view of the surrounding area. And especially this Brown Thrasher who was checking me out.

Brown Thrasher

The last time I was here they hadn’t mowed a path around the lake, so as I started my walk I noticed that they finally had. So I proceeded to take a quick walk to see if I could spook anything up. Except for a lone female Mallard and a couple of Great Blue Herons, I was able to spot a Female Hooded Merganser. Not being a very cooperative merganser I was able to get this shot off before she swam to the other side of the lake.

However the Killdeer were close, as they usually are when a body of water separate you from them.

I had a thoroughly enjoyable day, and ended it by 11:00 am in time to make it home for the U.S.A. soccer game. The notable birds for the day include:

  1. American Robin
  2. Mourning Dove
  3. Northern Cardinal
  4. Red-winged Blackbird
  5. Song Sparrow
  6. Savannah Sparrow
  7. Henslow’s Sparrow
  8. Field Sparrow
  9. Indigo Bunting
  10. Common Yellowthroat
  11. Eastern Meadowlark
  12. Bobolink
  13. Common Grackle
  14. Killdeer
  15. Willow Flycatcher
  16. Eastern Goldfinch
  17. American Woodcock
  18. Tree Swallow
  19. Mallard
  20. Barn Swallow
  21. Great Blue Heron
  22. Baltimore Oriole
  23. Carolina Chickadee
  24. House Finch
  25. American Kestrel
  26. Green Heron
  27. Grasshopper Sparrow
  28. Blue Gray Gnatcatcher
  29. Northern Flicker
  30. Spotted Sandpiper
  31. Hooded Merganser
  32. Purple Martin
  33. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  34. Brown Thrasher
  35. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  36. Gray catbird
  37. House Wren
  38. Carolina Wren
  39. Yellow Warbler

Later on that evening I visited a local school that has an old, unused golf course across the street. Another good spot for birds, with all the open area and long grass. I went with the intention of digiscoping some birds. Here are a few of of my better efforts.

Barn Swallow

Eastern Bluebird

This is why I love to digiscope. With the naked eye you would never be able to tell that there was a Northern Mockingbird in this Evergreen. This shot was taken well over 100 yards away. As was the next one of an Indigo Bunting.

The setting Sun shining off this Eastern Bluebird.

Notes From The Field-Ellis Lake/West Chester Wetlands/Voice of America Park

My intentions last evening was two fold. Get a little birding in since my youngest is graduating from high school and it leaves me with not enough free time for the next few days. And the other reason was to practice my digiscoping.

My first stop was Ellis Lake/ West Chester Wetlands just about 7pm. There were no birders and hardly any walkers, so I had the place to myself. The dry, hot weather we’ve had lately has certainly dry things up since the last time I was here. I was able to spot some wading birds far off, but I didn’t really want to go chase them this night. There was no sign of the Snowy Egret or the Little Blue Heron that was reported a day earlier, so I was off to do some casual birding with the intent of taking some pictures of whatever sat still long enough.

Red-winged Blackbird

Even though the picture isn’t in focus the way I like, this is a problem I’m having some trouble finding a good solution to. For all of the pictures I took, I’m only able to salvage just a few good pictures. And the constant movement of the birds has been a particular challenge.

Common Yellowthroat and Queen Ann’s Lace

I took close to a dozen pictures of this bird, however I made the mistake of having the zoom on my scope turned up a bit, which led to vignetting, or a dark circle around the picture. Even thought is is out of focus, no vignetting. Why did I focus of the plant and not the bird? There’s that learning curve with taking pictures an unconventional way.

Song Sparrow

Bobolink

The Bobolink picture was probably the best one for the evening. Taken while the sun was setting, I was at Voice of America Park in West Chester. Every Spring the Bobolink’s return here to mate and raise their young. And they even hold still sometimes so they can have their picture taken.

I didn’t spent too much time at V.O.A. Park because of the bugs. Particularly the ticks. If you happen to go there be aware. they are real bad there. All in all, an OK evening of birding. I have become painfully aware of the fact that when you go out to take pictures, your numbers go down in the bird department. Which was the case last night.

