Alas, fall quarter here at Ohio University is quickly winding down. With our Ornithology lab exam taken last Friday, our class embarked upon the last field of 2010 to bird the vicinity of The Wilds animal park.
The Wilds is an interesting place. It is a non-profit conservation park situated on a large swathe of reclaimed mining land. Here, they practice ex-situ conservation by housing and breeding many species that are imperiled in their natural habitat. Because the reclaimed land is reminiscient of the African bush, they have giraffes, zebras, cheetahs, and rhinoceroses. The Wilds also has North American prairie species such as buffalo and other bovids. However, in addition to supporting large mammals, this open, prairie landscape is preferred by many interesting bird species, as well.
For this reason, on Saturday November 13, our class headed up to The Wilds to see what birds we could observe. With clear skies and temperatures around 50 degrees F, it was a gorgeous day. At 9:00 AM, our first stop on Zion Ridge Road yielded Horned Larks and Eastern Bluebirds. We proceeded on, and at 9:15 we stopped over to check out a pond. Two Northern Harriers were flying above the water, presumably hunting. Many ducks were on the water, including Mallards and a number of unidentified Scaup. Then, shit got real wild, when someone spotted a Northern Shrike! This neat little bird is notorious for caching its prey (insects, lizards, small mammals) on barb-wired fencing or thorn bushes. This species is particularly uncommon for SE Ohio.
After scoping out the Shrike for a minute, we headed up to the Jeffrey Birding Point at 10:00 AM, a lookout deck situated at an excellent vantage for birding. Here we met up with Bob Folt, who made the trip down to join the birding bonanza. A number of Canada Geese were duly noted. After not seeing much else, Bob spotted a Savannah Sparrow on our way back to the vehicles.
At 10:45 AM, our caravan cruised down International road. Along this roadway, we spotted American Kestrels, Red-tailed Hawks, Baffleheaded Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Mallards, and an unidentified picid (most likely a Downey).
At 12:00 PM, we finished off the day by spotting a few shorebirds hanging along the shore of a shallow pond. After a few minutes of debating and cross referencing with field guides, we identified the majority of our shorebirds as Dunlin, a migratory species of the family Scolopacidae. They were exhibiting some remarkable foraging behavior as they perused the sandy shores for food. Canada Geese, Northern Shovelers, and Killdeer were also seen here.
Although no Golden Eagles were spotted, we still had a blast this day. All-in-all, Ornithology class was soooooooo much fun this fall. Big props to Dr. Miles and Susan Lyons for being excellent instuctors. I'm certainly going to miss all this field come winter quarter...