Friday, 18 April 2014

In which I went to eat a burger and ended up buying a pedometer

Eating burgers and buying pedometers don't sit comfortably together, but last week the former ended up leading to the latter. I met a couple of ex-colleagues from back in the old days somewhere near Waterloo. I ended up consuming somewhere in the region of 8,000 calories in the form of a truly excellent burger, and then Linda showed me her Fitbit. Not a euphemism, but a kind of fancy pedometer that connects to an android phone. Whilst she too ate (most of) a burger, her little dongle (not a euphemism either) showed she had walked 7,500 steps, climbed 50 sets of stairs, and burned a trillion calories. She doesn't look like me. 

Whilst in reality it is little more than a pedometer, it is pretty nifty to be able to have it go straight to your phone and see how far you have traveled. For an ardent patch-worker like myself, ahem, it could being quite motivating. To cut a long story short, there is one of these things now attached to my belt, and since I unpackaged it about two hours ago, I've walked 341 steps and burned 232 calories. I've also eaten nearly an entire large packet of crisps and a large sandwich, so I'm probably still behind, but let's just see how many steps I can take over this easter weekend.

I went on the patch this morning despite all my moaning, but sadly before this little gizmo arrived. So I'm actually pretty keen to get out there again and see how far I travel. It was pretty dead, but a Common Whitethroat kept me occupied for a little while. How many calories does chasing a Whitethroat around carrying a large camera burn I wonder? I looked it up, but the internet is unfortunately none the wiser. Loads I expect, as it is a fast little bugger and the ground is pretty uneven, so at times I actually leaped, gazelle-like, over tussocks that were at least 15cm high. Naturally I feel a lot better for it, which is why I ate the crisps.




Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Osprey exacerbates patch woes

I have just about recovered from missing a patch Osprey. It is not the missing of it, I've seen one, but the manner of missing it. As I have no doubt recounted once or twice (or perhaps approaching 20 times...) I am unable to bird the patch beyond about 8am. Other birders are able to bird the patch until well past lunchtime. Other birders therefore escort me off the patch towards varying methods of public transport, chuckling gently, for they know that as soon as I am gone the real action can begin. I could probably cope if a good bird was subsequently found mid-morning, say 10:30. I'd be well into my mornings work, and there would not be a lot I could do about it. What does my head is in is quite how frequently this occurs almost instantaneously, as generally I am on the station platform. This time they didn't even wait that long. 

It is a running joke, of course. As I left, a cheery wave, and so I reciprocated with a text almost as soon I was off-patch. "Do your worst" I think I said. By return, news of the Osprey. I assumed this was a joke, indeed a very poor one, as Osprey is basically the only patch blocker I have. Half a minute later and it was all over the web. FFS. I had missed it by perhaps five minutes, maybe even less than that. As I say, by an hour or so, whatever, but the consistency with which this tends to occur within minutes is unbelievable, and my tolerance for it is wearing more than a little thin.

I always knew that this year wouldn't be a big year on the patch - I have other priorities, not least a very busy period at work, but I have grown a little tired of the same old same old of it. I'm also sick of seeing dogs running wild over the habitat despite the signage, and getting unwarranted verbal abuse from their owners if I dare to politely explain what the issue is. I'm fed-up of the continual degradation of the habitat from the absurdly misguided slash-and-burn management techniques of the Corporation, who rather than police the area properly, prefer to simply cut down the invertebrate-rich understory that might otherwise conceal illicit activities. And I'm frustrated at the selfish behaviour that means the patch is covered in litter and used prophylactics. Oh, and not forgetting morally deficient pikeys. It's just one thing after another, and this latest near-miss isn't going to help get me back into it. Indeed, I didn't bother even going birding for over a week afterwards. What's the point? I'm just going to be disappointed that I can't do it justice - better that I pour my energies into something else. Why bother trudging round for a couple hours seeing not a lot, then to be immediately gripped off by all the stuff I missed that suddenly comes out as soon as I'm gone. And it does suddenly come out, it's not like I walk past with my eyes closed - I think the time I have to leave is precisely the time that it warms up sufficiently for small birds to come out and start feeding, especially at this most interesting time of the year.

