Thursday, December 10, 2015

My thoughts on the West Chester Snowy Owl...

*Disclaimer:  The thoughts and opinions that I present on this blog are my own and do not represent any organization or group*

Last Friday, a birder and employee of Voice Of America (VOA) Park in West Chester, OH. found and photographed a Snowy Owl in the park.  It was later posted to Facebook, and as is to be expected, drew a lot of interest by tristate birders.

West Chester is a very, very busy area.  It is exploding with development.  This being said, the owl was in a dangerous area...

I have only seen one Snowy Owl in my lifetime and my girlfriend has never seen one.  So, we went to check it out Saturday.  As you can see, I was a loooong way from the bird...

Far Snowy Owl

Way up there.

First, let me say that I haven't been in the area or to the VOA park in a long time.  When I first went there shortly after it was opened to the public, I was amazed that such a vast open area still existed in such a bustling place.  I seen Bobolinks for the first time on a Birdathon there.  I also got my lifer Henslow's Sparrow and Dickcissel there.  These are birds that require extensive grasslands to breed.  The Dickcissel and Bobolink tend to like similar, taller, vegetation while the Henslow's tend to like shorter grasses.  Short-eared Owls were also seen there early on in the parks history.

Every time that I went there since, even just a few years later, I was shocked by the explosion of development.  Not just around the park, but also IN the park.  The area was designated an Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society.  It is an important bird area, but like other parks with the same designation, it is seen as a minor annoyance to those with $$'s in their eyes.  It actually holds little to no weight to stop such things.  From what I heard, Bobolinks are still holding on barely in the park.  More development is planned for the park according to the link below to Butler County Metroparks:

VOA 

So what does all this have to do with the Snowy Owl?  Let me explain.  Many birders went to chase the snowy at VOA.  It was moving around a lot.  There were already early reports of birders getting too close, causing the bird to keep moving.  An early report that I read stated that a birder chased the bird out of the park.

Many birders who were unfamiliar with the area, responded to the park thinking the bird was still there.  I will be honest, if I was from out of town and didn't know otherwise or see a sign that said park, I would of not known that it was one.  It is developed as much as the surrounding area near the entrance to the park.

I have seen photos of crows harassing the owl inside of VOA.  This very well could of drove the bird out of the park.  Here is my theory and opinion as to why the bird left the park.

The Snowy Owl likely took to the busy interstate to hunt not because of pressure from birders or photographers, but likely because the grass height was just right and the pavement made for a higher density of meadow voles/mice being there.  Think of this analogy:  If I was to fill both an Olympic size swimming pool and a plastic kiddie pool with 50 live mice and told you to catch one, wouldn't it be easier to catch one in the kiddie pool?

Other raptors also hunt near highways.  How many Red-tailed Hawks have you seen sitting on the side of the highway only to swoop down on something in the median, just missing passing cars?

I went to Northern Minnesota during the owl invasion of 2005.  I saw 30+ Great Gray Owls. I saw many Great Gray Owls feeding on the sides of roads.  They were feeding during the day.  This area was very rural, not many buildings at all.  The birds had a lot of open land/wooded land.  Many of them had just missed getting hit by vehicles.  There were also a few dead owls on the sides of the roads.  Very sad sight indeed.  And guess what?  NO other birders/photographers were anywhere to be seen.  Here is a picture I took of one of the owls that got hit.  It was DOA before we pulled up to it.

Road kill Great Gray Owl, Minnesota, 2005


Road kill Great Gray Owl, Minnesota, 2005

My point is that raptors, including owls, like to hunt on the sides of highways.  We humans are a sloppy species and the rodent population is likely higher in these areas.  

Here is my recollection of what I observed Sunday evening.

