Big Birding Weekend

Our tradition for the past 15 years has been to spend Mother’s Day weekend in the northwoods, but due to our landscaping project we decided to forgo the trip this year and stick around home. Since we couldn’t go to our beloved northwoods, Mark and I both took Friday afternoon off from work and went to do some birding.

Friday began the “Biggest Week in American Birding”. This has become a huge tourist attraction in northwest Ohio. Magee Marsh, the center of the activities, has been named the best birding spot in America and now brings birders from all over the world during the height of the warbler migration.

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Since birding in a big crowd is not very appealing to us, Mark and I decided to try a couple new spots that we read about in the Biggest Week magazine.

There's an entire magazine filled with events!

There’s an entire magazine filled with events!

After I got off work Friday we headed to Cullen Park in Point Place, Ohio where there is a mile-long causeway that juts out into Lake Erie with trees on both sides of a walking path. Despite the giant “Welcome Birders” sign at the entrance, we only saw two other people who were bird watching, everyone else was there for the fishing.

It was a very hot and humid day and I was thankful the causeway was mostly shaded by all the trees. Overall the birding was fairly good. I added eight new species to my 2015 Big Bird List. I’m sure we would have seen many more species had we gone out to Magee Marsh, but I was happy with our day. I’ve learned that searching for warblers is not really my forte. My eyesight makes seeing them difficult, they are nearly impossible for me to photograph (or photograph well) and they are also hard to identify! I have a feeling we saw many more species that we could not identify clearly.

Here is one example of my photography efforts.

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Nashville warbler (?)

Those little things know exactly how to stay out of sight!  Despite three field guides, Mark and I still aren’t positive this is a Nashville warbler, that is just our best guess.  That is one of the reasons for some of my frustration over the weekend.

The only birds I got fairly good at identifying were the yellow-rumped warblers and the yellow warblers, mostly because there were A LOT of them, and they were a bit more cooperative photo subjects!  (Click on any photo for a larger version, or scroll over to see the caption.)

As we made our way slowly down the trail we came across this fox snake.  It was just basking in the sun on the trail.

Fox snake.

Fox snake.

Fox snake, close up.

Fox snake, close up.

I snapped a few photos and we went on our way.  A short time later, as we stopped to try and identify a bird, one of the fishermen – a big guy with a southern accent – stopped to warn us to watch out for snakes, that he had just killed a copperhead.  My heart sank because I knew he had just killed that snake!  Fox snakes are a threatened species and have a limited range in this area around the Lake Erie shores.  I was so sad, and upset at his ignorance!  Although, since he had a southern accent, I’m sure he grew up with the fear of copperheads being pounded into his head.  Unfortunately he never took time to learn what one looks like!  I had touched this snake and it didn’t even move, much less try to bite me.

There was a large flock of waterfowl out in one of the little coves.  They were a bit too far out for my camera, but I took some photos anyway, hoping they would help in identification.  I was excited to figure out later that some of these are ruddy ducks, another new-for-me species to add to my list!

Ruddy ducks, and others.

Ruddy ducks, and others.

Pair of ruddy ducks.

Pair of ruddy ducks.

Here is another “lifer” for me — Mark believes this is a warbling vireo.

Warbling vireo (?)

Warbling vireo (?)

As we were headed back toward the parking area, this yellow bird landed almost right in front of us.  It had just gotten done taking a dip in the lake and was preening right before my eyes.  I got a nice series of photos.  Mark and I are still at odds over what species this is.  He insists that it is a female yellow warbler, but I am not convinced.  What is your opinion?

Although they aren’t rare or unusual, I liked this shot of a great egret and a great blue heron.

Great blue heron and great egret on the hunt.

Great blue heron and great egret on the hunt.

We left Cullen Park and went down the street just a few yards to Bayside Park where there is a nice walking trail.  Unfortunately, by this time I was really hot, sweaty and tired, so I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as we walked the loop — which was pretty much in full sun the whole time.  We didn’t see much of interest and I didn’t take a single photo, until we returned to the parking lot.  When we had parked in this small lot right off the road, I noticed right away there was a tilled garden area and many bird feeders in the trees around it.  When we came back I literally stopped in my tracks to see a giant raccoon draped around the tree eating from one of the bird feeders!

Daytime raider.

Daytime raider.

Don't try to stop me!

Don’t try to stop me!

By time we pulled out of the lot, the raccoon had managed to get the feeder broken loose and was carrying it down from the tree.

It wasn’t hard to convince Mark to go through McDonald’s and get an ice cream on the way home.  Then I managed to persuade him to make one last stop at the power plant where we saw all the ducks a month ago.  Unfortunately, this time there wasn’t much to see except some swallows, a pair of ring-necked ducks and a pair of American coots.

Tree swallow.

Tree swallow or barn swallow?

