Welcome December and Years-end…

It’s been a minute since I’ve last posted, and for that I am apologetic. It has been a rough road for me of late, as I battle my ongoing depression. No, you simply cannot take a magic pill and it goes away. No, you simply cannot wear a smile and pretend all is well and it goes away. For me, it appears to be a constant, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, and I am increasingly closer to exiting.

It’s been a year of great disappoint, and also of wonderful excitement. COVID destroyed plans for many, including me and my birding hopes, but I also made some really great new friends along the way, a couple of which stand out. The year would see my trip to Puffinhome in ruins, and also plans for my first Biggest Week in Birding Festival, among other festivals.

But I have also achieved some of my beginning objectives, including making 2020 the year of the warbler for me. I think that I ended up with 23 individual species observed, including my target species and most beautiful, the Golden-winged. Also I saw the return of my very first warbler, the Black-throated Green, which I hadn’t seen since my teens in the woodlands of Maine. I owe much of my “warblering” to my good friend, Joan Scharf, one of the luminaries of Lake County birding. Joan and I had an amazing day in mid-May at Mentor Marsh, which will always stick out in my memories for me, in addition to many trips to Lake County hotspots. Another bird not seen by me since my early teens, the Little Blue Heron made an appearance at Mentor this past spring, and I was quite fortunate to see it.

I remember starting the 2020 year off on the roadways of far western Ohio chasing down a Snowy Owl, Eurasian-collared Dove and Prairie Falcon; I ticked the Falcon, but dipped on the others. It took me three tries with 3-hour drives one way in order to see the Prairie for all of about two minutes. It was worth it, and was part of the start of my second career as a birder (not bird-watcher, noooo…. I jest!). If there is one regret that I have, it’s that I missed the entirety of the fall shorebird migration, and I love shorebirds! I just couldn’t get myself out, and the one bird I missed but wanted was a Hudsonian Godwit.

Now, I’m in the process of planning out the new year, one that will hopefully be more enriching for me as I chase down more birds. I am actively pre-planning how to get my first 100 in January, a thing here in Ohio, and will be in the fields on January 1st! I am tempted to count only the birds that I can see, versus ticking off the ones I can hear; still not sure about this more hardcore approach, but it always frustrates me when I cannot see the bird, such as the Blue-winged Warbler, which I never saw last year, but actively heard. I do hope to make much greater use of my scope in the new year as well, looking for those sea ducks, as well as the new library I put together last year.

I also have greater hopes for my blog going into the new year. I am hoping to finally begin writing reviews of birding gear, books and other stuffs, and to also provide explanations on how to bird specific hotspots and pass along tips that I’ve gotten from others. I believe in a wide open birder’s exchange, where there are no cliques or private groups, or GATEKEEPERS. We must all work together to make our hobby better and more inviting and accessible to all, not just the top 100 in Ohio. Hopefully, I can do my part in that, and if my writing brings just one new birder into the fold, I will have been successful.


the end.

I went birding this morning for like the first time really in months, and was fortunate to see many nimble and confusing fall warblers flitting around all over, with Chimney Swifts circling above and Eagles soaring further above them. It was a beautiful first-day-of-fall morning, but likely the end of the fall migration for the most part. For warblers, I managed to catch the following: Tennessee, Nashville, Redstart, Northern Parula, Bay-breasted, Blackburnian, Blackpoll, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Cape May, and Magnolia. Not a bad catch for a late September morning.

Sadly, there were no shorebirds in appearance. I totally missed the entire fall shorebird migration it seems. I’ve personally been in a funk since probably June, and outside of seeing the Booby this month, have not ventured out into the field at all. Yes, depression can deprive one of even their greatest passions, and sadly it cost me the entire shorebird migration season, with hopes dashed for any Godwits or Plovers. But I cannot really complain. My 2020 total stands at a respectable 197 total species for the year, a year in which I recorded 25 Warbler species, the highlight of which was getting to observe a Golden-winged Warbler in early May – sadly I did not get a pic of that one as it was extra flitty!

Time now to start planning for 2021…

Brown Booby in Ohio

Yers, that’s right! The last week of August into the first week of September, a local Ohio community served as a temporary home to a Brown Booby. Why is this special? Because the Brown Booby is typically found in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. So this immature Brown Booby was several hundreds of miles away from its typical range. Speculation is that a storm, perhaps a hurricane, carried it up to us in Ohio.

The Brown Booby above landed in my backyard, at the Nimisila Reservoir in Akron, Summit County, Ohio. It was first discovered some time around August 23rd, and was observed up to about September 3rd. Hundreds of people make the trek to Nimisila to observe the reservoir’s most famous visitor, the first sighting of this species in the State.

