Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Loon study in different lighting and distances

I feel like a loonatic, having looked at Common Loons all day long.  I have again been searching for the reported Pacific Loon at East Fork State Park.  Pacific would be a lifer, so I really want to be sure of ID before I say that I have ticked it.

I have seen a few loons that appear different.  However, when I look at the "different" one long enough, I only come up with Common.  I wish I had more experience with winter loons.

Here are a few pictures from today that illustrate the point.  Distance can make things appear and disappear.  Lighting makes things do the same.  Size and shape changes with the light constantly, fooling the eyes.  I took the time to watch one loon to the west of the main beach in the cove for over an hour.  No other loons were in close sight.  All of these photos are of the same bird, I can assure you.

Here are the photos from when the sun was out.

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Here are the ones when the sun went behind the clouds.  

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Remember, all of these pictures are of the same bird in different light.  When the bird got close enough, it looked like just a Common Loon.  I could not make it into anything else.  However, I do not have enough experience separating winter loons to make a definitive conclusion as to species. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Pacific Loon at East Fork??

Some of the most seasoned birders in Cincinnati had found what is thought to be a Pacific Loon at East Fork Lake State Park.  It has been staying very distant, so good, quality photos can not be obtained.  Having heard it was west of the main swimming beach, I decided to use my knowledge of the lake and try to get as close to the bird as possible today (Nov. 16).  I parked at the US Army Corps of Engineers visitor center off of ST RT 222 and Slade Rd.  This put me slightly closer to the birds, but they still remained fairly far off.

When I got down to the bank of the lake, I noticed two loons out from me.  One was clearly a Common, the other looked smaller, darker and thinner billed.  However, the differences were very subtle.  The light was not good (horrible).  Here are the photos.  Most are heavily cropped.


Common Loon in background with mystery loon.


Common Loon in background with mystery loon.


The East Fork Pacific Loon?


The East Fork Pacific Loon?

Update:  A very reliable source ID's this as a very small female Common Loon.  I know this birder and refer to him as an expert.  It is a nice study in the variability of Common Loons.  I would speculate that a lot of COLOs are misidentified as other species fairly often when stellar photos are not obtained.  

It also should be noted that I did not see the original bird in question the day that it was seen. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

A big white bird - Pelican!

Yesterday, two birding friends of mine hit the jackpot at East Fork SP.  They had a Cattle Egret, American White Pelican (love them), and a Franklin's Gull in the same morning.  I wasn't able to get down there to see the pelican.  I have only seen one other white pelican, that one also at East Fork.

Today, I refound the pelican flying high above the beach. It went out of sight 3 times only to reappear over the beach and then disappear east again.  Hopefully, it will stick around for a while.  It acted like it wanted to land on the beach a couple of times, but decided not to.  I was able to get some pics in the poor light.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

Such an awesome and out of place looking bird!  

The Franklin's Gull was also still on the beach.  This has been a very good year for Franklin's Gulls.  It seems that every other day this fall East Fork has hosted them.  I want to thank those that have found and promptly reported these awesome birds so that others can enjoy them!

Franklin's Gull saying, yeah, yeah, you all are looking for the big white bird!  

Franklin's Gull yawning

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Red-necked invasion repeat?

It is looking like this is going to be another fantastic northern bird year like last year.  It's only October and many northern birds are already appearing.

These two Red-necked Grebes were hanging out today in the same spot I got them last year at East Fork State Park.  They were to the right of the beach.


Red-necked Grebes


Red-necked Grebes


Red-necked Grebes

And this is how close they came to a few of us:

How close the East Fork grebes were.

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebes

Sunday, August 10, 2014

If only the birds could talk...

Fall migration is off to a good start so far this season.  I haven't been out as much as I would of liked to, mostly because of work and other commitments.  I had made one trip to see a particular bird, but I will save that for another post.

This time of year is always exciting to me.  It marks the start of seeing shorebirds on the beach at East Fork State Park.  This unusually cool summer and the recent blue-green algae - microcystin bloom has lowered the amount of people using the beach this summer.  This has allowed some shorebirds and terns to remain on the beach for a little while and allow people to see them.  There is not much in the way of shorebird habitat in Clermont county, so it is nice to be able to show people birds fairly close without a scope.  So far this season, I have seen or seen confirmed reports of Least, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Sanderling, Short-billed Dowitcher, Semipalmated Plover, Spotted and Pectoral Sandpipers.

I have met a few more people out watching birds in the last few days.  One was an Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Watercraft officer, which is nice to see.  I also met a couple of ladies who I noticed were watching the gulls on the beach.  One was trying to get pictures of the Caspian Tern that was on the beach.  The lady she was with had a small dog in her arms.  They were walking up to the gull flock, putting themselves between the birds and the water.  One of the women came to me and stated that she can't get any close up pictures of the tern.  I suggested that for one she not walk between the birds and the water, they don't like that.  Another suggestion I made, was that she try not to approach them with a dog in her hands.  While this may sound like common sense, she made the statement that she never thought of that and that the dog would never harm them.  I then asked her how the birds would know that?  After her friend backed off with the dog, she was able to approach the flock to about 8 ft.

As many people are unaware, East Fork State Park is an Ohio Important Bird Area.  It is important for both breeding birds as well as a migration stopping/refueling point.  There is very little area that is suitable at the right times of year for shorebirds along the lake.  This is mainly because of the fact that the shore is rocky and the water comes very close to thick forested vegetation.  Being a man-made lake, the water level is pretty constant during fall migration.  Most shorebirds prefer wide open areas, so that they can keep a weary eye to the sky for airborne predators such as falcons.  There is just such a spot that exists to the left/west of the south public beach that contains shallow water and rocks that harbor food for shorebirds.