I had just arrived late Sunday (~5:15pm) to try to get better looks at the Snowy Owl.  When I arrived, the owl just flew from the wall that was parallel to I-75.  I saw birders parked in the middle of the road in the housing development.  I also saw birders up on the hill by the wall that would of been fairly close to the bird.  I did NOT see the bird on the wall, so I could not tell how close anyone was.  As the lighting was fading fast, many birders left at this time.  I could see that the bird flew across I-75.  I then went over on the VOA side of I-75.  I turned into a church parking lot off of Cox Rd.  I could see the owl on top of a utility pole by the church.  I stopped and did not go any farther.  I had people behind me trying to get into the church parking lot.  This made it to where I had to turn around, which put me closer to the owl.  I stayed in my car and attempted to turn around in the lot at the church.  A family of church patrons parked next to my car and a younger child got out of the car screaming and running around the lot.  The owl had its back turned to me and the child the whole time.  The owl was focused on something in the median of the highway (I-75).  The owl flew down, barely missing a collision with vehicles.  The owl then landed on a utility pole on the other side of I-75.  It was still looking at something in the median area of I-75.  I was able to get this pic of the owl, likely the last photo of the owl alive.  This was taken from the church parking lot ACROSS I-75.  
                                                       Last pics of the West Chester Snowy

The owl flew from this pole, not to be seen alive again.  It was too dark at this point to find the bird.  I was on the other side (VOA) side of 75 when the bird flew from this pole.  

The bird was actively trying to hunt, as was obvious.  Research shows that they hunt mostly at night.  Not long before this above picture was taken, I had run into someone I have known for a long while that was also there. This person is an experienced, Federally Licensed raptor bander.  We both agreed that the bird was not stressed and I was told the bird just cast a pellet before I got there. 

There is no birder or photographer to blame in the death of this bird.  It was seen Sunday actively hunting, defecating, and ejecting a pellet.  The latter means the bird was eating.  The owl was struck at night most likely going after prey.  The bird's carcass was found north of were I last saw the bird.  Unless someone had a night vision camera, there were no birders present after dark.  By publicly shaming birders/photographers, we are doing more harm to birds than good.  This turns many people off to birding.  In these times that we are in, we cannot afford to let this happen.  Birds are facing continued threats to their existence from us humans.  Be it automobiles, outdoor cats, pollution, wind farms trying to weaken federal bird protection laws for $, loss of habitat etc., the birds need as many people on their side as they can get.  This will not happen with what I have observed on social media.

We need to be educators.  Yes, the bird's well being is important and should be the top most priority when birding/photographing birds.  A good bird photographer will learn how to tell when they are too close to a bird.  The birds give you signs.  Us experienced birders need to show newer birders/photographers how to recognize these signs.  

Here is a wonderful infographic from Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Northern Ohio about how to watch a Snowy Owl safely.  


Here are some take aways from the whole situation that I feel we must learn from and/or try to prevent from happening in the future. 
  • The area that this bird was in is a very dangerous stretch of highway.  I have heard of people parking on the interstate and getting out of their cars to get close to the owl.  This is illegal and dangerous.  If the police would of showed, it likely would not be good for the owl or the birders.  In these times that we are in, if a situation would have arisen where rush hour traffic was being impeded by suspicious people with binos, scopes and cameras, I feel that people could get arrested and charged with inducing panic and or something worse.  I could also see the police shooting the owl to mediate the problem ASAP.  Think this is over the top?  Think again.  Read these articles about what happened when Snowy Owls started stopping the $ wheels at airports:

    Snowy Owls Shot Down at Airport 

    Ford Airport staff shot 9 snowy owls in last two months, live traps now set
  • Any area outside of the VOA park besides the roads and sidewalks that people were on was likely private property.  The hill by the wall may have been a state right of way, but I don't know.  The point here is that if someone was to call the law on someone for getting too close to the owl, the results could be the opposite of what you would expect.  I could see a situation where people are feuding over how close someone is to an owl and since they are on private property, the involved parties of birders get charged with trespassing by the landowner who wants no part in the ordeal.
  • Miscommunication.  In these times of social media, information spreads fast.  When the owl was first discovered deceased on the side of the road by birders, rumors started flying around the internet as to what had happened to the specimen.  It is the state game warden's job to see that the specimen did not fall into the hands of people who would illegally possess it.  Being hunting season, I am sure it would of taken a looong time for him to get to the scene.   And, likely due to budget cuts, there is no non-game wildlife biologist at the state level in this district (state?) that I know of. For the future I suggest that if a Snowy Owl is discovered locally, even if it has no signs of distress, the county wildlife officer should be contacted and advised of its location as soon as possible.  That way if a problem arises, he/she is not caught off guard.

Here are my final thoughts on the Snowy Owl saga.  For those that feel helpless and want to help conserve and learn more about Snowy Owls, I suggest supporting those organizations that are working directly with them.

