Birding Gorman Nature Center

First things first: To anyone I know in northern Ohio who might see this and say, "Heeeey, I thought we were friends, why didn't you tell me you were coming?"

It's not my fault. Thanks to having a large family concentrated in Indiana and Ohio, I sometimes come in and out and just see family. If it means anything at all, there I times I visit these states and never see family because I have so much work to do. It's not you, it's me and my inability to manage my time better.

peacock stiteler

While visiting Mansfield, Ohio to catch up with family members, I found myself with a little bit of free time. One of my New Year's resolutions is to use eBird regularly and part of my strategy when I travel and I have no particular birding agenda is to do bird a "Hotspot" that hasn't had an entry in awhile...apparently NO ONE is eBirding in Mansfield, Ohio so I just picked Gorman Nature Center as Non Birding Bill could come with me and hike trails (for exercise) easily while I could lolly gag and take pictures.

golden crowned

I noticed a small flock of tiny brown birds on the ground and I was pleased to realize that they were golden-crowned kinglets, fun birds to see any time of year. Here's a really craptastic picture I digiscoped with my iPhone and spotting scope.

Peacock hidden

But that was not the highlight of the trip. It was a bird in the pine tree in this photo right outside the nature center building. Do you see it? Look at the trunk of the pine tree. Now go about halfway up from the ground and look to the left.  See it? There's a thick vertical shape at about nine 0'clock. I first saw it and thought, "That must be a, that's long, almost like golden eagle guan long...that must be a branch...holy crap, it's moving!"

So I got in my binoculars and laughed. Then got it in my scope.

peacock feet I looked at those hella big feet--certainly not golden eagle feet...but they do kind resemble horned guan feet. I knew what it was and it was certainly not what I thought I would find while out birding on a winter day in Ohio. The large bird did an excellent job of hiding itself in the pine tree but I managed to get a shot of its face:

peacock ohio

It took some jockeying around to get in a good position, but I finally did and got the bird's face. It was a male peacock! You can even see some snow resting on its back. I know there are peacocks that reside at the Kingwood Center about four to five miles north, but seeing one here was a surprise. I tried to google around to see what the story was for this bird, but all I couldn't find much information.  I suppose it's not out of the realm of possibility that a peacock from Kingwood wandered away and found itself at Gorman. It was a smart bird, roosting near the bird feeders.

UPDATE: I got a message from Jason Larson - Richland County Park District Director of Operations and he says the peacock is not from Kingwood Center.

"He does not belong to Kingwood, nor have any local collectors claimed him. The Ohio Bird Sanctuary and other local rehabilitators only administer aid to native wildlife and we have no facilities to house the bird here, nor do we want to, as our mission pertains to native wildlife in Richland County and Ohio. We have attempted to find him a home, but unfortunately, he is still "homeless" at the present time."

Anybody in Ohio want to adopt a peacock?

peacock nuthatch Anyway, Gorman was a nice way to spend an hour on a good hike.  I'm sure it's a super birdy spot in the summer, especially around the wetlands. Sometime I must visit Mansfield in spring.

TLS APO Adapter

Some people have asked to see the TLS APO adapter that I used with my Nikon V1 and Swarovski ATX 85mm spotting scope.  Here is how easy it is to use. This was taken at the Biggest Week in Birding in May.

Biggest Week 2013

  magee marsh


The view from the drive in to Magee Marsh in Ohio and one of the few sunny days I've been allotted this spring.

Well here I am at the end of May and barely a month left to complete my Big Half Year goal of digisoping 250 species by June 30. I'm only at 170 and spring did not play out quite like I thought it would. I'm missing quite a few "gimme" species like rose-breasted grosbeak, indigo bunting and American goldfinch but part of that comes from me knowing that if I could get a sunny day and time at Mr. Neil's, that would be easy cheesy...yet this spring has been incredibly cold, cloudy and rainy. I didn't rack up nearly as many species (digiscoping wise) at Biggest Week or Detroit Lakes like I thought I would because of the weather. But, ah well.

I do have one more trip that includes Austria, Paris and Amsterdam in June but those are not the birdiest destinations out there. However, they could easily help me get the total to 250.  We shall see. As much as I love bird watching, I kinda just want to eat my way through Paris and not have to drag my digiscoping equipment down the Champs-Élysées with me if I don't have to.

close birds


The Biggest Week in American Birding is great for warbler watching and a bit of a challenge photography-wise. For one thing, if the conditions are right, like on this particular Sunday when it was cool and the winds prevented the warblers from crossing Lake Erie the birds are too dang close.