Sadly, nature took its course with the Brown Booby. One morning, a birder was visiting to view it and check up on it, but found no bird; instead, he discovered a single wing, floating in the waters just below the Booby’s favorite tree perch. The Booby apparently became a meal for a predator. Initial speculation was an immature Peregrine Falcon that had been harassing it earlier in the week, but that was unlikely due to the size of the Booby and the wing being left behind. Some think it was a Great Horned Owl who grabbed it in the night; owls have been known to take apart their prey. In any case, no matter who got to the Brown Booby, many were sadden by this news, including myself, as I had only just visited with it on the 1st of September. He was such a special visitor for us in a year full of disappointment. Long live the Brown Booby of Ohio, he was loved, and will be missed!

First Publishing…

I am a member of the Ohio Ornithological Society, and I was proud to notice that, in their latest edition of their publication “The Cardinal: Winter 2019-2020,” I had an entry included. In the winter of 2020, I got the opportunity of observing Snow Geese in Mahoning, Ohio – I must say that they were initially found by another birder. A friend, who happens to be the Photo Editor, mentioned they were looking for images, so I submitted my Snow geese:

Even though my name was mis-spelled, it was a nice recognition, albeit a small one in a year filled with relative disappointment. This week, I was to have been in Maine attending the Audubon Society’s Hog Island Field Ornithologist workshop, and finally observing Puffins.

Spring is Over

So in northern Ohio, we had been expecting a last, final wave of spring migrants, again based upon data from the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) website. It seems that it came, and went just as quickly.

Numerous reports abounded yesterday of a great number of birds along the shores of Lake Erie. From Wendy Park in Cleveland, to Erie Street Cemetery, to Headlands Dunes State Park, there were reports of large numbers of migrants, both on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday even saw the discovery of a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at Wendy Park. My birding friend, Joan Scharf, reported a good number of passerines at Headlands Dunes yesterday, and today is dad dead. Everything has moved along, having stopped to stoke up for two days. I had a decent morning – for me – at Headlands, with Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, several Least Flycatcher, Scarlet Tanager, Blackpoll Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, numerous Yellow Warbler, and several Vireos, especially Red-eyed.

Warbler reports were especially good at Wendy Park, according to eBird reports, with lots of variety and number. There were even sightings of three Connecticut Warblers and also Mourning Warblers, in addition to the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. There were huge numbers of Yellow-bellied and Willow Flycatchers, a push of over 700 estimated Cedar Waxwings, and 21 varieties of warbler. These numbers have fallen off significantly today.

So, it would seem that the third, and final, projected spring migration wave has come, and gone. No doubt there’ll be some ‘clean-up,’ but most of the birbs have moved along to their northern nesting grounds, and only fall awaits, for their return through to winter.

My Birding Life…

I just got through watching “The Big Year” again for the umpteenth time. I love to watch this movie, especially the extended version, and typically find it to be quite inspirational for me.

I used to spend every summer with my Grams in a small little community called Ocean Park, Maine, right on the Atlantic Ocean. When I was about twelve, we were out driving somewhere one day, likely getting some fresh corn for supper. My Aunt, who was with us, stopped at the nature center at Scarborough Marsh. We walked up the steps to the observation deck, and a gentleman was viewing birds through his spotting scope. He asked me if I’d like to take a look. I did; I saw a Little Blue Heron, my very first ”recorded” individual, and as they say, the rest is history.

Ocean Park is a five mile square former Chautauqua-Baptist community, and consists of pine forest, marshland, beach and mudflats. It is the perfect place for bird diversity. In the coming summers, I had the run of the Park, observing all kinds of birds all over. In 1976, I started the Ocean Park Bird Club, of which I think there were about five members! Also that year, I contributed to and edited the very first “Birds of Ocean Park” List, which served as a companion to Theodore Wells’ “Plants of Ocean Park.” We never really published it, but made certain the Library had a copy, in addition to others who had an interest at the time.

During these summer periods, my birding was encouraged by two Ocean Park residents, Mrs. Edith Stephenson and Mrs. Genevieve Webb. Mrs. Webb was at the time recognized as the leading local birder, and we would get up at 5:30am to go birding at Scarborough Marsh, Pine Point, and parts of the Park. I think she had a first edition of Peterson’s! I loved going birding with her, and one year we had a rare bird alert Sandhill Crane observed at Scarborough.