Project Snowstorm is a project that attaches GPS radio transmitters to the owls to learn more about them.  What they are learning will help scientists understand and be able to conserve them better.  The video below is a little introduction to the project.


Black Swamp Bird Observatory, who partners with Project Snowstorm, is well known by local birders for the Biggest Week In American Birding.  They are very active in conservation on a national scale.  

Raptor Inc. is our local raptor rescue and rehabilitation organization.  They provide educational programs and medical care to raptors that need it.  

We birders must not become our or the birds' worst enemies.  What I mean by this is, no one is to blame in the death of the West Chester Snowy Owl.  Do we blame the person who hit it? Whoever hit it probably was on their way to work and didn't even know they did.  It could of been hit by a semi.  If we must blame someone to make us feel better, we can only blame ourselves. We humans are the ones that are destroying habitat on a daily basis.  The Snowy Owl just happened to migrate to an area that has some of the most explosive development in SW Ohio.  The owls don't have Google Maps to be able to search for the best locations to go to.  They are hard wired to go south when food is scarce and just end up somewhere.  They will hang in an area where the food is most plentiful.  

I feel that our local conservation/birding organizations need to quit being run like a Fortune 500 company and focus on these issues that undermine their missions.  In this age of the internet and digital photography, it is even more important.  Let me explain.  Some people are more interested in getting published in magazines or ending up on the cover of the latest issue of the state birding record publication than getting to see the bird itself.  Most birders/photographers I know are true birders, and concentrate more on the experience of birding and enjoy watching the birds.  They take photos to relive the experience of the day.  There is nothing wrong with wanting or having your pictures published.  But if your only goal of getting out to see a bird is with hopes of making money or getting on the cover of the next issue of the bird records publications, then maybe you should just step back and take it all in.  It will improve your experience and hence your pictures!  

Better communication between NGO's, ODNR, and local government run parks is crucial.  This is also where politics comes into play.  The Division of Wildlife has been gutted by budget cuts.  As far as I know, there is no non-game wildlife biologist in this district.  There used to be a wildlife education specialist in district 5 (SW OH).  This could of helped out in this situation if the wildlife education specialist was on the scene and could radio to the game warden in the case of a problem.  Local law enforcement and even county park rangers most likely have no biological sciences degree or any knowledge whatsoever of birds.  Even the recovery of the specimen became a social media circus.  Rumors swirled that the bird was picked up by well meaning birders.  Some said that it was picked up by Butler Co. Metroparks employees, however the Butler Co. Wildlife Officer had no knowledge of it.  Most of the people concerned with the bird's postmortem placement were from NGOs and/or institutions outside of the Cincinnati area.  Our local organizations were dead quiet.  This looked real bad on social media, but this is the reality of the state that we have let our local non-profit science based organizations in Cincinnati become.  Again, budget cuts, lack of funding, the running of non-profits as a Fortune 500 company are undermining bird conservation.  

Update:  Here is a link to a statement from Raptor, Inc. with more details about the Snowy Owl.  Must have a Facebook account.


*Disclaimer:  The thoughts and opinions that I present on this blog are my own and do not represent any organization or group*

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Big Money and East Fork SP

By now, most readers have probably heard about the Eastern Corridor Project .  It received a lot of publicity recently, as a "closed to the public" meeting was held to decide the fate of the SR 32 relocation plan.  This was the plan to relocate State Route 32 from its current location to a new location, complete with a new bridge over the Scenic Little Miami River.  It would have also cut through the Mariemont South 80 Trails Nature Preserve.  The plan was finally killed at this meeting, thankfully.

Those from the Clermont County area that have driven on I-275 at SR 32 have seen the other end of the Eastern Corridor Project.  This is the only part that I have seen that has started construction.  It is supposed to alleviate the traffic congestion around the Eastgate area.  This is not a possible task.

Clermont County has recently become an urban county.  What does this mean you ask?  It means that the county's population has exceeded 200,000.  It also means that the county is eligible for community block grants from the federal government.  These grants can be used for infrastructure improvements and parks.  I read online somewhere, that even waterparks would be a fund-able park.  Why is this important?  I can see where these funds would be used to build facilities at East Fork SP.

