Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Biggest Week in American Birding - Day 3 - May 11, 2014

     On our 2nd full day in NW Ohio we decided to get up just before sunrise and head out to Pearson Metropark in an attempt to spot the fox kits that were photographed there a few days before. We were not entirely sure where the den was located, but we had a few clues and landmarks to guide us in the proper direction. We had originally pulled into an area of the park which is surrounded by wetlands. Our first bird of the day was a Grasshopper Sparrow which was sitting on top of some tall grasses, in the middle of the parking area, singing his lungs out. We also spotted at least 2 Sora (heard at least 4), some Dunlin, Yellowlegs (lesser and greater), Solitary Sandpiper, and the usual egrets and herons. After walking around for a bit we came to the conclusion that there must be another entrance to the park that would be in more suitable fox habitat so we consulted some maps and drove down the road a bit further.

     The park is much bigger than it looks, so by the time we found the den site the sun was fully risen, and there were many people walking their dogs. No luck seeing the kits, but the trip to the park ended up being a good choice since we were also able to pick up Nashville Warbler, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Swainson's Thrush, Veery, and Scarlet Tanager, among others. In the heart of the park is a great little indoor viewing area called Window on Wildlife where visitors can sit either in chairs along a large panel of windows, or back a little further on carpeted steps arranged stadium-style. The windows look out into a small landscaped yard area complete with a medium sized water feature and bird feeders. It was a great place to take a little break and watch the hummingbirds coming in for a drink at the fountain, or to see the Indigo Buntings and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks gorging themselves at the feeders. I also enjoyed watching the Fox Squirrels that come to the feeder since I don't get to see them very often.

Fox Squirrel
Chipmunk stopping to put some fur back in place.

     Once we figured out that we probably had no hope of seeing the fox kits with all the activity around us, the three of us started spreading out and birding an area that seemed to have quite a few warblers flitting around the trees. After about 30 minutes of birding the area and not seeing a whole lot of species diversity, a bird alert text came through on our phones. The Upland Sandpipers and Lapland Longspurs had once again been spotted near Ottawa NWR. My companions were not within comfortable shouting distance, so I face in their direction and start waving my phone in the air in hopes of getting their attention. To my surprise they were doing that exact same thing, only in my direction! "Birder code" is what I call that phenomenon. So we regrouped, piled in the car, and headed off to where the birds were reported.

     When we get to the general area where the birds were reported, there are already random clumps of birders gathered along the road, searching the fields. It would have been helpful if the text alert was a bit more specific, but sometimes the fun is in re-finding the birds with very little direction. After searching a few of the farm fields ourselves, we came upon a cluster of birders who seemed quite animated. Turns out we had hit the jackpot! Eight Lapland Longspurs (LALO) in breeding plumage were in the adjacent field! I had certainly seen LALO before, but always in their non-breeding colors. Wow, were they ever sharp looking! Unfortunately, I was not able to get a photo of these birds, and we never found the Upland Sandpipers that day, but we were happy and felt the chase was a success!

     Since we had some time to kill before lunch, we headed over to Magee Marsh to see how much activity there was in the late morning hours. Of course, things were a bit slower than in the first hours of the day, but birds were still active and numerous enough that boredom was the furthest thing from our minds.

Eastern Screech-Owl (gray morph)

Raccoon people watching 

Blackburnian Warbler

American Redstart
Male Wood Duck calling to his mate.
     At some point we got a text alert that a Golden-winged Warbler (GWWA) had been spotted on the boardwalk. Immediately, there was a stirring among the birders around us, and silently, those "in the know" started walking with a purpose in the direction of the siting. It was almost as though the Pied Piper of Hamelin had started to play his magic pipe, but not everyone could hear it. Luckily, we were in the first wave of people to show up at the location. After a little searching, and following the directions of the masses, the bird was spotted! I was able to get one identifiable photo of the bird before I chose to step back and allow those who hadn't seen it yet to step forward. We hung around the area to see how crazy it could get on the boardwalk when a highly sought-after species was found. All I can say is that it was one of the politest crowds of people I had ever experienced, and I am impressed that the boardwalk held up to that kind of stress and weight.

Golden-winged Warbler

The crowd gathering to see the Golden-winged Warbler

     Eventually we had enough of the GWWA craziness, and our stomachs were yelling at us to get some lunch, so we obliged, once again patronizing the food carts set up in the Ottawa NWR. We didn't feel like we were done with Magee Marsh yet, so we got our food to-go and headed back there for a little picnic on the beach and some relaxing time looking out over Lake Erie. It was then that I saw a Great Blue Heron fly out into the water, land in a place that was clearly too deep for it to stand in, and then awkwardly float/tread water for about 30 seconds. This bird then somehow struggled back up into the air and flew back to where it came from. I still don't know what that crazy bird was thinking or trying to do.

View from our lakeside lunch spot (Photo credit: J. Justesen)

     Around 2pm we got a text saying that there was a White-rumped Sandpiper spotted at the Magee Causeway, and the White-faced Ibis (which we missed on our first day) were once again visible at Metzger Marsh. On the way to Metzger we pulled over quickly where a crowd of birders had gathered along the causeway and took a look for the White-rumped Sandpiper. It was easy to pick out, and we were on our way in less than 5 minutes. The White-faced Ibis at Metzer were also very cooperative, standing out in the open, giving nice views even with just binoculars. We ended up birding Metzger for 2 hrs after seeing the ibis, and took a break in the parking lot at the end of the road for about 30 minutes. Of course, exhaustion had gotten the best of us, so we spent the better part of that 30 minutes laughing hysterically about things that had transpired earlier in the day.

White-faced Ibis

Close-up of the White-faced Ibis taken through the scope. 

     Around 5pm we headed to the festival headquarters at Maumee Bay Lodge to hang out at the evening social for a bit. At some point we decided to take a walk around the grounds and discovered two Orchard Orioles! Around 8pm, exhausted and in dire need of food, we headed back to the lodge in hopes of getting some dinner in their restaurant. We are told that their kitchen had just closed, so we head out on the road in search of some sort of prepared food. Turns out that it is impossible to get food anywhere in NW Ohio after 8pm on a Sunday. This is something that we will remember for a loooong time. After much frustration and getting somewhat lost, we ended up at a Walmart which had a built-in Subway. Ending up at the Walmart was somewhat of a blessing in disguise because we were also able to load up on water, juice, and snacks for the next day since we had already consumed everything we had brought with us.

Stay tuned to find out what adventures Day 4 had in store for us!

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