Out in the Openings

I’ve mentioned previously that there are many benefits to living in my little corner of southeast Michigan, one of them being that we can live a rural/suburban life while having city conveniences just a half-dozen miles down the road.

My home is only about 6 miles north of the Ohio border, with the city of Toledo located right on the state line. Toledo has been the brunt of many jokes and much maligned in the past, and it does have its blight and troubles. But the fact is, there are also many positives about this mid-sized city. It boasts a world-class zoo — rated #1 in the country, the best hockey arena in the ECHL, and a fabulous metro-park system.

I was pretty excited when my new birding buddy, Rachel, asked me to join her and her friend, Renee, at the largest of Toledo’s metro-parks, Oak Openings, to do some birding. Many different species have been seen there recently and she thought it would be an excellent opportunity for me to add a few more to my 2015 Big Bird List.

Oak Openings Preserve, located out near Swanton, Ohio, past the Toledo Express Airport, consists of more than 3,700 acres of varying habitats – from oak savannahs to sand dunes to swamp. There are more than 50 miles of trails throughout the park, some for hiking, some for biking, and some for horses.

We met at the Buehner Center where they have a “window on wildlife” with a water feature and plenty of bird feeders, but there wasn’t much to be seen there. We were blessed with an absolutely PERFECT June day for walking in the park — and this turned out to be somewhat of an unfortunate thing. Because a perfect day means plenty of sunshine, and also plenty of shade and shadows, which did not make for good photography.

Our first subject was this blue heron who posed quite patiently for pictures.

Great blue heron.

Great blue heron.

As you can see, he was in dappled sunlight. My first attempts were too washed out, then they were too green. Because of the bright light, his head and neck got washed out. This next photo is not the greatest but I was fascinated by it because it shows so well how his gangly body is put together. Really, you have to admit it’s kind of weird looking! 🙂

Great blue heron.

Great blue heron.

Gray catbirds were everywhere! This one was singing up a storm and stayed still but was in deep shadow in the branches. I had to lighten this up considerably.

Gray catbird singing despite his bad feather day.

Gray catbird singing despite his bad feather day.

He looks to be molting. See his funky feathers sticking out every which way? But he doesn’t let a bad feather day get him down!

My best shot of the day was probably this macro shot of these pretty blossoms. I’m not sure what they are but they smelled heavenly!

Beautiful blossoms.

Beautiful blossoms.

Overall, this indigo bunting demonstrates our experiences for the day. Birds sitting high up in the tippy tops of trees and branches in direct sunlight.

Indigo bunting basking in the sun.

Indigo bunting basking in the sun.

Obviously the birds wanted to enjoy the perfect day as well!

(I want to add here that Mark and I discovered a very interesting fact about indigo buntings. You professional-type birders probably already know this but we were fascinated to find out that indigo buntings don’t actually have any blue pigment in their feathers which is why if they are in the top of a tree in bright sunlight they look completely black and you think they are a cowbird or something! LOL Now, how do you think we found that out? 😉 )

Here’s another example of a bird basking in the sun — in the light and out of range!  I “think”, after zooming way in on this on my computer, that this is just a chipping sparrow.

Chipping sparrow (?) hanging out in the sun.

Chipping sparrow (?) hanging out in the sun.

The most exciting thing for me about the day was that Oak Openings is rife with red-headed woodpeckers!! I was hoping and praying to see at least one and my hopes were exceeded far above my expectations. We ended up seeing so many that we stopped mentioning them after awhile!

Of course, they too were hanging out at the tops of trees, in bright sun, usually a bit beyond the range of my camera!

Red-headed woodpecker observes the tornado damage.

Red-headed woodpecker observes the tornado damage.

 

Red-headed woodpecker on branch.

Red-headed woodpecker on branch.

Red-headed woodpecker high up in the sun.

Red-headed woodpecker high up in the sun.

We also got a split-second glimpse of an eastern towhee. I got one, very blurry and underexposed photo that I have enough pride to not share here. We also saw summer tanagers, which was very exciting! They too, were up in the canopy right above my head and I was unable to get focused on them at all, so no photo. But Rachel did get a couple of shots with her DSLR and we were able to make a positive identification so I could add them to my list!

While we were tracking down the summer tanagers, this group of horseback riders came down the trail.

Horseback riders enjoying the trails at Oak Openings.

Horseback riders enjoying the trails at Oak Openings.

The indigo buntings nest in Oak Openings so there were plenty to be seen. I finally managed one decent shot, although this is cropped, as are most of the photos in this post.

Indigo bunting.

Indigo bunting.

This yellow warbler was one of the most cooperative subjects of the day, although still on a high branch in the sun.

Yellow warbler.

Yellow warbler.

Yellow warbler sitting pretty.

Yellow warbler sitting pretty.