Mrs. Stephenson was a very special friend and mentor to me. She owned a home in Ocean Park, and was a year-round resident like Mrs. Webb. Her home was at the very outskirts of the Park, on a dead-end street, and her backyard was marsh. I used to visit her almost every day to view the Snowy Egrets, Glossy Ibis, Great Blue Heron and Green Heron that would frequent her “yard.” I think I must’ve been one of the very first “digiscopers,” as I used to take photographs of the birds with y Kodak Instamatic through my binoculars. I birded in Maine heavily from about 1974 through about 1978-79, when other things interfered, i.e. life.

During this time, somehow my father became involved with my passion. Birding was one of the only things that he did with me as a child, and he was simply the driver, taking me in the winters to the coast of Massachusetts, specifically the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, aka Plum Island, and to Marblehead and Newburyport, looking for gulls and other winter birds. The most memorable day for me birding at Plum Island was getting to see my favorite bird, the Snowy Owl, and also a rarity, the Tufted Duck, courtesy of other birders who showed me both through their scopes. Plum island was one of my most favorite places to bird. Funny that, once I got my license, I never visited there, it was just with my father. We were there in Newburyport in 1975 when the Ross Gull showed up for several weeks, though I never spotted the rare gull; Roger Tory Peterson was even there for that. And back in the day, there was no internet, eBird or networks especially for teens, so the only way I heard about the bird was through the news.

I didn’t seriously bird from about 1979 through about 1987 or so. Now living on Long Island in New York, I took my birding eastward, heading out to Montauk Point. I discovered a nice little pond called Oyster Pond that I used to hike in to, and here I saw an Avocet one summer, along with the usual Dowitchers, Turnstones and Oystercatchers. I saw a few warblers as well, but really wasn’t all that aware of the spring migration and all it encompassed. Again, during this time, information wears limited and networks tighter than they are today.

Im the fall one year in the mid to late 80’s, I had done some research on migration seasons, and headed south to Cape May for the fall migration. It was simply amazing, with birds everywhere. Warblers, sandpipers and other shorebirds, and hawks… oh the hawks and falcons all over! I also visited Fire Island during that time, and again it was an amazing fall; one day, there were Kinglets all over the grounds, literally lying everywhere, so tightly packed you had to be careful where you stepped. It is part of my fondest birding memories.

I haven’t seriously birded since, till December of last year, when I finally made a commitment to get back to my passion. So a lot is catching up my skills, and now that I am in Ohio, which I swear is like the birding capital of the States, getting used to the best places to go. And within those best places, figuring out where the birds hang out. Thus far, this year has been a wonderful one; 188 individual species observed this year thus far, including one day of 19 individual warblers. I have seen 23 different warblers thus far, my best year for songbirds ever! And though I have had challenges to face along the way, it has been a good year for me, and I have nothing to complain about.

Birding for me is a passion, and also a legacy to my Grams and my Aunt, who got me started in all of it. Last month, due to their legacy, I was able to obtain my greatest desire, a spotting scope, and also top-flight bins, both from Zeiss. And, I am hooping to be able to travel to Ecuador early next year to see the hummingbirds; they’re special, because when I was eight, one landed and sat on my hand.

So that’s the story of my birding life… thus far. I’ve met some wonderful people this year – you know who you are! – and I look forward to continuing my birding well into the future

Huge Fallout… Finally

Well, turns out I was wrong… maybe lol. While I do think that the migration was in fact running early, it certainly got bogged down in May. Lots of rain and strong winds in not the right directions held the birds back from northern Ohio, but boy did they show up in numbers this past week.

Friday, May 15th was the big day, with big numbers of warblers reported almost everywhere: Whiskey Island in Cleveland, Erie Street Cemetery also in Cleveland, Firestone Metro Park in Akron, Mentor Marsh in Lake County, Meadowbrook Marsh in Ottawa County… 18, 19, even 20 different species of warbler reported at all of these northern Ohio locales. And big numbers of individuals: Kenn Kaufman reported 350 Blackburnian Warblers as Meadowbrook alone! He must’ve brought out his bird “clicker!” There were several sightings of the depleted and almost endangered Golden-winged Warbler, and even three sightings of Kirtland’s Warbler reported. All this with our famous Magee Marsh closed for the season.

I myself went birding yesterday, the 16th, and was not disappointed. Birding with a friend, Joan Scharf, the day started off very foggy and the trees continuing to drip with rain from the overnight precipitation. This drove the birds low, and we were able to observe 19 unique warbler species, including Cape May, Canada, Tennessee, Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, Wilson’s, Bay-breasted and others. A Mourning Warbler was sighted by one of the County’s top birders, which we heard but could not get a visual on. And there wereLeast Flycatchers everywhere, and also a few different Thrush species. As the sun finally poked out, slowly burning off the fog, the birds went high in the canopies, and it became harder to get them. It personally was my best day ever in my road back to birding.