So, I have mostly hit the big "sod it" button, and am concentrating on other things. Mainly getting the hell out of this shitty and over-crowded country to places which are remote enough that I can go about my birding without getting disturbed, hassled, abused, threatened or gripped. Funnily enough I find it a lot more enjoyable that way. London and the South-east have to be some of the worst places to bird I can think of. Too many people is the bottom line, and wildlife and the enjoyment (and protection) of it comes a distant last. And I for one am approaching the point where my enthusiasm can no longer overcome all of negative aspects that unfortunately come with the territory.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Bastard Birding Gods

My track record in East Yorkshire on the way from Scotland continues, like me, to head south. Whilst I could have got up at midnight, or rather not gone to sleep at all, I instead opted for the much more civilized start time of 3.30am. I wasn't actually expecting the Crag Martin to be there, and so plan A was to spend as much of the day photographing Gannets at Bempton. In the event the bird was there, irritatingly briefly, and I missed it by perhaps an hour, and then of course wasted - in so far as wandering round on sunny bird-filled cliff tops is ever wasted - a portion of the day waiting it for to turn up again. Which, needless to say, it didn't.

It's actually a fairly long diversion from the standard route south on the A1, probably adding something like three hours to the overall journey. The last time I did this I dipped a Roller, which in fact was still present but just hiding from me, no doubt instructed to do so by the Birding Gods, though what has caused their displeasure I have no idea. At least the family wasn't with me this time, and I could spend the whole day dawdling in a very pleasant area, rather than a brief stop in the pouring rain, no bird and a largely silent drive home. In fact the only similarity, other than dipping, was arriving home in London gone 11pm and being totally shattered the following day. 

After scoring the Tawny Pipit on the cliffs, I decided I'd had enough of standing around with scores of identically dressed dejected-looking people, and proceeded with plan A, which was Bempton. Actually I think it was plan B, as plan A had been to go the Farnes and spend hours and hours photographing Puffins. This plan was abandoned soon after inception due to all boats at this time of year seemingly topping out at 1 hour max on Inner Farne, and in order to get even that, having to face up to another dose of Grace Darling and running commentary as to what a Shag looks like. Bempton therefore seemed a viable seabird extravaganza alternative, and indeed was a brilliant day out, the lack of very rare vagrants notwithstanding. 


In many ways the weather was too nice to be photographing large white seabirds, but whilst I waited for friendly clouds I just breathed it all in - in particular the sound is incredible. Kittiwakes dominate, but all the Auks are there, and the Gannets are magnificent. When was the last time you were four feet from a Gannet that had absolutely no interesting in flying away from you? If you can bear the eight hours in a car that it will take you to get there and back from London, it will be brilliant for the next three months or more. Perhaps do a weekend, Farnes on Saturday, Bempton on the way back on Sunday?

I stuck around the area 'til the bitter end, hoping it might reappear to roost in the same area as the previous day, but there was no further sighting after about 8am. Somewhat of a shame. Apart from that, all is well. Well, almost. Did I mention the Osprey?





Sunday, 6 April 2014

Wheatears


According to the literature I'm at 50%, having now seen 11 of 22 Oenanthe species. This isn't enough. For the record, here they are, and where I've seen them.

Black Wheatear - Morocco and Spain
Black-eared Wheatear - Spain, Southern France and Cyprus
Cyprus Wheatear - can't remember. Malta?
Desert Wheatear - Morocco and various UK vagrants
Hooded Wheatear - Cyprus (briefly!)
Isabelline Wheatear - Bulgaria and Cyprus
Mourning Wheatear - Morocco
Northern Wheatear - Wanstead!!
Pied Wheatear - Bulgaria
Red-rumped Wheatear - Morocco
White-crowned Black Wheatear - Morocco

This leaves the following species, including Hooded which clearly I need photos of, and where to see them. You will see that some of these locations could be slightly problematic. Whilst I would dearly love to see all of these, I'd rather not be chained up in a hole sending videos home to the UK government every now and again.

Arabian Wheatear - Arabian peninsula.
Capped Wheatear - Kenya to South Africa.
Finsch's Wheatear - Turkey to Afghanistan, winters in Egypt with small numbers in Cyprus.
Heuglin's Wheatear - transitional area in sub-Saharan Africa, from Mauritania in the west to Sudan in the east.
Hooded Wheatear - eastern Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula.
Hume's Wheatear - eastern Arabia, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, India, Pakistan.
Kurdish Wheatear - Turkey, Middle East, winters in Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Sudan etc.
Mountain Wheatear - Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.
Red-breasted Wheatear - Eritrea and Ethiopia, western Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Red-tailed Wheatear - Turkey through to Afghanistan, winters Arabian Peninsula and Iran/Iraq.
Somali Wheatear - Ethiopia and Somalia.
Variable Wheatear - Egypt, Israel, India, and lots of places ending in stan.