Also, there are lots of people and with tiny birds that move fast, it's a challenge to get shots.

chestnut-sided I did get photos--I got lots like this. I swear, some day I will write a field guide to how you will really see birds--often obscured by leaves. I couldn't get my mojo going with this chestnut-sided warbler. I had great and stunning looks at them, but I couldn't digiscope this bird to save my life.


But if you haven't been to this festival before, you essentially hang out on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh, the trees are dripping with warblers, vireos, orioles and a whole host of other spring migrants. Anywhere you look could reveal a cool bird. The west of the boardwalk is jammed packed and a bit of sardine birding, where as the east can have all the same birds but not so jam packed with people. Or you can be smart like my friends Paul and Lili above and sit on the boardwalk rail and get some space from the birding hoard.

sardine birding biggest week

You can check out the trails along the shore of Lake Erie (but those can swarm with birders too, but you don't feel as confined as you do on the boardwalk). You can also visit Black Swamp Bird Observatory and Ottawa NWR. There are guided field trips, but I end up spending almost all of my time out on the boardwalk.

butter butt

But warblers abound and are quite easy to see (they may not be easy to photograph). Above is one of the many yellow-rumped warblers.

black-throated green


Here's another one of my favorites, the black-throated green warbler. Easy to see an came down quite close. When it was cold and windy, the warblers would be at eye level.

warbler food


If you looked under the leaves, you could see some of the insects the warblers were after.


whip poor will


I'm not a fan of the sardine birding so usually I hang out on the less crowded east end or find something like the above whip-poor-will and set my scope on it. People can get their lifer whip-poor-will (and I usually help people get photos with their smart phones) and the beauty is that while I sit there, the warblers work their way past and I get almost all the same birds that people get at the crowded west end.

jon dunn

As I had my scope on the above whip-poor-will, someone asked why it was a whip and not a chuck-wills-widow (a bird I have very little experience with). The best answer I could give was that the guy who wrote the National Geographic Field Guide (Jon Dunn) text pointed it out to me. He returned a few hours later and I asked him specifically how whips were different from chucks and he gave an impromptu identification class--and autographed guides. All part of the fun of just hanging out on the boardwalk.

Outdoor Afro

It's interesting how quickly people become experts on the boardwalk and get caught up in the enthusiasm of sharing birds on the boardwalk. This is my buddy Rue Mapp from Outdoor Afro who is a newer birder and there she was, putting people on an eastern screech-owl like a boss!

woodcock nest


I think that this year, this fest in Ohio should have been called the Biggest Week in Woodcocks (I suggested that but was met with skepticism as that might attract the wrong sorts of people). But woodcocks were all over the freakin' place. Above is a little grassy knoll in the parking lot at Magee Marsh and there's a female woodcock incubating eggs. She's very had to see, but she's there.

woodcock muddy

But they were a common and easy to see sight along the boardwalk at Magee too. I saw them every single day I was there, not to mention the birds that were peenting outside of our cabin at Maumee Bay State Park.

scarlet tanager

There's also something to be said for just hanging out in the parking lot of Magee Marsh--a male scarlet tanager put on quite the show and made the rounds several time, down low for anyone to get a photo.



As I was staked out waiting for warblers to come by, a waterthrush flew in. Being in Ohio, I was on the look out for a Louisiana, not just a northern. This bird had bright pink legs and I grabbed some shots with my iPhone through my scope. I wasn't 100% on my id on this one and wanted a consult to confirm I had a Louisiana

Greg Miller Low and behold, I run into Greg Miller on the boardwalk and he confirms that is Louisiana.  For non birders, Greg Miller was Jack Black's character in the movie The Big Year. And that's kind of what makes the Biggest Week a cool event: amazing birds and really cool people.









Judging A Birding Tattoo Contest

It has been a crazy two weeks. An example: punk rock big year

My new book was a prize in a tattoo contest at a bird festival...said no person ever until Biggest Week in Birding 2013. Above is Paul Riss from Punk Rock Big Year and Rue Mapp from Outdoor Afro who were among the five judges. When Kim Kaufman asked if I would be part of the tattoo contest, I wasn't sure if she meant as a participant since I have a couple of tattoos, but she meant as a judge.