Shorebird migration has been picking up, as I observed flocks of Dunlin at both ONWR Boss Unit and Howard Marsh Metropark in Ottawa and Lucas Counties respectively. A variety is now being seen, but not in great numbers, including Black-belled Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Long and Short-billed Dowitcher, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and rare reports of Willet here and there. Herons are also returning, with Green reported everywhere, and also Black-crowned Night Herons and one Yellow-crowned Night Heron report, along with two reports of Little Blue Herons, one at Mentor Marsh, which I was fortunate to observe

So where do we go from here? Well, according to Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) datasets, we still have the third wave to look forward to, and people are already starting to report the arrival of the later migrants, like Blackpoll Warblers. This last wave of migrants is projected to be May 24th-26th, which is to coincide with peak migration of shorebirds as well. Hopefully the weather cooperates, as this month has been quite wet and windy thus far. I’m guessing, but I’m figuring that this last big ouch will also occur a bit late, likely two days later that projected. But it should be interesting to see nonetheless.

Spring Migration, Part Three

So, we’ve gotten through the first wave/fallout projected on the 24th, and we’re heading into prime-time: May. I should also point out that these predictions are based on statistics gathered by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO), and basically apply only to northern Ohio, i.e. lakefront gathering points.

May 1st thru 10th:
As previously mentioned, the spring migration has been identified to consist of three significant waves, the first occurring late last month. The second wave is estimated to occur just days from now, May 7th thru the 13th. Southerly winds last week brought lots of migrating species finally to our local hotspots, along with sightings of others such as White Pelicans, Avocets, Dowitchers, and Little Blue Heron, to name a few. Here are some of the birds estimated to peak between the 1st and 10th of May, with associative BSBO peak banding dates:

3rd: White-crowned Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Blue-headed Vireo, Hermit Thrush, Northern Waterthrush, Ovenbird, Western Palm Warbler, Myrtle Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak. We have observed upticks in all of these species in the last week or so, especially Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) and Palm Warbler. I was at Mentor Lagoons Nature Preserve this past weekend and these two species were present in significant number, along with more than a few Yellow Warbler. Most of these birds started to arrive on-site in late April.

4th: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, House Wren. One bird giving credence to my theory that migration is early this year is the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker; they made a strong and numerous showing in late April and are now pretty much gone, except for the occasional straggler. Kinglets have also pretty much peaked as well, though several might still be observed here and there.

6th: Indigo Bunting, Cape May Warbler, Nashville Warbler. These three species are just now starting to be sighted in northern Ohio.

8th: Warbling Vireo. Currently being heard at most northern hotspots.

9th: Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Wood Thrush. Just starting to make appearances, with Hummingbirds seeming to arrive around the 2nd in spots.

May 11th thru 20th:
Diversity begins to run high during this period, as more individual species arrive. Numbers of shorebirds are projected to be excellent during this time. As a reminder, these are anticipated ‘peak’ days:

11th: Hooded Warbler. Have just started to make appearances.

15th: American Redstart, Northern Parula Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Gray-cheek Thrush. Most being seen with regularity downstate.

16th: Prothonotary Warbler, Tennessee Warbler. Prothonotary are here, not in great numbers.

18th: Common Yellowthroat.

19th: Great-crested Flycatcher, Baltimore Oriole, Red-eyed Vireo, Philadelphia Vireo, Swainson’s Thrush, Canada Warbler. Another species giving credence to my early season prediction, the Baltimore Oriole has arrived all over and is being observed everywhere, along with Orchard Orioles.

20th: Least Flycatcher, Bay-breasted Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler.

May 21st thru 31st:
Here comes the third and final migrational wave, predicted between May 24th to 26th. In addition to passerines, many shorebirds are at their peak migration numbers, and can be readily observed and appropriate hotspots.

23rd: Eastern Wood Pewee.

24th: Wilson’s Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler.

25th: Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Acadian Flycatcher, Traill’s Flycatcher, Mourning Warbler.

Considering how certain birds have been arriving, it is still my hypothesis that peak periods are earlier than these projections and what the data would suggest from last year’s BSBO banding season. Regardless, we are in for a busy month, and a tumultuous one, given the present environment of COVID-19 and the inability to travel to many of the best hotspots, particularly Magee Marsh, which remains totally closed. Get out and bird locally, as I am, and enjoy what you see, for the beauty is in the individual, not in the numbers!

