Thursday, May 14, 2009

Yellowlegs ID

Lesser (left) and greater (right) yellowlegs at the Tank Farm along Rt 7 near Newport, Ohio.

During our Washington County, Ohio Big Day, the Whipple Bird Club was fortunate enough to see BOTH species of yellowlegs. Not only that, but as we were discussing the finer points of telling greater yellowlegs from lesser yellowlegs, the birds obliged by standing next to each other in perfect profile for a few moments.

This really gave us a good look at the key field marks: the differences in bill length and size; body size; leg length; and plumage markings on the flanks (of the greater).

It might make birding less challenging, but wouldn't it be great if more birds cooperated like this? I'm talking to YOU sharpies & Coops, scaups, peeps, empids, chickadees, shrikes, ibises (ibi?), and most of the dang sparrows!

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Big Day 2007

Steve and Shila birding near a quarry where the bank swallows nest.

Apologies for the delay in posting Part 2 of this nailbiter. Major editorial deadlines today at BWD plus a semi-trailer of booklets to unload...but those are just excuses.

Where was I? Oh right!

I drove into town on Saturday just before noon, dropping off the Wild Chiquitas at ballfields, houses, relatives' houses, until, it was just me and my two offspring. Phoebe was so tired from NO SLEEP the night before that she asked to stay at my parents' house in town for more comfortable napping. Liam, loyal soul that he is, would not abandon his Hotdog Brother on such a momentous occasion, so he came along. We picked up Steve, Royal Meteorologist for The Whipple Bird Club, at his humble abode on Harmar Hill. While there we got brown thrasher, northern mockingbird, and house finch. We took off after the bobolink field we'd discovered some years before, secretly hoping it was not already divided into house lots.

It took about half an hour, but we finally heard the bobolinks not too far from where we'd found them in 2003. This is a vanishingly rare bird in southeastern Ohio. It loves wide open grasslands, something that's in short supply here in the heart of Wayne National Forest. Then we chanced upon a farm pond that had, of all things, more mallards, an orchard oriole, and both least and semipalmated sandpipers, plus a spotted sandpiper and killdeer. Shorebirds, like grassland birds, are a huge Big Day bonus in this part of the planet.

From the "bob-o" field we dropped down to the Ohio River to scan for water birds. Mallard, then bank swallow (which can be tough)! As we were passing Shila's house, we were surprised to see her car in the drive. We thought she was away this weekend. I trotted into the backyard, found Shila, got an emphatic YES! from her about joining us, and we arranged to meet her in the cemetery in 30 minutes. The cemetery where earlier in the day my brother Andy had seen summer tanager!

From there we scored some greasy fast food (part of a balanced Big Day diet) and two Happy Meals and headed up the hill to the cemetery. This place has some of the oldest standing trees in town. It's a great spring migrant trap--much like Central Park in NYC--the biggest, oldest patch of green habitat for miles around. Alas we were too late in the day for much fall out. Still we scored house wren, chimney swift, rock pigeon, and that summer tanager before leaving.

Shila at the Kroger Wetland, nailing down the surprise shorebird.

Wth Shila on our team, we knew we'd miss fewer birds. She's got birding ESP and can spot the tiniest dot in the sky or the most well-hidden perching bird, even from a moving car. We headed to my parents' house to check on Phoebe. While there, we paused to help my dad finish building a raised garden bed. It only took us 45 minutes. No new birds added during this bit of altruistic carpentering.

Then it was down to the county fairgrounds to get Steve to his son's baseball game. Matthew was pitching so Steve stayed while we walked around scanning for birds. Not much new here. Lots of warbling vireos. Lots of orioles of both species. Nothing to add to the list. We were getting antsy, so Shila, Liam and I went upriver to Devol's Dam. This is where this Big Day became special. We ran into a streak of completely unexpected birds.

Sheels spotted the first tern just as I found a semipalmated plover on the sandbar. Then we found a female red-breasted merganser, and a purple martin. The six terns, it turns out, after much deliberation were comprising two--not one--species. Forster's tern and common tern. Both unusual migrants through this area in spring and late summer. What a bummer Steve could not see them (he'd later get a good look at common terns at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum).
Forster's (left) and common tern (right) near Devol's dam. A lucky photo I did not know I got.

It was hard to leave the dam, but the light was beginning to slant in late afternoon and we had miles to go. We were sitting at about 88 species with several good potential stops yet to hit. Picking up Steve (and sharing the good news/bad news with him) we booked to the confluence. Steve got his tern. We added cliff swallow, eastern kingbird, rough-winged swallow, and ring-billed gull.

From there we went to the Kroger Wetland, a new piece of city property not far from BWD. I often take my lunch to the Kroger Wetland. There are nesting tree swallows and plenty of creatures to watch, including beaver. We had a few target birds and we got them and several more, too! Out incredible luck was holding. At the KW we found a dunlin (really unusual), more peeps, green heron, belted kingfisher, wood duck, great blue heron, and willow flycatcher. We were within kissing distance of 100. And we still had the embayments upriver to visit.
Three shorebirds in one. Dunlin, semipal plover, and least sandpiper at the Kroger Wetland.

We drove up Route 7 full of enthusiasm, our total at 98. We knew we could reliably get a common nighthawk in Marietta after dark, but what other birds would we be able to get? While waiting for Steve to buy some bottled water at a quicky mart nicknamed the La Brea Tar Pit of Reno, I tallied the list again and added 7 species we'd forgotten to mark. There went the century mark while sitting in a gas station parking lot. Still, the record of 108 seemed pretty distant.

In amazing succession we got solitary sandpiper and double-crested cormorant near Newell's Run. Then up the run we got Louisiana waterthrush and yellow-throated warbler. We'd broken the record! That was species 109! Time for some high fives.

Liam, poor boy, missed the celebration--he was asleep in the back of the van.
Liam catching 40 winks.

Back to town we went, to meet Julie at our favorite Mexican restaurant. Leaving after eating far too much, we got #110 when a common nighthawk peented overhead.

What a day! A new Washington County Big Day record (at least for us) of 110. And we could have gotten another dozen easily had we really planned and started earlier. Missing from the list were these common (or at least gettable) birds: red-shouldered hawk, broad-winged hawk, ruffed grouse, wild turkey, sharp-shinned hawk, chestnut-sided warbler, coot, pied-billed grebe, yellow-bellied sapsucker, barred owl, eastern screech-owl, great horned owl, cerulean warbler.

But what's the fun of bird watching if you see every bird every time?

It was a fabiola time with my Whipple Bird Club crew. We missed Zick, but she was there in spirit and got updates throughout the day as she drove home from a PA birding festival.

I'm already planning our route for 2008.

Flashing the gangland W hand sign for the Whipple Bird Club. If you see this sign, run for your life. Photo by Liam.

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