Where We Are Birding – January

Where We Are Birding – January

Each month, our OOS Regional Directors are sharing their favorite birding hotspots in their respective regions – and beyond. These include some well-know destinations, specialty spots for specific species, and their own secret, treasured local patches. Have a favorite birding location? Reach out to your OOS Regional Director and let them know!

Amy Downing – Northwest Regional Director

Hancock County Sanitary Landfill Wetland – Hancock County

During the Hancock County CBC, OOS member Ed Ingold reported a Northern Shrike, so I headed over for my county first and found the bird within minutes guarding his territory. The landfill wetlands is Prairie, ponds, and woods with small inclines, gravel parking and without restrooms. Besides this Shrike the area is known for having most of the Ohio Sparrows, Short-eared Owls have been heard, waterfowl nest here, and a variety of songbirds can be found.

Kandace Glanville – Central Regional Director

Alum Creek State Park – Delaware County

Alum Creek State Park in Delaware county is a good spot in the winter to look for ducks, gulls, and geese. This winter it has also hosted a Snowy Owl on the dam! There are many vantage points to Alum Creek Lake, as well as a dam and a beach. Take your scope and scour the water for birds if you’re in central Ohio.

Christopher Collins – At-Large Regional Director

Wendy Park, Whiskey Island – Cuyahoga County

Wendy Park, Whiskey Island is one of the best places in the state to look for gulls! The beach provides an excellent view of the channel between the shore and the break wall. The nearby Coast Guard Station allows you to get even further out into the fray. When the ships come through, it can cause quite the frenzy with the gulls. 

Take note – it’s COLD, but worth it. You may even have a chance for Purple Sandpiper along the break wall. Scope highly recommended.

Jon Cefus – East Central Regional Director

Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area and Funk Bottoms Wildlife Area – Wayne County

In January, I’m birding in the marshlands of Wayne County to search for waterfowl, particularly dabblers. My target areas are certainly known to experienced Ohio birders, but if you are new, these areas are likely to become staples of your Ohio birding hotspots. The two primary areas to check are Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area and Funk Bottoms Wildlife Area. When there is open water due to a lack of deep freeze, these areas often hold pockets of ducks, geese, and swans foraging. As conditions get colder and water freezes over, there are often a few pockets of open water, and in these spots ducks can really accumulate. In addition to ducks, geese, and swans, you can often find other species like Red-headed Woodpecker (always an eyeful!), Sandhill Cranes, Northern Harriers, Short-eared Owls, and in many winters, Northern Shrike. See the Birding In Ohio webpage for details on how to check these areas.

Tyler Ficker – Southwest Regional Director

Armleder Park ​ – Hamilton County

Armleder Park in Hamilton County is one of my favorite spots in Ohio. There is always something to see any time of year here. Some of my most fond memories from this park are watching Short-eared Owls and Northern Harriers hunt over the fields while searching for wintering sparrows. I always start my year off here!

Melissa Wales – Southeast Regional Director

Hockhocking Adena Bikeway-Armitage Rd. ​- Athens County

The Hockhocking Adena Bikepath is a true gem for cyclists, walkers, runners, and…birders! One of my favorite stretches is the relatively new spur from Armitage Road to Columbus Road. With a beautiful bridge spanning the Hocking River and paved throughout with moderate inclines, it should be accessible for most birders.

I drive to the end of Armitage Road and cross the bike path to park in a gravel area next to the railroad tracks to access the spur. There is also bike path parking on Columbus Road. About a half mile in length, the diverse habitats here include mowed and un-mowed fields, riparian, woodlots, wetlands, and the Hocking River. In winter, it is a good patch for sparrows, woodpeckers, waterfowl, and raptors. On this January day, White-throated Sparrows stole the show against a rare and much appreciated blue sky.

Where We Are Birding – December

Where We Are Birding – December

Each month, our OOS Regional Directors are sharing their favorite birding hotspots in their respective regions – and beyond. These include some well-know destinations, specialty spots for specific species, and their own secret, treasured local patches. Have a favorite birding location? Reach out to your OOS Regional Director and let them know!