So what is the next target, and when? Cyprus was the very obvious place to go, but with that done (and if I want to avoid conflict zones and scary places), Turkey (3) and Egypt (4) seem to feature quite heavily. Five could perhaps be seen in the UAE, and intriguingly, there are two in South Africa. If I am serious about this then I am clearly going to need to do some research re timings and locations. It seems quite a fun thing to pursue though, and I have made a pretty good start. Now is when it starts getting difficult though. 




Lorain County and the Magee Marsh Boardwalk 30th April – 5th May 2008

This is another old trip report that I am putting up as the old version seems to have been corrupted by Google. Once again from the pre-OCD phase of my bird photography. If I knew then what I knew now.... all part of the learning process!

At the end of April 2008 I traveled solo to America to visit relatives. I had vaguely known that there were great migration routes in the US, just as in Europe, but at the time of booking my flights I had not done any real research. So imagine my delight when at Slimbridge WWT earlier in the year I picked up a book called “Fifty places to go Birding before you die”, and found one of those locations to be the southern shore of Lake Erie between Toledo and Cleveland, during the first week in May. I could not believe that my Grandparents lived a mere 30 miles from this birding hotspot, and had done for decades! I quickly started looking on the web for more information. Whenever I go birding abroad, I try to get in contact with those who know the area and its birds the best, and I have always found local birders to be incredibly friendly and generous with their time. The Black River Audubon Society members were no different, and I was soon flooded with offers to take me out birding, essentially guided tours of the best spots. I was only too happy to accept. And as luck would have it, BRAS had a scheduled to trip to Magee Marsh Boardwalk on Saturday 3rd May. Funnily enough, the book at Slimbridge had mentioned this as being the spot on that shoreline. Would I like to join the trip? Would I ever!


Thursday 1st May
Birding was not the primary reason for my visit, and the Magee Marsh trip on Saturday was the only dedicated birding that I had planned, but not having seen many American birds, no matter where I was, it was going to be good. I arrived on Wednesday evening just past midnight, and the following morning I immediately started seeing new birds. I was staying with my Grandparents in the small college town of Oberlin, about 30 miles south-west of Cleveland. They were perhaps slightly surprised that after only one sip of tea I left the breakfast table and returned with binoculars, but it could not be helped, and anyway, they are very tolerant people. As is normal with birding on a different continent, the most confusing thing was the sound tapestry – very different on the whole, though you can relate certain birds to species back home. The first bird I saw was of course an American Robin – these are omnipresent, seemingly by far the most populous species. The second bird I saw from the breakfast table, and the bird which caused me to fall off my chair and go get the bins, was a White-crowned Sparrow. For me, this bird will always be remembered as a gross rarity, one for which I arose at 5am one cold early January 2008 morning and traveled to Cley, one for which I spent 4 hours close to death from hypothermia, one which I got 3.5 seconds view of before being unceremoniously manhandled out the way like a sack of potatoes by a great surge of humanity and ill manners, and one which put me off mega-twitching almost before I had started. And here it was, joined by a second bird, hopping about on a flowerbed as I had a morning cup of tea. It immediately put me off listing (though I have recovered now…), showing it be a futile and wholly unnecessary undertaking where you don’t actually get to appreciate birds for what they are, somehow satisfied with fleeting glimpses of a lost bird, no time to study, to [figuratively] digest, to ponder. And here I was, seeing the bird, not lost, happily doing what it does best, and actually getting to appreciate it on a fine spring morning, surrounded by people I love. I watched these sparrows a lot over the coming days, though they are quite shy and wary, never straying far from the boundary hedge to feed. So, a mega after 5 minutes. Awesome.

The breakfast table, front garden, and nearby field continued to be productive all morning, producing mega after mega. Who needs the Scillies! I just pottered about, taking in my Grandparent’s new house. The front lawn held a few Chipping Sparrows, and a House Wren was flitting about. The hedge had Common Grackles, a vocal Northern Cardinal, and Mourning Doves (no mad dash to North Uist for me!), whilst Barn Swallows, American Crows and Turkey Vultures flew overhead. Opposite the house, I found an Eastern Bluebird perched briefly on a post, a flyby Northern Mockingbird, American Goldfinches, House Finches, House Sparrows, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and a great many Red-winged Blackbirds in the boggier areas. 


