Monday, May 7, 2012

Oak Openings Metropark - 05 May 2012

Saturday morning required a 4:30 am wake-up call so that I could be at the Maumee Bay State Park nature center for the day trip to Oak Openings Preserve Metropark.  We would board the tour bus at 6 am for a one-hour trip to our destination.  Liz McQuaid  was our volunteer driver for the day, and I got to drive shotgun for the trip out.

At approximately 7 am we pulled into the Buehner Center parking lot and met our guide, retired biologist Elliot Tramer.  Elliot lives just a few miles from this area and is considered one of the leading experts on the nature and ecology of this 3744 acre oak savannah, sand barren and dunes niche.

As Elliot gave his introductions we could hear a loud Red-eyed Vireo overhead.  We started our walk along the main road toward Girdham Road north, taking in the large trees and low, wet forest floor covered with ferns and skunk cabbage.  Red-belllied Woodpeckers were drilling and calling in the distance.  We heard the loud "Ack-Ack-Ack-Ack" of a Pileated Woodpecker but only a couple of us saw it fly away into the woods.  A Barred Owl was found here yesterday, so we kept our eyes peeled for any evidence of its presence.  We would dip.

As we left the wooded area for more open meadows we picked up the first of many Field Sparrows, Eastern Kingbirds, Great-crested Flycatcher, and Indigo Bunting.  I had the scope w/ me, so were able to get good looks at the flycatcher and sparrow.  Liz had parked the bus up the road and reported a Willow Flycatcher on her way back to meet us.

As we approached Girdham Rd. we spotted the first of many Red-headed Woodpeckers in the trees to our right.  It was overcast and windy, and lighting was not good for most photography, but I did my best to try to get a few pics of the Red-headed Woodpeckers as they excavated cavities in dead snags back in from the road.

We reached the south end of Girdham Rd. and found a singing Eastern Towhee.  As we searched in vane for the towhee a pair of Baltimore Orioles presented themselves for much easier viewing.  I managed a couple of keeper photos w/ the Nikon D300s and 300/2.8 VRII before we eventually saw the towhee. 

The fields to the west of Girdham Rd. have been hosting nesting Lark Sparrows for as long as anyone could remember, so we spent a short time looking for them.  I was near the corner of the cemetery trying to get better pics of the orioles, and spotted a House Wren perched near the southernmost bluebird nesting box.  The wind, low light and distance made digiscoping difficult, but I managed a couple of acceptable images

It was not long before we spotted a pair of Lark Sparrows perched on a short shrub 70 feet back from the road.  I got the scope on the birds and most everyone got good looks at them.  Their chestnut and black striped heads are unmistakable, and make them a beautiful sparrow to look at.  I'd been wanting some good digiscoped images of them, so when everyone continued up the road, I stayed behind to digiscope the birds.

As I waited for the Lark Sparrows to return (they tend to travel a circuit around the field) I turned my scope on a male Eastern Bluebird that was bringing food back to its nestbox.

The Lark Sparrows returned, and one individual provided wonderful looks for more than 10 minutes.  I captured a bunch of blurry images (again from low light, wind and distance), but got enough good images to call it a success.  I then caught up with the group, who had just finished looking at a Yellow-throated Vireo in the trees overhead.

Before reaching the sand dune area off Girdham Rd. we had the opportunity to watch another several pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers working the woods to our right.  We were then briefly distracted by a singing Summer Tanager in a large oak in the middle of the opening meadow.  I managed to get the scope on the bird, but sadly it flew off before others could get to the scope.  We all watched it fly across to the dunes and disappear.

The dunes on the east side of Girdham Rd. were alive with Lupine, singing Eastern Towhees, foraging Lark Sparrows, and singing Field Sparrows. We spent a short time chasing a somewhat cooperative towhee before climbing into the bus and heading to our next destination: the open field near the airport and N. Wilkins Rd.

This open field is a good spot to find Grasshopper and Savannah Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Eastern Bluebirds.  We managed to see several Grasshopper Sparrows, but scope views were required.  A Red-tailed Hawk teased us for a bit as it was molting wing and tail feathers enough to be mistaken for both a Red-shouldered Hawk and a Broadwinged Hawk.  Fly-by Turkey Vultures provided close views. Just as we were leaving a flock of 6 Wild Turkey appeared along the far edge of the field.

Climbing back into the bus we headed to the south end (?) of Wilkins Rd. to look for Blue Grosbeak.  After gearing up for ticks, we walked a service trail and immediately heard the "Bee-buzz" of a Blue-winged Warbler.  It was loud, and nearby.  We soon spotted it atop a large alder, and managed to get the scopes on the bird.   A gorgeous male bird that would throw its head back and belt out its 'raspberry' call.  I managed a few good captures through the scope despite the wind and bright, overcast skies.

We then hiked through the field toward a small dune with the hopes of finding the Blue Grosbeak that Elliot saw w/ yesterday's tour.  Another Blue-winged Warbler was singing to our right, along with a Red-eyed Vireo.  As the opportunities presented themselves, I grabbed quick photos of the Red Admirals, Coppers and Blues that were fluttering about.