Amy Downing – Northwest Regional Director

Quarry Farm Nature Preserve and Conservation Farm – Putnam County

This Putnam County area near Cranberry Creek flowing into larger Riley Creek was dredged and straightened in the 1950s to alleviate flooding in the area, but since then family and friends have worked hard on restoring the stream’s riparian corridor, the floodplain, and woodland maintained it as a retreat and nature preserve. With this habitat restoration it follows that good birds are found in the woods along Cranberry Creek, deep in the prairies, nearby abandoned quarries, and even in the barnyard of rescued farm animals.

I’ve also experienced creek walking mid summer for dragonflies, damselflies, and butterflies while listening to feeding songbirds. This is a wonderful hours long hike in a small preserve boasting 128 species of birds, but be sure to call ahead to let the owners/friends schedule your private time to visit. Be prepared for rough terrain, slippery rock and wet, wooden walkways, tall grasses requiring bug spray, and friendly hosts showing off the historic cabin and farm animals in the more accessible areas.

Kandace Glanville – Central Regional Director

Buckeye Lake State Park – Licking County

Buckeye Lake State Park in Licking county is a great body of water in central Ohio to check in the winter for ducks, geese, gulls, and any rarities that may have snuck in. There are various vantage points around the lake which you can drive up to, making full access pretty easy.

Diana Steele – Northeast Regional Director

Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve – Cuyahoga County

The 88-acre Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve is one of the top hotspots for Lake Erie birding in December. Once a sunken barge, then a site for dumping river-bottom dredge sludge, the urban wildlife haven grew up as a land where none existed before.

Expect to find abundant waterfowl species and gulls out on the lake, always with a chance of a rarity. In the diverse mix of habitats inland, winter visitors like finches, siskins, juncos, red-breasted nuthatches, and white-throated sparrows flit among the young trees. In the dense pines, Northern Saw-whet Owls are fairly regular winter visitors.

Parking & restrooms are available. Walking is flat but not wheelchair accessible. Great views of downtown Cleveland from the west side overlook.

Jon Cefus – East Central Regional Director

Seneca Lake – Guernsey/Noble County

This month I will be birding the area around Seneca Lake. Seneca Lake touches Guernsey and Noble Counties, so it spans counties in both the East-Central and Southeast OOS areas. Seneca Lake has been one of the most productive inland lakes in this part of Ohio for producing diving ducks, including massive rafts of Loons. When birding the Seneca area, be sure to check out Hatchery Road, which runs along the outflow from the Seneca dam. These hatchery ponds often hold dabbling and diving ducks, and the drained ponds sometimes might hold a lingering shorebird in the winter months. Be sure to check the Birding In Ohio eBird hotspot page to get details on how to bird Seneca Lake. Happy birding!

Tyler Ficker – Southwest Regional Director

Cowen Lake State Park ​ – Clinton County

Cowan Lake SP in Clinton County has diverse habitat around the reservoir that is home to many of our wintering species. What I notice the most is the number of woodpeckers present! All of Ohio’s woodpeckers can be found easily there along with the waterfowl on the lake!

Melissa Wales – Southeast Regional Director

Infirmary Road (CR 14) – Vinton County

Vinton County’s Infirmary Road (CR 14) is about 3 miles northeast of MacArthur, between Highways 93 and 677. It is a hauntingly beautiful stretch of lonely gravel road through grazing fields on a high sloping ridge of what appears to be former strip mine land. There is little traffic and pull offs at field gates where you can safely park and bird. Which I did recently when I learned from former OOS Board Member Alex Eberts that Short-eared Owls were present in late November.

I went a couple of times in the past week and observed upwards of five Short-eared Owls hunting the pasture land and occasionally barking at one another. I always marvel at their beauty – shades of warm brown, tan, yellow, and white and their graceful, low flight pattern over the fields. Northern Harriers were also present with their similar butterfly-like flight style.

I was informed by a local birder that you might also find grassland species there in other seasons, including Horned Lark, Grasshopper Sparrow, Bobolink, and Dickcissel. Keep birding!

