.......and Reflections

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Birding in the middle of April in Norteast Ohio

My birding days start with the sweet sound of eastern Meadowlarks and the chatter of Purple Martins outside my half-fast farm window. I have to confess that my negligent posting is in large part due to exploring the areas that surround where I now live. It's all new. It is an opportunity to watch the area birding blossom as does the many habitats that I can easily access.

Spring is a marvelous time of change. Every day is a little different and that will only accelerate moving forward from April 12th. This is a great time where ever you live. But this northeast quadrant of Ohio is different from the any other places I have lived in some 60 plus years in Ohio. I can see, as the trees and vegetation begin to reveal their summer identities, that the "lake effect snow" reputation is but a reminder that this place wants very much to be much farther north than it actually is.

I will write more about this in future blogs. But for now lets just say that this region is reluctant to give up its glacial heritage. It is boggy. It sprouts Tamarack trees and stands of Yellow Poplars. This morning I listened to the piercing and echoing raucous call of a soaring Sandhill Crane. I had to pause and reflect that this is a call of the wild. A place can't be connected to a 22,000 year old past without clearly stating it's wildlife heritage. It is a "middle of nowhere" kind of place.

I started my April list with 75 species of birds that first day. Each day forth has been about that number. Today I had 78 species and that list is ever slightly changing as April migration moves forward. Waterfowl numbers are decreasing and songbird numbers are getting larger as spring marches into Trumbull County.

I have developed a birding route. I start at Mosquito Lake, meander through the nearly 7,000 acre Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area, cut through the Grand River Wildlife Area and finish the day at Swine Creek Reservation of the Geauga County Parks. This route provides access to forest, lake, upland grasslands, marshes and wetlands, and finally some northerly habitat at Swine Creek.

I had an interesting experience at a pond in the Mosquito Creek Wildlife Management Area that was a lesson to all birders. I find a lot of birds by what I see with my eyes. I often find more using my binoculars. This morning I was reminded of just how important a spotting scope can be.

I stopped at a pond that is a regular stop on my route. I visually scanned the pond and saw little of interest. It is a complicated landscape with aquatic vegetation, emerging wet, grassy edges and a huge tangle of fallen trees and branches at one end. I scanned with binoculars and found little to add to what I had seen with my naked eye. A Wilson's Snipe flushed just a few feet in front of me, and had he not, I would never had known he was there. I got out my scope.

I started at on end of the pond and scanned the whole perimeter of the pond. I discovered a Wilson's Snipe in the grasses. Then I got to the wood debris pile and in flew a Lesser Yellowlegs. It landed near a resting Common Moorhen I had missed with binoculars. Where I saw no ducks before, I found a pair of American Wigeons, a pair of Wood Ducks, A pair of  Hooded Mergansers and a Rusty Blackbird. I can never get a big head because I am constantly reminded that I still need all the tools available to me to get the most of my birding.

When I got to Swine Creek Reservation I was determined to find a Downy Woodpecker. This is a bird that evaded me for hours. I got out of my truck and pished and called the Screech-owl call and got a bunch of birds to respond but no Downy Woodpecker. As I got into my truck I saw the shadow of a bird flying above me. So I got out and sure enough it was a female Downy Woodpecker. I watched the bird long enough to see it was feeding on sap oozing from the freshly-drilled line of holes surgically created by a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. The Downy flew off and I followed the bird to another tree. Low and behold, there was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker drilling another series of holes in another tree. The Downy Woodpecker had become both The Sapsucker's and my best friend. It's good to have friends in high places!

I made another stop at some grasslands I've been scouting out, hoping to find a territorial Vesper Sparrow. The sparrow was not to be found. But as I scanned the grasses a flock of about 60 little birds with white outer tail feathers lifted from invisibility in the grasses to reveal themselves in flight. Vesper Sparrows have white outer tail feathers but these were clearly American Pipits.

People that don't share my passion for nature don't understand how I can spend my retirement chasing birds. They will never understand. I never leave the house without knowing that I will be surprised in some wonderful way. There is no greater world of discovery than the natural world. It is the serendipitous discoveries and the endless questions that need to be answered that seduce me into ever-seeking the middle of nowhere. The list is just an administrative function that closes the day. I can't wait to start tomorrows list.

Lets go birding and have some experiences that will make us humble and hungry.

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