Aural Experience of Early Spring

If this image included audio, you would be hearing the gorgeous, descending notes of a Louisiana waterthrush’s love song; the light tapping of yellow-bellied sapsuckers; the wheezing of gnatcatchers and the chattering of kinglets; the (annoyingly) persistent chirping of a chipmunk; the murmur of a small waterfall spilling into a creek; and the sound of multiple yellow-throated and yellow-rumped warblers singing from the tree canopy above. Today was all about the aural experience of early spring.


The Broughton Nature and Wildlife Education area offers 500 acres of undisturbed nature just outside of Marietta, Ohio.

Today I hiked the trails of the Broughton Nature and Wildlife Education Area in Marietta, Ohio. This is one of my favorite places to be during spring and summer. The 500-acre wildlife area features several miles of trails that take you through mixed woodlands, along streams, and into meadows — smack dab in the heart of great bird habitat.


Broughton features several miles of trails for great hiking and birding.

It had been several months since I had had the chance to do any birding (darn production deadlines), so I was long overdue for some spring migrants. The second weekend of April is still a bit early for the full onslaught of neotropical migrants (that tends to hit southern Ohio towards the end of the month), but I knew there would be a few early arrivals lurking about.


Don’t let his dull appearance fool you. The male Louisiana waterthrush produces some of the most beautiful music of the avian world.

And I wasn’t disappointed. Right off the bat, I heard those gorgeous descending notes of a male Louisiana waterthrush. My all-time favorite bird song. Louisiana waterthrushes nest along this creek bed every year.


Listen for Louisiana waterthrushes along stream beds in deciduous woodlands.

I also heard the explosive notes of a white-eyed vireo, the chattering of ruby-crowned kinglets, and the screams of red-tailed hawks. Mix in some trills of yellow-rumped warblers and dark-eyed juncos and you have an early morning avian chorus. The juncos will soon be headed out of Washington County, leaving us for their Canadian breeding grounds.


It’s pretty cool to see these “snow birds” against the greenery of spring.


From May through July, Broughton is chock-full of hooded, Kentucky, worm-eating, and yellow-throated warblers; American redstarts; Louisiana waterthrushes; ovenbirds; white-eyed and red-eyed vireos; wood thrushes; and much more.

Female eastern towhee.

Female eastern towhee.

Male eastern towhee.

Male eastern towhee.

White-eyed vireo.

White-eyed vireo.

From May through July, this place will be chock-full of nesting birds: hooded, Kentucky, worm-eating, and yellow-throated warblers; American redstarts; Louisiana waterthrushes; ovenbirds; white-eyed and red-eyed vireos; wood thrushes; and much more.

Many of the trails at Broughton run right along the creek beds.

Many of the trails at Broughton run right along the creek beds.

Bird food!

Bird food!

Ever notice how much cooler robins look in the middle of the woods, running along the forest floor, as opposed to standing out on a perfectly manicured suburban lawn?

American robin in "natural" habitat.

American robin in “natural” habitat.

Robins are cool thrushes. Let's not take them for granted.

Robins are cool thrushes. Let’s not take them for granted.

Perhaps the most interesting find of the day was this eastern phoebe nest. No eggs yet, but this bird was keeping a close eye on things.

Phoebes often nest under bridges and decks. Before these man-made structures became common, these birds would build their nests on bare rock outcrops, as seen here. Apparently this phoebe is a traditionalist.

Phoebes often nest under bridges and decks. Before these man-made structures became common, the birds would build their nests on bare rock outcrops, as seen here.

Apparently this eastern phoebe is a traditionalist.

Apparently this eastern phoebe is a little old-fashioned.

I checked my favorite spots for hooded and Kentucky warblers. Nothing yet. But they will come. Same goes for the indigo buntings that nest along the Power Line Trail.

Power Line Trail at Broughton.

Power Line Trail at Broughton.

Ever feel like you're being watched?

Ever feel like you’re being watched?

State Route 821, as viewed from one of the ridge trails.

State Route 821, as viewed from one of the ridge trails.

