Sunday, February 17, 2008

Killdeer Plains


A group of about 40 toured the 8,600+ acre Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area today, courtesy of organizers Cheryl Harner and Marc Nolls, respectively representing Greater Mohican Audubon and Greater Akron Audubon. The Ohio Ornithological Society also lent a hand.

It was a great trip with lots of good birds, and a number of unmistakable avian signs of spring. Killdeer were winging overhead, and small flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds were about. Lots of Northern Pintail, the most aggressive of the dabblers when it comes to northward migration. A few dozen Tundra Swan were about, and tons of Mallards and American Black Ducks. A smattering of several other species of waterfowl, but the ponds and wetlands up that way are still mostly locked in solid with ice. As that starts to thaw, the floodgates of waterfowl migration will be released.

Amongst the thousands of Canada Geese, we came up with nine Greater White-fronted Geese - always a treat to see "speckle-bellies" in Ohio.

A rule to live by: PT Cruisers do not float, nor do they ice skate well. Thus, it is not advisable to drive them onto sheets of frozen water underlain by unfrozen water. Even if the license plates on the vehicle say "SHOVLR". I'll say no more; to save her more embarassment I'll keep Cheryl's identity a secret.
Scanning the tundra-like frozen sheets of ice at Pond 27. Scads of Canada Geese were resting on the ice, and among their rank we located nine Greater White-fronted Geese - new state birds for a number of people.

How's this for cryptic plumage? A male Lapland Longspur lurks among the corn stubble. These sparrows of wide open spaces can be amazingly hard to spot as they forage in fields, and we detected these birds by their distinctive dry rattling calls. In spite of huge winds and rain showers, our entire group were able to get looks at the birds, and most through the scopes. Longspurs always remind me of mice, the way they thread through the plant debris, running and picking at seeds, then freezing at perceived threats and magically becoming nearly invisible.

Beautiful Tundra Swans take flight against a late winter leaden sky. We hit the trifecta of Ohio swans today; in addition to a few dozen Tundras thee were a few Mute Swans present, as well as some of the resident Trumpeter Swans.

Long-eared Owl. Just like the longspur, this is an excellent example of cryptic plumage, just in a very different way. The owl is hard against the trunk of this conifer, playing the "I'm a broken-off branch you can't see me" game. And they can be devilishly difficult to spot. Fortunately, sharp-eyed Marty Dermody spotted an owl from afar, and we all could admire them with causing undue angst or flushing them. And as is often the case, as we scanned the tree and the owl, one, then two, and finally three other birds were revealed.

Much more conspicuous among the raptors were Rough-legged Hawks, in this case an impeccably tailored dark morph bird. It was one of maybe six rough-leggeds that we saw. Northern Harriers were the most obvious birds of prey; we must have seen twenty-five.

Killdeer Plains is nearly always interesting, and today was no exception.

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1 comment:

Tom said...

Jim,

Wow, what an excellent day. I'm sure glad that you kept the identify of the owner of the P.T. cruiser secret. That would be REALLY embarrassing. Of course there was that time when I got rear ended at Irwin Praire that will go down in infamy.

Tom @ Ohio Nature