Time was spent in the sandy field with only the wind making any noise.  We edged toward the corner of a woodlot before finally hearing the call of the Blue Grosbeak.  The next challenge was to find the bird, which chose to stay relatively obscured in the high trees.  Someone finally saw the bird, and I managed to get the scope on it just briefly.  Anyone will tell you how difficult it is look direcly overhead w/ binoculars.  Try it w/ a scope!  But I got a couple of record shots that I'm satisfied with.
When I was finished I noticed that folks were already heading back to the bus.

We dropped Elliot off at his car, then followed him to the White Oak Area where said our goodbyes and stopped for lunch and rest break.  An Eastern Phoebe greeted us, but refused to stick around long enough for any pics. 

After lunch Liz drove us back to the Buehner Center where Bob Jacksy, our afternoon guide, was waiting for us.  Since we didn't have a whole lot of time he decided to take us around the edge of Mallard Lake and show us the bottomlands.  Although a pair of Canada Geese were the only birds on the lake, we were quickly surprised when a baby Wood Duck popped out and started swimming across the pond with the geese as escort.  It dawned on us that we weren't looking at a gosling since it wasn't tennis ball green. The poor little guy appeared to be separated from its broodmates, and hustled onto shore while the elder geese looked on.  For a moment it appeared that the geese may have adopted the little one. 

As we hiked the tiny trail alongside the lake we took in the calls of Hooded Warbler ("weety-weety-weety-O!") and Alder Flycatcher ("Ch'Biik!").  The group then double-backed to the All Purpose Trail that would take us to the backside of the Girdham Rd. sand dunes.

Bob pointed out the "Oak Openings" that give this area its description.  A recent burn produced a fresh crop of Bracken Fern. Other ferns growing in the area included Cinnamon Fern and Interrupted Fern.

Butterflies were everywhere!  Question Marks and Red Admirals were most abundant, but there was a healthy dose of Spicebush Swallowtails and Tiger Swallowtails, as well.  Twelve-spot Skimmers were also cruising along the wetter portions of the trail.

A surprise find presented itself in the form of a 6 foot Blue Racer!  This beautiful gray-black snake with the cerulean blue belly was sunning itself on the side of the trail, and provided nice looks for all.  I tried to get a couple pics of its black tongue.

We reached the top of the dune and had a nice view of Girdham Rd. and the areas that we birded earlier in the day.  While heading back to the bus we stopped long enough to see another pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers.  This time the lighting was a bit better for digiscoping, and the birds were a bit closer.

We then found the Summer Tanager from this morning, and everyone was able to get good, but distant looks a the gorgeous bird.

An Ovenbird was belting out its "Teacher-Teacher-Teacher" call just a few feet away, and we were able to watch it fly across the trail to an exposed branch.  An Indigo Bunting would be our last sighting of the day.  In all we tallied 60 spp., which Liz would later enter into e-Bird.  A great tour w/ a great bunch of people!  Well done, Oak Openings!

Sat May 05, 2012 7:18 AM
Protocol: Traveling
Party Size: 14
Duration: 4 hour(s)
Distance: 8.0 mile(s)
Observers: Elizabeth McQuaid, Jerome Jourdan
Comments: Biggest Week in American Birding.
60 species total

2 Canada Goose
1 Wood Duck
1 American Black Duck
6 Wild Turkey
3 Great Egret
1 Turkey Vulture
1 Cooper's Hawk
2 Red-tailed Hawk
3 Mourning Dove
1 Black-billed Cuckoo
1 Belted Kingfisher
16 Red-headed Woodpecker
1 Red-bellied Woodpecker
1 Downy Woodpecker
1 Hairy Woodpecker
1 Pileated Woodpecker
1 Alder Flycatcher
1 Willow Flycatcher
1 Eastern Phoebe
3 Great Crested Flycatcher
1 Eastern Kingbird
1 Yellow-throated Vireo
1 Red-eyed Vireo
2 Blue Jay
4 American Crow
5 Tree Swallow
2 Barn Swallow
1 Black-capped Chickadee
1 Tufted Titmouse
3 House Wren
2 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
2 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
3 Eastern Bluebird
3 American Robin
3 Gray Catbird
1 Northern Mockingbird
7 European Starling
1 Ovenbird
2 Blue-winged Warbler
1 Tennessee Warbler
1 Common Yellowthroat
1 Hooded Warbler
2 Yellow Warbler
1 Yellow-rumped Warbler
3 Eastern Towhee
3 Chipping Sparrow
4 Field Sparrow
3 Lark Sparrow
1 Savannah Sparrow
3 Grasshopper Sparrow
2 Song Sparrow
1 Summer Tanager
2 Northern Cardinal
1 Blue Grosbeak
2 Indigo Bunting
1 Eastern Meadowlark
4 Common Grackle
4 Brown-headed Cowbird
5 Baltimore Oriole
11 American Goldfinch

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