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Two Life List Birds Seen Near an Airfield.

June 2, 2018

Western Kingbird

Upland Sandpiper

During the third week of May, spring migration was on the down side.  Trees were fully leafed out, making it hard to see such spring favorites as Wood Warblers.  But not all migrants are in the forests.

Two notable species of birds were seen near a Columbus airfield- one a very rare visitor, the other a secretive migrant.  I went out to see if I could spot them.

Don Scott Airfield is the property of Ohio State University, and surprisingly is the 3rd busiest airport in the state.  Surrounding it is OSU’s Livestock Facility.  Nature-wise, this means a lot of fields and grassland with a bit of woods off to the side.

Cows are plentiful and wonder what all of this birdwatching fuss is all about.

Unsure of the etiquette involved in being on the property, I wound my way along dirt roads until I finally saw a collection of cars in the middle of nowhere.  Jackpot!

Rule number one when looking for a rare bird- find the other birders at the site.  Chances are they are where the bird is (or has been recently).  They tend to be folks who know what they are doing (OK, there are exceptions but rarely).

I met some familiar faces- local birders tend to turn up a lot at these kinds of things- and sure enough, they were right where I wanted to be.  Michelle, Ed and Sheila were a few birders whom I know, and we all talk shop.  I can imagine novice birders thinking we are talking too much.  But hey, birding is often a solitary hobby and it’s always good to blow off the dust and swap tales of events since we all last met.  I can imagine frontiersmen at their annual gatherings knowing just what I’m talking about 🙂

The cows are interested too.  In perhaps getting a treat…

Along this stretch of fencing (where the birders gathered) was the main bird I came to see.  It was fairly close to us and didn’t seem to worry.

This is a Western Kingbird, fairly common west of the Mississippi River, but rare in Ohio.  This bird is a Flycatcher, and likes perching on fences or trees in grasslands from which it sallies out to catch and eat insects on the wing.  Our bird here was associating with Eastern Kingbirds- fairly common east of the Mississippi River.

This is a handsome bird with its yellow-tinted belly, olive brown wings and gray head.  They aggressively defend their nests from predators and other Flycatchers, but can be found nesting near other birds that are no threat to them.  A nice thing to note is that these birds have apparently flourished due to human activity such as planting trees on the Great Plains, clearing woodlands, and erecting fences and telephone poles which they like to perch on.

Our rare bird fluttered out to catch insects on the wing, returning to the fence afterwards.  After lookinjg for Warblers in the woods it was noce to see a bird out in the open!

This grassland habitat hosted other birds-

One of a pair of Northern Mockingbirds that were building a nest in a patch of bushes

A pair of Barn Swallows resting for a bit from their constant flying

An Eastern Meadowlark, a common grassland bird

A Savannah Sparrow (another grassland dweller)  that was singing on territory

A male Bobolink, always fun to see and hear in fields in the summertime

Many of us birders decided to walk around and down along the airfield fence, having heard another grassland bird singing…

…and sure enough, there it was upon the fence surrounded by Eastern Kingbirds…

Notice the bird facing the opposite way

This is a Dickcissel, and they sing like their name- ‘dick-dick-sisisis’

Where would we be without fences for birds to perch upon?  This had been a good day, with sightings of all sorts of grassland birds, including the Western Kingbird.  But it wasn’t over yet.  One of the birders heard a bird that is rather hard to see.  Then, even better, this bird flew directly overhead and he shouted out to the rest of us to look up-

This is an uncommon look at an Upland Sandpiper, a bird that was migrating to Canada to breed in the summer.  Unlike most Sandpipers, it prefers a grassland habitat- often being found at airports.  This bird was considered a delicacy and used to be hunted until the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty.  It’s not as common as it once was, but it is holding its own numbers-wise now.

This sighting capped off a grand birding day indeed.  There are different sets of birds in different habitats, so you’ll often see different birds in the fields than you do in the woods.  I’m so used to concentrating upon woods and wood edges that it was refreshing to get out into a more wide-open setting, with good birders and birds both in abundance.

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A Spring Tour of Mid-Southern Ohio.

May 5, 2018

I spent a few days recently at the end of April until the first day of May in southern Ohio, visiting a variety of places.  Spring is in full swing, the cold April weather has finally broken, and at this particular time in Ohio bushes are leafing out and spring ephemeral wildflowers are in bloom but the trees haven’t quite started leafing- so I thought it may be easier to see migrant birds.  Maybe.  🙂

Here’s a selection of what I saw.