Via email, I had been in touch with Marty Ackermann and Harry Spencer, local BRAS members. Amazingly enough Marty actually knew my Grandparents, and had known them for years – potentially for longer than I had! He lived just round the corner as well. Everyone lives just around the corner in Oberlin. My Grandparents could almost tell me who lived in most houses in town, and my Aunt could point to houses where her friends had lived when she was a child. This reinforced in my mind the uniqueness of small town America, a nostalgic notion I have somehow picked up despite only having lived in America for six months, and on the entirely different west coast. Oberlin is the town in America that I have visited the most often, and it has stuck. 8000 people live on mostly wide tree-lined streets, a main square with older stone buildings, white boarded houses set on big lots, with wrap-around porches. Boston Ferns hanging, swing seats, neat lawns, Stars and Stripes fluttering proudly (or alternatively, a Barack Obama placard). Big cars. Everyone knows and says hello to each other, the speed limit is 25 mph, the change in pace was palpable to me. Oberlin is no doubt pretty unique in American terms, I’m probably just experiencing a localized exception rather than anything else, but it reinforces in my mind that Americans are nice people. If you want that feel-good factor, visit a liberal arts college town near the Midwest, away from the bustle of the east coast. Where was I? Oh yes, birds. I called Marty, as per our email dialogue in the preceding weeks, and arranged to meet him at his house for a rapid pre-lunch stroll around the Arboretum. This is not an arboretum in the sense UK visitors would understand, a formal collection of planted trees, but an area of reasonably open woodland abutting the golf course and cemetery, criss-crossed with paths, and a creek. Its lovely woodland habitat – in fact all of Oberlin is extremely tree-covered, despite being in an agricultural belt. So, Marty and his friend Tammy often spent lunchtime in there at this time of year, seeing what migrants were coming through, craning necks for year-ticks, and the pleasure of a returning familiar. They both had excellent ears, and were soon pointing out a succession of new birds to me. Chimney Swift overhead before we even reached the trees, and once in the woods, Red-bellied Woodpecker with its curious call, White-breasted Nuthatch also on call, White-throated Sparrows, a Blue Jay, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, another House Wren on a trunk. Birds were everywhere, but it was the Warblers and Vireos that Marty and Tammy were keen to see, after a long absence. Mostly on sound, and notwithstanding the fact that they were a little rusty in early Spring, we found Yellow-throated Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, and a plain bird with a wonderful song, the Warbling Vireo. Yellow-rumpled Warbler were by far the most common in this woodland, but they also found me a Black-throated Green Warbler, Palm Warblers, a Yellow Warbler up near the pond, and finally a Grey Catbird mewing low down. The bird of the outing was a Scarlet Tanager, way up in the canopy, simply stunning. All too soon it was lunchtime and I needed to be back home. I headed back to my Chevvy Impala and drove back, living the dream.

I went for a walk with my Grandparents in the afternoon up at the Schoepfle Garden, a Lorain County Metro Park, near the Vermillion River. I was not birding really, though the area looked really good. More Cardinals, American Robins and White-throated Sparrows were present, along with a family party of Canada Geese on the river, and in the woods I found an Eastern Wood Pewee, a Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, and a raptor that I never did manage to identify. My Grandma was a very good bird-spotter, very drawn to movement, and I did the ID-ing, to the extent that I could. On the drive back I saw the one and only Eastern Meadowlark of the trip by the roadside. That evening I watched the White-crowned sparrows have dinner.


Friday 2nd May
I had arranged to go with Marty and Harry to Caley Reservation, a few miles outside of Oberlin. This area has a few ponds, and had potential for some good birds, including a nesting Trumpeter Swan. The area is one of Lorain County’s Metro Parks, but one of the less manicured ones. I met Marty at his place, and together drove over to Caley, where I met Harry Spencer for the first time. This is one of his local patches, so he was our guide in this instance. We had to wait awhile for the wardens to open the car park barrier, and the sky was looking pretty dark – the occasional peal of distant thunder could be heard, but soon we were on our way. One of the first birds we encountered was a very smart Baltimore Oriole way up in a tree. First picked up on sound, the bird was eventually located – it is amazing how a bright orange bird can remain unseen in a green tree – evolution defies logic and comes out on top. We took a path towards one of the larger ponds, and via few Grey Catbirds, Red-bellied Woodpeckers and White-breasted Nuthatches, we were soon looking at a very large Trumpeter Swan, along with some American Coots. Tree Swallows glided over the water here as well. We couldn’t locate the other bird, so decided to try another pond, but as we turned one of my guides heard an Eastern Towhee. It took a while but eventually he was found singing away in the open, and gave good views to all.