There was also a male ruby-throated hummingbird perched on a branch.

Ruby-throated hummingbird soaking up the sun.

Ruby-throated hummingbird soaking up the sun.

Ruby-throated hummingbird.

Ruby-throated hummingbird.

It was cool to see them “in the wild” and not just at a nectar feeder!

In 2010 a tornado ripped through a section of the park and the damage caused is still quite evident. You can see it here in the dead trees sticking out from the landscape.

Evidence of the 2010 tornado.

Evidence of the 2010 tornado.

Although the park is still recovering from the damage caused by the tornado, I wonder if all those dead trees are the reason the red-headed woodpeckers are so prolific there.

After two hours, Rachel had to leave for an appointment. I walked along Mallard Lake. It’s a very serene setting and you can see why it is a favorite spot of those that frequent the park.

Mallard Lake.

Mallard Lake.

Mallard Lake.

Mallard Lake.

I just wish I could get better at landscape shots. Now that prime bird photography time is past, maybe I will focus more on landscapes for the rest of the summer. Seriously, there is a reason that early May is prime time for birding in Michigan. By early June, these are the kinds of bird photos you get!

Bird, where out thou?

Bird, where art thou?

Yes, there is a bird there! Can you see it? Don’t ask me what it is, I have no idea. Even with zooming in on my computer, I can’t figure it out.

Speaking of not being able to figure a bird out — I need the help of some of my more seasoned birding friends. I have gotten shots of two different birds that neither Mark nor I could identify. Now trust me, we are NOT lazy birders! We spent a long time last night poring over these photos and going through THREE different field guides page by page.  We also consulted the All About Birds web site. We looked at every photo and illustration and could not figure these two birds out with any amount of certainty. This first one, I was sure was a savannah sparrow.

Mystery bird, or savannah sparrow?

Mystery bird, or savannah sparrow?

But due to the yellow tone in the belly, Mark didn’t agree. We thought perhaps the yellow was a trick of the lighting, but it appears in every shot I took.

Name this bird...

Name this bird…

Mystery bird.

Mystery bird.

After Rachel left, Renee and I decided to walk to the sand dunes. Once we got there, I saw this bird hopping along. Again, I didn’t have the chance to take many shots. There is a distinct white spot behind the eye.

Another mystery bird.

Another mystery bird.

Again, Mark and I pored over the field guides, page by page, and nothing looked like this!  Anyone want to venture an opinion?

Mystery bird.

Mystery bird.

The sand dunes were really neat to see and you come upon them so unexpectedly. We walked through oak and fern and then up a hill and here is the view of sand.

Sand dunes at Oak Openings Preserve.

Sand dunes at Oak Openings Preserve.

A sea - well, maybe a lake - of sand.

A sea – well, maybe a lake – of sand.

Maybe not as impressive as Sleeping Bear Dunes, but still a very interesting geologic feature.

We saw more red-headed woodpeckers as we were returning to the Buehner Center. I had to play with these quite a bit because the green leaves gave a distinct green cast to the white feathers on the woodpeckers back!

Red-headed woodpecker.

Red-headed woodpecker.

Red-headed woodpecker.

Red-headed woodpecker.

Just before we got to the parking lot, Renee and I stopped to admire the way the sunbeams came through the pine boughs. Unfortunately, my camera did not capture the moment the exact way I saw it with my eyes, but still you can see what a pretty place this is.

Sunbeams filtering through pine boughs.

Sunbeams filtering through pine boughs.

The beauty of the path.

The beauty of the path.

Overall, I was ecstatic with the day. I was able to add the eastern towhee, summer tanager, and red-headed woodpecker to my 2015 Big Bird list, bringing my total of species for the year to 88. If any of you can help me identify these two unknowns, then hopefully I will be at 90!

We barely scratched the surface of what Oak Openings has to offer, so I hope to return again soon with Mark to make further explorations of this wonderful nature preserve.

On a down note, some of you may remember that we were planning a big hiking vacation down to the mountains of Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway.  After much discussion, Mark and I decided to cancel our trip.  I spent part of yesterday afternoon canceling all our hotel reservations.  It was a bit of a disappointment, but we have decided we are best to focus our time and financial resources on our place in the northwoods rather than on a vacation.  So, in a couple of weeks, there will be new Northwoods Journal entries.  I know you all will be waiting with baited breath! LOL 😀

Have a blessed day and I hope you all get a chance to take a walk in a park near you!