This, in correlation with the Eastern Corridor Project, will undoubtedly bring back the idea of opening a lodge/conference center and golf course at East Fork State Park.

Here is the original proposal from 2007 to the Clermont County Office of Economic Development:

http://www.clermontcountyohio.biz/RequestforProposal-Final.pdf

Be sure to read the section 2.1 – Accessibility.  It will show how the Eastern Corridor Project fits with the plan to open the lodge/conference center.  Also, be sure to read where it states that the park is an Audubon Important Bird Area.  This is seen as a hindrance to development, but in reality it has no bite to it.

This also pretty much guarantees that the lodge would be built on the north side of the park. There is more land to work with and this would fit into the business plan for the area.

My idea for this post arose from questions addressed to me from participants of the East Fork Birding Festival.  I was originally told that the new restrooms/bathhouse being built at the south beach was going to be open for the festival by a state employee.  That was not the case.  This also led to my being asked about the funding for the large bathhouse structure.  I could not answer these questions fully.  I was told by a state employee that it had been funded by the rowing regattas.  Many did not believe this, but this is what I was told.

Which brings me to the next and most important topic of this post.

If you bird East Fork SP in the spring, you have probably arrived at the park during a regatta. They bring in thousands of people from around the country every year, and alas, "millions" of dollars for the local economies.  The park becomes practically off limits to non-spectators.

While I am not against the regattas (even though the amount of garbage they leave behind is just ridiculous), I am against the "taking over" of our public parks by big money private interests. If birders were to essentially shut down the park for a birding event, we would be barred for good from ever returning.

This year's 2015 USRowing Club National Championships is going to be held at East Fork this July.  The only thing that could stop it would be maybe mycrocystin, a toxin produced by blue-green algae - or maybe not?

The championship is supposed to bring in just under 10,000 people from all over the country.  The thought of it not happening would cause a panic locally.  Here is an article that brings together the BIG money aspect as it relates to the algae problem.  When I have brought this news story up with local birders, they can't seem to make the connection of what I am trying to say.  Here is the article from the Cincinnati Enquirer:

http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/local/clermontcounty/2014/08/22/east-fork-state-park-algae-bloom-toxin-sen-rob-portman-legislation/14435463/

A quote from the article by US Sen. Rob Portman:

“Here, for instance, they have the opportunity to bring in a lot of rowing championships, including the national rowing championships next year,” Portman said. “We want to make sure that happens. That’s a several million dollar a year impact here in the local community...”

Usually, when big politicians talk like that, it means bad things for local wildlife...

But, back to the algae.  These photos were just taken this past week at the south beach.

DSCN3123


DSCN3120

If they want the lake good by the time of the regatta, they are not off to a very good start.  I don't see any plan or any talk about the problem.  It's all about the money.  (I was told that this bloom was not producing levels to warrant an advisory)

Now, after reading the above article, read this article to see the connection of big money.

According to this article, the lake is "managed" by the local rowing community.  


When are we birders going to be able to "manage" local taxpayer funded parks for the birds?

Another subject that I will touch on briefly is the Asian Longhorned Beetle problem.  I am not going to go on in depth about it, as it would take another long post to understand.

As I was contacting local conservation organizations for the bird festival, I conversed with a guy who was in charge of a local hunting related conservation group.   He informed me that they (state) were going to start clear-cutting portions of the park for the ALB and that ODNR had contacted them for assistance on grassland habitat restoration.  This could be a good and bad thing.  I tried to get more info and invited them to the festival, but their board did not accept the offer.  As to the ALB program - seems to me lots of money to be made, very little actual science.

I wrote this article to try to explain some of the things that I have touched on with local birders when asked very complicated questions.  I see BIG changes coming soon to the park.  This blog is of my own personal opinions only.  

I am hoping to have a wonderful turnout for next years East Fork Birding Festival.  By showing our presence, we will show that there are people who care about bird habitat and maybe we can have a better say in the goings on at East Fork.  If you are local, please consider attending next year!

