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Posts Tagged ‘Kentucky Warbler’

Plan A was hatched last fall when the world was still normal.  I would drive to Michigan in late May to see Kirtland’s Warblers on their breeding grounds, continue north into Canada and drive the northern shore of Lake Superior, and then spend some time in Sax Zim Bog in Minnesota before returning home.  I had scheduled Erik Bruhnke to guide me one day at Sax Zim and I hoped that Diane could join us.  Derek might also be able to share part of the adventure with me.  When the coronavirus didn’t “just disappear,” that plan became not just inadvisable, but impossible as Canada closed its border.

Plan B was that Derek and I would do an abbreviated version of the trip, perhaps getting as far as South Dakota, where we could both meet some geographical birding targets and perhaps even get a few life birds.  But, as the coronavirus got worse instead of better, we didn’t want to stay in hotels.

A large pond of American Lotus at Swan Harbor Farm Park in Havre de Grace, MD

A large pond of American Lotus at Swan Harbor Farm Park in Havre de Grace, MD

In a last ditch effort to find something both safe and interesting, Derek invited me to Maryland.  We could base our travels around his home outside Baltimore, which would put us within two to three hours of several mid-Atlantic states and some excellent birding spots.  I left home in North Carolina on July 8, a day earlier than planned, when a Ruff showed up in Virginia.  We planned to meet there, but that plan, too, changed when Derek called me mid-morning and said that the Ruff was gone.  I reset my GPS for Derek’s home and continued my drive.

We set out for Bombay Hook NWR on our first day of birding, one of the places that I most wanted to go.  I hoped to see Saltmarsh and Seaside Sparrows, both species that I have seen only a few times.  Saltmarsh Sparrows declined to make an appearance for us, however, we enjoyed cute Marsh Wrens singing in the reeds and this Seaside Sparrow made me very happy.

Seaside Sparrow along the Saltmarsh Boardwalk at Bombay Hook NWR

Seaside Sparrow along the Saltmarsh Boardwalk at Bombay Hook NWR

Gulls, terns, shorebirds, herons, and others made for wonderful birding.  The only thing keeping the day from perfection was the constant biting flies.  They bit so hard that I had blood running down my legs in a few spots and we wondered if they wanted a chunk of flesh to go with our blood.  Later, Derek found the explanation on the Assateague Island National Seashore Facebook page, “Why are greenheads just so nasty?”  The short answer to why the bites hurt so badly is that the female greenhead “will probe the surface area to find a place packed with multiple capillaries to feed from a large pool. Then she will use her scissor-like mouth parts to bite and begin sucking blood. As she continues to draw your blood, other mouth parts begin to work her deeper and deeper into your skin.”  It was well worth it, though, to see these beautiful birds!

Least Sandpiper on Delaware's Slaughter Beach

Least Sandpiper on Delaware’s Slaughter Beach

After we completed the wildlife drive at Bombay Hook, we drove to nearby Slaughter Beach.  We were surprised to see Northern Mockingbirds on the actual beach.  After watching a few minutes, we saw the mockingbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds feeding on horseshoe crabs that had washed up and were scattered all along the water’s edge.  Across the road at the saltmarsh, Derek’s sharp eyes caught a brief look at a Saltmarsh Sparrow that I missed and we both saw more Seaside Sparrows.

We worked our way back into Maryland and finished the day with a stop at Daniel Crouse Memorial Park, a nice end to a big day of birding.

At Daniel Crouse Memorial Park, a female Blue Grosbeak with a grasshopper for her babies

At Daniel Crouse Memorial Park, a female Blue Grosbeak with a grasshopper for her babies

Friday started with a hike at Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area, 1,900 acres of the largest serpentine barrens in Maryland and one of the few surviving examples on the east coast of this rare environment.  Our targets were Prairie Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Summer Tanager, all of which breed in the scrub habitat.  We found Prairie Warblers on the trail through the barrens and Yellow-breasted Chats at a nearly overlook, but we didn’t find any Summer Tanagers.  During my entire visit, we had very little luck with passerines in the hot July days.

We had time for several more birding forays that afternoon, including a stop to see a Peregrine Falcon on a water tower.  My favorite spot was North Point State Park where we found seven Little Blue Herons around the marshy edges of the lake – three dark blue adults, two white juveniles, and two immature birds sporting calico or pied plumage.  Little Blue Herons are white when they leave the nest, helping them blend into flocks of aggressive Snowy Egrets more easily.  It takes two years to achieve the full adult plumage.  For a short time during the transition from white to blue, one-year-old Little Blue Herons look like the beautiful bird below.