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18 Responses to Out in the Openings

  1. avian101 says:

    I can help you with some of the mysterious birds:
    The bird that you couldn’t find is a Yellow-throated Vireo
    The bird at the sandy area: Lark Sparrow
    The bird with the stripes and spot on breast: Song Sparrow
    It’s not easy to photograph birds when the sun is bright and the contrast shadows are strong. To me, the best days are the gray days, when no shadows are cast. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, H.J! Amazing that you can tell that bird hiding against the tree trunk is a yellow-throated vireo! The only reason I didn’t think the perched bird with the splotch on its chest is a song sparrow is because of the pronounced notch in its tail. The song sparrow doesn’t have a notched tail but the savannah sparrow does. Thanks again! I can’t wait to look up lark sparrow in all my field guides!

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  2. Bob Zeller says:

    Amy, I can’t see the one that you mention is hiding. The two pics of the perched birds is a Savannah in my opinion. And as H.J. said, the one on the ground is a Lark Sparrow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Bob! I was leaning toward the perched bird being a savannah sparrow because of the notch in its tail. That was the one thing that kept getting to me and made me think it wasn’t a song sparrow. The spot on the breast made me think song sparrow, but the notched tail made me think savannah sparrow. I will have to look up lark sparrow now, too!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Bob Zeller says:

    Oh, there it is. I can see the “hidden” bird. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. LOL But I can’t make a definite I.D.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There were two of them flitting about, but they never came out in the open long enough for a good shot. On my computer I can really zoom in, but even that didn’t help because the front half of the bird is hidden behind the leaf. I think it will just about be time for me to give up serious birding until the fall when I can see things again! LOL

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bob Zeller says:

        Hey, don’t give up! It just gets more exciting when you have to look harder. 🙂 BTW, I really love trying to ID birds. That bird is probably a Yellow-throated Vireo like H.J. says. I can really make out enough to say differently, but I can see the split eye-ring, so it is a definite possibility. I love that “helmet” pattern on the Lark Sparrows. Very unique. We have them all over the place right now.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I loved watching that lark sparrow and wished I could have gotten a bit closer. It was funny the way it was hopping across the sand. My first picture, I actually caught it in mid-hop. I enjoy trying to I.D. them too, but it gets a bit frustrating when I have three different field guides — two of them brand new! — and still can’t seem to find a match! LOL Mark tried for a long time, too, but eventually he had to mow the grass. 🙂 I sent the photos to him at work and he is going to ask his friend who is big in the local Audubon society and get his opinion, too. Now I can add Lark sparrow to my list and that puts me at 89! I wish I would have gotten a clearer picture of the other, but I am definitely looking at all the photos of yellow-throated vireos to see if I can match it up!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. kathydoremus says:

    Ooooh…I want to go here. Sounds like a great day. Love your pics of the red-headed woodpecker on the tree. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • You would love this place, Kathy! I definitely want to go back and see more of the preserve (and hopefully more birds!). I was pretty disappointed with my photos for the day, my skills are still limited and I wasn’t able to adjust properly to the bright, sunny conditions and the shadows, but oh well. I’m still working on learning! It was just such a thrill for me to see the red-headed woodpeckers! Your post on them definitely gave me a thirst to want to see them for myself. I couldn’t believe how many of them there were. Funny what a difference a hand-full of miles can make. I live approximately 30 miles or so from this preserve and we certainly don’t see red-headed woodpeckers where I live.

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  5. It looks like a great place to spend a pleasant summer afternoon whether you’re birding or not.
    I’d say that the first mystery bird is a savannah sparrow, as the streaks underneath on your bird stop at the spot, on a song sparrow, the streaks continue down their flanks. The second one is a lark sparrow. Congratulations on all the lifers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Jerry! It looks like I will have 90 on my list, so only 10 more to go to reach my modest goal for the year. There have been a lot of things seen there at the preserve, including yellow-breasted chats and also during migration they had a female Kirkland’s warbler, which caused lots of excitement! On their web site is quite a long list of birds that are seen there at the park, both regularly and more rare sightings. It is a bit of a drive for me, but I will have to make an effort to go more often, especially next spring.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You may find a smaller park nearby that would be almost as good. I get three or four lifers a year where I walk near home, and this isn’t considered to be a good birding area. All you need is water, willows, brushy areas, and some patches of established hardwoods, and you have a bird paradise.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I bet if I went out to the Lake Erie shore more often – which is just a few miles from me – I would probably see all kinds of things!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. tootlepedal says:

    Time well spent. The woodpeckers are gorgeous.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Tiny says:

    Sounds – and looks – like a wonderful day! You saw so many birds and the nature was very beautiful, even if still carrying some signs of the tornado. I’m happy our friends were able to help identify the mystery birds 🙂 Wonderful shots, Amy. I loved the GBH and the Red-headed Woodpecker in particular.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Tiny! I was disappointed with the quality of my most of my shots for the day, but that doesn’t diminish my excitement over seeing so many species, especially new ones I could add to my list! It’s a great park and I hope to go back again over the summer – even if all the foliage makes photography difficult. 🙂

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