Leo Petroglyphs

Perched on a ridge in Southern Ohio on a large relatively flat sandstone rock are the remains of the most remarkable rock art in Ohio.

The rock surface includes between 30 and 40 different figures. Some representing humans, birds, a fish and others.

The 12 acre park tract consists of a beautiful Heavy Timber Shelter house erected in the 1930s as a WPA project. It is built over the Leo Petroglyphs.

Adjacent is a stunning nature trail that, though limited in length is one of the most beautiful in all Ohio.

Serpent Mound

Perhaps the most famous earthworks of the ancient Indian cultures in North America, this 1300-foot-long snake-shaped mound is in Adams county.  I’ve been here before and blogged about it.

Serpent Mound also has a nature trail exploring the surrounding creek bottomlands and hills.

Paint Creek State Park

Located amid the breathtaking scenery of the Paint Creek Valley, 5,652-acre Paint Creek State Park features a large lake with fine fishing, boating and swimming opportunities. A modern campground and meandering trails invite outdoor enthusiasts to explore and enjoy the rolling hills and streams of this scenic area.

Rocky Fork State Park

Rocky Fork State Park is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Unlimited horsepower boating allows for excellent skiing on the 2,080-acre lake which also provides catches of bass, muskellunge and walleye for skilled fishermen. Nearby, a scenic gorge, dolomite caves and natural wetlands add to the popularity of this recreation area.

Also along the way were various towns with interesting architecture and historical sights that I always like to sight-see.

Pike Lake State Park

My base of operations on this trip was a cabin at Pike Lake State Park.  This park is fairly small but is nestled in the middle of the Pike Lake State Forest, and has plenty of trails and sights to see.

587-acre Pike Lake State Park is located in the midst of the scenic wooded hills of southern Ohio. The small 13-acre lake and surrounding state forest contribute to the park’s rustic charm.

It gets really dark out in the country!

Redbud trees were blooming

There was a small park office

The cabins were quite nice with modern fixtures

A funny story about this particular trail that climbed into the hills and looked down upon the lake below.  The path was narrow like a deer track and was sometimes covered with leaves, so you had to follow the red blazes marked on trees to know you were on the right track.  Halfway through the trail, up in the hills with no cell phone service, the red blazes stopped!  It was getting late and after searching through the woods and not finding the red blazes (perhaps they are an ongoing project) I turned back around and backtracked down into the park valley just as it got dark.  I was glad I didn’t have to sleep with the bears in the woods!

April and May are the months that Spring Ephemeral wildflowers can be seen in Ohio’s woodlands.  I’ve blogged about them before, but it’s been a while!

The most spectacular spring ephemeral flower in evidence was undoubtedly the White Trillium.  Whole wooded hillsides of southern Ohio were covered with it.  This plant is easily identified by its large size, 3 petals, and 3 leaves.

Another less showy Trillium was Sessile Trillium, also known as Toadshade.  If you get close enough to its flower, you’ll note its foul smell.

Violets were very common as well, in their varied colors.

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Spring Beauties

These Rue Anemones were being visited by a Falcate Orangetip butterfly.

Blue Phlox (also known as Wood Phlox) added its pleasant color to the hills.

This Wild Geranium was a bit early.  It’s one of the late spring ephemerals to show up.

Other spring wildflowers of note included:

Chickweed

Bellwort

Kidney-Leaved Buttercup

Golden Ragwort

Butterweed

Wintercress

Pussytoes

Dandelions, homeowner’s foe but beloved by many insects

And now, for the birds.  I’ll start off with 4 Warblers freshly-migrated up from South America that live in the deep woods that are hard to spot when there are leaves on the trees- I was happy to get photos of them!

Kentucky Warbler

Ovenbird

Worm-Eating Warbler

Louisiana Waterthrush

Other migrants were showing up, getting ready to start their own nests.

Eastern Phoebe (one of our earliest nesters)

Baltimore Oriole

Rufous-Sided Towhee (actually a year-round resident)

Wood Thrush- a beautiful woodland singer

House Wren

Eastern Kingbird (a flycatcher like the Phoebe)

Canada Geese goslings

A mother Killdeer fakes having an injured wing to lure people away from her young

I had a great time exploring natural areas in the mid-southern Ohio region for a few days.  Now, as the leaves grow upon the trees, spring migration goes into high gear.  I’m off to eastern Ohio soon for another cabin trip- hopefully the weather will cooperate!

A Winter’s Day in the Treetops.

