January 6, 2013

Winter at its Best

Most of the time I barely tolerate winter. Here in central Ohio, the weather is often gray and downright depressing after the holidays. I think I was spoiled by living in San Diego for 8 years, when we could go to the beach, mountains, desert, or anywhere in between within an hour or so any day of the year and see flowers blooming and usually, sunshine. (Oh yes, there were those pesky jobs that took up 5 days a week, but we sure took advantage of the weekends!) 

Today, though, was a glorious winter day, with bright sunshine highlighting a covering of clean snow, relatively mild temperatures with no wind, and lots of interesting avian winter visitors to check out. We started at Pickerington Ponds Metro Park, where a Harris's Sparrow has been reported for the last several days. This is a rare bird for this area, and one we had never seen in Ohio. 

On the way to the park we passed a flock of Horned Larks in a farm field:

These hardy birds are resident in central Ohio year round, and feed on seeds leftover in fields. I don't think I've ever seen one at a feeder, though.

We also passed this beautiful farm:

The Harris's Sparrow has been coming to a feeder at the park, and when we got to the parking lot several birders were already there, bundled up and armed with spotting scopes. Of course, we found out that the bird had been seen before we got there, and then had flown off. We know that patience is necessary in these situations, so we settled in with our scope and enjoyed great views of Red-Bellied Woodpecker, a common bird but always fun to see:

American Tree Sparrows were quite numerous at the feeder:

American Tree Sparrows are among my favorite birds. They are fairly common in rural areas in central Ohio in the winter but they breed far to the north at the edge of the tundra. I always enjoy seeing them!

After 45 minutes of waiting and watching and chatting with the other birders, someone said "There it is, in the tree to the right of the feeder, and now it is underneath the feeder!" Excitement--there was the Harris's Sparrow, and we got good but very brief looks at it with the scope as well as our binoculars. I didn't get a picture, but there is a photo in this link. Winter plumage is paler than the bird in the picture. Harris's Sparrow only breeds in Canada but does winter in the U.S., generally west of Ohio so this is a fun bird to see here.

Then it was off to Blacklick Woods Metro Park. All week there were reports of an Ovenbird there, a warbler which typically winters far to the south. Unfortunately, a Cooper's Hawk made a meal of it a few days ago, so we knew we had missed that rarity! We did a good hike though, enjoying lots of snowy scenery. The snow last week "stuck" to the trees and shrubs and very little has melted:

From Blacklick Woods we went to Blendon Woods Metro Park and walked the Lake Trail. First, though, we stopped at the visitor center to check out the feeders and saw the Oregon Junco that has been there recently. As is obvious from its name, this is a western cousin (actually a subspecies) of our Dark-eyed Junco, a common winter bird here in Ohio. Junco taxonomy is complicated and many think that the Oregon Junco should be a separate species. I'll stay out of that argument!

The birds were pretty cooperative along the Lake Trail. Here is an Eastern Towhee:

and an American Tree Sparrow:

It was fun to watch the Red-breasted Nuthatch foraging upside down on a tree:

A Fox Squirrel, beside its nest, watched us as we hiked back to our car:

All in all, getting out today was a great way to chase the post-holiday winter blues!

1 comment:

  1. It sounds like you had a great time seeing some unusual birds for Ohio. Too bad the Cooper's Hawk couldn't have feasted on a more common Ohio bird. It was great seeing some blue sky in your winter photos.