Spring Migration, Part Two

Welcome April… one step closer to that big time of year, the full-on neo-tropic migration north, when our shorelines will be flooded (hopefully) with warblers, vireos, thrushes, flycatchers, and everything else we’ve dreamed about over the past several months. Sadly, our most desired destinations will not be opened to us, but there are plenty of places along the Lake Erie shoreline to view the hoped-for onslaught.

Since I’m stuck at home for the most part, on COVID-19 lockdown like the rest of us, I thought I would post Part Two of my Spring Migration series. Today’s post will focus on the second half of April, the beginnings of big neo-tropical movement, marked by the first arrival for many migratory birds – warblers, vireos, orioles, herons, egrets, rails. Sharp-shinned and Broad-winged Hawks are moving, as well as Osprey, which actually are showing up everywhere now. Part of my theory, going on a tangent here, is that I truly believe that peak migratory periods will be about ten days to two weeks earlier than anticipated. Yes, this is likely due to Global Warming. And I think that we are all seeing this play out in the fields right now.

Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) data points to a series of three waves of migratory birds hitting our Lake Erie shores. According to BSBO, the first wave is anticipated around the 24th of the month, though I believe the first wave will likely hit sometime around the 14th of April. BSBO banding data for 2019 shows peak banding counts for the following: Eastern Phoebe on the 18th, Blue-gray Gnathatcher and Orange-crowned Warbler both on the 21st.

Eastern Phoebes right now are appearing in good numbers almost everywhere; I went out today to Mentor Marsh and observed four in a roughly quarter-mile radius. Ten were observed at Sandy Ridge Reservation and seven at Chagrin River Park this week, as reported by individual birders’ sessions on eBird. Though not in great numbers, Blue-gray Gnathatchers and Orange-crowned Warblers are starting to show up regularly in southern Ohio. And Great Egrets are now popping up in many marshes in northern Ohio.

Although we are all on “stay-in-place” per Governor DeWine, most of the best parks remain open and many of us are getting out to bird. Some of my friends are practicing “butt-birding,” or birding from the car without getting out. AS for me, I am still hitting up eBird Hotspots, though not as frequently, typically about two or three outings per week. But, if people continue to flock – pun intended – to parks on the weekends and gather en masse, it will doubtless not be long before the Governor is forced to close all public parks. For this reason, I will not bird on the weekends, at all.

Please be careful out there, please be safe and observe the social distancing rules. Enjoy the birds, they are a-coming! I will have my final installment of Spring Migration up shortly, and I hope that you enjoyed this. Please do leave comments for improvement or whatnot, and thank you!

Spring Migration, Part One

This post is the first part of what to anticipate during migration this spring here in northern Ohio. Everything presented is based on data that I acquired from the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO), and later on I’ll be presenting specific species to watch for, based on their peak banding counts by BSBO for last spring.

Part One covers what we have already observed over the past two weeks or so, and what to expect during the first half of April. Part Two will cover the second half of April, which comprises the first of three major migration waves expected to hit northern Ohio. Part Three will cover the month of May, when the second and third migratory waves are anticipated, and what to expect when, broken down by weeks and dates. I hope that you find this information useful, and remember, these are guidelines, not absolutes!

So, here we are at the end of March, and birds are moving. Meadowlarks, Grackles, Red-wing and Rusty Blackbirds, Tree Swallows, Eastern Phoebes, Kinglets, and other birds have rushed in. We are in the middle of waterfowl migration, likely at its peak right about now, with Loons showing up everywhere, Red-breasted Mergansers too numerous to count, and rarities like Long-tailed Ducks and Red-throated Loons making appearances. Blue-winged Teal are starting to pop everywhere, and Bonaparte’s Gulls have been showing up at many reservoirs and lakes.

Pre-breeding migration for Blue-winged Teal ~ Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Shorebirds like Pectoral Sandpipers, and Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs are popping in certain marshy areas. Coots have been reported in great numbers at many hotspots, and raptors are starting their migration as well. The coming week or so should see good movement of Red-shoulder Hawks, Bald Eagles, and the continued increased presence of Turkey Vultures.

Next Week ~ April
The first half of April promises to be busy, as migration ramps up toward its climax in mid-May. Waterfowl movement will remain heavy, gradually declining throughout April. The raptor migration will continue, as Red-shoulder and Rough-legged Hawks continue their movement north. Sadly, Hawk Mountain is closed to visitors due to COVID-19, but look toward the skies in other places and you might see Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks, perhaps even a Golden Eagle.

Early shorebird migration will continue and begin to ramp up as well, with American Golden Plovers on the move. Expect an influx of Flickers, Hermit Thrushes, Winter Wrens, Fox Sparrows, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Pine Warblers are also beginning to appear in the lower to mid-half of Ohio.