Update:

This article appeared in the Community Journal recently:

http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/local/community-news/2015/06/10/beach-house-east-fork-state-park-harsha-lake-rowing-governor-national-usrowing-championships/71010954/

Here are the money figures for the event.  MUST READ!

http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/local/clermontcounty/2015/07/02/usrowing-club-national-championships-clermont-harsha-rowing-economic-clermont-county-convention-visitors-bureau/29612637/

Sunday, May 31, 2015

2015 East Fork Birding Festival Summary

I want to start off thanking those birders that helped out, many of which on such short notice.  I also would like to thank those that attended.  And, of course those organizations that made it possible like Oxbow Inc., Ohio Department of Natural Resources Divisions of Parks and Recreation, Watercraft, Wildlife, and the Cincinnati Bird Club.

I came up with a total of ~ 30 or so individuals as a final participant count.  Most did not sign in, but I knew many of the birders I seen over the two day festival.  I was hoping for better turn out, but I think it was pretty good considering the fact that it was put on with such short notice.  I am planning on having it again next year, with many new changes.

Some of the highlights in pictures from the festival.

The Baltimore Oriole had to be the bird of the festival, they were everywhere!

Baltimore Oriole

Leader Mike Kravitz leads birders to check the beach for birds.

East Fork Birding Festival 2015

Participants checking out the Red-tailed Hawk...

East Fork Birding Festival 2015

And Merlin.

East Fork Birding Festival 2015

Merlin closeup!

Merlin, East Fork Birding Festival 2015

And here are a couple of birders getting ready to go kayaking for birds! (Photos ©Becky Powers)  

And off they go!


Some bird highlights from the festival included seeing Blue Grosbeak (A lifer for one participant!), Summer Tanager (lifer for same participant), Barred Owls, and Woodcock.

The highlight for me was the night birding.  I was able to show people an American Woodcock displaying for the first time.  One participant stating:  "How long have I lived here and never seen one." It is a sight to behold if one has never witnessed it.  Also, I was able to call in up to 5 Barred Owls, with everyone getting to see one real good.  I love showing people life birds!

I am planning on doing this again next year if people are interested.  I have already heard some suggestions and or complaints from this year.  I am going to try to do things a lot different next year and also try to get more non-profits involved.  I am also going to have some food available somehow next time.  I will need help with reaching out to non-profits to encourage them to participate.  Please let me know if you have a suggestion or idea.

I am definitely going to need more advertisement for next year.  I am thinking about having a large sign made that can be put out on SR 125.  Many birders not used to the area had a hard time finding us.  I think of the rowing regattas that are held here and how many signs are out for it.  Maybe next year I can put up a sign like this one:  WELCOME BIRDERS!


This sign was about 5 miles out from East Fork in Amelia.  It is warning rowers that there is a speed trap ahead.  It appears to have been put up by ODOT.  If I was to put a sign like this up for birders for the festival, I would have been put in jail for putting up an not-allowed sign! ;-)

This brings me to part 2 of this post - Big Money and East Fork SP that I will post later.  It has some important information for birders and others that enjoy the outdoors that East Fork State Park has to offer.  I encourage all local birders to read my next post, as I see some major changes coming to the park!  (Warning - it gets political and may offend some)

Again, I want to thank those that came out and participated in the festival.  I hope to see you next year!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

East Fork Birding Festival Schedule 2015

Saturday, May 2nd

8:00am   Birding south beach area public swimming beach - Cincinnati Bird Club and Oxbow Inc.

8 am  Birding by Kayak - meet at south beach (note:  2-3 hrs long)

10:00am   Live raptors from Hueston Woods raptor center at beach

1:00pm   Some of the rarer birds seen at East Fork over the years as recorded by the areas best wildlife photographers - south ODNR park office.

2pm  Birding by Kayak - meet at south beach

8:30pm   Nocturnal birds of East Fork - meet at South beach Matt Maupin pavilion. Look for owls and woodcock.


Sunday, May 3rd

8am   Birding south beach area - CBC

8am  Birding by kayak - meet at south beach

12pm   Bald Eagles and their comeback in SW Ohio - speaker cancelled, so I will be filling in.  Location:  Matt Maupin picnic shelter at south beach.

2pm  Birding by Kayak - meet at south beach

Events for children ongoing throughout both days. Birding by kayak will also be both days. Spencer Park Aviary will also be on hand to publicize their new bird education facility opening soon in Clermont Co. as well as some local non-profit birding related orgs.

Directions:  East Fork SP south beach

Friday, April 17, 2015

Spring... It's Here!