April 7, 2018

American Goldfinch

Pine Siskin

Common Redpoll

I saw a life-list bird last January.  Not the season you think of when seeing new birds, but this visitor is usually in Canada for the winter.  And that makes even Ohio in January look reasonable!

The bird was reported seen in Delaware State Park, north of Columbus.  This park surrounds Delaware Lake- a reservoir constructed in 1951 to provide drinking water and recreation to the area’s residents.  This is a park with lots of different habitats and is a good birding spot.

The Sweet Gum Area contains (you guessed it) mature Sweet Gum trees spaced out in grassy fields.  This is where the bird had been seen, associating with a flock of American Goldfinches.

I was not the only birder looking for this particular bird.  It’s good to get outdoors on a sunny winter’s day and move around.  Cabin fever begone!

I did a blog post on American Sweet Gums some time ago.   These particular trees were quite tall, and full of their spiny seed pods.

Sure enough, a flock of a couple of dozen American Goldfinches flew into the area.  They set about attacking the Sweet Gum balls to get at the seeds inside.

The Goldfinches were in their modest winter plumage.  In the spring, the males will become bright yellow to attract mates.

Like a decent amount of bird species, Goldfinches flock together in the cold winter months.  There’s safety in numbers with all of the extra eyes looking out for threats- and food.  Spring will see the birds start to pair off in anticipation of nesting and raising the next generation of Goldfinches.  These birds nest later than many species- you can often see them nesting in the early autumn, after Thistles have matured.  They use Thistle down to weave their nests, which are often watertight.

It’s not uncommon for different species of birds to flock together.  This bird stands out from the Goldfinches by its streaked breast, pointed beak and yellow-tinged wingbars.  What bird is this?

This is not our uncommon winter visitor I was searching for.  This is a Pine Siskin, and actually it is fairly erratic in its winter presence in Ohio as well.  This bird loves foraging in the trees.  It will occasionally be seen at feeders as well.  Its name indicates that it often is seen in evergreen trees, but this one liked the Sweet Gums as much as its Goldfinch buddies.

As time went by, my fellow birders and I started developing sore necks from looking nearly straight up at the treetops.  This condition is often called ‘warbler neck’ (Warblers love treetops too).  So many Goldfinches roamed the treetops that it was difficult to sort out other birds.

Wait!  What was that bird with a streaked breast and a bit of black around its yellow bill?  Seeing it from underneath made it harder.  Not to mention trying to tell others where it was- ‘this tree, the left fork, the third branch up 2/3 of the way out from the trunk’…

There’s the red spot on its forehead- it’s definitely a Common Redpoll.

These finches are hardy residents of the Arctic tundra and northern boreal forests.  They are used to far colder weather than Ohio can throw at them.  These birds sometimes tunnel into the snow to keep warm!

 

This bird may have traveled far to get here.  As Cornell University’s All About Birds webpage devoted to them says:

A few banding records have shown that some Common Redpolls are incredibly wide ranging. Among them, a bird banded in Michigan was recovered in Siberia; others in Alaska have been recovered in the eastern U.S., and a redpoll banded in Belgium was found 2 years later in China.

After a bit, I lost the bird in the trees among the Goldfinches.  Then most of the Goldfinches flew off.  But I had seen another life-list bird.  That warmed up the chilly day indeed.

Snowy Owl.

March 3, 2018

Snowy Owl

There is a bird that is a spectacular irregular winter visitor to Ohio, coming down from the Great White North looking for things to eat.  This is the Snowy Owl, a species most birders really want to see.

Snowy Owls tend to come down from Canada in waves in occasional winters.  One theory says a food shortage drives this; another says that an abundance of food allows these birds to spread out more.  Back in the winter of 2013-14, I spent all day in my car out along rural county roads looking for a couple of Owls that had been spotted, but I didn’t see them.  It turned out that one Owl was just a mile away from one of the roads I was searching.  Snowys often range across large expanses of farm fields and even airport grasslands, so it can be difficult spotting them.

Last December, however, brought a Snowy Owl to Clark County’s Buck Creek State Park.  The bird was seen in the parking lot and even on the reservoir beach.  I went out one very cold and windy day to look for it.

I enjoy visiting Buck Creek- I’ll have to post about it one day

Beach parking lot- the Snowy had been seen here

The beach

There wasn’t much in the way of birds around, save for the occasional Ring-Billed Gull

A group of birders looking for the Owl- it was so cold and windy it brought stinging tears to one’s eyes

The Snowy was along the causeway in the rocks- it was very hard to see because it blended in well.  It had flown there when nearby hunters (allowed in a designated area in the park this time of year) had fired their shotguns.  Helpful birders with scopes gave others a look.