A One-Day Fall Birding Getaway to Fairport Harbor

A One-Day Fall Birding Getaway to Fairport Harbor

Begin the day at Painesville Township Park as close to first light as possible. If the weather is uncooperative, park just to the left of the stairs for a good view of Lake Erie from inside your vehicle. Depending on the day and the wind, you could see all sorts of waterfowl streaming by including some rare treats. Check flocks of mergansers for an eider among them, have your camera ready for a flight shot of a jaeger, and be on the lookout for Brant. Morning flights of passerines can also be observed at this lakeside location with flocks of Snow Buntings, Horned Larks, Evening Grosbeaks and other winter finches flying along the lakeshore. The lucky lake watcher might even see a Cave Swallow! As you drive through the park to leave, pay close attention to the geese in the baseball fields in case there are other species with them.

Tundra Swans, Canada Geese, and Cackling Goose (Sarah Preston) at Painesville Township Park

Drive into downtown Fairport Harbor via Fairport Nursery Road. There are several pull-offs along the roadway. Small flocks of Horned Lark, Snow Buntings, and Lapland Longspur congregate in the gravel on the side of the road. Flushed by cars, they’ll fly into the grass or perch on the green chain-link fence. Snowy Owls are known to perch on the telephone poles here but also appear on the grassy hillsides. A pair of Common Ravens recently made Lake County their home and the unkindness, now totaling five, often flies around above this grassland area.

Snowy Owl (Caitlin Ambrose) and Common Raven (Sarah Preston) along Fairport Nursery Road

Warm up with a coffee and a bite of breakfast. Saturday brunch at Fairport Harbor Creamery starts at 9am offering made-from-scratch pastries like cinnamon rolls and maple sausage and cheddar brioches at the walk-up window or you can order ahead online. If it’s Sunday, go to Glazed Fairport as early as 8am for whimsically named donuts or a breakfast sammy served on a donut or biscuit.

Head toward Lake Erie on East Street to Sunset Harbor, scanning the small marina for grebes as you drive by. Park between the large blue HTP building and the harbor, another location where you can bird from within a vehicle. Inspect the Bonaparte’s Gulls for the sought-after Sabine’s, Little, and Black-headed Gulls. The small cove to the east is known to locals as Mew Gull Cove because one was found there in 1998. Survey the open area to the east for Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, and Rough-legged Hawks.

Merlin and Red-throated Loon (Sarah Preston) fly by Sunset Harbor

Go back up the hill for lunch at the Fairport Family Restaurant serving homemade soups and sandwiches such as clam chowder and beer battered fish sandwich plus a variety of specials. If it’s warm, there’s dining available on the front porch.

Take High Street down the hill to Fairport Harbor Lakefront Park. In the off-season, there is no fee to park in the main parking lot for the beach. Drive to the far eastern end to scope for ducks and grebes in the harbor.

Surf Scoters and Glaucous Gull (Sarah Preston) in Fairport Harbor

Drive back to west end of the parking lot where you will find a picnic shelter that is the perfect place from which to scope if it’s raining or snowing. The main restrooms are closed except during summer, but a porta-potty is available in the parking lot. Check the beach for shorebirds and Snow Buntings.

Beach and Boardwalk  /  Fishing Pier and Lighthouse

Drive back uphill toward town and take the first two rights to return to the harbor, arriving at the Fairport Harbor Pier and Boat Ramp. If the stop sign is out, park along the left side of road before it so you don’t have to pay to park in the boat ramp parking lot. The rocky shore along the walkway to the pier is where Purple Sandpiper have been found. Iceland and Glaucous Gulls hide among the myriad Ring-Billed and Herring Gulls. Scope the break walls for Snowy Owls, looking for an open spot with no gulls. Don’t leave without looking up-river for Long-tailed or Harlequin Ducks. Snow Buntings, Lapland Longspurs, and Horned Larks can be camouflaged in the flat, gravel area behind the large block wall.