I happily agreed and then I wondered how many entries there would be...we had 11 which is 10 more than I expected.

black swamp bird observatory tattoo


This one surprised me--the logo for Black Swamp Bird Observatory. That's one heck of an organization that can inspire such loyalty from it's employees.

peacock tattoo

There were the expected tattoo birds, like a peacock tattoo so large that we could not see the whole thing without the contest suddenly being rated R. But still quality bird work.

tanager tattoo


There were charming ones like a  scarlet tanager with the song title, "Don't Stop Believing."

cape may tattoo


There were really beautiful and artistic ones like this Cape May warbler which had been a nemesis bird and she had it applied to her side after finally getting one at Biggest Week in 2012.

peterson tattoo

There was a Roger Tory Peterson art tattoo. This kestrel and peregrine falcon are from his cover of the Peterson Guide to Hawks.

kenn kaufman


One contestant went the extra mile and hand a tattoo of crossbill feet designed by field guide author Kenn Kaufman who was even on hand to explain how accurate the bird feet, she brought in a ringer!

runner up


Then the tattoos got serious. There are multiple birds on here like a drongo and above that you can see a black vulture and turkey vulture head. I thought that we had our overall grand prize winner here...

tattoo winner

Until this guy took off his shirt. He had bird tattoos all over (even a raven that was about to chomp his nipple which I can't believe I didn't get a shot of. But look at the flying pileated woodpecker/ivory-billed woodpecker tattoos.  Wow. On his left shoulder, you can see a double-crested cormorant--who gets a cormorant as a tattoo? This guy, because it was his spark bird. He had more like herons and a few storks flying on his back but he wowed us the most and won the overall contest and a pair of Eagle Optics binoculars.

Bird Tattoo Contest Winners



This was posted on the Biggest Week Facebook page, the judges and that winners.  I think the contest was a bigger hit than any of us anticipated and word on the street is that there will be another one next year. Get your ink on now. I've already had two people tell me what they are going to get tattooed on for next year. As they say when you get inked: go big or go home...or maybe just go birding.



What Happens When North America's Rarest Warbler Shows Up At A Bird Festival

There really aren't many more life birds I can get in the Eastern US. Sure, there are some birds I saw when I was a kid that I'd like to see again, but for the most part, I can count on one hand the species I need to get from this part of the US. One of those is the Kirtland's warbler, which is a possibility at the Biggest Week In North American Birding, but I wasn't going to hold my breath. Wednesday morning, still in a sleepy haze, desperately hoping the caffeine from my coffee would finally jump start my metabolism, I made my way to the quieter east end of the Magee Marsh boardwalk. I noticed a small cluster of people up ahead, one of them turned around and I recognized Mike Watson from BIRDQUEST and he asked, "Hey, Shaz, didn't you need a Kirtland's warbler? It's right here."

To which I replied something to the effect of, "Get the frak out of town!"

I dashed over and after some jockeying for position, Mike got me on it.  He wisely said, "Here, hand me your scope, just get you bins on it."

With a rare bird like this that is endangered and a lifer, I wanted to get a great look at it before I attempted digiscoping.

The above photo of the Kirtland's warbler is by Mike Watson and that's the bird he showed me and pretty much what I saw in my Swarovski ELs.  There it is, folks, North America's rares warbler. There were only about 15 of us on it and immediately the stories were buzzing. The bird was found by a couple visiting the marsh for the first time and one of them said, "Huh, is this a magnolia warbler?"

Bobby Harrison happened to be there, took a look and said something to the effect of, "Holy crap, no, that's a Kirtland's."

This is one of the few festivals where Twitter is being used as much as walkie talkies to spread the word about birds seen on the board walk. People can either follow the @BiggestWeek feed or the hash tag #BiggestWeek for bird updates. Within minutes of tweeting, birders were sprinting towards us.  Alas, the Kirtland's flew across the canal and Mike and I tried to follow it but couldn't keep our bins on it.  I started getting the sinking feeling of, "Danger, Will Robinson," as the crowds formed on either side of me on the boardwalk.  I'm claustrophobic in crowds and I need to see an exit strategy to feel safe...I was not getting it. Sarding birding was happening and that's not my style.

Like a salmon going up stream to spawn, I darted and dodged my way to a boardwalk intersection and climbed up on the wooden railing, watching the hoard assemble.  This isn't even half the crowd, this is just what was visible from my vantage point. The crowd anxiously awaited another glimpse of this target bird and then over the walkie talkie came the report that the warbler was heard out in the field.