This morning has just whet my appetite for what’s to come. Winter is over, folks. Bring on the migrants.

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Washington County Big Year 2012: The Final Days

It’s been one crazy year. Last December, when I decided to try a 2012 big year in my home county, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. To my knowledge, nobody had tried a big year in Ohio’s Washington County before I came along. In fact, there really aren’t a whole lot of birders in this part of the state, compared to the armies of avian adventurers trekking across the Lake Erie region up north or around the major cities like Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland. My optimistic goal of 200 birds sounds like small potatoes compared to the totals expected in those parts of the state, but down here, without the benefit of a great lake or continuous reports from other bird searchers, 200 is going to be a tough number to reach.

Before I started this big year thing, the grand total of birds ever reported from Washington County, Ohio, according to eBird, was 171. That includes reports dating back to 1900, but, of course, also lacks dozens of reports that presumably exist outside the eBird database. Nevertheless, it gives you an idea of what I was working with. In order to find 200 birds in 366 days (thank you, Leap Year!), I would likely need to break a few records.

Well, folks, today is November 14, 2012. With only 47 days left in my quest, I am proud to say that I am sitting at 185 species for the year. Only 15 birds away from my goal.

I had a few major misses in the early months, thanks to an ill-timed bout (pardon the pun) with mono that struck at the peak of spring migration and kept me down until late May. I made up most of my losses during fall migration, but still missed gray-cheeked thrush. (No excuses for that, I know.)

At this point in the year, there are very few common, regularly occurring species left to find. What are left are several birds that are relatively uncommon to rare in the Mid Ohio Valley. But each of these is certainly possible to track down. It’s just a matter of finding the time to be in the field before and after work, and on weekends when I’m not busy with other obligations. That, and being in the right place at the right time.

I’ve compiled a hit list of the 15 birds most likely to make it onto my list before the clock strikes midnight on January 1, 2013.

In the next 47 days, I need to find:

Snow goose
Tundra swan
Trumpeter swan
Mute swan
Northern pintail
Common goldeneye
Black scoter
Rough-legged hawk
Short-eared owl
Northern saw-whet owl
Snow bunting
Evening grosbeak
Red crossbill
White-winged crossbill
Common redpoll

The finches should be a snap considering that this is an invasion year. The others may require a little luck.

To anyone reading this: If you can provide solid information to locating any of these species in Ohio’s Washington County this year, please contact me. If you can successfully direct me to any of these birds (especially the finches, which could easily show up at a backyard feeder), you will receive a generous gift card to your favorite eating establishment in Washington County. Or a bottle of your favorite wine—take your pick.

47 days. We’re firing on all cylinders now.

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Fall Warblers!

Although it’s technically still summer, fall migration is in full swing. Warblers have begun to really move through the Mid-Ohio Valley these past few weeks.

Before work this morning I caught a mini-wave of warblers at Boord State Nature Preserve near Cutler: Chestnut-sided warbler, magnolia warbler, American redstart, Cape May warbler, common yellowthroat, ovenbird, and a possible Tennessee warbler were all seen within about 5 minutes.

The chestnut-sided warblers were the highlight of the morning, bringing my Washington County 2012 list to 167.

While in hot pursuit of new species for my Washington big year, I’ve managed to tally 100 species in the county this month, and 19 of those are warblers. Of course, some of those are probably locally breeding birds, but many are migrants.

Boord State Nature Preserve is a good spot to check for fall migrants, especially along this creek which runs through the preserve.


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Sometimes an intense focus on the rare and unusual robs us of the opportunity to appreciate the common and ordinary. During my hunt for new birds this past week, I took a few minutes each day to capture some images of whatever happened to be around. The result is a random sampling of what one can see on a typical August day in Washington County.

Veto Lake Wildlife Area near Vincent hosts great blue and green herons, ospreys, white-eyed vireos, cedar waxwings, and thousands of red-winged blackbirds.

Dew droplets, spider web, and cedar waxwing at Veto Lake

Yellow-throated warbler near Whipple

Female belted kingfisher at Newell’s Run backwater near Newport

Check out that tail pattern!