The next pond was very productive. Just before we got there we found another Baltimore Oriole, a bird I could never tire of, and I also saw a Cooper’s Hawk – not that I knew what it was, but in describing it to Harry and Marty, they determined it could only be that. As we reached the pond we were expecting a grebe, but the elusive waterfowl that we at a distance we could not make out turned out to be a female Hooded Merganser – reasonably unexpected. We also got good views here of an obliging Green Heron who flew from the reeds and perched in a tree, as well as a Great Blue Heron. A flash out of my right eye screamed “Kingfisher” at me, and sure enough a Belted Kingfisher landed opposite us, along with yet more Tree Swallows, whose aquamarine sheen initially had me thinking about our own species of Kingfisher.

On the way back from this pond to the car I caught sight of a large bird flying past, very flappy flight action, white in the wing with distinct fingers. The only likely candidate was Pileated Woodpecker, and Harry knew that they were present in this area, and even had a particular dead tree staked out. We didn’t connect with this bird again despite checking the tree, which is a shame as I could have got a decent photo in very atmospheric light.

That afternoon at my Grandparents house, as well as the resident birds, I saw a Northern Flicker fly across the field, and a Killdeer flew over the house, making its distinctive call. 


Saturday 3rd May
The Big Day had arrived! Marty picked me up at around 6.30am, and we headed off towards Toledo, there to meet the wider BRAS group at Magee Marsh Boardwalk. The site is just east of Toledo, and is well sign-posted from the main highway. Unfortunately the weather looked really grim, though in the context of searching for traveling migrants, this is not necessarily a bad thing. What makes Magee special is that it is an area of thick cover right on the lake shore that birds dive into to feed up in before making the crossing into Canada and beyond, a real spring migrant trap. Point Pelee in Canada is the same type of spot, where migrants crash, exhausted, after the crossing. Both are excellent for the great songbird migration. We saw a few birds en route, such as Great White Egret, Turkey Vulture, Ring-billed Gulls and American Kestrel, but this was a mere appetizer.


We arrived bang on 8, and I started seeing birds straight away. One point to note is that in wet weather, the boardwalk is very slippery, and shoes with a firm grip are essential. Even in walking boots I nearly went over a couple of times. The park authorities really need to overlay it with chicken wire. Back to the birds, I had hardly finished getting introduced to the group members when I spotted a Bald Eagle cruising the lake shore right over our heads, and then whilst the group were catching up, not having seen each other for some time, I got onto a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, which sadly not every one else saw, and it turned out to be the only one all day. Not surprisingly, people are so excited to be seeing birds, that they all congregate at the start of the boardwalk trail. This many eyes makes for great birding, and pretty soon I had seen the ubiquitous Yellow-rumped Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler, and there was a very bold Veery right next to the path, but I did not have my camera at that point. I also saw one side of a Woodthrush, for about 2 seconds. The temptation to linger at this first spot, where incidentally there is also a raised canopy-level viewing platform, was soon overcome by shouts of “Waterthrush” from a little further down the path. We trooped off and were soon looking at a Northern Waterthrush hopping around in the boggy undergrowth. The habitat around the boardwalk is basically wet, marshy undergrowth, really Woodcocky if you know what I mean. There is a profusion of branches, creepers, fallen logs and trunks, and obtaining clear views of birds is actually quite difficult, particularly if they are mobile. Waterthrushes are pretty skulking, but we did get some good views, more than enough to separate it from Louisiana.  Also on view were plenty of Yellow-throated Sparrows and Grey Catbirds, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and Red-winged Blackbirds. The next highlight for me was a Black-and-white Warbler. This was a species I had been really hoping to see after hours of studying my guidebook. Initially I only got a flash of it, but it could only be one thing, and soon enough it showed really well, and true to form, it exhibited its typical treecreeper behaviour style, very unlike a warbler. We were to see several of this very engaging species over the course of the day, and I very nearly got a top class photo of it. The guy next to me, with a top of the line digital SLR, 500mm lens, and Better-Beamer flash extension ended up getting the decent photo – clearly he knew about Warbler photography at Magee. For aspiring photographers out there, the light is poor from the boardwalk, even on a fine day, and on a poor day it is often unworkable. The built-in flash on mid-level SLRs is insufficient, and you will need a tripod for telephoto lenses. You therefore need to pick your location carefully, as the boardwalk is narrow and you cannot cause an obstruction, plus it “bounces” as people walk past. There are a few watch-points, like passing places, on the boardwalk, where you could position yourself, but then the birds have to come to you. This is not a bad strategy actually, many times over the day we would stop to chat to people and ask what they had seen, to hear that they had seen xyz warbler (which we had not seen) exactly where we had just been. So perhaps if you stayed in one place you would do very well. For someone as excited as I however, the suspense of what might lie around each bend was to strong to resist, and we walked the entire length, some portions multiple times.