This winter seemed like a very long one.  It was that last blast that seemed to sicken everyone of winter, including myself.  I had pneumonia for the first time, and haven't felt quite right for a while after.  Everyone around me was sick.  I wasn't going out birding much, so I feel like I have a lot of making up to do.

All of the snow from this past winter combined with LOTS of rain has kept the Ohio River and East Fork filled to the brim with very high water.  East Fork has been rather slow as a result.  The lake is just now getting to regular pool levels.

But the trees are green and the warblers are trickling in!  Getting excited for the upcoming first ever East Fork Birding Festival to be held at the south beach at East Fork State Park on May2-3rd, 2015.

Here is a little "catch up" of my local birding.

This past winter, Barred Owls were being seen everywhere in the park and elsewhere.  Even in the middle of the day.  I suspected that they were having a hard time finding food.  Many of the owls became quite famous.  One even causing some birders to argue and call in the authorities!  All of my owl pics below taken out the car window.

I was able to recognize up to at least 3 different owls on the south side of the park alone.  This one is feather-over-the-eye.  It hanged out near the curve before the apple blossom picnic area.

Barred Owl

This bird is scar face.  It seemed to hang out very near the Tate boat ramp.  

Barred Owl

Bird almost too close to focus!

Barred Owl

The East Fork Christmas Bird Count held some cool surprises.  This Snow Goose was right down the road from my house so to speak.

Snow Goose

And this bird was a total surprise... A Peregrine Falcon flying right by

Peregrine Falcon far

The Bald Eagle pair was active this past winter, they are currently nesting at the park.  I am often asked by people at East Fork when I am birding that they have never seen an eagle in the wild.  I am often able to show them one shortly after they make that statement.  Many people don't realize that eagles take a few years to acquire their white head and tail.

Bald Eagles


Bald Eagles

In the above photos, the birds where feeding on a dead American Coot.  I think that even adult birds go unrecognized by the general public.  As I was observing this eagle pair from my car (photos taken out car window), a lady got out of her car with a dog off leash.  The dog proceeded to walk towards the eagle.  I was shocked at what I was witnessing.  I was more shocked by what the eagles reaction was...

Bald Eagle protesting off leash dog

One of the birds let out a scream at the dog.  The dog didn't pay attention to the eagle, just kept going towards them.  They flew off shortly after this was taken.

I don't think the woman realized that they were eagles.  Even if she did, I don't understand why she would allow her dog to harass them.  If you are going to take your dog out to a public park or wildlife area, please be respectful of other people and wildlife - keep them ON A LEASH!  

By attending the East Fork Birding Festival, you will learn where the best places to see eagles are around the eastern Cincinnati area.

It seemed like everyone was in a hurry this past winter for spring, including the birds.

"I have to come back to this??"
Brown Thrasher

The winter wasn't all dull bird wise, we did have a Great Black-backed Gull invasion.  One adult at East Fork, this immature bird on the Ohio River in New Richmond.

Great Black-backed Gull

Winter is a good time to see winter waterfowl close up, especially when open water is hard to come by.  Here are a few Common Mergansers down on the river.

Common Mergansers

And a Bufflehead pair from East Fork.

Bufflehead pair

Common Goldeneyes doing their head thing for women.  

Common Goldeneyes

Horned Grebes were very plentiful this early spring.  Many have been misIDed as Eared.  Here is one in transition from EF.

Horned Grebe

And, a little later on, this is what they look like:

Horned Grebe

This bird was calling up a storm.  Something one doesn't often hear down here.  

These ducks always mark that spring is coming, Blue-winged Teal.

Blue-winged Teal pair

I spotted this odd looking male Blue-winged Teal at the two ponds by the ranger station at East Fork this spring.  Never seen one with this variation.

Blue-winged Teal


Blue-winged Teal


Blue-winged Teal

Odd, huh?

There seems to be a mixture of "winter" birds with spring birds.  The harsh winters of last year and this year have many winter migrants way south.  Early warblers with kinglets, and odd sight.  Here is a Golden Crowned hiding.

I see you!

And of course, what is spring without the annual American Coot podophilia!

American Coot

My next post will hopefully consist of some colorful warbly things!  Happy birding and, don't forget ------>


Thursday, March 26, 2015

East Fork Birding Festival 2015

This year, with the help of the Ohio State Parks, I have spearheaded holding a first ever birding festival at East Fork State Park.  The dates will be May 2-3rd, 2015.  As of this date, there will be live raptors, birding by kayak, bird walks, owl walks and other nocturnal birds, eagle nests updates , photography info., etc.

