Monday, December 13, 2010

Oatka Creek Park • December 11

It was a cloudy and rather warm 35F sunrise birding hike this morning at Oatka. Being heavily clouded and warm, it seemed the birds "stayed in bed" a bit later this morning than recently. As I drove by the farm fields along Union Street on the way to the park, I noticed a raptor flying low and vaguely moth-like over the fields. It had a fair amount of white in its plumage, though the quick glance suggested the wing span was a bit short for an owl, though it was only a glance. This stretch of the road is 55 mph and I had a car behind me, so a rapid stop to get a better look was not an option. At the park, the walk down the dirt road to the woods was extremely quiet. No one was up and foraging, yet. (This would be fifteen minutes after sunrise, at this point.) Crows were in the air. However, from the direction of the parking lot I started to hear the call of a red-tailed hawk. Something about it was not right, mainly that it seemed to be coming from a bird that was perching and I've only heard red-tails calling consistently while in flight. A moment later the call switched to a blue jay. This would not be the first such episode today. Continuing down the road, a red-bellied woodpecker called in the distance and a small group of robins flew overhead. A nuthatch was somewhere nearby. Since the bulk of the birds seemed still sleeping, I took a cue from a recent exchange with Bob Spahn and headed directly for the nesting boxes on Bluebird Trail to see if one was being used as a roosting spot and maybe catch the morning exodus. Along the way I picked up chickadees and a cardinal as the park began to slowly awaken. Once on Bluebird Trail, I was moving down the trail with the intent of getting to the boxes sooner than later when a *loud* red-tail hawk call erupted nearby. Surely such a strong, loud call couldn't be an imitation? I backtracked to where the calls were coming from and looked right at the location of the source and saw no hawk perching in the tree. Finally, a blue jay with the lungs of an opera singer switched calls and the whole of bird kingdom seemed to awaken at once. Titmice were having a spasmodic fit, a pileated yelled nearby, bluebirds started calling (yep, I missed the wake up call), a flicker squealed, and goldfinches called as they flew overhead. Oh well. I continued on to the nesting boxes and examined each one from the trail and saw no activity. Continuing on, in reverse order to my normal route, I crossed over onto Black Billed Cuckoo Trail and then entered Warbler Loop. A dozen cedar waxwings were resting in a tree near the trail entrance. A downy and a hairy woodpecker landed on a nearby tree and gave me my favorite side-by-side comparison of these two birds. Moving into the heart of the Loop, the best was yet. White-throated sparrows and cardinals flew back and forth across the trail and popped up and down in the shrubs on either side. Then, a small bird flew across the trail in front of me. Though binoculars I saw it was a Caroline wren! It then flew into some shrubs twenty feet or so from the trail and I heard several additional wrens join in excited chatter. I had been told by the one of the regulars at the park that there were a group of Carolinas in the park presently, though I had only found isolated individuals. It was good to find the group! Reaching the creek, a number of mallards were near the bridge as I crossed. Closely looking at the ducks today, they all looked like standard-issue mallards. Trout Run Trail was quiet, though there was a fisherman in the creek that confirmed to me that there's good fishing in the creek all year around. That's good to know for birding purposes, I thought. To punctuate this, near the turnaround point at the end of the trail, a belted kingfisher launched from a nearby snag and rattled its way downstream. I turned around and eventually reached the bridge and recrossed. I decide to turn left and head towards Gypsum Hollow Trail. I normally avoid this trail as it seems singularly devoid of birds more often than not. Mind you, it is a gorgeous trail with beautiful scenery and it one of the more heavily used trails. It just doesn't seem to attract the birds, however. Most of the trail was quiet today. However, as I neared Black Billed Cuckoo Trail, I found another group of resting waxwings. Finally reaching Black Billed Cuckoo Trail and the home stretch, a pair of kinglets showed up to complete today's list. When I finally reached the parking lot, there was one last blast of loud red-tailed hawk calls, followed by blue jay calls. Hmmm. :-)

Red-bellied woodpecker

Cedar waxwings

Northern cardinal

Northern cardinal

White-throated sparrow

Mallard

White tail deer

Mallards

Cedar waxwings

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Location:     Oatka Creek Park
Observation date:     12/11/10
Number of species:     21

Canada Goose     2
Mallard     15
Belted Kingfisher     1
Red-bellied Woodpecker     6
Downy Woodpecker     6
Hairy Woodpecker     1
Northern Flicker     4
Pileated Woodpecker     1
Blue Jay     12
American Crow     21
Black-capped Chickadee     16
Tufted Titmouse     9
White-breasted Nuthatch     6
Carolina Wren     4
Golden-crowned Kinglet     2
Eastern Bluebird     3
American Robin     15
Cedar Waxwing     20
White-throated Sparrow     8
Northern Cardinal     8
American Goldfinch     6

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(
http://ebird.org)