Next up was Yellow-breasted Chat, a giant amongst warblers. I had heard some people further up the trail talking about it but had not expected to actually see it, from what I had read it was uncommon and skulking, but I somehow picked it up way at the back. I guess I was on super-alert mode due to the excitement of seeing so many amazing birds – the American Wood Warblers in summer plumage cannot fail to get one excited. I managed to describe the location to a few other people. The following will be familiar to many birders: “There, on that branch!” “Which branch?” “That one at the back, coming out from the tree near the other branch!” “You mean near the green leaves?” “No, by the brown trunk….” and so-on. Eventually we got there, but there is not a lot to facilitate accurate descriptions at Magee, it’s a big tangle of wood, and the birds move quickly, feeding, so prepare to be frustrated. As Marty said even before we got there, the consolidated day-list that gets reported will sound very impressive, but no single person will see everything, and that proved to be exactly right. Anyhow, a good number of us managed to see the Chat, apparently not a bird that people see year in year out. For me of course it was a new bird, but just one of many, so I consider myself fortunate. We also managed to see some Ovenbirds, Swainson's Thrush and Hermit Thrush, a superb and very close Black-Throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, and an Eastern Towhee at around this mark. I think that at about this point it started to rain, and many people headed back to their cars, including Harry who went back to Oberlin for lunch. Marty (mainly for the benefit of the birding tourist I suspect) and I stuck it out for a while, but after half an hour admitted defeat (as did my supposedly waterproof jacket) and retreated to the car, there to be treated to Ackermann Brownies, very good. We looked up the weather front on my handheld internet thing, and surmised that there was a gap not too far away, and sure enough after an hour, it eased up and we decided to have another crack. I think it was at this point that Marty saw a passing raptor, which turned out to be an Osprey.


So, back on the boardwalk we tried to add to our list. Almost everyone we spoke to had seen some warblers that we had not. We soon added a Northern Parula, right at the start of the boardwalk, and I then got a Chestnut-sided Warbler, as well as a Yellowthroat. This time we walked all the way around the boardwalk, picking up a few other new birds along the way. We saw Blue-headed Vireo very well, and then a new bird posed the assembled crowd with a few questions. It was eventually called as a White-eyed Vireo, but a number of people remained unconvinced, it looked more like a juvenile, which would not be possible in early May. We also added more Great White Egrets, distant Common Terns, and flyover Double-crested Cormorants. The boardwalk eventually leads back to the beach a few hundred yards further on, and when we checked out the lake shore we got a group of Ruddy Duck, a Scaup, and some Tree Swallow and Barn Swallowas well as Killdeer.  On the way back to the car we finally got a glimpse of a very secretive Hooded Warbler, another species we had heard many people talk about but had thus far failed to see. What a great looking bird! You needed to contort your body to an exact spot about 30cm off the ground which then gave you a clear view through 40 ft of tangled undergrowth, and then hope that the bird passed through that viewpoint, which thankfully it did.


We could easily have lingered, gone round again even, egged on by reports of Cape May Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler (which I really wanted to see, and also had a great deal of trouble saying!), an Orange-crowned Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler and others, but we decided that we would head back towards Oberlin and try and take in a different type of habitat near Sandusky. One thing is for sure, I will be back, perhaps a little later to capture a new group of species that were still on their way in early May. Marty had plans to do exactly that the following week, but by that time I would be back in my office in London. On the way out we saw another Trumpeter Swan, and several Great Blue Herons.

We stopped at the eastern end of Sandusky Bay, at a place called Pipe Creek, very near to the amusement parks at Cedar Point. Here you have the attraction of the reasonably sheltered confines of Sandusky Bay itself, as well as number of shallowish pools.  These had very good potential, but probably would have been much better earlier in the year. In the event though, we managed to flush a Sora, and saw Mute Swan, Bufflehead, Ring-necked Duck, and a lot of Killdeer and Spotted Sandpiper – a bird I very nearly saw (ie dipped) in Scotland earlier this year. There were also a couple of Green-winged Teal, a bird which I had seen at Slimbridge that same day I picked up the book I mentioned. On the way back to the car I think I saw a Cliff Swallow. It could have been over-excitement or tiredness, but I was pretty sure of the colouring.

