Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Oak Openings field trip!

Last Sunday, following the OOS conference, groups of birders radiated out to about ten different sites in the Oak Openings and the western Lake Erie marshes. Sunday dawned cool, sunny, and perfect. Above, the most birders that I have ever seen along Girdham Road in the Oak Openings Metro Park congregate. Their main target is the Lark Sparrows that breed here, but those harlequin-faced seedeaters got trumped when a group of thirteen Red Crossbills dropped into the distant pines along the left side of the road, top of the photo. Not everyone got to see these erratic X-bills, which have been confounding birders in this area for the past three days.

Peter “The Desert Fox” King scans the sand barrens. We could hardly see him, and only when a sharp-eyed birder shouted “Hey! That pile of sand just moved!” did we realize what we had. We then wondered how many other Peter Kings might be concealed amongst the dunes.

As is often the case when I am put in charge of a field trip, it degenerates into a natural history free-for-all. This is an American Copper, and probably the most admired and photographed copper in the world at that particular time.

We were antagonized by Lark Sparrows. Our group had spent a lot of time searching for good views, and was rewarded only with distant scope views of singing males teed up, often partially obscured and in less than stellar lighting.

Then, as we were leaving the dunes after two and a half hours, the sharp-eyed and aforementioned Desert Fox whisper-shouts “Lark Sparrow”! We stopped in our tracks, and two of these beauties came waltzing out into plain view, about 30 feet out on the open sand. Those people with the mega-lenses, such as Dave Lewis, probably got awesome photos. This was a life bird for a number of our crowd, and a state bird for others.

Lest you live in the Great Plains or elsewhere westward and not understand the enthusiasm, Lark Sparrows are very rare in Ohio. We list them as endangered, and the Oak Openings is the only reliable spot one can find them. These birds represent the easternmost breeding population.

A great thing about birding Oak Openings Metro Park is all of the Red-headed Woodpeckers. Family groups are all over, chortling, scolding, and kirring, flashing huge white wing patches and satin scarlet heads. Sometimes, one will sit tight and appear to watch the birders, as this one is. We had wonderful extended scope views of red-heads on a number of occasions.

Right as the trip was nearing conclusion, Andy Jones spotted a Summer Tanager. We had been hearing them all morning, and getting fleeting glimpses, but no great prolonged views. This bird cooperated, and we had him in several scopes and all got superb looks at this bright brick-red bee-eating machine. The group signals their satisfaction, above.

Finally, as if on cue, as everyone was saying their farewells and plotting the next stop, the eagle-eyed Kathy Mock spotted these six Sandhill Cranes high up and far off. They circled closer and closer, putting on quite a show, as they thermaled their way up into the ether. Certainly not expected, and a real treat.

It was another fantastic morning in the Oak Openings, and thanks to all who came out and everyone that made the OOS conference.


Wil said...

That sounds like one amazing trip. I think that Jim has a bag full of birds tucked in his shirt and he releases one or two at opportune moments to keep the crowd pleased :)

Dave said...

What a great leader you make! Thanks for the fun walk about. I think I saw the "King" bird out in the sand also...

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