Monday, April 27, 2009

The Spark Bird

Ask a birder anywhere and they’ll tell you about their spark bird.  For some it can be something exciting like a hawk, owl, or eagle.  For others it can be something colorful like a warbler or oriole.  For still others, it could have been an ordinary feeder bird at a friends house.

A spark bird is the bird that really turns someone into a birder.  It’s the gotcha moment that you remember for the rest of your birding like.  Even famous birders wax eloquent about their spark birds in their books and articles.

So how come I can’t recall a spark bird?  I didn’t get started into birding until I was in college.  I was taking a class largely because a girl I was really into was taking the class.  It also filled a science elective so I was OK.  The prof let you get extra credit if you went birding with him early on Sunday morning.  7:30 AM early.  For a college student, that was torture.  You know you are in a college town when the local restaurants offer their breakfast specials until 2:00.

The girl suggested we go birding.  I spent several weeks earning extra credit using a loaner pair of binoculars.  20 years later, the girl is long gone but the birding remains.

I remember the girls name was Heather.  I cannot remember the name of the prof.  And I cannot remember a spark bird.  I remember really enjoying the time outside, the thrill of the hunt, and using the field guide to sort out new identifications.  I also remember the feeling that coursework and science can have real world applications which help me to put my studies in perspective.

So am I missing something by not having a spark bird?  I don’t think so.  Instead of having a spark to light the birding fire, I prefer to think of myself as a case of spontaneous human combustion.

April 24-27, 2009 - Super Birding and Dancing Extended Weekend

Every now and then the weather gods smile on us and give us a weekend like the one we just had here in Northeast Ohio.  And since I added a couple of vacation days and made it a 4-day weekend, even better.  Friday was the “cool day” with highs in the 70’s.  Saturday through Monday had highs in the mid to upper 80’s.  It was a taste of June in April.

I started my long weekend with a trip to Magee Marsh on Friday.  The birding was really good.  Southerly overnight winds created the first big migration weekend of the year.  Between the marsh and the surrounding areas I managed to find 81 species including 14 warblers.  By the end of the day I was tired, happy, and satisfied.  Who knew Friday would just be the warm-up for the entire weekend.

Friday evening was also very nice.  Dad and I attended the Bill Thompson, III (BOTB - Bill of the Birds) late show at the Rocky River Nature Center that was part of the North Coast Nature Festival.  Bill really needs no introduction if you are a birder.  The hour-plus presentation left people smiling, laughing, and happy.  I didn’t know BOTB was a Wilco fan.  Not only is he an editor, author, birder, musician, entertainer, and all around nice guy, he is a man of refined musical taste and sensibilities.

Saturday started with a bird walk led by BOTB.  There must have been nearly 50 people on the walk but it never felt crowded or overwhelming.  It was nice to see so many new birders on the walk.  If there is one thing I really enjoy, it’s helping to introducing this wonderful hobby to new people.  I think we found more than a few converts in the mix.  After the walk I visited the bridle trail in Rocky River Reservation to check out the eagles nest.  NASA, we have eaglets!!!!  My last stop of the day was a visit to Sandy Ridge Reservation where the wind was brutal.  There were practically whitecaps on the marsh.  Cowabunga dude!  At least the trees in the forest and along the west and north edge of the marsh were full of warblers.

Sunday was the morning of the third Spring Bird Walk out of six at the RRNC.  The Spring Bird Walks are in their 76th year at various locations across NE Ohio.  BOTB was up early again to join the walk.  This walk was a little different as the crowd was huge, 56 birders in total.  There was also nice treat with Tom Bartlett banding birds.  We had close looks at several species but the star of the show was a Yellow-throated Warbler.  After the walk I caught another BOTB program on the Young Birders Guide.  I then headed up to Huntington Reservation to see what warblers might be in the trees along the lake.

Monday started without birding.  My nephew Aiden is about to turn 3.  I was his VIP guest at his preschool this morning.  Each child could pick someone and I was honored to be Aiden’s selection.  We got to play a while, sing a few songs including the smash hit The Wheels on the Bus, and dance a little.  You’ve got to let it all hang out when you do the Chicken Dance, especially in front of a 3 year old.  Aiden and I both had fun.  After getting my groove on and seeing Aiden off with his Mommy and little sister Nora I headed back to the RRNC for a final round of birding.  It felt very strange birding here by myself after the last two days but the quiet was also nice.  Field trips are great, but sometimes you need to be alone in nature.  I walked the trails again and enjoyed the birds and the solitude.

The totals for the weekend are as follows:

117 species in total

100 plus birders

80 degree temperatures

20 warbler species seen

7 birding sites visited

4 amazing days

2 BOTB programs

1 shameless performance of the Chicken Dance that left Aiden roaring

And a great long weekend with lots of good memories - priceless!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A great weekend of birding and hiking....

April 18 and 19, 2009

Spent Saturday out in the morning with Dad.  We started at Carlisle Reservation on a very sunny and mild day.  The temps warmed into the 70’s before all was said and done.  There was a very clear indication of migration underway with lots of new species.  The highlight bird was a Brown Thrasher actively calling from the top of a tree.  We also had some good looks at a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and heard a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

Our next stop was Oberlin Reservoir which was quite slow.  Lot’s of Ruddy’s but not much else.  We then headed into Wellington for some lunch.  After lunch we made a quick stop by Wellington Reservation before Dad had to head home.  There wasn’t a lot a variety but there was a pair of Surf Scoters with the males field marks clearly visible.  This was a lifer for Dad.

Next I went to Wellington Reservation.  There weren’t really any new birds that I hadn’t already seen but there were good signs for the shorebird migration.  There was a lot more flooded habitat that should result in some good mudflats.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed that this will work out.

The final stop of the day was a run up to the Lorain Impoundment.  Here is another spot with some very promising shorebird habitat.  I did manage to find a Solitary Sandpiper and a Pectoral Sandpiper.  I was hoping for Yellowlegs or Dunlin but had no luck.

Sunday was cloudy and cooler but the birds did not disappoint.  I joined the Sunday Bird Walk at the Rocky River Nature Center.  This weeks walk drew a crowd of 30.  We managed 3 hawks, Broad-winged, Red-shouldered, and Red-tailed.  We also had more good looks at Gnatcatchers and Sapsuckers.  We also managed to get some good looks at a Barred Owl thanks to a man walking his dog.  He mentioned to  our group that he had seen a large owl.  We headed off in pursuit.  I was the first to spot the bird in flight and then was able to track it until it moved out of view.  That was a nice addition to the mornings activities.

After the group walk I went to explore the bridle trail south of Willow Bend.  The wildflowers should be spectacular there next weekend.

This was my favorite sort of birding weekend.  It had lot’s of miles on foot.  After the winter doldrums and lots of time standing around by the lakeshore, it was nice to bird and cover a lot of ground.

Let’s hope next weekend is just as good.