Purple Sandpiper (Gustino Lanese) and Harlequin Duck (Sarah Preston) near the Fairport Harbor Pier

Iceland Gull (Jim Smallwood) and Snow Buntings (Sarah Preston) at Fairport Harbor Pier

Before dusk drive back over to Fairport Nursery Road. Birders have permission to bird from the deck of the trailer on the south side of the road during non-business hours as long as they don’t enter the actual property. Search both the north and south sides of 535 for hunting Short-eared Owls that begin to appear just before sunset. It is not unusual to see multiple owls at once.

Short-eared Owls and Lapland Longspur (Sarah Preston) Fairport Nursery Road

Celebrate the day by splurging on dinner at The Pompadour, a local gem known for its bar and tapas. The space is cozy, so reservations are highly recommended for dine-in. They also accept a limited number of nightly call-in carry-out orders. Commemorate the lifers of the day with a specialty cocktail such as The Big Bad Apple or sip on a pour from their sizable selection of bourbon and other whiskeys. If you enjoy more than just seeing waterfowl, order the Duck Pastrami Sliders or if vegetarian is more your style, try the Chanterelle Mushroom Pappardelle.

OOS Board Member Monthly Spotlight – Melissa Wales

OOS Board Member Monthly Spotlight – Melissa Wales

Melissa with the Long-eared Owl “situation” on the Magee Marsh Boardwalk in 2013.

Unlike many of you, I came into birding later in life. About seven years ago, my best friend from college invited me to meet her at The Biggest Week in American Birding in Northwest Ohio. I was a little amused and a bit confused about her curious new hobby, but Maumee Bay was a convenient halfway meeting point for us between her home in Grand Rapids, MI and mine in Athens, so I said, “Sure! Why not?” What I experienced there – especially on the iconic Magee Marsh boardwalk – was nothing short of life-changing. My eyes and ears were opened to a wondrous natural world I had always intuited was around me but had never paused to pay any significant attention to. Learning that such a thing as a Long-eared Owl shared the planet with me, and getting to see it through the fancy optics of generous birders who wiped tears from their eyes at getting such great looks at their life bird, was life changing. I was hooked and my friend and I continue to joyously meet at the Biggest Week every year since (except, of course, in 2020).

I grew up in Troy on the flat, western side of the state, and moved to Athens in 1998, a Colorado native super excited to finally live in Ohio’s hill country! I have a Bachelor’s degree from Heidelberg College (now University) in Music and Political Science and a Master’s in International Studies and Women’s Studies from Ohio University. I moved to Athens in 1998 where I worked for many years for a progressive, interfaith campus ministry and routinely engaged Ohio University students in service learning and action projects dealing with environmental justice and conservation issues in Appalachia including acid mine drainage in area watersheds, fracking waste injection wells, and the effects of strip mining and illegal dumping in rural areas.

When the university was exploring the possibility of building a housing development on an important green space known as The Ridges (on the campus of the historic Athens Insane Asylum) a few of us created a petition and organized successfully to save this important habitat from development, which is currently the number 3 eBird Hotspot for Athens County.

The Ridges from Radar Hill. Summer Tanagers nest here. And Henslow’s Sparrows have been found recently in the fields further down the road.

I volunteered to help Rural Action, a local nonprofit sustainable development organization, organize the very first Birds in the Hills festival in 2016 at Camp Oty’okwa in the Hocking Hills, which was a family-friendly weekend with a variety of activities for all ages. A highlight for me was a field trip to Baptist Church Road in Zaleski State Forest, Vinton Co – a notable warbler hotspot there. I have also volunteered with Rural Action’s Young Naturalist Program and a Nest Box Watch project where I monitored a grid of Prothonotary Warbler boxes in Athens County.

Melissa’s son Benjamin helping check the PROW boxes.

I’ve been a member of the Steering Committee for Athens Area Birders for several years. In non-Covid times, we hold a weekly Birds and Brews meet-up at the Little Fish Brewing Company beer garden just outside of Athens that overlooks the relatively new wetland, where we’ve had breeding Hooded Mergansers for the last few years! We have held a couple of Northern Saw-whet Owl nights with local banders and actually caught one the first year to the delight of everyone who came out.