American coots.

American coots. The one on the right had just ducked under the water and came up with a long plant hanging out of its bill.

Saturday morning we woke up to a soft drizzle, which put a slight damper on our plans.  We wanted to head up to Sterling State Park early to look for more birds, but had to wait until the rain stopped.  Thankfully, it cleared off by around 9 a.m. and we were able to head to the park.  The day started out cool but soon turned very warm and humid.  There were plenty of birds right from the moment we got on the walking path.

Tree swallow pair.

Tree swallow pair.

Tree swallow.

Tree swallow.

There were several eastern kingbirds who were very willing subjects.  This one stayed perched on this stick the entire time we walked past!  I took a whole series of photos, but I won’t bore you with more than one.

Eastern kingbird.

Eastern kingbird.

Yellow warbler.

Yellow warbler.

We spent three hours strolling around the path.  Again, it was a bit frustrating for me because I had a hard time getting a clear view of the birds.  The day started out overcast but soon was very sunny.  We did add another lifer to my list, this common yellowthroat.  This photo is par for the day’s course, unfortunately — bad!!!  I was thankful for the black eye mask, that was the only way we were able to identify it.

Common yellow-throat.

Common yellow-throat.

There were plenty of yellow-rumped warblers around.  And we saw another warbling vireo.

This was probably my best photo of the day – really the whole weekend, a male blue-winged teal.

Female blue-winged teal.

Blue-winged teal (m).

Some subjects were more cooperative.  Some of you who know me well, know I’ve got a thing for turtles and frogs. 🙂

Mark thought it was funny how the bigger turtle has his leg up on the smaller one. :)

Mark thought it was funny how the bigger turtle has his leg up on the smaller one. 🙂

Little turtle crossing our path.

Little turtle crossing our path.

I like subjects that stay still!

I like subjects that stay still!

I was excited to see a pair of wood ducks, but my photos didn’t turn out well at all because of their distance from the path and the bright light.  Even with editing, this is the best I could come up with in the photo department.  :/  Every photo of the pair of them together, you could barely tell what they were, even with cropping.

Male wood duck.

Male wood duck.

We are pretty sure we saw an osprey but I only got one photo and it was really too far out of range of my camera.  It landed on a giant power pole and as soon as I snapped a frame, it hopped down in between the metal bars and didn’t come back out.  The photo I took, its head is behind one of the metal pieces, so even zooming in on the computer we can’t make a positive I.D.  I would love to add that to my 2015 list!

Our best “get” of the day was this blue-gray gnatcatcher.  How I got this decent photo is anyone’s guess, but I’ll take it!!

Blue-gray gnatcatcher.

Blue-gray gnatcatcher.

As we neared the parking area, Mark spotted this fox snake up in a tree.  Maybe it was sunning itself, maybe it was hoping for an avian meal.

Fox snake in tree.

Fox snake in tree.

I was only able to add five more birds to my 2015 Big Bird List for Saturday.  Mark saw a yellow-breasted chat but I was busy trying to see this tiny yellow bird that had a nest in a thicket and missed the chat.  I was disappointed to not have more positive I.D’s.  At the end of the day, I decided that warbler hunting is more frustrating than fun for me, but Mark loves it.  He can stand around for hours looking up at the trees and doesn’t mind stopping to dig through the field guides every five minutes.  I guess I am too antsy and impatient.

It wasn’t all birding fun and games all weekend.  Mark worked hard finishing up the landscaping.  Mother’s Day we got the last of the plants in the ground along with some perennials in the front and back.  A couple of weeks ago our neighbor, who kindly plows our driveway all winter, came over to tell us that he is removing two sets of trees that are between our two houses.  I was crushed as the birds use those trees and they also provide shade for our house.  Since they have lived in that house, he has removed every tree.  After these trees go this weekend, all that will be left in their yard are a couple of lilac bushes and a forsythia.  Because of his decision to remove the trees, we added another tree to our front yard, a Japanese maple.  Here is a gallery of what the landscaping looks like.  In the one photo is my new glider.  On Mother’s Day my son-in-law and youngest son put it together for me while I planted flowers and Mark finished up the walkway.

I wish I had “before” pictures so you could see what a HUGE difference the landscaping has made to the look of our home.  It’s really amazing how different it looks now.

The concrete goose in the one photo was my mother’s.  I’ve had it since she passed away almost 18 years ago.  I also have all the clothes she had for it and I dress it up on occasion.  It always makes me think of her.

I’m sorry this post is so long and I hope I didn’t bore anyone too much.  There was just a lot to fit into a single post.  Friday is my last day of preschool and then I will be off for the summer.  We will be heading north for a whole week over Memorial Day and I’m hoping for sun fun adventures to report on!  Thanks for bearing with me and God bless!

