In a double break with tradition, the Avids met at 6:00 am at the Denny’s/Flying J in Millersport. Apparently co-leader Andy Sewell needed more sleep, as he did not respond to a phone call [editor’s note: he never will live down this one], so we left without him for the wilds of Harrison County in search of the Common Raven, which is far from common in Ohio.
Our first stop was the Walmart Distribution Center where the ravens had been seen recently. We saw lots of American Crows and Canada Geese, and even had good looks at a leucistic (lacking normal dark pigment) Red-tailed Hawk. It was perched in a tree, showing its mottled white and brown head and upper back; this was the first such hawk for all of us. But alas, no ravens.
We drove a few miles and checked another back road where we were surprised to find a Merlin perched on a wire eating a rodent. Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrels were seen by all as well. Next stop, Germano Cemetery where we scanned in vain for the elusive ravens.
By this time, several participants had expressed an interest in walking more and driving less. We thought we saw Turkey Vultures, but then had to explain the CREAGLE bird to the uninitiated: you can’t see Turkey Vultures in Ohio until Hinckley, Ohio welcomes them back with a Buzzard Festival, so any bird that looks like a Turkey Vulture must be instead a hybrid of a crow and an eagle. Due to our vehicles going different directions on Rt 22, one group had lunch in Steubenville, the other in Cadiz. Another participant continued the newly established tradition from last month of leaving a purse behind at Wendy’s. As happened last time, the purse was recovered intact. Maybe we will put our MIA co-leader in charge of monitoring purses!
Regrouping, we decided to make one last effort for the ravens, although we were getting tired of looking at all the crows-not-ravens. Dark Hollow Lane is a gravel road to a strip mining location, and melting snow left the wide road muddy as we passed huge vehicles with wheels 10 feet in diameter — and some of those vehicles had chains on the wheels. That should have deterred us, but they don’t call us the Avid Birders for nothing! Nearing the end of the “road,” we spotted a group of 6 black birds flying over the hilltop. The highest bird was a Bald Eagle and the others were — at last — ravens.
In deference to the people who wanted to walk, we got out of the vehicles and slogged through the mud to a grassy area where we set up scopes. By this time, though, the ravens had flown off. So we scraped mud off our shoes and returned to the mud covered cars. Then, as we were returning to Rt 9 and real pavement, we had point blank looks at a Common Raven sitting in the coal. Thanks to our skilled drivers, neither vehicle got stuck in the mud. But a new Avids tradition was born: one of the vehicles stopped for a car wash before continuing to The Wilds.
At The Wilds we saw both morphs (light and dark) of the Rough-legged Hawk. The group in the clean car saw a Ross’s Goose from Jeffrey Point, while the other car saw 14 Eastern Meadowlarks from the Visitor Center. We found a variety of waterfowl including Northern Pintails, Redheads, and Ruddy Ducks. We stayed until dusk and got to see about 5 Short-eared Owls, a couple perched on fence posts, one of which we were able to observe through the scopes, and others just a few feet from the road as we were driving away.
All in all, a satisfying day, mud or no mud. Our list of 38 species is a little low in quantity but high in quality.
Great Blue Heron
Belted Kingfisher(heard only)
American Tree Sparrow