Hooded Merganser with babies at Little Fish Wetland.

Selfie with former OOS Board member Bob Scott Placier and a Northern Saw-whet owl at Little Fish.

I have helped Athens Area Birders organize numerous public talks and field trips around Athens County over the years. Of course the pandemic has canceled every in-person event for the foreseeable future. Tuning into zoom talks and presentations has been an interesting experience and I’m hoping to have my first foray into livestreaming a bird-related event in October. I was particularly impressed with the virtual Black Birders Week earlier this summer, as it lifted up and offered important insight into the experiences of Black birders in the aftermath of the Christian Cooper incident in Central Park and the current movement for racial justice. I’m hopeful that we in the birding community do the hard work of making sure everyone who loves birds feels welcome and safe in their pursuit.

The pandemic kept me mostly birding in Athens County this year, but I did learn of an active first year Bald Eagle nest in Zaleski State Forest near Lake Hope State Park in next-door Vinton County. I made weekly pilgrimages to this nest and was thrilled to observe the two eaglets in the nest, branching, and eventually flying with the parents flying in to feed from time to time. Thrilling!

Zaleski State Forest eaglets Melissa named Liberty and Justice. Photo by Melissa.

I joined OOS as the SE Ohio Regional Director and Event Co-chair in November 2019 and hit the ground running to help plan Warblers and Wildflowers, which sadly skid to a halt in March as we realized the pandemic was going to be with us for quite a while. Hopefully it can happen in 2021! And once it’s safe to meet up again, I hope to get to know the birders and birding hotspots all around the SE Ohio region outside of Athens County. Feel free to reach out to me at melissa.wales@ohiobirds.org!

When I’m not birding or organizing bird-related events and activities, I am the mom of two teenage boys and work as the Executive Director of Stuart’s Opera House in Nelsonville, a nonprofit performing arts venue and provider of arts education programming.

One of Melissa’s favorite birds, the Cerulean Warbler. Taken May 2020 on the Adena Hock-hocking bike path off of Glen Ebon Road near Nelsonville..

A Very Special Moment in Summit County

A Very Special Moment in Summit County

On Tuesday, August 25th, a report came in on Ohio Chase Birds about a Brown Booby at Nimisila Reservoir in Summit County, Ohio. The bird was found by Henry Trimpe and hundreds of birders have since gone to see this bird over the past few days. Chris Collins, of the Rogue Birders and OOS Board Member, was curious about Henry’s story of finding the bird so he reached out to Henry to see if he would be willing to share his story here. Reprinted here from the Rogue Birders blog. Enjoy!

A Very Special Moment in Summit County

by Henry Trimpe

Arguably my favorite part of being a birder is that every time you walk outside your door, you never know what you will find. Often times, you can put yourself in a good position to find certain birds by knowing where to look, when to look, and most importantly, what to look for. However, there is also at least some element of chance to every birding adventure. For many of us, just that chance of seeing something new, something uncommon, or even something that doesn’t belong within a thousand miles is what excites us every time we pick up our binoculars.

On Tuesday August 25th, I was thrilled to be heading down to Nimisila Reservoir to watch the evening congregation of 30,000+ Purple Martins. Despite the fact that the Martins have used Nimisila as a staging ground for years on their way south, I had never witnessed the spectacle. I fully expected to be blown away by the mass gathering of Martins, but had no idea that what seemed like an innocent late summer evening would turn into one of the most memorable birding days of my life.

As soon as we arrived near the water in parking lot C6 at Nimisila, the first birds we saw were a pair of Ospreys on a nearby snag. At 7 PM, there was not yet a single Purple Martin in sight. As many reading this would, the only logical action was to scan the lake to see what I could find.

The very first bird I got my binoculars on in flight immediately struck me as out of the ordinary. It appeared dark in color, but I was looking almost directly into the sun and the lighting was far from ideal. At first glance, going by only size and shape alone, my first thought was Caspian Tern. After watching the bird for about 20-30 seconds, it moved to better light and I realized that this was an overall brown bird – definitely not a Caspian or any other local Tern. Next, it barreled toward the water on an angled dive. The bird surfaced, and at that point I lost it in the sun and could not relocate. I vividly remember then saying to my fiancé Sarah “there is something out there that doesn’t belong here”.