And as quickly as the birders assembled, they herded towards the new report. Birders were fast walking/running to get to the field.

As people were texted, tweeted, emailed, facebooked and called, more cars arrived to get on the bird.

The group spread out, desperate to hear the song of the Kirtland's. Would it be found again? I was happy I got to see it, but it's not that much fun to be the person to say, "Oh, yeah, Kirtland's, I got that like 15 minutes ago," while 400 people kink their necks for a glimpse.

I decided to go back to the boardwalk and digiscope other birds. I just lining up on a really sweet mourning warbler when my buddy Clay called and said, "Get your butt back out here, you can totally digiscope this thing, we're on it!"

And I went back to the field (I have to say, this is one of the few bird festivals where I've lost weight from darting back and forth so much on the boardwalk).

The hoard of birders marks the spot! I had to giggle when I came out and watched the crowd, it really was like a swarm of bees, especially the way the crowd moved and clustered together once they were back on the Kirtland's warbler.  I immediately found my buddy Clay and started scanning the trees.  In the center of the crowd was the American Birding Association president Jeff Gordon, using his booming voice to call out instructions to find the bird. Around him you could hear excited squeals of, "I got him!" or still desperate, "Where is he, where is heeeeee?" It seemed so appropriate to have our country's club president leading the way on this rare bird.

Clay and I tried to train our scopes on the Kirtland's and had people line up behind us and we'd dodge to the side while they would jump in for a glimpse.  As other people shared their scopes, I took the opportunity to digiscope the warbler. And as great as I am getting at using my iPhone for digiscoping birds, I didn't want to play around and went straight to my SLR to get photos.  That my best and fastest technique and the bird was high and far, I wanted all the power I could get my fingers on to get a souvenir shot of this awesome life bird.

Not bad considering how far away the bird was.  I can't believe I freaking digiscoped a Kirtland's warbler surrounded by 500 people.

The rest of the day was spent regaling each other with how we finally got on the bird. Word soon spread that while we were out in the field, another Kirtland's was heard.  Jeff Gordon and others speculated that there may have been more than one.

Mike and I ran into each other and we compared photos of our birds, since he got a photo of the one close and low on the boardwalk and I got my photo with the one high out on the trees.  Here's a comparison:

My photo is on the left and Mike's photo is on the right.  The streaking appears to be slightly different, especially on the lower streak. Kinda looks like there was more than one male Kirtland's at the festival.

Again, I'm not one for huge crowds, but it was a blast being in the center of that melee and feeling the energy and excitement. It was a full on twitch as British birders would call it.

And I would like everyone to take notice that I avoided using the eye roll inducing phrase, "Birders flocked to the Kirtland's warbler." News media, please take note. That sort of headline is dead and used to death.

Woodcocks At Biggest Week

Part of the fun of birding at the Biggest Week is I get to see my friend Dale Forbes.  I met him a few years ago in Kazakhstan and since then he's moved on to working full time for Swarovski Optik as a products manager.  This is Dale's first time in North you can imagine he's about to explode getting tons of colorful life birds. Jeff and Liz Gordon are also here pimping the American Birding Association and they tipped us off to some hot all woodcock action over at Maumee Bay State Park.  We hightailed it over there after one of my programs so Dale could get the full on woodcock lekking experience.

Before we started, we could hear an eastern screech-owl trilling outside their cabin. I of course had to experiment getting a shot of said owl with my iPhone.  Considering the only light was a flashlight, this wasn't too bad.

Dale got the full woodcock treatment.  The bird skydanced and timberdoodled several times.  He even landed so close at one point that there was no way for me to digiscope him--but what a thrill, we even heard the little crazy inhale sound before they explode out their peent.  Most of the time though he was in a position to not only get shots like the above with my iPhone and scope but also video:

Jeff also got a video of the woodcock and the sound quality is much better, though he was using an actual camera with video and not an now kind of makes me want to investigate mics that are available for the iPhone.

Woodcocks are all over, one has been found foraging near the boardwalk and appears to have a nest hidden in the leaves.  Some of us have tried to scope her but she's so well hidden, almost all you see is that eye.

So it's not just all about the warblers here at Biggest Week.



Biggest Week In American Birding

So if you've been following my Twitter feed, you know I'm at something referred to as the Biggest Week, it's a big ole' honkin' bird festival in northern Ohio at Magee Marsh.  It bills itself as the "Warbler Capital Of The World."