Here’s the Snowy Owl- it took me a long time to spot it!

A couple of vehicles stopped on the causeway and looked down upon the Owl

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This birder walked out upon the causeway to get a close look at the bird.  This caused a good amount of consternation among the group of birders.  The unwritten rule of birding is to not overtly disturb birds while observing them.  Most birders follow this rule, but it seems there’s always someone who does not.

The birder got too close, and flushed the Snowy Owl from the rocks

The Owl landed upon the beach, and birders scrambled to get a good view

Here’s the Owl.  They are large, magnificent birds.  It may look like it’s out of place, but Snowys like wide-open treeless spaces, such as their native tundra.  They’ll sit for hours looking for prey.

Snowys typically eat small rodents and birds.  They are very agile flyers

You can see their feathered feet in this photo- they have to stay warm in the tundra

The bird stayed around the beach for some days and then apparently moved on.

This was a life-list bird for me, and one I’ll never forget.  It was a privilege to see one!

 

Pictures from 2017 – Birds.

February 3, 2018
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It’s time for the 3rd annual bird photo highlights, 2017 edition!

Here’s bird highlights from 2015 and 2016 if you’d like to take a look.

This Green Heron was crouching low in the water, looking for little fish

An immature Bald Eagle, a species that is increasing in Ohio.  It will get its white head when it is an adult

A male Yellow Warbler singing

 

A Ring-Billed Gull, a numerous inland seagull, hangs out at a local reservoir

An American Tree Sparrow, a winter resident

A Red-Tailed Hawk soars over Madison Lake on a sunny February day

Caspian Terns like to stop by beaches on their migrations

A Ruby-Crowned Kinglet flashes his ruby crown

A male Eastern Towhee

A Winter Wren looks for food

A Marsh Wren peeks out of the Cattails to keep an eye on me

A Carolina Wren sings its loud song

A White-Crowned Sparrow

A Cedar Waxwing about to feast on Wild Grapes

A Yellow-Rumped Warbler eating one of its favorites- Poison Ivy berries

Two young Barn Swallows check out the wide world

A Gray-Cheeked Thrush looks out from a wood-edge

A Gray Catbird shows off its rufous untertail

A Dark-Eyed Junco, another winter sparrow

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A male Bobolink keeping an eye on his summer field

A Solitary Sandpiper- true to its name, it is alone

A squawking Common Grackle

A pair of Wood Ducks at a local nature preserve

A Willow Flycatcher patrols its territory in a summer field

A Sora Rail looks for food in the Darby Wetlands

An Eastern Phoebe hanging out on a cabin porch in the rain

A Chestnut-Sided Warbler

A Red-Headed Woodpecker- one of my favorite birds to see

A few of the new species I saw last year:

A Common Tern

A rare (for Ohio) White Ibis

A Ruddy Turnstone, far more common along ocean beaches than inland reservoirs where I saw it

Birds with stories attached:

A Robin and a male Red-Winged Blackbird band together to mob a hawk

A Canada Warbler on spring migration- I’ve had a devil of a time getting a decent picture of this species, I was very happy to get this photo!

A Bell’s Vireo singing its distinctive song at Prairie Oaks Metro Park.  This onetime-rare Ohio species is showing up in small but regular breeding numbers in the last few years.

Hanging out on the picnic tables at Alum Creek State Park, these Turkey Vultures enjoy the early-morning sun.  They like these perches as I often see a good number of them there.

Typical gull behavior- A Ring-Billed Gull has a prize fish to eat, but must walk quickly away from a buddy trying to snatch the prize!  This happened on the beach at Alum Creek, a frequent location for uncommon birds (though Ring-Bills are common here).

This male Common Goldeneye duck was seen at Prairie Oaks Metro Park in Big Darby Creek in May and June of last year.  The problem is, this is a winter bird in Ohio.  The bird was either ill or confused about where to be.  He often hung out on this tree trunk in the creek.

A one-legged Ring-Billed Gull- I’ve seen this bird in various parking lots around Columbus for a few years now.  The bird hops along and copes well with its situation.  I always wonder how it got that way!

And, last but not least, two birds I get lots of pictures of:

Song Sparrow singing

American Robin

Thanks for reliving some birding photo highlights from 2017 with me!