Is it a tern? Or something completely unexpected?

It took about 15 minutes to relocate the bird. At that point we were joined by Dwight and Ann Chasar, as well as my dad, Jim. After relocating, we got much better views of the bird in flight, on the water, and perched on its favorite snag. As someone who follows national rare bird alerts, I was very aware of Brown Boobies being found in Arkansas, Missouri, and other far-from-home locations as a result of recent storms. We had a hunch, and after photographing and studying the bird for some time we came to a conclusion. All the while, massive numbers of Purple Martins were flocking together in every direction. After looping around in flight many times, the Booby flew out of sight with dusk approaching. We shifted our focus to the Martins – an amazing spectacle that I would recommend to anyone. When we got back to the car, I posted the sighting in the Ohio Chase Birds group, and the madness then ensued. I knew we had found an amazing bird, but had no clue at the time that this was a first state record.

Finding a tropical seabird in a Midwestern lake is not an everyday occurrence, so there was certainly a major element of “right place, right time” that allowed me to find Ohio’s first Brown Booby. However for me, there is much more to the story than that. As early as I can remember, I was intently watching and identifying every bird in my backyard. Before age 10, I was a regular on the local spring bird walks under the Station Road Bridge in Brecksville. By the time I graduated high school, I had an extensive knowledge of all North American birdlife, mostly due to my passion for reading and learning everything I possibly could. It was the countless hours of studying field guides that allowed me to be prepared to ID a bird whose regular range barely comes in contact with any part of the United States. If this article inspires anyone in any way, I hope the message is that the more we study and learn about birds, the more we will be able to identify them, enjoy them, and protect them. This holds true whether we are talking about a Brown Booby that showed up where it had no business being, or the Chimney Swifts circling above your front yard.

For me personally, possibly the best part of all of this has been the fact that the bird has been so cooperative, and has stayed around for the better part of a week. I have been glued to eBird and Facebook over the past four days and have been in awe at the number of birders who have come to Nimisila to see the Booby. Ohio has so many amazing birders (many of whom I don’t know at all personally), and I am glad that so many people have been able to get a new state bird, and in probably the majority of cases, a new life bird. As I am writing this on Saturday, eBird reports are still pouring in, with birders traveling all the way to Summit County from multiple other Midwestern states. Those who have seen the Booby thus far are birders of many different experience levels, with many different motivations. Some are most interested in adding a new tally to their list. Some are most interested in getting the best possible photo. Some are interested in studying a species that they very reasonably may never see again. All have been brought to the same place by one single bird, and to me that is an incredible thing.

Thousands of Purple Martins staging at Nimisila Reservoir

I have seen a great deal of discussion surrounding the Booby’s chances of survival with colder weather eventually approaching. If the bird does not find its way back south, there is certainly a good chance it will not make it, as we often see with these types of vagrants. This is not the first seabird to be blown off course by a hurricane and definitely will not be the last. While we all hope the ending will be positive for the bird, it has given us all a chance to admire the sheer unpredictability of nature in a unique way, close to home.

I was honored to have spent this memorable evening with a few very important people to my birding journey. Dwight and Ann Chasar have been teaching me about birds and birding in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park for nearly 20 years – since I first started going on bird walks as a kid. It was a complete coincidence that they showed up at Nimisila to watch the Martins on the same evening as I did. They undoubtedly played a huge role in helping to identify this bird. Knowing how much time they have dedicated to birding in Summit County over the years, I am so glad they were able to be a part of this moment. Summit County as a whole has an awesome birding community, and I’m very happy that this bird decided to pick Nimisila over any of the countless other bodies of water across the state. Had it picked somewhere else, I would have been right there among the masses parading to see it. My dad, Jim, was also present as he has been for the vast majority of birding experiences in my life. He can be credited for fueling my passion for birds from a young age. Finally and most importantly, my fiancé Sarah got to witness this as one of her very first birding moments (and in the meantime snapped some pretty darn good pictures of the bird in the water, before we even had the ID confirmed).