I have seen quite a few warblers, but not enough yet to call it the warbler capital of the word...yet.  Warbling Vireo Capital Of The World is my current title for it--these dudes are all over the place.  That's one in the above photo.  I think the winds haven't been in our favor so far, so we're not getting the numbers of warblers dripping low off the trees that Ohio birders speak of with reverence, but I'm sure it's coming soon.

It's a cool festival though, there are warblers all around. The first bird I got when I stepped out of my rental vehicle was a chestnut-sided warbler (the bird above). It's not the best photo, I got that with my iPhone and spotting scope.  As a matter of fact, all of the photos in this post were done with my iPhone.  I thought I would challenge myself to only go out with my iPhone for a few days to see what I could do digiscoping wise if I left my SLR in my hotel room.  Some of the results are okay, but some have really surprised me.

Here's a yellow warbler, they're all over the Magee Marsh Boardwalk.

Here's my favorite warbler photo so far of a Cape May warbler and yes, I got this shot with my iPhone and Swarovksi spotting scope.  Am I ready to leave my SLR home for good?

I have to admit, I was worried this festival was going to overwhelm me.  You mostly bird watch from a boardwalk through Magee Marsh and with hundreds of people that can be some sardine birding. I think being short gives me a natural aversion to crowds--I can't see over tall people and I really don't like standing in a place where I cannot see an exit strategy.  The west side of the boardwalk is jam packed with birders--some people really enjoy that. Not me.

However, if you are like me and would like some space, the east side of the board walk is for you.  There will be some clusters of birders but you can still get past and there are a ton of bird because warblers move around.  So many birders from all over are here, it's fun to run into people I know only via Twitter or old friends from festivals past. The camaraderie is 50% of the fun.

Audubon Ohio Assembly 2008

FYI, things my get a little more PG-13 than usual later on in this entry, for parents reading with your kids, you might want to read alone first. Yeah, that's right, Jim, I'm goin' there!

Man, I ate a lot of pie this weekend. I think this was the most pie offerin' bird event I've been too. We had pie with lunch, pie for afternoon break, pie with dinner. Pie, pie, pie! And good pie too, not that pumpkin pie which the best piece you've ever had isn't much different than the worst piece of pumpkin pie you've ever had.

I came to Bellville, Oh for the Audubon State Assembly and gave a presentation on Blogging, The New Nature Journal. I had some geek out moments on this trip: Jim McCormac, Kenn & Kim Kaufman sat in on my workshop (people I very much admire). I also got to meet Greg Miller (if you read The Big Year, he was the guy that put it on credit card). A totally nice guy with a great sense of humor, wish I had more time to go birding with him.

On frosty Sunday morning, I went out birding with Jim to look for sparrows at Funk WMA. The trip was wonderful--a frost blazing in the sun, fall leaf colors, a good variety of birds, and Amish buggies clip-clopping in the background...periodically interrupted by trumpeting sandhill cranes.

Song sparrows (like the bird above) as were swamp sparrows. The target birds of the morning were Nelson's sharp-tailed sparrow or LeConte's sparrow. We did not get the LeConte's but with some good effort of both Jim and fellow trip leader Ethan Kistler our group got a pretty darned good look at a Nelson's. It sat long enough that everyone got a good look in the scope. I didn't get a chance to digiscope it, but another bird for another day.

We had a small flock of white-crowned sparrows around us to. Jim said that this was the handsomest sparrow. I argued that is was the Harris's sparrow and other sparrows like the Nelson's were included and the white-throated and well we all agreed this was in fact a great looking bird, but no consensus was reached as to what is the handsomest sparrow.

Funk was a glorious place for birding and the variety of birds was just right and we even had a little mini hawk migration with some Cooper's hawks and red-tails moving through.

We even found something a little curious while going down the path. I wasn't sure what this was exactly...I know what I think it looks like, but really have no idea what this is. I tried to digiscope it to see if that would give me an answer.

Not a serious answer. I really have no clue. Non Birding Bill thinks it has something to do with being a gas marker.

This was a bumper on one of the vehicles in the parking lot at Funk WMA--which reminds me, some Ohio birders told me this morning that I sound like Sarah Palin when I talk. I was asked to say "donut" and "Ohio" and "Oh no." Hmmmm. I'm sure it's my Minnesota accent and the fact that she sounds Minnesotan (at least in cadence). I always thought that my Minnesota accent was an improvement over my original Hoosier accent, but now I'm not so sure.

More coming soon, I have to read up on some downy woodpecker behavior first.