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11 Responses to Big Birding Weekend

  1. No one said that birding was easy. 😉 It takes a lot of patience and practice to shoot small birds in the brush. The best tip that I can give you is to watch the birds for a while before you attempt to photograph them. They typically forage in a pattern as they hop from branch to branch. Once you figure out which way they are moving, get ahead of them, pick a spot where you have some shooting lanes through the brush, and wait for the birds to come to you. Then, be quick. 😉

    Now then, you didn’t do as badly as you think you did, as it isn’t easy to photograph or ID small birds, especially warblers.

    I think that the ID of the Nashville warbler is correct, but I’m not positive. I also think that the warbling vireo is correct, a good way to be positive is by their song, it’s distinctive and they sing all the time. You can go to eBirds and listen to most species of bird songs there.

    Sorry to say, Mark is correct, the bird in question there is a female yellow warbler. Also, the blue-winged teal is a blue-winged teal, but it’s a male.

    What was that guy who killed the snake thinking, to my knowledge, copperheads don’t live as far north as Ohio, what a jerk.

    The landscaping looks wonderful, all the hard work will be worth it!

    Oh, and I almost forgot, it’s amazing how many yellow-rumped and yellow warblers there are, and how many can fit into one tree at one time, they’re everywhere!

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    • Thanks, Jerry! I fixed the blue-winged teal reference. I don’t know why I thought female — silly! Maybe because it looks girlish. LOL 😉

      I should know better than to question Mark’s identifications, he’s way better at it than I am. He definitely has a lot more patience than me, too, when it comes to birding. Part of it is my back problems. Because I’m so crooked, just standing for long lengths of time is really hard on me. It’s easier if I keep moving. Also, by time the weekend was over, my neck was hurting from looking up so much! Good thing I had a chiropractic appointment Monday!

      I was really mad about the guy killing the fox snake. The more I thought about it, the madder I got! I hate for anything in nature to be killed for no reason, and ignorance is the worst! I did post the photo and story on the Ohio DNR facebook page and suggested they put signs at that park showing pictures of the difference. Sterling State Park does have a sign and in red letters it says NOT A COPPERHEAD.

      We could have seen a lot more if we had gone out to Magee, and they have “professional” birders that lead tours, so we would have gotten more positive I.D’s. A friend of mine went out there Saturday and her list of what they saw was longer than mine, but I’m okay with that. I’ve seen video from out there over the weekend and it’s just way too many people for my liking! (You even get bags of “swag” if you register as a birder. ) We may go Saturday again to see what we can see. I’ve been reading on e-bird about Point Mouillee state game area and we may try going there. Looks like a great place to see lots of birds, especially water and shore birds.

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  2. Tiny says:

    What a great birding weekend you guys had! Unfortunately I’m not good at identifying small birds, many species have such small differences in their appearance. You got many great shots! Love the turtles too, one shot even shows their underside in the perfect reflection! Your landscaping looks really nice! I understand you’re sad about the disappearing trees though.

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    • It was a lot of fun, despite my frustrations! We carry two field guides with us and had to stop often to page through them. Yesterday I went to Wild Birds Unlimited and they have an entire field guide dedicated to warblers! Guess I’m going to have to invest in one of those next! LOL Even then, I’m never completely sure of what I saw. I decided I like water fowl a lot more — easier to see, photograph and identify! LOL

      I am sad about our neighbor taking down the trees. I keep thinking about “my” birds and how they love those trees! In my life, my birds come first. I even feed them before I feed myself or even have my coffee! Mark keeps reassuring me that they will adapt. I’m not sure what species of tree they are but they have a papery type bark and the birds love to find the bugs in there. But according to our neighbor, the trees fill his gutters with crap. LOL

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  3. kathydoremus says:

    Sounds like a great time. And your yard is looking amazing! 🙂

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    • Thanks! Now the trick is keeping it all weeded and also keep it from dying! LOL I didn’t realize weeding was going to turn into a full-time job! I’ve switched from oilers to no-waste/no-mess food, but all the old oilers are still sprouting up everywhere!

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  4. Bob Zeller says:

    Loved this post. Loved the ‘coons, too. A friend of ours from Michigan went to that Magee Marsh over the weekend. Saw 22 warblers. I am luck to see two during a day.

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    • There are definite advantages to going out to Magee Marsh, especially since they offer guided tours, with seasoned birders that can point out the birds and give you positive identification. A friend of mine went out there and saw a lot of different birds, she also went to another metro park today and saw a female Kirtland’s warbler! She was very excited about that.

      I thought that raccoon was really funny. It certainly stopped me dead in my tracks, especially since it was during the heat of the day and I always think of raccoons as being more of a nocturnal animal.

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  5. tootlepedal says:

    I am sorry that it was too hot for comfort but pleased that you got some reward for your birding efforts.

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