Little Blue Heron at North Point SP

Little Blue Heron at North Point SP

We headed to West Virginia on Saturday with the goal of upping my state list from 34 to 50.  It was more challenging without beaches, but I ended the day with exactly 50 species on my WV bird list.  My favorite spot was Stauffer’s Marsh Nature Preserve.  In addition to a few nice birds, we saw this beautiful Hummingbird Clearwing Moth, Hemaris thysbe.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth at Stauffer's Marsh Nature Preserve

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth at Stauffer’s Marsh Nature Preserve

Our West Virginia day ended with some fun and relaxing time at Baker Park in Frederick, Maryland, where we enjoyed observing a breeding colony of Black-crowned Night-Herons.  This was only the second time that I have ever seen tame night-herons.  The following photos were taken just a few feet away from the birds.

Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron at Baker Park

Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron at Baker Park

Adult Black-crowned Night-Heron at Baker Park

Adult Black-crowned Night-Heron at Baker Park

Susquehanna State Park is the premier birding destination in northeastern Maryland and that’s where we headed on Sunday.  Again, passerines (perching birds) were more scarce than we expected.  Where were the warblers foraging with their youngsters?  But, we found a Kentucky Warbler right away and I had a very satisfying experience with this species that I don’t see often.  This gorgeous bird was still singing when we left and we probably could have watched him for as long as we liked.

Kentucky Warbler at Susquehanna State Park

Kentucky Warbler at Susquehanna State Park

It wasn’t a warbler, but at least the Gray Catbirds were out with just fledged juveniles in the picnic area.

Juvenile Gray Catbird at Susquehanna State Park

Juvenile Gray Catbird at Susquehanna State Park

After leaving Susquehanna SP, we went to Swan Harbor Farm Park and added a few more birds to my growing Maryland list.  Here’s a close-up of American Lotus, Nelumbo lutea, that covered a pond there and was shown in the first photo in this post.

American Lotus at Swan Harbor Farm Park

American Lotus at Swan Harbor Farm Park

We spent most of Monday in Pennsylvania, first at William H. Kain County Park and then at Richard M. Nixon County Park.  I had been to these spots in previous trips and it was nice to visit again.

A Great Egret in the beautiful, but horrible non-native invasive Purple Loosestrife at Kain County Park

A Great Egret in the beautiful, but horrible non-native invasive Purple Loosestrife at Kain County Park

One warbler that we did see and hear nearly everywhere was Common Yellowthroat.

Male Common Yellowthroat at Richard M. Nixon County Park

Male Common Yellowthroat at Richard M. Nixon County Park

We saw many beautiful birds in just five days and my visit was only half over!  Watch for Part 2.

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The Kentucky Warbler was about 20 feet from us, eye level, in perfect light.  He had to have known that we were watching him, but he appeared unconcerned about our presence and sat there singing.  Birding does not get any better than this.  It was one of those magic moments that Diane and I both treasure.  We were alone on a forest service road in Ohio’s Shawnee State Forest and it was quiet except for the birds.  This spot was perfect breeding habitat for Kentucky Warblers – low ground with lots of brushy cover by a little creek.

I was too lost in the moment watching the Kentucky Warbler to even try for a photo, but I was able to get this shot of an American Redstart the previous day.

American Redstart (male)

American Redstart (male)

Diane and her husband planned to visit their daughter in Indianapolis and Diane wanted to meet for a few days of birding.  We decided on Shawnee State Forest and I was pleased that Diane liked it as much as I had on my first trip.  We arrived on Monday afternoon, April 28, and were able to bird for a couple of hours in relatively dry weather before dinner.  Unfortunately, we had awful weather for the rest of the trip.  The next day it rained until noon and was uncomfortably hot all afternoon after the sun came out.  The following day it rained non-stop.  And, then it was time to leave.  But, still, we found quite a few birds including Hooded, Prairie, Black-and-white and Blue-winged Warblers, Yellow-breasted Chats, Scarlet Tanagers, and unusually cooperative vireos, all allowing us quality views.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (male)

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (male)

We found this gorgeous male Rose-breasted Grosbeak one afternoon and he was still working the same tree when we came back a few hours later.

Trillium grandiflorum

Trillium grandiflorum

There were fewer wildflowers than last year when I was two weeks later.  But, the forest was still lovely with Trillium grandflorum dominating the roadsides.  Little patches of bluets were everywhere.  Wild geraniums were beginning to pop up here and there.  There were a few irises.  Ferns were just starting to unfurl.

On our one hot afternoon, the birds were quiet, but there was an abundance of butterflies.  My favorites were the Zebra Swallowtails, a life butterfly for me.