Great blue heron at Newell’s Run backwater

Blue-gray gnatcatcher at the Boord State Nature Preserve near Cutler

Muskingum Park in Marietta offers easy access to warbling vireos, yellow-throated warblers, and cliff swallows.

There is no shortage of bird food at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers. Cedar waxwings (pictured), eastern kingbirds, common nighthawks, and chimney swifts swarm the area, feasting on flying insects.

Wild Turkeys at Veto Lake Wildlife Area

Green heron at Newell’s Run backwater. The backwater is hosting at least four green herons this season.

Preening in the shade of a makeshift umbrella

Falls Run Road near Cutler

Wild turkeys slowly cross Falls Run at dawn. A family of red-headed woodpeckers squawk nearby, and American kestrels hunt along the adjacent fields.

A red-tailed hawk hunts along Milner Road near Waterford.

Go out and discover Washington County.

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Blue Grosbeaks Near Marietta

This evening I was very excited to find two blue grosbeaks, male and female, at a sand and gravel pit just east of Marietta. Both birds were calling and at one point I heard a brief, partial song from the male.

Another pair of blue grosbeaks was recently found at the Belleville Wetlands in Wood County, WV by members of the Mountwood Bird Club. That pair has been seen carrying food to a probable nesting site.

The typical range for blue grosbeak is largely southern and western, with very few known breeding pairs in Ohio and West Virginia. It’s awesome to see this species making an appearance in the Mid-Ohio Valley!

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The Birds Are on the Move

This morning I finally broke my two-month losing streak and scored a new bird for Washington County 2012: Caspian tern, circling over the Ohio River near Newell’s Run backwater.

This species has been reported throughout inland Ohio this summer, at a much higher frequency than most years. Check out the maps below, showing eBird entries for Caspian tern in July/August 2011, compared to July/August 2012.

Caspian tern sightings: July-August 2011

Caspian tern sightings: July-August 2012 (as of 13 Aug)

Another species that has seen an influx in Ohio this year is little blue heron. This species has made recent appearances in the Mid Ohio Valley at the Sandy Creek backwater and the Belleville Wetlands, both in Wood County, WV.

Even more significant is an adult female Kirtland’s warbler that was seen briefly on August 12th by Bill Thompson, III. The bird was spotted on private property in Whipple, Ohio.

Anything is possible this time of year. Get out and bird!

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Barlow’s Red-headed Woodpeckers

I took a few minutes this morning to go down the road and check out the red-headed woodpecker nest in Barlow, Ohio.  Both adults were very active, making frequent visits to the nest site and vocalizing almost continuously.  I even noted some impressive drumming going on just below the nest, on what’s left of a dead, broken-off branch.

Red-headed woodpecker in Barlow, Ohio. Photo by Kyle Carlsen.

Arguably the most striking of the North American woodpeckers, red-headed woodpecker is a relatively uncommon sight here in the Mid-Ohio Valley.  This pair offers an awesome opportunity to observe and appreciate this declining species.

The nest is located in western Washington County, at the Barlow Rest Area along State Route 550.  The birds are easy to find.  Just listen for their loud calls.


It’s cool to watch the “changing of the guard.”  There always seems to be one adult bird manning the nest site, with each parent taking five to ten minute shifts.

Peeking out of the nest. Photo by Kyle Carlsen.

Red-headed woodpeckers favor edges.  With a small patch of deciduous trees next to an open field, the habitat at the Barlow Rest Area is typical for this species.  No doubt there are other red-headed woodpeckers breeding in similar habitats throughout western Washington County; it’s just a matter of going out and finding them.

Red-headed woodpecker habitat. Photo by Kyle Carlsen.

Remember: Enjoy these birds, but please keep a respectful distance from the nest site.  Do not play sound recordings or attract unwanted attention to the area.  We want to ensure these birds have a successful nesting season so that we can continue to enjoy these incredible creatures here in Washington County.

It’s exciting to have this incredible bird nesting here in western Washington County. Photo by Kyle Carlsen.

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