If anyone is willing to help volunteer, please email me (found on side of blog).

More information for those on Facebook can be found here https://www.facebook.com/EFSPBF

Thursday, December 18, 2014

In shades of brown and white

My it is hard to believe that it is December already and there only a couple of weeks til the new year.  It seems like just yesterday that I was anticipating the warblers coming back.  With all of the talk about this being another winter like last winter, I had mixed feelings.  I loved the close looks at some of the harder to find northern ducks last winter, but I didn't enjoy the extreme cold or having to drive 2 hrs in snow to and from work.

This winter started out like last winter, below normal cold with snow, but quickly returned to a more normal type winter for this area.  Many northern birds looked to at first repeat the migration pattern of last year.  But as it warmed back up, the birding seemed to slow back down dramatically.

While I love rarities and life birds, I also enjoy some of the more common winter resident and migrant birds in the area.  This bird showed up one day this early winter and stayed for quite a while at the south beach at East Fork State Park.  It had become some what of a celerity.  This immature Blue morph Snow Goose hung around the beach and was quite approachable by people.  I don't think it has ever seen humans before.

Immature blue morph Snow Goose

Immature blue morph Snow Goose

When I first saw this goose, I wasn't for sure that it was a Snow Goose.  It was sound asleep among the gulls for a long while.  I played a recording of Snow Goose on my cell phone, and the bird jumped up and walked right up to me.  It followed me around for a little while.  It called back to the phone, so I stopped playing it.  

Immature blue morph Snow Goose

The goose is no longer on the beach.  I wonder where it went?

I did manage to run across a gorgeous Rusty Blackbird one cold morning.  It was eating poison ivy berries all by itself.  I sometimes run into lone rusties in this area.  

Rusty Blackbird

Rusty Blackbird

When it turned the other way, I noticed that it had a leucistic (white) feather or two on its wing.  

Rusty Blackbird

Look at that eye, that rusty scaling on the back, such a gorgeous bird!  Here, it was eating an acorn.  

Rusty Blackbird


Rusty Blackbird

It became cloudy shortly after these shots.  I noticed a distant Belted Kingfisher whacking a shad against a dead tree branch at the end of the cove I was in.  

Female Belted Kingfisher

Female Belted Kingfisher

Female Belted Kingfisher

Horned Larks and American Pipits have been plentiful on the beach early this winter.  I had a flyover Snow Bunting and Lapland Longpur, but nothing would land to get a picture.  

Horned Larks m/f


American Pipit

While searching for winter owls like Long-eared or Northern Saw-whet, I have only come across Eastern Screech and Great Horned Owls.  This particular Great Horned put on a shown recently in the late morning in daylight.  The crows harassed it constantly.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Here, the owl was actively calling!

Great Horned Owl hooting


Great Horned Owl

I get cold chills every time I get close to a wild Great Horned.  Their power and coolness is just awesome!

There have been good winter ducks trickling in, but nothing like last winter yet.  Here is an odd sight that I don't see much.  Ducks on the beach, in this case, a female Northern Shoveler.  

Female Northern Shoveler


Female Northern Shoveler

I finally found a Snow Bunting that decided to stay on the beach at East Fork State Park for a few days.  I love Snow Buntings, as most people do.  

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

There was a Snowy Owl seen briefly in Butler County.  I was out birding the day of its presence, but was not able to get up to see it. It was gone the next day.  Having only ever seen one snowy, I would love to see another.  Hoping to have one appear here this winter!

I do bird other places other than East Fork State Park.  Seeking a change of scenery and maybe something exciting, I decided to hit the Ohio River recently.  The only cool bird seen was this Black Scoter.  I wasn't sure what it was at first, but I was able to see it pretty close after repositioning in the brush.  This bird was at Crooked Run Nature Preserve in Chilo, Ohio.

                            Female Black Scoter

Since I plan on birding some early tomorrow, I will rap things up.  I will leave you with this advice: 

Always find time to spend outdoors.  As I find that things seem to be changing fast around me, I can always slow time down by spending time in nature.  

Ring-billed Gull