Sunday 4th May
I didn’t do much birding today really, but I managed a short walk at Carlisle Reservation, another Metro Park a couple of miles east of Oberlin. It’s a much more visitor-aware place than Caley, with a large visitor centre and a Raptor display area. I took a path that headed back towards Oberlin, first of all through some woods, and then into an area of small ponds, and finally through an area of wooded swamp. In the wooded area I picked up a couple of new species for the trip – a very vocal Carolina Wren, and a Downy Woodpecker. Carrying on to the ponds produced loads of Red-winged Blackbirds and Tree Swallows, and the fields there were so flooded they had small fish flapping about in them. Walking a path south of these ponds produced Black-capped Chickadees in the trees, many Yellowthroats, and best of all, a skulking Mourning Warbler that I got really quite good views of, before it vanished into a tangle of brambles, not to reappear. I didn’t see another person the whole walk, even though the weather was fantastic. Perhaps this solitude and stillness helped with the birds, as I got great views of Song Sparrow feeding on the path, and numerous other species really close.


A quick check of Oberlin Reservoir on the way back into town turned up around fifty Ruddy Duck, a couple of Bufflehead, and a Red-breasted Merganser, and an Eastern Bluebird was seen in fields near the bridge over the highway.


Monday 5th May
This was my last full day in Ohio before I headed home. In addition to doing a lot of gardening with Grandma, I also found time to go to Sandy Ridge Reservation, about 25 minutes north-east of Oberlin. It’s a wetland area with mature woods as well. I drove both Marty and Harry over there and we started seeing birds from the car park – Canada Geese overhead, and plenty of Red-winged Blackbirds – I never tire of these birds, with their brilliant yellow and red wing patches, and engaging calls. This metro park was a lot busier, and for the only time since Magee, we actually saw other birders, something of a rarity (unless of course they were all at Magee). The walk to the ponds starts at the car park, and wends it way through the forest. We were aware of birds from the outset, warbler neck started to kick in after ten minutes. We saw Yellow-rumped Warbler, Palm Warbler and Black-throated Green Warbler on this walk, as well as White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and another Baltimore Oriole. Towards the end of the wooded area we found some Tufted Titmice, the first of the trip for me.

The path opened up into a wide area with water on each side of the path, with an amazing number of dead trees submerged, fully upright. This was woodpecker central, and was teeming with Northern Flicker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and a single Red-headed Woodpecker, which was a new species for me in America. Chimney Swifts and Tree Swallows were everywhere, but we could not find any Purple Martins sadly. The main reason for the visit was the possibility of waterfowl, and after a short stroll via a Green Heron we came to a viewing platform on the right hand side. From here we found some Spotted Sandpiper, and a group of feeding Lesser Yellowlegs. These latter almost went undetected, so well camouflaged were they against the reedy, muddy backdrop. It wasn’t long before we found some Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal and American Wigeon. I had been keen to see many of these ducks up close, as they can turn up as vagrants here, and this would give me a better chance of recognizing them, should they ever turn up on one of my patches. We also found Gadwall, Mallard and American Coot, none in great numbers though. There were plenty of Great Blue Heron and Great Egrets here as well, all lined up in a row

As we progressed around the perimeter of the lakes, we began to see smaller birds. Marty got a good view of an Orchard Oriole that I just managed to see fly away – enough to get an impression of size, shape and colour, and we got good views of some Swamp Sparrows in a marshy field. The experienced birders’ ears kicked in, and they heard a number of species that remained hidden, such as Red-eyed Vireo. A sudden burst to our right didn’t give us much time to form an opinion, but the small size, dangly legs and colouration all shouted Virginia Rail to us – the habitat was spot on and after consultation with our various field guides, that is what it went down as. As we approached the start of the forest track having completed our loop of the lakes, we had a magical fifteen minutes where Marty found an Eastern Kingbird, we got tremendous views of a Warbling Vireo, I found a pair of Wood Duck (hurrah! – this had been a main trip target), and finally a Great-crested Flycatcher landed just above our heads, rather than way up in the canopy as would normally be expected. A super bird, we were very fortunate.

That afternoon I went for a short walk with Grandma to Carlisle again, as the weather continued to be nice, and she would not normally be able to get over there. Once again she proved an able bird spotter, and we saw a good selection of woodland species, and we found a White-breasted Nuthatch nest hole close to the path. Other highlights were some very vocal Song Sparrows, and a very close Baltimore Oriole.


Final Thoughts

That was basically it for birding for the holiday. After Sandy Ridge, I added only two more new birds for the trip, a Red-tailed Hawk from the back garden in Oberlin, and two fine Bobolink at Carlisle on my drive back to Cleveland Airport – I got the gen from Harry, and they were right where he said they would be.