Notable birds for the day includes:

  1. Canada Goose
  2. Mallard
  3. Spotted Sandpiper
  4. Killdeer
  5. Great Blue Heron
  6. Eastern Meadowlark
  7. Bobolink
  8. Red-winged Blackbird
  9. Song Sparrow
  10. Common Yellowthroat
  11. Yellow Warbler
  12. Robin
  13. Northern Cardinal
  14. Tree Swallow
  15. Bank Swallow
  16. Orchard Oriole
  17. Horned Lark

Notes From The Field/ # 279

The morning started out overcast as the window of opportunity was narrowing with the approaching rain, as David and myself headed out to Ellis Lake/ West Chester Wetlands. A few days ago Mike Busam post a Bell’s Vireo along the bike/hike path that runs east and West from the parking lot.

The post Mike wrote indicated that the Vireo was seen between the 6th and 8th utility pole. I had made a recording of it’s song prior to us leaving so we were familiar with it when we got there. As we watched and listened for a while, I noticed another birder approaching. Introducing myself to him, it turns out to be Mike Busam. We talked for a bit, then he moved on down the trail. I had asked him to let me know if he hears the Vireo to give me a wave. He must have been gone just a couple of minutes that he called David and me to him. He only walked no more than 2 utility pole lengths, so when we got closer you could hear the Vireo call back in the Honeysuckle. After scrambling around a bit in the bushes to get a better view, I finally found it in a tangle of vines wrapped through a Locust Tree. But the treat was I think I saw 2 separate birds. So they may be a mating pair, and that would be good.

After we left, Mike joined David and myself as we ventured over to Voice of America Park. Jonathan Frodge was also at Ellis Lake and he told us about some Blue Grosbeaks he saw over there.  We also wanted to locate some Henslow’s Sparrow, which V.O.A. is noted for. We found the Grosbeak easily enough, however the Henslow’s were not calling. I did catch a fleeting glimpse of a small brownish Sparrow which could have been a Henslow’s, but I didn’t count it.

Then the heavens opened up with more rain and soggy ground, so it was time to leave and go home and dry out.

Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Bell’s Vireo
  2. Blue Grosbeak
  3. Savannah Sparrow
  4. Song Sparrow
  5. Field Sparrow
  6. Mallard
  7. Spotted Sandpiper
  8. Least Sandpiper
  9. Semipalmated Plover
  10. Killdeer
  11. Solitary Sandpiper
  12. Bobolink
  13. Common grackle
  14. Red-winged Black Bird
  15. Great Blue Heron
  16. Turkey Vulture
  17. Eastern Meadowlark
  18. Northern cardinal
  19. Tree Swallow
  20. Barn Swallow
  21. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  22. American Goldfinch
  23. Yellow Warbler
  24. Common Yellowthroat
  25. American Robin
  26. Gray Catbird

West Chester Highlights

With the promise of sunny skies and temperatures above freezing, I couldn’t ask for a better Winter day to go birding. Up bright and early at 6 am with a pot of coffee and hopes that the clouds will start to roll back and let the sun shine in. I don’t want to leave too early, I’ve found that even the birds aren’t up his early. And since I wasn’t going very far, it gave me time to wake up.

Today’s agenda, Ellis Lake, West Chester Wetlands, Gilmore Ponds, and Voice of America Park. I had just been to Ellis Lake last Sunday to follow up on a sighting of Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings. This week however I was going to explore some more at all locations.

Sunrise at Ellis Lake.

I decided to start with Ellis Lake/ West Chester Wetlands since it’s closer to home. I arrived at around 9:00 am with hopes of seeing a massive flock of Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs. Then reality set in like a slap in the face with 20 MPH winds whipping across the fields. Not to much was flying.

I looked out over this field for about 30 minutes as the morning shadows were racing across the newly plowed field.

This dike, which is about 8 feet above ground level, runs from the parking area to the railroad tracks. It divides the field in the previous picture, from the Ellis Lake area, which is on the right. On both sides of this dike, there was a good many sparrows. They stayed very hidden and hardly sang. I was never able to get a close enough look to make a positive ID.

