Monday, April 14, 2014

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher!

Golf courses are not normal hangouts for me, and they're seldom birding destinations. That wasn't the case yesterday. After a busy morning capturing and photographing fish with some ace ichthyologists in Little Darby Creek in central Ohio, I pointed the Volkswagen north. As in two hours north, all the way to Huron on the shores of Lake Erie.

Last Thursday, April 10, Dan Gesualdo found a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at the Sawmill Creek Resort golf course, pictured above. The course's western boundary abuts Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve, a birding hotspot that attracts many birders. Dan got the word out pronto, and several hundred birders have made the pilgrimage thus far. By the way, if you ever need a topnotch place to stay in the heart of some of Lake Erie's best birding areas, Sawmill Creek Resort is your place, and I say that from experience.

I arrived around 3 pm yesterday, parked in the nature preserve parking lot, and quickly strolled the 30 feet or so to the golf course. I saw a group of birders looking into a tree, checked it with my binoculars, and there was the bird! A few seconds later, it flew down to a fairway, enabling great views and allowing me to get the above photo.

As I've said here before, I am really not a hardcore lister, and never have been. Except when it comes to Ohio. If a bird shows up here that I've not seen in the state, it gnaws at me if I can't go for it right away. Scissor-tailed Flycatchers only show up here every few years - this one is only about the 20th record, ever. Those that have come to Ohio never stick around very long, and my schedule would not permit a chase until Sunday. So I was especially grateful that this flycatcher is so smitten with the golf course. This Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was #370 for me in Ohio, and I don't get the opportunity to add a new Ohio species very often anymore.

Soon after arriving, I ran into Shane and Laura Roberts. One great thing about mega-rarities is the crowds that they draw. I always run into friends at these scenes. Laura didn't rent the golf cart - the owner of the resort, Greg Hill, loaned it to her at his insistence! Before I got there, Shane and Laura struck up a rapport with Greg, and Shane took him over to see the bird up close. He was quite interested in the gorgeous flycatcher, and has been especially tolerant of visiting birders. Considering that the primary order of business here is golf and golfers, accommodating masses of optics-toting birders should earn Greg a medal from the ornithological society.

Part of the group ogles the flycatcher, which is teed up atop the small maple - furthest tree to the right. Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are not shrinking violets, and this one is no exception. He flew in and landed within 50 or so feet of the group on this occasion, allowing magnificent views by all.

The flycatcher returns from an aerial sally with an insect, one of many that it caught in the two hours that I was there.

It returns to the summit of a favored maple after making a successful yo-yo flight for a bug. This bird is either a first-year bird, or a female, and I presume it is the former. Adult males usually have even longer tail streamers, believe it or not.

I got lucky in capturing the bird as it flew in front of a distant cart driven by golfers. I believe they were watching the bird, too. The local paper ran on a story about the wayward Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and it has become something of a local celebrity. I stopped into the clubhouse, and the bartender knew all about it, and so do many of the links regulars, apparently. We showed the bird to several golfers and other interested locals. Showing someone new to looking at birds a spectacular Scissor-tailed Flycatcher probably has more impact than, say, a Henslow's Sparrow would.

Major props to Dan Gesualdo for finding this bird, and getting word out. The Sawmill Creek Resort Scissor-tailed Flycatcher has been seen by hundreds, and for many it was a state bird, and even a life bird for more than a few folks.

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