So, what are all the birds at East Fork squawking about??

Great Blue Heron


Caspian Tern


Keep talkin'

Imagine my horror and surprise to see this sign erected by Ohio Department of Natural Resources today in this very spot!  

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This area is a very small area, but it has proven important to migrant shorebirds.  

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While I am not anti-dog, birding and off leash dogs just don't mix.  I have been bitten before while birding at East Fork by off leash dogs.  I did not feel it necessary to file a report (years ago now).  

Here is a sample of the HOW and WHY I say this little area is very important for stopover shorebirds and even other migrants.  Most of these birds didn't venture far from this little area.  

Purple Sandpipers
PURPLE SANDPIPERS


Black-bellied Plover
BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER


American Golden Plover juvenile
AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER


Upland Sandpiper
UPLAND SANDPIPER


Juvenile Ruddy Turnstone
RUDDY TURNSTONE


Cattle Egret
CATTLE EGRET 

While it is possible that these birds could use other areas of the lake, it also proves that they are willing to put up with human disturbance to continue to feed here.  This says to me that this area is prime habitat.  Even though it is a small area, it has proven to be very productive bird wise.  

That is why I suggest that ODNR consider removing this area from a pet swimming area.  There is also one of these signs on the other side (east/right) of the beach.  While, I have seen shorebirds on that side, all of the above birds stuck strictly to the left side of the beach.  The right (east) side also gets a good deal of disturbance from a private boat dock used for boat rentals. ODNR most likely doesn't have a clue to the importance of this area to migrating shorebirds.  I know from being there that the Purple Sandpipers brought some birders from quite a distance.  I also know many birders for which these birds were spark birds.  Therefore, I would appreciate if birders who bird East Fork State Park  would let the Division of State Parks know your concern for the birds that rely on this area for refueling during migration.   You can do so by calling or emailing the contacts listed in the link above for East Fork.   Email ohiostateparks@dnr.state.oh.us 

Thank you and I hope to see you at East Fork birding soon!

UPDATE:

Thanks to the many birders that emailed ODNR, the sign has been removed and will not be returned.  The area to the right of the beach will remain designated as a pet swim area.  

A special thanks goes out to ODNR, Ohio State Parks and ODNR employees.  Specifically Chad Smith and Martin H McAllister.  Thank you for listening and caring for the birds!

On a side note, I am in brainstorming mode on a way that birders could hold a public event/program centered around birding/birds found at the park.  Suggestions would be welcome.  

Monday, May 19, 2014

American Avocet - life bird, finally!

There has been an American Avocet hanging out at a big mud puddle at Lost Bridge for a while.  I usually don't like to travel far for life birds, however the avocet is an awesome looking bird that I want to see.  I kept hoping that I would one day see one land on the beach at East Fork, but with all of the ever increasing human use, it was/is becoming more and more unlikely.  I got to thinking, since I now work in Hebron, KY, Lost Bridge is only a couple exits from work.  So I decided to make the trip out.

When my girlfriend and I first pulled up, I saw a couple looking out over the water.  I pulled off the road and got out of the car and found the bird quickly.  It was very far away.  Since I had my scope stolen, I really couldn't get a good look at it.  I thought dang.  I need to just keep waiting.  I am glad I did.  Here it comes!

American Avocet in flight

The bird landed right by the road.  I got in the car and pulled up right next to the bird, using the car as a blind.

American Avocet

What an awesome bird!  Gorgeous! 

American Avocet

Love everything about this bird, the pattern on the back is cool.

American Avocet


American Avocet


American Avocet

I think this is my favorite shorebird.  The bird started calling and flew over the car out of sight to a gravel pit on the other side of the road.  

American Avocet calling


A couple of birders pull up right at the same time.  They said they were looking for a bird.  I asked them what bird and they said avocet.  I told them that it just flew to the other side of the road.  I thought, dang, was I lucky!  We searched and searched for the bird, but could not relocate it.  As I was getting back in my car, I noticed a large shorebird hunched down in the vegetation back at the big mud puddle.  It was the avocet.  I showed the couple the bird, for which it was very near on the close shore.  They were very thankful that I spotted it, cause it was concealed in vegetation.  I am glad that I got to show them this awesome bird.    

I got to thinking...  I have gotten my lifer Wilson's Phalarope at this same spot years ago.  There were flocks of shorebirds flying in and out the whole time I was there.  This place is only a shallow scrape in the mud that is used as a topsoil operation.  It would not be hard to recreate this same type of habitat in a river valley.  If only I had the money...

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Spring surprise!

Well the hotter than normal weather has now become the cooler than normal weather.  Temperatures of 85° in the daytime will now be replaced by 60° high temps.  The cold front that had brought this change brought some nice storms.  I know by experience that after such a storm is a good time to check the beach at East Fork State Park for fallout shorebirds and other waterbirds.  I had Spotted, Least, Semipalmated Sandpipers, and Semipalmated Plovers with Killdeer.  But I wasn't expecting to see this:

Franklin's Gull

Franklin's Gull

A 1st summer Franklin's Gull.

I thought when I first saw it that it might be a Laughing Gull, but the white spots on the primaries proved otherwise.  It was flying around the parking lot area, landing and taking off again.

Franklin's Gull


Franklin's Gull


Franklin's Gull

The bird was very skittish and was always moving around.  Always remember to bird the weather.