Zebra Swallowtails

Zebra Swallowtails

Our pet-friendly cabin in the state park was a perfect base for our stay.  The state park is inside the state forest.  The screened porch in the back was great for watching birds when we were tired of driving in the rain.  Jack and Diane’s two dogs found the cabin as comfortable as we did.

A cabin in the woods also let me find a few spring moths.  I was too tired to stay up late, but saw these pretty little moths just before bedtime.

Shawnee moth 1P

Shawnee moth 3

 

Other birders reported Cerulean Warblers in the cabin area. We did not see them, although we thought that we heard them a few times.  It was our only real miss, not too bad considering the weather.  We enjoyed the forest and the birds so much that we talked of going back next year.  I hope that we are able to return to my new favorite spring birding location, Ohio’s Shawnee State Forest.

Our cabin in Shawnee State Park

Our cabin in Shawnee State Park

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Sandy Beasley and I arrived at Shawnee State Forest late in the afternoon on May 17 after driving from Magee Marsh.  We had just enough time for a stop at the Shawnee State Park office to pick up a “birding map” created by the park naturalist.  The state park is nestled in the middle of the state forest and contains most of the recreational facilities.  Hundreds of athletes participating in the American Triple-T triathlon filled the area and we were happy to get away and drive a peaceful gravel road.  Immediately, we were struck by the spectacular beauty of the forest.  And, even late in the afternoon, we could hear birds singing everywhere.  While Magee hosted mostly tired, hungry migrants, Shawnee was home to breeding birds.  And an ideal home it was, providing 65,000 acres of high-quality habitat.  We had made reservations for one night, but after our 2-hour scouting trip, we decided to stay for two nights so that we would have an entire day to enjoy the forest.

Kentucky Warbler

Kentucky Warbler. Photo © http://www.BirdPhotos.com.

On Saturday, we drove the Panoram Loop which was mostly gravel roads.  Wild geraniums and ferns carpeted the edges between the roads and woods.  We didn’t see as many birds as we had at Magee, but the ones that we did observe made the day a joy.  Cooperative birds that gave us great views included Hooded, Worm-eating, and Kentucky Warblers.  We heard Wood Thrushes singing their ethereal songs and Ruffed Grouse drumming.  The songs of Red-eyed Vireos and Ovenbirds filled the air.  Yellow-breasted Chats gave their raucous calls.  We observed several pairs of Scarlet Tanagers at eye-level.  We saw only a few cars or bikes on the road and met only one other birding party.

Worm-eating Warbler

Worm-eating Warbler. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo.

Even with a map, we had a difficult time finding our way out of the forest.  After going the wrong direction twice, Sandy flagged down a truck.  The driver was Chris Glassmeyer, who didn’t just give directions, but led us back to the highway.  Chris was very familiar with the forest as he had worked there for the Ohio Division of Forestry a couple of years ago.  We talked about the management of the forest and learned that there is logging, but that the Ohio Division of Forestry received certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) in December 2010 for all 21 state forests.  Still, Chris had tired of seeing trees with dollar signs on them and recently went to work for The Ohio Nature Conservancy, where he is an Area Steward.  As supporters of TNC, Sandy and I share Chris’ values and we all seemed energized by the conversation about Shawnee and its birds and other wildlife.  We enjoyed meeting Chris as much as seeing Shawnee’s beautiful birds.

Blue-winged Warbler

Blue-winged Warbler. Photo © http://www.BirdPhotos.com.

We had planned to leave for home on Sunday morning, but the forest called us back, so we spent another few hours in a different area that was recommended for birding.  As soon as we turned onto the forest service road and pulled over beside the little stream, we heard birds.  Carolina wrens, Gray Catbirds, and Common Yellowthroats called and then we heard a new song.  Yes, a male Cerulean Warbler right over our heads!  Thrilled that we had decided to spend more time in the forest, we continued on down the road.  We saw the first Blue-winged Warblers of the trip – right at eye level.  Other highlights included Kentucky and Hooded Warblers.  Acadian Flycatchers, Wood Thrushes, and Ovenbirds sang as we slowly drove down the country road.

Cerulean Warbler

Cerulean Warbler. Wikipedia photo.

Those last three hours in Shawnee State Forest were an absolutely perfect end to our Ohio birding adventure and the perfect complement to Magee Marsh.  We had a total of 116 species of birds for the trip, including 30 species of warblers.  Sandy and I look forward to returning to the forest as much as to Magee, but next time we will go earlier in the year when the trees are not fully leafed out.  I’ll also work harder to review warbler songs before the next trip.  I’ve already written about learning bird songs and I’ll be using Larkwire as I discussed in that post as well as listening to CDs of bird songs.

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