The Ellis Lake and West Chester Wetlands area has a paved path for people to use. However they had the path blocked towards Route 747, the way I wanted to go. Something about utility work, or some such nonsense. It’s Saturday, and I don’t believe anyone will be working. So off I go. The path runs parallel to Union Centre Boulevard which is on the Southern side of the wetlands. With the history of the Miami-Erie Canal running through here as well as it being used for it’s ice production. The diversity of this area is in such sharp contrast to the urbanization of West Chester.

One of the small streams running into the wetlands.

About the time that I was going to turn back and head into another direction, I came upon this old stone foundation. If you stood in the center, the stone wall would be over your head. I’m not sure what was here, but I sure would like to find out. I have a feeling though it held back this.

As far as the eye could see through the trees, a frozen swamp-like expanse. As I stood there looking over this picture, I wondered if it ever dries up in the Summer. Considering how much water is sitting here, I would think not. This would be a hot spot for Prothonitary Warblers. They love areas like this.

After leaving the wetlands, I cut across country to follow a old mowed path around Ellis Lake. I can imagine how this would be filled with different species of ducks and other wading birds. Anxious to come back when the water thaws out, attracting these species.

The path eventually came to a dead end. I was given a choice of an ice crossing or turning back. No guts, no glory I say. Made it across with little or no cracking of the ice. Whew!

As the sun rose higher to the noon sky, you could feel the warmth upon your body as you shed the layers of your outer clothing. Watching as the flowing water ate away it the edges of the ice.

After I lefty here, I made my way to Gilmore Ponds.

I’ve never been here before. I’ve heard of such good birding in this area I’m kind of ashamed of myself. Especially since it’s closed. That’s right closed, due to the economic times and voter rejection of Metropark Levies. However, Butler County voters did pass the recent parks levy, but the fate of this park is still not good. I don’t feel that it will be reopened,as do other birders. That’s too bad, this place is incredible. I felt like ta thief sneaking onto this park. It pretty much has the same history as Ellis Lake and the wetlands. Used as a part of the Miami-Erie canal and also has ice production along time ago. I only scratched the surface as I walked along unkept trails, past decaying observation decks.

The time and effort put into constructing and installing these Bluebird houses, as we watch them being swallowed up by overgrown vegetation.

This was my last picture of the day, because I ran out of memory on my memory card. This is one of the fields at Gilmore Ponds, and if you look real hard at the end of the field there is a large, above the ground bird blind. I didn’t go into it, but I’m probably sure it’s not too safe, considering the run  down nature of the rest of the park.

Butler County Metroparks still has Gilmore Ponds listed on it’s web page. I will include it as a link for anyone interested. Just click on the “blue” lettering to take you there.

My last stop was Voice of America Park. I had 2 reasons to go there. One to pick up a new park pass, and the second was to do a little more birding. Remember if you’re not a resident of Butler County, the pass is $10.00.

With the recent passing of the park levy, some of the money is going top be used to expand into the I.B.A. area of the park. I guess we can’t have enough baseball or soccer fields. I don’t think they give a shit about the Henslow Sparrow habitat they’ll be encroaching upon.  A very rare bird, that relies upon this kind of open, long grass habitat to breed. I still remember last year, when Phil and myself went there to see if we could spot any. A real hard bird to see. They love to skulk around in the grass and sing. You hear them before you see them. However, one did perch upon a long piece of grass and sang for us for about 15 minutes before it flew off. As we left and it was getting dark, you thought you were surrounded by these special birds. This could be there last spring here if they decide to take too much of there habitat away. That’s why this Spring i will be visiting this area a couple times a week to catch them before construction begins, hopefully.

Well needless to say Voice of America Park was rather quiet this afternoon, with hardly any birds to speck of. So it was off to the shed for me and the Bird-Mobile. Birds for the day include:

  1. Canada Geese
  2. Lapland Longspur
  3. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  4. Northern Cardinal
  5. Brown Creeper
  6. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  7. White-throated Sparrow
  8. American Robin
  9. Carolina Chickadee
  10. Pigeon
  11. Mourning Dove
  12. Common Crow
  13. American Kestrel
  14. Red-tailed Hawk
  15. Rusty Blackbird
  16. Downy Woodpecker
  17. Horned Lark
  18. Cooper’s Hawk
  19. Turkey Vulture
  20. Northern Flicker
  21. Northern Mockingbird