I’d like to reiterate my thanks to the Black River Audubon Society for making me so welcome, and in particular to Marty Ackermann and Harry Spencer (and their wives!), for all the time they devoted to showing me the birds and the wonderful spots so close to Oberlin. And also to Marly Merrill who lent me a great video on the Warblers of North America which I watched the night before I went to Magee. It was there waiting for me when I walked in at midnight that first evening. If any of them come to England, I’d happily take them round my local patches.

Throughout my trip, I used the excellent Sibley’s Birds of the Western United States, one volume of a two book set of a just-about-pocket-sized version of his monumental larger work covering the entire country. To my mind it’s the equivalent of the Collins Guide here. The illustrations are excellent, if not as good as the Collins.


The Birds – 107 species recorded

Species                                                Location /  Counts

Canada Goose                                     
Mute Swan                                            Pipe Creek
Trumpeter Swan                                    2 Caley, 1 Magee Marsh
Wood Duck                                          pr Sandy Ridge
Gadwall                                                Sandy Ridge
American Wigeon                                  3 Sandy Ridge
Mallard                        
Blue-winged Teal                                   2 Sandy Ridge
Green-winged Teal                                 Pipe Creek, Sandy Ridge
Ring-necked Duck                                 Pipe Creek
Scaup                                                   Lake Erie at Magee Marsh
Bufflehead                                            3 Pipe Creek, 1 Oberlin Reservoir
Hooded Merganser                                female at Caley
Red-breasted Merganser                        2 Oberlin Reservoir
Ruddy Duck                                         
Double-crested Cormorant        
Great Blue Heron                                  
Great [White] Egret                                a few at Magee, 10+ at Sandy Ridge
Green Heron                                          Caley
Turkey Vulture  
Osprey                                                 1 Magee Marsh
Bald Eagle                                            1 Magee Marsh
Cooper’s Hawk                                      1 Caley
Red-tailed Hawk                                    1 Oberlin
American Kestrel
Virginia Rail                                           1 Sandy Ridge
Sora                                                     1 Pipe Creek
American Coot
Killdeer                                                 Oberlin, 2 Pipe Creek
Spotted Sandpiper                                Pipe Creek, Sandy Ridge
Lesser Yellowlegs                                 6 Sandy Ridge
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Common Tern
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird                  1 at Magee Marsh boardwalk
Belted Kingfisher                                   1 at Caley ponds
Red-headed Woodpecker                      1 at Sandy Ridge
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker                              Carlisle Reservation
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker                            Caley
Eastern Wood-pewee                            Shoepfle Gardens
Eastern Phoebe
Great-crested Flycatcher                        Sandy Ridge
Eastern Kingbird                                   Sandy Ridge
White-eyed Vireo                                   Magee Marsh boardwalk
Blue-headed Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Cliff Swallow                                         1 at Pipe Creek
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee                       Carlisle Reservation
Tufted Titmouse                                    2 Sandy Ridge
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren                                        Carlisle, Sandy Ridge
House Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet                           
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Western Bluebird          
Veery                                                    Magee Marsh Boardwalk           
Swainson’s Thrush                                 Magee Marsh Boardwalk           
Hermit Thrush                                        Magee Marsh Boardwalk           
Wood Thrush                                        Magee Marsh Boardwalk           
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird                            Oberlin
European Starling
Northern Parula                                     1 at Magee Marsh Boardwalk    
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler                          1 at Magee Marsh Boardwalk    
Magnolia Warbler                                  Magee Marsh Boardwalk           
Black-throated Blue Warbler                   Magee Marsh Boardwalk           
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler                 Oberlin Arb, Magee
Palm Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler                         3 at Magee Marsh Boardwalk    
American Redstart                                 4 at Magee Marsh Boardwalk    
Ovenbird                                               2 at Magee Marsh Boardwalk    
Northern Waterthrush                             2 at Magee Marsh Boardwalk    
Mourning Warbler                                  1 at Carlisle Reservation
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler                                    1 at Magee Marsh Boardwalk    
Yellow-breasted Chat                             1 at Magee Marsh Boardwalk    
Scarlet Tanager                                     Oberlin Arb also Magee Marsh
Eastern Towhee                                     Caley Reservation and Magee
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow                                    3+ Sandy Ridge
White-throated Sparrow                        
White-crowned Sparrow                         2 Oberlin, 1+ Magee
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak                       Magee, Sandy Ridge
Bobolink                                               2 Carlisle Reservation Equestrian centre
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark                              nr Oberlin
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole                                       Sandy Ridge
Baltimore Oriole                                    Caley, Sandy Ridge
House Finch
American Goldfinch
Eurasian House Sparrow