When it comes to vagrants, I always wonder how many others are out there that have not been found. In this case, with the number of birders coming to Nimisila each evening, I am confident someone else would have found it later in the week had we not on Tuesday. But at some other lake, or in some other backyard, there are certainly many more oddities that are never detected. Fall migration is upon us here in Ohio, and there are many birds out there to be found. Best of luck to all in this wonderful season, and thanks to everyone who has reached out in the past couple of days!

Life as a Traveling Field Biologist

Life as a Traveling Field Biologist

In May 2019, I graduated from The Ohio State University with a B.Sc. degree in Wildlife Science, and immediately began working for Black Swamp Bird Observatory as their spring bird banding apprentice. After that I moved to Wisconsin for a few months to work with Kirtland’s Warblers… and then to New Jersey to work as a banding technician… and then to Brazil to help with some Semipalmated Sandpiper research… and then to Texas to work as a bander on a Golden-cheeked Warbler research study… and now I live in New Mexico, working as a technician on a Gray Vireo study… and in another month I’ll be moving to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to work as a seasonal owl bander! I’ve been turning the drives to the next job into a long road trip and try to see as many new birds and new places as possible!

Silas, Sal, and Kandace with a Gray Vireo

Each seasonal field job is different, and I gain new experiences and knowledge from each one. If you think about a basic full annual cycle of a bird (breeding season, fall migration, non-breeding season, spring migration), that’s a general idea of how most field data collection seasons are broken up. As in, some research focuses on the breeding season and looks to see when, where, and how a species may nest, how successful they are, etc. Often, this breeding season work involves a lot of nest searching, and if looking at nesting success, can involve the VHF radio-telemetry of fledglings after they leave the nest. Field data collection during migration seasons often involves bird banding in order to determine when and what type of birds move through a particular area. If migration banding is continued in one location for many years, researchers come to see population-level trends for each species they band. Though the breeding season is focused on more often in field research, birds may spend upwards of 9 months in their non-breeding range and thus, that habitat is just as essential to conserve as breeding habitat.

A Challenging Way of Life

This lifestyle sure isn’t easy! For one, I have no sense of stability in my life. I move every couple of months to live in a new house with strangers I’ve just met for the first time, with only field clothing, bedding, books and other items I can fit in my small car. I get to see my family and friends in between jobs, and I do a lot of calling and facetiming friends from all over and sending postcards, but it isn’t the same as getting to constantly see everyone in person and relationships suffer because of it. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to settle back down in Columbus and remain close to friends and family!

A Golden-cheeked Warbler in a “photographer’s grip”

Traveling and working these various seasonal jobs is fundamentally for the purpose of gaining as much field experience as I can. By doing so, I’m learning a lot about field data collection methods, which will hopefully get me into graduate school so I can earn a Master’s degree in Wildlife Biology or a similar field. These days, to have a career in Wildlife Biology you’re essentially required to have at least a Master’s degree, unless you want to work seasonal technician jobs your entire life (which I know of at least a few people who have done the seasonal gigs for 10-15 years and are still doing them!). At the moment, I love the travel and the sense of adventure, but I assume in a few years I’ll be tired of it and will eventually want to settle down. I’ll find a professor whose research interests me, contact them, and hopefully be able to do a Master’s program at their university.

One day, I’ll perhaps be employed as a biologist for the Ohio Division of Wildlife or the ODNR, or I could work for a non-profit like Black Swamp Bird Observatory on the research/conservation side of things, or I could work for a consulting firm as a biologist. The possibilities are endless, and I haven’t yet figured out what I would like to do as a full-time job one day in the future. I’ll keep working these seasonal jobs, and they will hopefully give me a better idea of what I want to do permanently. Either way, I hope to dedicate my life to the conservation of birds and the environment.

Kandace holding a Golden-cheeked Warbler

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